Butterman and Boulder Phil shine in Romantic program

Brahms, Schumann and Dame Ethel Smyth were on the bill

By Peter Alexander

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Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic

In a program of Romantic and very late Romantic music, the Boulder Philharmonic sounded as good last night (Jan. 14) as I have ever heard them.

Most satisfying were two works from the heart of the Romantic era, Brahms’s darkly brooding Tragic Overture of 1880, and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor from 1851. These are pieces that suit the orchestra and its conductor, Michael Butterman, particularly well, and they both received warm, suitably emotive interpretations. The third work on the program, Ethel Smyth’s stylistically Romantic Concerto for Violin and Horn, composed in the 1920s, was a more complicated case.

The concert began with the Tragic Overture. A work that reflects the composer’s famously dour persona, it was nonetheless an effective opener. The sound was warm and plush from the very first note. The texture was clean and well balanced—a testament to the quality of players and Butterman’s preparation—even in the contrapuntal passages. Butterman controlled the momentum carefully, doing with interpretation what larger orchestras would do with weight of sound.

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Dame Ethel Smyth

Smyth’s Concerto is an interesting hybrid, a concerto for two instruments that seem not well matched in sound and character. It veers nervously from one musical idea to another, and from concerto to chamber music textures and back. At times one or the other soloist seems relegated to a secondary role, or even blends into the orchestra, while the other takes the spotlight.

Smyth seems to gradually get a handle on the combination. By the final movement they are sharing themes, playing together, and trading motives much more fluidly. Except for an overlong exit from their written-out cadenza, this is the most successful movement.

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Violinist Jennifer Frautschi

Soloists Jennifer Frautschi on violin and Eric Ruske on horn are outstanding players who had their parts well under control. Still, this may be a piece better heard in recordings, where the soloists can be electronically balanced. Certainly that was my experience; I was sitting on the left front of the house, looking straight into the bell of Ruske’s horn. There were times that was all I could hear, and Frautschi’s violin playing was muffled in comparison. I imagine that the balance was better farther back, or in the center of the hall.

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Horn player Eric Ruske

Considering that handicap, I hesitate to say more about the performance, except to note that Frautschi, Ruske and orchestra filled Macky with lovely sounds. The end of the slow movement and the shared material in the finale struck me as particularly enjoyable. The audience responded warmly.

The orchestra was again well balanced in the Schumann symphony. Some over-enthusiastic tympani playing in the first movement added punch to climactic moments, but at the cost of hearing full chords. The surging lines in the lower strings, a critical element of the score, were played with great momentum and richness of sound. The beautiful duo between cello and oboe in the slow movement was particularly effective.

Butterman responded well to Schumann’s sometimes mercurial moods, and controlled the musical flow to bring the symphony to a rousing conclusion. The enthusiasm of the audience was well earned.

The symphony was the first Schumann Butterman has programmed with the Phil. On the evidence of last night’s performance, he should do more; perhaps an orchestra that relishes portraying nature through sound will bring us the “Spring” Symphony in a future season.

Surveying a year of losses

A list of some of who will be long remembered for their contributions to music

By Peter Alexander

Compiling the annual list of musicians we lost in this past year reminded me of a headline from a book of “Flubs from the Nation’s Press”: “Lucky Man Sees Pals Die.”

All of life is kind of like that: if you survive, you have the dubious privilege of watching others die. But 2016 raised that to a higher level, as we lost many great musicians, actors, and other public figures, including literal as well as the figurative nobility of the music world. Most of us didn’t know them personally, and yet we felt personally touched by their work.

Here is my annual list of classical musicians who have passed, and some great popular figures as well. As always, it is a list that reflects my personal interests; you are more than welcome to remember in the comments any others whose loss you will feel.

Dec. 31, 2015: Natalie Cole, the daughter of Nat King Cole and a great singer in her own right, who died at the very end of 2015, after last year’s survey was published, 65

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David Bowie, in one of his many incarnations

Jan. 5, 2016: Pierre Boulez, one-time enfant terrible of the musical avant-garde who called for the destruction of all art from the past, but later became one of the most distinguished conductors of the time, 90

Jan. 10: David Bowie (aka “Ziggy Stardust”), the chameleon man of popular music, a songwriter, singer and actor who released his last album two days before his death, 69

February 4: Leslie Bassett, American composer and distinguished professor at the University of Michigan, 93

February 14: Steven Stucky, Pulitzer-Prize winning composer and composition teacher at the Aspen Music Festival, Cornell University, and the Juilliard School, 66

March 5: Nikolaus Harnoncourt (born Johann Nikolaus Graf de la Fontaine und d’Harnoncourt-Unverzagt), founder of the period-instrument ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien and highly respected conductor, 5 March, 86

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Sir George Martin

March 8: Sir George Martin, the record producer who recognized the potential of the Beatles when others had turned them down, sometimes called “The Fifth Beatle,” 90

March 14: Peter Maxwell Davies, English modernist composer, openly gay and an avowed environmentalist who lived for many years in the remote Orkney Islands, 81

March 20: Keith Emerson, English keyboardist known for his rock arrangements of classical music, one third of the progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 71

April 6: Merle Haggard, one of the mainstays of an entire generation of country singers, known for “Okie from Muskogee” (among other songs), who once sang “If God doesn’t live in Colorado/I’ll bet that’s where He spends most of His time,” 79

April 21: Prince Rogers Nelson, flamboyant American singer/songwriter who was one of the most eclectic and prolific musicians of his lifetime, 57

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Jane Little

May 15: Jane Little, diminutive (4’ 11’’) bass player with the Atlanta Symphony for an amazing 71 years, who collapsed onstage during a performance, 87

June 4: Phyllis Curtin, American soprano long associated with the New York City Opera, who also sang at the Chicago Lyric, the Metropolitan, and major houses world wide, 94

July 12: Gregg Smith, choral conductor who championed the work of American composers and director of the Gregg Smith Singers, 84

July 27: Einojuhani Rautavaara, Finnish composer of works in most classical genres, including operas, symphonies, choral works, and chamber music, 87

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Patrice Munsel on the cover of Life, 1944

August 4: Patrice Munsel, coloratura soprano who was the youngest singer ever to appear in a leading role at the Metropolitan, at the age of 17, 91

August 22: Toots Thielemans (born Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor, Baron Thielemans), Belgian-American jazz musician, known for playing harmonica and guitar, and whistling, 94

October 2: Sir Neville Marriner, famed conductor and founder of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra, 92

October 8: Peter Allen, for 19 years the voice of the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts, 96

November 6: Zoltán Kocsis, Hungarian virtuoso pianist and conductor, 64

November 7: Leonard Cohen, Canadian poet and novelist, later a singer and songwriter as well as painter, composer of the iconic and often covered song “Hallelujah,” 82

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Pauline Oliveros

November 24: Pauline Oliveros, American composer and accordionist, an influential figure on the West-coast experimental and electronic music scene, 84

November 26: Russell Oberlin, American countertenor and founding member of the pioneering early-music group New York Pro Musica Antiqua, 88

December 15: Karel Husa, Czech composer who lived and taught in the U.S. for many years, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Grawemeyer Award, among other honors, 95

December 21: Weston Noble, renowned music educator, conductor of the Luther College Nordic Choir for 57 years and the Luther College Band for 25 years, 94

December 23: Heinrich Schiff, a highly distinguished Austrian cellist and conductor, 65

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The Alexandrov Ensemble

December 24: Valery Khalilov and 63 other members of the Alexandrov Ensemble Russian Army Chorus, killed in a crash of a Tu-154 jet off the coast of the Black Sea

December 25: George Michael (born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou), English popular singer, songwriter and record producer, 53

NOTE: Edited to correct typos, 1 Jan. 2017.

The Boulder Bach Festival presents a journey of exploration in Longmont

By Peter Alexander

Last night’s concert presented by the Boulder Bach Festival at Longmont’s Stewart Auditorium (Dec. 10, “Journey to Vienna with Mario Aschauer and Friends”) represented an ideal combination of repertoire, instruments and performance space.

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Mario Aschauer

The concert featured Aschauer, a musicologist and performer on the faculty of Sam Houston State University in Texas, on harpsichord; Zachary Carrettin, the artistic director of the Boulder Bach Festival, playing Baroque violin and the cello da spalla (“shoulder cello,” a small cello played on the shoulder, like a cross between violin and guitar); and the bright, clear voice of soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson. The program comprised music from the late 17th and early 18th Imperial Court in Vienna, including pieces for harpsichord alone, a sonata for violin and harpsichord, and arias from operas written for court occasions,

Most of the music was discovered by Aschauer in Viennese archives. It had been performed at the court and then set aside, making last night’s concert the modern and U.S. premieres of several pieces. The composers included the Hapsburg Emperor Leopold I as well as court composers George Muffat and his son Gottlieb, Attilio Ariosti, Antonio Caldara and Johann Joseph Fux.

The light and transparent sounds of the harpsichord and Baroque strings fit the repertoire perfectly, as did the lively, intimate space of Stewart Auditorium. Textures were clear and the audience was close enough to hear nuances that easily could be lost in larger halls. The program was presented with passion and an almost sensuous care for the sound. In short: this was as good an argument as you will hear for historical performance practice as a gateway to the sound world of the past.

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Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson

The entire program was both unfamiliar and fascinating. The arias were sung by Bird-Arvidsson with a seamless flow and elegant phrasing that was nicely matched by Aschauer and Carrettin in their obbligato accompaniments. Their committed advocacy for the music suggests that this unknown vocal repertoire is worthy of further exploration.

Of the instrumental works, Georg Muffat’s Sonata for Violin was strikingly strange, with passages of more or less normal Baroque phrases interrupted by sudden and unexpected  harmonic deviations. With the weirdness clearly brought out by the scoring, one wonders: was Muffat showing off for his imperial employer? It is certainly a piece that keeps both performers and listeners engaged.

Aschauer played a Plainte by Gottlieb Muffat in memory of the scholar Allison Dunlop, who tragically died just after completing a groundbreaking study of the composer. He performed this strange little lament with great feeling.

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Zachary Carrettin with his cello da spalla

Carrettin introduced his cello da spalla to the audience, explaining how it might have been used in Baroque times, and why the instrument disappeared in the later 18th century. Built to order and based on historical models, his is a one-of-a-kind instrument that Carrettin admitted he is still learning. When played with vigor, it produces a gruff, dark sound, but Carrettin showed that it is also capable of more lyrical expression.

With this program, the Boulder Bach Festival has continued its theme using Bach “as a compass,” as Carrettin says, while exploring the musical past with fresh eyes and ears. Aschauer, Carrettin and Bird-Arvidsson made the “Journey to Vienna” one to be relished.

It will be ukuleles and a witch for the holidays

By Peter Alexander

Ah, the holiday season. That wonderful time for your favorite carols, colored lights, egg nog and — ukuleles?

Sure enough, it’s all part of the eclectic mix of holiday music on the Boulder classical scene, featuring not only the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, but also Elphaba from the Broadway hit Wicked, alongside other events that have become part of the annual December concert schedule. The perennial best-sellers — the Nutcrackers and the CU Holiday Festival — are already behind us, but there is still plenty of music to look forward to.

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The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain will be at Macky Auditorium Thursday (7:30 p.m. Dec. 8) as part of the CU Presents series. Known for their iconoclastic, not to say wacky, programming, the group promises to perform their usual combination of rock and pop covers, including music from Joni Mitchell and Pharrell Williams, some jazz and country songs, and classic Christmas carols.

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Dee Roscioli

The Wicked Witch of the West sneaks into the Christmas schedule with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, who are presenting A Wicked Good Christmas Saturday in Macky (7:30 p.m. Dec. 10). Scott O’Neil will conduct the performance, which will feature vocalist Dee Roscioli, who played the role of Elphaba in the Broadway and national touring productions of Wicked, and the Fairview High School Festival Choir.

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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Holiday Events in Boulder

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8
Macky Auditorium
Tickets

A Wicked Good Christmas
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Scott O’Neil, conductor, with Dee Roscioli, vocalist
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10
Macky Auditorium
Tickets

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Boulder Chorale and Children’s Chorus

A Thousand Beautiful Things
Boulder Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, conductor, and the Boulder Chorale Children’s Chorus
7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11
First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder
Tickets

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Kathryn Harms

Christmas with Ars Nova
Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan, conductor, with Kathryn Harms, harp.
7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11
St. John. Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder

2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10
Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Ave., Cherry Hills Village

Tickets

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Dark Horse Consort

Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem: Christmas Music of Praetorius
The Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Evanne Browne, conductor, with the Dark Horse Consort.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10
First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce, St., Boulder
Tickets

Candlelight Concert
Longmont Symphony Orchestra, David Rutherford, conductor
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15
Westview Presbyterian Church, 15th and Hover, Longmont
Tickets

 

Shining a light on a musical ‘blind spot’ in Vienna

One hundred years of music from the Hapsburg Court

By Peter Alexander

Vienna’s rich musical heritage of the Classic-Romantic periods is very familiar to audiences. But for a full century before Haydn or Mozart ever set foot in Vienna, the Austrian capital had a musical culture that scholar/performer Mario Aschauer calls “a phenomenon unique in music history.”

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Scholar/performer Mario Aschauer uncovers the forgotten music of Vienna with the Boulder Bach Festival

Between 1637 and 1740, four consecutive Hapsburg emperors were trained musicians and composers. “They had an amazing court (music establishment),” Aschauer explains. “They had international personnel and produced an unspeakable amount of music in pretty much every genre that was popular at the time.”

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Zachary Carrettin playing the cello da spalla

To open the door on these riches of the Baroque era, the Boulder Bach Festival has invited Aschauer to present “A Journey to Vienna with Mario Aschauer,” a concert of music from the Austrian court, to be presented Thursday in Boulder and Saturday in Longmont. The program features both operatic and instrumental selections, performed by Aschauer on harpsichord; the Bach Festival’s director, Zachary Carrettin, on Baroque violin and his recently revived cello da spalla; and by soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, who performed with the Bach Festival in last season’s performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

Works on the program include music by one of the emperors and court composers of different generations. There are pieces for keyboard alone, a sonata for violin and keyboard, and several arias with an obbligato instrument—an instrument that becomes a duet partner with the singer.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson

Journey to Vienna, with Mario Aschauer, harpsichord
Zachary Carrettin, Baroque violin and cello da spalla
Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano

Music by Emperor Leopold I, Georg and Gottlieb Muffat, Atonio Caldara, Attilio Ariosti and Johann Joseph Fux.

7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8
Grace Lutheran Church, 1001 13th St., Boulder

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10
Stewart Auditorium, 400 Quail Rd., Longmont

Tickets

 

With BCO, comfortably familiar Americana takes many forms

By Peter Alexander

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Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

“The Americans,” the current program of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO), offers comfortably familiar Americana in several different guises.

The program, led by conductor Bahman Saless and featuring violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, was performed last night (Nov. 11) in the Broomfield Auditorium. It will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave. (tickets).

The program opens with genteel music from America’s “Gilded Age” of the late 19th century, the Air and Gavotte from Bostonian Arthur Foote’s Serenade for Strings. Here, the American-ness resides mostly in Foote’s careful homage to the music of Europe and avoidance of anything overtly American—characteristic of American high culture at the time, especially in New England.

Tenderly played by the BCO, the Air made a gentle start to the program. The following Gavotte is a Romanticized, drawing-room version of the Baroque dance, but none the less pleasant for that. Both were played with care.

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Composer David Jaffe

Leaping more than 120 years, the BCO followed with the American premiere of David Jaffe’s Violin Concerto, How Did it Get so Late so Soon? This highly personal but unmistakably American work received a vigorous performance from the orchestra and Pollick, for whom the concerto was written, and by whom it was premiered in Lithuania Aug. 27.

A former bluegrass musician, Jaffe has filled the score with quotes and references to American music from the blues to the protest music of the 1930s. You may not hear the Woody Guthrie song he quotes, but the overall tone will be familiar to American audiences. The blues inflections, the outbreaks of Appalachian fiddling, the folk-tune-like melodies all come from a world we recognize.

There are portions of the concerto that sound as American as anything by Copland. But these ideas are always refracted thought a Charles Ives-ian sensibility, so that the music never settles into an extensive folkish groove. To my ears, that makes it all the more interesting: you never know what will happen next, but it all hangs together in a fascinating mélange. Bravo to Saless and the BCO for programming a work that deserves to be heard widely.

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Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick

The orchestra played with a natural and relaxed understanding of Jaffe’s style. The small string section was always solid, and the second movement in particular featured some outstanding wind playing.

An enthusiastic advocate of the music she performs, Pollick played with great energy and conviction. Disclosure: I have known her since we were both music students in the 1980s, but to my entirely non-objective ear, she handled the concerto with virtuosic ease.

The rest of the program is too familiar to require extensive comment. In these fractious times, the Barber Adagio for Strings could be heard as an expression of sorrow for our broken country, and Copland’s Appalachian Spring as the hope that if we follow our hearts, things can be mended. But I doubt that anyone really wants to hear music as political metaphor.

The Barber was played with warmth and careful dynamic control. When played by a chamber orchestra, Appalachian Spring becomes less rugged, more delicate. There were a few bobbles, but Copland’s tender lyricism and robust energy were well conveyed. When everyone was having as much fun as Saless broadcast from the podium, further criticism seems irrelevant.

Boulder Chamber Orchestra presents music grown from friendship

By Peter Alexander

David A. Jaffe’s new Violin Concerto grew out of a friendship between the composer and a Colorado violinist.

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Karen Bentley Police in her Evergreen home

Karen Bentley Pollick, who lives in Evergreen, will play the American premiere of the concerto, titled How Did it Get so Late so Soon?, Friday in Broomfield and Saturday in Boulder. The concerto is part of “The Americans,” a program by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO)and conductor Bahman Saless. 

Other works on the program are the Air and Gavotte for strings by Arthur Foote, the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, and Aaron Copland’s much loved Appalachian Spring. The all-American program is designed as a tribute for Veteran’s Day, which coincides with the Friday concert. As part of the observation, BCO is offering free tickets to all veterans, available at the door both dates.

Pollick played the world premiere of Jaffe’s concerto, which was written for her, at the Tytuvenai Festival in Lithuania on Aug. 27 of this year. “I strongly believe music is made between people who know each other,” she says. “The history of music is people writing with and for people that they’re fond of.”

Pollick and Jaffe met in the 1980s, when the composer was working at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. Since then, the violinist has played several of his works, including Impossible Animals for violin and computer-generated voices, and his Cluck Old Hen Variations for solo violin.

“Come with open minds, and we’ll have a love fest through Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Barber’s Adagio, and the U.S. premiere of this concerto” Pollick says.“My dream is to unite our audience through the celebration of eloquent varieties of American music, and the U.S. premiere of the violin concerto, creating a transcendent and memorable experience for all present.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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“The Americans”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Karen Bentley Pollick, violin

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Arthur Foote: Air and Gavotte
Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings
Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring
David A Jaffe: Violin Concerto, How Did it Get so Late so Soon? (U.S. premiere)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11
Broomfield Auditorium, 3 Community Park Rd., Broomfield

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder

Concerts free for Veterans
Tickets