Remembering those who are no longer with us

A year-end list of musicians we lost in 2015, but who left much behind to be grateful for

By Peter Alexander

Here is my annual list of musicians who passed in the last year. This is a personal list; it includes people who were recognized worldwide as great artists, as well as people whose work I admire and respect, and people I was fortunate enough to know personally.

But they all deserve to be remembered as we turn the corner into 2016. Each affected a great many people, whether other musicians or members of audiences around the world. And we should not forget that each was a person who left friends, family, students and others who were touched deeply by their lives.

May you all rest in peace. And may we all try to be worthy of your various legacies in the coming year.

January 19: Ward Swingle, founder and arranger for the Swingle Singers, 87
February 1: Aldo Ciccolini, Italian-born French pianist, 89
February 16: Lesley Gore, popular singer best known for the proto-feminist anthem “You Don’t Own Me“ and “It’s My Party,” 68
March 24: Soprano Maria Radner, 34, and baritone Oleg Bryjak, 54, who died on the Germanwings flight that was crashed in the Alps days after singing in Wagner’s Siegfried in Barcelona
April 3: Andrew Porter, longtime influential music critic for The New Yorker as well as The Financial Times and other publications in England; also known as a librettist, scholar and editor, 86
May 14: Blues legend B.B. King, 89
May 31: Nico Castel, comprimario tenor at the Metropolitan Opera who was best known to many opera singers as one of the foremost diction coaches of the 20th century, 83
June 2: Günther Schneider-Siemssen, German opera stage designer, 88
June 13: Ronald Wilford, American artist agency manager and executive, 87
June 21: Gunther Schuller, American composer, conductor, teacher and author, known for coining the term “third-stream” for music that was between classical and jazz, 89
July 10: Jon Vickers, Canadian tenor known for singing Siegfried and other Wagnerian heldentenor roles, as well as many other leading tenor roles, 88
June 11: Great jazz saxophonist and innovator Ornette Coleman, 85
July 15: Alan Curtis, American harpsichordist, conductor and scholar, 80
July 26: Vic Firth, percussionist and timpanist with the Boston Symphony 1952–2002, familiar to anyone who attended Boston Symphony Orchestra performances, and the many who watched BSO television broadcasts, during those years, 85
September 17: Sir David Willcocks, British choirmaster, director of the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, 95
November 10: Robert Craft, American classical music writer, conductor, and amanuensis to Igor Stravinsky, 92
November 21: violinist Joseph Silverstein, concertmaster of the Boston Symphony for 22 years, and conductor with several orchestras, 83
December 2: John Eaton, a composer known for working with quarter-tones—the pitches midway between the chromatic halfsteps of our more familiar scales—and composition professor at Indiana University and the University of Chicago, 80
December 19: Kurt Masur, conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra who in 1989 played an important role in the peaceful resolution of demonstrations in the former East Germany; also led the New York Philharmonic 1991–2002, 88


Boulder Philharmonic receives its first NEA grant

Funds will commission a new work by Stephen Lias celebrating Rocky Mountain National Park

By Peter Alexander


The Boulder Phil onstage at Mackey Auditorium

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra has received its first-ever grant from the country’s premiere arts granting agency, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

The $15,000 award was announced by the NEA and the National Park Service as part of the “Imagine Your Parks” initiative. The grant will fund a commission from adventurer-composer Stephen Lias of a new 20-minute orchestral work inspired by Rocky Mountain National Park and celebrating the centennial of the National Park Service.

Kennedy Ctr

Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.

The Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman will premiere the new work at Macky Auditorium as part of their 2016–17 subscription concert series, and subsequently at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as part of the inaugural SHIFT Festival of American Orchestras in March, 2017. The Boulder Phil is one of only four orchestras selected to participate in the festival.

“This recognition that we’re honored to receive feels like an affirmation of the work we have been doing for the past decade or more,” Butterman says. “We’ve been trying to reflect our community and find entry points for people to engage with classical music who had not regularly encountered it before.

Boulder Phil Music Director Michael Butterman

“The focus in particular on the natural world and the relationship that people in Boulder have to it is something that is very special for the orchestra, and we’re just delighted to be able to bring a brand new piece like this to life, both in Boulder and then of course on the national stage at the Kennedy Center.”

Of course, there are many classical pieces inspired by nature, dating back to Bach’s “Peasant” Cantata, Seasons by Vivaldi and Haydn, Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6 and Smetana’s musical description of the river The Moldau. “The idea of being inspired by your natural surroundings is as old as humanity,” Butterman says. “But there’s something different when we do it in Boulder, just because hiking and being outside is so much a part of the daily life of most Boulderites.”

Lias expressed excitement at receiving the grant-supported commission from the Boulder Phil. “It’s just a dream come true,” he says.

Lias has a long association with the national parks. He has received several artistic residency grants in national parks, and has written several pieces inspired by these residencies. The first was his “Timberline Sonata” for trumpet and piano, written following a 2010 residency in Rocky Mountain National Park and premiered in Estes Park. Other pieces have been inspired by Big Bend, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, Carlsbad Cavern and Mesa Verde national parks, among others. Several of these works have been compiled onto a CD recording, “Encounters.”

Lias in GoANP

Stephen Lias in Gates of the Arctic National Park

In Sept. 2014, the Boulder Philharmonic presented the premiere of Lias’s orchestral work Gates of the Arctic, inspired by a residency and backpacking journey in America’s northernmost and second-largest national park. “(Lias) had both a great experience in Boulder and a very positive reception from our audience,” Butterman says of the premiere. “So for us he’s someone whose aesthetic will produce something special.”

Lias said that the new work will build on the success of Gates of the Arctic. “(Butterman and the orchestra) were so pleased with how Gates of the Arctic was received that our plan is to use that framework again,” Lias says. “Probably it will be grouped into thematic ideas where certain musical sections will be related to some event or experience that people have in the park, or perhaps a location or time of day or season.


Composer Stephen Lias

“The stature of the situation in which this will be premiered demands a piece of greater heft from me, so I suspect that I will lace this piece with broader contrasts, and I may dig a little deeper compositionally.”

Lias admits to being a little nervous every time he starts a new piece, and this commission will be no different. “I approach each major new project with a certain amount of trepidation about how I’m going to come up with new music ideas,” he says.

“The order of events will be not to worry about what kind of piece I’ll write, but instead start thinking about what makes Rocky Mountain National Park such an inspiring subject. And as I answer that question, suddenly I’ll discover that I have a list of things that will inform the shape of the piece. And at that moment, the piece is already begun.”

‘Tis The Seasons, north and south

Zachary Carrettin joins the BCO for Vivaldi and Piazzolla

By Peter Alexander


Zachary Carrettin

The next performance of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra will transport listeners to 18th-century Venice and 20th-century Buenos Aires, and several points in between.

The program, “The Seasons,” will feature two of Vivaldi’s Baroque-era Four Seasons and equivalent works from Astor Piazzolla’s tango-inflected Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, as well as music depicting a late-night stroll in Madrid and the hustle and bustle of a Metro stop in Mexico City.

Also on the concert, to be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Boulder and Saturday in Broomfield, will be Introduction, Aria and Presto by the late Baroque Italian composer Benedetto Marcello. The violin soloist for Vivaldi and Piazzolla will be Zachary Carrettin, director of the Boulder Bach Festival.

“We wanted to have some variety,” says Bahman Saless, director of the BCO. “This one will be fun!”

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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The Seasons

1449254846569Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor, with
Zachary Carrettin, violin

Javier Alvarez: Metro Chabacano
Luigi Boccherini: Night Music from the Streets of Madrid
Antonio Vivaldi: Autumn and Winter from The Seasons
Benedetto Marcello: Introduction, Aria and Presto
Astor Piazzolla: Spring and Summer from The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield



Ars Nova Singers celebrate the holidays with “Happiness and Cheer”

Music from Gregorian chant to ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

By Peter Alexander

“Happiness and Cheer,” the 2015 edition of Ars Nova Singers’ annual holiday concert, will offer music from Gregorian chant to A Charlie Brown Christmas.

And at least five centuries of music in between.

Ars Nova — the name means “New Art” and is taken from a style of music that was new in the 14th century — has been performing music from both ends of the historical spectrum for 30 years.

“We’ve prided ourselves on the fact that we do early music as well as contemporary music,” says Thomas Edward Morgan, the group’s founding director. “Our Christmas concert, when we reach our widest audiences, is meant to give them a range of what we do.”

Chronologically, that range runs from the 13th-century “Song of the Nuns of Chester,” through music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, to 20th-century Christmas pieces by Rachmaninoff, Poulenc and Holst, and ending with music and arrangements by Morgan. Almost all will be new to the audience.

There will be four performances of the program, in Englewood (Dec. 12), Denver (Dec. 13) and Boulder (Dec. 17–18). Ars Nova will sing unaccompanied under Morgan’s direction, with oboist James Brody appearing as a guest artist for a portion of the program. (Note: Other Holiday concerts are listed here.)

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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Happiness and Cheer: Christmas with Ars Nova
Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director, with James Brody, oboe

 pondreflect•2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Blvd., Englewood
•3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver
•7:30 p.m. Thursday & Friday, Dec. 17 & 18, St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder


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A selected listing of classical-music Holiday events in the Boulder area can be found here.

NOTE: Edited on 3 Dec. to correct typos and errors introduced by copying from one format to another.