Nineteen voices a snap for Ars Nova singers

Music of Renaissance England forms “Voices and Viols” program

By Peter Alexander

A choral piece for “only” 19 parts is almost too easy for the experienced voices of Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers.

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Ars Nova Singers

Last year they sang two pieces in 40 parts, which artistic director Thomas Edward Morgan admits was “a challenging thing to do — in the middle of winter and flu season!” Each of the 40 parts had to be sung by only a single singer, so any absences would have scuttled the performance. 

With those works successfully performed last year, the group is now adding a 19-voice motet from the Renaissance to their list of musical accomplishments. “The group discovered that having done [the 40-voice pieces] last year, this other piece is considerably more accessible,” Morgan says.

The piece is “O bone Jesu” (Oh, good Jesus), by the 16th-century Scottish composer Robert Carver, which Morgan has wanted to perform for a long time. It will be part of “Voices and Viols,” a joint concert between Ars Nova and STRING, a viola da gamba trio directed by Ann Marie Morgan. “Voices and Viols” will be performed Saturday evening, Feb. 25, in Boulder and Sunday afternoon, Feb. 26, in Denver.

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STRING

The viola da gamba is a fretted string instrument of the Renaissance period that is played with a bow. The name, meaning “viol for the leg,” refers to the fact that the instruments are held between the legs, like a modern cello. STRING was formed in 2016 by Anne Marie Morgan with fellow gambists Sarah Biber and Sandra Miller to perform music for gamba as it was originally heard.

Because the gamba was particularly popular in England during the 16th and 17th centuries, that was the music that was the natural fit for their joint program with Ars Nova. “Voices and Viols” will include verse anthems works by William Byrd, Thomas Morley and Orlando Gibbons, three of the most important Renaissance English composers. STRING will also play works for gambas alone on each half of the concert.

Morgan is excited about the opportunity to perform with the gambas. “Because they don’t use modern vibrato, the gamba doesn’t have as directly emotional a sound,” he says. “It’s a much more subtle thing.

“It makes for a unique showcase of this repertoire, and challenges both the singers and the audience to tune in to the details.”

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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Voices and Viols
Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan, director
STRING, Ann Marie Morgan, director

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder
4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver

Tickets

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“As a conductor, the role is to help orchestra members . . . . so you’re serving them.”

—David Rutherford, candidate for Music Director of the Longmont Symphony

By Peter Alexander

Each of the four candidates for music director of the Longmont Symphony 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.

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David Rutherford

The third candidate, David Rutherford, will conduct the LSO on Saturday, Feb. 25.  Rutherford is well known in Colorado for his position on air with Colorado Public Radio’s Classical Music station, and in Longmont as rehearsal conductor and conductor of family concerts with the LSO.

His program will be: Danzon No. 2 by Arturo Marquez; Five Bagatelles, Op. 23, by Gerald Finzi, with Stephanie Zelnick, clarinet; Symphony No. 2 in D major by Johannes Brahms.

Here are his answers to the questions I asked:

What first attracted you to the Longmont Symphony?

 Years ago [former LSO music director] Bob Olson had programmed the Peter Schickele version of Beethoven’s Fifth where there’s two sports commentators, a play-by-play and a color commentator along with the orchestra, and I got a call to come play one of the commentators. So I came up and did that, and that’s how I first met Bob. There was a need for a substitute rehearsal conductor, and I said, “If you ever need anyone to fill in, let me know.” Bob said “Sure, go ahead and bring him in for a rehearsal.” Bob liked my work, so he asked me to do that again in the next season. He continued to like my work until he was using me exclusively [for rehearsals].

It was never my intent to overplay my role. I was hired as a rehearsal conductor, and that’s what I was. My job was to serve Bob and to serve the orchestra, and to get them ready for him coming in. And I was always really happy in that role.

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

 The audience has to be kept in mind so that they get to hear things that they expect to hear and also get introduced to new works that are worth hearing.  So in any one of my programs you would find familiar and unfamiliar, in a balance that makes sense for that particular program.

A community orchestra is different from a professional orchestra in that these folks aren’t getting paid—or not very much. The reason they’re there is that they want to play—so, programming works for them that they really enjoy playing. Together we can enjoy exploring and making great music together, so that when we’re done with our process and we invite the audience in, sharing music with them and them sharing the experience with us, we all really enjoy what we’re doing.

I like to program in themes, and find music that helps you understand this theme, whatever it might be, in new ways. The nice thing about music is that it helps us understand other experiences. And so music always helps us to understand the rest of our lives.

There have recently been alarm bells for classical music and orchestras, especially the larger orchestras that have had serious 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?

 I would say that the challenges are very different. Because, once again, this is not a job for [the orchestra members]. Most everybody in a community orchestra is coming from work to something that they enjoy. The people are coming because they really love it and want to make music. And so the orchestra institution in this case exists much more for the players.

In balance, the reason a professional orchestra exists is not for the players, it’s for the audience. In a community orchestra, the orchestra exists in large part just for the players. Now that’s not to say that there is not thought of the audience. In fact, when the audience realizes, ‘Hey, these guys really love it,’ and the music that they’re making is really good, then the audience is brought along for the ride, and together then we become a larger community surrounding this music-making activity.

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David Rutherford

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?

 Isn’t that the thing about conducting? That it is so multi-faceted, and even when you’re standing up on the podium just doing the conducting thing, there are so many things happening simultaneously. I always describe the conductor’s mind as being in three time zones simultaneously. Because you’re creating the music in your mind ahead of the moment that it happens, and then there is the moment that it happens, and then there’s after it happens you are evaluating what just happened.

That’s analogous to so many things about conducting. Because you’re a cheerleader, you’re an advocate, you’re a disciplinarian, you’re a psychologist, a counselor—and that’s all still just standing on the podium! But then you’re also working with the board, and you’re working with patrons, and you’re working with the audience. And I think what it all comes down to is understanding as a conductor that your role is as a servant in all of these aspects, that you serve the orchestra. As a conductor, the role is to help orchestra members to overcome whatever little issues are here and there, and to come to that point where they can do what they want to do. So you’re serving them.

You’re also serving the audience in helping them to understand what’s going on, and to program in a way that they’re included. And serving the board, making sure that the orchestra that is on stage is the orchestra that the board thinks it is, and that’s a communication issue. So you’re serving the board in giving them the information that they need, and giving them the understanding of the orchestra that they need so that they can continue to do the work that they do. And patrons, in working with them, it’s serving them and trying to figure out how it is that they can understand the orchestra as an asset to our community. It is really the role of a servant in all situations.

About you now: Where did you grow up?

 In two places, but both in Colorado. I was born at Rose Memorial Hospital in Denver, and we lived in Littleton until I was 8, in third grade. We moved up to Grand Lake. So I grew up, really, up in the mountains. I went to elementary school, junior high and high school in Granby, driving that 16 mils every day from Grand Lake to Granby.

Did you come from a musical family?

 My mom played a little piano, my dad played folk guitar, so I know a bunch of old cowboy songs because of him.

I played trumpet in elementary school. In 7th grade I was able to play in the high school band if I switched to horn, so in 7th grade I switched to horn and played all the way through my first year of college. But in high school the big thing is to play in jazz band. So I told my band director, “I want to play in the jazz band!” He sent me home with a book and an electric bass and I started playing in jazz band the next day. That’s how I got started playing bass.

20DNLSOrutherford.jpg David Rutherford, Courtesy photo. David Rutherford

David Rutherford

I went to UNC for the jazz program. But they said, you can’t major in this (miming electric bass), you have to play this (miming upright bass). By the fall of my second year I had really pretty much fallen in love with playing orchestra bass. And so by the time I was a senior I was playing in six orchestras.

Who are your musical mentors?

 First and foremost would be Elza Daugherty, the long-time music education professor at UNC, for his understanding of how it is that we each individually have our own stories and our own connections with music.

Howard Skinner, the long-time conductor of the Greeley Philharmonic and dean of the School of Music at UNC, for his incredible musicality. He was very organized, very professional. I studied conducting with him and he was really amazing—and still is.

And third would be my bass teacher Ed Krolick, who has since passed away. But he taught me to think while I play. He would continually ask you, ‘OK, you just did this. Why did you do that?’ What he’s teaching me is that everything you do in music—that nothing’s left to chance. He also taught me how to play the bass, but he taught me to think while I play.

Are there any conductors today whose work you especially admire?

 You know there’s a lot. I think Andrew Litton really is a terrific conductor. I think John Eliot Gardner is really amazing in  getting what he does out or orchestras. And I really like his approach to that transitional, even late Romantic stuff, the Brahms, the recordings that he’s done with the Romantic & Revolutionary Orchestra. I just think he’s terrific. Yannick Nezit-Seguin is amazing. You could go on and on and on!

Moving on the sillier questions: Do you have a favorite food?

 My favorite restaurant in Denver right now is Café Brazil in Denver. I’ve never been in a restaurant that puts more flavor in its food than Café Brazil. It’s at 44th and Lowell. And so that’s really terrific. I like Asian food. I met my wife when I was living in Hawaii, and I miss the Korean barbecue that’s in Hawaii.

As you know, Colorado is an outdoor recreation state. What is your favorite activity outdoors?

I love to hunt and to hike and to camp. Backpacking is really terrific. I like bicycling. Any excuse I can get to head up into the mountains, because growing up in the mountains—I can’t be a conductor year-round in the mountains, but if I could, I would! I love the fresh air, and when I’m hunting I love being the only person within a mile of where I’m standing. There’s a solitude and a solace and a beauty in the quiet that I miss.

Do you follow any sport or team?

 I am the quintessential fair-weather fan of the Rockies and the Broncos. I don’t always watch.

 

A star-studded week at CU

By Peter Alexander

It will be a week of superstars in Boulder.

First will be famed Wagnerian soprano Deborah Voigt, presenting her one-woman show Voigt Lessons at Macky Auditorium on Saturday. Then the University of Colorado Boulder’s own superstars, the Takács String Quartet, begin a spring series of concerts in Grusin Hall with some of the stars from the CU Boulder music faculty Sunday and Monday. And next Wednesday, Feb. 22, Yo-Yo Ma presents a concert in Macky that, alas for latecomers, has been sold out for months.

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Deborah Voigt. Photo by Heidi Gutman.

Voigt’s one-woman show was written for her by Terrence McNally, the Tony-, Obie- and Emmy-award winning playwright, screenwriter and librettist for musicals and operas. A brutally honest retelling of her struggles during her career, the show is, Voigt says, “very much a story about a Midwest girl who turns out to be an international opera diva.”

The script includes songs that are especially meaningful to Voigt — most of them not operatic or art songs. “When people come to the theater, they’re not given a list of songs,” she says. “I want them to be surprised.”

She does reveal that she opens with a Carpenters song, “because I was a huge Karen Carpenter fan, and that’s the music I listened to. There is an art song and a definite nod to opera, of course.”

Voigt Lessons is based in part on Voigt’s 2015 book, Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-To-Earth Diva. Both the book and the show are remarkably frank about Voigt’s problems with weight, with addictions, and with relationships. “I just wanted to be honest about everything that had happened,” she says.

She’s pretty sure everyone will enjoy the show. “It’s going to be an entertaining evening,” she says. “There are some laughs, maybe a couple of funny expletives, there’s some drama. It’s a very intimate show.”

The Takács Quartet opens its spring series of six concerts performing with percussionist Douglas Walter and clarinetist Daniel Silver, both CU faculty members, Sunday and Monday Feb. 19 and 20. The concert will open with Beethoven’s String Quartet in G major, op. 18 no. 2. Walter will play Michael Colgrass’ Variations for Four Drums and Viola with Takács member Geraldine Walther, and Silver will join the full quartet for Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B minor, op. 115.

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Takacs Quartet. Photo by Keith Saunders.

That pattern of that program — guests from the CU faculty and one Beethoven quartet — will continue in the other concerts this spring. “We are so grateful to have so many talented artists and wonderful people to collaborate with on the music faculty,” Ed Dusinberre, the quartet’s first violinist, says. “This year we decided we would, more than usual, make them a feature of our programming.”

The collaboration with CU faculty is important to the quartet, because it gives them opportunities to perform music that otherwise is difficult for them to put together. “We decided to feature pieces here (in Boulder) that we wouldn’t so easily be able to do on the road,” Dusinberre says.

“When we’re on the road, there’s not a lot of time to rehearse. Those (pieces with CU music faculty) are the sorts of pieces that we wouldn’t typically get together on the road.”

The Beethoven quartets on the concerts form a small sample of the full cycle of the composer’s 16 quartets that the Takacs are playing at Wigmore Hall in London and various places in the U.S. As associate artists of the Wigmore, they were invited to perform the full cycle during the current season.

9780226374369The Beethoven performances also tie in to Dusinberre’s recently published book, Beethoven for a Later Age: Living with the String Quartets, a highly readable personal recollection of Dusinberre’s experiences with the quartets that also provides remarkable insights into the lives of professional quartet players.

The upcoming concerts March 19 and 20 will feature Beethoven’s final String Quartet in F major, op. 135, and Haydn’s String Quartet in F major, op. 77 no. 2. Walther and guests Abigail Nims, alto, and Margaret McDonald, piano, will perform Two Songs for Alto, Viola and Piano by Brahms.

And on April 30 and May 1 the quartet will play Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat major, op. 18 no. 6. Soprano Jennifer Bird will perform Chausson’s Chanson perpétuelle with the full quartet and Alexandra Nguyen will perform Clara Schumann’s Three Romances, op. 21, with Dusinberre. That program and the spring concert series will conclude with Schubert’s much-loved “Trout” Quintet, with David Korevaar, piano, and Paul Erhard, double bass.

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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Voigt Lessons
Deborah Voigt, soprano
7:30 p.m.. Saturday, Feb. 18, Macky Auditorium

Takacs Quartet
4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19
7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20
Grusin Music Hall, CU Imig Music Building

Tickets