Woods aims for the summit in first year as MahlerFest director

Seventh Symphony is ‘Mahler at the top of the mountain’

By Peter Alexander

Mahler, it is well known, loved to hike in the alps. So it is fitting that Kenneth Woods, the brand new artistic director of the Colorado MahlerFest, compares Mahler’s Seventh Symphony to the summit of a fourteener.

Kenneth Woods

Kenneth Woods. Photo by Benjamin Ealovega.

Woods succeeds Robert Olson, who retired last year after 28 years as founding director of the festival. The Seventh will be the major work performed at this year’s MahlerFest XXIX, with performances by Woods and the MahlerFest Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Macky Auditorium.

Also on the orchestral program will be the U.S. premiere of Nachtmusiken by Austrian composer Kurt Schwertsik, which was commissioned for a Mahler festival in Manchester, England. Other events this weekend include a symposium by leading Mahler scholars, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Room C199 of the CU Imig Music Building.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

# # # # #

Colorado MahlerFest XXIX
Kenneth Woods, artistic director and conductor

Mahler: Symphony No. 7
Kurt Schwertsik: Nachtmusiken, op. 104 (U.S. premiere)
7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21
3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 22
Macky Auditorium
(Pre-concert lecture one hour before each concert)


Mahler hiking in the Austrian alps.

Other events:

7 p.m. Thursday, May 19
Free open rehearsal, Macky Auditorium

2 p.m. Friday, May 20
Film: 7, Boedecker Theater, Dairy Arts Center

7 p.m., Friday, May 20
Free open rehearsal, Macky Auditorium

9 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21
Free Symposium, Room C199, Imig Music Building

Information and tickets


Boulder Symphony Announces 2016–17 Concerts

Program is complete, even though the inspiration is interrupted

By Peter Alexander


Devin Patrick Hughes

“Inspiration, Interrupted,” the 2016–17 season of the Boulder Symphony, will feature two world premieres, several local artists as soloists, a competition winner, and the orchestra’s annual concert performance of a familiar opera to cap it all off. The season will presented under music director Devin Patrick Hughes,

The programming for 2016–17 represents a continuation of a pattern the Boulder Symphony has established, based on their goal of “making symphonic music more accessible and relevant to people of all ages.” Ways to achieve that goal have included featuring young soloists, presenting music by emerging young composers, and scheduling family events such the Annual Halloween Kids’ Extravaganza, scheduled for 1 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 29.

Another expression of that goal will continue, with all performances free to students from kindergarten through high school (K–12).

The season title, “Inspiration, Interrupted,” only seems to apply literally to one work on the season, Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, scheduled for the Oct. 27 concert. The program is titled “Beethoven’s Shadow,” referring to the way that Beethoven’s legacy dominated the musical world for generations after his death.

But the thrust of the season is broader than just pieces that were interrupted and never finished. The orchestra’s news release states that each concert will explore “the incredible and challenging process composers encounter when creating magnificent works.”


Hughes and the Boulder Symphony

Each concert has a symphony that is likely the representative of the season topic. In addition to Schubert in October, those will be Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the program titled “Fate Knocks, Symphony Rocks” (Sept. 17); Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony for “Prague, I Love You” (Nov. 19); Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony for “Clash of Titans” (Feb. 24, 2017); and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique for “Day of Reckoning” (April 8).

The young violinist Phoenix Avalon returns for his fourth consecutive year, to play the Bach Double Violin Concerto with the Boulder Symphony’s concertmaster, Keynes Chen. Other soloists during the year will include several members of the orchestra; CU faculty member Paul Erhard, double bass; and the winner of the International Keyboard Odyssiad & Festival, to be held in Fort Collins in July.

The 2016–17 season will be the third in which the Boulder Symphony will present a concert performance of an opera. Following performances of Carmen and La Bohème in the past two years, they will present Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro May 13, 2017.

Season tickets for 2016–17 are now on sale here. The full season is listed below.


Boulder Symphony
Devin Patrick Hughes, Music Director
2016–17 Season: “Inspiration, Interrupted”

“Fate Knocks, Symphony Rocks”
7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor
Piano Competition Winner

“Beethoven’s Shadow”
7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22
Schubert: Symphony No 8 in B minor (“Unfinished”)
Brahms: Double Concerto in A minor for violin and cello
Sarah Off, violin, and Matthew D’Ordine, cello

Annual Halloween Kids’ Extravaganza: “Steal This Concert”
1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29
Musical Borrowing and Imitation

“Prague, I Love You”
7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
Mozart: Symphony No. 38 in D major, K 504 (“Prague”)
Douglas: Songs and Dances
Ingrid Anderson, oboe
J.S. Bach: Double Violin Concerto in D minor, S 1043
Phoenix Avalon and Keynes Chen, violin

“Clash of Titans”
7 p.m. Saturday, Feb . 24
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 in A minor (“Scottish)
Nino Rota: Divertimento
Paul Erhard, double bass
Sebastian Laskowski: World Premiere

“Day of Reckoning”
7 p.m. Saturday, April 7
Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique
Franz Liszt: Totentanz (Dance of death)
Cody Garrison, piano
Elizabeth Anne Comninellis: World Premiere

7 p.m. Saturday, May 13
Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro

All concerts at First Presbyterian Church, 1820 15th St., Boulder

2016–17 season tickets now available HERE.



“Stunningly brilliant” Brahms captivates Stewart Auditorium audience

Boulder Bach Festival unveils the sound of Romanticism

By Peter Alexander

Technical perfection is what musicians strive for in all those hours of practice, but never achieve. In classical music, that perfection would include uncompromised accuracy and control of pitch, and consistency of sound in all registers.

Interestingly, musical instrument makers have aimed for the same qualities, especially the consistency of sound, and they have made great progress over the past 200 years. Much has been gained in the technical capacities and consistency of sound in modern pianos, for example, as well as wind instruments. But much has been lost as well.

What has been lost was demonstrated yesterday (May 15) in a stunningly brilliant performance of the Brahms Horn Trio in E-flat major, op. 40, presented by the Boulder Bach Festival in the Stewart Auditorium in Longmont.

The performance brought together three players: violinist and artistic director of the Bach Festival Zachary Carrettin; pianist Mina Gajic, the festival’s director of education and outreach; and guest artist Thomas Jöstlein playing horn. More crucially, it brought together three instruments that were perfect partners: A violin strung with 19th-century style strings, including pure gut; an 1895 Érard piano; and a natural horn (without valves), made in about 1815. I have never heard a better balanced performance with such disparate instruments.


1895 Érard piano onstage at Stewart Auditorium

The Érard, a beautiful example of the piano maker’s craft in the 19th century, was a critical ingredient. With its remarkably transparent, clear and nuanced sound, it paired with the other instrument as no modern piano could. Gajic could play with full commitment and never overwhelm the other players.

Jöstlein’s natural horn was equally critical to the success of the performance. Its smaller bore and restrained sound never overwhelmed the violin, its closest partner throughout the piece, as a modern large-bore horn, built for a big sound and the ability to cut through a modern orchestra, would do.

Both the piano and the horn brought another quality that we have lost: a sound that varies from register to register, or, in the case of the horn, from note to note. Brahms made expressive use of these differences. As Jöstlein demonstrated before the performance, the sound of the horn could be bright and clear in one phrase, muted and distant in another. And one thing you almost never hear today: the natural horn, which changes pitch by the player moving his hand inside the bell, added a snarling quality to some of the crashing chords that could be suddenly resolved into a clear and pure sound.


Zachary Carrettin

The differences in sound for Carrettin’s violin were less dramatic, but his choice of natural gut for some strings, steel for the highest string, and wound gut for the lowest, gave the instrument a sound that matched the others.

A fourth partner was the space where the music was performed, the intimate Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum. In an interview before the concert, Carrettin had stressed the importance of the hall: “Stewart Auditorium . . . is a 250-seat hall. It’s very much a salon setting, so we don’t have to worry about projecting to a 3,000 seat house. That has in it an authenticity in the way that we can craft the interpretation.”


Mina Gajić

The combination of a space where everyone felt in close contact with the performers, and instruments that were perfectly matched freed the performers to play with complete commitment. No punches needed to be pulled, no climaxes pushed too hard, no passages held back in the name of balance. I have rarely heard such excitement as Gajic, Carrettin and Jöstlein generated in the last movement.

The Stewart Auditorium crowd—totally sold out with seats added onstage—gave a standing ovation that went well beyond the expected, dutiful “standing o” we get with too much regularity. They knew they had heard something special, and they reacted in a way we do not usually associate with “original instruments” or “historically accurate” performances. They had heard the door opened into an unfamiliar sound world, and they were captivated.

The short program, played without intermission, had opened with Carrettin and Gajic playing a 19th-century arrangement of Bach’s much-loved “Air on the G String.” As Carrettin explained beforehand, violinists at the time were starting to play with continuous vibrato and used far more portamento, or sliding glissandos, than we are accustomed to hearing.

The performance was fascinating, although not to the taste I developed through mid-20th-century training and listening. As the great violinist Fritz Kreisler said appreciatively of that style of playing, it gave melancholy to the music. That’s not the spirit of the original Bach, but it is the spirit of the late 19th century and Carrettin played with passion. I would not have missed the experience.

Amanda Balestrieri

Amanda Balestrieri

The remainder of the concert was filled with one Bach aria and three Brahms songs, eloquently rendered by soprano Amanda Balestrieri and Gajic (plus Carrettin on the Bach). Balestrieri’s bright, clear sound was ideal for the well controlled filigree of the Bach aria. The Brahms was sung with exemplary expression of the text, and only the slightest push to the highest notes. The lyrical songs formed a lovely companion to the more intense Horn Trio.

As this concert shows, Boulder County now has such musical riches that revelation can strike in almost any concert. This may be a golden age. If you have any interest in classical music, don’t let it pass you by.

Boulder Bach Festival will remove the veil from Romanticism

In Longmont, J.S. Bach shares the program with Brahms songs and Horn Trio

By Peter Alexander


Zachary Carrettin

Zachary Carrettin, artistic director of the Boulder Bach Festival, has an apparently inexhaustible supply of surprises.

He and the festival have offered Bach in many different guises—on historical instruments, on traditional modern instruments with a full-sized symphony, on electronic instruments—always revealing new discoveries. And now they are heading down one of the most well traveled paths in the concert repertoire, the music of Romanticism.

You might think that era would not hold many surprises today, but the festival’s next concert—5 p.m. Sunday, May 15, in the Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum (tickets)—promises to present “Romanticism Unveiled.” The program features the Horn Trio in E-flat of Johannes Brahms played on historical—that is, Romantic-era—instruments, as well as a familiar piece by Bach in a late-19th-century arrangement, and several Brahms songs.

Performers will be Carrettin, playing a modern violin but with types of strings that would have been used in Brahms’s lifetime; pianist Mina Gajic playing her straight-strung 1895 Érard piano; horn player Thomas Jöstlein playing a 19th-century natural horn; and soprano Amanda Balestrieri applying what is known of 19th-century vocal style.

The Brahms Horn Trio is a fairly well known work, but as Carrettin explains, today it is usually played on modern instruments, including a valved horn and a grand piano. “There is content in this music that is revealed when it is played on the instruments of the time,” he says. “So we are unveiling some of the colors, and some of the meaning in the music that is different when played on the original instruments.”

Carrettin admits that the modern instrument are technologically advanced, and in some ways easier to play than older versions of the same instruments. At the same time, though, the older instruments reveal aspects of the music that modern instruments may conceal—or veil from view.

“When you open the can of worms with period instruments, you have to explore different techniques, different intonation, different balance, and also (different) phrasing,” he says. “The instruments teach you how they want to be played. Certain things are possible and other things are more difficult.”

old interior

1895 Érard piano

Gajic’s Érard piano was made in Paris in 1895. It is straight strung, meaning that the strings all run parallel, which creates a different sound from the modern cross-strung grand piano. The Érard is clearer than the modern piano, and each register has its own sound. (Read my earlier description of this piano here.)

Carrettin will play his modern violin, which is essentially the same as the violins of Brahms’s era, but with strings that reflect 19th-century practice. “I’m using a combination of gut, wound gut and steel strings,” he says. “I’ll have (natural) gut wound in silver on the G, and I’m still playing with all other options. Typically for this kind of setup my two middle strings are pure gut, not wound, (with a steel E string).”

Another issue you may not have thought of is the use of a chin rest. In the Baroque and early classical era, violinists did not have chin rests, but during Brahms’s lifetime chin rests were in wide use. “One day I practice with no chin rest, which gives the violin a rounder, darker sound. The next day I practice with the chin rest which gives the violin more focus,” Carrettin says. The decision to use the chin rest will depend on how the violin sounds with the other instruments.


Thomas Jöstlein (l) with his 1815 natural horn and Ab Koster (r), the German horn player from whom he purchased the horn

The third member of the trio, Jöstlein, will be playing a natural horn, without valves. Even though the valved horn that we know today had been invented during Brahms’s lifetime, it was not the composer’s first choice. “He played (natural horn) as a child and always preferred it over the pistons and valves,” Carrettin says. “He wrote all four symphonies with the natural horn in mind.”

As principal horn of the St. Louis Symphony, Jöstlein has plenty of experience on the modern instruments, but he also owns and performs widely on natural horns from the 18th and 19th centuries. For “Romanticism Unveiled,” he will play a horn from about 1815 that he purchased in Europe.

Other works on the program will include a 19th-century arrangement of Bach’s “Air on the G string” for violin and piano. “We’ve talked so much in our concerts about electric violins and Baroque violins and Steinway pianos and harpsichords,” Carrettin says. “We typically have modern instruments and Baroque instruments, but this is the first time the Bach Festival has played Bach on 19th-century Romantic instruments with a style influenced by research on Romantic chamber music style.”

Amanda Balastrieri

Amanda Balestrieri

To fill out the Romantic program, Balestrieri will sing an aria from Bach’s cantata BWV 196 and three Brahms songs with piano. “Amanda is the perfect artist for this program,” Carrettin says. “She has spent her career performing with period and modern instruments and in a variety of historically informed styles.”

He is particularly pleased to be performing music from the 19th century in a smaller facility. “We’re performing in the beautiful Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum,” he says. “It’s a 250-seat hall. It’s very much a salon setting, so we don’t have to worry about projecting to a 3,000 seat house. That has in it an authenticity in the way that we can craft the interpretation.”

It all adds up to an unusual opportunity for local audiences, Carrettin says. “It’s a rare thing to hear Romantic period chamber music on original instruments in this part of the country,” he says.

# # # # #


Stewart Auditorium in the Longmont Museum

“Romanticism Unveiled”
Boulder Bach Festival

Zachary Carrettin, violin
Mina Gajic, piano (Érard, 1895)
Thomas Jöstlein, natural horn
Amanda Balestrieri, soprano

Program includes several short selections by J.S. Bach, Lieder by Brahms, and the Brahms Horn Trio in E-flat major, op. 40, performed on Romantic-era instruments

5 p.m. Sunday, May 15
Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum, Longmont


5/12/16 Edited for grammar

Boulder Chorale Brings Brubeck Mass to Colorado

Hope and celebration mark the end of 50th-anniversary season

By Peter Alexander


Boulder Chorale

The Boulder Chorale will close its 50th-anniversary season this weekend with hope and a celebration.

To be more precise, the Chorale and artistic director Vicki Burrichter will close the season with the first Colorado performance of “To Hope—A Celebration,” a setting of portions of the Catholic Mass by Dave Brubeck as arranged by Adam Waite. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 13, and 4 p.m. Sunday, May 15, at First United Methodist Church in Boulder (tickets).



Joining the chorale for the Brubeck performance will be vocalist Joslyn “JoFoKe” Ford-Keel and a jazz quintet featuring Waite on piano, bassist Ken Walker, and other local jazz musicians. The remainder of the program, forming the first half of the concert, will be music of the African Diaspora sung by the full Chorale and the 24-voice Chamber Chorale.

Saying they are performing Brubeck’s Mass is actually a tricky statement for anyone to make. Brubeck wrote the piece for orchestra and chorus, but he performed and recorded it with his own quartet performing alongside the orchestra. As Burrichter explains, “When I got the score, it did not have the jazz combo that the recording does. I said, ‘Where are the combo parts?’ and (the publisher) said, ‘Well, they’re not available.’”


Dave Brubeck

With or without the combo, the orchestral version posed several problems: “It’s a really odd orchestra with unusual instrumentation, and it’s difficult to find a space in Boulder where we could do that,” Burrichter says. “And I really liked the whole jazz combo feel. To me, that was the whole point of the piece.”

She found a version on YouTube with jazz quintet—piano, bass, drums, trumpet and trombone. She tracked down the arranger of that version, who was Adam Waite. She contacted him by email and he replied that he had just taken a job as director of music at Montview Presbyterian in Denver and would be moving to Colorado in two months.


Adam Waite

“I said ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’” Burrichter recalls. “Talk about fate or something!

“That’s how we found it, and Adam will play and work with the band. I’m very excited because it’s the first time it’s been done in Colorado in this setting.”

Another complication in performing the piece is how much of what Brubeck wrote to perform. According to Burrichter, not all of the movements are suitable for a jazz combo arrangement. Besides, she says, “Brubeck says very clearly that he wants people to change it if it’s for a concert setting as opposed to a church setting, and he gives his thoughts on how to do that.

“We left out four or five of (Brubeck’s original) movements. How Waite described it to me is, we’re leaving out the parts that are aimed more at a church service instead of a concert setting. Because we’re not offering mass, we’re leaving out some.”


Burrichter with Boulder Chorale. Photo by BobEvans

As Burrichter describes the movements included on the program, “We’re doing a processional, which is a great opening. Then the cantor and choir sing ‘Lord Have Mercy’—the Kyrie (of the Catholic Mass)—then the soloist does ‘In the Desert and the Parched Land,’ which leads into ‘The Peace of Jerusalem.’ That sounds very middle eastern (with) a great drum background.”

Among the familiar movements of the mass that are omitted is the Gloria. “Instead we’re doing an Alleluia that’s in 5/4 time, so it’s wonderfully disjointed,” Burrichter says. “Then ‘Through Him, With Him,’ leading to a great Amen, the Doxology, ‘The Lamb of God’ (Agnus Dei) and then the last movement, ‘All my Hope,’ which is a gospel piece. It builds to a big climax with lots of improvisation and the choir functioning as a big band in the background. It’s a really exciting way to end it.”

Before intermission, Burrichter and the chorale will perform music from the African Diaspora in America, starting with the spirituals “My Lord, What a Mornin’” and “Elijah Rock” as arranged by Moses Hogan. A smaller group out of the full chorale, the Chamber Chorale, will perform music by Mary Lou Williams.


Mary Lou Williams

A prolific jazz composer and pianist who wrote for Ellington, Williams later taught some of the jazz players of the next generation, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. The Chamber Chorale will sing two pieces from “Mary Lou’s Mass,” which in 1964 became the first jazz mass performed in the Catholic Church.

Rounding out this segment of the concert will be “Orange Colored Sky,” a jazz standard that was first popularized by Nat King Cole, and “Total Praise.” “I just wanted to touch a little bit on the African-American traditions, starting with the earliest forms,” Burrichter says.

“To me, (the music on the program) is all basically the same—it’s music of the African Diaspora. Sure, Dave Brubeck was a Caucasian guy, but he was immersed in America’s classical music, which is jazz.

“This concert is an opportunity to hear something that’s never been done here. It’s fun and moving, and it’s a great chance to have a really exciting night and hear some of the best jazz players in the state.”

# # # # #

To Hope! A Celebration—The Boulder Chorale’s Next 50 Years
Boulder Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, artistic director and conductor
With Joslyn “JoFoKe” Ford-Keel
Adam Waite, piano, and jazz quintet

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 13
4 p.m. Sunday, May 15
First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder


Edited 5/7/16 to correct the title of “Total Praise” and clean up syntax in two quotes.

At Minnesota Opera, “The Shining” dazzles

World premiere of Paul Moravec’s opera promises future success

By Peter Alexander

The Saturday (May 7) premiere of The Shining by Paul Moravec at the Minnesota Opera was clear evidence of the vigor of contemporary opera in America.


The Shining by Paul Moravec. All photos by Ken Howard for the Minnesota Opera

The opera, based on the Stephen King novel (but resolutely not on the Stanley Kubrick film), has sold out its opening run of four performances. It is a solid piece of work, dramatically effective, musically successful, and destined to be popular. And in the hands of the team from the Minnesota Opera—conductor Michael Christie, stage director Eric Simonson, scenery and properties designer Erhard Rom, the craftsmen of 59 Productions and their many colleagues—The Shining received a stunning production that realized the full potential of the score. The cast was uniformly first rate. At the end, the sold-out Ordway Music Theater audience stood and cheered.


Brian Mulligan as Jack Torrance, with the massive boiler

If you don’t know the story, Jack Torrance, a writer, has taken a job as winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel (loosely inspired by Estes Park’s Stanley Hotel), a seemingly elegant relic that turns out to be haunted. Jack brings his wife, Wendy, and young son, Danny, with him. Jack and Wendy are hoping to restore their damaged marriage, but under the sway of the hotel and its ghosts, the already fragile Jack turns violent.

Librettist Mark Campbell has done an effective job of reducing King’s 400+ page novel into a two-hour opera. The essential elements of King’s tale are present: the evil spirits that control the hotel, the temperamental boiler that threatens to blow the place to bits, the smothering snow that creates a barrier from rescue, the child with second sight (or the “shining” of the work’s title), and his hair-triggered father’s troubling past. It’s a lot to get into a compact libretto, but Campbell has managed to keep the spirit of the original while necessarily cutting some elements (including several of the haunted rooms, the topiary animals standing guard and the malevolent wasps).


Alejandro Vega as Danny and Brian Mulligan as Jack

There is one significant change that King’s fans will notice, and it is not an improvement. At the end of the novel, Danny confronts his father fearlessly, because he knows something that Jack has forgotten: the boiler, which is close to blowing. When Danny reminds him of this, Jack rushes to the basement, leaving only enough time for the three survivors to escape. In other words, the Overlook has completely taken over Jack, who becomes a tragic figure brought down by his own weakness.


Brian Mulligan as Jack, surrounded by evil spirits just before the boiler destroys the Overlook Hotel

In the opera, Jack allows Danny to go, and when the hotel’s spirits remind him of the boiler, he defies them and decides not to relieve the built-up pressure so that his family can escape. When he chooses to die in the resultant explosion, the story becomes a more conventional one of Jack’s redemption, a point made clear in the staging. In King’s bleaker vision, there is no such redemption.

Moravec has set this tale with accessible, expressive music. The text can be clearly understood, thanks to both composer and cast, and supertitles are often not needed. There are moments of affecting lyrical beauty, particularly the moving (if predictable) final aria by Halloran, the resort’s cook and the story’s rescuer, who reassures Danny that “You’re doing fine by yourself . . . Just fine.” Other major characters—Jack, Wendy, and the spectral figure of Jack’s brutal father—all have expressive music. If the ghostly chorus of evil spirits sounds a little too real, that is a consequence of portraying incorporeal beings with corporeal actors.


The exploding Overlook Hotel

The horror genre is of course a well worked musical field, through opera and especially film. It is probably inevitable that Moravec incorporated some familiar clichés to represent menace, the sinister noises of malevolent spirits, ghostly voices and the ratcheting up of suspense, but it is a testament to his skill as a composer that these clichés are elevated by his score.

The orchestral writing is especially outstanding. The orchestra supports but never obscures the vocal lines. Sounds from the orchestra fit the text and mood, and the final powerful cataclysm is one of the most effective moments of musical pictorialism I can recall. That orchestral explosion and the subsequent relaxation into the comfortable and comforting music of the final scene make a satisfying ending.


Kelly Kaduce, Arthur Woodley and Alejandro Vega in the final scene

Minnesota Opera’s production is a dazzling tour de force. The beautiful projections that place the actors on a mountain road and beside a peaceful lake are impressive enough, but even more impressive are the scenes in the hotel, with a combination of atmospheric projections that heighten the mood and sliding units that shift (almost) seamlessly from room to room, with only the occasional “thump” to remind us of the stage machinery. Kudos to the designers and 59 Productions for the magic. The hulking boiler and its spectacular destruction of the hotel deserve special notice.

Of the singers, Arthur Woodley is magisterial as Halloran. The hearty cheers he received were well deserved: his robust baritone filled the hall and captured the brief scenes where he appears, at beginning and end.


Brian Mulligan as Jack and Kelly Kaduce as Wendy

As Jack, Brian Mulligan added physical menace to a steel-cored voice. If his rapid swings early in the opera between loving family man and brutal tyrant seemed too precipitous, they were indeed frightening, as they should be. His deterioration in the second act was especially effective, as the Overlook asserts control and less and less of Jack is left. The power of the performance comes from growing intensity of his interpretation rather than any specific musical numbers along the way.

Kelly Kaduce, who sang Wendy Torrance, is deservedly a Minnesota Opera favorite. She sang with expression and beauty of sound, but her role stays long in a limited emotional range, mostly expressing fear of her husband and comfort for her son. Her aria at the beginning, “I never stopped loving you” helps suggest a warmer relationship with Jack, but in that one moment the music doesn’t quite rise to the needs of the text.

It would be remiss not to observe that the teasing and sexy moments between Jack and Wendy are well written, and that both text and actors captured well the mood of King’s novel. In the pared down, two-hour stage presentation they seem too ephemeral, as if squeezed in for relief; expansion of those moments, musically or dramatically, could restore the balance found in the novel’s more thorough back story.


Alejandro Vega (Danny) and Arthur Woodley (Halloran)


Alejandro Vega, the 10-year-old who brings Danny movingly to life, shows great talent. His assurance and the authenticity of his emotional reactions to the story reveal a natural actor, but also one who is skillfully trained and directed in the role. He was on stage for much of the performance, and he was fully the equal of the adults with whom he shared the stage. For later productions this will be a make-or-break role. Vega definitely made it.

Minnesota Opera has put together an able ensemble cast for the other roles as well. Mark Walters as Jack’s father who reaches from beyond the grave to drive his son toward murder; David Walton as the seductive former caretaker and multi-murderer Delbert Grady; Robb Asklof as haughty hotel manager Stuart Ullman; Alex Ritchie as the hotel’s depraved founder Horace Derwent: all were scarily effective.


Wendy, Danny and Jack surrounded by ghosts and ghouls

Christie led the Minnesota Opera’s excellent orchestra with care and sensitivity to the singers. I could not find a serious flaw in the balance, and—considering I had not heard the piece before—the pacing seemed just right. We in Boulder, and now audiences in Minnesota, know that his is an important career.

I have no doubt that The Shining will go on to other productions, especially in the United States where Stephen King’s works loom so large in the popular culture. Many more audiences will stand and cheer.

# # # # #

Minnesota Opera has become one of the most ardent and consistent supporters of new opera in the country. When you consider the record of some of the financially larger companies, their record of world premieres in four of the last five seasons (Kevin Puts, Silent Night, 2011; Douglas J. Cuomo, Doubt, 2013; Kevin Puts, Manchurian Candidate, 2015; and Paul Moravec, The Shining, 2016) puts them in a league with the adventurous Santa Fe Opera and few other professional companies.

And they have announced another premiere next season, Dinner at Eight by William Bolcom, based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber (March 11, 16, 18 and 19, 2017; you may see the entire, enticing season here.) I find it particularly exciting that our own American culture is being mined for operatic subjects, much as European opera has mined their shared culture for generations. This is certainly one of the reasons that contemporary opera is growing in popularity. There is more evidence than The Shining of American opera’s vigor today.

Four finalists chosen for Longmont Symphony position

The candidates will be guest conductors in the orchestra’s 2016–17 season

By Peter Alexander

The Longmont Symphony Orchestra (LSO) has announced the four finalists for the position of music director of the orchestra.

The four candidates were selected by the LSO’s search committee from a field of 60 applicants. Each will conduct one concert during the 2016–17 season, which will be the orchestra’s 50th-anniversary year. These concerts will be part of the orchestra’s regular season of concerts in the Vance Brand Auditorium at Skyline High School in Longmont, held Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.


The four candidates and the dates of the concerts with the LSO will be:

  • Elliot Moore: Nov. 12, 2016
Moore is music director of the Detroit Medical Orchestra, the Blue Period Ensemble, and the Five Lakes Silver Band. He holds a master’s degree in cello performance from Lausanne Conservatory in Switzerland, a master of music in orchestral conducting from Manhattan School of Music, and a doctorate in orchestral conducting from the University of Michigan.
  • David Handel: Jan. 28, 2017
Handel currently resides in the Tampa, Fla., area. He holds a bachelor’s degree in violin and a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from the University of Michigan. His international conducting experience includes orchestras in Russia, Chile and Bolivia; and within the U.S. in Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, California and New York.
  • David Rutherford: Feb. 25, 2017
Rutherford has been the Longmont Symphony’s rehearsal and guest conductor since 2010. He is music director and conductor of the Stratus Chamber Orchestra (formerly Musica Sacra) of Denver and the Valor Symphonics Youth Orchestra in Highlands Ranch. A string bassist, he performs regularly with orchestras along the Front Range. An on-air personality with Colorado Public Radio, he can currently be heard weekday afternoons and Sunday mornings.
  • Zachary Carrettin: April 8, 2017
Carrettin is the music director and conductor of the Boulder Bach Festival and interim director of the Early Music Ensemble at University of Colorado, Boulder. Before moving to Colorado he was the director of orchestral studies at Sam Houston State University in Houston, Tex. He pursued doctoral studies in viola at Rice University and holds master’s degrees in orchestral conducting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and violin from Rice University.
Olson photo

Recently retired music director Robert Olson

The new director will be selected from among these four conductors, and will announced in May, 2017. He will succeed Robert Olson, who was music director of the LSO for 33 years until his retirement at the end of the soon-to-be concluded 2015–16 season. Olson will return to conduct the opening concert of the 50th-anniversary season, Saturday, Oct. 1.

In a statement released  by the LSO, executive director Kay Lloyd made the following comments: “The selection committee has chosen four very strong candidates that represent high musical values as well as the ability to engage our community. We look forward to their concerts this season and the final selection of a conductor that will lay the groundwork of continuing to provide quality, diverse concerts and outreach programs for another 50 years in this community.”

Force of Nature

Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Boulder Symphony offer similar themes for Mother’s Day

By Peter Alexander

Chloe Trevor.Kate-L-Photography

Chloe Trevor. Kate L.Photography

This Mother’s Day weekend it’s all about nature for Boulder’s classical musicians.

The weekend kicks off Friday night with conductor Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra performing a concert titled “Mother Nature” in Broomfield (7:30 p.m., Broomfield Auditorium). The concert, which also features violinist Chloe Trevor, will be repeated Sunday evening in Boulder (7:30 p.m., Seventh-Day Adventist Church).

Between those performances, conductor Devin Patrick Hughes and the Boulder Symphony will offer “Nature’s Voice” on Saturday evening (7 p.m., First Presbyterian Church), with guest soloist Gal Faganel, cello.

Friday and Sunday the Boulder Chamber Orchestra will present, somewhat curiously, the only piece overtly about nature: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastoral Symphony,” depicting an afternoon’s walk through the countryside. The other works on the program—the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, with Trevor playing the virtuoso solo part, and the Pavane by Gabriel Fauré—don’t have any apparent connection to nature.

For the Boulder Symphony Saturday evening, it is the composers rather than the pieces that suggested the title “Nature’s Voice.” The major works will be Sibelius’s Third Symphony and Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Faganel as soloist. Opening the concert will be the world premiere of Everything All at Once by Jonathan Sokol.

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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“Mother Nature”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, music director
Chloe Trevor, violin

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 6, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield
7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 8, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Boulder


“Nature’s Voice”
Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, music director
Gal, Faganel, cello

7 p.m. Saturday, May 7, First Presbyterian Church, Boulder



Boulder Chamber Orchestra risks “The Curse of the Ninth”

2016–17 season will explore jinxes of a 13th year, and Beethoven’s greatest work

By Peter Alexander

bsaless.4.Keith Bobo

Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bobo.

Bahman Saless likes to live dangerously.

The conductor of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) just released the group’s 2016–17 season, and they are meeting two great jinxes head-on. Titled in part “The Curse of the Ninth,” the season will feature a season-ending performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Boulder Chorale and soloists, as well as several other works that were created under the shadow of that work—considered one of the greatest creative achievements of Western music.

It is the orchestra’s 13th season, which also leads to the full title of the season: “JINX and the Curse of the 9th.”

Saless says that it was almost inevitable that the next season would include Beethoven’s Ninth. It will be the only Beethoven Symphony he has not conducted, and it is of course a work that can prove the standing of any orchestra and conductor.


Beethoven: Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

To fill out the season around such a bold choice for a chamber orchestra, Saless picked several works that illustrate the curse that supposedly came from Beethoven’s Ninth. It was such an overwhelming work that many composers were intimidated at the very prospect of attempting another symphony after it was completed in 1823.

For example Brahms, who was hailed by many as Beethoven’s successor, was not willing to present a symphony to the public until 1876—after 21 years of work on the piece, when the composer was 43 years of age, and all of 53 years after Beethoven’s Ninth was completed. Brahms First even features a melody that resembles Beethoven’s famous “Ode to Joy” from the Ninth—a similarity that, Brahms said, “any ass can see.”

The symphony was immediately greeted as the true successor to Beethoven’s symphonic legacy, and was referred to by some as “Beethoven’s Tenth.”

Another aspect to the “curse of the Ninth” was the notion that subsequent composers could not complete more than nine symphonies. Mahler famously tried to dodge the curse, finally finishing a Ninth Symphony but dying before he could finish his 10th. Tchaikovsky finished six, started a seventh and reached nine only if you count a couple of tone poems. Others, such as Dvořák and Bruckner, only just managed to finish nine.

Schubert is another composer with a famous final Ninth Symphony, but he also left three unfinished symphonies from the last years of his life. One of these—the most famous “Unfinished” Symphony of all, his Symphony No. 8 in B minor—will also be on the season schedule next year.


Nicholas Carthy

The season will offer another final symphony, though not a ninth: Mendelssohn’s rarely performed Symphony No. 5 (“Reformation”), on a concert to be led by guest conductor Nicholas Carthy from the CU Eklund Opera Program. Carthy will also be a soloist on the same concert, playing and conducting Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor, K491.

Other soloists during the season will be the young Chinese violinist Yabing Tan, playing Henryk Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 2. Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick will play the U.S. premiere of a Violin Concerto titled How Did it Get so Late so Soon! by David A. Jaffe, a composer best known for his work in computer music and the development of the NeXT Music Kit software. The concerto has been written for Pollick, and will be premiered by her at the Tytuvenai Festival in Lithuania in August.


Lindsay Deutsch

Yet another violin soloist on the season will be Lindsay Deutsch returning to the BCO to perform two pieces written for her. The brand new Beatles Fantasy by video-game composer Maxime Goulet will be premiered with the Bartlesville Symphony in Oklahoma; and Deutsch will also play Saless’s own Tango Variations, based on the popular song “Nature Boy.” It was written for her by the BCO’s conductor and premiered with the BCO in 2010.

Another feature of the season will be the inclusion of works usually thought of as full symphonic repertoire, including the Brahms and Mendelssohn symphonies. Certainly the Beethoven Ninth is not generally considered a chamber orchestra piece. Originally performed in Beethoven’s lifetime with an orchestra of about 78 players, it requires an orchestra large enough to support a full chorus.

Asked about this, Saless says that Beethoven performed by a small orchestra is “much more dramatic” and “more muscular.” Not to get too far into the weeds on a complex historical issue, it is true that in Beethoven’s lifetime, and for much of the 19th century, there were not many large standing orchestras like those we are accustomed to in the 21st century.

Ninth.Symphony.4 1

Manuscript page of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Small orchestras were common at the smaller courts and regional opera houses around Europe; larger orchestras were only found in the largest cities such as London and Paris, or for festive occasions, as sometimes happened in Vienna. Thus any of the Romantic works that Saless has performed recently—concertos by Brahms and Tchaikovsky, other works from the 19th century—could have been performed by smaller as well as larger orchestras.

And Saless is surely right that hearing music that is most familiar to us with the lush sound of large string sections performed by the BCO does reveal aspects of the music that we may not have heard before. By programming Beethoven’s Ninth, Saless will be giving us another opportunity to hear a familiar work in a new guise.

In addition to the orchestra concerts that have been announced, there will be a concert by the Lebanese darbuka (goblet drum) virtuoso Rony Barrak, and at least two chamber music concerts that will be announced later.


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Boulder Chamber Orchestra
Bahman Saless, music director and conductor
2016–17 Season: “JINX and The Curse of the 9th”bconew_1

September 23 & 24
With Yabing Tan, violin
Rossini: Overture to La Gazza Ladra (The thieving magpie)
Henryk Wieniawski: Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Yabing Tan, violin
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor

Karen B P

Karen Bentley Pollick

November 11 &12
With Karen Bentley Pollick, violin
Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings
Copland: Appalachian Spring
David A. Jaffe: Violin Concerto How Did it Get So Late So Soon? (U.S. Premiere)

December 10 &11
Nicholas Carthy conductor and pianist
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 in D major (“Reformation”)
Mozart: Piano Concerto in C Minor, K 491
Dvorak: Nocturne in B major for String Orchestra, op. 40

February 10 & 11
With Lindsay Deutsch, violin
Maxime Goulet: Beatles Fantasy
Bahman Saless: Tango Variations (Variations on “Nature Boy”)
Schubert: Symphony No.  8 in B minor (“Unfinished”)


Rony Barrak

April 7,8, 9
An Evening with Rony Barrak and Friends.

May 5, 6 & 7
With the Boulder Chorale & soloists TBA
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D minor