Boulder Phil extends Butterman’s contract

Five years added to music director’s contract with the orchestra

By Peter Alexander

Michael Butterman. Photo by Glenn Ross.

Michael Butterman. Photo by Glenn Ross.

The Boulder Philharmonic Board of Directors has announced that Michael Butterman, who began his tenure as music director with the orchestra in the 2006-07 season, has agreed to extend his contract for another five years, taking him through the 2018-19 season.

This is good news for Boulder music audiences, in part because stability is a good for an orchestra, and maestro tenure is a sure sign of stability within the organization. It is also good because Butterman has been a solid leader of the Philharmonic. Attendance has risen steadily during his tenure with the orchestra, making it one of Boulder’s most successful musical organizations. His programming has been adventurous, with intriguing new works offered every year, and the combination of new and old has been an ideal fit for Boulder’s eclectic audiences.

“I’ve so enjoyed getting to know the wonderful people in the Boulder community and working with the many talented musicians, artists and composers who make Boulder their home,” Butterman said. “Thanks to the community’s support and engagement, our programming reflects Boulder’s creative and entrepreneurial spirit. I look forward to the future, as the Phil builds on this foundation and continues to embrace the ‘spirit of Boulder.'”

Kyle Heckman, chair of the Boulder Phil Board of Directors, said “We are thrilled that (Butterman) has extended his contract with us. He has done an amazing job in raising the bar for musical excellence, and he has engaged in our community, while also developing a terrific educational program with the Boulder Valley School District.”

You may read the Boulder Philharmonic’s full news release announcing the contract extension here.

Seicento offers Baroque Music for Halloween, scary, fun and gorgeous

Western Hemisphere premiere of a French grand motet from 1690 anchors the program

By Peter Alexander

Conductor Evanne Browne and Seicento

Conductor Evanne Browne and Seicento. Photo by Rich Saxon.

Evanne Browne really loves the music she is conducting for Halloween with Boulder’s Seicento Baroque Ensemble.

The centerpiece of their season-opening concert “Dies Irae: Halloween Goes Baroque,” (7:30 Friday Oct. 31, at St. Paul Lutheran in Denver and Saturday, Nov. 1, at First United Methodist in Boulder) is the recently rediscovered and reconstructed Dies Irae (Day of wrath) by Michel-Richard Delalande, which she describes as “gorgeous” and “luscious. ”

Another piece on the same program by Delalande, De Profundis (From the depths) is “gorgeous, gorgeous.” And J.S. Bach’s funeral motet Der Gerechte kommt um (The righteous must perish), arranged from music by Johann Kuhnau, is also “gorgeous, gorgeous.”

To set the mood for a Halloween concert, Browne turned to organist Kajsa Teitelbaum. “We open this concert with one of the scariest Halloween Baroque pieces written,” Browne says, “the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Just in case anybody would get the idea that this whole concert is so serious, I think we’re taking a really lively and exciting approach to celebrating Halloween and All-Souls’ Day.”

The witches from the Boston Early Music Festival production of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. Photo André Costantini.

The witches from the Boston Early Music Festival production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Photo André Costantini.

More Halloween fun will be provided by a scene for witches from Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas, which opens with the call “Wayward sisters, you that fright/The lonely traveler by night . . . Appear!” The witches, who keep cackling “Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho,” are clearly up to no good, in spite of their relatively spirited music. They announce their plot to separate the lovers Dido and Aeneas, singing of “The Queen of Carthage, whom we hate.”

If Bach provides some menace and Purcell some light-hearted Halloween fun, the remainder of the program is more serious. The other works are all associated with the liturgy of All Saints or All Souls Day (Nov 1 and 2), the days following Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve (Oct. 31), in the church calendar; or with liturgical services for the dead.

Michel-Richard Delalande

Michel-Richard Delalande

It was Delalande’s Dies Irae, forming the second half of the concert, that first caught Browne’s attention. A composer and organist at the court of Louis XIV, Delalande is not well known in this country, and the Seicento performance will be the U.S. and Western hemisphere premiere of his Dies Irae.

The text is a rhymed poem from the 13th century that now forms part of the Catholic liturgy for All Souls’ Day and the Requiem Mass. It is the latter context that is most familiar, with the Dies Irae movements from Requiems by Mozart, Berlioz and Verdi being particularly memorable.

“I heard (a commercial recording of Delalande’s piece) months ago, and I thought, this is a work for Seicento,” Browne says. “It’s a fabulous work and needs to be performed, and the French Baroque is a style that we worked on pretty hard in our second year.

“It’s tricky, and it’s got such tremendous tonal chord progressions, and beautiful, beautiful sounds. So after I heard it I thought, well, that’s what we’ll do, and set out to find the music.”

That proved easier said than done. Delalande’s grand motet—a term for sacred music written for orchestra, chorus and soloists—was composed in 1690 for the death of the Dauphine, Princess Marie-Anne-Christine-Victoire, wife of the Grand Dauphin, son of King Louis XIV. It was revised in 1711 at the death of the Dauphin, but then disappeared and was assumed lost.

But as sometimes happens, an unknown copy unexpectedly showed up at an auction in Paris in 1950 and then vanished again after being purchased by a private collector. It was not until 1983—after meeting and wooing the reclusive collector over many years—that the English musical scholar Lionel Sawkins was able to make a microfilm copy of the score, and then only under vanishing late-afternoon light, after being served a five-course meal that took most of the day!

Happily, Browne’s detective work was not nearly as strenuous as that, but she did have to track down Sawkins, make contact through a friend of a friend, and arrange to rent the score and parts for performance. “Because Sawkins knows who has had the score, we know that it has only been performed in the UK, in France, and in Sweden,” Browne says. “And probably fewer than a dozen choirs have actually performed this work in this century, or last century.”

This kind of undiscovered jewel from a little-known repertoire is just the kind of challenge that Browne relishes. “This is the mission of Seicento, to bring the wonderful music of the 1600s to audiences, and mostly music that they probably have never heard,” she says.

SBE in front of FUMC

Seicento Baroque Ensemble. Photo by Rich Saxon.

“We’re different from other groups in town because we’re not just looking at Baroque and thinking high Baroque—Handel, Purcell, Bach. We’re doing the earlier things.”

Much of this earlier music requires special performance techniques that go beyond the notation in the original scores. This is particularly true of the French Baroque, which had a tradition and distinct performance styles that differed from the rest of Europe. Many of those performance traditions were forgotten over time, and have to be studied and relearned by specialists such as Seicento.

Evanne Browne

Evanne Browne

“There is the language issue, there is the ornamentation issue, there’s the stylistic issue,” Browne says. “If you were to perform this piece of Delalande as it’s written, it wouldn’t have that life, that lilt, that glorious sound” that comes from applying the historical performance techniques of French Baroque music.

“And then also we perform with period instruments,” Browne explains. “That brings (the music) to life in a different way. For this concert we’re using Baroque strings and we have a Baroque flute payer joining us. It’s a different sound.”

Several other pieces will benefit from the Baroque performance techniques that Browne and the singers of Seicento have studied, and the “different sound” they get from the historical instruments. Among these will be portions of Delalande’s grand motet of 1689, De Profundis, a setting of a penitential psalm that is often sung in commemoration of the dead.

Seicento's singers getting in the mood for Halloween

Seicento’s singers getting in the mood for Halloween. Photo by Rich Saxon.

Also on the program will be three motets for All Saints’ Day, conducted by Seicento’s assistant conductor, Alan Filbert: two by the relatively unknown Pompeo Cannicciari and Vincenzo Bertulosi, and one by the great English Renaissance composer William Byrd. And ending the first half of the concert will be the music of the German composer Johann Kuhnau, arranged by J.S. Bach as the funeral motet Der Gerechte kommt um.

Browne admits that’s a lot of music written for the dead. “There’s a little morbidity to this concert,” she says. “But one of the things that is so exciting to me is that we’re having fun with the idea of Halloween and All Saints.”

And did she mention that the music is gorgeous?

# # #


Dies Irae: Halloween Goes Baroque
Seicento Baroque Ensemble and soloists
Evanne Browne, artistic director

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Denver

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1
First United Methodist Church, Boulder

Information and tickets

News on the boil in the World of Classical Music

Controversy and a milestone at the MET; Trouble in Atlanta

By Peter Alexander

It’s the unwatched pot that boils, and if you haven’t been watching, there’s been lots of boiling going on in the classical music world this fall.

Lincoln Center Plaza and the Metropolitan Opera House

Lincoln Center Plaza and the Metropolitan Opera House

This summer I reported several times on the labor dispute that threatened to cause a lockout and the cancellation of the season for the Metropolitan Opera. Happily, the lockout was averted, but that has not kept the Met from being a center of controversy.

As part of their season, the Met had announced performances of The Death of Klinghoffer by John Adams. This opera was composed in 1991 on the subject of the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship the Achille Lauro by members of the Palestinian Liberation Front and the subsequent murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound 69-year old Jewish American tourist whose body was dumped into the Mediterranean.

Klinghoffer protesters

Protesters outside the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center

The opera was originally created with the cooperation of Klinghoffer’s family, who later objected that it glorified the hijackers. Nevertheless, the opera has been performed uneventfully in several locations—but the Metropolitan is not just any opera company, and New York is always in the spotlight. And it is an especially important location for American Jews. So when Met General Manager Peter Gelb announced that The Death of Klinghoffer would be featured on the Met’s Live in HD series broadcast live to movie theaters around the world, there were protests and loud criticism of the Met. The claim was repeatedly made that the opera, by humanizing, or glorifying (depending on your point of view) the killers, was anti-semitic.

Scene from 'The Death of Klinghoffer.' Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Scene from ‘The Death of Klinghoffer.’ Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Eventually, The Death of Klinghoffer was dropped from the Live in HD broadcast series, but it remained on the Met season. It opened last Monday (Oct. 20), with a phalanx of protesters filling the Lincoln Center plaza, some minor disturbances inside the house, and generally glowing reviews for the work and the performance.

For anyone who cares about opera, or gives much thought to contemporary art forms, The Death of Klinghoffer has been a remarkable case study. Regardless of your personal opinion, the decision to write an opera on such a volatile contemporary subject, and the decision to produce it at the Met, are worthy of serious consideration and discussion. Rather than reconstruct what people who have seen the production have said, here are links to more about this remarkable opera and production.

Just about the best review and report of opening night was that written by Alex Ross for The New Yorker.  Anthony Tommasini wrote an even longer report in the New York Times.  And David Patrick Stearns had a slightly different take on the events for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

There are many more reviews. The Chicago Tribune complied a handy list of reviews and articles. Almost all are worth reading.

James Levine leading the Met Orchestra in 2013. (AP Photo/Metropolitan Opera, Marty Sohl)

James Levine leading the Met Orchestra in 2013. (AP Photo/Metropolitan Opera, Marty Sohl)

But not all the news from the Metropolitan Opera has been disturbing, or even controversial. This past weekend, James Levine conducted his 2,500th performance at the Met—a staggering number that is just about beyond comprehension. It is more than twice as many as the next most prolific conductor in the Met’s history, the long-forgotten Arthur Bodanzky. The milestone performance was Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro (Marriage of Figaro) Saturday night—only the 77th time he has conducted that particular work. (Those and other numbers from Levin’s remarkable Met career were reported by the New York Times.)

This would be a remarkable milestone for any conductor, but in Levine’s case, it is especially noteworthy since it was only two years ago that it appeared his conducting career might be over. But he has come back from serious injuries, and is back at work in the opera house—to the relief of his fans and fans of the Met who have a hard time imagining how anyone can follow him and maintain the reputation Levine has created for the Met and its orchestra.

Daniel Laufer was among the supporters of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians who was picketing outside the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. (Michael A. Schwarz/For the Washington Post)

Daniel Laufer was among the supporters of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians who was picketing outside the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. (Michael A. Schwarz/For the Washington Post)

While the Met was resolving a labor dispute and averting a lockout this summer, the Atlanta Symphony has been dealing with a lockout and at least a partial cancellation of their season.

The sticking point in Atlanta is the proposal by management to further cut the size of the orchestra, which had previously been reduced to 88 musicians from an original compliment of 95 players. As a means of fighting deficits, the management wanted full control of the orchestra’s size and proposed cutting the orchestra—largely by leaving positions unfilled—to 76 players. Both the players and the orchestra’s conductors said that the Atlanta Symphony, an honored ensemble that has counted Robert Shaw and Yoel Levi among its music directors, could not maintain it’s standing with only 76 players.

After a bitter battle that eventually led to mediation, this one issue seems to have brought all negotiations to a halt. After the 15-month lockout nearly closed the Minnesota Orchestra permanently, this is very disheartening news. The most recent news about the ASO comes from the Atlanta Arts and Culture Blog, here and here. Earlier articles from NPR and the Washington Post provide more of the background.

A second major orchestra lockout in only a few years is bad news for America’s musicians, and those who support them and their work. The only silver lining from here is that we are not facing a similar crisis in Boulder, and we still have great riches of orchestral music to chose from. But it is interesting background for the still unfolding issue in Denver, concerning the Colorado Symphony’s future in Boettcher Concert Hall—where the pot, watched or not, boils on.

Grant Awarded to Boulder Philharmonic, and other news of interest in Boulder

Both Boulder Phil and conductor Michael Butterman are making news

By Peter Alexander

It’s kind of like a dating site, but with much better music.

Missy Mazzoli. Photo by Stephen S. Taylor

Missy Mazzoli. Photo by Stephen S. Taylor

The Boulder Philharmonic announced this week that they have been paired with composer Missy Mazzoli for a “Music Alive: New Partnerships” grant from the League of American Orchestras and New Music USA.

In a news release dated Oct. 22, the orchestra explained that the grant of $7,500 is for a one-week residency sometime during 2014 to 2016. The Boulder Philharmonic was one of 12 organizations in their category—orchestras with operating budgets of $7 million or less—to receive a grant and be paired with a composer through this program.

“Music Alive: New Partnerships” matches composers and orchestras who have not previously worked together. Each residency will take place some time during 2014 to 2016, and will culminate in the performance of an orchestral work from the composer’s catalog.

“We are thrilled to be able to welcome a composer of Missy’s caliber and creativity for a residency in our city,” Kevin Shuck, executive director of the Boulder Philharmonic, said.

Mazzoli commented, “I am so thrilled to be working with the Boulder Phil. There are so many possibilities and I have already enjoyed our conversations and sharing of ideas.  This will be my first time in Colorado and I’m very happy that it’s under these circumstances.”

You may read the entire news release here.

# # #

Michael Butterman

Michael Butterman

In the meantime, Boulder Phil Music Director Michael Butterman has gotten attention in Pennsylvania for his role in getting the newly founded Pennsylvania Philharmonic off the ground.

Operating with an educational mandate, the new orchestra will perform in schools and communities that can‘t support their own professional orchestra. Hired as the music director, Butterman noted how quickly the orchestra got from the planning stage, about 10 months ago, to its first performance, which is taking place Saturday (Oct. 25) in Pottstown, Penn.

In an article by Philadelphia Inquirer classical music critic David Patrick Stearns, Butterman was further quoted as saying “Building an orchestra from the ground up with community engagement being the driving force . . . is very appealing, but also a bit of a blank slate. We have to experiment and try things out.”

Simone DInnerstein. Photo by Lisa_Marie Mazzucco.

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein, who has appeared with Butterman and the Boulder Phil, will be the soloist for the first concert, playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. “I have such admiration for someone with the chutzpah to start an orchestra,” she said.

The rest of the program will include Dinnerstein playing Ravel’s Concerto in G, the Four Dances from Rodeo by Aaron Copland and the Fanfare Ritmico by Jennifer Higdon. That program, titled “Fascinatin’ Rhythms,” will be performed a total of four times over the next two weeks.

You may read Stearns’ article here.

Barking pirates, Barbies and a parasol

Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance opens at CU

By Peter Alexander

Paul Kroeger as Frederic and Frank Fainer as the Pirate King in the CU production of 'Pirates of Penzance' (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Paul Kroeger as Frederic and Frank Fainer as the Pirate King in the CU production of ‘Pirates of Penzance’
(Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Watch for the Barbie dolls.

They will be part of the fun when the University of Colorado Opera Theater, with two full casts of students and the CU orchestra in the pit, presents Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance.

Not that the production will be a post-modern reinterpretation of the classic British musical comedy.

“The pirates will be pirates,” stage director and CU director of opera Leigh Holman says. “No Martians. Nothing on the moon. It’s straightforward and very colorful.”

General Stanley, one of the central comic characters, will definitely be a general, although British humor being what it is, he will be, Holman says, “a general with a parasol.”

The pirates will even have a ship. “Pirates of Penzance is not usually done on a ship,” she explains. “But I told the [set] designer [Peter Dean Beck] I want those guys to be on a ship, so we’ve got ropes hanging and they can swing from the ropes.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly—including Malibu Barbie!

# # #

Rex Smith as Frederic, Linda Ronstadt as Mabel, and Kevin Kline as the Pirate King in a famous 1980 production of 'Pirates of Penzance' that was a favorite of CU Opera director Leigh Holman.

Rex Smith as Frederic, Linda Ronstadt as Mabel, and Kevin Kline as the Pirate King in a famous 1980 production of ‘Pirates of Penzance’ that was a favorite of CU Opera director Leigh Holman.

Pirates of Penzance
CU Opera Theater
Leigh Holman, stage director
Nicholas Carthy, music director
Peter Dean Beck, deisgner

7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 24 and 25
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26
CU Macky Auditorium

Get tickets to the CU Opera production of Pirates of Penzance here.

Pro Musica Colorado Opens Season with ‘fine performance’ of Sibelius, Barber and Mozart

By Peter Alexander

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, the third of Boulder’s professional orchestras to get underway this fall, launched their season last night (Oct. 17) with a fine performance of three disparate works.

Very likely few from Boulder heard the concert, as it was held in the Montview Presbyterian Church in Denver—a discouragingly long trek into traffic on US 36 or I-25. The orchestra deserved a larger audience, but I cannot blame those who chose to wait for tonight’s performance (7:30 p.m. Oct. 18) in Boulder’s First United Methodist Church.

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

If you are among those, you will want to hear this intriguingly selected and well played concert. Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis acknowledged that the three pieces on the program—Rakastava for strings and percussion by Jean Sibelius, Samuel Barber’s poignant Knoxville: Summer of 1915 for soprano and chamber orchestra, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 39—have little in common except that they compliment one another very well.

Rakastava, originally written for male chorus and later arranged for strings by the composer, is one of Sibelius’ less known tone poems, and virtually the only one suitable for chamber orchestra. It is a tender portrayal of the meeting and parting of doomed lovers from Finnish legend.

The score was beautifully played by Pro Musica, with a transparency and warmth of sound. Here the chamber orchestra truly performed chamber music, with a careful balance and responsiveness of one part to another and lovely solos in violin and cello. The effect was aided by the highly resonant acoustic of Montview Presbyterian, which enriched the string sound.

The acoustic was more of an issue in the Barber. Soprano Amanda Balastrieri gave an eloquent and emotionally committed performance, but the lengthy reverberation sometimes covered consonants, rendering the text less than ideally clear.

Knoxville: Summer of 1915 is a setting of a prose poem by James Agee, describing an idyllic summer evening from his childhood, when he was wrapped in the warmth and love of his family. A wonderful piece of nostalgia, the text and music seem to yearn for a lost innocence, but it is more than that. The following year, Agee lost his father in a car accident. Perhaps coincidentally, Barber’s father was dying when he was writing the music.

This knowledge shifts the emotional focus away from the description of the warm night to the foreshadowing of the imminent tragedy, and to the words “May God bless my people . . . remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.”

Amanda Balastrieri, soprano soloist in "Knoxville: Summer of 1915"

Amanda Balastrieri, soprano soloist in “Knoxville: Summer of 1915”

Without stifling the nostalgic aspects of the score, both conductor and soloist brought out those shadows. Balastrieri stressed that darker aspect in talking about the piece, saying that recent losses in her family have deepened her understanding of the music.

In performance Katsarelis created a warm sonic cocoon for the opening lines of text, but then sharply attacked the harsh chords that follow the words “my father who is good to me,” making them a portent of things unsaid. Similarly Balastrieri made the words “my good father” and “their taking away” the emotional climax of the piece, rendering the subsequent  return to the nostalgic tone all the more poignant. The tender mood, so comfortable at the beginning, now feels fragile.

Often presented by larger orchestras, Barber’s score takes on an especially intimate cast when played by a chamber group. Balastrieri’s clear voice is ideal for Barber’s music, and in Katasrelis she had a congenial and like-minded partner. In spite of the acoustic disadvantages of the high-ceilinged, narrow, deep space, Knoxville: Summer of 1915 left a deep impression.

It was Mozart’s symphony that suffered most from the cathedral acoustics of Montview Church. With a reverberation time of 2 seconds or more, loud chords were still sounding into succeeding softer passages, and in fast tempos one measure overlay the next. The beginning of the Minuet, where the metronomic wind chords should pulse cleanly beneath transparent strings, was especially muddied.

Acoustics aside, Katsarelis and Pro Musica offered a stylish and energetic reading of Mozart’s symphony. The last movement got off to a sparkling start and continued to sparkle in the softer passages. And it would be remiss not to note the delightful wind playing throughout this movement, and the admirable restraint from the trumpets who could easily have overwhelmed the ensemble. Only at the end, encouraged by Katsarelis’ emphatic cues, did they open up to build a climax.

Looking at the symphony as a whole, Katsarelis provided firm control of the structure. Before the performance she spoke briefly of the symphony’s musical journey, away from and back to the home key, as a metaphor for our life’s journey. This is a theme she clearly feels deeply, and it was well reflected in her interpretation, which offered a fully satisfying homecoming at the end.

# # #

Pro Music Colorado Chamber Orchestra will repeat this program tonight (Oct. 18) at 7:30 p.m. in First United Methodist Church in Boulder. Click here for tickets.

For information on the remainder of the season, see the Pro Musica Colorado Web page.

Baroque Trio Aeris Opens Boulder Bach Festival with stunning, eccentric program

By Peter Alexander

Aeris: William Skeen, Avi Stein, Zachary Carrettin

Aeris: William Skeen, Avi Stein, Zachary Carrettin

The Baroque-instrument trio Aeris opened the 2014–15 Boulder Bach Festival last night (Oct. 16) with a concert that more than lived up to the promise of its title, “Capriccio.”

In fact, the program was so capricious and idiosyncratic that it might well have taken its title from one of the works, Diverse bizzarie (diverse bizarrities). But that was exactly the goal of Zachary Carrettin, the musical director of the festival and the violinist of the trio. By focusing on a notably eccentric repertoire, Italian violin sonatas of the 17th and 18th centuries, Carrettin established from the very first notes of the new season that the Bach Festival will not hesitate to spread a wide net in order to illuminate the most familiar works of festival’s main subject, J.S. Bach.

Francesco Maria Veracini Italian violin virtuoso and composer (1690–1768)

Francesco Maria Veracini, Italian violin virtuoso and composer (1690–1768)

The trio, made up of Carrettin with Baroque cellist William Skeen and harpsichordist Avi Stein, gave stunning performances of violin sonatas by the Italian virtuosos and composers Veracini, Stradella, Valentini, Locatelli and Nicola Matteis, and a very Italianate and wildly virtuosic sonata by J.S. Bach; plus a cello sonata by Vivaldi.

J.S. Bach

J.S. Bach

There is an important message in the choice of program. The composers Carrettin picked were, he said, “phenomenal characters in music,” musicians who explored with gusto the outer limits of their instruments and their own virtuosity. This is very different from the image we have of Bach the sober Lutheran cantor, but it was very much part of Bach’s world. And the better we understand that whole musical world, the better we understand Bach.

And this kind of programming gets the festival beyond the mere rotation of great works and provides a welcome source of excitement and exploration for Boulder’s audiences.

To bring this ancient music to life, Aeris plays on historically accurate instruments, using gut strings and Baroque bows for the violin and cello. This creates a less brilliant and potentially less consistent sound than modern bows and metal strings, but it also gives the music a warmth and a clarity of texture that the composers would recognize.

This more delicate and intimate sound works best in a smaller venue. While it would be out of place in even a modest auditorium, it sounded completely at home in Boulder’s St. John’s Episcopal Church. Boulder’s churches see many performances, but unlike larger ensemble programs, in this case the church is in no way a compromise. In fact, it is the closest thing we have to the spaces where music was performed in the Baroque era.

Aeris also plays from reproductions of 18th-century manuscripts or first editions. This is an important decision. It’s easy to imagine that notes are notes, but in fact by bypassing all of the decisions that have to be made by modern publishers and seeing only what the original performers saw, the players are able to respond much more directly to the music as it was conceived and put onto paper—both its demands and its expressive possibilities.

Zachary Carrettin

Zachary Carrettin

While not immune to the occasional edgy sound and surging phrases that can result from the lower tension of Baroque bows, Carrettin and Skeen played with both technical polish and a lovely sound that complimented Stein’s harpsichord without overwhelming it. They are all virtuoso performers.

The most important qualities they brought to their performance were energy and passion. If played mechanically—as Baroque music was often played in the past—this music looses its life and becomes, as it was called, “sewing-machine music.” But played with freedom and a sense of drama, as newer generations of specialist performers have done, it becomes exciting, edgy, surprising.

In this regard, Aeris could not be faulted. The program was played with flair, drama and occasionally humor. The musical swings and turns of mood were well characterized throughout.

With so many cascading notes and the freedom of expression the repertoire demands, it is easy for the metrical framework and a sense of direction to get lost in performance. Here is where Aeris truly excelled: Nothing felt aimless or seemed to wander. The players’ unerring sense of phrasing made every line clear, every joint and juncture distinct.

Music historians teach that the word “Baroque” may have come from a Portuguese word for misshapen pearls, implying music that is bizarre, extravagant and asymmetrical. With its idiosyncratic and unpredictable violin sonatas, the program by Aeris was a perfect illustration of that characteristic of the Baroque era.

Hearing such pieces, it becomes easy to understand why the early classical composers of the generation between Bach and Mozart wrote music that oversupplied what Baroque music lacked: regularity, symmetry, and an often banal predictability. Charles Burney, an 18th-century English music historian who was quoted in the program notes, represented the view of that generation when he called the music of the Italian violinists “wild, aukward [sic] and unpleasant” and said it provided “more surprise than pleasure.”

Burney to the contrary, the music Aeris performed last night supplied both surprise and pleasure—and a promising start for the 2014–15 Boulder Bach Festival.

# # #

AERIS: “Capriccio”
Zachary Carrettin, violin; William Skeen, cello; and Avi Stein, harpsichord
Sonatas by Locatelli, Veracini, Matteis, Stradella, Vivaldi and Bach

Remaining performances:
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17, St. John’s Cathedral, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, First Lutheran Church, Longmont

Pro Musica Colorado opens season with beautiful music but no theme

By Peter Alexander

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

Pro Musica Colorado, the professional chamber orchestra directed by Cynthia Katsarelis, has told us “Stories” and taken us on “Journeys” in their past seasons. But there is no theme for 2014–15.

“Sometimes in classical music, when you’re putting together beautiful programs, the pieces are perfect together, but you can’t come up with a great theme,” Katsarelis explains.

That particularly seems true of the first concert of Pro Musica’s season, which will be performed Friday in Denver and Saturday in Boulder (7:30 p.m. both nights; season information). The program comprises three pieces with no evident connection among them: Sibelius’ tone poemRakastava for strings and percussion, Samuel Barber’s deeply moving setting of James Agee’s prose poem Knoxville: Summer of 1915 for soprano and chamber orchestra, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 39.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

# # #

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra

Amanda Balastrieri, soprano soloist in "Knoxville: Summer of 1915"

Amanda Balastrieri, soprano soloist in “Knoxville: Summer of 1915”

Cynthia Katsarelis, Music Director
With Amanda Balastrieri, soprano

Jean Sibelius: Rakastava
Samuel Barber: Knoxville: Summer of 1915
Mozart: Symphony No. 39

7:30 p.m. Friday Oct. 17, Montview Presbyterian, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, First United Methodist, Boulder

Season details and tickets

Festival Looks Back to Bach while Rushing Confidently into the Future

By Peter Alexander

J.S. Bach

J.S. Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach died more than 250 year ago, but the Boulder Bach Festival is clearly not stuck in the past.

Zachary Carrettin

Zachary Carrettin

Under music director Zachary Carrettin, the festival, which launches its 34th season this week, will regard Bach from a multitude of perspectives, old and new. The festival will continue to feature the great sacred monuments of Bach’s career, but also his secular music, his many instrumental works, and even some wild virtuoso showpieces, as well as music by a diverse array of other composers. This year his music will be paired with contemporaries, and with 19th-century Impressionist and post-Impressionist composers; it will be performed on historical Baroque instruments, on electric violin, and on a 19th-century piano.

“These are all tools, they are all brushes that we use as we paint music,” Carrettin says. “I hope that the Bach festival will continue to present this music in a variety of guises and from a variety of perspectives.”

The opening concerts—Thursday at St. John’s Episcopal in Boulder, Friday at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver and Saturday in First Lutheran in Longmont, all at 7:30—will be performed by Aeris, a trio comprising Carrettin on violin with cellist William Skeen and harpsichordist Avi Stein.


Aeris: Avi Stein, Zachary Carrettin, William Skeen

Using gut strings, Baroque bows and historically accurate instruments, Aeris focuses on the extensive and sometimes astonishing virtuoso violin repertoire of the 18th century. To launch the 2014-15 festival, they will perform a sonata by Bach, but also sonatas by Italian composers of the era, including Locatelli, Veracini, Stradella and Vivaldi.

“These are phenomenal characters in music,” Carrettin says. “Stradella was stabbed to death twice, the second time successfully, due to his marital infidelities. Veracini was such a virtuoso that the great Tartini went home to practice bowing technique after he heard Veracini, because he was so blown away. And Niccolo Matteis, was a great Italian who showed up with a backpack and no money in London around 1670.”

As outlandish as those Italians may sound, Carrettin believes that Bach belongs right in there with them, at least musically: “We pick music that explores the fantasia dreamscape, explores in a sense the out-of-body experience. And the Bach sonata that we chose for this program completely fits that description.

“It is stunning pyrotechnics of the violin, with an unrelenting sustained pedal, and finally when the whole thing just blows up, the aria movement is full of heart-wrenching suspensions and dissonances, and asymmetrical phrases. It’s really incredible, and it’s completely Italian in every sense of the word.”

A fascination with that kind of virtuoso music that pushes the limits is something that the members of Aeris have in common. “We came together some years ago and realized that when it comes to the 17th- and 18th-century Italian violin literature, we’re really on the same page,” Carrettin says.

“It’s as if we’ve known each other for several lifetimes at this point. Our improvisations are very intertwined and very exploratory, and I don’t think any one of us could do it without the other two members of the group. Without a doubt I play better and more imaginatively with them and because of them.”

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Carrettin has recently moved from Texas, where he held a full-time university position, to live in Boulder. This gives him an opportunity to be more involved in the running of the festival and its educational efforts.

“It is such a spectacular place that I’m so thankful that I get to spend this time of my life in Boulder,” Carrettin says. “My being here allows me to observe what we’re already doing and to become more intimately familiar with this 34-year-old organization. And one of the great advantages for the organization is that now we can function more like chamber music.

“If you take a string quartet, they spend time together, they rehearse together, they have meals together. Well, now when I look at my relationship to the board and the executive director and artists from the front range, I get to out and have coffee and have conversations and dream and take notes about what other people are telling me. There’s so much more time for the chamber music of running an organization.”

One of Carrettin’s ventures will be an outreach to people who may not have taken an interest in the Bach Festival in previous years. “We now have a sub-series called Compass, which is away of presenting Bach in a non-traditional format, in different venues and maybe attracting some of the audiences that we don’t have yet.

Carrettin and electric violin.Photo by Michelle Maloy Dillon.

Carrettin and electric violin. Photo by Michelle Maloy Dillon.

“For example, I’m doing an all-electric violin performance of the Bach Cello Suites at the Diary Center for the Arts (7 p.m. Feb. 6, 2015), with amplified reverb. It’s an interesting way bringing archaic music into relevance for a younger generation in the 21st century that may not yet be familiar with Bach’s music language.”

In some ways, the second Compass concert will be even more radical. “Bach UnCaged” (7 p.m. March 17 and 28 at the Dairy) will feature music by Bach and by American 20th-century avant-garde composer John Cage performed on electric violin and keyboard, with 3rd Law Dance/Theater.

The most traditional program of the season, performances of Bach’s Mass in B minor (7:30 p.m. Feb. 27 at Montview Presbyterian Church in Denver and Feb. 28 at First United Methodist Church in Boulder), will bring back one of the mainstays of the festival’s history, and one of the great musical works of the European tradition, but they will also have a new twist of their own.

“The piece was never performed in its entirety in Bach’s lifetime, and aside from the structure of the Mass, there are some questions as far as the intention of how it was to be performed,” Carrettin explains. “I’ll surprise your audience by saying I’ve made some minor adjustments in the form and added in a couple of surprises that I hope will pull together a Mass into more of a concert experience.”

The last concert of the season (7:30 p.m. June 6, 2015, in Grusin Hall on the CU campus) will feature Carrettin with pianist Mina Gajić playing a program of Bach along with late 19th-century Impressionists and post-Impressionists. And this is the program that will bring in that 19th-century piano.

Mina Gajic

Pianist Mina Gajić

Gajić has a decade of experience with 19th-century pianos, and she fell in love with a 19th-century piano in Amsterdam,” Carrettin explains. “It would be the piano for playing Debussy or Ravel or even Bartók, but you know, it’s also the piano for playing Bach. It’s a spectacular instrument, and in the 21st century, I hope we’re starting to look at the notion of period instruments differently.”

As he settles into his residence in Boulder, meeting musicians from across Colorado and bringing in life-long friends from around the country, Carrettin is finding a sense of mission in his work for the Boulder Bach Festival.

“Combining front-range world-class artists with great musicians form other parts of the country is part of my own personal mission,” he says. “I think we all as musicians love meeting new people and seeing old friends, and that’s how we do it, that’s part of the reason we do this for a living, with all of its struggle.”

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Zachary Carrettin, music director

AERIS: “Capriccio”
Season-opening chamber music concert
Zachary Carrettin, violin; William Skeen, cello; and Avi Stein, harpsichord
Sonatas by Locatelli, Veracini, Matteis, Stradella, Vivaldi and Bach
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Boulder
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17, St. John’s Cathedral, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, First Lutheran Church, Longmont

Electric Compass
7 p.m. Feb. 6, 2015
Dairy Center for the Arts, Boulder

J.S. Bach: Mass in B minor, “Dance of Life”
7:30 p.m. Feb. 27, 2015, Montview Presbyterian Church, Denver
7:30 p.m. Feb. 28, 2015, First United Methodist Church, Boulder

Bach UnCaged
With 3rd Law Dance/Theater
7 p.m. March 27 & 28, 2015
Dairy Center for the Arts, Boulder

Six Degrees of Separation
Zachary Carrettin, violin, and Mina Gajić, piano
7:30 p.m. June 6, 2015
Grusin Music Hall, Imig Music Building, CU Boulder


Kronos Quartet delivers powerful, disturbing, and inspired performance

By Peter Alexander

Kronos Quartet performing Beyond Zero. Photo courtesy of Kronos Quartet

Kronos Quartet performing Beyond Zero. Photo courtesy of Kronos Quartet

Kronos’ Quartet performance of Aleksandra Vrebalov’s Beyond Zero: 1914–1918, Wednesday night (Oct. 8) at Macky Auditorium, was the one of the most powerful concert experiences I can recall.

Commissioned by Kronos to mark the centennial of the beginning of World War I, Beyond Zero is by turns beautiful, disturbing, haunting and almost unbearably intense—as befits the subject, one of the most brutal and tragic events of human history. Kronos’ performance was an inspired feat of musicianship and athletic endurance: once begun, the music scarcely lets up until the very end, with harsh, rhythmic chords propelling the piece from climax to climax.

There are times that the music becomes almost unendurable in its intensity, but that again is an expression of a war that was literally unendurable for millions. How else can you put into music the suffering of a continent and the agony of the soldiers in the trenches, year after year? Like a visit to the battlefields, it is sometimes disturbing, but it is a vital and deeply moving experience that enlarges the soul.

Included in the performance are recordings that Vrebalov collected from the time of the war, including military commands, air raid sirens, inflammatory speech, the composer Bartók playing his own music, and ending with the chanting of Byzantine monks fading into deep silence. These imported sounds heighten the music’s impact.

BZ 1058

Still image from Bill Morisson’s film accompanying ‘Beyond Zero’

Beyond Zero is performed in front of a screen on which are projected archival films from the time of the war, restored by experimental film maker Bill Morrison. The film, most of it badly deteriorated, was scanned in high definition and includes both the original filmed images and the marks of deterioration—oxidation, discoloration and other forms of physical degradation. The sometimes ghostly images are evocative of a world long past, and in their imperfections are eloquent commentary on the war itself.

There are many images that will long remain with me, but I will mention just two: the opening sequence, in which a flickering blue fog of discolored film gradually reveals an approaching line of early tanks, which seems to symbolize the world’s gradual but inexorable descent into mechanized war; and a large group of uniformed men whose image is consumed by the loss of the crumbling film, much as an entire generation of young European men was consumed by the war.

The whole multi-media experience is far too much to grasp in a single performance. I didn’t know whether to watch the film, listen to the music, attend to the combination of music and captured sound, or simply admire the sheer hard work and technical accomplishment of the players. I for one will eagerly await the release of a DVD of Beyond Zero, so I can come to grips with all that it expresses.

Beyond Zero was the second half of a concert that also included a world premiere and an appearance by David Barsamian of Boulder’s Alternative Radio. The first half opened with Death to Kosmische by Nicole Lizée. Kronos’ first violinist, David Harrington, says that Death to Kosmische is “sonic fun,” but you would not get the whole joke if you didn’t know that “Kosmische” is a form of East German electro-pop music from the 1960s and ‘70s.

Knowing that, you hear the humor as the music sonically eats its own tail and ends in a burst of electronic distortion. Clearly, the composer was no fan of “Kosmische” music, and she revels in its death. Equally, Kronos relishes playing the piece, including a variety of electronic devices; their fun is infectious even if you don’t know what or whom is being threatened with death.

Kronos next played the world premiere of Speak, Time, an accomplished score by Yuri Boguinia, a young composer who grew up in Boulder and now lives in New York. The score is an episodic exploration of sounds from the quartet, all skillfully knitted together by Boguinia into a mostly-balanced whole. I say mostly, because some sections seemed overly long in relation to the rest, but the music, which seems to trace an unspecified narrative arc, is intriguing throughout.

David Barsamian of Boulder's Alternative Radio

David Barsamian of Boulder’s Alternative Radio

David Barsamian was introduced to the audience as one of Harrington’s “favorite persons.” He has worked with Kronos several times in the past, providing spoken texts over their playing. On this occasion Kronos played four songs from Turkey, Greece, Poland and Armenia—cultures deeply impacted by World War I—as an informal prelude to the second half of the concert. Barsamian gave thoughts relevant to the first three countries, and played a recording of his mother, a survivor of the First World War’s Armenian genocide, for the last.

Everything Barsamian had to say was articulate and appropriate for the occasion—although even in Boulder I don’t suppose everyone agrees with his left-wing point of view. Nonetheless, Harrington’s decision to bring him in for the performance strikes me as both meaningful and confounding. His words would have more impact if they were heard apart, without music that divided the attention and occasionally covered Barsamian’s voice. I for one would rather have heard the music—beautiful and touching folk songs that represent the kind of cross-cultural performance that Kronos does so well—and had time later to reflect on Barsamian’s literary contribution.

Kronos Quartet: David Harington, John Sherba, Sunny Yang and Hank Dutt. Photo courtesy of Kronos Quartet.

Kronos Quartet: David Harrington, John Sherba, Sunny Yang and Hank Dutt. Photo courtesy of Kronos Quartet.

One reason for Kronos’ commissioning of Beyond Zero is the fact that as a country, we have largely forgotten World War I. In comparison to World War II, the “good war” of the celebrated “greatest generation,” it hardly registers in our consciousness. And yet we still live in the world that was created by the barbarity of the war and blunders of the post-war peace process. Harrington wanted to remind us all of that, and in that context Barsamian has much to say. But I am not convinced that making an artistic performance into a didactic exercise serves either the music or the message being conveyed.

In the end, it is the music that matters. And because Kronos plays such exceptional and striking music, music that itself monopolizes our attention, it is easy to forget how good they are at what they do, and how their adventurous, passionate explorations have changed the musical landscape. Whether or not you like the music they play—and I admittedly don’t like everything they have done over the years—it is always worth hearing. From the most tender and gentle pieces to the most fierce and aggressive, Kronos crosses borders, explores limits, and takes us all along for the journey.

They have been doing this for 40 years now, and remarkably all but the cellist are founding members. Such longevity is remarkable, especially when you see how physically demanding some of their playing can be. Whatever they do, they do it with commitment and technical polish. Long may their adventure continue!