Great Musicians we lost in 2014

Distinguished conductors lead the list, along with legendary singers, players, composers

By Peter Alexander

New Year’s Eve is a time for reflections, not least of those who we could celebrate at the beginning of the year, but who are no longer with us.

A surprising number this year were conductors, but there were several legendary opera singers from past generations and other performers who have left their mark. And of course each and every one will be missed by families, by friends, by colleagues, and by the thousands who made up their audiences.

Below is a partial list of great musical artists who died during the year. This is a highly personal list: it includes great classical artists, but also other musicians who have touched me in some way. This should be more than a sad chronicle; perhaps it will help us remember to celebrate those great artists who give us so much, while they are still among the living.

To the memory of each person below, I can only express undying gratitude for the dedication, the love of music, and the incredibly hard work that each put in over a lifetime to bring us the music we treasure.

Claudio Abbado, conductor, 80
Licia Albanese, soprano, 105
Carlo Bergonzi, tenor, 90
Frans Brüggen, recorder player, conductor, scholar, 79
George Christie, manager of Glyndebourne Opera, 79
Buddy DeFranco, jazz clarinetist, 91
José Fenghali, pianist, 53
Claude Frank, pianist, 89
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, conductor, 91
Alice Herz-Sommer, pianist and Holocaust survivor, 110
Christopher Hogwood, conductor, harpsichordist, organist, scholar, 73
Joseph Kerman, musicologist, 89
Lorin Maazel, conductor, 84
Manitas de Plata, flamenco guitarist, 91
Gerard Mortier, opera director, 70
Stephen Paulus, composer, 65
Julius Rudel, conductor, 93
Peter Sculthorpe, composer, 85
Pete Seeger, folksinger, songwriter, activist, 94
John Shirley-Quirk, baritone, 82
Elaine Stritch, Broadway singer and great interpreter of Stephen Sondheim’s music, 89
Laszlo Varga, cellist, 89

May you rest in peace. You will be remembered.

2014 in Review: The classical music scene in Boulder

Now in the rear-view mirror, 2014 was a busy year in classical music.

2014-Monthly-CalendarBy Peter Alexander

It was a time of stability, it was a time of change.

With apologies to Charles Dickens, 2014 brought the classical institutions of Boulder both stability and change, and happily there was “the spring of hope” in the changes rather than a prolonged “winter of despair.”

In other words, there was a lot of news in 2014.

Andrew Bradford

Andrew Bradford

The most significant news came from the Colorado Music Festival, which underwent perhaps not a winter but a few days of despair in January when their newly hired executive director backed out before a single day on the job. But hope was certainly in the offing by summer, when new Executive Director Andrew Bradford was on hand and three well qualified candidates to replace Michael Christie as music director led concerts in the Chautauqua Auditorium.

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

In September CMF announced the selection of Jean-Marie Zeitouni, a dynamic young conductor from Montreal as music director. Putting words to the hopes that many Boulder residents have for the future of the festival, Zeitouni said “I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to serve as music director of this wonderful organization, and . . . I take this responsibility with great respect and care.

“I think I am coming to understand the great love and passion so many people in this community have for CMF and CMA, and I intend not only to create new, exciting programs for their enjoyment but also to be a steward of the organization.”

Since then, Bradford and Zeitouni have been hard at work planning the 2015 festival season. We will know more what their leadership will mean for the festival and Boulder audiences when the summer schedule is announced in February. That announcements already looks to be near the top of the classical music news for 2015.

Zachary Carrettin with electric violin. Photo by Michelle Maloy Dillon.

Zachary Carretin with electric violin. Photo by Michelle Maloy Dillon.

Boulder’s Bach Festival also has a new director, now in his second year. Zachary Carretin moved permanently to Boulder this year, which allows the festival to expand its offerings outside of the traditional one week in the spring. “We are continuing that tradition,” Carretin said of the festival week, “and that definitely centers around the great masterworks of Johann Sebastian Bach. But we are expanding the season throughout the academic year to include more concerts, and of varying sizes from solo to chamber to orchestral.”

One important aspect of the expanded offerings is the Compass Series, designed to present Bach’s music in non-traditional ways. “I consider the music of Bach to be a compass from which I view and hear all other music,” Carretin says. “It serves as a point of reference from which one can peer into the distance, travel backward in time or examine how those old music forms influenced subsequent sounds.”

In effect, the Compass Series will re-imagine Bach’s music, presenting it with unexpected media and in unexpected contexts. Good examples will be found in the coming months, with concerts of Bach on electric violin in February and Bach paired with the music of John Cage in March, both presented at the Dairy Center.

Robert Olson

Robert Olson

One more change on the local scene is on the way, although not for another year. In March 2014, Robert Olson announced that the 2015 Mahler Festival will be his last. As the founding director of the festival, he has been a part of Boulder’s musical life for 27 years. Thus far, no announcement has been made about the festival’s future without Olson.

Michael Butterman

Michael Butterman

If 2014 was a time of change for CMF and the Bach Fest, it was a time to celebrate stability for the Boulder Philharmonic, which renewed the contract of maestro Michael Butterman. Always a thoughtful and provocative programmer, Butterman well deserved the confidence reflected in his new five–year contract, through the 2018–19 season.

In 2014 there were also some noteworthy performances in Boulder.

You will have your own favorites, which you are invited to share in comments. Here are eight performances that I found particularly memorable at the end of the year:

Venice Baroque Orchestra

Venice Baroque Orchestra

Feb. 13: Venice Baroque Orchestra brought their fresh and energetic playing into Macky Auditorium. With hometown ties to Vivaldi and a commitment to the excitement of playing Baroque music, Venice Baroque showed how far “authentic” performance has come in the 21st century. The days are long gone of “sewing-machine” Baroque music. This was a virtuoso performance that raised Vivaldi to the ranks of the great 18th-ceturey composers, where he belongs.

July 17–18: The orchestral concert conducted at CMF by Carlos Miguel Prieto, one of the three candidates for music director, was a wonderful exploration of music both familiar and not quite familiar. It included the full ballet The Three Cornered Hat by Manuel de Falla, which includes some slightly familiar excepts. Heard in full, the score emerged as a fascinating display of Spanish culture and music. On the same program, Prieto presented the brash and colorful original scoring of Stravinsky’s Petrushka. I was delighted to hear one of my favorite pieces in different garb, blazing with all the colors Stravinsky first imagined.

Aug. 1: Andrew Grams, not a candidate for the CMF position but clearly well liked by orchestra and audience alike, led a program of Russian masterworks as part of the CMF season. Under his baton, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, a hoary evergreen of the orchestral repertoire that too easily descends into melodramatic excess, emerged as an exciting showpiece that had musicians and listeners alike wowed at concert’s end.

Aug. 7–8: The third, and successful candidate for the music director’s position at CMF, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conducted a committed, energetic reading of two great tone poems by Richard Strauss, Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben. So much Strauss in one evening can be heavy going, but it was a rare treat to hear Ein Heldenleben live. True virtuoso orchestral music, these two scores elicited the best virtuoso orchestra playing from the CMF’s wonderful orchestra and showcased Zeitouni’s orchestral leadership.

Stephen Lias in Gates or the Arctic National Park. Photo courtesy of the composer.

Stephen Lias in Gates or the Arctic National Park. Photo courtesy of the composer.

Sept. 13: Boulder Philharmonic and Michael Butterman chose to open their 2014–15 season with the world premiere of Stephen Lias’s Gates of the Arctic. Something of a musical travelogue that the composer acknowledges is almost film music, Gates of the Arctic is, I wrote in my review, “thoroughly entertaining” but also “a well crafted and skillfully designed piece that features strong contrasts and great musical drama, woven into an effective orchestral score.” The same concert also introduced the Boulder Phil’s new concertmaster, Charles Weatherbee, in a skillful and satisfying performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral showpiece Scheherazade.

Kronos Quartet performing Beyond Zero. Photo courtesy of Kronos Quartet

Kronos Quartet performing Beyond Zero. Photo courtesy of Kronos Quartet

Oct. 8: Kronos Quartet’s performance in Macky Auditorium was a treat for fans of new music, or anyone who loves a good musical adventure. I thought the performance of Aleksandra Vrebalov’s Beyond Zero: 1914–1918, a multi-media remembrance of World War I, was one of the most powerful musical experiences of the year. The program also included a notable premier of Speak, Time by Boulder native Yuri Boguinia, and a number of pieces that draw upon Eastern European folk song. As always with Kronos, the entire concert was a fascinating musical journey. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are never dull.

Aeris: Avi Stein, Zachary Carrettin, William Skeen

Aeris: Avi Stein, Zachary Carretin, William Skeen

Oct. 16: The Baroque-instrument trio Aeris’ program of virtuoso sonatas by Italian composers Vivaldi, Veracini, Stradella, Valentini, Locatelli and Nicola Matteis, and a very Italianate and wildly virtuosic sonata by J.S. Bach, was a telling opening for the 2014­–15 Bach Festival. The program reflected the intention of the festival’s director, Zachary Carretin, to put Bach into new and exciting contexts, giving audiences a deeper appreciation of his role in the musical world; and it also showed Carretin’s virtuoso abilities as the trio’s violinist. More from that menu will be welcome.

Oct. 17: The performance of Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra under conductor Cynthia Katsarellis and soprano Amanda Balastrieri gave a depth and dark poignancy to a score that is often treated as simple nostalgia. The rest of the concert—Sibelius and Mozart—was delightful, but the reading of Barber will stay with me and color every other performance I hear of the evocative score.

I apologize to anyone not mentioned here; there were many wonderful and worthy performances that just fell short of making the list. (And then there were the concerts I didn’t get to!) When it comes to memorable concerts, there are no wrong answers. Your experience is as valid as anyone’s, which is why I would love to hear everyone’s reflections on the past year. In the meantime, Happy New Year and many musical returns to all!

NOTE: The story was edited 12/3/15 to clarify sentences that readers found unclear, and to change the spelling of Petrushka to conform with previous stories.

2014 in review: Blogging at Sharps & Flatirons

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,600 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

BCO Offers Classical Option for New Year’s Eve

“A Night on the Danube” will channel European New Year’s celebrations

By Peter Alexander

Boulder Chamber Orchestra in a Holiday Mood (Photo by Keith Bobo)

Boulder Chamber Orchestra in a Holiday Mood (Photo by Keith Bobo)

Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra offered their first New Year’s Eve concert two years ago. Saless saw an open niche and decided to fill it.

“I always felt like on New Year’s Eve, the only game in town in classical music is the Colorado Symphony,” he says, speaking of the CSO’s annual “Night in Vienna” (6:30 p.m. New Year’s Eve in Boettcher Concert Hall). “I thought, it’s kind of a far thing to go all the way to Denver. Why don’t we have something around here?”

Because of the difficulty of finding an available space in Boulder on New Year’s Eve, Saless decided to perform in the attractive Lakewood Cultural Center (470 S. Allison Pkwy. in Lakewood). Timed not to interfere with later New Year’s Eve events, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra’s concert, “A Night on the Danube,” will begin at 6:30 p.m.

That is same time as CSO’s “Night in Vienna,” and no, the similarity of names is not accidental, either. Musically, the New Year celebration is widely associated with Viennese music—especially waltzes and polkas from the Strauss family—because of the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual New Year’s Day concert. That event has become so popular that tickets are distributed by lottery and the television broadcast is seen in 90 countries.

Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bobo

Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bobo

Saless says such European concerts are an inspiration for the BCO. “You know, in Europe all the countries have some interesting New Year’s Eve event, which we don’t,” he says. “We have the New York Times Square type of thing and we sit in front of the TV.

“At some point I’d love to just get people out of the house, and go do something else.”

Apparently he is succeeding, since the BCO New Year’s Eve concerts have nearly sold out each year. The only problem Saless sees is that most of the sales come from Lakewood and Denver.

“I would love for more Boulder people to come,” he says. “It’s set up at a good time so you’re out by 8 o’clock.”

To further help people with their celebrations, the BCO will have what Saless calls “a wall of wine” on sale during intermission. “People can actually buy their wine for the evening right at the concert, and then head home and celebrate,” he says.


The Danube in Budapest

Of course, people mostly come to the concert for the music. This year, the BCO will perform music from countries that border on the Danube River as it flows through central Europe. From Austria there will be Johann Strauss Jr.’s Pizzicato Polka and—inevitably—The Blue Danube.

Hungary will be represented by two composers: Johannes Brahms with his Hungarian Dances and Franz Liszt with the popular Second Hungarian Rhapsody. And Slovakia comes in with two of the Slavonic Dances of Antonín Dvořák.

“The program is sort like my favorites,” Saless says, “It’s stuff that I would always love to do but can’t do with a chamber orchestra.”

Announcements of the concert promise all that, “and much more.” But when asked about the “much more,” Saless just says, “I’m not going to say. We are doing some surprise pieces, which may or may not include one of our favorite singers.”

Szilvia Schranz

Soprano Szilvia Schranz

The singer at least is not a secret: soprano Szilvia Schranz, who has impeccable Danubian credentials, is listed on the program. In keeping with the theme of the concert, she will sing—well, “some Hungarian pieces” is all Saless will admit to.

Schranz was born in Budapest—on the banks of the Danube—and moved to Boulder when her father, second violinist of the Takacs Quartet, came to CU with the other members of the ensemble.

The playing style of music from Central Europe has some challenges for players who have not grown up with the different national traditions. The Viennese waltz, for example, gets its lilt from a slight displacement of the second beat, which is played a fraction early and lightly stressed in the accompanying parts. Think of the first “pah” as just ahead of the beat in the “Oom-PAH—pah” parts.

As a conductor, Saless is prepared for the waltzes. “There a trick to it,” he says. “I have been fortunate enough to have a teacher that showed me how to do it, because he does a lot of Viennese waltzes.

“What you do is you add a new dimension to the baton. You actually move the orchestra on the second beat by moving the baton toward them. And they’ll do it naturally. It’s a really cool thing.”

NOTE: This article was originally published in the Dec. 25 edition of Boulder Weekly.

# # #

New Year's Eve on the Danube (Photo courtesy of Boulder Chamber Orchestra)

New Year’s Eve on the Danube (Photo courtesy of Boulder Chamber Orchestra)

“A Night on the Danube”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
Szilvia Schranz, soprano

6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 31
Lakewood Cultural Center
470 S. Allison Pkwy., Lakewood


‘Christmas with the King’s Singers’ aims to leave the audience smiling

By Peter Alexander

The King's Singers. Photo by Alex Nickolaus.

The King’s Singers. Photo by Alex Nickolaus.

It’s all about the blend.

No, not coffee. Blend is how countertenor Timothy Wayne-Wright explains the unique and unmistakable sound of the King’s Singers, who bring their men’s a capella singing to Macky Auditorium for “Christmas With the King’s Singers” next Thursday (7:30 p.m. Dec. 11).

“At the core of everything we do is the blend [of the voices],” Wayne-Wright says. “We say that we go on stage as six voices but we want the audience to hear just the one voice.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Here is a partial listing of other holiday events in the area:

A Broadway Christmas Carol
CU Theatre and Dance
Dec. 4–21, University Theatre

Nutcracker Ballet
Boulder Ballet and Longmont Symphony Orchestra
4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6
2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont

December Reflections
Christmas with Ars Nova Singers
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6 and Friday Dec. 12
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Boulder

4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, St. Paul’s Lutheran, Denver
2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, Bethany Lutheran, Cherry Hills Village

Candlelight Concert
Longmont Symphony
4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14
First United Methodist Church, Longmont

The Gift of Music
Boulder Chamber Orchestra and Seicento Baroque Ensemble
7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, First United Methodist, Boulder
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 20, Montview Presbyterian, Denver