Director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble feels lucky in spite of the pandemic

But Amanda Balestrieri is eager to be “in the music” again

By Peter Alexander July 20 at 1:15 p.m.

“My main interest is to be in the music,” Amanda Balestrieri says.

Seicento in happier days when they could congregate and perform. Amanda Balestrieri (in blue) and associate conductor Gerald W. Holbrook

The director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble misses her colleagues, and the Seicento choir, and the other musicians that she worked with before the pandemic hit. “For me that’s the hardest thing, not working with other musicians,” she says. “I think this is very hard, because I have been re-examining how I want to do music. How do you practice your art?

“We’re all trying to reconfigure and problem solve, but we don’t really know what the parameters are going to be. Do you carry on, and how much of a mission do you have to teach, or perform in smaller venues?”

Those of course are the more abstract, broader questions that all musicians are facing in the time of COVID-19. Balestrieri tends to be philosophical about the big issues, partly because she has faced difficulties before. “I’ve been through some trials in my life; this is not the first,” she says. And the advice that she offers from her life experiences?

“When you know you’re in for a long haul, with challenges, you have to decide if you’re going to turn off and stop, or if you’re going to get up the next day and see what happens. It makes time slow down because there’s a lot things we can’t fix. I’m a fixer, so I’m frustrated right now. But it’s a good lesson to learn to back off  and let things get there.”

Balestrieri, Zooming in from her kitchen

She remains optimistic for the long term. “Most of the musicians that I know, and all of the audience members, will not let live performance not come back,” she says. “The subtlety of the musical conversation in person, even with a large group—it’s going to come back.”

In the meantime, there are the nitty gritty details of taking care of Seicento—working with the board and coming up with plans B, C and D for the future in the face of all the uncertainty. “They’re keeping me on as artistic director for a reduced fee” Balestrieri says. 

“We’re in the process of brainstorming about how we can accomplish keeping the choir cohesive. There’s a lot of things that we’re thinking through. Now it’s a question of figuring out how we can pull people in, use the technology that we have in the works. We know that we can’t have an online rehearsal where everybody can hear everybody, because we don’t have those programs.”

Educational programming that Balestrieri could offer to the singers, small group performances, Zoom meetings with rotating groups from the choir are all being considered. “Our mission is to promote the understanding and practice of the Baroque performance practice,” Balestrieri says. “I’m thinking of doing that with the choir.”

Like most of us, Balestrieri has activities for her free time as well. “I have relatives in England, and it seems to me that everybody’s gardening their heads off,” she says. “I’ve been gardening my head off! I’m on the warpath against the weeds that grow into my air-conditioning units.

“I have made a rockscape, so I have been moving flagstones from the patio, buying pea gravel—with my mask on!—and going back for another bag, since I never quite have enough. And then I’ve had all of these other things; right after the (March) concert got canceled, my fridge died. So after a $400 replacement, now my dishwasher has died and my jacuzzi has started to leak. I fixed that myself, so actually I’m like Rosie the riveter! I’ve been doing things like that.”

Every interview with people isolated during the pandemic eventually gets around to books, which are a source of both entertainment and solace. As it turns out, Balestrieri didn’t go into the period of isolation with a reading list in mind. “We’ve been raiding the local little free libraries, so it’s kind of random what we get,” she says. 

“I started reading this very odd book of short stories about Lord Peter Wimsey by Dorothy Sayers. I haven’t read any of this kind of stuff for eons. Charley [Samson, classical music host and producer at Colorado Public Radio] read it and he said, you know, these are really fun, but they’re kind of gruesome.

“I have to agree, they’re kind of gruesome. It’s like some guy copper plates his beautiful wife! So I told him I don’t want to read anything quite that grizzly.”

Balestrieri wants you to know that she has much to be grateful for. “I don’t mind being home. I need alone time. I love doing practical stuff, like rockscapes and baking, making bread and pizza. I’m a good cook so I enjoy that.

“I’m really lucky because I’m safe, I have a place to live, I have food, I have projects, I have a brain, as far as I know I’m not sick. I’m like everybody else trying to work out where everything comes down, and at the same time being extremely patient.”

The patience comes in part from having a goal to work for: getting back to live performances. “The first day that you’re able to either go and attend a concert like that, or be in it,” she says, “the joy of that will be very intense!”

Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick sits out the pandemic in Mexican pueblo

“I wouldn’t rather be anywhere on the planet than right where I am”

By Peter Alexander July 7 at 2:50 p.m.

Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick has been in San Pancho, a Mexican pueblo of about 2,500 people, since the pandemic hit.

Save your sympathy for someone else, though. She has food, she has the internet, she has her husband and her dog with her in San Pancho, and she loves the pueblo. “I wouldn’t rather be anywhere on the planet than right where I am,” she says.

Pollick in her home in San Pancho, Mexico

Pollick lived several years in Evergreen, and has performed chamber music and solo recitals in Boulder. She played principal second violin and was a featured artist at Mahlerfest and was poised to do the same this year until the coronavirus forced the cancellation of the festival—and an entire tour that she had planned for the spring. 

“I was due to fly to San Jose (Calif.) April 8, and to spend my father’s 86th birthday with him,” she says. She had rehearsals and performances with the Paul Dresher Ensemble—an innovative contemporary performance group—in San Francisco, and work in New York before Mahlerfest, which would have included a house concert and chamber music in addition to the main orchestra concert. Then she would have returned to the West coast for a project with composers from around the world at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).

Tour or no tour, Pollick has no trouble  filling her time. She always has projects and music to practice. “My life’s not very much different—the only difference is that I’m not getting on planes and going anywhere,” she says. Besides, “I love spending time alone. 

“During those first weeks [in San Pancho], I watched every night the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts—that was my coping,” she says. “Then after one week of opera I dove frenetically into what I’m doing.” Because she enjoys working with composers and meets many of then on her travels, “what I’m doing” is often contemporary, creative and cutting edge.

Poillick and flutist Klaus Liebetanz performing John Kreitler’s Conversations Beyond the Stars on her Webcast concert in May

One of the first projects on her music stand was a Webcast of new music with electronics planned for May. It was intended to be performed live in real time and streamed from Pollick’s home studio in San Pancho, but because the Internet connection was too slow, that plan was scrapped. Instead, everything was prerecorded for CCRMA to stream from their studio.

Another project she has dived into is creating a new version of a piece that she recorded in 2015, “Užupis Constitution Song” by Swedish composer Ole Saxe. Pollick was living in Vilnius, Lithuania, at the time and working on a recording project with Saxe.

Užupis is a neighborhood within Vilnius that historically has been a center for the arts and artists. The semi-humorous constitution, posted in 23 languages on a wall in Vilnius, contains 41 articles, including “Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation,” “Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown,” and “A dog has the right to be a dog.”

Saxe’s piece for solo violin has a melody that “closely mirrors the text as lyrics,” he says. When Pollick recorded “Užupis Constitution Song” in 2015, it appeared on a CD (Peace Piece) and on a YouTube video with the text of the various articles scrolling like subtitles. But, Pollick says, “There are a lot of lyrics in there that are not coming through on the violin part, so I’m going to make it a vocal version.

“I started looking at it, and thought, ’Oh my goodness, this is too high for me.’ So it’s got to be not a violin piece, but a viola piece”—taking it down to a range that Pollick could sing. Saxe re-wrote the song down five notes, and added a piano part. Pollick studied the video of her playing the violin version on the banks of the Vilnele river in Vilnius. She played and recorded the viola part, carefully matching the bow strokes with the video, then recorded the new piano part on her Casio keyboard.

Karen Bentley Pollick playing “Užupis Constitution Song” on the banks of the Vilnele River

“Now that my Webcast is over I’m going to be recording the vocal part, to add onto that,” she says. “It’s one thing to see the articles of the constitution streaming, but once you have the words and the melody it becomes real. I want my voice on it, so I’ve been training and coaching myself and we’re 80% there.“

In her notably diverse musical universe, Pollick has other projects as well. “The other thing I have occupying my music stand, are several amazing virtuosic bluegrass pieces,” she says. “One’s by Joel Friedman called ‘Uncle Hokum’s Fiddle,’ and the other one is by Jimmy Bunch called ‘Devil’s Bargain’.”

Like many of us, Pollick is reading some favorite authors during the pandemic. “One of my favorite writers is Chris Bohjalian,” she says. “I read his book, The Flight Attendant, now I’m reading The Sleepwalker.

“I just finished a book by Alex Halberstadt. It’s a wonderful book—Young Heroes of the Soviet Union—which is about his grandfather being a bodyguard for Josef Stalin. It’s a personal testimonial [that records] how trauma travels from generation to generation.”

She also is active in the San Pancho community. “Our community is based on tourism, and [now] most of the people in my pueblo are unemployed,” she says. “Our goal is to feed everybody. We have a food bank that feeds 250 people per day, five days a week.” Pollick picks up supplies for the food bank from Costco in Puerto Vallarta, about 40 minutes from San Pancho.

San Pancho, Mexico

So she has her musical projects, she has books, and she enjoys being a part of her community. “People are very nice, and the local population is very proud of their pueblo,” she says.

As for the coronavirus, “I feel safe,” she says. “The municipal, state and federal police are taking extremely good care of the population. They have a new normal, and it’s respected. Most people have their face masks on.

“We’re very respectful of ourselves and each other here.”

Lessons from virtual conferences

League of American Orchestras, OPERA America go online

By Peter Alexander June 24 at 3 p.m.

I recently “attended” two national conferences of classical music service organizations, the League of American Orchestras (LAO) and Opera America (OA). They were both informative about their fields in these difficult times, but also about the very nature of the conferences themselves. 

Here are a few of the things I learned.

First, we have the technology we need now to be holding meetings online rather than requiring everyone to get together in person. In the 1990s I held a minor post with a scholarly society and from my post of no significance I tried to nudge the powers that were toward making their conferences available online. 

It was (and is) expensive for students to travel across the country to make the contacts necessary to advance their careers. And I foresaw a future when air travel would become more expensive and more damaging to the environment, or when some largely unexpected event would render travel impractical. I thought then, and still do, that everyone would benefit from greater accessibility of the national meetings.

You will not be surprised that I had no influence at all.

But now, both the LAO and OA handled the details of online presentations and panel discussions smoothly. The only glitches came from individual users with compromised internet connections or unfamiliarity with Zoom. There is simply no reason going forward not to make most sessions of future conferences available online.

I understand the value of professional peers getting together for networking and sharing of ideas outside of formal sessions, and the building of relationships through social events. But both organizations reported the highest attendance in their history, with the LAO attendance growing from 2,000 in the first week to 3,700 for the closing session. This shows that there are many members and interested supporters who are unable to attend the national meeting, for financial reasons or conflicting obligations, who would benefit from being able to “attend” the sessions online. Now that LAO and OA have gotten their feet wet with the technology, there is no reason a national meeting cannot be offered in both formats—and in fact, as I understand it, OA has already been doing so. 

Professional and scholarly associations, are you paying attention?

Another lesson from both groups is that while they are attempting to be prepared for the fall, and an eventual re-opening of performances, nobody knows when or how that can be. Plans B, C and D are common, showing the multitude of unfamiliar challenges performers face.

Deborah Borda. Photo by NY Phil.

Deborah Borda, CEO of the New York Philharmonic, estimated that to put an audience in 2,700-seat David Geffen Hall with social distancing, they could admit 387 people. Obviously, no orchestra could pay the bills with such reduced ticket sales. And that doesn’t even get to the issue of how people get in and out of the hall or use the restrooms.

Mark Pemberton, director of the Association of British Orchestras, sounded a similar note, observing that no more than 30 people could be onstage at one time, and most halls have very limited space backstage. There are suggestions of having “bubbles” of musicians, he said, groups that would be tested and associate together but stay removed from other “bubbles.” That’s a creative approach, but it will not solve the problem of 20% capacity in the hall—a number greater than what Borda estimated for Geffen Hall.

The LAO meetings featured discussion about the lack of scientific research into the diffusion of droplets, and therefore of the virus, by wind instruments. Mark Spede, director of bands at Clemson University and president of the College Band Directors National Association, described research sponsored by the CBDNA that is being conducted by CU prof. Shelley Miller. Results of her work will be helpful by the fall, when performing organizations face decisions on resuming rehearsals and performances.

A separate session addressed issues of musician-generated content—either individual performances, or the compilation performances that we all have seen with multiple musicians, each playing from their own space. The challenge of generating professional-level content is extreme. Someone who engineered one performance compared it to being dragged by a train and stuck by lightening at the same time, and another person—a composer—begged “Don’t do it, please! Your life will be much happier.”

Opera America panel discussion on diversity and inclusion (screen shot)

Both LAO and OA offered valuable sessions on the subjects of diversity and inclusion. The LAO session “Out of the Box,” featured minority musicians from around the country. One salient point from this discussion was who gets to define success. To a large extent, it is musicians’ training that determines what “success” will look like, and it is very difficult for individuals to redefine it for themselves. Nevertheless, the panelists agreed that reclaiming control of one’s own narrative is crucial for minority and other musicians working outside the orchestral mainstream.

The most impressive presentation was by Nina Simon of the non-profit organization OF/BY/FOR ALL. Her message is that it is not enough to provide arts FOR under-represented segments of the community; they must be BY and OF that community.

Nina Simon

Simon spoke to both LAO and OA; I saw the OA presentation, which was well crafted, professional, and very powerful. One of her most important messages was that for change to happen, power must be shared. This will make some supporters uncomfortable, she said, but in the end, “comfort is a byproduct of privilege.”

Aaron Flagg

It is no secret that minorities are under-represented in the performing arts. Aaron Flagg, a jazz studies faculty member at Juilliard, speaking on a panel on “Anti-Black Racism and American Orchestras,” pointed to one of the most crucial issues when he said that tokenism is not enough. In hiring or recruiting musicians of color, he said, you must “show your respect for their artistry, not just your need for their color.”

# # # # #

You may access some of the League of America Orchestras sessions at their Youtube Channel.

You may also access the OPERA America sessions at their YouTube channel.

NOTE: The session at which Aaron Flag spoke was corrected at 6 p.m. 6/24. It was “Anti-Black Racism and American Orchestras,” not “Outside the Box,” as originally stated. Other minor editing errors were corrected at the same time.

CU Eklund Opera production of “Marriage of Figaro” now available online

Spring performances were canceled due to Coronavirus

By Peter Alexander June 23 at 9 p.m.

The University of Colorado College of Music/Eklund Opera student production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro was in the final week of dress rehearsals in March.

PR still for the Eklund Opera production of Le Nozze di Figaro (Photo by Glenn Asakawa—University of Colorado)

The production, under the musical direction of conductor Nick Carthy and stage directed by Eklund Opera director Leigh Holman, promised to be an outstanding realization of one of the greatest—or the greatest—operas in the repertoire. (Read my original preview story in Boulder Weekly.)

But at one of the very last dress rehearsals, Holman had to tell the cast that all performances on the CU campus had been canceled. They ran through the opera one last time, they cried, they hugged one another, and then they went home.

Now that final dress rehearsal has been made available through CU Presents. You can access the stream of the full dress rehearsal here. The stream is described as a “pay what you can performance,” in which viewers are asked to make whatever contribution they can afford after watching the stream.

The performance lasts 150 minutes (2 hours, 30 minutes), and has English titles throughout. The CU Presents Webpage does not say how long the stream will be available.

Eklund Opera’s “Marriage of Figaro,” production shot.

CMF announces six virtual summer concerts, June 25–July 30

Compilation orchestra performances and composers from marginalized communities

By Peter Alexander June 19 at 2 p.m.

The Colorado Music Festival (CMF) announced a series of six virtual, online concerts, featuring the Takács Quartet and other guest artists, members of the CMF orchestra, and music director Peter Oundjian.

The performances will be presented free of charge, on demand through the CMF Website.  The performances will be made available at 7:30 p.m. on six consecutive Thursday evenings, June 25 through July 30. Each performance will be available for some time after the time they are first posted.

CMF’s usual summer home, the Chautauqua Auditorium

A letter from CMF music director Peter Oundjian places the virtual festival in the current times, and particularly issues of racial justice in the United States. “It is no secret to any of us that the story of this country is riddled with the murder and mistreatment of non-white races,” Oundjian writes. “I am committed to doing everything in my power to make this festival an instrumental platform for musicians who come from marginalized communities.

CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian

“This summer’s festival will include only a fraction of what our programming will look like next summer, and the summers that follow. We will be featuring the music of a number of composers, both living and deceased, who come from different marginalized communities all across the country and the world.

“This is just the beginning.”

For the abbreviated 2020 virtual festival, the inclusion of minority and marginalized musicians includes works by, among others, Florence Price, Agustin Barrios Mangoré, Keith Jarrett, Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank, Jessie Montgomery and George Walker. The festival will conclude with performances by the current quartet-in-residence at CU Boulder, the Ivalas Quartet, a multi-cultural group with members from Hispanic and Black communities.

Takács Quartet

The six performances and their full programs will be:

June 25: Festival Orchestra and the Takács Quartet, featuring the debut of the quartet’s newest member, violist Richard O’Neill. The program will feature a previous Festival Orchestra performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide; and the Takács Quartet on the Chautauqua stage playing Schobert’s Quartettsatz and movements from Florence Price’s String Quartet No. 2; Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 2, and Beethoven’s String Quartet in C major, op. 59 no. 3.

Sharon Isbin. Photo by J. Henry Fair.

July 2: A celebration of women in music. Guitarist Sharon Isbin will play works by Enrique Granados, Antonio Lauro, Leo Brouwer, Nanomi Shemer and Agustin Barrios Mangoré. Percussionist Jisu Jung will play works by Howard Stevens and Keith Jarrett. Framing their performances, CMF musicians will play virtual compilation performances of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and two marches by John Philip Sousa. 

July 9: Violinist Augustin Hadelich will join Oundjian in his home to perform music by J.S. Bach, Eugène Ysaÿe and Francisco Tarrega.

July 16: Pianist Jan Lisiecki will perform cadenzas from the Beethoven piano concertos nos. 1 through 4,  and join Oundjian in a discussion of those pieces.

July 23: Brooklyn Rider string quartet will share a performance from their “Healing Modes” repertoire, which features works by Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank and Kinan Azmeh. The program will open with a virtual compilation of Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 5, performed by members of the CMF Orchestra brass section.

Ivalas Quartet

July 30: CU’s Ivalas Quartet will perform movements from quartets by Joseph Haydn and Jessie Montgomery, and the piano duo of twin sisters Michelle and Christina Naughton will perform music by Ravel, Debussy, George Walker, Rachmaninoff, and Conlon Nancarrow. CMF orchestra members will open the program with Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, and close the virtual festival with the second and fourth movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Except for the Overture from Candide, all the performances by CMF orchestra musicians will be virtual compilation performances, assembled from separate videos submitted by the players. These individual video will be compiled by the festival’s recording and sound engineer Michael Quam and CMF staff.

Other performances will be recorded in advance for broadcast at the stated program times.

You may register for the virtual festival performances here

More music to fill the hours of isolation

The composer is familiar, the music is not

By Peter Alexander June 16 at 7:40 p.m.

Now is a great time to explore music you don’t know.

The last time I wrote on this topic, I suggested several unfamiliar composers whose music had been recorded by Boulder musicians. This time, the composer is very familiar—Leonard Bernstein—but the music is not—recordings of his solo piano and chamber music, including pieces written when he was an undergraduate student at Harvard. Contained in two albums and three discs, they all have been recorded by Andrew Cooperstock, professor of piano at CU, either alone or as part of the Opus Two duo with violinist William Terwilliger.

Leonard Bernstein: Violin Sonata • Piano Trio • New Transcriptions. Opus Two violin-piano duo ( William Terwilliger, violin and Andrew Cooperstock, piano) with Charles Bernard, cello, and Marin Mazzie, soprano. Naxos American Classics 8.559643

The chamber music disc features three large-scale works, all early: the Trio for violin, cello and piano of 1937; the Sonata for violin and piano of 1939; and the Sonata for Clarinet and piano of 1941–42, Bernstein’s first published piece, arranged for violin and piano by Terwilliger. The Trio and Violin Sonata were both written when Bernstein was a Harvard undergraduate. Both are student works, of historical interest but limited accomplishment.

The Clarinet Sonata is another matter. Written after Bernstein had left Harvard and begun studies at the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood summer institute, it was written for clarinetist David Oppenheim who was later director of Columbia Records’ Masterworks Division. This is an accomplished piece, marked by Bernstein’s ability to write attractive melodies without descending into triviality or cliché, and jazzy touches that anticipate Bernstein’s later style.

“I love that Sonata,” Cooperstock says. “I’ve played it a lot with clarinet, and we were looking for another piece to fill out the CD, and I thought this would be perfect. [The arrangement] was my idea, and I like it just as well on the violin as the clarinet.”

All three works are played with polish and expression. In the Clarinet Sonata particularly, Terwilliger displays a sweetness of tone that almost (disclosure here) allows clarinetists like myself to enjoy a borrowing from our limited repertoire. Violinists don’t have enough great music to play?

The arrangements mentioned in the disc title are from some of Bernstein’s musical theater works, as adapted by Eric Stern. In “Two House Songs,” Broadway veteran Marin Mazzie joins Cooperstock and Terwilliger. She brings a simple sincerity and clean diction to her gently affecting performances of songs from Peter Pan and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Four pieces from Candide have been arranged for violin and piano alone. This must be a great set for the performers, and all are fun to hear. In “I am Easily Assimilated,” one of the great show stoppers of Bernstein’s Broadway career, Cooperstock and Terwilliger enjoy themselves with the song’s raunchy sensuality, and they capture well the ironic tenderness of “You were Dead, you Know.”

The other two songs fare less well in the arrangement. “Glitter and be Gay,” another great showpiece, sounds too easy for violin for us to be dazzled as we are  by a coloratura soprano, and “Make Our Garden Grow” can’t build the way that the vocal version, taken up by one singer after another, is able to do.

Leonard Bernstein: Complete Solo Works for piano. Andrew Cooperstock, piano. Leonard Bernstein at 100, Bridge 9485A/B

The two-disc set of Bernstein’s piano music includes works both long and short, major concert works and occasional pieces. One disc is given over entirely to the latter, 29 “anniversaries” that Bernstein wrote for friends and family. These are extremely brief, ranging in length from 27 seconds (pianist William Kapell) to two minutes, 24 seconds (Felicia Montealegre, Bernstein’s wife).

The first of the two discs is devoted to the anniversaries, which Cooperstock compares to Romantic character pieces of the 19th century. “The anniversaries are my favorite pieces out of everything [Bernstein] wrote for piano solo,” he says. “They’re imaginative, they’re idiomatic, they’re well written.

“I like to compare them to Chopin Preludes.”

Each piece contains at least the germ of an individual idea and character, which Cooperstock’s performances capture well. I wish that some of them had developed the musical ideas further, since in their brevity some seem tossed off.

“Maybe there’s something to be said for less is more,” Cooperstock says. “I like that he’s composing them for friends and family, and that they have this extra meaning. They span most of his compositional output, so you see earlier pieces and later pieces.”

Some of the subjects are well known—composers, including Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss ad Stephen Sondheim—but others are not familiar to most of us—Elizabeth B. Ehrman, Craig Urquhart, and Helen Coates, Bernstein’s first piano teacher. The music has more depth and impact if you know something about the subject and their relationship with the composer—Cooperstock’s “extra meaning”—but they are all fun to hear in these eloquent performances.

The second disc is an eclectic collection of pieces. It includes another large piece from Bernstein’s college years, his Sonata for Piano, composed in 1938. The Sonata is taken seriously, befitting an undergraduate work, and is filled with both hints of the composer to come, and academic touches, including a fugue, to make the result as weighty as possible. There are also arid patches, where the young composer seems to run out of ideas.

Andrew Cooperstock

“If he weren’t Leonard Bernstein, I’m not sure we would play that piece very much,” Cooperstock confesses. “What’s interesting for me is that you can get a foreshadowing of what’s going to happen next. You can hear a little bit of West Side Story to come. And he’s experimenting with different sounds. It’s interesting putting context, knowing that it was hist first major piece for piano.”

The greatest point of interest on the second disc may be the “Bridal Suite” for piano, four hands, written for the wedding of two of Bernstein’s friends, Broadway lyricist/song writer Adolph Green and actress Phyllis Newman. “I love the Bridal Suite,” Cooperstock says.

In fact, he loves it enough to play both parts. “I just thought it would be fun to do both parts,” he says. “It’s not that there are not fabulous pianists in the area, but I thought, I want to do this by myself. I overdubbed myself for the recording, [which] I never did before.”

This is clearly one of Bernstein’s most clever pieces of work. It opens with a Prelude that is an adaptation of the famous Gounod Ave Maria—itself based on Bach’s Prelude to Book One of the Well Tempered Klavier—with Green’s “Just in Time” from Bells Are Ringing. There are wedding dances, including a cha-cha and a hora, and other delightful small character pieces. It ends with a tender “Magyar Lullaby,” too short for any baby to fall asleep and another piece that I wish were longer.

In summary, the music on both albums is uneven in quality, but the performances are not. And it is music that opens a door into one of the great figures of American music and culture of the 20th century. Bernstein had a profound influence on American musical life, and here you have the opportunity to see and hear more of his creativity. If you love West Side Story or any of his other works, or admire his work as conductor and educator to the American public, you should take the time to explore these works.

They are off the beaten path, but so are all the most rewarding adventures. 

Pro Musica Colorado looks to 2020–21 season

Messiah among “classics for small chamber orchestra” on the bill

By Peter Alexander June 10 at 9:10 p.m.

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra today addressed their plans for the 2020–21 season.

Cynthia Katsarelis and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra

There is of course much that is not known about the conditions under which any performing arts organizations will be able or allowed to present performances in the coming year. The uncertainty is great enough that organizations local and world wide, from the Boulder Chorale to the New York Philharmonic, have announced that they do not plan to perform before January, 2021.

In that context, Pro Musica Colorado has said that they are planning a season that will be “flexible, resilient, and exercises good Colorado grit.” That statement comes from a letter sent out today over the signature of the group’s music director, Cynthia Katsarelis.

“We will observe the guidelines published by the CDC, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, the Boulder County Health Department, and the Musician’s Union work rules,” the letter says. In that spirit, performances may or may not be open to a limited public audience, but in either case they will be live streamed.

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

“We will work out ticketing, and perhaps offer a digital subscription. Some of this is still under construction, but Pro Musica Colorado will be present, making music and doing educational outreach in Boulder,” the letter promises.

Dates and details of repertoire will be announced at a later date. For now, the orchestra is planning to perform “classics for small chamber orchestra,” including Handel’s Messiah, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

Katsarelis concludes her letter with a statement of aspirations and hopes. “Our souls long for sharing live music,” she wrote. “And frankly, I believe we have a collective yearning for inclusivity and equity as well.

“In a time of broken hearts, there is music that can help heal some of our collective heartache.”

Boulder Chorale postpones concerts until 2021

Conductor Vicki Burrichter has advice for everyone stuck at home

By Peter Alexander June 9 at 11:20 p.m.

Vicki Burrichter has some advice for people sitting at home under Coronavirus quarantine: It’s OK to be unproductive.

Burrichter, artistic director of the Boulder Chorale, is speaking from her home in Colorado Springs, where she and her partner are sitting out the pandemic. She continues her job as a faculty member for the online Western Governors University, “so nothing has changed for me there,” she says. But even doing her usual work, she finds herself worn out more easily.

Vicki Burrichter

“I do have to do my faculty job, which is 40 hours a week,” she says. “But once I’m done with that, I don’t have much left. I want to sit and binge Netflix. You have to be OK with not being productive, because it is a difficult time.”

Not that she doesn’t continue to work for the Boulder Chorale. “The board has been talking about [next season],” she says. “We’ve been on it since day one, trying to understand the ramifications of everything, and make the decisions for the health of our singers and the health of our audience. That’s our number one priority.”

Reflecting that priority, the chorale has recently announced that they do not expect to “be able to hold in-person rehearsals or performances in the fall.” That decision was announced in a letter from Boulder Chorale board president Beth Zacharisen to members of the chorale, sent at the beginning of the month.

The decision was based partly on information from a Webinar presented by the American Choral Directors Association, National Association of Teachers of Singing, and Chorus America. There has been great concern in those groups, because of the special conditions of people getting together and singing with one another.

“[The Webinar] caused quite a stir in the choral world,” Burrichter says. “A laryngologist and virologist [spoke} about the fact that singers are superspreaders of the virus, because of how well we project our breath. The advice from one of them was that you’d need to stand 16 feet apart wearing a plastic thing over you and a mask, and that doesn’t make for good singing!

“The blend would be problematic,” she adds, laughing. “But of course you don’t want to make any of us sick: staff, parents, children, adults, and certainly not audience.” 

Burrichter with the Boulder Chorale

The letter to chorale members cited the “current research on the potential risks of transmitting the disease through singing” that had been presented in the Webinar. It ended on a hopeful note, that “our staff and board are actively researching the creative ideas that national non-profits, such as Chorus America, and other choruses around the country are using to sustain community and singing connections,” and promised that “we will keep you up to date as this unfolds.”

For her part, Burrichter remains optimistic about the long-term future. “I have three close friends who are professors of history, and all of them have said that after pandemics there is always an enormous explosion of innovation,” she says. 

“I think we’re already starting to see that a little bit. People are working on the technology part of it, trying to innovate around how to have groups together. Right now the rehearsal technology is awful. Anybody who has tried to sing “Happy Birthday” on Zoom knows what I’m talking about!”

Like most of us, Burrichter is taking up or developing hobbies—in her caser, some related to music. “I just bought a Fender Stratocaster [electric guitar] and a tube amp!” she says. “I feel like a 50-year old guy having a mid-life crisis who bought a Ferrari. I’m going to learn to play some blues.”

But wait, there’s more! While she’s plucking strings, “I’ve been taking flamenco guitar lessons online,” she says. “And I need to get back to my banjo—I bought myself a banjo a few years ago, because I had played when I was a teenager, and I need to get back to that.”

Maybe she needs to heed her own advice “to be OK with not being productive!”

She does take some time to relax away from musical pursuits. “I’ve been catching up on reading, but also we have a beautiful yard, we’ve been spending a lot of time back there, and like everybody also Zooming with our friends all over the country, and family.”

When it’s time to listen to some music, Burrichter has broad tastes. Under her direction Boulder Chorale has performed many different styles and genres of music, which perfectly reflect her own tastes. “I listen to all kinds of things,” she says.

“The music that always soothes me the most in Brazilian music, and I’ve been listening to a lot of Brazilian music. There’s something about that music that I find very soothing. I’m also listening to some choral music, Voces8. I think they’re one of the best vocal groups in the world right now.”

There’s only one thing that she is ruling out: “Not a lot of Punk. I actually really love punk, but there’s something about the anger of the punk that right now I can’t handle.”

If you have been part of the Boulder Chorale’s audience, she hopes you will stay connected to the group. “Arts organizations really need your support right now, if you’re financially able to do that,” she says. “All arts organizations have lost funding from the concerts that didn’t happen. 

“If you can get on Boulderchorale.org and make a donation, that’s always going to be welcome.”

Seicento Baroque Ensemble cancels 2020–21 season

Boulder’s latest COVID-19 casualty

By Peter Alexander

Boulder’s Seicento Baroque Ensemble, a choral performance group specializing in the music of the 17th century (“Seicento” in Italian) has announced that they will suspend all performances for the coming year.

The release from the organization states:

Because of the risk to our audience, singers, and guest artists, the Board has unanimously voted not to perform our normal fall concert this year, nor our normal spring concert in 2021. Members of the choir who are on the Board of Directors have expressed relief that they won’t be asked to rehearse and perform at a time that their health could be at risk, disappointment that they won’t be able to perform the music that they love, support for prudent planning, and hope for being able to resume singing when the pandemic passes.

Locally, Seicento is the first performing organization to definitely suspend all of next year’s concerts. Most other groups have delayed announcing their 20–21 season, anticipating the possibility of late starts in the fall. There is also widespread uncertainty about when and under what conditions groups will be allowed to bring audiences together, and to what extent audiences will be willing to gather.

Nationally, Broadway theaters in New York have suspended all performances until the start of 2021 at the earliest, and there is widespread uncertainty among performing groups about what will be possible.

Seicento Baroque ensemble

Coming later: a follow-up interview with Seicento artistic director Amanda Balestrieri about the group’s plan for restarting in the fall of 2021, and also life under quarantine.