Pro Musica Colorado delivers a performance to be remembered

Shostakovich’s personal expression of suffering anchors a fascinating program

By Peter Alexander

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and conductor Cynthia Katsarelis presented a concert last night in Boulder (Jan. 23) that deserved a far larger audience than it drew.

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Cynthia Katsarellis and the Pro Music Colorado Chamber Orchestra

Perhaps it was the gloomy-sounding topic—music for and by victims of World War II—but the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church was not quite half filled. Anyone who stayed away missed an extraordinary program and one exceptional performance.

The centerpiece and foundation of the program—and final work of the evening—was Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, op. 110, a string orchestra setting of the composer’s String Quartet No. 8. Dedicated to “the victims of fascism and war,” the Quartet is more than that; it is a personal expression of deep suffering, possibly a self-eulogy from a composer who was contemplating suicide.

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Dmitri Shostakovich

The evidence of the composer’s real intent lies in the quotations from his own works scattered through the score—particularly works written under the oppressive yoke of Stalinism. The quartet’s most prominent theme, D-E-flat-C-B, is an anagram of his own name in German musical notation: DSCH.

As gloomy as that may sound, the Quartet No. 8 is one of Shostakovich’s greatest works, and one of the great string quartets of the 20th century. Last night’s performance was evocative, powerful and beautifully crafted. The unity of performance within the individual sections—corresponding to the four parts of the quartet—was remarkable, in pitch, in rhythm, in phrasing. Katsarelis led the performance with commitment and careful control of the quartet’s emotional flow.

The translation to a string orchestra changes the score in some ways. In the quartet version, the single instruments seem to represent individual voices crying out, a poignant reminder of both Shostakovich’s plight and the individual lives lost in the war. On the other hand, the added force of the orchestra version effectively conveys the weight of oppression. This is most notable with the fierce, pounding three-note motive representing the KGB and their feared late-night knock at the door. That motive, and the anguished passages that follow, were the most powerful moments of the concert.

While I am inclined to prefer the original version, because of its intimacy and because it was the composer’s first intention, last night’s performance made a strong case for the Chamber Symphony version as well. It was a performance to be remembered.

The rest of the program was creatively put together, with three pieces that complimented one another nicely: Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3; the world premiere of Life Between Lives by D.J. Sparr, loosely derived from the Bach; and the Study for String Orchestra by Pavel Haas, a genuine victim of the Second World War. Unfortunately, none of these works quite reached the heights of the Shostakovich.

The concert opened with the Bach Brandenburg. A delightful score, it was given a sprightly performance, but the church’s acoustics—about which I have complained before—made Bach’s sparkling counterpoint sound tubby and turgid. The closely spaced parts, especially in the lower register, just cannot be heard clearly in that space.

The use of the slow movement from Bach’s G-major Sonata for violin and harpsichord to fill out the Brandenburg’s enigmatic two-chord slow movement was an interesting choice, and one that worked well as it moved nicely into the key-defining chords.

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Composer/guitarist D.J. Sparr

Sparr’s Life Between Lives was composed for the Colorado Pro Musica and plays with the same instruments and textures as the Bach. It opens with mysterious chords, representing “Moment before Breath” (as the movement is titled), just before the beginning of life. This movement seems to recall Sparr’s performing career as an electric guitarist, with sounds resembling electric guitar effects transferred to strings.

Slow moving lines hovering within and above the often dissonant chords gradually accumulate, creating a dramatic sense of breath withheld. That texture soon becomes animated by pizzicato rhythms beneath the surface texture. This is the second movement, “Moment Before Thought,” but other than the pizzicato stirrings, the sound is very much like the first movement.

A sudden acceleration signals the last movement, “Life Between Lives,” where the increasing speed is created by a pulsing repetition of notes and chords, still within the same sound palette. The repetitive rhythms provide the only sense of direction, while the lack of contrast casts a pall of timbral monotony over the texture. There is an increase in intensity with an ascending line in the violins; and then the piece stops with, to my ear, no sense of arrival.

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Pavel Haas

Ending the concert’s fist half was Haas’s Study for String Orchestra. A victim of the Nazis who was interned in the Terezín concentration camp and later killed at Auschwitz, Haas is known as part of the missing generation of German and Austrian Jewish musicians who perished in the Holocaust. The Study is a pleasant, entertaining work written under the most difficult of circumstances—in the camp, where it was premiered in 1943.

This is a work that, as Katsarelis has said, “speaks marvelously to the human spirit—and to the power of music.” The performance was on a very high level, especially the fugue that drives the piece to its end. That said, in spite of the work’s history, it is neither as profound nor as moving as the Shostakovich that ended the concert.

In the end, then, Katsarelis and the orchestra gave us a fascinating combination of composers and works, much to think about, some wonderful playing, and one great performance to be remembered.

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Eulogy of Self

Pro Musica Colorado plays music for and by victims of World War II

By Peter Alexander

Photography by Glenn Ross. http://on.fb.me/16KNsgK

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

Composers who write their own musical eulogies do not usually create jolly pieces.

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Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich, who suffered various forms of personal and artistic oppression throughout his career, was certainly no exception. When he wrote his Eighth String Quartet in 1960 he was contemplating suicide—which his friends prevented, fortunately. The work he wrote, dedicated to “the victims of fascism and war” but also reflecting his own suffering under the Soviet regime, remains a powerful testament to a low point in his life.

“This is really dark” says Cynthia Katsarelis, who will conduct the string orchestra version of the quartet, the Chamber Symphony for String Orchestra, with the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra Friday in Denver and Saturday in Boulder. “He thought it was his own eulogy.”

The concerts are part of a two-year celebration of Shostakovich chamber music organized by the Colorado Chamber Players. Other works on the program will be the world premiere of Life Between Lives by American guitarist/composer D.J. Sparr, J.S. Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto, and the Study for Strings by Pavel Haas.

For more, see Boulder Weekly.

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Shostakovich: Dedication
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor

J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3
D.J. Sparr: Life Between Lives (world premiere)
Pavel Haas: Study for Strings
Dmitri Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony for String Orchestra

7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, First Baptist Church, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, First United Methodist, Boulder

Tickets

 

 

 

Takacs Quartet’s Dusinberre on music and health

An article in The Guardian explores a most unusual topic: Life insurance for string quartet players

By Peter Alexander

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Edward Dusinberre

Edward Dusinberre, the first violinist of the Takacs Quartet, CU artist-in-residence and Ralph E. and Barbara L. Christoffersen Faculty Fellow at the CU College of Music, writes in The Guardian:

The foundation of a string quartet is formed over a long period of time from the musical and personal bonds that evolve between four individuals. Nonetheless, the decision we took several years ago to purchase life insurance polices for each other felt awkward. Until we became accustomed to our peculiar status as each other’s beneficiaries, minor illnesses were observed with wry attentiveness.

The article gives a peek into the inner workings of one of the world’s most celebrated string quartets, and also serves as teaser for Dusinberre’s book, Beethoven for a Later Age: The Journey of a String Quartet published in England by Faber and Faber and coming later this spring from Chicago University Press in the United States.

Read the entire article in The Guardian.

Boulder Phil offers Americana, east and west

“Dance, American Style” features collaboration with Boulder Ballet

By Peter Alexander

They will be dancing in the aisles, and on the stage of Macky Auditorium when the Boulder Philharmonic presents its first concert of 2016.

Rodeo

Photo by Keith Bobo

The program, titled “Dance, American Style,” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 16; tickets). Boulder Ballet will perform the complete ballet Rodeo by Aaron Copland, with choreography by artistic director Ana Claire.

Music director Michael Butterman will conduct the performance, which will also feature concert performances of music from Copland’s Billy the Kid ballet, the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein, and the New England Triptych of American composer William Schuman.

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Bernstein and Copland, 1945

The program is an attractive anthology of American music from the mid-20th century. Copland was one of the most prominent composers of that era, with his folkish American style represented by both Billy the Kid and Rodeo, two staples of the orchestral repertoire to this day. Leonard Bernstein was both a champion of Copland’s music and a composer of protean abilities who made a mark on Broadway—the ultimate American musical genre of the 20th century—and in the concert hall. And William Schuman was the composer of acclaimed, accessible concert works, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in music, and a leader of American music for many years as president of first the Juilliard School and later Lincoln Center.

But as the title suggests, the program can also be seen as a tribute to the personalities and companies who established an American world of dance. In fact, it touches many of the legendary dance figures of the mid-20th century.

Billy the Kid was commissioned from Copland by dance impresario Lincoln Kirstein and premiered in 1938 by Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan. That company preceded the New York City Ballet, co-founded by Kirstein and Georges Balanchine. Billy was choreographed by Eugene Loring, who also danced in the premiere and later joined American Ballet Theater.

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De Mille’s Rodeo; photo by Peter Shields

Rodeo was commissioned for the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo. The choreographer was Agnes de Mille, who also danced the lead role at the 1942 premiere at the Metropolitan Opera House. In the audience that night were Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, who in turn invited de Mille to choreograph the dance sequences for their upcoming show, Oklahoma, thereby transforming the Broadway musical.

 Symphonic Dances from West Side Story is a suite for symphony orchestra taken from the score for Bernstein’s 1957 Broadway hit. It was compiled in 1961 by Bernstein in collaboration with his colleagues Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal, who had just finished producing the orchestral score for the film version of the show, employing a much larger orchestra than the original Broadway pit band.

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Robbins rehearsing West Side Story

The score incorporates West Side Story’s top hits, “Somewhere” and “Maria,” alongside the many dance sequences from the show. Director and choreographer of the original Broadway production was Jerome Robbins, whose innovative dances for the rival street gangs won the 1957 Tony Award for best choreography. Robbins was for many years one of the most influential American directors, choreographers and producers of ballet, Broadway, film and television.

For the Jan. 16 concert, Rodeo will be the only dance that is brought onto the stage. The performance will conclude with Boulder Ballet performing the full ballet—slightly longer than the familiar orchestral suite—on the front of the stage and in the aisles. Even though the full orchestra will be onstage with the dancers, “we’re going to give them as much room as we can,” Butterman says.

In any case, he adds, “It’s an uncommon chance to experience great concert music and see a short ballet on the same night!”

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Michael Butterman

The rest of the program, Americana of several types—the “great concert music”—all seems to fit together in a very coherent way. But in fact, Butterman says, “this concert came together in kind of a bizarre way,” with each of the other pieces having been originally planned for another concert. “But I do think the program itself works rather nicely,” he adds.

The least familiar work will be Schuman’s New England Triptych, a work that is deeply rooted in America’s early history. It is based on the work of William Billings, a colonial-era song- and hymn-writer. Three of his songs—“Be glad then America,” “When Jesus Wept” and “Chester”—are the sources of the three movements.

“This is music that a lot of wind players encounter through the wind ensemble literature,” Butterman says. “It’s really attractive, it’s splashy when it needs to be, and yet that middle movement is beautifully introspective. The outer movements are very difficult—quick and very demanding.”

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William Schuman

In fact, he says, the whole concert will be difficult playing. “As I was studying this program over the past few days, I began almost kicking myself,” he says. “What was I thinking? In spite of the fact that the music is pretty familiar, it’s all difficult!”

That would be most obviously true of the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, which was clearly designed as a jazzy virtuoso showpiece for the musicians of the New York Philharmonic. “A member of a prominent orchestra (told me) a few years ago he thought this was one of the hardest pieces in the standard repertoire,” Butterman says.

“You have to get the swinging right, you have a real sort of screaming trumpet, and you’ve got lots of percussion. It’s really hard stuff to get together. It will be a challenge—it’s a challenge for any orchestra. It just takes some work.”

Fortunately, he adds, the orchestra will have four rehearsals in Macky Auditorium before the concert, instead of having part of their rehearsal week in the Dairy Center or some other location with different acoustics. “We’ll be able to hear it the same way four times in a row,” he says. “That will help a lot, I think.”

Once all the pieces are put in place, Butterman has no doubts that the audience will love the program. It fits Boulder Phil’s winning formula: some familiar pieces, even some pop and jazz-inflected music from Broadway, and a chance for people to discover something new in the New England Triptych.

“It’s all high energy and colorful, fun Americana,” he says, “with the added appeal of seeing the Copland brought to life in the way it was originally conceived—as dance music.”

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Dance, American Style
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, music director
With the Boulder Ballet, Ana Claire, artistic director

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016
Macky Auditorium

William Schuman: New England Triptych
Leonard Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Aaron Copland: “Prairie Night, “ “Waltz” and “Celebration Dance” from Billy the Kid
Aaron Copland: Rodeo (complete ballet)
Boulder Ballet performing choreography by Ana Claire, artistic director

Tickets

Takacs Quartet and McDonald shine in 2016 opener

Engrossing performances of Beethoven, Janáček and Elgar

By Peter Alexander

Yesterday afternoon (Jan. 10) the Takacs Quartet and pianist Margaret McDonald gave an engrossing performance of an unusual and fascinating program.

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Tákacs Quartet. Photo by Keith Saunders.

For their first concert of 2016, the Takacs presented three works: Beethoven’s genial first string quartet, the Quartet in D major, op. 18 no. 3; Leoš Janáček’s spiky Sonata for violin and piano, played by first violinist Edward Dusinberre with McDonald; and everyone together for Edward Elgar’s brooding, late-Romantic Piano Quintet in A minor.

The program will be repeated tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Grusin Music Hall of the Imig Music Building. Call 303-492-8008 for ticket availability.

I found this a particularly engaging concert in part because of it’s remarkable and wide-ranging variety. Think about it: every piece had a different combination of players; every piece represented a starkly different style (in spite of the fact that the Janáček and Elgar pieces were written within four years of one another); and every piece was played with the full interpretive commitment and musical integrity of a world-class chamber ensemble.

The Beethoven quartet, which opened the program, was an opportunity for the Takacs to show why they are considered one of the world’s leading quartets. They play with great precision and near-perfect intonation, but many quartets do that. But listen to the balance of the chords that close the exposition of the first movement, where you hear the entire chord, not a punctuating “thump.” Listen to the clarity of the interchange among the parts in the development section, where you can hear cleanly through the texture, with no important part covered. It is as if the music were produced by a single artistic mind, a feat not easily accomplished.

The third movement, with its unexpected transitions and slightly off-balance feel, never went awry, and the virtuosic finale rushed along with great exhilaration right to the surprising and humorous ending—Beethoven was a student of Haydn!—without ever feeling strained. It’s a genial and charming piece, with just a bit of Beethoven’s rough-hewn character, and the performance was utterly convincing in every detail.

Janáček’s Sonata for violin and piano of 1914 was written in the middle of Eastern Europe in the tense months before the outbreak of the First World War. The music seems to reflect the tension of the times, but Janáček’s highly individual music is written in such fragmentary bursts of feeling and mood that it often sounds as though some dangerous drama is about to unfold.

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Pianist Margaret McDonald. Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado

The Sonata is so infrequently a part of concert programs—I don’t think I’ve heard it live before—that it was a delight to hear. The performance by Dusinberre and McDonald was highly accomplished, although it struck me as slightly restrained. Particularly in the last movement, where the violin keeps interrupting the lyricism of the piano with menacing outbursts, I could imagine a more ferocious, more intense interpretation.

If the Janáček sits poised at the outbreak of World War I, the Elgar Quintet sits poised at war’s end, a melancholy Victorian ornament in a world that has been shattered. The first movement seems uneasy from the very first halting notes, a mood that is occasionally interrupted by swellings of nervous lyricism. The second movement is one of melancholy comfort, a sort of musical brown study, yearning for the Victorian confidence that was swept away by the war. And the finale tries to add a note of bravado to the mood, without quite being convincing.

This remarkable piece, one of Elgar’s last, was the triumph of the concert. String quartets are notorious for being closed musical families, but McDonald seemed completely integrated into the group. She and the quartet players matched styles and achieved a balance that was admirable, especially for such a long and emotionally complex work. Everyone was fully committed to the surging emotions of Elgar’s score.

I don’t often get to hear Takacs Quartet concerts, but this is one I am delighted not to have missed. If you can beg, borrow or steal a ticket for tonight’s performance, go. It is a program and a musical experience unlikely to be duplicated.

Grammy-nominated Takacs Quartet explores new repertoire

Pianist Margaret McDonald collaborates in performances of Janáček and Elgar

By Peter Alexander

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Tákacs Quartet. Photo by Keith Saunders.

The Takacs Quartet has such a long and distinguished history, has performed and recorded so much music, that it is surprising to learn that there is major repertoire that has not appeared on their programs.

In fact, their list of unplayed works will shrink by two at their performances Sunday and Monday (4 p.m. Jan. 10 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 11) in Grusin Music Hall. And unsurprisingly, neither is for string quartet alone: The Takacs and pianist Margaret McDonald will perform Edward Elgar’s Quintet for piano and string quartet; and McDonald and first violinist Edward Dusinberre will present Leoš Janáček’s Sonata for violin and piano.

Completing the program will be Beethoven’s String Quartet in D major, op. 18 no. 3.

This will be the first concert by the Takacs following the announcement in December that their album with pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet and String Quartet No. 2 has been nominated for a Grammy Award. It is their fifth nomination and will be their second award if they win. The Grammy Awards will be presented Feb. 15.

“We’re always trying to combine music that’s very much our standard repertoire with newer things,” Dusinberre says. “It’s fun with (Elgar and Janáček), since they’re written at a similar time around the First World War, and the musical language couldn’t be more different.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

2015: The year in music

A belated look back at classical music in Boulder during the past year

By Peter Alexander

Here’s wishing all of my readers a Happy New Year!

I hope your Holiday Season was filled with good cheer as mine was, with family coming to Colorado from north and south and three other time zones. And if it was, I hope you recovered faster than I have, since this story was on my schedule for a week ago!

Better late than never, here is my wrap-up of the events and the concerts that made 2015 memorable for classical music audiences in Boulder.

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CMF music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Near the top of the list would have to be the arrival of Jean-Marie Zeitouni as the new music director of the Colorado Music Festival. An accomplished orchestra leader, he put his stamp on the summer season from start to finish, programming more French music than we have heard here for some time, and also featuring vocal music—a special love—on several occasions. These interests gave us some of the memorable concerts of the year, noted below.

The other big news on the Boulder orchestra scene was the selection of the Boulder Philharmonic as one of only four orchestras from across North America that will participate in the inaugural SHIFT Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C, in March 2017. The selection was announced May 28, but the story did not end there. In December, the orchestra received its first-ever grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, making it possible to commission a brand new work from adventurer/composer Stephen Lias. The work, which is to be inspired by Rocky Mountain National Park, will be premiered by the Boulder Phil in Boulder and at the SHIFT Festival.

Among the many memorable performances of the past year were a number of intriguing discoveries—a new venue, and old instrument, and great masterpieces that are broadly underappreciated. (Of course, I am unable get to all the first-rate classical concerts in Boulder, so if you had any favorite performances that you think should have been included, I would love to have your comments at the end of the article.)

Feb. 28: The Boulder Bach Festival returned to its original pattern of offering one of Bach’s monumental works as its centerpiece, in this case an imaginative and provocative interpretation of the Mass in B minor. Leading his first performance of a major work since becoming musical director of the festival, Zachary Carrettin delivered a performance that was musically solid, with immaculate choral singing, superb orchestral playing, and five well matched soloists. But what made it especially memorable was that Carrettin carefully rethought the work from beginning to end, from the placement of the “intermission” break to the allocation of choral and solo parts.

 

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Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan in The Passion of Joan of Arc. Photo courtesy of Alliance Artist Management.

March 14: Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, chorus and soloists lovingly performed Richard Einhorn’s oratorio Voices of Light as it was intended to be heard, accompanying a screening of Carl Theodore Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Noted particularly for the acting of Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan, the film is regarded as one of the greatest silent films ever made, and it is greatly enhanced by Einhorn’s evocative score.

April 23–26: The CU Eklund Opera Program presented one of the first masterpieces of the operatic repertoire, Claudio Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea from 1643, in a musical realization by the conductor, Nicholas Carthy. A great work of dramatic imagination and musical genius that is not often performed today, Coronation of Poppea is always welcome. But it was the production concept from stage director Leigh Holman that made the performances especially memorable. I don’t often enjoy “updated” productions of operas and plays, but in this case the transposition into modern times worked very well. “Coronation of Poppea is all about sex and politics and power, and if you’ve seen House of Cards, it’s the exact same thing,” Holman said, explaining her decision to place the opera in modern Washington, D.C.. “It’s about a power hungry, vicious man and his power-hungry, vicious girlfriend.”

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Robert Olson with the MahlerFest orchestra. Photo by Keith Bobo.

May 16–17: Founding director Robert Olson appropriately ended his 28-year tenure at the helm of Boulder’s Mahlerfest with a moving performance of the Ninth Symphony, the last of the composer’s symphonies to be completed. It was, he said, “not only the most perfect piece to end on, but may be one of the most perfect pieces, period.”

At the same time it was announced that Kenneth Woods, artistic director and principal conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra located in Worcestershire, UK, would succeed Olson as music director and conductor. Woods will direct the 29th MahlerFest later this year, with performances of the Symphony No. 7 scheduled for May 21 and 22.

July 1: The Colorado Music Festival opened the Jean-Marie Zeitouni era with a concert reflecting two of the conductor’s passions: the music of France, represented by Debussy’s orchestral showpiece La Mer; and music for the voice, represented by Ravel’s ravishing Shéhérazade
 and a grouping of Rossini arias, brilliantly sung by the Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux. Zeitouni delivered sensitively crafted performances, Lemieux delivered the requisite vocal fireworks, and it all ended with a loud, brassy Pines of Rome by Respighi that sent everyone home happy.

July 23–24: A second highlight from the CMF was the evening that featured Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and a concert performance of Bartók’s one-act opera Bluebeard’s Castle. The latter featured the distinguished American baritone Samuel Ramey as a last-minute stand-in for Bluebeard. Bluebeard’s Castle was a work that Zeitouni was especially eager to share with CMF audiences, and he saw it as a centerpiece of the festival from the time the schedule was announced in February. Here is another operatic work that deserves to be better known: It is a brilliant and disturbing psychological work, and it was given a stunning performance by Zeitouni, the CMF orchestra, and singers Ramey and soprano Krisztina Szabó.

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

Oct. 16–17: The Boulder Bach Festival made another memorable contribution to musical life by bringing attention to something that Boulder doesn’t have: a first-rate concert hall for chamber music. The BBF opened the 2015–16 season with the kind of eclectic concert that Carrettin often puts together—music not only by J.S. Bach but also Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Jacques Arcadelt, Dario Castello, Johann Jakob Froberger, Biagio Marini, Marco Uccelini and Johann Christoph Bach. But the concert was not in Boulder; it was in the Longmont Museum’s splendid new Stewart Auditorium, a lovely facility that offers excellent sound, clean modernist lines and a welcoming feel.

Oct. 24: Like the Boulder Bach Festival, the composer Claudio Monteverdi makes a second appearance on this list, with another work of great scope and ambition that really should be more widely known for the masterpiece that it is: the Vespers of 1610. Conductor Evanne Browne, the Seicento Baroque Ensemble, and artists gathered from the world of historical performance gave us a splendid realization of Monteverdi’s score, which is virtually an anthology of early-Baroque virtuoso styles and techniques.

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The 120-year-old debutante: an 1895 piano by Érard.

Oct. 30: A 120-year-old debutante made a strong impression on a concert by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra and conductor Bahman Saless. In this case, the debutante wasn’t a person; it was a piano, made in Paris in 1895 by the firm of Sébastien Érard. It was played by the evening’s outstanding soloist, Mina Gajić, who purchased the piano in Amsterdam in 2014 and brought it to Boulder. The concert was the first performance on the instrument in the U.S. Because the strings all run parallel to one another, instead of the bass strings beings crossed over the higher strings as in most modern pianos, the instrument has an unusually clear and transparent sound. Under Gajić‘s hands, it was a revelation to hear a piano that combined clarity and power in a way we are not accustomed to hearing.

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Back again after 20 years: Gábor Takács-Nagy. Photo courtesy of CU, Boulder.

 Nov. 6: Boulder welcomed an old friend back to town when Gábor Takács-Nagy, a founding member of the Takacs Quartet, came through town on tour with the Irish Chamber Orchestra. It was his first visit to Boulder in nearly 20 years. Takács-Nagy no longer performs in public as a violinist, but maintains a thriving career as conductor. As conductor of the Irish Chamber Orchestra, he led a thoroughly enjoyable program of Haydn, C.P.E. Bach, and some idiomatically performed music from his homeland in Hungary, Bartók’s Divertimento for String Orchestra. “I talked with the orchestra about the Hungarian language, and even sang them Hungarian folk songs,” Takács-Nagy said. “Somehow they feel it very, very well!”