Thomas Steenland dreams of a world without mp3

The story behind Boulder-based label Starkland 

By Izzy Fincher

“New music always stood out to me. I gravitated toward it,” Thomas Steenland says.

After 43 years in new music, the appeal hasn’t faded for Steenland. With his Boulder-based label Starkland, he continues to release genre-defying, innovative new music for adventurous listeners.

Thomas Steenland

Steenland established himself in Colorado’s new music industry in the 1970s. After graduating from the University of Colorado, he took over Owl Recording, Inc., a new-music label founded in 1976. Owl, the brainchild of Steenland’s professor Cecil Effinger, was one of the United States’ first major non-profit labels, a revolutionary idea in the music industry. Freed from industry norms, Owl pursued their mission of releasing new music LPs of “high artistic, educational or historical worth not otherwise available” with Steenland at the helm. 

After 15 years at Owl, Steenland’s entrepreneurial spirit grew restless, as he saw Owl’s legacy fade when CDs began to eclipse LPs. He decided to revamp Owl’s mission to meet technological advancements. This led to the creation of his own label in 1991, based in Boulder, which released CDs exclusively. 

“I think a label can be based anywhere,” Steenland says. “But I was here in Boulder and had connections that evolved out of my experience with Owl. It was an easy transition from running that label to forming my own label.”

He decided to name his label Starkland, a play on his last name Steenland (which means “stone land” in Dutch).

“I have always loved the word stark, and I wanted it to indicate that it was edgy music,” Steenland says. “It wasn’t easy listening, new-age music.”

The word stark certainly embodied the label’s mission. Stark means utter and sheer, suggesting an absolute commitment to new music. Stark means severe, harsh and sharp, suggesting the tendency of new music to challenge expectations. Stark also means desolate and barren, perhaps a nod to unexplored musical territory and the sparsely populated landscape of the new music industry.

Original album of Dockstader’s Apocalypse

Starkland’s first release, a reissue of composer Tod Dockstader’s LPs on CD, sat at the intersection of unexplored musical and technological territory. The CD reissue presented the audio, especially the bass, with greater depth and authenticity than the original LPs released 25 years earlier. The reissue garnered attention and rave reviews from critics.

From there, Starkland grew, releasing music by cutting edge composers including Paul Dresher, Jay Cloidt and Guy Klucevsek. Later, Steenland experimented with new audio techniques, notably surround sound in the 2000 release Immersion, which featured 13 experimental electroacoustic commissions.

Nothing was too extreme for Starkland, not even Elliott Sharps’ 2015 album The Boreal, a turbulent auditory experiment.

“I can’t say I have rejected anything because it’s too extreme,” Steenland admits. “There would be other reasons. Elliott Sharp’s album is very challenging to listen to. You have to be in the right frame of mind. But he’s a big name, and that album got over 30 reviews. He has fans, but it’s not easy listening.”

In the digital music age, Steenland has been forced again to adapt to technological advancements, this time unwillingly, as CDs fade away like Owl’s LPs, eclipsed by mp3 and digital streaming services.

“The big change is how music is presented and sold to the public,” Steenland says. “I made the transition from LPs to CDs and now from CDs to digital, but the music is a constant. I really enjoyed CDs because the sound was significantly better than LPs. Now CDs are going away, and it’s becoming a digital world.”

Steenland is not a fan of this new “digital world.” Frustrated by low quality audio, he dismisses millennials’ listening habits.

“People are more interested in convenience than quality,” Steenland says. “On Spotify or SoundCloud, the quality is really low. It’s a very different experience for the listener. Spotify’s data rate is about one-seventh of what a CD is. They are throwing away six-sevenths of the music. That’s discouraging when you worked really hard to make a beautiful sounding master tape.”

In the future, he believes 5G wireless will eliminate the need for mp3 by expanding current limits on storage capacity and data rate.

“I think if 5G comes in, that is incredibly faster,” Steenland says. “It can stream high resolution video in real time. That would mean it can also stream high resolution audio. Hopefully then mp3 will go away, and we can go back to listening to CD or even better quality.”

Amidst the pandemic, he admits little has changed for Starkland, as the label focuses on chamber music releases. Musicians do their own recordings in home studios or in a socially-distanced studio setting. The only issue is promotion, such as Starkland’s recent release of Danielle Buonaiuto’s Marfa Songs, a “problem everyone faces” in the 2020 recording industry, he says.

“When COVID-19 came in, Danielle could not have a release party in New York City. That was really unfortunate. [A release party] gives critics more reason to pay attention to the album. It’s a problem. It’s disappointing, but what can you do?”

Instead in 2020, Steenland chooses to focus on what he can control. So he continues his 40-year mission of releasing new music and pursuing the highest-quality sound, meanwhile dreaming of a day when mp3 goes away.

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You may access the full Starkland catalogs here.

Longmont Symphony’s virtual fall season celebrates orchestra’s return

“(Re)Sounding! 2020 Reimagined” opens Oct. 11 with Bach and Mozart

By Peter Alexander Sept. 29 at 12:45 p.m.

Elliot Moore is more than ready to get back to work.

The conductor of the Longmont Symphony designed the orchestra’s fall season to celebrate playing together again after COVID forced the suspension of the last season in April. “It’s been a very long pause for us,” he says. “It’s been a very long pause for every single orchestra across the country, across the world really, and we wanted to have a celebration that our sounds continue.”

Longmont Symphony conductor Elliot Moore

In that spirit, the LSO is calling the fall half-season “(Re)Sounding: 2020 Reimagined.” There will be two concerts featuring a small orchestra—cut down to observe safe distancing—and two programs featuring guest artists.

The orchestra was on the brink of canceling the rest of 2020, but “I kept thinking about how we could do (a fall season),” Moore says. “There’s so many constraints now, so the idea that I had was to have bookends that are the orchestra—but it has to be obviously a very small orchestra. That already is a large constraint.

Violinist Caroline Campbell

“And in the middle of our fall season, I wanted to showcase soloists that would enhance the season, and who even though they’re in their homes and not in Longmont, would still be a draw for our audience. To that end I picked an incredible violinist named Caroline Campbell, who is the go-to violinist for many artists including Barbara Streisand and Andrea Bocelli. She has had videos on YouTube with 34 million views.”

For the other guest artist, Moore selected pianist Nathan Lee, who won the Young Concert Artists International Audition at 15. Still in his teens, he is a musical ambassador to younger audiences. “He is just a beautifully thoughtful, poetic musician and pianist,” Moore says. “I thought not only would he be a draw for our patrons, but also that may be a way to get him virtually in the schools to talk with students.”

Following each solo performance, there will be a live Q&A session with the guest artist, speaking from their home, with Moore serving as moderator from Longmont.

Pianist Nathan Lee. Photo by Chris Lee.

Both LSO performances will be recorded in the Longmont Museum in advance of the online broadcast. The orchestra will play music by Bach on Mozart on Sunday, Oct. 11, including Bach’s Concerto for two violins, featuring the LSO’s new concertmaster and associate concertmaster, Benjamin Ehrmantraut and Kina Ono. The opposite bookend, Sunday, Dec. 13, will be a holiday program with music from Handel’s Messiah with four solo singers performing solo pieces, and joining together for the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

“I think that it’s imperative that we give [the audience] not only a good sound quality, but also a good visual quality,” Moore says. Having worked on streamed performances by the Detroit Symphony, he is working with the cameramen in planning the streams. “We’re talking about different shots, different camera angles and even more than that,” he says. 

“I’m also speaking with someone who’s going to be our host, so we can have a curated experience. These are all new things for us, but I have full confidence in the staff of the Longmont Symphony, and with our collaborators from Longmont Public Media, who are working so beautifully with us to bring all of this to life.”

Both individual concert and fall season virtual tickets are available from the LSO Web page. Each virtual ticket allows the holder to view the performance at their convenience, starting at the listed performance times. Each performance will be available for a period of time after the premiere.

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(Re)Sounding: 2020 Reimagined
Longmont Symphony
(Streamed performances; admission through the LSO Web page)

Bach “Double” and Mozart “Salzburg symphonies”
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With Benjamin Ehrmantraut and Kina Ono, violins

J.S. Bach: Concerto for two violins and orchestra, BWV1043
Mozart: Divertimento in D major, K136
Divertimento in B-flat major, K137
Divertimento in F major, K138

4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11

“Los Angeles to Longmont”
Caroline Campbell, violin
Program tba
4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25

“Seattle to Longmont”
Nathan Lee, piano
Program tba
4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25

Handel’s Messiah, Solo Sections
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With four vocal soloists to be named later

Handel: Messiah solo pieces
“Hallelujah” Chorus

4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13

STARKLAND’S NEW RELEASES: FEARLESS, AUTHENTIC AND EXPERIMENTAL

Boulder’s new music label has added three albums to its catalog

By Izzy Fincher Sept. 24 at 1:15 pm.

Boulder-based label Starkland recently issued three CDs that explore contemporary music’s different personalities. Listeners who favor the familiar should begin with Danielle Buonaiuto’s aesthetically pleasing Marfa Songs, while adventurous listeners should dive headfirst into Kathleen Supové‘s bold Eye to Ivory and then Instruments of Happiness’ The Happiness Handbook

Instruments of Happiness: The Happiness Handbook Music by Scott Godin, Tim Brady, Jordan Nobles, Maxime McKinley, Gordon Fitzell and Emily Hall, performed by Instruments of Happiness. Starkland ST-232

Instruments of Happiness’ new release The Happiness Handbook explores eclectic guitar sounds, wandering through diverse textures and colors. 

The guitar collective Instruments of Happiness is led by Tim Brady, an innovative Canadian guitarist and composer. Since 1988, Brady has released 24 CDs. Instruments of Happiness is a diverse ensemble of electric guitarists that exists in three sizes: the original quartet, a chamber orchestra, and a 100-piece ensemble. Their second studio album The Happiness Handbook, which features music by Canadian composers, received Global Music Award’s Gold Medal in 2019 and Prix Opus in Quebec in 2020. 

The opening track, Scott Godin’s “Martlandia,” pays homage to British composer Steven Martland, who combined European minimalism with British aesthetics. After a convincing imitation of a Haydn string quartet, the electric guitars emerge with a minimalistic melody that after eight minutes peaks with light distortion. 

Meandering through different aural textures, the next four tracks at times lack cohesiveness. Brady’s “Equal But Opposite Reaction” begins with an ambient, foreboding texture, randomly exploding into riffs. Jordan Noble’s “Deep Field” sounds like bluesy improvisations wandered into a science fiction soundtrack. Maxime McKinley’s “Reflects de Francesca Woodman” opens with effervescent harmonics that later fall into distorted hard rock riffs. Gordon Fitzell’s “Bomb Crater Garden” emulates scraping space noises, rocket beeps and robotic bird sounds, with no clear direction.

But the final work, Emily Hall’s “The Happiness Handbook,” finds a sense of cohesion and definitive personality. In five movements, Hall constructs a minimalistic texture, underpinned by ambient noise, as rapid slurs, distortion, warbles, slides, harmonics and beeps fade in and out above. Intensity builds through the movements, and a direction emerges, until finally the last movement hints at a melody. Guitars strike bluesy chords and repeated notes amidst an echoey reverb, bringing a satisfying closure to the 15-minute adventure. 

The Happiness Handbook shows an expertise and mastery of electric guitar. The guitar collective can emulate nearly any natural sound and weave multi-layered textures with ease. At times, the tracks might seem aimless, but perhaps Instruments of Happiness is more focused on the journey than a clear destination—the first step toward happiness.

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Kathleen Supové: Eye to Ivory. Music by Mary Ellen Childs, Guy Barash, Nick Didkovsky, Randall Woolf and Dafna Naphtali, performed by Kathleen Supové, piano. Starkland ST-233

Kathleen Supové’s Eye to Ivory is an unforgettable album. It evokes overpowering visceral reactions, from confusion to fear to embarrassment, and leaves a pervasive sense of unease. My advice is don’t listen to it at night or when you are home alone.

Supové knows how to push musical boundaries. As a young pianist, she won top prizes in the Gaudeamus International Competition for her interpretations of contemporary music. In the Exploding Piano, her ongoing solo concert series, she has championed many contemporary composers, including Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski and Louis Andriessen. Her work earned her the prestigious ASCAP John Cage Award in 2012. On her newest project Eye to Ivory, she continues to stretch the limits of piano repertoire. 

The album begins eerily with the title track “Eye to Ivory” by Mary Ellen Childs. Housed in the piano’s lowest register, the opening notes blend together into a low hum, building to an angry crescendo. It is grimy and hazy with lots of pedal. Sometimes sharp high notes float in, fighting against the dark low sounds. The piece lacks clear direction—it is a collage of developing textures, all with the undercurrent of unease.

Guy Barash’s “Talkback IV” creates aural confusion. Static and garbled piano sounds bounce between the left and the right speakers. At times, the sounds seem to be coming from all directions, even bouncing straight through the listener’s brain.

With the next two tracks, “Rama Broom” and “In the Privacy of My Own Home,” the creepiness sets in. “Rama Broom,” composed by Nick Didkovsky, is an unsettling mind-twister. Using a homicidal fantasy text, Didkovsky introduces syllables out of order, leaving the listener to decode the threatening text. It’s like a drawn-out childhood nightmare. 

“In the Privacy of My Own Home” shows the different sides of laughter. It gets weird pretty fast. Supové’s husband Randall Woolf created the composition by mixing live piano with samples of Supové’s laughs during Abbot and Costello’s skit “Who’s on First?” The composition captures laughter in the contexts of humor, sadness, intimacy and insanity. At first, it’s interesting, but by the third or fourth movement, it’s unbearably awkward, creepy and a bit too personal. 

The final track, Dafna Naphtali’s “Landmine,” is a slight respite, though certainly not conventional. The composition seamlessly blends the acoustic piano performance with real-time processing. The music feels otherworldly, as if a conventional piano performance has been interrupted by space noise.

Eye to Ivory is emotionally challenging to listen to. At times, it’s not even aesthetically pleasing, but that doesn’t seem to be its goal anyway. Instead, the album succeeds where it counts—in its commitment to being fearless and memorable. 

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Danielle Buonaiuto: Marfa Songs. Music by James Young, Cecilia Livingston, Natalie Draper and Douglas Buchanan, performed by Danielle Buonaiuto, soprano, and John Wilson, piano. Starkland ST-234

Danielle Buonaiuto’s Marfa Songs is a conservative contrast to Eye to Ivory. With only soprano voice and piano, the album is beautifully raw and authentic. 

Buonaiuto is known for promoting contemporary art songs and chamber music. She has received grants from the Peabody Institute and New Music USA. In 2018, she received the Brooklyn Arts Council grant to launch ChamberQUEER, a LGBTQ+ chamber music series in Brooklyn, New York. She has been a founding member of several contemporary music ensembles, including REXDuo and the Lunar Ensemble. 

The final three tracks are the highlight of the album—Douglas Buchanan’s “Psalm 23,” “The Skye Boat Song” and “Loch Lomond.” Buchanan transports traditional Scottish folk melodies into the 21st century with colorful harmonies and dissonance. These tracks are a delight for adventurous Celtic music aficionados. 

“Psalm 23” and “Loch Lomond” stay true to the original Celtic tunes, though with reimagined harmonies. The simple melodies show off Buonaiuto’s delicate touch and vocal control. “Loch Lomond” mostly resides within her rich mid-range, building to a sparkling, mournful ending, as she laments “me and my true love will never meet again / on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”

“The Skye Boat Song” is more romantic and experimental. Pianist John Wilson’s Debussy-esque arpeggios undulate like waves beneath free, improvisatory vocals. In the chorus, the ornamented vocals of “Speed, Bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing” seems to sway in the wind before taking flight.

James Young’s “Marfa Songs” are another notable work on the album. With nine movements in 14 minutes, “Marfa Songs” celebrates Young’s youth on the great plains of West Texas. The lyrics come from Anthony Madrid’spoetry collection I am your slave, now do what I say.

This work is more unpredictable and volatile than the Celtic tunes. At times, it sounds like an operatic, Wild-West version of Bernstein’s West Side Story.

”Heathen” sets the violent scene of western settlement, as Buonaiuto begs a  “war-weary general” to “call back your army, invincible army / show mercy to the heathen people.” The violent theme continues in ”Rope” and “Dragon,” before exploring love and heartbreak in “Mattress,” the jazzy lament ”Rival” and the cruel, mocking “Olympus.” “Olympus” is particularly aggressive, as Buonaiuto leaps to the top of her range, nearly screaming the word “Olympus.” Then the set waxes reflective on love and life with “Forgiveness,” “Ghost” and the eerie lullaby “Saguaro.”

Buonaiuto’s vocal and stylistic flexibility on Marfa Songs is impressive. From delicate Celtic folk songs to energetic western songs, Buonaiuto proves her profound vocal control—she can sing nearly anything convincingly and beautifully.

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All Starkland recordings may be purchased through the label’s Webpage.

Boulder Philharmonic has a full season for 2020-21—all of it online

Players are currently rehearsing and recording six of the eight programs

By Peter Alexander Sept. 21 at 10:30 a.m.

There were airplanes coming and going at the Boulder Municipal Airport last week, there were mechanics working on airplanes, pilots picking up brake fluid for airplanes—all the activity you would expect.

And there was an orchestra.

Members of the Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman rehearse in the Brungard Aviation hangar at Boulder Municipal Airport Sept. 15.

In fact, the Boulder Philharmonic was busy rehearsing their fall 2020 season in the Brungard Aviation hangar. It’s not usual activity at the airport, but if the pilot picking up brake fluid was taken aback, he didn’t show it.

This is part of the Boulder Phil’s answer to keeping the music alive during the pandemic. As conductor Michael Butterman explains, he and the orchestra spent several months looking for a way to have a 2020–21 season.

“This is probably the 40th iteration of ‘20–‘21,” he says. “Throughout the summer we kept changing our thoughts about what we’re going to be able to do.”

They finally found a way to stream the season online. Seven of the eight concerts will be available individually or by subscription through the Boulder Phil Web page. The eighth concert, the holiday program, will be available free with voluntary contributions. Each concert will be available for a limited time after its online premier. (See the full schedule below.)

Who are those masked violinists? Rehearsals in the time of COVID.

To rehearse and record, Butterman realized, the players would have to be safely distanced and most playing with a mask. For that to be possible, they would have to use a reduced orchestra, mostly strings, and they would have to have a large space. For the former, there is a lot of available repertoire, but where would they find an appropriate space?

Michael Butterman at rehearsal in the Brungard Aviation hangar, Sept. 15

“It occurred to me that we have had galas at an airplane hangar at Rocky Mountain Airport,” Butterman says. “We ended up locating an opportunity at Boulder Municipal Airport, at Brungard Aviation’s hangar, and we’re grateful to them for that.”

Over a two week period—Sept. 15–20 and Sept. 22–27—players from the orchestra will rehearse and record for later streaming six of the eight concerts scheduled for the season. There will be three rehearsals and one three-hour recording session for each program.

The last two concerts—one a collaboration with the CU-Boulder Department of Theatre and the other with Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance—will be recorded later. That gives flexibility in working with the collaborating organizations and keeps open the possibility that some kind of live performance might be possible by the end of the season.

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Two artists who have appeared with the Boulder Phil in the past—pianist Simone Dinnerstein and cellist Zuill Bailey—were invited to collaborate in chamber or chamber orchestra performances. “Zuill and Simone are wonderful to work with,” Butterman says. “The fact that we’ve had them both to Boulder already, and that they’ve been very popular with our audience, they were obvious choices.”

Zuill Bailey

To make the video recordings, the Boulder Phil recruited the service of sound and video engineer Michael Quam. There will be 10 cameras recording each piece, providing a wide variety of camera angles for the streamed performances.

Streamed concerts offer both a challenge and an opportunity. “This season may offer opportunities for greater access for some people,” Butterman says: “anybody who has problems with transportation, who has a schedule conflict Saturdays at 7:30, who lives far enough from Boulder that they don’t want to drive in.” And of course the hope is that the convenience of being able to see concerts on demand will attract new audiences 

The necessity of limiting the number of performers led to some thoughtful  programming. For example, during the years after World War I and during the Spanish flu, Stravinsky and other composers did not have access to large orchestras. Instead, they wrote music for smaller groups, including Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat for seven players, which is ideal for the pandemic year. It will be on the April 3 program. 

Other works will be performed in arrangements for reduced ensembles, such as Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony on April 24, arranged for a string sextet, and Ellen Taaffe Zwillich’s Cello Concerto, which the composer re-arranged for chamber ensemble, on March 13.

In fact, Butterman says, “the idea of this being a re-imagined season is embodied in each of the programs. We’re presenting pieces that themselves have undergone some amount of transformation. In the case of Vivaldi (recomposed by Max Richter, on the Oct. 17 concert), that’s obvious. The least obvious example is the Bach concert (Nov. 14), but any time you’re playing Bach on piano, that is a bit of a re-imagining.

“We’re obviously retooling the concert experience. I think there’s some very, very strong upsides to that, including bringing you inside the experience, and making the access wider.”

And if they find new fans among the mechanics at Brungard Aviation, or pilots that need brake fluid, so much the better.

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Boulder Phil 2021: Reimagined
All performances streamed online
Tickets available through the Boulder Phil Web page

Vivaldi Recomposed
Michael Butterman, conductor
Charles Wetherbee, violin

Jesse Montgomery: Strum
Benjamin Britten: Simple Symphony
Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons

Available from 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17

The Beauty of Bach
Simone Dinnerstein, pianist and conductorChristina Jennings, flute, and Charles Wetherbee, violin

J.S. Bach/Philip Lasser: Erbarm’ Dich
J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor
Keyboard Concerto in D minor
Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D major

Available from 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14

Happy Holidays from the Phil
No tickets required; contributions welcomed
Available from 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13

Zuill and Zwillich
Zuill Bailey, cello, with Michael Butterman and Jennifer Hayghe, piano

Rachmaninoff: Vocalise  for cello and piano
Ellen Taaffe Zwillich: Cello Concerto (chamber version)
Schubert: Piano Quintet in A major (“The Trout”)

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23

Mozart and Mendelssohn
Simone Dinnerstein, piano

Scott Joplin: “Solace” and “Bethena”
Mozart/Ignaz Lachner: Piano Concerto in C major, K467
Mendelssohn: Octet for Strings

Available from 7:30 Saturday, Feb. 13

A Celebration of Cello
Michael Butterman conductor, with Zuill Bailey, cello

Debussy/Schoenberg: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Schumann/Philip Lasser: Cello Concerto in A minor
Paul Trapkus: Trio for Three Violins
Giovanni Sollima: Violencelles, Vibrez!
Wagner: Siegfried Idyll

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 13

The Soldier’s Tale
Michael Butterman, conductor 
CU Department of Theatre and Boulder Ballet

Stravinsky: L’Histoire du soldat (The soldier’s tale)

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 3

Beethoven 6 and Frequent Flyers
Michael Butterman, conductor
Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance

George Walker: Lyric for Strings
Korine Fujiwara: Suite from Claudel
Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F major (“Pastoral”; arr. for string sextet by M.G. Fischer)

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24

“Music and Moore,” a classical-music TV show for young and old

Shows feature conductor Elliot Moore, the Longmont Symphony and a Beethoven wig

By Izzy Fincher Sept. 15 at 11:10 a.m.

Elliot Moore had to reimagine the 2020-21 season. It started with a TV show. 

“I have always had a belief that we need to bring the art to the people, not that the people have to come to the concert hall,” Moore, the conductor of the Longmont Symphony Orchestra, says. “We need to make the artists, who perform the music, accessible to the public. Due to social distancing, I thought to myself, a television show is a way of bringing the music to the people.”

Elliot Moore, host of “Music and Moore”

This led to the creation of the program “Music and Moore,” produced by the Longmont Symphony Orchestra and Moore. New episodes are released every other week in partnership with Longmont Public Media.

Hokusai: “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”

The first episode, released Aug. 21, explores Smetana’s symphonic poem Vltava, known in English as The Moldau.Composed in 1874, The Moldau depicts the longest river in Bohemia, or today’s Czech Republic, a source of national pride for Smetana. Continuing the theme of water, the second episode, released Sept. 4, focuses on Debussy’s La Mer (The sea) and his inspiration from Hokusai’s print “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” Both episodes include LSO’s own archived performances from 2018, filmed and produced by Phil Huff. 

Moore also diversifies the show with other content. He believes music alone is not enough outside of the concert hall, so he hopes to create “a fusion of Mr. Rodgers meets world news tonight,” allowing for “depth with entertainment and educational value,” he says.

The show has a bit of everything—music history, comedic relief, coffee-making, interviews, archived performances, new virtual collaborations and a fan Q&A. He even dresses up as Beethoven with a scraggly brown wig and vaguely German accent, to make the show “feel a little bit less isolating,” he says.

Moore hopes the Beethoven persona and fun approach to classical music will engage a younger audience. He says he wants to “create connections between school children and the Longmont Symphony.” Learning packets for each episode, created by music educators, also increase engagement and serve as an educational resource for local K–12 students and teachers. 

Elliot Moore in his more familiar role, conductor

Beyond Longmont’s youth, Moore hopes to reach a wide audience in terms of age and classical music knowledge. 

“I’m not sure if it matters how old you are,” Moore says. “I think it can be pretty easily understood from a third grader to a musicologist. It’s fun, and it’s light in a way they can relate to. What I hope is that it breaks down some barriers. It can be sophisticated, but at the same it is very basic and very human. It’s something we all experience.”

In future episodes, Moore hopes to move beyond music history to relevant topics of social justice, classical music stigmas and diversity. He also looks forward to in-person conversations on “Music and Moore” when the LSO can safely resume, though Beethoven will still be his favorite co-host.

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“Music and Moore”
Featuring Elliot Moore, the Longmont Symphony and “Beethoven”

Episode 3 to be released Sept. 18. 

Zack Reaves has had a lot of free time since March

Former Altius Quartet cellist has new skills, and online posts to prove it 

By Peter Alexander Sept. 14 at 3:55 p.m.

Zack Reaves did a lot of traveling until the pandemic hit.

Cellist Zack Reaves

The former cellist of Boulder and CU’s Altius String Quartet moved to Los Angeles last year. “I was still playing with Boulder Phil, but then I began a temporary teaching position at Oklahoma City University,” he says. “I was flying back and forth between LA and Oklahoma City while I was still playing some concerts in Colorado, so it was kind of a crazy year.”

All of that came to a sudden halt in March. Like most musicians, he no longer had work. And like many others, he started recording himself at home and posting the results online—but he had one big advantage over most classical musicians. The cello can play from the bass register way up into the range of violins. Cellists have always taken advantage of their wide range by arranging everything from Rossini overtures to Sousa marches for cello ensembles.

Reaves took the obvious next step: arrange pieces for five or six cellos, and then record all the parts himself. So far, he has two pieces posted online, with more to come. Currently available are Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G minor, op. 23 no. 5, arranged for six cellos, and the Passepied from the Suite Bergamasque by Debussy, arranged for five cellos, both performed entirely by Reaves.

“It’s definitely a lot of work,” he says of the process of creating videos. First he has to arrange a piece for cellos, then learn and record all the parts, then do the editing to pull them together into a single tiled video, with all of his performances perfectly synchronized.

Zack Reaves x 6, playing Rachmaninoff

“The first few videos that I did, I was l just home,” he explains. “I didn’t have any work that I had to be at, so I [thought] ‘I’m just going to do this until it‘s done!’ I would start recording in the morning and work on it all day, and a couple of videos I worked on until 4 in the morning.

“It was completely unreasonable,” he admits, and with his wife’s urging he has cut back. “Now I take a couple of weeks on a project.”

The first album by the Altius Quartet; Zack Reaves on the far right

The arranging part of the process was something Reaves had done before. He had made arrangements for the Altius Quartet, in particular for their first album, Dress Code, and in other contexts over the past seven years. “I really enjoy it,” he says. “To me it’s kind of like putting together a puzzle.”

So will there be more completed puzzles showing up online? “I’m hoping to build up an online presence, so I definitely plan to do more,” Reaves says. “I try to pick songs that I enjoy, and ones that I think will work. The next one that I plan to do is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen.”

Reaves’s string sextet version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was presented by the Altius Quartet and guests several years ago in a Dairy Center concert, and he created an all-cello version last year for his students in Oklahoma. They never got to perform it publicly, but his last visit to Oklahoma before the pandemic included a rehearsal with the entire cello studio.

At this point in the process of learning to make online videos, Reaves sees positives as well as the obvious negatives of the pandemic. “I will say that the pandemic is forcing musicians to think outside the box, especially classical musicians,” he says. 

“We are not always known for our creativity. I for one am enjoying learning some other skills: working on my arranging, and learning the technical skills. The more I perfect that skill, more opportunities it opens for me in the long run.

“You need to improve as many things are you’re capable of. That’s what I’ve always been about.”