Renowned Children’s Author Jack Prelutsky joins LSO for Jan. 27 Family Concert

Longmont Youth Symphony, Young Artist Competition winner Alisa Johnson will also be featured

By Peter Alexander

When Elliot Moore wanted to bring in a superstar for the Longmont Symphony’s Family Concert, he knew whom to call.

BeholdtheBoldUmbrellaphantIn the world of children’s literature, no stars are more super then Jack Prelutsky, the first-ever U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate and multi-award winning author of more than 50 collections of poetry for children. He is also a friend of Moore’s family, and has had one of his most popular books of poems set to music, making him the perfect choice.

For the concert (4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, in Longmont’s Vance Brand Civic Auditorium), Prelutsky will narrate the performance of composer Lucas Richman’s score for Prelutsky’s Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant, and also read his poems for selections from Camille Saint-Saëns’s classic Carnival of the Animals.

Other works on the program will be the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, featuring the LSO’s Young Artist Competition winner Alisa Johnson, a senior at Niwot High School and student of James Maurer; and the finale of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 in D major, performed together with the Longmont Youth Symphony.

Prelutsky

Jack Prelutsky

Prelutsky is a musician as well as an author. A folk singer in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, he sang for several years in the Bainbridge Island (Washington) Evergreen Singers, which was conducted by Moore’s mother. “At some point he told her that somebody had set his poetry to music, and it had been recorded with the San Diego Symphony,” Moore says. “My mom gave me a phone call, so that’s how I heard about Jack and this piece, Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant.”

The book is a set of poems about creatures that are part animals and part inanimate objects, such as the umbrellaphant, the panthermometer and the clocktopus. Prelutsky says the poems were written when he was sitting in a hotel in Hawaii, unable to go to the beach because his foot hurt. “I wrote the poem ‘Shoehornets,’ thinking about shoes and feet and pain,” he says. “I had done a book, Scranimals, where I combined animals with each other and with flowers and trees. I thought this was the next step, to combine them with ordinary objects. And so it grew from there.”

Later Prelutsky met Richman, who is conductor of the Bangor (Maine) Symphony Orchestra as well as an accomplished composer. “I was very lucky to meet him,” Prelutsky says. “We’ve become friends and we work well together.”

061-IMG_1597.JPG

Lucas Richman. Photo: Jeff Kirlin, Bangor Symphony Orchestra

Richman’s music takes eager advantage of all the musical hints in the poems. Every piece has its own character, across a wide variety of styles and musical types. The Umbrellaphant features horn calls that recall elephants’ trumpeting. The Panthermometer is a cool cat who can tell you the temperature. “He gives that one all kinds of incredible jazzy things,” Moore says.

“When we read through it, we got to the end of the Panthermometer, and we all laughed! We had a lot of fun rehearsing it, and bringing more of that jazz quality into our playing.”

Prelutsky’s poems for Carnival of the Animals came about it a completely different way, since the music existed first. The American humorous poet Ogden Nash had written a set of poems to accompany Saint-Saëns popular music in the 1940s, but Prelutsky’s publisher wanted him to write a new set of poems, because Nash’s originals were outdated. His editor called and asked, “Can you write me poems to go along with the music?”

“I said ‘I’m not sure, I don’t know, no I can’t,’” Prelutsky recalls. “I said, ‘the problem is that most of these animals I’ve already written about, and I’m not sure I have anything else to say.’ And I really meant that, but she said, ‘Give me a break, just do it.’”

“So I called her the next day and I said, ‘I finished.’”

LSO Music Director Elliot Moore_preview

Elliot Moore

Prelutsky’s appearance perfectly matches Moore’s philosophy in programming family concerts. “For me, one goal for the this concert would be to show what fun can be had in classical music, whether performing, or listening, or taking part in some other way,” he says.“Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant is the most fun work on the program. However, the Longmont Symphony has things that they have traditionally done to make this family concert engaging for youth. They have featured the Young Artist Competition winner, and I think that’s a brilliant thing to do, because it allows the children to see that mastery of your instrument by a certain age is possible.

“This concert will feature Alissa Johnson, and she sounds fantastic. And another thing that I’m really excited about is sharing the stage with the Longmont Youth Symphony. This is another way for children to say to themselves, ‘Wow! There are kids doing this, they’re receiving applause, and it looks like fun!’”

Prelutsky agrees that above all, the performance should be fun for the audience. “I hope it makes you enjoy language,” he says. “And I hope you get a laugh out of it.”

# # # # #

Family Concert: Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant
Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor

SAINT-SAËNS: Selections from Carnival of the Animals
     Jack Prelutsky, narrator
MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto, 1st movement
Alisa Johnson, violin, Young Artist Competition Winner
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 (Finale)
With the Longmont Youth Symphony
LUCAS RICHMAN: Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant
     Jack Prelutsky, narrator

4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont
Tickets

 

Advertisements

Busy Altius Quartet returns to CU Jan. 21–22

Three concerts by the Takacs Quartet will feature appearances by CU faculty artists

By Peter Alexander

The Altius Quartet is on the move.

Overtones-Casual.Courtney-Hudffman

altos Quartet. Photo by Courtney Huffmann.

Formerly quartet-in-residence with CU’s esteemed Takacs Quartet, Altius has found themselves very busy, building their already-blossoming career. Since completing the residency, the group—comprising Andrew Giordano and Joshua Ulrich, violin, Andrew Krimm, viola, and Zachary Reaves, cello—has kept Colorado as their home base while recording two CDs, taking a trip to Beijing to collaborate with composer Bright Sheng, completing a tour of California, and giving other performances in Boulder and elsewhere.

Next they will appear on the Takacs concert series, with performances in CU’s Grusin Music Hall Sunday and Monday, Jan. 21 and 22. The series continues through the spring, with performances by the Takacs Quartet Feb. 4-5, March 11-12 and April 29-30.

A major work on the Jan. 21-22 program is taken from Altius’s recent CD of music by Shostakovich, the personal and darkly expressive String Quartet No. 8. Written in a time of despair for the composer, it is dedicated “to the victims of fascism and war,” but it is above all a reflection of Shostakovich’s own bleak thoughts at the time.

Other works on the program are Haydn’s well known “Emperor” String Quartet in C major, which includes a set of variations on “God Save Emperor Francis,” the anthem the composer wrote for Austrian Emperor Francis III; Through Fog, written for the Altius Quartet by JP Merz; and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E minor, op. 44 no. 2.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

# # # # #

Altius Quartet
Music of Haydn, Shostakovich, JP Merz and Mendelssohn

4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21
7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 22
Grusin Music Hall

Takacs Quartet
Music of Mozart, Vaughan-William and Dohnányi
With Matthew Chellis and Andrew Cooperstock, piano

4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 4
7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 5
Grusin Music Hall

Music of Mozart, Boccherini, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Beethoven
With Nicolò Spera, guitar

4 p.m. Sunday, March 11
7:30 p.m. Monday, March 12
Grusin Music Hall

Music of Dohnányi, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky
With Erika Eckert, viola, and David Requiro, cello

4 p.m. Sunday, April 29
7:30 p.m. Monday, April 30
Grusin Music Hall

All tickets through CU Presents

Simone Dinnerstein brings performance magic and a new piece to Boulder

Concerto by Philip Glass receives standing ovation at Macky Auditorium

By Peter Alexander

Simone.D.2.by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein brought her deep sensitivity and considerable magic to Macky Auditorium last night, performing a remarkable new piano concerto by Philip Glass with the string sections of the Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman.

Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3 was written for Dinnerstein, and her Boulder performance was part of the world premiere tour of the concerto. It is a major work that should achieve considerable success with audiences in the years to come, as it did last night in Macky.

Glass’s characteristic gestures are easily found in the score, but they have been transfigured. His usual pulsing rhythms are more gentle, serving and supporting melody and harmony. The music has an emotional immediacy throughout, and the third movement in particular has moments of seductive beauty. The ending is extended, creating a hypnotic, almost ritualistic quality around lovely bits of melody. The slow unfolding of these final thoughts quietly recalls compelling passages from Glass’s previous works.

Glass-Photo

Philip Glass

At 80, Glass is entitled to write with a more valedictory and consoling tone, but there are likely two specific reasons for the nature of this piece. First, it was written for Dinnerstein. When she told Glass how much it fit her playing and her personality, he said “Well, I wrote it for you.” It’s hard to know how her influence manifests itself, but I heard a deep poeticism and introspective lyricism, qualities associated with Dinnerstein’s playing that also mark many moments in the concerto.

The other reason is the influence of J.S. Bach, a composer Dinnerstein is renowned for playing and whose Keyboard Concerto in G minor will be paired with the Glass on the current tour. There are no quotes or direct echoes of that specific piece in the Glass score, but I found it notable that the music is shaped largely by harmonic patterns, as if it were based on a Bach-like chorale, but one that wanders into unpredictable turns and paths.

Dinnerstein had both the notes and the inner life of the piece well under her fingers. Playing with evident love for the concerto, she found depths of expression in the music, including some of the simpler moments technically. Her playing was ably supported by Butterman and the Phil.

Not everyone loves Glass, but for me the performance was deeply moving, revealing both the quiet humanity of the composer and the commitment of the soloist. Standing ovations are de rigueur in Boulder, but this one seemed especially heartfelt.

The rest of the program was musically fascinating—a symphony by C.P.E., son of J.S. Bach, and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) on the fist half, and J.S. Bach’s G minor Concerto preceding the Glass. However, all three works, calling for only strings, suffered the same fate of being swallowed by Macky Auditorium’s unforgiving acoustics. Small ensembles, and strings in particular, invariably sound distant and a little cold in the hall.

The C.P.E. Bach Symphony received a refined performance, with transparent textures, and a smooth transition between the first two movements. But the characteristics of C.P.E. Bach’s mid-18th-century Rococo style, the use of sudden and shocking harmonic jolts and unexpected stops and starts, lost the larger share of its impact in the hall. The more’s the pity: C.P.E. Bach is a fascinating composer who should spice up any program—but only if the effects land with the audience.

Butterman introduced Schoenberg’s piece with a useful listener’s guide to the main ideas of the music, and how they are laid out in the score. One of the great musical/emotional outpourings of the late Romantic musical style, Verklärte Nacht portrays a passionate story of forgiveness and redemption, in which a dark and gloomy forest path is transfigured into a glittering scene of starlit beauty by the power of love.

The audience is meant to be enveloped in the lush harmonies of the score, and indeed I could see that the orchestra was playing with great intensity. Alas, the sound again was swallowed by the hall. It was well conducted and well played by the orchestra, but from Row U, it sounded all too polite and restrained to fit a story of passion.

The performance of J.S. Bach’s G-minor Concerto was a little cotton-woolish in the orchestra when more lean muscle would serve the music better, but likely this is another manifestation of Macky’s acoustics. Dinnerstein played with a clear sense of line and overall form. With a Steinway grand and modern string instruments, this was not a historically-informed performance, but Bach’s music is so ideal in conception that it does not depend on the medium.

All other issues aside, Dinnerstein, Butterman and the Boulder Phil scored a great success with the Glass Concerto. It’s only January, but that should be on any list of the year’s highlights.

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein returns to the Boulder Phil for new concerto

Philip Glass wrote his Third Piano Concerto for his former young fan

By Peter Alexander

The first time Simone Dinnerstein attended a concert alone she was 12, and she heard music by Philip Glass.

Simone.D.by Lisa-Marie Mazzocco

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Marie Mazzocco.

Dinnerstein has since become an internationally known concert pianist and Glass has turned 80. And remarkably, he has now written a new piano concerto for his former young fan, which she will play Jan 13 and 14 for her return to the Boulder Phil.

“It’s exciting when you discover music as a young person, and it’s your own music that has not been shown to you by a parent or a teacher,” Dinnerstein says. “So there is something kind of surreal about having him write something for me! And the fact that he wrote something as magnificent as this piano concerto is really an incredible honor.

“I can’t quite digest the fact that he wrote that for me.”

Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3 will be on a program titled “Bach Transfigured.” The concert, featuring the orchestra’s strings under music director Michael Butterman, will also feature the Symphony in C Major by C.P.E. Bach, Transfigured Night by Arnold Schoenberg, and J.S. Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in G minor.

# # # # #

“Bach Transfigured”
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Simone Dinnerstein, piano

C.P.E. BACH  Symphony in C Major, Wq 183, no.. 3
ARNOLD SCHOENBERG  Transfigured Night
J.S. BACH  Keyboard Concerto in G minor, BWV 1058
PHILIP GLASS  Piano Concerto No. 3
     Colorado premiere, a Boulder Phil co-commission

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, Macky Auditorium
2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 14, Pinnacle Performing Arts Complex, Denver

Tickets