Gary Lewis and Boulder Philharmonic perform live to popular film scenes

“Pixar in Concert” features music from Toy Story, Incredibles, Finding Nemo and more

By Peter Alexander March 21 at 4:15 p.m.

You have probably seen the films, even if you don’t know who composed the music.

pixarinconcert_previewThe Boulder Philharmonic is presenting “Pixar in Concert” Saturday (March 23), with music from a baker’s dozen films, including Toy Story, Cars, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, among others. The composers of these well known film scores are Randy Newman, Michael Giacchino and Thomas Newman.

Recognize those names?

Only the first of them is well known, as much for his career as a recording artist as for his numerous film scores, including Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc. and Cars. Giacchino and Thomas Newman, however, are much less known by name, even though they have scored some of the most popular films of recent times, including Cars 2, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo.

The music will be performed live with clips from these Pixar films. Principal guest conductor Gary Lewis will conduct the Philharmonic.

Orchestral concerts of film music are more and more common. That is partly because of the quality of the composers writing today, and also the popularity that their music has achieved. “John Williams and others like him have really brought symphonic music to the masses, in a way,” Lewis says. “Now that has sort of turned around where symphony orchestras are latching onto that popularity to help bring people into the concert hall.”

The composers for this program are some of the best, Lewis says. Randy Newman is “just one of the great talents of our generation—an amazing pianist and songwriter and composer, sort of all in one package.” And Giacchino and Thomas Newman “are the new generation that is writing and scoring these Pixar films. They’re quite talented, and it’s really interesting music.”


Conductor Gary Lewis

Keeping live music synchronized with the film excerpts is not an easy task. “In fact this is one of the most challenging concerts or programs that I have conducted, and I do a lot of this kind of stuff,” Lewis says. “The tempos, the techniques required, the size of the orchestra with guitarists and rhythm section and saxophonists and a large percussion section, harp, piano, and synthesizers—it’s complex!”

We are all used to seeing these films and having the music flow seamlessly along with the action—the outcome of compositional skill and the technical magic that is applied in postproduction. Coordination between film and music can be achieved with great precision through digital editing. But it’s a different matter when 80 or 100 musicians sit down onstage and have to play live with film events that can be measured in fractions of a second.

“For me, that is just another aspect of [conducting] that I enjoy the challenge of,” Lewis says. He has been doing it for some time, and he has managed to deal with several different ways of achieving some degree of synchronization.

“The most challenging thing that I’ve ever conducted was a Wizard of Oz, which was before everything was digitized,” he says. “The synchronization of that was with a sweep hand on an analog clock. I had to be able to start and stop with no other method of synchronization.

“With things that have singing or musical accompaniment that you had to accompany with the orchestra, there were all sorts of little anomalies in the [film] editing process where they would rush or drag. It was like nailing Jello to the wall.”

Happily, those days are past. Today, there are several forms of synchronization of which the most precise are “click tracks”—a sort of digital metronome signal that is created to exactly match with the film. Performers wear headsets so they can hear the clicks to keep together with one another and the film.

“This show has click tracks, [which] will be exceptionally helpful,” Lewis says. “Some of the tempo changes are just immediate and not particularly organic.” In this case, Lewis and some of the percussionists will hear the click tract, while the rest of the orchestra players will follow Lewis in a more or less normal way.

But while it’s fascinating to know the details of how the performance comes about, and what’s going on when you are there, Lewis doesn’t want the audience to sit there thinking about the technical details. When there was singing, as in The Wizard of Ozˆ, “if you didn’t line up, it was quite obvious,” he says. But for “Pixar in Concert,” it will be “just the orchestra, so if something doesn’t quite line up, most people wouldn’t even notice.”

Apart from the technical aplomb that it takes to pull off the performance, Lewis has a slew of other reasons why you should go this concert. “The animation is brilliant, as with all Pixar productions,” he says. “And the music is engaging as well. There’s everything from hard driving jazz to Latin, to Americana.

“There’s a lot of variety and it’s all really, really fun stuff.”

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra

Pixar in Concert
Boulder Philharmonic, Gary Lewis, conductor

Randy Newman: Music from Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Monsters University and Cars
Michael Giacchino: music from Coco, Ratatouille, UP, The Incredibles, Cars 2 and Inside Out
Thomas Newman: music from Finding Nemo and WALL-E

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23
Macky Auditorium


Amanda Balestrieri wants to ‘see you in court’

Seicento Baroque Ensemble will present ‘A Royal Tour’ of music from the courts of Europe

By Peter Alexander March 21 at 11:30 a.m.

When Amanda Balestrieri says “see you in court,” it’s an offer, not a threat.

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble

As director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble, she knows just how much music originated in the royal courts of the 17th and 18th centuries. And for the group’s final concert of the 2018–19 season, she is pulling music from the courts of England, France and other European countries into a single program. “In Your Court: A Royal Tour” will be performed March 22-24 in Boulder, Denver and Longmont.

In addition to the singers of Seicento, the concert features guest vocal soloists and local freelance instrumentalists who make up a small orchestra. The vocalists are students or recent graduates who wanted more experience with the Baroque style.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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“In Your Court: A Royal Tour”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri, conductor
With guest soloists and instrumentalists

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 22, First United Methodist Church, Boulder
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23, Julian Pavilion, Highland Center, 2945 Julian St., Denver
2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 24, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont


Eklund Opera will present Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in Russian with English titles

‘Wonderfully Romantic piece’ is musically appealing, educationally valuable

By Peter Alexander March 14 at 1:22 p.m.

The University of Colorado Eklund Opera Program is doing something it has never done before: perform a full opera in Russian, with English surtitles.


Publicity still for CU Opera production of Eguene Onegin. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

The opera is Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, one of the most well known and popular Russian operas, in and outside of Russia. Performances will be March 15–17 in Macky Auditorium. The cast of CU students will be directed by Leigh Holman, director of the Eklund Opera Program, and conducted by Nicholas Carthy, the program’s music director.

Eugene Onegin is about the unrequited love between Onegin, a bored ne’er-do-well aristocrat, and Tatyana, a naive country girl whose sister is engaged to Onegin’s friend, Lensky. Tatyana impulsively writes a letter declaring her love to Onegin, who brushes her aside.

Soon after, Onegin kills Lensky in an impetuous duel that neither man wants, and then wanders the world for several years in despair. Returning to St. Petersburg, he realizes he is in love with Tatyana, now married to an older nobleman. When he declares his love, Onegin finds the shoe is on the other foot, as Tatyana turns him aside out of loyalty to her husband.

Nicholas Carthy

Carthy has wanted to conduct Eugene Onegin since he coached singers in a production at the Salzburg Festival 30 year ago. “I thought, ‘I really need to do this,’ and I’ve been waiting ever since,” he says.

Because it requires bigger voices, Onegin is not an opera that a university company can always perform. This year the stars aligned and the singers were available for Onegin at CU. Holman called Carthy while he was on sabbatical last year to say she thought this would be the year.

“We’re just excited to have the big voices now that can do [Onegin]”, she says.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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EugeneOnejin-X4 copyEugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky
CU Eklund Opera Program
Leigh Holman, director and Nicholas Carthy, conductor
Sets designed by Peter Dean Beck, costumes by Tom Robbins

7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 15 and 16
2 p.m. March 17
Macky Auditorium

Sung in Russian with English titles




Boulder Chorale brings Mardi Gras music from New Orleans

Guerrilla Fanfare Brass Band adds solid “second line” sound

By Peter Alexander March 7 at 8 p.m.

Conductor Vicki Burrichter and the Boulder Chorale want their audiences to have a good time.


Conductor Vicki Burrichter with members of the Boulder Chorale

Mardi Gras just being over, “a good time” suggests New Orleans’s raucous celebration of that festival. And so Boulder Chorale’s next concert this Saturday and Sunday (4 p.m. March 9 and 10 at First United Methodist Church in Boulder) is titled “A Very Boulder Mardi Gras.” With some of the music and the traditions of the famous New Orleans Mardi Gras as part of the performance, it will be, Burrichter says, “pretty fun and rowdy.”

“What I’m trying to do is get as close to an authentic New Orleans experience as we can.”


Mardi Gras in New Orleans

That means more than just having a few Dixieland tunes played during the concert, she says. “For me that’s not very authentic. There’s so much more to the music of New Orleans than Dixieland.”

To get closer to the real thing, she invited guests, including the Guerilla Fanfare Brass Band, to recreate the atmosphere of the New Orleans “second line” parades. There will be music by New Orleans musicians including Trombone Shorty and Dr. John. The concert program ends with the traditional Mardi Gras song “Iko, Iko,” followed by a second-line style parade out of the church to the music of the Rebirth Brass Band’s “Do Whatcha Wanna.”


New Orleans second-line parade

If you are unfamiliar with the New Orleans second-line tradition, it can be described as the parade after the parade—the people who follow the official parade, dancing and singing and generally enjoying themselves. This has turned into a form of parade with a brass band leading and a crowd following—what has been described as “a jazz funeral without a body.”

Today second-line parades are a regular part of the New Orleans music scene.

Burrichter was inspired to bring second lining to Boulder when she experienced it first hand. A few years ago she was at a conference in New Orleans and had Sunday off. “I went and joined a second line,” she says. “Every Sunday there’s a band that will do that, and they take different routes through the various neighborhoods.

“You dance and you sing, and it was one of the most incredible artistic experiences I’ve ever had. It was very, very moving and fun, so I thought if I ever do a concert about New Orleans, I want to have a second line band there.“


Guerrilla Fanfare Brass Band

The group she invited to fill that role, the Guerrilla Fanfare Brass Band, was founded in 2015 by tuba player Zach Brake and some friends from the University of Colorado. In 2018 they were named Colorado’s best brass band by Denver’s Westword magazine. Today the full group numbers 12 musicians, trumpets, trombones, saxophone and drums.

They play typical second-line tunes from the Rebirth Brass Band, a Grammy winning New Orleans band, as well as traditional jazz, pop covers, and their own original music. “Our big thing is we’re really energetic,” Brake says.

“If possible we try to get off the stage and walk around. The bigger the crowd is, the more we get into it.”

Performing in concert with the Chorale is different from their usual shows, Brake says, but that’s a good thing. “It’s pretty outside what we normally do,” he says. “This one has been pretty exciting to do.”


Bob Chilcott

In addition to music from the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration, there will be one composed piece for choir. The central piece on the program will be “A Little Jazz Mass” by former member of The King’s Singers Bob Chilcott, which Burrichter included to show the influence of New Orleans and jazz around the world

“It’s just a stunning piece,” she says. “The chorus loves it. I think the audience will love it, too.”

Other pieces on the listed program include “Ring Shout/Piece of Mind” from Wynton Marsalis’s Congo Square, arranged by Adam Waite and featuring vocalist Craig Robertson; “I Feel Like Funkin’ It Up” from the Rebirth Brass Band; Dr. John’s “Goin’ Back to New Orleans”; “Basin Street Blues”; and Trombone Shorty’s “Hurricane Season,” as a tribute to New Orleans’s suffering and recovery from hurricane Katrina.

Other guest artists will include a jazz trio for Chilcott’s “Little Jazz Mass”: Neil Dreger, bass; Kyle Liss, piano; and Ari Rubinstein, percussion.

Burrichter stresses that the program is full of fun music for everyone. In fact, outside of the 12-minute “Little Jazz Mass,” there is not any traditional concert music where the choir stands still and sings. “This is a family concert,” she says. “Bring the kids and everybody can dance.

“This is not going to be an uptight concert.”

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“A Very Boulder Mardi Gras”Ripley-BC-adults-12-2016-crop

Boulder Concert Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, director
With Guerilla Fanfare Brass Band
4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 9 and 10
First United Methodist Church. Boulder


Tafelmusik will turn Macky Auditorium into a musical coffee house

“Tales of Two Cities” explores the coffee houses of Damascus and Leipzig

By Peter Alexander March 1 at 6:15 p.m.

It takes a person with a very creative imagination to turn the history of coffee into a concert combining Baroque and middle-eastern music.

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“Tales of Two Cities.” Photo by Bruce Zinger

The Toronto-based Baroque orchestra Tafelmusik has such a person in bass player Alison Mackay, and the multi-media, cross-cultural program she created, “Tales of Two Cities: the Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House,” comes to Boulder Monday (7:30 p.m. March 4 in Macky Auditorium). The program includes music by Bach and Telemann, both of whom led coffee-house ensembles in Leipzig, as well as Handel, Torelli and a few other composers of the Baroque era; and performances by Trio Arabica, performing music from Syria.

The concert is performed inside a set inspired by a room from 18th-century Damascus. The performance also features projections of images, maps and film, and a narrator who will present Mackay’s script To facilitate the movement of the players onstage, the entire program is performed from memory.


Alison Mackay on the set for “Tales of Two Cities.” Photo by Bruce Zinger

This is the fourth multi-media program that Mackay has created for Tafelmusik. Each of them has included projections and stage sets, and the music has all been memorized. “That’s a tall order,” Mackay says, in what may be a significant understatement.

“We all learn to memorize pieces when we’re young, but memorizing the inner part of a Handel concerto grosso is a very tall order. It’s an orchestra full of passionate people, so it was a large conversation [the first time], but in the end people decided to take it on and everyone has been thrilled at the way it’s worked out.”

While the multi-media productions get a lot of attention, most of what Tafelmusik does is traditional concerts. “It’s not as if we think that the audience needs the bells and whistles, but from time to time we do put our repertoire in a historical or a cultural context,” Mackay says. “It’s exciting for us to be able to explore the music in a different way.”

“Tales of Two Cities” grew from research Mackay was doing for another multi-media program featuring the music of J.S. Bach. In the course of doing research in Leipzig, she discovered that there was a large collection of manuscripts from Damascus at the University of Leipzig.

“I read an article about an amazing private collection of manuscripts, copied in the 17th and 18th centuries, that belonged to a family in Damascus,” Mackay says. ”There was a department of Arabic studies at the University of Leipzig. The university bought this collection, and within that collection [were] of dozens of leather-bound performer’s books that had belonged to a storyteller in the coffee houses in Syria.”

As Mackay looked into this fascinating bit of historical evidence, she started to discover how much Leipzig and Damascus had in common. Both were important cities at crossroads of commercial routes, and became centers for international trade fairs. Both were also centers of scholarship and learning.

And they had thriving coffee-house cultures at the same time.


Zimmermann’s Coffee House. Detail from an engraving by Johann Georg Schreiber, 1732.

It was well known that both Telemann and J.S. Bach had conducted Leipzig’s Collegium Musicum, a club for students musicians that performed weekly concerts at Zimmermann’s Coffeehouse. This happened at exactly the time that coffee houses became centers of social and intellectual activity across Europe.

The first coffee houses opened around 1700, at the same time the development of public street lighting made it possible for respectable people to be out after dark. At that time “there starts to be this rise of places where you can go for entertainment,” Mackay explains. “It goes hand in hand with political conversation and performances of music.”

The unexpected parallels between the two cities inspired Mackay to put together the program for “Tales of Two Cities.” For the Leipzig end, she used music that could be tied to the city in some way. “Not that is much known about specific pieces that were played in Zimmerman’s Cafe, but I deliberately picked the kind of small orchestral and chamber music that would have been played by Bach’s Collegium Musicum,” Mackay says.

Telemann and J.S. Bach were shoe-ins for the program, and Mackay looked for other connections as well. “It’s known that Handel visited Telemann in Leipzig when they were both young law students interested in music, so I’ve included music by Handel,” she says.

“There’s an anecdote written by someone who was in a coffee-house ensemble in Leipzig, about the violinist (Johann Georg) Pisendel coming to play. It’s a very humorous account, and it says that he played a concerto by his teacher, Torelli. So I’ve included a movement from a concerto by Torelli.”

Other music—for example, a piece by the Venetian composer Monteverdi—illustrates the history of coffee as it moved from Syria and Turkey through Venice and then to Paris London, and Leipzig.


Trio Arabica with Tafelmusik. Photo by Bruce Zinger

For the music from Damascus, Mackay invited the Trio Arabica to join with Tafelmusik. In the concert program notes, she has written that “The public coffee houses of Syria were venues for musicians who performed settings of strophic poems called muwashshahs, instrumental doulabs and improvised taqsims—forms of classical Arabic music that are the specialty of Trio Arabica.”

After engaging the trio, she says, “we would meet together. I had a few ideas of places where the music could intersect, and so we spent a long time thinking about suitable pieces. There are several places where a piece of theirs is juxtaposed with pieces of ours, or a couple of places in the program where we play together.“

The one thing Mackay wants the audience to notice is that everyone is playing from memory. “It’s terrifying,” she admits. “Sometimes when you’ve done all that work, people don’t notice.

“Musicians always notice!”

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Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House
20160517TafelMusik_Tale-of-two-CitiesTafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Elisa Citterio, music director
With Trio Arabica and Alon Nashman, narrator
Conceived, programmed and scripted by Alison Mackay

Music by Telemann, J.S. Bach, Handel, Monteverdi, Torelli, Lully, Omar Al-Batsh Mohamed Al-Qasabji, and Sheikh Abul Ela Mohamed

7:30 p.m. Monday, March 4
Macky Auditorium