Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz is ”a great discovery”
By Peter Alexander Sept. 20 at 8 p.m.
“Women Among Men,” a concert by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, will feature a woman conductor, two women soloists, and a woman composer—and some male composers as well.
The conductor is Cynthia Katsarelis, Pro Musica’s music director. The soloists are violinist Yumi Hwang-Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony, and soprano Amanda Balestrieri, artistic director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble. And the composer is Grazyna Bacewicz, who Katsarelis describes as “a great discovery.”
Other composers on the program are J.S. Bach, Joseph Haydn and Mozart. Performances will be Saturday in Denver and Sunday afternoon in Boulder (Sept. 22–23).
Katsarelis points out that the program is filled cheerful pieces. Recent seasons have seen Pro Musica playing some pretty dark, serious works—musical reflections on death, the martyrdom of Joan of Arc, and a tragic shipwreck, for example. “I decided we should do a happy concert for once,” she says.
Bacewicz, Katsarelis’s “great discovery,” is likely better known to violinists than to the audience. She was a virtuoso violinist as well as composer, and she wrote a lot of music for the violin. “I’m going to get her violin sonatas and play those,” Katsarelis says. “I’m really enjoying her music!”
Born in Poland in 1909, Bacewicz lived and worked through the middle of the 20thcentury. The Concerto for String Orchestra was written in 1948, and reflects the clean and bracing neo-classical style of the era between the wars.
“Her aesthetic likes clarity and orchestration that has space,” Katsarelis says. “She didn’t like the giant, dense sound blocks, and in that respect she reminds me of Ravel.
“There are areas that have an impressionistic sound, there are areas that have a Stravinsky-like sound, and sometimes we get eastern European rhythms that are reminiscent of Shostakovich. She’s obviously aware of Bach, and the coloristic effects of Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, and Shostakovich. Without anything sounding derivative, it just sounds like she’s got a really wonderful broad palette.”
A word that Katsarelis uses to describe Bacewicz’s music is “lively,” but she also points out that it is not music that is difficult or unfriendly to audiences. “She knows how to drive a line, but it’s nothing intimidating or scary,” she says. “You can really take it in and enjoy it deeply.”
Katsarelis knew Hwang Williams before either moved to Colorado, when Hwang-Williams was principal second violin in the Cincinnati Symphony and Katsarelis was an apprentice conductor with the orchestra. Since they both settled in Colorado, Hwang-Williams has been a soloist with Pro Musica several times.
On this occasion, she is playing one of her favorite pieces, Haydn’s Violin Concerto in C major. “It’s a wonderful, beautiful, ebullient, joyful work,” she says. “I have loved this concerto for a long time, and I’ve always wanted to play it.”
Although it is not a big Romantic showpiece, Hwang-Williams says that the concerto has its own challenges. “There’s a lot of virtuosity,” she says. “It’s just a different kind of virtuosity. The challenge of playing classical repertoire well is that you have to have a lot of refinement in your playing. You need crystal clear intonation and articulation, so what you hear is the purity of the violin, in the tone and phrasing.”
Katsarelis says “It’s just a really wonderful piece, written around the time of his early to middle symphonies. It’s a mature work, from the beginning of his peak—which then lasted for 50 more years!”
The concerto will be followed by a piece that Katsarelis calls “a bonbon”: Die Schätzbarkeit der weiten Erde (The riches of the world), an aria for soprano and violin with strings from Bach’s Cantata No. 204. “Yumi has been talking to me about the wonderful Bach arias that have violin solos,” she explains.
“The concert was a little bit short, so there would be room to do a wonderful bon-bon. The music is charming—and of course, Amanda Balestrieri is the perfect person for this, both because of her voice quality and her musical intelligence.”
The fourth piece on the program is Mozart’s Serenade in D major, K239, known as the “Serenata Notturna” (Nocturnal serenade). “When I was putting together the program, I was shuffling through pieces for string orchestra,” Katsarelis says. “I’d forgotten about this, except that it has two orchestras, the quartet of principals and the string orchestra with also timpani. I looked into it, and I was delighted by the piece right away!”
As Mozart would have done, Pro Musica will separate the two performing groups—”so that we get that aural, spatial surround sound,” Katsarelis says.
Mozart’s serenades, were usually written for celebrations of some kind. The occasion for the “Serenata Notturna” is not known, but was most likely a masked ball during Carnival season. Katsarelis happily suggests that “it’s not difficult to imagine intrigue going on while they were playing this at a masked ball—where you can get away with more than at a non-masked ball!”
To add to the enjoyment of his Viennese audiences, Mozart incorporated some melodies hat would have been recognized at the time. “That would have added to their delight,” Katsarelis says. “But the music still carries that delight, even if we don’t know the songs.”
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Women Among Men
with Violinist Yumi Hwang-Williams
Amanda Balestrieri, soprano
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 22
Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St., Denver
2 p.m. Sunday, September 23
Mountain View United Methodist, 355 Ponca Pl., Boulder
Mozart: Serenade in D major K. 239, Serenata notturna
Grazyna Bacewicz: Concerto for String Orchestra
Haydn: Violin Concerto in C Major
J.S. Bach: Die Schätzbarkeit der weiten Erde