120-year-old debutante makes a strong impression with Boulder Chamber Orchestra

Saless’ BCO and Mina Gajić’s 1895 piano give promise for the future

By Peter Alexander

Last night (Oct. 30) the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) and conductor Bahman Saless presented what may the most important debut of the musical season in Boulder. At 120, the debutante sounded wonderful.

BCO's debutante: an 1895 piano by Érard.

BCO’s debutante: an 1895 piano by Érard.

In case you didn’t know, the “debutante” was a piano, made in Paris in 1895 by the firm of Sébastien Érard. It was played by the evening’s soloist, pianist Mina Gajić, who purchased the piano in Amsterdam in 2014 and brought it to Boulder. The concert was the first ever performance on the instrument in the U.S.

A superb pianist, Gajić gave memorable performances of two works—one written before the piano was built, and one after. The earlier work was the Malédiction (Curse) for piano and strings of Franz Liszt; the later was Young Apollo for piano, string quartet and string orchestra by Benjamin Britten.

“We thought it would be an interesting juxtaposition to have a piano that fits right in the middle of these pieces—Liszt in 1833, Britten in 1939, and the piano from 1895,” Gajić said.

Erard piano.4The straight-strung Érard piano, with strings that run parallel in all registers, has a marvelously clear and transparent sound. (For more details of the piano’s construction, read my earlier post previewing the concert.) The sound is particularly striking in the highest register: bright, pure and clean, without ever sounding pingy or losing a delicious piano sound. The middle register sounds more like a modern piano, but one that is remarkably present.

My only reservation might be the bass, which is powerful and hard-edged, and when heard alone almost metallic in its timbre. Nonetheless, the bass supports and blends with chords in all registers, adding weight to the sound without turning it thick or murky.

But what is most striking is the clarity and penetration of the sound in all registers. The sound was never swallowed up by the full string orchestra, in even the loudest passages. Every chord throughout the range was clear, always audible, always transparent. Even though the instrument is seven feet—in contrast to today’s Steinway D and Kawai EX at nine feet, or the Bösendorfer 290 Imperial at nine feet six inches—the Érard can be plenty loud, without any distortion or loss of sound quality.

Pianist Mina Gajić

Pianist Mina Gajić

But the piano, however marvelous, doesn’t play itself. Gajić had the apparently effortless control of the music that characterizes every true virtuoso, in both the Liszt and the Britten.

Young Apollo is an odd piece, one that was written very early in the composer’s career and then withdrawn after its first performance. It was never heard again until after Britten’s death in 1976. It is hard to find in the score signs of the Britten one recognizes from his later and well known operas. It is full of bustle and fanfare, with declamatory string chords juxtaposed with surging scales running the full length of the piano.

Gajić and the BCO gave a robust performance. If the piece was not quite as nutty as Saless suggested in his remarks, it was pleasingly off-center, and played with conviction. One might consider the piano a little antiquated for a 1939 piece, but it was more than up to Britten’s quirky demands. The opening scales were the perfect introduction to the piano, allowing one to hear the sound from the bottom to the clear, bell tones that capped each run.

The title of Liszt’s Malédiction originally referred to only the first section of the piece, which contains a great deal of contrast along with its pianistic fireworks. It is likely that the pianos of 1833 couldn’t quite provide what Liszt wanted in this score, but by 1895 Érard pianos were up to the task.

Once again, Gajić and the orchestra gave a very convincing interpretation of a piece that is not heard often. Gajić tossed off all of Liszt’s virtuoso passages—written, after all, for his own showy concerts—with confidence. The piano was never covered or dominated by the orchestra in this well balanced performance.

Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bob.

Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bob.

Intermission saw audience members surrounding and photographing the piano, which obviously stirred great interest. It is unfortunate if the rest of the concert was slightly overshadowed by the instrument, because Saless led incisive, controlled performances throughout. The program, titled “Spook Symphony,” included several pieces selected for Halloween.

The concert opened with Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K546, which begins with an ominous C minor that suggests threat and fear. The piece was written for string quartet, but the full sound of the BCO string section multiplied the sense of menace in the Adagio. On the other side of the same coin, the fugue occasionally suffered from the lower parts not being as nimble and precise in section as they could be with the single players of a quartet.

After intermission, Saless and the BCO presented the one definitively spooky piece of the “Spook Symphony,” Bernard Herrmann’s score to Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic Psycho. Under Saless, the performance achieved all the menace and tension that Herrmann was aiming for. The parts were carefully balanced, with interior lines and a repeated three-note motive carefully brought out from the texture.

Bahman Saless with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. Photo by Keith Bobo.

Bahman Saless with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. Photo by Keith Bobo.

This was clearly an audience favorite. I saw knowing, if slightly guarded, smiles and heard a slight nervous chuckle when the slashing chords of the famous shower scene were played.

Happily, the concert ended with a piece that did not leave audience members afraid to venture out into the dark. Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s early Little Suite for Strings—as Op. 1 it was his first published work—opens with a slightly sinister Prelude, but proceeds with movements that are much more cheerful. The Intermezzo practically danced along, and the Finale ended comfortably. Saless elicited very good string playing and a true ensemble performance from the section.

In all, this was a memorable concert that promises well for the BCO’s season, and for all future appearances of Gajić and her historic piano.

Boulder Chamber Orchestra presents a slightly crazy “Spook Symphony”

Music from Psycho and a 19th-century piano highlight Halloween concert

By Peter Alexander

psycho-posterBe sure to take a shower before you go the Boulder Chamber Orchestra’s concert Friday (7:30 p.m. Oct. 30, First United Methodist Church, Boulder). You may not want to afterwards.

Director Bahman Saless has programmed the music from Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic Psycho, including the slashing chords from Hollywood’s most famous shower scene. “The central idea was spook,” Saless says of the concert, which he has titled, in honor of Halloween, “Spook Symphony.”

In addition to Psycho and other pieces he picked to go with the spooky theme, the concert will also feature pianist Mina Gajić performing two works with the orchestra. She will give the first U.S. performance on a historical piano that she owns, one that was built in Paris in 1895 by the piano maker Sebastian Érard.

Pianist Mina Gajić

Pianist Mina Gajić

Érard’s pianos were owned and played by many of the leading composers and pianists throughout the century, including Haydn, Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Ravel, Fauré, and many others.

Gajić will play two works for piano and string orchestra: the Malédiction (Curse) by Liszt, and Young Apollo by Benjamin Britten. Other works on the program for strings alone will be the Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K546, by Mozart, and the Little Suite for Strings, Op. 1, by Carl Nielsen.

Tickets for the concert are available here.

Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bob.

Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bob.

“I wanted to do the music to Psycho, because people really liked it the last time we did it,” Saless says. “I think (composer Bernard) Herrmann was one of the best (of the classic film composers). He did a lot of Alfred Hitchcock movies, and they’re all absolutely, as far as I’m concerned, ideal for the genre.

“The question is what goes with Psycho, sticking to classical music (and) our routine of doing things that are not played enough. I knew the Nielsen Little Suite, which is not spooky but has a waltz that has a very macabre type of sound to it. And then another unique, spooky, crazy, lunatic piece is the Britten Young Apollo. It’s almost like the dance of ghouls—it’s very comic ghoulishness.

“And Malédiction also, just from the name of it sounded very apt, and it has crazy harmonies, really out of this world unexpected harmonic changes and modulations. And I thought it’s a very good partner to the Britten.”

__________

It’s not spooky, but for many people the greatest draw of the concert will be Gajić’s Érard piano. She found it in Amsterdam in 2014, at Maison Érard, a preserver and restorer of Érard pianos. She had played more than 100 historic pianos in her career, and was looking for one that she could purchase for her own.

1895 piano by Érard.

The 1895 Érard piano of Mina Gajić.

“We walked into this beautiful canal house and there were 30 pianos in one show room,” she says. “I spent about a week there, playing all of those pianos. This one stood out because of the clarity of its tone, the color of the sound, and the fact that it is really a virtuosic instrument, and yet it has such richness and fullness to the tone which really comes to life in a concert hall.”

The piano has all original parts, including the case, ivory keys, the original soundboard, dampers and hammers, and even a few of the original strings from 120 years ago. At seven feet, it is a full concert grand of the time.

The piano “is one of a kind because of the (custom) artwork on the case,” Gajić says. The instrument was made “for a Belgian noble family that had a chamber salon and concert series at the turn of the (20th) century.

“I am hoping to some day learn that Debussy, Fauré, or Ravel played upon this very instrument. It is in fact likely, given this piano lived in Brussels. However, all I know at this point is that it is a one-of-a-kind Érard, among the best instruments they made.”

Erard piano.3There are three things that are particularly distinctive about the piano, that give it qualities unlike modern concert grands. For one, it is straight-strung, like many instruments of the 19th century. In other words, all the strings run parallel to one another, at a 90 degree angle to the keyboard, whereas modern pianos are cross-strung, with the bass strings crossing diagonally over the higher strings. This newer design gives a rich sound, but one that is heavier and thicker—and sometimes murkier—than straight-strung pianos.

The second distinctive feature is that the grain of the wood in the soundboard runs parallel to the strings, directly away from the keyboard. This too is unlike modern pianos, where the grain goes diagonally from right to left, across the direction of the strings. With the diagonal grain, the soundboard resonates all together, whereas when the grain parallels the strings, each portion of the soundboard will resonate separately, giving a different timbre to different registers of the piano.

These two features combine to create a distinctive sound many performers prefer for the music of the 19th century. Indeed, the pianist Daniel Barenboim has recently designed a modern instrument for his own use that has straight strings and the wood grain in parallel.

The dampers under the strings in Gajić's Érard piano.

The dampers under the strings in Gajić’s Érard piano.

The third distinctive quality of Gajić’s Érard is that the dampers (felt pads that stop the strings from sounding) are set below the strings. Pianos today all have dampers above the strings, which is easier is one respect, since gravity will cause them to fall onto the strings. The disadvantage is that the dampers can make a thump when they hit the strings that can even be heard in some recordings, whereas dampers under the strings are much quieter.

Gajić suggested several things the audience can listen for when they hear her piano. One is the clarity of the sound, especially in the bass. “Also there is a very distinct registral quality at the top of the piano,” she says. “In the very, very highest register it’s very clear and very special. It sounds like pure bells.”

Below that, each register of the piano has a distinctive sound, much like different voices in a choir, with a “soulful mid-register and a lot of power in the bass. And this piano has a lot of power and a lot of projection,” she says.

Erard piano.4“Nowadays we hear a lot of the period instruments from the classical era and Baroque era—strings, winds, singing styles—but we don’t really have such an opportunity to hear a piano which is in its original condition from the 19th century. I would definitely encourage everybody to hear the piano, because it offers an insight not only into how composers of the 19th century were writing music, but also how the audiences were hearing it.

“You can really hear all the nuances in the voicing and the textures when it’s in a larger hall. We already moved the piano to the hall and it sounds fantastic. I’m really excited and really, really happy that we’re playing these pieces on this piano and in this hall.”

___________

Liszt’s “Curse,” Hitchcock’s Psycho, a remarkable old piano, and Britten’s “lunatic piece” Young Apollo. It all sounds slightly crazy.

But as Norman Bates said, “We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”

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Spook Symphony

Bahman Saless with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. Photo by Keith Bobo.

Bahman Saless with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. Photo by Keith Bobo.

Boulder Chamber Orchestra,
Bahman Saless, conductor, with
Mina Gajić, piano

Bernard Herrmann: Music to Psycho
Mozart: Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K546
Carl Nielsen: Little Suite for Strings, Op. 1
Liszt: Malédiction
Benjamin Britten: Young Apollo

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30
First United Methodist Church
1421 Spruce St., Boulder

Tickets

Seicento and guest artists give a splendid realization of a musical monument

Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers needs to be seen as well as heard

By Peter Alexander

Title page of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers

Title page of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers

Let’s start here: Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers is one of the greatest, and least known, monuments of European music.

That being the case, we should be especially grateful that conductor Evanne Browne, the Seicento Baroque Ensemble, and artists gathered from the world of historical performance gave us a splendid realization of Monteverdi’s masterpiece, Saturday night in Boulder and Sunday afternoon in Denver (Oct. 24–25).

Printed in Venice in 1610, the Vespers burst upon the musical world at a critical moment in history. The style that had dominated written European music for generations, based in the chant and the modes of sacred music, was giving away to a dramatic style that opened deep levels of personal expression and musical relationships based on major and minor keys. This style led to the creation of opera as we know it, the concerto, the symphony, and ultimately most of the music we hear today.

Claudio Monteverdi. Portrait by Bernardo Strozzi.

Claudio Monteverdi. Portrait by Bernardo Strozzi.

More than just a single work, the Vespers comprise an anthology of the musical styles of the early 17th century. Their 90 minutes of music include deeply expressive songs and brilliant instrumental flourishes out of early opera; stunning virtuoso vocal ensembles from late Renaissance courtly madrigals; and powerful choral passages that anticipate Bach in brilliance and contrapuntal complexity. A composer of great genius, Monteverdi here created a work of overwhelming impact.

Or as a scholar of my acquaintance remarked, with only slight hyperbole, “It’s a piece of music that we as a species do not deserve.”

In spite of such veneration from performers and scholars, the Vespers remain little known to the general musical public, because performances are relatively rare. To present them in their entirety requires both technical skill and expertise in the performance styles of the early Baroque. Happily, Seicento’s presentation was on a very high level in both respects. Browne’s apparent ease in managing such a large undertaking and leading a taut, well-paced performance are a testament to her skill as a conductor of Baroque music.

cornettos

cornettos

It is a sign of the depth of the resources available today in the recreation of historical musical styles that a splendid ensemble of specialist players and soloists can be assembled from around the world for performances in Colorado. In addition to singers skilled in the Baroque style, Browne brought together specialized instruments including cornettos (an early wind instrument that has a mouthpiece like the trumpet and fingerholes like the recorder, made of wood and covered in leather), sackbuts (a precursor of the modern trombone) and theorbo (a large lute).

Evanne Browne, artistic director of Seicento

Evanne Browne, artistic director of Seicento

And music lovers in Boulder and Denver can take great pride that a superb conductor, chorus and local soloists formed the foundation of these performances.

In the Sunday performance that I heard Seicento showed great skill with the Baroque style, handling the intricacies of Monteverdi’s vocal parts and filling St. Paul Lutheran and Roman Catholic Church in Denver with a splendid sound. My only reservation was that the size of the group—approximately 40 singers—and the resonance of the space conspired to obscure some details, including parts of the text and some instrumental flourishes. For example, the opening movement, Deus in adjutorium, incorporates the fanfares that also open Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo, but played by Baroque cornettos they could not cut through the choral sound.

On the other side of the same coin, when needed the chorus could create a glorious climax. Their entrance in Audi Coelum, following a series of delicate echo passages, made a powerful impact.

The soloists assembled for this performance were quite impressive. I don’t want to risk slighting anyone by singling out any one for praise, but I have to mention the solo aria-like Nigra sum, the virtuoso ensembles Laetatus sum and Duo Seraphim (the latter more than a duo, and performed without conductor in the manner of a madrigal), and the male quintet of Et misericordia as especially memorable.

Anyone who remembers the bad old days when historic instruments were played inexpertly and out of tune if at all will have been delighted with the quality of playing and accuracy of intonation. With players from the east coast and Europe, Browne assembled an ensemble equal to many specialized groups today. Indeed, some of the players have performed the Vespers dozens if not hundreds of times, and it was a great pleasure to hear a historical performance of such quality.

Seicento Baroque Ensemble

Seicento Baroque Ensemble

There were many high points in the performance, of which I will mention only a few. The convergence on a unison for the “Amen” of Laudate pueri was a moment of arresting beauty. To the vocal ensembles previously listed, I should add Pulchra es, another unconducted piece of chamber music. The brilliant Sonata sopra Santa Maria ora pro nobis—itself a miniature masterpiece of early Baroque style—elicited equally brilliant playing from the instrumentalists. And the combination of florid instrumental parts with the serene choral sound in Deposuit potentes was breathtaking.

Finally, the Vespers need be seen as well as heard. There are several wonderful recordings, but none can replace the experience of hearing the Vespers in space, seeing the placement of singers and players, observing as well as hearing the ever-changing combinations of voices and instruments, and hearing the echo effects within the airy space of a church.

And so again: deep gratitude to Browne, to Seicento, and to all the soloists and guest artists for bringing us a performance to be remembered.

No glass slippers, but it’s still Cinderella

CU Eklund Opera Program presents Rossini’s La Cenerentola

By Peter Alexander

Max Hosmer and Taylor Raven in the Eklund Opera Program production of Rossini's La Cenerentola Ro(Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Max Hosmer and Taylor Raven in the Eklund Opera Program production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

No glass slippers or fairy godmother? What kind of Cinderella is that?

Actually, it’s Rossini’s opera La Cenerentola (Cinderella), and it’s the current production of the CU Eklund Opera Program. Performances this weekend will be Friday and Saturday (Oct. 23–24) at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday (Oct. 25) at 2 p.m. in CU Macky Auditorium. CU faculty member Nicholas Carthy will conduct the student orchestra and guest artist Bill Fabris will direct.

The cast features three graduate students—one performance each—in the demanding mezzo-soprano role of Cinderella: Taylor Raven, Rebecca Robinson and Christina Adams. The tenor role of Ramiro, aka the Prince, will be sung by Max Hosmer, a CU post-graduate, and CU faculty member Matthew Chellis (Saturday only).

CarthyAlthough it is based on the familiar Charles Perrault version of the fairy-tale, Rossini’s opera makes several changes to downplay magic and put more stress on Cinderella’s goodness of heart. The glass slippers are gone; instead, the prince recognizes Cinderella by a bracelet that she has worn at the ball. The cruel stepmother is replaced by a cruel stepfather, and the fairy godmother is replaced by a philosopher.

However, the greatest change makes the prince more of an actor in the drama. Because he wants to know the true nature of the young women he might marry, he switches places with his servant. In this way he learns about the selfishness of Cinderella’s sisters. Likewise, he observes the cruelty and arrogance of Cinderella’s stepfather, who is desperate to marry one of his daughters to the prince, and he experiences Cinderella’s kindness.

Aldoro, the philosopher who stands in for the usual fairy godmother, also appears in disguise, and sees that Cinderella is the one truly good person of her family. It is for that reason that he intervenes to get her to the ball.

Leigh Holman, director of the Eklund Opera Program, described the CU Cenerentola as a “relatively traditional” production set at the turn of the 20th century. “It’s hilarious, truly a comedy,” she says. “But unlike the Disney version, it’s also more grounded and realistic.

“What I enjoy most about this opera are its pervasive themes of character development. Cinderella is neglected and oppressed by an abusive father, but she learns to let that go. Because of the glorious love she’s found, forgiveness grows before regret and resentment take root. It’s a story of transcendence.”

Guest stage director Bill Fabris

A free-lance stage director who works in opera and music theater around the country, Fabris was engaged for the CU production on short notice when Holman was unable to be in Boulder for the rehearsals and performances. Not having done La Cenerentola for some time, he was happy not to deal with an unusual concept for the show. “It’s a little updated but still a traditional production,” he says, “which is fine with me, coming late in the process.”

When he arrived, Fabris was impressed with the student cast. “When I found out that most all of the roles are double cast, I thought, wow! And then I got here, and they’re doing it! They know what they’re singing they know how to manipulate all the fast runs.

“These wonderful young artists and their vocal gymnastics are amazing. Wait until you see it!”

# # # # #

Cinderella_FINALfull-X2La Cenerentola (Cinderella) by Gioachino Rossini

CU Eklund Opera Program
Bill Fabris, stage director
Nicholas Carthy, conductor

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, and Saturday, Oct. 24
2:00 pm. Sunday, Oct. 25
Macky Auditorium

Tickets

Seicento performs the jazz of the 17th century

Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers: ‘An album that doesn’t have a bad track’

By Peter Alexander

Claudio Monteverdi. Portrait by Bernardo Strozzi.

Claudio Monteverdi. Portrait by Bernardo Strozzi.

Claudio Monteverdi was unhappy in his job.

The year was 1608 and the composer was working in Mantua for the spendthrift Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga. Monteverdi was overworked, he was paid late if at all, and he hated the swampy environment of Mantua. So he did what any artist would do: he put together a portfolio showing skill in all the latest styles, hoping to be hired away from Mantua—hopefully by the Papal Chapel in Rome.

That is the likely story behind Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Virgine (Vespers of the Blessed Virgin), known as the “1610 Vespers” for the date the collection was published in Venice. Considered one of the great musical products of the Baroque era, the Vespers return to Boulder and Denver this weekend for performances by Seicento Baroque Ensemble and guest artists under conductor Evanne Browne.

Evanne Browne

Evanne Browne

The guests include vocal soloists and players of historical instruments from the local area, Boston, and Washington, D.C., and Baroque violinist Mimi Mitchell from Amsterdam.

Performances of the complete Vespro della Beata Virgine will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24 at First United Methodist Church (1421 Spruce St.) in Boulder, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25 at St. Paul Lutheran Church (1600 Grant St.) in Denver. There will be a separate concert by the guest soloists, featuring virtuoso vocal music and historical instruments including cornetto and sackbut, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, at St. Paul Lutheran in Denver. Tickets to all three performances are available here.

Title page of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers

Title page of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers

To create a musical résumé, Monteverdi put together an anthology of Baroque musical styles. It is, in the words of Mark Dobell of the early-music group The Sixteen, “a really great album that just doesn’t have a bad track.”

The ambitious extent of the Vespers, and its compilation of the radical new styles that were to transform music, are what make the Vespers an important work and one that is widely revered by musicians.

The Vespers are not often performed, however, because the challenges they present are monumental: It’s a long work with virtuosic vocal parts and a choir that divides into up to 10 parts. In many ways, Monteverdi’s notation is only an outline of a finished product: the soloists are expected to add ornamentation, and the instrumental parts don’t indicate what instruments should play.

“It’s the jazz of the 17th century, in that we don’t have everything given to us,” Browne says. “We are expected to modify what’s on the page.”

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

For more background, you may view this BBC documentary about the Vespers.

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Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610

Seicento Baroque Ensemble

Seicento Baroque Ensemble

Seicento Baroque Ensemble with guest artists
Evanne Browne, conductor and artistic director

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24
First United Methodist, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder

2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25
St. Paul Lutheran, 1600 Grant St., Denver

Vocal Soloists:
Amanda Balestrieri, soprano
Marjorie Bunday, mezzo-soprano
Rachel Morrissey, alto
Derek Chester, tenor
John Grau, tenor
Daniel Hutchings, tenor
Kenneth Donahue, bass
Zachary Begley, bass

Orchestra leader, Mimi Mitchell, violin (University of Amsterdam)

Soloists’ Concert
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23
St. Paul Lutheran, 1600 Grant St., Denver

Tickets

Music at the Dairy and Naropa University team up for “Contemplation”

Music for Buddhist ceremonies, jazz clubs and concert halls

By Peter Alexander

Japanese dancers/drummers  (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Japanese dancers/drummers (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

There will be ancient chants. There will be jazz and contemporary compositions. There will be Taiko drumming and masked dancers.

“All of this and more!” as the ads might say, are on the program for “Contemplation,” an evening of music inspired by, or related to, Buddhism, presented by Music at the Dairy and Naropa University at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 19, in the Dairy Center for the Arts (tickets).

The program is intentionally something of a potpourri. James Bailey, music producer for the Dairy, says the event was planned to be “a broad look at music and how it has been influenced by Buddhism, as opposed to a particular style of music, or a particular country, or a particular sect of Buddhism.”

If the program is bewilderingly eclectic, that’s OK. “It’s designed to be music that keeps the audience off balance, which is one of my favorite things to do,” Bailey says. “Like a lot of productions I do, you’ll never hear anything like this again.”

Very likely not. The program that has been announced features:
—“Bombai,” an ancient chant performed by ordained Buddhist priests Mason Brown and Martin Mosko;
—music by famed jazz musician and Buddhist Wayne Shorter, performed by pianist Annie Booth;
—music for saxophone and shakuhachi flute performed by Mark Miller, director of the music program at Naropa University, and adjunct Naropa faculty member David Wheeler;
—a piece for voice and viola by Naropa interim music chair, Paul Fowler;
—Japanese music and dance performed by the Jay and Mami Keister Ensemble;
—songs on Buddhist texts by Bill Douglas, performed by Douglas and Fowler;
—music by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu for viola and piano performed by Lisa Harrington and Matt Dane; and
—drumming by Boulder Taiko Hibiki.

“I think it will be interesting for people to hear how different styles of music have been influenced by Buddhists, from the most profound to something that’s maybe more superficial,” Bailey says. “There’s music for Buddhist services, there’s music for jazz clubs, there’s music for concert halls.

“There’s not a button you can push anywhere to hear this music, especially in it’s entirely as a concert.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

Boulder Bach Festival comes to Longmont—inspired by Pink Floyd

Program “wanders through a labyrinth of pre-Bach Italian mysticism”

By Peter Alexander

compass-manuscript1J.S. Bach never heard Pink Floyd or visited St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, but both play a part in the Boulder Bach Festival’s opening program for their 35th season.

The concert, “Italian Roots,” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum in Longmont, and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder (tickets). The program includes music by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Jacques Arcadelt, Dario Castello, Johann Jakob Froberger, Biagio Marini, Marco Uccelini and Johann Christoph Bach on the first half, and two works by festival namesake J.S. Bach after intermission.

The Longmont performance opens the Bach Festival’s 2015–16 season and “Bach in Longmont,” a series of three concerts in the new Stewart Auditorium. The series also includes educational events centered at the Longmont Museum.

Performers will include violinist Zachary Carrettin, musical director of the Boulder Bach Festival (BBF) and the Bach Chamber Singers, a small ensemble of four singers. Featured guest artists will be soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, who sang on the BBF performance of the Bach B-minor Mass in February of this year; Matthew Dirst, a Grammy-nominated harpsichordist and renowned scholar; and violinist Michiko Theurer, BBF artist-in-residence.

Interior of the new Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum. Photo by Peter Alexander

Interior of the new Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum. Photo by Peter Alexander

Carrettin praises the new auditorium in Longmont. “It’s a beautiful acoustic space, and the lobby is very inviting,” he says. “As (people) walk into the hall, they will realize that it’s an intimate hall, but world class nonetheless.” The connection to St. Mark’s Cathedral, which is famous for having multiple choir lofts so that sounds come from different directions, will be in the creative way Carrettin creates similar effects in the intimate auditorium.

“Whether you want to use the ancient term antiphonal, or the 20th-century term stereophonic, we will be placing artists in different parts of the hall,” he says. “That’s an element of the way we are presenting the entire first half of the program, without pauses between pieces. We’ll improvise transitions from one work to another, and sometimes traveling from left to right on stage.

“The idea is to create half of a concert that is sewn together as its own journey. I have to think of the Pink Floyd albums, or the Yes albums, and the way the artists would weave together pieces of music, sometimes bringing back ideas from previously played songs so that by the end of the album the listener feels that they’ve been told a story.”

According to the BBF Web page, that story will be one of “wandering through a labyrinth of pre-Bach Italian mysticism.” What makes it a labyrinth is perhaps the fact that the composers vary from text-book names unfamiliar to most audience members down to the utterly obscure, but Carrettin is happy to illuminate the various corners of the labyrinth.

“It’s not in the program, [but] I decided to open the program with the Passacaglia for solo violin by [17th-century German composer] Heinrich Biber,” Carrettin says. “The Passacaglia, with its repeated bass line and variations, immediately brings the audience into a space of timelessness.”

Michelangelo_Caravaggio_020

Caravaggio’s “The Lute Player”

That timelessness sets the stage for the earliest piece on the program, a madrigal by 16th-century Flemish composer Arcadelt. He was so well known in his lifetime that a 1596 painting by Caravaggio, featured on the BBF Web page, shows a lutenist playing one of his pieces. The text, about love and death—like many madrigals—in turn sets the stage for later works on the program.

The next piece returns to the 17th century with a Toccata by Froberger, who was known as a the composer of keyboard suites and descriptive pieces. “Bach was a virtuoso keyboardist and improviser,” Carrettin says, “so Froberger is an opportunity for us to look at other great keyboard composers.

Harpsichordist and scholar Matthew Dirst

Harpsichordist and scholar Matthew Dirst

“Matthew Dirst ,who’s performing [Froberger’s Toccata] is really an incredible, dynamic scholar and author of a recent book called Engaging Bach. He is perfect for bridging the Italian style and Bach, starting with a piece that just plays with the facility of a keyboard instrument.

“As the program progresses, you’ll hear Matthew in various perspectives and lights.”

The rest of the first half plays out with Dirst playing first a sonata for violin and harpsichord by Castello with Theurer; then a set of variations for harpsichord and two violins by Marini, with Theurer and Carrettin; and another piece by Froberger. The first half ends with the Bach Chamber Singers performing music by one of J.S. Bach’s older relatives, Johann Christoph Bach.

Johann Christoph Bach

Johann Christoph Bach

“He was actually the most known Bach composer before Johann Sebastian, but history doesn’t remember him,” Carrettin says. “This short motet, World, goodnight, is stunningly beautiful, so I think it’s a great way to end the first half.” Like the Arcadelt, this is another piece reflecting on death.

Carrettin describes the first half of the program as “fragments within a dream,” which contrasts with the two very familiar works by J.S. Bach that will be played in full on the second half: the much loved Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052, and a version of the cantata Ich habe genug, BWV82a for soprano—the concert’s final musical meditation on death.

“Dirst will perform the most famous Bach harpsichord concerto,” Carrettin says. “He’ll be just accompanied by string quartet, so you will really get the sound of the harpsichord ringing throughout the hall.”

Soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg

Soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg

Turning to the cantata, Carrettin says “There are several special elements of our performance. One is that we are doing this one per part, featuring Ysmael Reyes on flute. We’ll have two violins one viola, one cello, and one double bass, and Dirst will play harpsichord.

“Soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, who thrilled audiences in the B minor Mass, will return to sing this. And what’s so special about this performance is that we’re using the rarely performed version that Bach wrote for soprano.”

Bringing together guest artists with local musicians in something Carrettin especially enjoys. “What thrills me is having an internationally recognized harpsichordist, and an internationally recognized virtuoso soprano sharing the stage with expert front-range musicians and young professionals,” he says.

“What I like is bringing together different generations, different life experiences, and artists from different geographical locations. What ends up happening is these paths of discovery and relationships are created. To me that’s as thrilling as the music.”

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Italian Roots
Music by Biber, Arcadelt, Castello, Froberger, Marini, Uccelini, Johann Christoph Bach and J.S. Bach
Boulder Bach Festival Chamber Singers with Zachary Carrettin, violin, and guest artists

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16
Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum, Longmont

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Boulder

Tickets