A beloved staple of the holiday season in a new medium

Eklund Opera brings ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ to the Macky stage

By Peter Alexander

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Photo by Glenn Asakawa for the University of Colorado Eklund Opera Program

It’s a Wonderful Life, a new opera by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, started its performance life with a workshop at CU Boulder in 2016, then went to its world premiere in Houston, followed by performances in Indiana and San Francisco, and now it returns to Boulder.

Based on the much loved film of the same title, the opera will be presented this weekend (Nov. 15–17) in a completely new production by the CU Eklund Opera Program. The student orchestra will be conducted by Nick Carthy. Leigh Holman, head of Eklund Opera, will direct the student cast.

“To take it home to Boulder is special, because we workshopped it there, and made so many artistic decisions in the process of creating it there,” Scheer says.

It’s a Wonderful Life was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera, Indiana University and San Francisco Opera. Essentially the same production was used in all three locations. After Houston, Scheer and Heggie trimmed, streamlined and improved the opera in various ways. Eklund Opera will therefore present only the second physical production in the latest version of the opera.

The opera follows the basic story of the film, which tells of George Bailey’s despair and thoughts of suicide on Christmas Eve. He is rescued by an angel who shows him all the people he has touched in his life, and what his hometown of Bedford Falls would have been without him. The 1946 film, directed by Frank Capra, has become a beloved staple of the holiday season.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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It’s a Wonderful Life
An opera by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer
CU Eklund Opera

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15 and Saturday, Nov. 16
2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17
Macky Auditorium

Tickets

 

Meet the Ivalas Quartet

New CU Graduate Quartet in Residence will play free concert 

By Peter Alexander Nov. 7 at 11:40 a.m.

The Ivalas Quartet only recently arrived in Colorado, but if you follow classical music you will be hearing about them soon.

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Ivalas Quartet: L-R Anita Dumar, Reuben Kebede, Pedro Sanchéz, Aimée McAnulty, rehearsing at the CU College of Music. Photo by Peter Alexander.

That’s because they are the new graduate string quartet-in-residence at the University of Colorado College of Music, studying with the Takács Quartet. And they are very good — but don’t take my word for it. They will play their first full concert program in Boulder at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 18, at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church. The performance is free and open to the public.

Their program fits the standard format for student recitals — or, for that matter, most professional string quartet concerts: A classical period quartet (in this case, Haydn’s Quartet in D major, op. 71 no. 2); a 19th century quartet (Beethoven’s String Quartet in E minor, op. 59 no. 2, the “Second Razumovksy” Quartet); and one work that is more recent or less known (the First String Quartet by 20th century American composer George Walker).

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Ivalas Quartet
Reuben Kebede and Anita Dumar, violin; Aimée McAnulty, viola; Pedro Sánchez, cello
7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, 2425 Colorado Ave., Boulder

Haydn: String Quartet in D major, op. 71 no. 2
George Walker: String Quartet No. 1
Beethoven: String Quartet in E minor, op. 59 no. 2

Free and open to the public

 

Seicento Baroque Ensemble presents “Praise and Lamentations” Nov. 8 & 10

‘Beautiful, inspired’ choral music from the 17th century

By Peter Alexander Nov. 6 at 11:15 p.m.

Amanda Balestrieri’s family just got a lot larger.

The conductor of the Seicento Baroque Ensemble thinks of the choir as family, and they just added 20 new members for their 2019–20 season. “We had just over 20 [singers] last time, and we’ve got over 30 this time,” she says.

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Amanda Balestrieri with Seicento from a past season

“It’s like having a third of your family new family members. It’s been really exciting to greet this new group of people and the atmosphere is great and everyone is very devoted and I think it’s wonderful!”

The expanded “family” will have its debut with a concert titled “Praise & Lamentation: Sacred Music of the Early Baroque,” to be performed in Boulder Friday and Denver Sunday (Nov. 8 and 10). Seicento will be accompanied on the concert by an ensemble of two violins, two violas da gamba and organ. Members of Seicento will play recorder to supplement the ensemble for some pieces.

The program is divided into two sections: “The Croatians,” featuring music by little known composers Vinko Jelić and Ivan Lukačić; and after intermission, music by Franz Tunder, Heinrich Biber and Salamone Rossi, all of whom are well known to scholars of the Baroque, if not to general audiences.

All of the composers on the program were active in the 17th century, the early years of the Baroque style, which is Balestrieri’s performance specialty and the focus of Seicento (the name means 17th-century).

Musical programs get created in many ways. Sometimes, as in the case of some selections on “Praise & Lamentation,” the conductor selects some favorite pieces and arranges compatible pieces around them.

And sometimes the conductor gets a random email from a distant country.

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Amanda Balestrieri

That is exactly what happened with Balestrieri while she was planning the concert. “I received an email from someone in Croatia,” she explains. “It just said, ‘would your ensemble be interested in performing these works by Croatian Baroque composers?’ So I wrote, ‘Tell me more!’”

It turned out that the email came from a retired Croatian architect who has copies of music that is known in Croatia, but largely unknown elsewhere. “Radio choirs in Croatia have done recordings [of their works] that you can find on YouTube, but there’s not a lot of information about these composers,” Balestrieri says

Both composers travelled around Europe, and particularly to Italy, which was a center for the development of the Baroque musical style. “They heard this music and a lot of what was happening in Italy was also happening elsewhere,” Balestrieri says. “So when you listen to this music you would think you were listening to Monteverdi”—the leading Italian composer of the time. “It’s that style of writing.”

The main difference from Monteverdi and others of the time, she says, is that “there are a few unusual harmonies in there. And the other thing you should listen for is the use of female voices” for the phrases of chant that are included in some of the pieces. It was more common for phrases of chant to be assigned to the men’s voices.

The second half of the program came from Balestrieri’s interest in separate settings of Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon.” She knew of the two settings, one in German by Tunder (An Wasserflüssen Babylon) and one in Hebrew by Rossi (Al naharot bavel), and thought it would be fascinating to juxtapose the two on the same program.

“I wanted to do the two settings that contrast so beautifully, one very guttural setting and one beautiful setting,” she said.

But the two settings contrast in other ways than their language and musical style. Tunder sets the first part of the Psalm, which is entirely a lamentation: “We sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. . . How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Rossi’s setting adds the final lines of the Psalm, which are a violent call for revenge: “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed. . . Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

The inclusion of those texts then led Balestrieri to add the “praise” part of the program, to provide balance for the audience. “I always try to make sure that there’s some kind of flow in the emotions,” she says. “If you’re going to go into the depths, you also want to have something uplifting, so that people have a more balanced experience.”

The rest of the program then consists of music by Tunder, by Heinrich Biber, and by Rossi. “It’s almost like a catharsis in the middle of the program,” Balestrieri says.

Salamone Rossi

Salamone Rossi

All three composers have attracted Balestrieri’s attention in the past. Of the three, Rossi is a particularly interesting figure in the history of Baroque music. An Italian Jewish musician, he was employed by the Catholic court of Mantua as concertmaster of the court orchestra, where he heard and played the music of the leading composers of the time.

Rossi’s own works include instrumental pieces and choral settings of Jewish liturgical music in the original Hebrew language—an entirely novel development in his time, and one for which he had to have the permission of the Rabbi. Seicento has sung his music before, and Balestrieri loved it. “The music itself is so beautiful, I wanted to program more of it,” she says.

The concert as a whole mostly comprises music that will be unfamiliar to anyone who has not studied the music of the 17th century, but Balestrieri wants you to know that she doesn’t chose pieces just because the are unknown. “My main criterion is the music has to be really good,” she says. “It’s not a question of just finding any old music that people haven’t heard.”

On this concert, she says, the music she found “is really solid and beautiful and inspired.”

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble

“Praise & Lamentation: Sacred Music of the Early Baroque”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri, conductor
Music by Vinko Jelić, Ivan Lukačić, Franz Tunder, Heinrich Biber and Salamone Rossi

7:30 p.m. Friday, Mov 8, First United Methodic Church, Boulder
3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, Our Merciful Savior Episcopal Church, Denver

Tickets

Cellist Adrian Daurov joins Longmont Symphony for Shostakovich Concerto

LSO extends its Beethoven symphony cycle with “Eroica” Nov. 9

By Peter Alexander Nov. 4 at 4:50 p.m.

The Longmont Symphony’s current cycle of Beethoven symphonies enters a new phase next Saturday (Nov. 9), when the full orchestra performs the popular Third Symphony, known as the “Eroica,” in Vance Brand Civic Auditorium.

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LSO and Eliot Moore in Vance Brand Civic Auditorium

The first and second symphonies were performed by the LSO’s smaller chamber orchestra in Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum. The Third, however, was a breakthrough work for Beethoven and the history of the symphony. It is larger in every way than any previous symphony—longer, more intense—and as such needs a larger venue and larger performing forces.

It will be performed Saturday on a program with Shostakovich’s daunting First Cello Concerto, played by Russian-born cellist Anton Daurov. Opening the concert will be the very rarely heard Prelude in Unison from Georges Enesco’s Suite No. 1 for orchestra.

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Elliot Moore

The Enesco score is, as the title says, entirely for strings in unison, with occasional punctuation from a timpani. “The Prelude in Unison is a piece that called out to me because there’s something about everyone playing in unison,” LSO conductor Elliot Moore says.

“There’s something that’s very moving about all of those string voices being one, while they’re all singing the same thing. How their voices come together is very beautiful, very moving. It’s a beautiful thing to experience.”

The Cello Concerto occupies a special place for both Moore and Daurov. Moore is a cellist as well as conductor, and both he and Daurov grew up listening to recordings of the concerto by the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom it was written.

“It’s one of the pieces that made me really fall in love with classical music,” Moore says. “It’s just an incredible masterpiece for the cello.”

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Adrian Daurov

Daurov confirmed the concerto’s reputation as one of the most difficult pieces in the cello repertoire. “It’s emotionally as well as musically hard,” he says. “There’s a lot of work for the brain as well as the fingers.

“From the first there is not a moment to relax. Even in the slow movement it’s not like your nice and Romantic slow movement than you can just enjoy playing. You really need to build the tension throughout. It’s challenging.”

Unlike most concertos, Shostakovich’s Concerto No.. 1 has a lengthy, fully written out cadenza that leaves the soloist completely exposed. “Not many concertos have a in-written cadenza for 10 minutes in the middle of the piece,” he says.

“You sit in front of people in front of you in the hall, and 100 people behind you in the orchestra, and you have to play this really musically and emotionally challenging cadenza when you are already tired from the first two movements.”

Daurov does feel a special connection to the concerto having grown up in Russia. Like Shostakovich, he attended the St. Petersburg Conservatory. “He went up the same steps and studied in the same classrooms that I did,” he said. “The atmosphere was there and I captured the spirit of the epoch that he was in.”

Because of that connection—and how well he plays the concerto—it is a piece that Daurov is often asked to perform. “I’ve played it with many, many different orchestras,” he says. “I love playing it, I never get tired of it.”

For Moore, Beethoven’s Third Symphony represents a major turning point for the symphony in general. “The ‘Eroica,’ is so much larger than the first or second symphony, or any symphony really that came before it,” he says. “It is the work that ushered in the romantic period. It’s where he breaks new ground.

“It’s big, and I’m really thrilled with what all the musicians are bringing to this performance. I think that the orchestra is bringing a lot of heart and soul and vigor to making this performance something that really is heroic work”

“I think it’s going to be really exciting how we bring these notes off the page!”

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Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor
With Adrian Daurov, cello

Georges Enesco: Prelude in Unison
Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1
Beethoven: Symphony No 3 (“Eroica”)

7:30 pm. Saturday, Nov. 9, Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont

Tickets

Boulder Phil guest pianist/composer López-Gavilán elicits cheers and applause

Butterman flavors an intriguing program with fiery expression

By Peter Alexander Nov. 4 at 12:15 a.m.

Last night (Nov. 3), conductor Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic brought their audience a remarkable piece of music that is likely unlike anything they had heard before.

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Aldo López-Gavilán

The piece in question is Emporium: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra by the Cuban composer/pianist Aldo López-Gavilán. Butterman first heard Emporium on the radio and was captivated. His description of the piece as having bits and pieces of Philip Glass, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Prokofiev, and the Downton Abbey theme music, among other things, is both intriguing and apt.

As the title suggests, Emporium contains many things, all presented with a Cuban accent. With so much going on, it expands most listeners’ understanding of what a piano concerto might sound like. Last night it was performed by Phil with the composer as the engaging soloist.

The opening movement is dramatic and powerfully scored for both orchestra and piano. At one point I was thinking, ‘are we supposed to hear the piano?’ As the music built to a crashing climax, López-Gavilán, for all his obvious strength as a pianist, disappeared into the overall sound, only to emerge again as the music subsided toward a gentle close.

The impressionistic second movement blends, according to the composer’s notes, a Cuban revolutionary song with American country music as a symbol of peace between peoples. It is a beautiful, impressionistic movement and was beautifully played with lyrical exchanges between pianist and orchestra. The driven, exciting finale got an incisive performance from orchestra and soloist, and elicited raucous approval.

López-Gavilán is an exciting and energetic performer of stunning technical ability, and he is a composer of imagination. He returned to hold the audience spellbound with an astonishing, dense, intricately rhythmic encore that again was unlike anything you are I have likely heard. More cheers, whistles and shouts followed.

The concert opened with Ryan Alaniz, a 9-year-old 4th-grader, delighting the audience as guest conductor while the orchestra played “America the Beautiful.” The audience was invited to sing along, but no one in my section took up the invitation.

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Michael Butterman

Next was Astor Piazzolla’s Tangazo, a piece that Butterman likes to perform. It is one of the few pieces he has repeated with the Phil, but this time there was a twist: dancers Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne of the Boulder Tango Studio performed their own choreography in the narrow space between the orchestra and the edge of the stage.

Their performance was a free dance that responded to the changing moods and tempos of Piazzolla’s music. Like the score, the dance had tango elements throughout. I am not a dance critic, and I am not going to prove it by writing more, except that it was fun to see how artists from another medium responded to Piazzolla’s music. I and the rest of the audience enjoyed their dramatic flair.

After intermission, the orchestra performed Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes. With each variation devoted to specific solo instruments, it gives the orchestra’s section leaders an opportunity to display their virtuoso skills.

From the opening soulful theme presented by harp and solo cello, through the sequence of variations for woodwinds, strings and brass soloists, the players responded to the challenge. Every solo dazzled. The final variation for full orchestra, set in the style of the high-voltage gaucho dance the malambo, was particularly dynamic.

The concert concluded with Ravel’s ubiquitous Bolèro. Everyone has heard this, in concert, in films and TV, in ice-skating competitions, and almost anywhere else music is used. The Phil’s performance provided what it is called for: a long, slow, carefully controlled crescendo, from the whisper of snare drum at the beginning until the sudden key change that is now so familiar it no longer surprises. Butterman and the players paced the performance nicely, never letting tempo or volume get out of control.

After the appropriately noisy conclusion, Butterman brought forward the snare drummer—who was stationed center stage throughout—for his own bow. After alternating two variations of the same one-measure rhythmic pattern for 15 minutes (or 16 or 17 depending on tempo), he deserved to be applauded.

The Boulder Philharmonic sounded as good last night as I have heard. The strings sound was smooth and warm and at times glossy. The winds played with precision and all the necessary flair in their solos. Butterman brought out the colors and the fiery expression of this intriguing program, which made for a fascinating and enjoyable evening.

CORRECTED Nov. 4 to add the name of the guest conductor, Ryan Alaniz.

‘Bamboozling’ piece anchors Boulder Phil concert

Cuban composer Aldo López-Gavilán performs his ‘Emporium’

By Peter Alexander Oct. 31 at 3:15 p.m.

Michael Butterman, conductor of the Boulder Philharmonic, was sitting in his driveway, thinking “What on earth is going on?”

“It was just an amazing mix,” he says of the music he was hearing on American Public Media’s radio program Performance Today. “I was trying to guess what it was. Whatever it was, it was exciting and intriguing.”

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Aldo Lopez-Gavilán

It turned out to be Emporium for piano and orchestra by Cuban pianist/composer Aldo López-Gavilán, and Butterman decided he wanted to perform the piece with the composer on the Boulder Phil’s season.

The title gave Butterman the key to the wildly eclectic style of the piece. “When they said that the title was Emporium,” he says, “I thought, OK, it’s a cornucopia. It has influences from every possible genre and place that I could imagine.”

The title also suggested to Butterman that one could play almost anything with it, but he settled on music that had a stylistic relationship to López-Gavilán’s Latin American roots: Tangazo by Astor Piazzolla, the Variaciones Concertantes by Alberto Ginastera and Ravel’s Boléro.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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“Latin Fire and Boléro”
Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Aldo Lopez-Gavilán, pianist/composer
Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne, tango dancers

Astor Piazzolla: Tangazo
Lopez-Gavilán: Emporium for piano and orchestra
Alberto Ginastera: Variaciones concertantes
Ravel: Boléro

7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3 [PLEASE NOTE: SUNDAY AT 7, not Saturday]
Macky Auditorium
Tickets

 

Burrichter and Boulder Chorale explore rhythms around the world

Music from Native America, across Latin America, and India, Nov. 2 and 3

By Peter Alexander Oct. 30 at 9:30 p.m.

The next concert by the Boulder Chorale starts with drums playing the rhythm of the heartbeat.

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Boulder Concert Chorale. Photo courtesy of Boulder Chorale.

“That’s a great way to start, since that’s the first rhythm we all hear, the heartbeat of the mother,” Vicki Burrichter, Boulder Chorale’s director, says. “I wanted to start there and expand out from there.”

The concert, titled “Rhythm Planet,” will be presented in Boulder Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 3 and 4). The idea behind the concert is that rhythm is found in all cultures, all over the planet. “I wanted a program that focused on rhythm from around the world,” Burrichter says.

© Glenn Ross | www.glennrossphoto.com

Vicki Burrichter. Photo by Glenn Ross.

That first piece, with the heartbeat drumming, will be Mahk Jchi, which she describes as  “a Sioux nation piece. I thought we need to start with our own (North American) cultures. I love this song—I’ve done it for 20 years with other choruses.”

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the music on the program comes from the African musical diaspora in Latin America, and particularly from Brazil, where powerful rhythm is a prominent element of the musical styles that developed there. The second piece on the program exemplifies how the music of Brazil has travelled around the world: “To the Mothers of Brazil: Salve Regina” was written by Swedish composer Lars Jansson, for a visit to Brazil.

“It’s an homage,” Burrichter says. “It’s like a Western chant, except more rhythmic. It layers and layers, the chorus doing sacred texts that just build and build, and the percussion builds—it’s really stunning. I was really happy when I found that piece!”

Gilberto.Gil

Brazilian composer Gilberto Gil

More thoroughly Brazilian will be “Batmacumba” by Gilberto Gil, arranged by Marcos Leite, both renowned Brazilian musicians. Burrichter discovered Leite’s choral arrangements through Brazilian friends who had sung in his vocal groups. “As far as I know, nobody else in the U.S. is doing this piece,” she says.

“It’s a wonderful Tropicalisima piece about combining pop culture—Batman—with Macumba, which is one of the religions of Brazil. In the late 1960s, early ‘70s, there was a lot of experimentation combining pop culture with indigenous African rhythms. It’s a really cool, exciting piece.”

“Batmacumba” is one of two pieces to be sung by the Boulder Chamber Chorale, a smaller group from within the Concert Chorale. The other is “Gede Nibo,” which comes from the Haitian Vodou religious tradition. Because both pieces come from syncretic religions that include African elements, “they make a nice couple,” Burrichter says.

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Karl Albrecht (Bobbi) Fischer

In addition to these shorter pieces, Burrichter wanted a larger piece that could serve as a centerpiece of the concert. She found an unusual work that includes various Latin rhythmic elements and again illustrates the reach of Latin music: the Missa Latina (Latin Mass) by Karl Albrecht (Bobbi) Fischer, who is mostly active in Germany as both composer and performer.

The word “Latina” in the title is a pun, referring to both the setting of the Catholic Mass in Latin, and the use of Latin American musical styles and rhythms—particularly the tango. The Missa is scored for chorus and soloists with violin, bandoneon (or accordion), jazz trio and additional percussion.

“I heard it on YouTube, and it was absolutely wonderful,” Burrichter says. “It uses a lot of tango rhythms from Argentina, but also a little bit of salsa, a little bit of Cuban son, and other rhythms from Latin American countries. I loved it!”

Also on the program will be “Barso Re,” written by A.R. Rahman, a composer and music director who works in India’s film industry. The song came from the award-winning soundtrack for the 2007 Hindi film Guru. “I’ve listened to that song since it came, out, “ Burrichter says.

The first half of the concert ends with a percussion improvisation by Carl Dixon, from the Boulder Samba School; Vincent Gonzalez, who performed on the Chorale’s recent concert of Brazilian music; and Michael D’Angelo, who traveled wit the Chorale to the Netherlands this past summer.

“I have asked the guys to put together a history of percussion in five minutes or less,” Burrichter says, laughing. “I tasked them to see what they could create together in terms of interlocking and building rhythms from different cultures. I think it will be fascinating to see what they come up with.”

The concert concludes with an arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song,” arranged for the Chorale by Adam Waite, who also arranged the opening piece. “It’s about saving the planet, and it has a beautiful, haunting melody. The message is exactly what I wanted to convey: this is our planet, and we should try to be in rhythm together.”

Burrichter adds one thought, that she does not select pieces to fit a musical trend. Her programs grow out of her own curiosity and fascination with different styles of music. “I listen to music from all over the world, and I’ve done that for 50 years,:” she says.

“This is going to be one of the most exiting programs I’ve done here.”

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“Rhythm Planet”
Boulder Concert Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, director
With various guest artists

Correction: 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 2 and 3
Pre-concert discussion 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce, Boulder

Tickets

CORRECTION: The dates of the performances were corrected on Nov. 1. The concerts are Saturday and Sunday, as originally stated; the correct dates are Nov. 2 and 3.