With BCO, comfortably familiar Americana takes many forms

By Peter Alexander


Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

“The Americans,” the current program of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO), offers comfortably familiar Americana in several different guises.

The program, led by conductor Bahman Saless and featuring violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, was performed last night (Nov. 11) in the Broomfield Auditorium. It will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave. (tickets).

The program opens with genteel music from America’s “Gilded Age” of the late 19th century, the Air and Gavotte from Bostonian Arthur Foote’s Serenade for Strings. Here, the American-ness resides mostly in Foote’s careful homage to the music of Europe and avoidance of anything overtly American—characteristic of American high culture at the time, especially in New England.

Tenderly played by the BCO, the Air made a gentle start to the program. The following Gavotte is a Romanticized, drawing-room version of the Baroque dance, but none the less pleasant for that. Both were played with care.


Composer David Jaffe

Leaping more than 120 years, the BCO followed with the American premiere of David Jaffe’s Violin Concerto, How Did it Get so Late so Soon? This highly personal but unmistakably American work received a vigorous performance from the orchestra and Pollick, for whom the concerto was written, and by whom it was premiered in Lithuania Aug. 27.

A former bluegrass musician, Jaffe has filled the score with quotes and references to American music from the blues to the protest music of the 1930s. You may not hear the Woody Guthrie song he quotes, but the overall tone will be familiar to American audiences. The blues inflections, the outbreaks of Appalachian fiddling, the folk-tune-like melodies all come from a world we recognize.

There are portions of the concerto that sound as American as anything by Copland. But these ideas are always refracted thought a Charles Ives-ian sensibility, so that the music never settles into an extensive folkish groove. To my ears, that makes it all the more interesting: you never know what will happen next, but it all hangs together in a fascinating mélange. Bravo to Saless and the BCO for programming a work that deserves to be heard widely.


Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick

The orchestra played with a natural and relaxed understanding of Jaffe’s style. The small string section was always solid, and the second movement in particular featured some outstanding wind playing.

An enthusiastic advocate of the music she performs, Pollick played with great energy and conviction. Disclosure: I have known her since we were both music students in the 1980s, but to my entirely non-objective ear, she handled the concerto with virtuosic ease.

The rest of the program is too familiar to require extensive comment. In these fractious times, the Barber Adagio for Strings could be heard as an expression of sorrow for our broken country, and Copland’s Appalachian Spring as the hope that if we follow our hearts, things can be mended. But I doubt that anyone really wants to hear music as political metaphor.

The Barber was played with warmth and careful dynamic control. When played by a chamber orchestra, Appalachian Spring becomes less rugged, more delicate. There were a few bobbles, but Copland’s tender lyricism and robust energy were well conveyed. When everyone was having as much fun as Saless broadcast from the podium, further criticism seems irrelevant.

Boulder Chamber Orchestra presents music grown from friendship

By Peter Alexander

David A. Jaffe’s new Violin Concerto grew out of a friendship between the composer and a Colorado violinist.


Karen Bentley Police in her Evergreen home

Karen Bentley Pollick, who lives in Evergreen, will play the American premiere of the concerto, titled How Did it Get so Late so Soon?, Friday in Broomfield and Saturday in Boulder. The concerto is part of “The Americans,” a program by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO)and conductor Bahman Saless. 

Other works on the program are the Air and Gavotte for strings by Arthur Foote, the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, and Aaron Copland’s much loved Appalachian Spring. The all-American program is designed as a tribute for Veteran’s Day, which coincides with the Friday concert. As part of the observation, BCO is offering free tickets to all veterans, available at the door both dates.

Pollick played the world premiere of Jaffe’s concerto, which was written for her, at the Tytuvenai Festival in Lithuania on Aug. 27 of this year. “I strongly believe music is made between people who know each other,” she says. “The history of music is people writing with and for people that they’re fond of.”

Pollick and Jaffe met in the 1980s, when the composer was working at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. Since then, the violinist has played several of his works, including Impossible Animals for violin and computer-generated voices, and his Cluck Old Hen Variations for solo violin.

“Come with open minds, and we’ll have a love fest through Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Barber’s Adagio, and the U.S. premiere of this concerto” Pollick says.“My dream is to unite our audience through the celebration of eloquent varieties of American music, and the U.S. premiere of the violin concerto, creating a transcendent and memorable experience for all present.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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“The Americans”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Karen Bentley Pollick, violin


Arthur Foote: Air and Gavotte
Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings
Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring
David A Jaffe: Violin Concerto, How Did it Get so Late so Soon? (U.S. premiere)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11
Broomfield Auditorium, 3 Community Park Rd., Broomfield

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder

Concerts free for Veterans


“The most important aspect of an orchestra is to really be in the community.”

—Elliot Moore, candidate for Music Director of the Longmont Symphony

By Peter Alexander

Each of the four candidates for music director of the Longmont Symphony Orchestra will conduct a concert during the 2016–17 season. When each candidate visits Longmont, I will take the opportunity to introduce him (and yes, they are all male). The questions will include serious questions about the job of a music director, but also questions that help introduce each of them to the reader. I hope this will give a clearer picture of the strengths of each candidate.

The first candidate, Elliott Moore, will conduct the orchestra on  Saturday, Nov. 12. The following works are on the program: Mozart’s Symphony No. 32 in G major; Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, with pianist Vivian Choi; and the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

Here are his answers to the questions I asked:


Elliot Moore

PA: What attracted you to the Longmont Symphony?

EM: They seemed to be an orchestra that has, first of all, a presence in the community. They seem to be an orchestra that is well run. There’s a feeling about the orchestra, and I got that already from their online presence, that they’re an orchestra that takes pride in what they do. They’re an orchestra that wants to be playing great music, and they’re an orchestra that wants to be in their community.

How do you think about programming for a community orchestra? What would a season of the LSO with Elliot Moore look like?

Whenever I think about programming, I consider a couple of different things. I consider, what does the audience want to hear, what do they expect to hear? I also always think about what will further the artistic achievement of the orchestra. If they haven’t played much from the classical period, that is something that I would want to begin focusing on, or, if they haven’t done much modern music, perhaps doing some living composers would be good for them to start doing, so that they become a well rounded orchestra in all the different musical genres. And then, once I have sort of the overall season done, I look to see if there’s something for everyone.

I think that pops plays a role in a season’s program, and the orchestra certainly has a pops series. When there are pops concerts, it’s important to still showcase the orchestra. One other thing: Something that should be in the programming would be opportunities to work with other local arts organizations, whether that be modern dance ensembles, or videographers, or choreographers—all kinds of different artistic media that the orchestra can work with in order to connect the dots within the community.

There have recently been alarm bells for classical music and orchestras, especially the larger orchestras that have had serious budget issues and labor disputes. Do you think that these problems will affect community orchestras as well? And if not, what do you think are the challenges for the smaller orchestras?


Elliot Moore

I see it as being less of an issue for the Longmont Symphony. What I think is the most important aspect of an orchestra, period, is to really be in the community. What are the specific needs of the community, and is the orchestra playing a role to address those needs? I know in Longmont there is an Hispanic population of approximately 30%, and I know also that they tend not to be coming to the LSO concerts. How, in an authentic way, can the Longmont Symphony bridge the gap to that community? Connecting different organizations, to create one incredible cultural community—I think that that is important. And I think that once you really connect with your community, in an authentic way, really thinking about it, really considering how to make this community better, then go after that. So making a plan and then taking action. When those things are done, the chances of an orchestra folding are much less because they are in the community and they are making a difference, and their presence matters, and the public knows that, they understand that and they feel that.

How do you balance and prepare for the various aspects of the conductor’s job: the musical requirements, the social demands with the public, and the diplomatic demands with contributors, the board and musicians?

That’s a really great question. Let’s talk about the musical first. The job of a conductor is largely one where you are alone a lot of the time, studying the scores. That is what informs inspiring rehearsals. It’s impossible to have inspiring rehearsals if you don’t really know your music, you don’t know the context in which it was written, or you know don’t what inspired the composers of the music you’re performing. That is probably the single most important aspect.

When conducting, I imagine myself as a conduit. I empty out and then I fill up with the music. It’s like a straw that’s flavored with chocolate flavor: when you drink milk through the straw you get chocolate milk. My experiences as a human being, they’re like that straw, so when the music flows though me, it has that flavor of Elliot, Elliot’s experiences, Elliot’s beliefs.

In terms of working with boards, fundraising, interfacing with the audience, a couple of things come into play. First of all, having a fundamental respect for everyone is very important—being able to empathize with people and see their points of view. But also having a business sense is very important. So combining vision with empathy is a very important aspect of working with people.

When the organization is more than just an orchestra, it’s a fundamental part of the community and makes the community better, then it’s easier to go and sell the orchestra to potential donors because the orchestra is not just playing a symphony; the orchestra is playing a symphony that transforms people’s lives and transforms the community. When you see fundraising from that perspective, being part of an organization that is actively fundraising is a great thing because all of these things help contribute to the wellbeing of the community. I think being an empathic person is very important.

About you, now: Where did you grow up?

I grew up in many, many different parts of the United States and the world. I was born in Anchorage, Alaska. I lived in south Denver for 6 months when I was 6 years old. I lived in Texas, for about 10 years, in Midland and Plano. Then I finished high school in Cleveland. I lived in Switzerland for 6 years—I speak French and German, I lived in the French part and the German part. And I’ve lived in New York City and now Detroit.

Did you come from a musical family?

The joke is, my mom plays piano, my dad plays tennis.

Who are your musical mentors?


Mstislav Rostropovich presenting an impromptu concert after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nov. 1989

I have a couple of musical heroes. The first one is Mstislav Rostropovich, the great cellist/conductor, in part maybe because he’s a great cellist and conductor, and I am also a cellist. What I would say about him that has been so inspiring to me over the course of my childhood and career has been the humanity that he shows to everyone. There are so many stories, but one was that there was a stage hand or maybe a custodian at the National Symphony where he worked, who passed away. Rostropovich wanted to go to the funeral, which is amazing for a music director to go to the funeral of a stage hand. He couldn’t make it to the funeral, so he went and privately played his cello at his casket, and said to the orchestra’s executive director, “I don’t want this to be a media thing, this is just me expressing my feelings about this man and to his family.”

There’s a great photo I had up in my bedroom when I was child, a photo of Rostropovich letting a soldier sleep on his shoulder. The soldier was supposed to protect him and he was so exhausted he fell asleep and Rostropovich let him sleep on his shoulder, and there was a gun leaning up against his leg. That sort of attachment to all human beings is something that I certainly strive for. The attachment to music and humanity is why he’s my musical hero.

Are there any conductors today whose work you especially admire?

I really look up to Manfred Honeck, the music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony. There are many things that I enjoy about his music making. One is his authenticity at how he brings his experience to conducting. He’s not about being in the spotlight; he’s about putting the spotlight on the music. I think that resonates with their audiences, with the players, with the orchestras with which he works. It’s a breath of fresh air to see somebody come in and be about the music, as opposed to about the spotlight.

Moving on to some less serious questions: Do you have a favorite food?

I feel like this isn’t a very interesting answer. I love all kinds of foods, and I Iove to cook. Often my wife will choose what she wants to have, and she chooses very interesting things that I would have never chosen, and then I cook them. So I love to cook, and I like trying things that are different. I have tried many different kinds of foods, and basically love them all.

Since you lived in Lausanne, Switzerland, what about raclette?

Raclette! I lived in Lausanne, yes, and I do love raclette and I do love fondue. I find that I it’s not quite the same here.

As you know, Colorado is an outdoor recreation state. Do you have a favorite activity outdoors? Or are you too busy shut up in your studio studying scores?

No, I’m not too busy shut up in my studio. The great conductor Carlo Maria Giulini said that if you have to study a score for 10 hours, you should study your score for one hour every day for 10 days and the rest of the time you should spend walking in the woods. Yesterday I had just an unbelievable experience, going up into the Rocky Mountain National Park, all the way up to the top. I love photography, and so I took some really stunning photos. It’s been a blessing to be here, for many reasons, including the outdoors, but also there are just lovely people here.

Do you follow any sport or team?

I have been a Cubs fan since I was 7 years old! There was an LSO Board meeting on the night of game 7 of the World Series, and as soon as the board meeting was over I ran into a sports bar where they had the game on, and I made a lot of new friends!


11.8. Minor typos corrected on this page


Boulder Phil in fine form for Mozart, Beethoven and Adés

Dusinberre and Walther delightful in Mozart Sinfonia Concertante

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Philharmonic was in fine form last night (Nov. 6), as they presented two exquisite soloists as part of a season of duo-solo performances.


Edward Dusinberre and Geraldine Walther

Violinist Edward Dusinberre and violist Geraldine Walther, members of the Takacs Quartet, played Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola with the orchestra. Conductor Michael Butterman also led the Phil in a fascinating work by British composer Thomas Adés and a bracing performance of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony.

But first things first: Mozart. The interplay of the two soloists is central to the Sinfonia Concertante, and it is here that Dusinberre and Walther elevated their performance to the highest level. They are of course great individual players, but as members of a world-class string quartet, chamber music partners who play together professionally virtually every day, they have honed the ability to respond to one another in tone, mood, phrasing and pitch—all the myriad details that make a great performance.

Of all the delights they offered, I will single out one: There is a joint cadenza in the first movement, with the parts written out for the players. Walther and Dusinberre were so perfectly aligned in pitch and rhythm and the freedom of their phrasing that it sounded like one person on two instruments. I have never heard that passage better.

Their experienced partnership made the performance a pleasure to watch as well as hear. You could see the communication between them, as they shared their enjoyment of Mozart’s playful interchanges between soloists in the outer movements, and the beautiful sharing of extended melodies of the slow movement. And through their interactions, they shared that enjoyment with the audience.

It has to be said that Macky is not a great venue for this work There is a reason that Butterman has programmed more Romantic works than Mozart, in order to achieve what he calls “a sonic size appropriate for Macky Auditorium.” At times the Mozart sounded distant—and if it sounds that way from Row M, what must it sound like from the back or the mezzanine?

The concert began with Adés’s Three Studies from Couperin, orchestrations of harpsichord works by the French Baroque composer François Couperin. Himself a keyboard player, Adés has said that the best day he could imagine would be playing Couperin all day. I expect few in the audience have that degree of enthusiasm for the composer, but last night’s performance may well have boosted the appreciation for his strongly characterized and characteristic works.

Like the originals, Adés’s orchestrations are highly individual, offering a wondrous mix of colors. These are watercolors to the bright paintings of some orchestra arrangements—subtle and subdued hues that were given a well blended and warm interpretation by Butterman and the orchestra.


Michael Butterman. Photo by Glenn Ross

Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony was the first orchestral score I ever owned, so the rare performances are always both musical and nostalgic treasures for me. I admit I am prejudiced in favor of anyone who programs the Eighth, but I was definitely not disappointed by last night’s performance. Even though the Eighth is scored for a smaller classical orchestra, without trombones or doubled winds, the Phil’s sound was full enough to create a real presence in the hall.

Butterman’s interpretation was highly energetic, a bit on the muscular side, but none the less enjoyable for that. He found a good balance between Beethovenian outbursts, aided and abetted by a vigorous timpanist, and the more lyrical and light-hearted moments of the symphony. The second movement, marked Allegretto scherzando, was very brisk, more scherzando than allegretto. A slightly slower pace would allow the listener to enjoy Beethoven’s good cheer a bit more in this cheeky, clucking stand-in for a slow movement.

The finale was, as it should be, even faster, but here the tempo worked entirely to Beethoven’s advantage. The Boulder Philharmonic stayed right with Butterman’s galloping pace right to the end. Beethoven’s Eighth is perhaps too light hearted to elicit cheers, but the performance was more than worthy of a hearty “Bravo!”

New Starkland CD has the antidote to the news: Accordion tunes

By Peter Alexander

Are you suffering, as I am, from “election stress disorder”?

If so, now would be a good time to take a break from politics and the news, kick back and enjoy some great accordion tunes. And just in time, Boulder’s Starkland CD label has issued a recording of just that: great accordion tunes.

61dics4g8l-_ss500Teetering on the Verge of Normalcy by accordionist Guy Klucevsek and some friends is the latest from Starkland, and it is a delight from beginning to end. From the very first track, “Moose Mouth Mirror” played by Klucevsek and violinist Todd Reynolds, the listener is in a world that is almost familiar, but, as the CD title suggests, not quite. It pulls you right in, gets you smiling and your toes tapping, and then throws you some curves that make you smile even more.

If you are not familiar with Klucevsek, he is a musician who loves the edges. Reviews of his work often stress how he transforms his instrument into something simultaneously familiar and unexpected. Downbeat calls him “A rebel with an accordion . . . . forcing you to rethink the accordion’s limitations.”


Guy Klucevsek

Long a feature of the downtown music scene, Klucevsek has performed with a remarkable list of new music artists and groups, including Laurie Anderson, Bang On a Can, Anthony Braxton, Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, the Kronos Quartet, Natalie Merchant and John Zorn. He is a founding member of Accordion Tribe, and has now released more than 20 albums. He has played on John Williams’s scores for Steven Spielberg films including The Terminal, Munich and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

 One of the things that makes Klucevsek’s music outside of “normalcy” is the use of odd and nonsymmetrical meters—5s, 7s, irregular 8s as 3+3+2. In that not-quite-normal opening track, ¾ is followed by 3/8, then 7/8, and so on. But Klucevsek performs these patterns with such fluency that it sounds smooth, whatever the meter. You don’t even notice until you try to count along.


Michael Lowenstern

Some of the most engaging music on the CD was written in memory of, or as an homage to, other composers and friends. Among my favorites are “Little Big Top,” written in memory of Nino Rota, featuring some virtuoso bass clarinet playing by Michael Lowenstern. So well is Rota’s spirit conjured that Fellini scenes from Dolce Vita to 8 ½ flash before my eyes every time I hear it. “Three Quarter Moon” in memory of Kurt Weill evokes just the right tone of decadent melancholy.

Other favorites for me are two waltz tracks: “Bob Flath Waltzes with the Angels” and “Waltzing on the Edge of Dawn.” Klucevsek’s seamless partnering with violinist Todd Reynolds should be mentioned a particular pleasure of the disc.

imagesEspecially moving for anyone who loves opera and opera singers is the nostalgic “Song of Remembrance.” It was written for Tosca’s Kiss, a film about the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, a home for retired musicians and opera singers founded by Giuseppe Verdi. “Pull up a chair, listen with me,” the haunting text begins. “In this beautiful garden, the opera’s about too begin. . . . We remember the rest.”

Pianist Alan Bern crashes Klucevsek’s party with a couple of solo pieces, including the wonderfully jazzy 5-beat “Haywire Rag.” Haywire, but delightful.

I won’t describe every track, so just get the CD. Take the advice of Seattle Weekly and “forget everything you thought you knew about the accordion.” Then settle back and go where Klucevsek takes you.

All the way to the edge of normalcy and back.

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Guy Klucevsek:  Teetering on the Verge of Normalcy. Guy Klucevsek, accordion, with Todd Reynolds, violin; Alan Bern, piano; Kamala Sankaram, voice; Peggy Kampmeier, piano; Michael Lowenstein, bass clarinet; Pete Donovan, electric bass guitar; and Barbara Merman, drums. Stark land ST-225.

Available from Amazon and iTunes.