Longmont Symphony continues exploring ‘New Frontiers’

World premiere by Michael Udow, music by Saint-Saëns and Tchaikovsky Feb. 24

By Peter Alexander Feb. 23 at 9:45 p.m.

Elliot Moore and the Longmont Symphony are opening doors and exploring new frontiers this season.

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Elliot Moore and the Longmont Symphony Orchestra

This is Moore’s first year with the orchestra, and when he arrived last fall, he was the first new conductor of the LSO in more than 30 years. For Moore, who had never lived West of the Mississippi, the move to Longmont was a new frontier in itself. The season itself is called “New Frontiers,” and the same spirit carries over into the individual concerts.

The next program, to be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, in Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, will open with the world premiere of Mountain Myths for orchestra by Michael Udow. Not only is that a new work, it is also the LSO’s first collaboration with Udow, a Longmont resident.

Also on the concert will be the Cello Concerto No. 1 of Saint-Saëns, performed by guest artist Matthew Zalkind. This will be a kind of new frontier as well, since it will be a rare excursion into the French repertoire for the LSO.

The performance will conclude with Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, a well known staple of the orchestral repertoire, but one that Moore relates to new frontiers in contemporary society.

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Michael Udow

Mountain Myths was originally written for brass and percussion and premiered at the Music in the Mountains Festival in 2017. “It was for their opening concert last year,” Udow explains. “(They) wanted something that would celebrate the glorious mountains, a type of extended fanfare.”

Not long after the Music in the Mountains performance, Moore reached out to Udow and said he was looking for a new piece for the LSO to play that reflected Longmont and the Colorado mountains. Udow suggested he listen to Mountain Myths.

“I heard the brass version of it, and I thought it was great,” Moore says. “I commissioned him to make an orchestration of it, so this is the world premiere of the orchestra version.”

Udow says his inspiration came from the way that mountains figure in many different cultures, combined with the idea of communication from one peak to another. “It begins with an upheaval, from the bottom of the orchestra all the way through the top instruments,” he says.

“In my mind that was the emergence of the Rocky Mountains. There’s five brass players in the balcony, and the rest of the orchestra onstage, and there’s a back and forth” that represents calling from one mountain top to another.

But rather than listening for details, Udow hopes the audience will take a larger message away from the performance. “I would suggest that the audience experience the music for what it is,” he says.

“Hopefully there will be a sense of gloriousness about the area where we live and the beauty of the mountains, and that it’s not just showing up and being a face in the audience. (I hope) that some level of inspiration generates discussions about life and future generations and the well being of our planet.”

Matthew Zalkind

Matthew Zalkind

Moore recalls that he and Zalkind, the soloist for the Cello Concerto, met in New York around 2008, and both later went to the University of Michigan at the same time. Having heard Zalkind perform several times Moore is unstinting in his praise. And when he came to Longmont, he was pleased to learn that Zalkind is on the faculty of the Lamont School of Music in Denver.

“He is really an extraordinary cellist,” Moore says. “I said to myself, this would be fantastic to have him in our first year, as one of our soloists. So I was really happy that he was able to make this work in his schedule.”

The Concerto is not particularly long—about 19–20 minutes—but it’s a piece that Moore is excited to perform. “It’s a wonderful piece of music,” he says. “I think it’s a great concerto, and I think it’s going to be a really exciting performance. I’m really looking forward to working with Matt. He’s going to bring a lot to our performance.”

The final work on the program, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, is a highly emotional work that was written during a crisis in the composer’s life. He had left a brief and catastrophic marriage that he entered hoping to quell rumors about his homosexuality. Unable to change his identity as a gay man, he had fled only a few days after the wedding.

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Elliot Moore

The symphony opens with a fanfare that the composer identified as “Fate, the decisive force that prevents our hopes of happiness from being realized and . . . is suspended over our heads and perpetually poisons our souls.” The meaning in the context of the composer’s life are clear, but nonetheless the symphony ends with a sense of victory in the final movement.

To Moore, the theme of fate and its resolution at the end reflect the composer’s struggle with his sexual identity, and his ultimate acceptance of who he was. “In some ways it’s an autobiographical account of ‘This is my fate,’” he says. “Accepting himself became the triumph at the end of the Fourth Movement.”

Moore put that struggle together with contemporary social issues when he heard a performance of the symphony in 2015. “The marriage equality act of 2015 had just passed, and I thought to myself, this music is more relevant now than when it was written,” he says. “Today, when gay rights and marriage equality are in the news, and all of these things go back and forth, I think this is a new frontier.

“So I think the symphony is actually very current. It’s been played a thousand times, but the context of the symphony now changes at least some of the meanings.”

# # # # #

“A Longmont World Premiere”
Longmont Symphony, Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor
With Matthew Zalkind, cello

Michael Udow: Mountain Myths (World Premiere)
Saint-Saëns: Cello Concerto No. 1
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont

Tickets

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Ars Nova present ‘Hidden Masterpieces’

Program includes the first performance in 400 years of a 16th-century motet

By Peter Alexander Feb. 22 at 11 p.m.

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Ars Nova Singers and director Thomas Edward Morgan

The young composer Orlando di Lasso wanted to impress Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria.

The year was approximately 1555, Lasso was in his 20s and Albrecht was one of the most important and powerful patrons of music in Europe. Lasso decided to write a set of choral pieces — motets — on the mystical Christian texts known as the Prophetiae Sibyllarum (Sybylline Prophecies) and write in the most advanced musical techniques of the time: harmonically complex and highly chromatic. It was a way of saying, “Look what I can do!”

Because the pieces are difficult, they have not been performed often. This makes them perfect for a concert called “Hidden Masterpieces of the Renaissance,” to be presented by conductor Thomas Edward Morgan and the Ars Nova singers, with the male quintet Solis as guests.

The concert will be sung a capella, with no instrumental accompaniment. In addition to music by Lasso, the “hidden masterpieces” will include pieces by John Taverner, Johannes Ockeghem, Orazio Vecchi, William Byrd and other 16th-century composers.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

# # # # #

Hidden Masterpieces of the Renaissance
Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan director, with Solis

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, Heart of Longmont United Methodist Church, 350 11th Ave
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, St. John Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder
4 p.m. Sunday, Feb 25, St. Paul’s Community of Faith, 1600 Grant St., Denver

Tickets

Violinist Harumi Rhodes will join Takács Quartet; founding second violinist retires

Karoly Schranz, one of the original Takacs members, will retire May 1

By Peter Alexander Feb. 22 at 9:20 pm.

The Takács Quartet and the CU College of Music today announced the retirement of Karoly Schranz, the founding second violinist of the group. His position will be taken by current CU faculty member Harumi Rhodes, effective May 1.

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As of May 1, Takács Quartet members will be (l to r) Geraldin Walther, András Fejér, Edward Dusinberre, and Harumi Rhodes.

The other members of the quartet are Edward Dusinberre, first violin; Geraldine Walther, viola; and András Fejér, the sole remaining original member of the quartet, cello.

Takacs Quartet Publicity Photo

Karoly Schranz

The original Takács Quartet, comprising Gábor Takács Nagy, Gábor Ormai, Schranz and Fejér, first came to Boulder in 1986 as artists-in-residence at the CU College of Music. In addition to maintaining a high profile international career, the quartet presents an annual concert series on the CU campus that sells out two performances of each program, and frequently collaborate with their faculty colleagues.

In an e-mail message, Dusinberre commented, “[Schranz] has sustained his career so wonderfully over 43 years, and we’re very happy to welcome Harumi in a couple of months.” He also was quoted in at CU news release: “Individually, I have learned a huge amount from Károly and will always be profoundly grateful for the support he gave me after I joined the quartet.”

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Harumi Rhodes

Members of the quartet declined further interviews, saying they prefer to let the CU news release stand on its own. In the release, the quartet was quoted collectively saying “We are thrilled that Harumi has accepted our invitation to join the quartet. She is a wonderfully versatile violinist and chamber musician, and we greatly look forward to working with her.”

The Takács Quartet’s remaining programs for the 2017–18 season will be March 11–12 with guitarist Nicolò Spera; and April 29–30 with violist Erika Eckert and cellist David Requiro. (Follow the links for more information and tickets.)

The April concerts will feature both the final campus performances by Schranz as a member of the quartet, and Rhodes’ first performances. Schranz will play the second violin part for the first half of the program, featuring string quartets by Ernö Dohnányi and Shostakovich. Rhodes will then join with the other members of the Takács as second violin, along with guest artists Eckert and Requiro, to perform Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet, “Souvenir de Florence.”

Schranz plans to continue his career playing chamber music and teaching. You may read the full news release announcing the change in personnel here.
_____
Edited Feb. 22 to clarify the personnel of the April concerts.

 

 

Colored socks lead to Boulder Chamber Orchestra concert

Concerto by Hummel, incidental music by Beethoven on the program Feb. 23–24

By Peter Alexander Feb. 21 at 2:45 p.m.

The program for the next concert by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra began with a pair of socks.

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Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. Photo by Keith Bobo.

There are two works on the program, both written in the 1810s and both just outside the central Classical repertoire. The first will be Beethoven’s complete incidental music for Goethe’s drama Egmont, composed in 1810—a less-known work by a major composer. The Third Piano Concerto of Beethoven’s younger contemporary Johann Nepomuk Hummel was written only a little later, in 1819—a major work by a less-known composer.

Joining conductor Bahman Saless and the BCO for the concert will be soprano Christie Conover to sing two arias from the Egmont music, and pianist Andrew Staupe for the Hummel Concerto. Performances will be Friday, Feb. 23, in Lone Tree, and Saturday, Feb 24, in Boulder.

But back to those socks.

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Pianist Andrew Staupe. His socks intrigued conductor Bahman Saless.

Saless first met pianist Andrew Staupe when he played with the Colorado Symphony. “He invited me to his concert, and I think he did Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto,” Saless says. “I met him there, and I was intrigued by his socks.”

His socks? “He wears colored, very obviously different socks on each leg, and he purposely wears shorter pants so you can see the socks. I liked this guy already!”

Thanks to those socks, Saless and Staupe became friends, and one day Staupe asked about playing the Hummel Third Concerto. It’s not performed often, partly because it is so difficult, but it was a piece he really wanted to do. “He knew I’m the kind of person who likes to do things that are not often played,” Saless explains.

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Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Painting after Möller. Original in the Goethemuseum, Düsseldorf.

Hummel lived in Vienna at the same time as Beethoven, and the two of them studied with the same teachers when they were starting their careers. An informal but mostly respectful rivalry developed between them as pianists, and Hummel wrote his concertos as virtuoso showpieces for his own performances.

As a result the Hummel piano concertos have the reputation of being extremely difficult to learn. Saless recalls talking to another pianist who said he might be able to learn one of them in two or three years.

The Third Concerto in particular is, Saless says, “a crazy piano marathon. I don’t know how anybody performs it. The soloist rarely stops playing, and it is unbelievably hard. It’s inhuman!” In fact, the piece is so rarely performed that there is no full score available; Saless will conduct from a two-piano score.

A link between the classical and Romantic periods, Hummel wrote in a highly decorative piano style that anticipated later composers. “The forecasting of Chopin is ridiculous,” Saless says. “So you hear Chopin, and you hear a little bit of Rossini here and there.”

Beethoven received a commission for music to accompany a performance of Goethe’s play Egmont, to be presented in the summer of 1810. The play, about a nobleman who was executed in the 16th century for resisting Spanish tyranny in the Netherlands, appealed to Beethoven’s own political idealism, and he wrote some of his most powerful music for the performance. The Overture is especially well known, and was associated with the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union.

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Soprano Christie Conover will sing two arias from Beethoven’s music for Goethe’s Egmont.

Beethoven wrote 10 pieces for the play, including the Overture, two songs for the character Klärchen, and dramatic entr’actes to be played between the five acts of the play. Because Egmont’s death leads to a victorious uprising, the final piece is titled “Victory Symphony.” Played as Egmont is led offstage to his execution, it repeats the final triumphant section of the Overture.

Saless first heard the complete music to Egmont at the Colorado Music Festival in 2003, and since the two composers knew one another, he thought it would be a good piece to share the program with Hummel. The entr’actes are more than just filler between acts, often being part of the drama as it unfolds. “Some are very theatrical, as you might guess,” Saless says

“A couple of movements are literally oboe concertos, following the theme of the previous aria by the soprano. Other movements are militaristic, with snare drum playing like soldiers marching.

“The arias are absolutely beautiful—very tuneful arias. Some of the movements have the sudden changes of mood that we’re so used to in Beethoven. He does such a good job [of telling the story].”

To make sure that the storytelling is not lost on the audience, Saless will provide projections to explain the drama as it unfolds in the music. Between Beethoven’s explicitly theatrical music and the challenges of Hummel’s “inhuman” concerto, it should be a dramatic concert. And Saless has some cogent advice for the audience:

“Pay attention to his socks!”

# # # # #

Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Andrew Staupe, piano, and Christie Conover, soprano

Beethoven: Incidental Music to Goethe’s Egmont
Johann Nepomuk Hummel: Piano Concerto No. 3

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, Lone Tree Arts Center, Lone Tree
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, Boulder Adventist Church, Boulder

Tickets

Miami String Quartet returns to the Dairy

Feb. 11 Soundscape concert is part of an extensive spring lineup

By Peter Alexander Feb. 6 at 11:30 a.m.

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Miami String Quartet

Keith Robinson, cellist of the Miami String Quartet, loves coming to Colorado.

“I fell in love with Colorado,” he says. “I think every Coloradan should feel very lucky to live in the state. It’s so beautiful. You have the best of everything!”

Including, it should be noted, a vital musical life in Boulder that includes visits by renowned artists including the Miami String Quartet.

A faculty member at Kent State University in Ohio, Robinson comes to Colorado with the other members of the quartet for regular residencies through Off the Hook Arts in Ft. Collins. Their visits often include concert performances at Boulder’s Dairy Arts Center.

Most of the residencies occur in the summer, but now a February residency enables the quartet to return to the Dairy as part of its extensive winter-spring concert schedule. The concert—4 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 11) on the Dairy’s “Soundscape” series—will feature three works from the core of the quartet repertoire: Mozart’s String Quartet in G major, K387; Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8; and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E-flat major, op. 44 no. 3. (See below for other events on the Dairy’s upcoming concert schedule.)

Keith Robinson

Keith Robinson

Robinson says that the Feb. 11 program is “pretty much our standard fare, presenting something modern in the middle, starting off with something classical and finishing with a big Romantic ender.” Of the three it’s the “big Romantic ender,” the Mendelssohn E-flat major Quartet, that falls just outside the common string quartet repertoire.

“It’s not played a lot,” Robinson says. “I’m 55 and it took me 54 years before I played it for the first time. Now I question why I didn’t know it earlier because it’s a real gem. I think audiences will find it really satisfying.”

In fact, Mendelssohn’s string quartets are less well known than those of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and several 20th-century composers including Bartók and Shostakovich. But if it were up to Robinson, that would change.

“Mendelssohn is one of my favorite composers,” he says. “His scherzos, just like Midsummer Night’s Dream, are fantastic, and all of the quartets have a movement like that. His slow movements can be very, very pure and Romantic, as this one is. But it’s the high energy stuff that really turns me on. Mendelssohn is always a high energy composer.”

The other two works on the program have both already been played in Boulder this year, Mozart’s Quartet in G major on the Takacs Quartet program last weekend, and the Shostakovich Eighth Quartet by the Altius Quartet in January.

Composed when Mozart was just 26, the G major Quartet marks the beginning of the composer’s mature instrumental style. Already an accomplished opera composer, Mozart had written a number of quartets, all of them short works written for entertainment. But after playing and studying Haydn’s latest string quartets, Mozart started writing pieces that were larger in scope and more serious in manner.

“This was big step for Mozart,” Robinson says. ”The younger quartets are really nice, they’re really sweet, but the G major Quartet is really stepping into Haydn’s (stylistic) territory.” Today, Haydn’s six String Quartets op. 33 and the six quartets Mozart wrote in response, starting with K387, are considered landmarks of the Classical style.

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Dmitri Shostakovich

The Eighth is probably the most played of Shostakovich’s 15 quartets. Composed at a low point of the composer’s life, it is a gloomy but powerful work. It is also a highly personal one that reflects upon the composer’s own struggles in the Soviet Union. Shostakovich quoted his own earlier works, and put his musical initials in the form of a series of notes representing D-S-C-H (D-E flat-C-B natural) throughout the quartet. (Read more about the background and the music of the Eighth Quartet here.)

To Robinson, the Eighth Quartet is an essential piece of music that he teaches to all of his students. “Every string quartet should play No. 8 because it is so good,” he says. “It deserves all of the attention it gets, because it is superbly written. There’s not a note out of place.

“It’s very direct. And that’s what I like about Shostakovich: it speaks to you. I think everyone can take something away from Shostakovich 8.”

# # # # #

Soundscape: The Miami String Quartet
4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11
Gordon Gamm Theater; Dairy Arts Center

Mozart: String Quartet in G major, K387
Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 8
Mendelssohn: String Quartet in E-flat major, op. 44 no. 3

Tickets

04-Dairy_Center_for_the_Arts.jpgOther Dairy Center music events
Spring 2018

CU@The Dairy: Worlds Around Us—John Gunther & Friends
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21
The Gordon Gamm Theater

Twilight Studios: Ghost Ship of State
8 p.m. Saturday, March 3
The Carsen Theater

Jazz at the Dairy: Flowers of Evil
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 14
The Gordon Gamm Theater

Boulder Opera Company: Così Fan Tutte by Mozart, piano dress rehearsal
7 p.m. Tuesday, March 20
The Gordon Gamm Theater

One Night Only: Hope Lives
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 21
The Gordon Gamm Theater

Boulder Opera Company: Così Fan Tutte by Mozart
3 p.m. Sunday, March 25
The Gordon Gamm Theater

One Night Only: Colorado Classics
7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 05
The Gordon Gamm Theater

Jazz at the Dairy: Angels & Devils
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 18
The Gordon Gamm Theater

Soundscape: Katie Glassman & Snapshot|
2 p.m. Wednesday, April 25
The Gordon Gamm Theater

One Night Only: MahlerFest XXXI
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 16
The Gordon Gamm Theater

Soundscape: The Elixir of Love
2 p.m. Wednesday, May 30
The Gordon Gamm Theater, Boulder

More information and tickets available on the Dairy Center Web page.

Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra celebrates Reformation, women composers

New concert location in Boulder, Mountain View Methodist, offers convenient parking

By Peter Alexander Feb. 5 at 6:00 p.m.

Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, because it was a major turning point in European history—and because, she says, “there’s not that much for a classical symphony to celebrate 500 years!”

True enough: orchestral music only goes back a little more than 300 years.

Photography by Glenn Ross. http://on.fb.me/16KNsgK

Cynthia Katsarelis, Pro Musica celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

The theme of the program goes beyond the Reformation itself to the idea of “liberation,” by which Katsarelis means freeing the mind from old ways of thinking. “In the big arc of history, the Reformation was a turning point in terms of people being able to follow their conscience,” she says.

The concert celebrates the anniversary of the Reformation through J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 80, based on the Lutheran chorale tune Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (A might fortress is our God), with words by Martin Luther. St. Martin’s Chamber Choir joins Pro Musica for the cantata, one of Bach’s most significant sacred works. Soloists will be soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, alto Leah Creek Biesterfeld, tenor Steven Soph and baritone Adam Ewing.

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St. Martin’s Chamber Choir

Other works on the program will be “Raucous Rumpus: A Fanfare” from Dance Card by Jennifer Higdon; Haydn’s Symphony No. 85, nicknamed “La Reine” (The queen); and the world premiere of “Marantha” by Elena Specht, winner of the CU Composition Competition.

The Boulder performance will take place in a location that Katsarelis has chosen as an ongoing venue for Pro Musica: The Mountain View Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place in Boulder, which has its own parking lot—a welcome convenience in Boulder.

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Jennifer Higdon

Higdon’s complete work Dance Card comprises five dance pieces, of which Pro Musica is doing the first, “Raucous Rumpus,” to open the concert. “It pretty much sounds like the title,” Katsarelis says. “It’s fast and fun and it’s very conversational between the sections of the string orchestra. The movements all make really good concert openers or closers, so I think we will end up doing them all over time.”

Higdon’s music relates to the title of “Liberation” in two ways, she says. “Higdon’s style uses jazz inspired things, and you didn’t do those dances in polite society at one time, and also being a woman composer. I would say that the inclusion of Jennifer Higdon’s piece and Elena Specht’s piece, are part of the liberation.”

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Joseph Haydn

“La Reine” is at least the sixth or seventh Haydn symphony Pro Musica has presented. Haydn’s works are “the core of our repertoire,” Katsarelis says. “Everything came out of this, in terms of symphonic writing. What’s so interesting, is that he wrote so many (symphonies) but they don’t all sound alike. This one is a beautiful, charming piece.”

One of Haydn so-called “Paris Symphonies, No. 85 was written around 1785 for performance in the French capitol. The title comes from the fact that it was supposed to have been a favorite of Marie Antoinette. It includes numerous references to French musical style, including variations on a French folk song, Ma gentille et jeune LisetteI (My lovely young Lisette).

Bach’s Cantata No. 80 calls for a small orchestra with four-part chorus and four vocal soloists. It is not an easy assignment for the singers, as their parts are complex, often chromatic, and highly contrapuntal. But Katsarelis feels she has the ideal partners in St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, a highly selective, professional, vocal group in Denver.

“We love working with St. Martin’s,” she says. “It’s always a very happy collaboration, with really beautiful musical results.”

Although Bach’s cantatas don’t often get performed in concert settings,  Katsarelis would like to do more of them. “The cantatas are just so fabulous,” she says. “These are just gems of the repertoire that should be played.”

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Elena Specht

Specht’s piece was written as a companion piece to the Bach. Katsarelis says that the connection between the two works is conceptual, and does not involve any direct quotes of Bach’s music. “Specht calls Marantha the story of hope and the ultimate victory of goodness,” Katsarelis says. “It’s a short piece, and it does a very good job of exploring darkness and light. The darkness and light motive is also very, very prevalent in the Bach: the victory over Satan and sin.”

The duality is reflected in the title Marantha (sometimes written “Maranatha”), an Aramaic word that can be translated either as “Come, Lord” or more positively, “Our Lord has come.” In her program notes, Specht connects this binary division of meaning to the modern world, as “the destructive forces of natural disasters alongside the astounding beauty of the natural world, and incomprehensible acts of evil side by side with bravery, compassion and kindness.”

Katsarelis applies that theme to the concert as a whole. “It’s a concert that takes us through darkness and light, and what the Higdon does is add American optimism,” she says. “The experience of the concert will be a kind of a liberation of spirit and mind for one evening.”

# # # # #

Liberation: From the Reformation to Haydn to Higdon
Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With St. Martin’s Chamber Choir
Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano; Leah Creek Biesterfeld, alto; Steven Soph, tenor; and Adam Ewing, baritone

Jennifer Higdon: Dance Card
Elena Specht: Marantha (CU Composition Competition winner, World Premiere)
Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 85 in B-flat major, La Reine
JS Bach: Cantata No. 80, Ein feste Burg is unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress is our God)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9, Bethany Lutheran Church, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder

Tickets

Macky concert by violinist Josh Bell and pianist Sam Haywood is sold out

Program featuring Mozart, Schubert and Richard Strauss provides food for thought

By Peter Alexander Feb. 4, 12:05 a.m.

Superstars—and there are some in the classical music world—sell out concerts on the basis their names alone.

Josh Bell byRichard Ascroft

Josh Bell. Photo by Richard Ascroft.

A year ago, it was Yo-Yo Ma, who sold out a recital in 2000-seat-plus Macky Auditorium long before the performance. This year, Josh Bell has done the same for his upcoming performance with pianist Sam Haywood (7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9). Even though you can no longer get tickets, the program and the event itself are still worth thinking about. I recently spoke with Haywood for his perspective on various aspects of the performance.

Although Bell came to fame as a teen prodigy, Haywood didn’t know him then. Of course he’s aware of Bell’s history, and he see vestiges of that experience in Bell’s playing still. “He manages to keep the freshness and the vitality of that early period (of his life),” he says. “The energy is very much there, and it’s certainly a great pleasure to work with him.”

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Sam Haywood

Bell and Haywood work together not as star and accompanist but as chamber music collaborators. For example. they often discuss potential concert programs together. “Because he’s so super busy, it has fit in practically, it has to be something that he has time to work on,” Haywood says.

On the other hand, the Strauss Sonata on the Boulder concert was originally something Haywood wanted to play. “We played the Strauss before, and I think the first time was at my suggestion,” he explains. “I always wanted to play the Strauss (because) there’s not a great deal of solo piano music by him.”

Of course Haywood understands that the audience is likely to think of Josh Bell as the star, especially since the concert is billed that way: “Joshua Bell” in large type (no instrument listing necessary), followed by “with Sam Haywood, piano” in small type. But he resists being stereotyped in a subsidiary role.

For the audience “to approach it as if they’re coming to hear a great star with background piano—they will only get 50% of the music,” he says. “I think that’s a shame, because how you prepare yourself to listen is always important. When we play at Carnegie Hall they have us in equal billing. I think when people see that, they think, ‘Aha! We’re going to see a duo performing!’”

It is useful to know that Haywood does far more than tour with Josh Bell and other solo artists. His career includes solo recitals as well as chamber music, he has founded a music festival in England and composed a children’s opera, among other works. He is fascinated with historical keyboard instruments, and has recorded a CD of music by Chopin on the composer’s Pleyel piano (available through Amazon UK).

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Sam Haywood playing Chopin’s Pleyel piano.

YouTube videos of Haywood playing historical instruments can be seen here and here.

“I’m very conscious of not wanting to be pigeon-holed,” he says. “I’m just a musician, a music lover, and I love to play all kinds of different repertoire. I was just playing some Wolf lieder with a wonderful soprano, and it’s all just wonderful music to be able to immerse ourselves in.”

One fascinating aspect of the program that Bell and Haywood are playing in Boulder is the way it illustrates the changing character of music for violin and piano over about a century, including a shift in the relationship between the two players.

When Mozart wrote his Sonata in B-flat major in 1784, music for that pairing of instruments was often described as an “accompanied piano sonata,” with the violin in the secondary role. This reflected the fact that Mozart and other composers of the time were first and foremost keyboard players who might perform with students and amateurs who played violin.

Schubert’s Fantasie in C major was written to be performed privately among friends—in a salon, for something like a house concert. Although the piece definitely has some strong, expressive moments, it was largely intended for intimate music-making between friends who would have been on equal footing as players.

The Strauss Sonata, on the other hand, is much more of a concert piece. By the time it was written in 1888, touring virtuosos were common, and Strauss would have expected it to be performed for a public audience, in a concert hall. This music comes closer to being for soloist with accompaniment, although Haywood points out that the sonata is “a lot to get your teeth into” for the pianist. “It’s very orchestral. The textures, the colors, they’re all very vivid. It works very well in a large hall.”

Joshua_Bell_-_Photo_Credit_Marc_Hom-X4

Josh Bell. Photo by Marc Hom.

Which is the final issue we talked about. With the Mozart and the Schubert, music written for small spaces has been taken into a very large hall. That significantly changes the relationship between the performers and the audience.

“It’s very, very difficult,” Haywood says. “ I think you approach the piece in a slightly different way, because you’ve got to think of the poor people right in the back. They’ve got to hear it as well. You’ve got to really be conscious of projecting and painting in quite bright colors.”

He also noted that he has “learned a lot about playing in large halls through playing with Joshua. When we first started to play (together) I hadn’t played in the 2,000-seater (halls) before, and he has this wonderful way of projecting his sound and his personality, with such intensity that he can hold a large number of people.

“That’s something I’ve learned from him.”

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Joshua Bell, violin, and Sam Haywood, piano

Mozart: Violin Sonata No. 32 in B-flat Major, K.454
R. Strauss: Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18
Schubert: Fantasie in C Major, D.934
Additional works to be announced from the stage

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9
Macky Auditorium
SOLD OUT