Obscure Russian composers provide gems for Boulder Piano Quartet

Music by Sergei Taneyev and Anton Rubinstein at The Academy

By Peter Alexander Dec. 11 at 6:45 p.m.

There is not a lot of music written for piano quartet.

BPQ.cropped

Boulder Piano Quartet

No, not four pianos; the “piano quartet” is an ensemble of piano with violin, viola and cello. As such, it falls between the trio of piano, violin and cello, for which there is a rich repertoire, and the quintet of piano with strings in different combinations that became a major genre for Romantic composers.

To be sure, Mozart wrote works for piano quartet, and other composers have followed since. Still, there are not that many pieces for the combination, so groups like the Boulder Piano Quartet— David Korevaar, piano; Charles Wetherbee, violin; Matthew Dane, viola; and Thomas Heinrich, cello—sometimes turn to obscure composers to fill out their programs.

That is indeed the case for their next performance, Friday at the Academy in Boulder, featuring one work each by composers that Korevaar refers to as “the obscure Russians.”

Make no mistake, though: obscure does not translate to unskilled. The two composers—Sergei Taneyev and Anton Rubinstein—were not only among the most prominent Russian musicians and music educators of the 19thcentury, they were highly skilled composers. Taneyev was so skilled writing counterpoint that he was known as “The Russian Bach.” A close friend of Tchaikovsky, he is most remembered for his extensive chamber music output, including his one Piano Quartet

Rubinstein, founder of the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music was one of the greatest piano virtuosos of the 19thcentury. He is best known for his showy piano pieces, but he also wrote 20 operas, six symphonies, and a host of chamber pieces—including again a single Piano Quartet

“Both Rubinstein and Taneyev represent what was known somewhat disparagingly in Russia as the ‘cosmopolitan school’ of Russian composition,” Korevaar says. “That is to say, they were not nationalists”—meaning they followed the standard European classical models of their times and did not incorporate real or imitated Russian folk music into their compositions. This is in contrast to other Russian musicians, including Borodin and Mussorgsky.

989f75-20170531-taneyev

Sergei Taneyev

“Taneyev’s music is very attractive,” Korevaar says. “It’s also very difficult to play. He’s extraordinarily demanding of his players. The string parts and the piano writing are formidably complex.

“He also loves to show off his contrapuntal acumen, so the last movement of the quartet is filled with all kinds of contrapuntal combinations. It includes a fugue, and the coda brings back every theme from the quartet and combines them in various clever ways.”

But there is more to Taneyev than complexity and counterpoint, Korevaar says. For one thing, he begins the Quartet in a particularly engaging way, “like ballet or opera where something dramatic is already happening,” before introducing the first major theme.

“I have to say, he wrote good tunes,” Korevaar adds. “[The Quartet] is long, but it’s worthwhile long, not tedious long. The last movement is very busy and exciting all the time, so it keeps us all moving.”

portrait-of-the-composer-anton-rubinstein-1870

Anton Rubinstein

Korevaar is equally excited to play the Rubinstein Quartet, which he did not know before learning it for Friday’s concert. “I’m very excited we’re playing it because it’s so beautiful,” he says. “It’s a marvelous example of mid-19th-century Romantic voice. It’s very mainstream, and so the last movement you would never have any reason to think it was written by a Russian.”

Rubinstein’s own virtuosity made his piano writing challenging. “Rubinstein was famous for having very large hands,” Korevaar says. “He does write for the piano in a way that is representative of big-handed composers—there’s a lot more [finger] extensions than some other composers would be using. But in the end, I think it’s beautiful piece.

“It’s kind of a gem.”

# # # # #

0e8e49_5bd3f65d4a8f457b8a57e55e29af37ae~mv2

Boulder Piano Quartet
David Korevaar, piano; Charles Wetherbee, violin; Matthew Dane, viola; and Thomas Heinrich, cello

Sergei Taneyev: Quartet in E major for piano and strings
Anton Rubinstein: Piano in C major for piano and strings

7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 14
The Academy, 970 Aurora Ave., Boulder
(Entrance at 833 10thSt.)

Free; RSVP in advance to ande@theacademyboulder.com

Advertisements

Boulder Opera presents Little Red Riding Hood for young audiences Dec. 7–9

Opera by Russian composer Cesar Cui will have its Colorado premiere

By Peter Alexander Dec. 5 at 2:20 p.m.

César Cui (pronounced SAY-zar KWEE) is not a household name, anywhere. But he was an interesting person who wrote music that is always worth hearing.

240px-Ilya_Repin_-_Cesar_Cui

Portrait of César Cui by Ilya Respin

Born in 1835 in Vilnius, now Lithuania and then part of the Russian Empire, his principal career was as an officer and engineer in the Russian Imperial Army. But he also studied piano from childhood and pursued music as an avocation. With Mily Balakirev, Borodin, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, he was one of the Russian nationalist composers known as “Moguchaya kuchka” (the mighty handful).

Among other works, he wrote more than a dozen operas, including several children’s operas—which is what recommended Cui to Dianela Acosta and the Boulder Opera, who will present the first Colorado performances of his 40-minute Little Red Riding Hood this weekend (Friday–Sunday, Dec. 7–9) at Boulder Nomad Playhouse.

“We’re always looking for new material to present,” says Acosta, Boulder Opera’s artistic director who also plays the mother in the production. “Especially stories that are well known, to continue with our mission to introduce the younger generation to opera.”

BOC RR-26

Page Sentianin as Little Red Riding Hood and Joshua South as the Wolf for Boulder Opera Company

For Little Red Riding Hood, they are presenting three performance to school groups Thursday and Friday, with support from the Boulder Arts Commission. They have prepared a study guide that is useful for anyone attending the opera, and each performance will be followed by Q&A session for the audience with cast members.

“We love to do these Q&A at the end of the performances,” Acosta says. “The kids get to ask questions and then we ask them questions, and it’s very engaging. And because the opera is so short we decided to explore a little bit more of Cui’s music. We chose a short piano piece called ‘Orientale’ that our pianist, Deborah Schmit-Lobis, will play between the two acts.”

Cui’s music is in the familiar Romantic style of the mid-19thcentury, but with a definite Russian flavor. “There’s a lot of folkloric elements in the music,” Acosta says. “Vocally it’s not very difficult. The music really is there to tell the story, so it’s very descriptive for each character.

“Its a beautiful piece that just tells the story.”

Cui’s music is not widely available. In this case, Mathieu D’Ordine, who has conducted for Boulder Opera in the past, created a chamber arrangement that will be played by pianist Schmit-Lobis and a quartet of woodwind players.

Dianela.A

Boulder Opera Company’s artistic director Daniela Acosta

In the past, Boulder Opera has toured its productions to Longmont, Broomfield and Lafayette. This year, all their performances—both Little Red Riding Hood and performances in May of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Thomas Pasatieri’s Signor Deluso—will be presented in Boulder’s Nomad Playhouse.

Staying in one place gives the company the opportunity to build solid sets and invest more in the production, Acosta says. “The logistics of traveling was getting really taxing,” she says. “Instead of putting all of our efforts into touring, we’re enhancing our productions with the costumes and the sets.”

That initiative has been assisted by contributions from Nadia Artman, a member of the Boulder Opera board who is also credited as co-producer of Little Red Riding Hood.

Higher quality sets and costumes are clear signs of success for the Boulder Opera Company, but Acosta stays focused on the mission of the company, to bring opera to new and younger audiences. “It’s such a great thing to introduce children to opera,” she says. “That’s what we’re trying to do.

“It’s a familiar story with a happy ending, so it’s fun and educational at the same time.”

# # # # #

BOC-Little+Red+no+text+Little Red Riding Hood by Cesar Cui (Colorado premiere)
Arranged by Mathieu D’Ordine
Boulder Opera Company

1 and 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7
2 and 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8
1 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9
The Nomad Playhouse, 1410 Quince Ave., Boulder

Information and tickets 

“Musica Prima” will be a musical adventure for performer and listeners Dec. 3

Charles Wetherbee plays an electronic 5-string violin at the Diary

By Peter Alexander Dec. 2 at 2 p.m.

music-at-the-dairy-right-sideLooking for a musical adventure? The Dairy Arts Center has one on tap Monday (7:30 p.m. Dec. 3).

Charles Wetherbee, violin professor at the CU College of Music and concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic, will perform one Colorado and three world premieres for a program titled “Musica Prima” (First music). Each work calls for solo violin, although they are not strictly speaking unaccompanied, since they all incorporate electronics, including real-time feedback loops, computer-generated sounds and visual media.

glaseraex5_silvermetallic_headongoogle_2

Five-string amplified violin

But that is only part of the adventure. Wetherbee is playing on what is a new instrument for him: an amplified five-string violin. And If you’ve never seen a five-string violin, you are not alone.

“It’s a little experimental,” Wetherbee says, but for him that’s a good thing. “The advance of technology is something that’s exciting, and that expands the musical landscape for us.”

And no, you can’t just buy one at your local music store (although they can be found online). “I was contacted by a representative of a company that wanted me to demo their instrument,” Wetherbee explains. “It coincided with my embarking on (the program of premieres), so it was good  timing.”

The instrument he will play is an acoustic violin with an amplification hookup built in. The addition of the fifth string, tuned to C below the G string, allows the instrument to play music down into the range of the viola, but it has its challenges.

Charles Wetherbee.2

Charles Wetherbee

“It is a little tricky,” Wetherbee says. “On a (four-string) violin or viola, you instinctively know which string you’re going to, with your bow and fingers. But when there’s five it can be a little confusing, and it takes a little extra care and attention.”

The oldest work on the program is Isola Prima (First Island) for 8-channel tape and solo viola, part of a suite of three pieces by Italian composer Nicola Sani. Composed in 1998 and recorded in 2009, it has never been performed live in the United States.

“It’s a really interesting and atmospheric work,” Wetherbee says. “It’s an exploration of the sound of the instrument, (with) recorded sounds of the string instrument combined with the live participation of the performer.”

Two of the world premiere pieces are by Colorado natives, Monica Bolles and Zachary Patten. Bolles’s Architect uses video and audio of the audience, recorded as they arrive, which is fed through a computer that responds to the performer’s improvisations.

“Her work is very interesting,” Wetherbee says. “As I play louder or softer, faster or slower, (the computer) responds. It doesn’t do the same thing every time—it’s like AI (Artificial Intelligence). It has the capacity to perform differently every time I play, and then I respond depending on what I’m hearing the computer do.”

Pando_Image

Pando aspen grove in Utah

Patten’s piece, titled Pando, is partly improvised and incorporates visual images and sounds recorded inside one of the largest living organisms on earth, an aspen grove in Utah. Known as Pando, the grove of 47,000 trees emerges from a single root system, covers 107 acres, and is estimated to weigh more than 6,000 tons. Patten spent time inside Pando, where he captured both visual and audio elements used in his piece.

The fourth piece and third world premiere is Songs of the Wanderers by Chinese composer Fuhong Shi. Like the others, it combines both visuals and a auditory track with live performance. It was inspired by Dunhuang, a way station in far western China that was a part of the legendary Silk Road.

The composer has written “The happiness, fury, sorrow, and joy of the world are all vividly presented in the unrivaled colored frescos and sculptures in the grottos of Dunhuang. Time corrodes the tangible materiality of the world, but human emotions and spirit endure.”

“It’s a pretty big adventure, and I’m excited to be doing this,” Wetherbee says of the program. “I hope people are curious and want to come out and hear it.

“It’s really going to be some beautiful, beautiful music, some explorations—and really fun.”

# # # # #

dairy-exhibition--banner-facade

Musica Prima
Charles Wetherbee, five-string amplified violin

Architect by Monica Bolles (world premiere)
Songs of the Wanderers by Fuhong Shi (world premiere)
Pando by Zachary Patten (world premiere)
Isola Prima by Nicola Sani (Colorado premiere)

7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3
Carsen Theater, Dairy Arts Center
Tickets

Boulder Chamber Orchestra presents Seasons from Italy and Argentina

Violinist Chloe Trevor plays music by Vivaldi and Piazzolla, Friday and Saturday

By Peter Alexander Nov. 29 at 9:25 p.m.

Violinist Chloe Trevor is above all true to herself.

3010773_orig

Violinist Chloe Trevor

This weekend she will play music by two very distinct and different composers in concerts with conductor Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. The program features portions of the well loved Four Seasons of Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi, combined with the complete Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) by the innovative composer of the “New Tango,” Argentine Astor Piazzolla.

The concerts—Friday evening in Broomfield and Saturday evening in Boulder—will also include the Suite for Strings by Czech composer Leoš Janáček.

While both Vivaldi and Piazzolla represent distinct styles—the 18th-century string style of Baroque Italy, and the sensual tango of early 20th-century Argentina—Trevor does not feel that she has to create strict versions of either. “I’m playing it more in my style than anything else,” she says.

She’s not saying you can play any way you want, but once you understand a style, you should play what you believe in. “You learn the rules so that you’re aware of them,” is how she explains it. “Once you’ve gotten used to it, you say, ‘Now, I’m going to put my own spin on the whole thing.’ If you’re trying to do it a different way, it sounds like you’re trying too hard.”

Piazzolla

Astor Piazzola

Written as four separate pieces between 1965 and 1970, Piazzolla’s Seasons were originally composed for the composer’s own quintet. They were arranged for violin and orchestra as a companion to Vivaldi’s Seasons in the 1990s by Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov. That version became something of a sensation in 1999 when violinist Gidon Kremer and his Kermerata Baltica ensemble recorded both the Vivaldi and the Piazzolla-Desyatnikov sets on a CD titled “Eight Seasons.”

“I got Kremer’s recording when it came out,” Trevor says. “I was in my early teens and I remember being completely fascinated by them. When I finally did get the first opportunity to perform it last year, I was just ecstatic.”

The Piazzolla Seasons are often performed separately, because putting the two sets together on one concert is a challenge. The Vivaldi set is four complete concertos, each comprising three movements, while each of the Piazzolla Seasons is a one-movement work in itself. Played together, both works complete would take at least an hour, which is certainly too long for a soloists’ portion of a standard orchestral concert.

763096_orig

Chloe Trevor

Trevor’s solution is to play the Piazzolla pieces framed by individual movements from Vivaldi. When she first got the music, “I took a few weeks to figure out an order that I wanted,” she says.

“The way I picked it was, what I felt was best to start and end with. It makes the most sense to start with the first movement of Vivaldi’s Spring—it’s one everyone’s familiar with, so it’s the best opener. And I wanted to end with the last movement of Vivaldi’s Summer. That’s the most bombastic movement—it’s a flashy ending. Unfortunately, none of the Piazzolla Seasonshave a great ender.”

In between, she arranged Vivaldi movements around the Piazzolla pieces based on connections that made sense to her. Here is what she settled on: The fist movement from Vivaldi Spring; Piazzolla Spring; a movement of Vivaldi Autumn; Piazzolla Autumn; a movement of Vivaldi Winter; Piazzolla Winter; a movement of Vivaldi Summer; Piazzolla Summer; and ending with the final movement of Vivaldi Summer.

Trevor believes it all makes sense when you hear it. As for switching between Baroque and contemporary tango styles, she says “the pieces are written in such a way that it’s not difficult to go between one and the other. They (each) have their own energy, so you get caught up in that.”

conducting_201110

Bahman Saless

Saless noted that he has done music by Janáček before, but the Suite for Strings is harder than others he has done. “This is a difficult one,” he says.

“It has a lot of deep sentiment and you can tell he’s sort of experimenting with his own skill set as a string writer. But it’s got some absolutely gorgeous sonorities. It’s one of those pieces where you hear it and go, ‘Oh my God, why I have not heard that before?’”

Saless has often worked with Trevor’s father, conductor Kirk Trevor. Because of that, he has known Chloe since she was still a child studying with her mother, violinist Heidi Trevor, a member of the Dallas Symphony. Naturally, Saless and Chloe Trevor enjoy times when they can perform together.

“It’s always wonderful to work with Bahman,” Trevor says. “There’s a lot of dreams being realized. The (Vivaldi and Piazzolla Seasons) are such great pieces, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be here and have a chance to play them again.”

# # # # #

 

bconew_1.jpgThe Seasons
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Chloe Trevor, violin

Vivaldi/Piazzolla: Four Seasons
Janáček: Suite for Strings

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, Broomfield Auditorium
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, Boulder Adventist Church

Tickets

Handel’s ‘Messiah,’ tailored for the Christmas season

Pro Musica Colorado and Boulder Chamber Chorale combine for performances

By Peter Alexander Nov. 29 at 3 p.m .

Hungary applause pic 2_edited

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, with conductor Cynthia Katsarelis

It’s been 276 years, and people are still talking about Handel’s Messiah.

Of course, it’s one of the best known and best loved pieces ever written, but that does not make it immune to controversy. One thorny subject is that it has become the quintessential Christmas piece.

But Messiah was not written for Christmas, and only about a third of it has anything to do with Christmas. The rest takes the story through Easter and the Resurrection. The first performances were given in April, 1742, during Lent, and most performances in Handel’s lifetime followed that pattern.

Many people consider performances of the entire piece during the Christmas season inappropriate. Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis is one of those people, but she has found a way to reconcile Messiah’s popularity at Christmas with its content. With the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra, the Boulder Chamber Chorale and soloists, she will lead performances Dec. 1 and 2 of what she calls “a Christmas version.”

“We’re doing the Christmas section, plus,” she explains. In addition to the full Part One, which is the Christmas portion of the oratorio, “we use elements from Part Two and Part Three that illuminate why this birth is so important.”

The Boulder performances will include a food drive for Community Food Share. Audience members are encouraged to bring non-perishable, packaged food items, such as canned goods, cereal and pasta to be collected at the performances.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

# # # # #

Handel’s Messiah
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With the Boulder Chamber Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, artistic director
Jennifer Bird, soprano; Leah Creek Biesterfeld, alto; Stephen Soph, tenor; Adam Ewing, baritone

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1
3 p.m. Sunday, Dec 2
Mountain View Methodist, 355 Ponca Pl., Boulder

Tickets

 

 

 

 

Violinist Sarah Chang visits Boulder on a rare solo recital tour

Program includes music she loves, but she’d still like to talk about her dog

By Peter Alexander Nov. 14 at 10:40 p.m.

Violinist Sarah Chang, a celebrated concerto soloist, comes to Boulder on Friday, Nov. 16, for a rare solo recital, but she would rather talk about her dog.

i-7FBNcfQ-X5

Sarah Chang. Photo by Colin Bell, under license to EI Classics

“I wish people would ask me more about my dog,” she says. “He’s the number one thing in my life, and everybody always asks me about music.”

Of course it is the music that brings her to Boulder, and she agrees to talk about that, too. Her program features three works from the late 19th-, early-20th-century era of great violin playing: Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances, Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in D minor and the imposing Franck Sonata in A Major.

“What I love about this program is that you have the exotic Bartók, which is so unique in its own way,” she says. “And then you have the Brahms which is so noble and so beautiful, and then you have the Franck which is just a masterpiece and probably one of the most well known sonatas for any instrument.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

# # # # #

Sarah Chang, violin, and Julio Elizalde, piano
7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, Macky Auditorium

Bartók: Romanian Folk Dances
Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in D minor
Franck: Sonata in A Major

Tickets

Boulder Symphony evokes “Home” with the Holidays approaching

Nostalgia, a fast ride, and the feeling of the sea are on the program Nov. 17

By Peter Alexander Nov. 15 at 2:10 p.m.

Everyone thinks of home as Thanksgiving approaches.

BS-2017-OrchestraStanding

Boulder Symphony

As it happens, “Home” is the subject of the next concert by the Boulder Symphony, but despite the time of year, it is not about  the holidays. The title refers to one of the pieces on the program, a new work by Sarah Kirkland Snider. The title, Hiraeth, is an untranslatable Welsh word that encompasses nostalgia for home, as well as longing and sadness.

Hughes.DP.3

Devin Patrick Hughes

Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor of the Boulder Symphony, first heard Snider’s music when it was played by the Detroit Symphony. “Snider is a really active composer,” he says. “She’s very young but at the same time she’s already been played around the world.”

Snider is currently in Boulder visiting the College of Music at CU.

In addition to Snider’s 26-minute piece, the program will also include John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine, an energetic and stimulating concert opener that has practically become a staple of major orchestras’ repertoire since its premiere in 1986; and one of the best known works for orchestra, Debussy’s La Mer, a three-movement evocation of the sea.

Snider grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, but she wrote Hiraeth when she received a commission from the North Carolina Symphony to write a piece about her family’s historic ties to the state. Her conception of the piece took a darker turn when her father—her living connection to North Carolina—died suddenly after she received the commission.

sniderjpg-9938c31de14408de

Sarah Kirkland Snider

“My musical ideas were now refracted through the lens of grief,” she writes in her program notes for the score. “The material grew darker, my thinking about the piece more complex. . . . Ultimately, Hiraeth is both elegy and personal meditation, steeped in the hazy, half-recollected textures and sensations that surround a memory.” (You may read her full program notes here.)

Snider’s score was originally conceived as a partner to a film score. The Boulder Symphony will not show the film, but Hughes believes the music stands well on its own. “I don’t think you need anything to go with it,” he says. “It’s very episodic, it’s very operatic. She brings you into this world and doesn’t let you out—in a good way!”

Hughes says that the Adams fanfare was selected specifically to introduce the Snider piece. “We were, ‘Well, what do you need to get home, fast?’” he says. “You couldn’t be more descriptive in the title [as to] exactly what it’s about. It literally takes you on that ride.”

The Adams score is fast and exciting—and more difficult than it sounds, he says. “John Adams is notoriously difficult in that he sounds so easy, but it’s funny how the simpler you get, sometimes the most difficulty enters with the precision that is needed. It’s hard for the brass placing the rhythms, and especially getting it up to the speed that Adams is asking for.”

The first half of the concert follows the theme of “Home,” but that idea is not evident in La Mer. Hughes says that the concert “needs to have a theme, but then you have the artistic side. You want all the music to be able to stand on its own merits.” And the Debussy, he adds, does fit into the program in a specifically musical way.

“This program is all about precision,” he says. “Debussy has this ethereal, elusive, cloudy, unfocused quality musically, because it’s French and it’s picture painting, but to make that happen, it needs the utmost precision. The colors don’t happen until you line it up, which is easier said than done”.

Because of the “unfocused quality” of the music not everyone hears the same thing in La Mer. Some people may hear the waves, others might hear the wind passing over the sea, and some might not hear the sea at all, but that’s all right with Hughes. “That’s what makes [the music] so great,” he says. “It can mean anything to anybody.

“Debussy is not trying to create sights or sounds. He’s evoking how he feels from the ocean.” And of course, evoking those feelings still requires the precision Hughes was talking about. “It’s a challenge,” he says.

“We’ve done Mahler and full operas and [Stravinsky’s] Rite of Spring, but I’d say this is our most challenging concert.”

# # # # #

BSO.logo

“Home”
Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor
7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17
First Presbyterian Church, 1820 15thSt., Boulder

John Adams: A Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Sarah Kirkland Snider: Hiraeth (Colorado Premiere)
Debussy: La Mer

Tickets