Boulder Chamber Orchestra opens 13th season, titled “Jinx”

Highly polished violin soloist and rocky Brahms First fill the program

By Peter Alexander

Last night Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra opened “Jinx,” their 13th season, with a program that challenged the orchestra and the soloist, violinist Yabing Tan.

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John Tayer in his natural environment as CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce

The concert in the Boulder Adventist Church on Mapleton opened with an appearance by Boulder Chamber of Commerce CEO John Tayer as guest conductor. The orchestra played Johan Strauss, Jr.’s spirited Tritsch Tratsch Polka with appropriate vigor, while Tayer provided choreography on the podium—posing on one foot, making pantomime gestures and leading the audience in clapping. There was no sign of a jinx in this cheerful start to the season.

The rest of the concert’s first half was given over to Tan’s performance of two staples of the violin repertoire, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saëns and Henryk Wieniawski’s Second Concerto. The order—Strauss, Saint-Saëns, Wieniawski—was like going from desert to main course, but all the dishes were well prepared.

Tan earned her appearance with the BCO as winner of the Classic Alive Artist Competition. She has a silky sound that was well displayed throughout. She has said of the Saint-Saëns “if you practice for years and hours, then it’s not so hard.” Clearly she has put in the practice, because the music was completely under control. If anything, it seemed too easy, so comfortable that the music’s innate drama was understated.

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Yabing Tan

The same was true to some extent of her polished performance of the Wieniawski Concerto. She flashed through all the technical passages easily, while floating beautifully through the lyrical passages. The only thing missing was a fiery spark of excitement.

The Romance emerged as a lovely interlude between the outer movements, as Tan carried Wieniawski’s lyrical lines with great tenderness. She was aided by outstanding playing from the solo clarinet. The performance caught fire in the à la Zingara (gypsy style) finale, providing a bit of flash and dash for the ending. Saless and the BCO provided sympathetic support throughout.

Brahms’s First Symphony is a serious and complex work, Brahms’s studied answer to expectations that he would follow Beethoven as the great German symphonist. This large-scale symphony was a severe test for the small forces of the BCO, pushing them to and sometimes beyond their limit. All the notes were in place, the dynamic contours generally clear, but Brahms needs more than that.

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BCO conductor Bahman Saless

To begin with, the orchestra failed to retune before beginning the symphony. The pitch never really settled comfortably until the players finally tuned again before the last movement. The lack of precise pitch agreement created a muddied and raw sound, especially when the full ensemble was playing. This compounded the natural problems that result when a small orchestra undertakes a piece that requires weight and strength.

Problems were evident in the very first notes of the introduction, when the timpani, positioned in a corner of the resonant church sanctuary, overwhelmed the rest of the orchestra. In the rest of the introduction one heard mostly a wall of wind sound, with moving lines within the small-ish string section rendered almost inaudible.

Once the Allegro portion of the movement got underway, the more lightly scored passages were much more satisfactory. Tutti climaxes, however, always tended to sound heavy and unclear. Full chords from the winds and rhythmic impulses from the brass often covered the strings. Since the strings carry much of the musical argument, a lot of what was happening in the score was not available to the listeners.

Another problem, at least in the space of the Adventist Church, is that the limited range of dynamics and weight available to a smaller orchestra did not allow for powerful contours over longer stretches of music. In other words, local contours were well shaped, but across longer spans everything fell within the same range. Extremes were lost, at both the delicate and weighty ends of the spectrum.

With intonation improved, the beginning of the finale was the best part of the symphony. The buildup to the big theme, which Saless had pointed out before the performance, was effective, and the ending achieved a satisfying level of excitement and impact.

There were outstanding performances by the individual players in the orchestra—the principal clarinet, flute and oboe were notable. Concertmaster Annamaria Karacson’s solos were beautifully played. The horn had some lovely moments, although always at the risk of overwhelming the string sound.

In short, the individual players fully met the challenges of Brahms’s First. Alas, the BCO collectively did not. The strengths and weaknesses of the performance should stand as a cautionary note for chamber orchestras venturing into large-orchestra territory.

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BCO Opens Risky 13th Season

Season opens with Brahms’ First, ends with Beethoven’s Ninth

By Peter Alexander

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BCO Music Directo Bahman Saless. Photo courtesy of Boulder Chamber Orchestra.

Unlike high-end hotels, Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) do not shy away from the bad luck associated with the number 13.

In fact they are embracing the risk, calling their upcoming 13th season “Jinx” and boldly ending the season with a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a work that has its own implied curse. In a concert titled “Ode to Joy,” the BCO will join forces with the Boulder Chorale to perform the Ninth May 5 in Macky Auditorium, with additional performances in Lakewood May 6 and Lone Tree May 7.

The rest of the season, subtitled “The Curse of the Ninth,” includes violinist Karen Bentley Pollick playing the American premiere of a new concerto by David Jaffee (Nov. 11 and 12); a guest appearance by CU opera music director Nicholas Carthy, conducting and playing Mendelssohn and Mozart (Dec. 10 and 11); BCO’s annual New Year’s eve concert; the return of violinist Lindsay Deutsch (Feb. 10 and 11); another returning soloist, percussionist Rony Barrak (April 7, 8 and 9); and several smaller concerts through the season (details at boulderchamberorchestra.com).

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Violinist Yabing Tan will be the BCO soloist Sept. 23–24

The so-called “Curse of the Ninth” has been a danger mostly for composers. The real risk for the BCO may be the fact that Beethoven’s Ninth demands a certain weight from the orchestra, and Macky Auditorium is a big space for a small orchestra.

Stretching the chamber orchestra repertoire is nothing new for Saless and the BCO: recent seasons have included large Romantic concertos by Brahms and Tchaikovsky. And this weekend’s opening concert of the 2016–17 season (Friday in Broomfield, Saturday in Boulder) includes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, a staple for full-sized symphonies.

In addition to Brahms, the program features violinist Yabing Tan playing two virtuoso pieces from the Romantic era, the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saëns and Henryk Wieniawski’s Second Concerto.

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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Boulder Chamber Orchestra
Bahman Saless, music director

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13th season: “Jinx—The Curse of the Ninth”
Full season schedule

Opening concert: “The Elephant in the Room”
Bahman Saless, conductor, with Yabing Tan, violin
Saint-Saëns: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso op. 28
Wieniawski: Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor

7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23
Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield

8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24
Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder

Tickets

Spanning the Globe at the Dairy

Designed to be “very eclectic,” the fall season ranges from Bosnia to Venezuela

By Peter Alexander

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Cabaret singer Lannie Garrett will present “Under Paris Skies” at the Dairy Arts Center Sept. 15.

On Oct. 8, The Dairy Arts Center will present a concert titled “World Beat,” but that enticing title could easily be applied to most of The Dairy calendar this fall.

“World Beat” features music from Turkey, Japan and Venezuela. Before that (Sept. 21), “A Place for Us” will have music from Bosnia, Palestine, Romania, Russia and Mexico. Less than a week before that (Sept. 15), cabaret singer Lannie Garrett will present “Under Paris Skies,” which comes just after the season-opening “Flamenco Fantastic!” (Sept. 9; sold out). And that all happens before a concert of music from Japan and India (“YO,” Oct. 29).

It is no accident that musical wanderlust characterizes the wide-ranging concert series at The Dairy. “If you look at the various types of music that appear over this fall series, the design is to be very eclectic,” says James Bailey, The Dairy’s music curator.

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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Fall 2016 Concerts at the Diary
James Bailey, Music Curator

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Dairy Center for the Arts

7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9:
“Flamenco Fantastic” (SOLD OUT)

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15: Jazz at the Dairy
“Under Paris Skies” with Lannie Garrett

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21: One Night Only/World Peace Day
“A Place for Us,” honoring displaced humans around the world

2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5: Soundscape
“World Beat”

6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9: One Night Only
“Alive! New Music at the Dairy”

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20: One Night Only
“The Music of Art and the Art of Music,” Jennifer Hayghe, piano

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29: One Night Only
“YO” Music from the Heart of Japan and the Spirit of India

2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9: Soundscape
“Prepare” with David Korevaar, piano, and Helander Dance Theatre

2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7: Soundscape
Acoustic Eidolon

Tickets for all Dairy performances: 303-444-7328
Tickets and program details online:
One Night Only
Soundscape
Jazz at the Dairy

NOTE: Recent renovations to the Dairy’s lobby and facade are now complete