CMF’s new conductor begins with a splash

Jean-Marie Zeitouni launches his first festival voyage with La Mer

By Peter Alexander

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

“To start a voyage together, we take the sea,” Jean-Marie Zeitouni, the new music director of Boulder’s Colorado Music Festival (CMF), says over iced tea at the historic Chautauqua Dining Hall in Boulder.

He is referring to Debussy’s tone poem La Mer (The Sea), a quintessential piece of musical Impressionism that portrays the surging and ebbing of ocean waves. “I picked La Mer (to open the 2015 festival) for many reasons,” he says.

“First of all it’s a very dear piece to me, growing up in Montréal and having a wonderful orchestra there that played the French repertoire like not many others. Second, it’s part of starting a journey for me with the festival, and to me the sea is intrinsically connected to a voyage.

“And the third reason to pick La Mer is because it’s a virtuoso orchestral piece, and it’s my way of showcasing this wonderful (CMF) orchestra.”

La Mer will open “Welcome Jean Marie,” the first Festival Orchestra concert of the 2015 Colorado Music Festival, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 1, in the Chautauqua Auditorium, home of the festival since 1978. The program, equally divided between French and Italian music, will also feature the orchestral song cycle Shéhérazade by Ravel, arias from Rossini’s serious operas Tancredi and Semiramide, and Respighi’s brilliant tone poem The Pines of Rome. (CMF tickets)

Marie-Nicole Lemieux

Marie-Nicole Lemieux

The soloist for the vocal works will be Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux, a frequent musical collaborator with Zeitouni who is noted for singing Baroque opera and the serious operas of Rossini.

The July 1 program reflects Zeitouni’s unique musical personality in several ways. For one thing, he is half French, and grew up with French musical culture in Montréal. French music speaks to him naturally through language and heritage and experience.

As for the Italian half of the program, he is not Italian himself but he says he has an affinity for Italian culture through proximity. “I am half French and half Egyptian, so it’s Mediterranean,” he says.

The program—and other parts of the festival season as well—also reflect Zeitouni’s deep love and appreciation of vocal music. “I’m an avid opera conductor and opera lover and choral conductor,” he says. “Voice was always a big part of my upbringing.”

In addition to vocal works on Wednesday’s program, Zeitouni has scheduled a concert performance of Bartók’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle later in the summer (July 23 & 24). And the final CMF concert of 2015 will be “A Royal Finish: Choral Masterworks,” including works by Handel and Mozart performed by the CMF Chamber Orchestra, the CMF Chorus and soprano Karina Gauvin (Aug. 9).

“I affectionately call these the vocal pillars, and they are three facets of vocal music: the art song or song with orchestra; the operatic; and the sacred and the choral,” he says “So they are basically covering, not everything of course, but different genres of vocal music.”

Returning to Wednesday’s opening concert, Zeitouni says that working with the Festival Orchestra this summer “is very meaningful. I was happy to reunite with the orchestra. Last year I was a guest conductor, but there was a connection, so I’m looking forward to opening night. In a more formal way, (the orchestra and I) are embracing each other for this relationship. This group is really special.”

Following La Mer, which is familiar to many classical music listeners, Zeitouni, the orchestra and Lemieux will present a work that is not familiar to many: Ravel’s Shéhérazade, a setting of three poems by Léon Leclère. A friend of the composer, Leclère took the pen name Tristan Klingsor from two of Wagner’s characters. Under that name he published 100 poems that were inspired by reading the collection One Thousand and One Nights, and by Rimsky-Korsakov’s well known symphonic suite Scheherazade.

Ravel in turn picked three poems to set for voice and orchestra: Asie (Asia), La flûte enchantée (The enchanted flute) and L’indifférent (The indifferent one). Tim Orr from the Colorado Shakespeare Festival will read each poem before it is performed.

Rossini is best known to American audiences for his comic operas, including The Barber of Seville, but he also had a very successful career writing serious operas that are marked by dramatic and vocally demanding arias for the main characters. Two of his greatest works of this type, Trancredi and Semiramide are both based on works by Voltaire.

Finally, the program closes with a work as familiar, at least, as the Debussy with which it opens: Respighi’s orchestral showpiece The Pines of Rome. As disparate as the program seems at first glance, Zeitouni sees a common thread throughout.

“If you look at the concert as a whole,” he says, “you have La Mer and you have Shéhérazade and you have Rossini epic arias and then the Pines of Rome. All of these pieces evoke images, they are tableaus—tableaus of nature, tableaus of civilization, tableaus of exotic lands. So there’s the idea of images and of going places that are new to us, that are foreign, that are exotic.”

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2015-festival-icon-with-dates-300x213Colorado Music Festival
Opening Night: Welcome Jean-Marie!
Festival Orchestra, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor
Marie-Nicole Lemieux, contralto, and Timothy Orr, speaker

Debussy: La Mer
Ravel: Shéhérazade
Rossini: Arias from Tancredi and Semiramide
Respighi: Pines of Rome

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 1, Chautauqua Auditorium

Tickets

A preview of more events in the Colorado Music Festival will appear in Boulder Weekly Thursday, July 2.

To see the full CMF program or purchase tickets, visit the CMF Web page.

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The times they are a-changin’ for classical music in Boulder

Events at the Dairy Center June 21 & 23 reflect a flourishing concert music scene

By Peter Alexander

“The Piano Puzzler,” Bruce Adolphe (shown with his parrot, Polly Rhythm), comes to Boulder’s Dairy Center for two performances of his music.

Concert music is a growth industry in Boulder.

It used to be that there just weren’t any classical or new music concerts in Boulder in late May and June—between the end of the standard concert season and the beginning of the summer festival season. It also used to be that the Dairy Center only offered the odd concert once or twice a year.

But not any more. The Dairy’s new “Soundscape” series has made it a major venue for concert music in Boulder, and this year that continues right into June, when the Dairy is offering two concerts of classical and new music in three days: the final event of the 2014–15 “Soundscape” series at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 21, featuring the Miami String Quartet; and “One Night Only,” a concert of music for mezzo-soprano and instruments at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 23, with soloist Abigail Fischer.

Both concerts will feature the music of composer Bruce Adolphe, who will be in attendance. Adolphe is a composer, educator, performer and author who lives in New York, where he is resident lecturer and director of family concerts for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Among other professional and educational activities, he is also the Piano Puzzler for “Performance Today” on public radio.

These concerts are presented in partnership with the Off the Hook Chamber Music Festival in Ft. Collins, where Adolphe is co-artistic director with Jephta Bernstein. Both programs will also be part of the Off the Hook season this summer. (More information Off the Hook is available here.)

James Bailey, the director of the Dairy’s Soundscape series, commented that sharing these two programs with Off the Hook provides “a unique opportunity for Boulder because these are not groups that we would ever be able to afford (as a separate performance)—we don’t have to fly them in, we don’t have to house them.

“It was a real opportunity for us to hear really outstanding talent and great programming, so I jumped on the chance.”

Miami-187-hr

Miami String Quartet (photo by Tara McMullen)

Sunday’s Soundscape performance by the Miami String Quartet offers two works from standard repertoire—Haydn’s early String Quartet in F minor, op 20 no. 5, and Mendelssohn’s Quartet in E minor, op. 44 no. 2—and two works that are much less familiar—Five Pieces for String Quartet by Erwin Schulhoff and Adolphe’s Fra(NZ)g-mentation.

Adolphe’s oddly titled piece is based on an incomplete fragment of a movement for string quartet by Franz Schubert. It was part of a project commissioned by the Brentano Quartet to celebrate their 20th anniversary, comprising six works by six composers, each based on a fragment by another composer.

“It’s not pronounceable,” Adolphe says of his title. “It occurred to me visually and I decided to leave it. Schubert gives you the Franz and the piece is a fragment, so you’ve got a fragmentation and a Franz. It’s kind of a ridiculous title and I tend to call it my Schubert Fragment Piece.”

Bruce Adolphe (photo by Barbara Luisi)

Bruce Adolphe (photo by Barbara Luisi)

When he starting composing his Schubert Fragment Piece, Adolphe found that he was becoming obsessed with the tune and decided to use that obsession productively. “It was almost like an earworm,” he says. “I really couldn’t get rid of it, and at one point it occurred to me if I wanted to be really interesting maybe the piece should be about being obsessed with the melody and trying to get it out of your mind.

“I started with the tune swirling around, and new rhythms, and I sort of let the tune get to the point where the listener also finds it obsessive. Then it splits into fragments itself, which is another way of dealing with the word fragment, and finally comes to an end that is not conclusive—but at least you get a break from the melody.”

Luciano Berio

Luciano Berio

The artistic focus of the June 23 concert will be Luciano Berio’s Folk Songs. Composed in 1964 as a tribute to American singer Cathy Berberian, who was known for her performances of contemporary music, it is based on nine folks songs from several European countries, plus two folk-like American songs by John Jacob Niles (“Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” and “I Wonder as I Wander”). In these arrangements, Berio created an accessible work that joins contemporary elements with simple melodies.

“There are folk songs from all over—Italy, America, France, Armenia, Azerbaijan,” Abigail Fischer, the soloist for Folk Songs, says. “Berio brings new life into these pieces. Each has its own personality based on his orchestration and interpretation of the (song’s) character.

Mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer

Mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer

“Each song has a slightly different way of singing as well, in order to encapsulate the character of each region. (For example,) the song from Sicily is very guttural and almost sounds like a folk song from Central Asia with the orchestration that Berio chooses.”

Fischer is known for singing contemporary music, and she has also performed a great deal of Baroque opera and other early music. Today she finds herself wishing to sing more of the standard vocal repertoire as well.

“I originally fell into singing Baroque music and contemporary music because I was trained as a cellist and already very experienced with the sophisticated musical sensitivities of these styles,” she says.

“This is probably why I fell into singing more Baroque and new music, because not as many singers really do this well. However, as my voice grows and matures, both materially over time, and as my technical knowledge of how to work with my growing voice increases, I desire more and more to also sing standard repertoire.”

Performing with Fischer on the Berio will be a number of musicians from the Boulder, Denver and Ft. Collins area: Erik Peterson, violin; Brook Ferguson, flute; AnnMarie Liss, harp; Deborah Marshall, clarinet; Judith McIntyre, cello; and Eric Hollenbeck and Mike Tetrault, percussion. Other works on the program will be Rikudim for flute and harp by Adolphe; Jet Whistle for flute and cello by Villa Lobos; and Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint for clarinet and tape.

None of this is common repertoire. So the Dairy, newly prominent in Boulder’s musical life, is not only filling a gap in the calendar. Their programming is filling a gap in the repertoire you can find here as well.

The times they are a-changin’.

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dairy-logoSoundscape
Miami String Quartet and Bruce Adolphe
Haydn: String Quartet in F minor, op. 20 no. 5
Bruce Adolphe: Fra(NZ)g-mentation
Erwin Schulhoff: Five Pieces for String Quartet
Mendelssohn: String Quartet in E minor, op. 44 no. 2

4 p.m. Sunday, June 21
Dairy Center for the Arts, Boulder
Tickets

One Night Only
Abigail Fischer, mezzo-soprano, and instrumental ensemble
Bruce Adolphe: Rikudim (Dances) for flute and harp
Heitor Villa Lobos: Jet Whistle for flute and cello
Steve Reich: New York Counterpoint for clarinet and tape
Luciano Berio: Folk Songs for mezzo-soprano and ensemble

7 p.m. Tuesday, June 23
Dairy Center for the Arts
Tickets

Scenes from Zach Redler’s new opera offer a glimpse into the artistic workshop

CU NOW presents a work in progress with libretto by CU alumnus Mark Campbell

By Peter Alexander

Librettist and CU Alumnus Mark Campbell, who is returning to campus for CU NOW. (Photo by Laura Marie Duncan)

Librettist and CU Alumnus Mark Campbell, who is returning to campus for CU NOW. (Photo by Laura Marie Duncan)

It’s mostly hard work.

It looks like magic from the outside, the process of creating a large-scale, complex work of art like an opera. But the more you are able to see inside the process, the more you see the hard work it takes to get from an idea to a viable piece of art to a fully committed production in front of an audience.

It is part of the wonder of the University of Colorado, Boulder College of Music CU NOW (New Opera Workshop) program that it offers a glimpse into the magic-producing hard work of making a new opera, while advancing students’ careers and the world of opera.

The program, started six years ago by Leigh Holman, director of the CU Eklund Opera Program, and Patrick Mason, a professor of voice, opera and choral studies in the CU College of Music, brings composers to campus to work on developing a new operatic work, working over a couple of weeks with student singers in the CU College of Music. In a win-win-win situation, the students benefit from working closely with a composer on a new work, developing skills useful in the professional world; the composers benefit from hearing their work performed as they write it; and audiences benefit from seeing inside the creative process.

This year’s CU NOW program will come to fruition Friday and Sunday (June 12 and 14) with performances of scenes from an opera in progress by composer Zach Redler and librettist Mark Campbell, a CU alumnus whose other libretti include Kevin Puts’s Silent Night, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer prize in music, and the recently premiered Manchurian Candidate.

Composer Zach Redler

Composer Zach Redler

Scenes from Redler and Campbell’s A Song for Susan Smith will be performed with a cast of CU student singers at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the ATLAS Black Box Theater on the CU campus. The scenes will be stage directed by Holman.

The performance will feature six or seven of a projected 15 scenes in a one-act, 90-minute opera. Based on the notorious 1994 case of a woman who was sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of her two sons, A Song for Susan Smith does not dramatize or feature the killings. Instead, it focuses on the period between the killings and Smith’s eventual confession nine days later, and on Smith’s mental state during that time.

Between those two performances, CU NOW will also present the Composer Fellows’ Opera Showcase, scenes by CU student composers who have been working with Redler and other operatic professionals brought to campus for CU NOW, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 13, in the Music Theater inside the CU Imig Music Building. All CU NOW performances are free and open to the public.

A Song for Susan Smith started as a scene that Redler wrote for his wife, soprano Brittney Redler, to sing for a doctoral voice recital. The text came from a completed libretto that Campbell had never used and forms a prologue to the opera, portraying Smith before the killings. That scene has now been performed several times, including as part of the Ft. Worth (Tex.) Opera’s Frontiers program. It will not be included in the CU performances but can be viewed on the composer’s Website (scroll down to the video, featuring the composer at the piano and Brittney Redler singing).

Redler is not unaware that Susan Smith is a difficult subject for an opera, one that might be disturbing to some audience members. “I’m drawn to characters that are hard to comprehend,” he says. “Susan Smith has been through a lot, but because [infanticide] is a too common thing—500 cases a year!—I don’t think it’s exploitive. I think it’s using a very specific instance to tell a very general story.

“It’s a horrible problem, because it’s not that these people are necessarily inherently evil. Susan came from an extremely dysfunctional childhood and household. So it’s about mental health and about mob mentality (when the town turns from supporting Susan to shunning her). A lot of the music is kind of trying to show Susan’s perspective.”

Leigh Holman, director of the CU's Eklund Opera Program and CU NOW (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Leigh Holman, director of the CU’s Eklund Opera Program and CU NOW (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Holman and Mason started CU NOW to give students experience tackling completely new music and new roles. At the time, there were few programs devoted to new opera, but that has changed in the past six years.

“When we started this six years ago, there weren’t many people doing what we’re doing,” Holman says. “Now, people are doing it everywhere.

“The most important thing that was happening at the Opera America Conference two weeks ago was new works—composers there, librettists there, all these big companies looking for new works to do. That’s what audiences want. That’s where the market is now. Six years ago it wasn’t.”

CU’s unique niche in this world is taking works in progress that have not been completed or received a commission, works where the composers are just getting started, and giving them the chance to mold it to living, breathing singers. “We like to do brand new things,” Holman says. “We want our students to have the opportunity to work with a brand new piece.

“The composers are hearing their piece for the first time with our students. And our students get the opportunity to work with the composers. Our students can’t listen to a recording and learn it. There’s no other singer that has already said, ‘This is how it’s supposed to sound.’ It’s really their own interpretation.”

Redler seconds Holman’s comments. “It’s really great for (the students),” he says. “In professional opera companies, it’s the young artists who are doing the workshops and the readings of new works. It’s just such an important skill for them to have, to be able to pick up a new piece of sheet music that no one has ever recorded and learn it.”

He is equally enthusiastic about what the program means for him as a composer. “Hearing scenes that I’ve only heard in my head is just so important,” he says. “The piece changes in front of an audience as well, so to get to see that is fantastic.”

And the value for the audience? You can tell the rest of us: Go to the performances, and post your reaction here afterwards! You too might help open doors for new creations.

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CU NOW web ad 1349 x 905CU NOW

Scenes from A Song for Susan Smith
An opera in progress by Zach Redler and Mark Campbell
7:30 p.m. Friday, June 12
2 p.m. Sunday, June 14
ATLAS Black Box Theater on the CU campus

Composer Fellows’ Opera Showcase
Operatic scenes by CU student composers
7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 13
Music Theater, CU Imig Music Building

All performances free and open to the public

Boulder Bach Festival moves six degrees from Bach

Program features Impressionist and 21st-century composers, plus one Bach sonata

By Peter Alexander

Pianist Mina Gajić

Pianist Mina Gajić

The ever-broadening Boulder Bach Festival will end its 2014–15 season with a concert of music for violin and piano by Debussy, Ravel, the great violinist Eugene Ysaÿe, and Ray Granlund, a living and very eclectic American composer.

Oh yes—there will be a Bach sonata, too.

The performance, titled “Six Degrees of Separation,” will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (June 6) in Grusin Hall of the CU Imig Music Building. Concert pianist Mina Gajić will perform with violinist Zachary Carrettin, the music director of the Bach Festival. Tickets can be purchased online.

The program covers five composers, four centuries (from the 18th to the 21st), and a glittering array of styles. None of which exactly explains the “Six Degrees,” which seems to refer to all the ways the other composers are related back to Bach. Indeed, it has been a theme of the festival this year to celebrate not only the music of Bach, but the music that he inspired through the centuries.

“Bach had an enormous influence on virtually every subsequent composer,” Carrettin says. “For example, composers studied Bach’s approaches to form and harmony, and especially counterpoint. And also there are commonalities in the priorities of the composers chosen for this concert.”

One of those commonalities, Carrettin explains, is the exploration of musical ideas from other cultures and nationalities.

Zachary Carrettin

Zachary Carrettin

“Bach was influenced by his German organ predecessors, but also wrote frequently in the popular Italian and French styles,” he says. Similarly, “Ray [Granlund] wrote a piece that is supposed to be a tango, and yet has the rhythmic influence of a waltz. And Debussy’s sense of color and cross-cultural explorations cover styles from different countries. Flamenco, blues, wooden flute sounds—all of these are heard in the Violin and Piano Sonata.”

Eugene Ysaÿe

Eugene Ysaÿe

Another obvious connection with Bach is provided by the Sonata for solo violin by Eugene Ysaÿe, a violinist who was both a contemporary and a friend of Debussy. “Ysaÿe wrote six sonatas for unaccompanied violin, and they’re modeled on the six sonatas and partitas that Bach wrote for unaccompanied violin,” Carrettin says. “This sonata begins with movement called ‘Obsession,’ which includes multiple quotations of Bach, from the E-major Partita for solo violin.”

While Debussy, Ravel and Ysaÿe were contemporaries, Carrettin included Granlund as a way of tying the diverse program together, from Bach forward. “I think the composer that bridges this program together is the living composer Raymond Granlund,” he says. “His work is harmonically influenced by impressionism, expressionism, jazz and various world musics, but also his contrapuntal writing is exquisite.”

Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy

Beyond these musical and stylistic connections among the composers, Carrettin finds more subtle connections to Bach that he calls poetic: “Debussy once failed a piano exam at the [Paris] Conservatory, because his Bach was, and I quote, ‘too expressive.’ So the program brings up a conversation not only about the connections between the composers, but also the playing styles and how we play Debussy now, in the 21st century, and how we play Bach now.”

For Carrettin, the answer to “how we play Bach” is defiantly non-dogmatic. He has played it with historic instruments; he has also played Bach on electric violin, and interwoven Bach’s music with the music of John Cage. Going into Grussin Hall, he and Gajić will be playing instruments that post-date both Bach and Debussy.

“For this performance, Mina [Gajić ] will be playing one of the extraordinary nine-foot Steinway pianos owned by the university,” he explains. “I’ll be playing a violin made in Chicago in 1963 by a great maker, I and I’ll be playing what we call a modern bow.”

Without going into the intricacies of violin bow history, that means the style of bow developed around 1780—after Bach’s lifetime but well before Debussy—that provides greater tension on the bow hairs. This in turn allows more pressure on the strings, and therefore greater volume.

“The equipment is an interesting question,” Carrettin continues. “When Mina and I rehearse we encounter such fascinating moments of crossroads. She has years of experience playing harpsichords, fortepianos, and especially 19th-century historic pianos, but now she’s playing this recital on a modern Steinway. And I have years of playing Baroque and classical period instruments with sheep-gut strings and convex archaic bows and no chin rests.

“The techniques of playing are different, but also what’s possible on the [modern] instruments is quite different. The timbre of a modern piano will shed light on different aspects inherent in Bach’s compositions. The same with the violin. The fingerings one chooses, or whether to elongate a phrase or break it up into smaller rhetorical statements—sometimes we make these decisions based on what instrument we’re using, and what the strengths are of that instrument.”

As for those famous six degrees of separation, here are some additional thoughts to ponder: Carrettin traces his violin instruction back to Archangelo Corelli, an Italian older contemporary of Bach; almost every pianist in the world can trace their teachers back to Beethoven, who studied Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier; and even the modern Steinway grand can trace its lineage back to Bach’s time, and the invention of the fortepiano by Bartolomeo Cristofori around 1700.

But you’ll have to find your own connections to Kevin Bacon.

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Johann_Sebastian_Bach

J.S. Bach

“Six Degrees of Separation”
Presented by the Boulder Bach Festival
Mina Gajić, piano, and Zachary Carrettin, violin
Music of Bach, Debussy, Ysaÿe, Ravel and Granlund
7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 6
Grusin Hall, Imig Music Building, CU Boulder
Tickets

PROGRAM:
J.S. Bach: Sonata in C Minor for violin and clavier obligato, BWV 1017
Eugene Ysaÿe: Sonata #2 in A Minor for violin solo, “Jacques Thibaud”
Raymond Granlund: TangoPeregrino and TangoNometría
Maurice Ravel: Jeux d’eau (for piano solo)
Claude Debussy: Sonata in G Minor for violin and piano