‘Biomes’: Diversifying the Classical Music Ecosystem

Dad Village Symphony Orchestra will present virtual concert Saturday

By Izzy Fincher April 15 at 1:45 p.m.

A biome is a large area characterized by its vegetation, soil, climate, and wildlife. There are five major types of biomes: aquatic, grassland, forest, desert, and tundra, though some of these biomes can be further divided into more specific categories, such as freshwater, marine, savanna, tropical rainforest, temperate rainforest, and taiga.

—National Geographic Society

Biomes need ecological diversity to thrive. Diversity makes them more healthy, stable and resilient in the long term. 

Likewise, the classical music biome needs diversity to flourish. Traditionally, it has been a fragile, old-fashioned ecosystem; however, in the last year, the biome has been revitalized, as entrepreneurial musicians have responded to social justice movements and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Jordan Halloway

One such diversifier is Jordan Holloway, a CU-Boulder senior. In March of 2020, he founded the Dad Village Symphony Orchestra (DVSO), an ensemble of more than 40 musicians from several colleges that performs new and underrepresented repertoire virtually. 

The DVSO’s second virtual concert, “Biomes,” set to premiere at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 17, will include nature-themed works by J. Jay Berthume, Lili Boulanger, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Holloway. These works have been re-orchestrated for the DVSO by six contemporary composers, including senior Margaret Friesen and alum Brian Lambert.

“I want to bring underrepresented music in a creative way to new audiences,” Holloway says. “I want to take all of the stupid stuff with classical music and leave it at the door. This is a much easier way to do that than in person.”

The DVSO began as a one-off project for Holloway to premiere his Symphony No. 1, The Patriot, a musical protest against America’s racial and social injustice. However, as the DVSO community grew, he felt compelled to continue the project. 

“For the first project, I cast as wide a net as I was individually capable of,” Holloway says. “Then the community continued to grow way beyond what I could do myself.”

Grace Stringfellow

Holloway decided to bring in two collaborators, senior Grace Stringfellow and CU-Boulder alum Anoushka Divekar, to help manage and promote the DVSO. Together, they decided to expand the DVSO’s mission to performing diverse repertoire, as well as new music, to contribute to increased musical equity and inclusion for underrepresented communities.

“Last summer was an awakening moment for me,” Divekar says. “I think I was musically aware before but not as socially aware.”

For “Biomes,” Holloway decided to program works from two diverse composers of the early 20th century: Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912), a British Black composer, and Boulanger (1893–1918), the sister of renowned composition teacher Nadia Boulanger and the first woman to win the Prix de Rome composition prize in 1913. Holloway chose two of their nature-themed works that are notable for their high level of energy.

Anoushka Diveka

Coleridge-Taylor’s Forest Scenes has an expressive style and depicts a mysterious love story between a lone forest maiden and her phantom lover. Boulanger’s Trois morceaux pour piano (Three pieces for piano), depicts two contemplative garden scenes and a funeral procession. Both works, originally for solo piano, have been reorchestrated for the DVSO by several different composers, each taking on individual movements.

“There is this constant power driving through all of (the program)—this energy inherent in nature that we can step back and observe,” Divekar says. 

Shifting to new repertoire, Holloway chose Berthume’s Wind in the Wood, a contemporary work for woodwind octet, to continue the theme of terrestrial biomes. The octet, which features flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, depicts a windy forest with an upbeat feeling and dynamic textures.

For a brief aquatic interlude, Holloway also included his recent composition, Oceanic Scherzo. Like Holloway’s other compositions, the scherzo features musical imagery and colorful harmonies, influenced by Romantic-era French composers including Debussy and Boulanger.

“I like to write about the ocean (using) aquatic sounds,” Holloway says. “This scherzo has big wave and sea spray vibes. It sounds very jagged, fast and compound.”

“The depth and layers of the ocean are portrayed very well, especially with the brass,” Stringfellow adds. 

In addition to connecting with nature, “Biomes” has fostered human connections within the orchestra and beyond with their wider, virtual audience, which has been an impactful experience for orchestra members during COVID-19. 

“(During the pandemic), I was feeling very musically unfulfilled and unmotivated,” Divekar says. “I felt I had lost music making. But with this (project), I felt like I was playing with an orchestra again. It has been super musically fulfilling.”

“I am very proud to say I was a part of this,” Stringfellow adds. 

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Lili Boulanger

“Biomes”
Dad Village Symphony Orchestra

  • J. Jay Berthume: Wind in the Wood
  • Lili Boulanger: Trois morceaux pour piano
  • Jordan Holloway: Oceanic Scherzo
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Forest Scenes

YouTube premiere at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 17

Moore and the Longmont Symphony present “A Portrait of Mozart”

Program ranges from one of Mozart’s earliest to one of his last works

By Peter Alexander April 13 at 10:10 p.m.

Elliot Moore says that he needs a little Mozart right now.

“It’s been such a terrible time,” he says of the past year. “Mozart’s music is what I need. This is important to who I am.”

Elliot Moore

As conductor of the Longmont Symphony (LSO), Moore is in a position to fill that need. And we can all benefit when the LSO presents “A Portrait of Mozart,” a concert featuring works from Mozart’s very earliest years until nearly the last work he wrote. The concert stream will be available at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 17. You may purchase tickets here.

The program opens with the Overture to La finta semplice, K51, Mozart’s very first opera written when he was 12. That is followed by one of his very last completed works, the Clarinet Concerto, K622, featuring Colorado Symphony principal clarinetist Jason Shafer as soloist.

The program concludes with a symphony that falls between these works, the Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K183. Known as the “Little G-minor Symphony” to distinguish it from Mozart’s late Symphony in G minor, K550, it is the first of Mozart’s symphonies to find a permanent place on orchestral programs.

Moore has wrapped the concert into a larger project to make Mozart better known. In addition to the concert itself, there will be a pre-concert discussion about Mozart’s life on Zoom at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 15, that is open to concert ticketholders, and Moore has created a reading list for anyone who wants to go deeper into Mozart’s life. All the details of Moore’s “Mozart Mania” can be found on the LSO Web page

The concert and the project to explore Mozart’s life “is something that I feel is important to who I am,” Moore says. “It’s a way to have some kind of a shared experience that we have not had in over a year, and that’s part of the reason that I had the idea to do this.”

Mozart at age 12

The opera overture “is remarkable for a 12-year old,” Moore says. “I’m not sure it’s much more than that, but I think it’s extraordinary to see some of the first orchestral music a 12-year-old Mozart wrote.”

The overture also provides background to Mozart’s professional life. La finta semplice was written when the boy Mozart was visiting Vienna. His father, Leopold, hoped to have it produced by the court opera, but he made the mistake of overpromoting the work, which annoyed members of the royal family and some of the court musicians. Later the Empress Maria Theresa, who had relatives all over Europe, discouraged her family members from hiring Mozart, describing Leopold and other members of the family as “useless people.”

In other words, this opera, written he was 12, “set the tone for Mozart not being able to get a job” for the rest of his life, Moore says.

Moore chose K183, the “Little G-minor” Symphony, for two reasons. First, it is considered Mozart’s first fully mature symphony, and as such marks a milestone in the composer’s development. 

The other reason is more practical. “I needed to find a work where we could actually fit onstage,” Moore explains. Because Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum is limited in size, the orchestra had to be limited as well. Other symphonies he might have chosen required too many players. “It’s a very tricky balance to put on these kind performances in a pandemic!” Moore says.

Anton Stadler with 18th-century clarinet

Mozart wrote his Clarinet Concerto in October of 1791, a mere two months before his death. It was written for Anton Stadler, a friend of the composer for whom the concerto, the Clarinet Quintet, and obligato clarinet parts in Mozart’s last opera, La clemenza di Tito, were written. When Mozart rushed to Prague for the premiere of the opera in September 1791, Stadler travelled in the same carriage with the composer and his wife, Constanza.

Stadler was clearly a virtuoso player. The concerto is difficult enough to play well on modern instruments; on the clarinets of his day, it would be a supreme challenge.

It was most likely written for a “basset clarinet,” a clarinet with extended range. That was a custom-made instrument that Stadler owned and played. Few players today have a basset clarinet, but the concerto is well known in a version adapted to the standard modern instrument. 

“It’s a phenomenal piece,” Moore says. “There’s something about the second movement—I ask myself, did he know that this was going to be one of the last slow movements he wrote? I don’t know if I’ll ever know the answer, but boy is it great to be onstage making music.”

Moore is delighted not only to be onstage performing Mozart, but also to share Mozart with the audience. “I have been drawn to Mozart since March 2020, because it makes me feel good,” he says. “If we can share that, and delve a little deeper into this man’s life, it will enrich all our lives.

“At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about.”

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Jason Shafer

“A Portrait of Mozart”
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With Jason Shafer, clarinet

Mozart: Overture to La finta semplice, K51 (46a)
Mozart: Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, K622
Mozart: Symphony in G minor, K183

Stream available 7 p.m. Saturday, April 17

Tickets available here.

The concert will be preceded by a Pre-Concert Talk on Zoom at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 15 that is available to concert ticketholders. For details on this and other activities around the concert, visit the Longmont Symphony Web page

Seicento Baroque Ensemble presents “Inspire Baroque”

Series of educational sessions are open to the public

By Peter Alexander April 7 at 6:50 p.m.

Imagine that you are leading a chorus. What do you do when a pandemic prevents you from presenting concerts, or even gathering for rehearsals?

If the chorus is the Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Boulder’s chamber choir devoted to the music of the early Baroque period, you might see this as an opportunity to expand knowledge and understanding of the Baroque style of music. You could, for examle, provide educational sessions designed to “demystify ‘Baroque Performance Practice’ in classical music and dance.” 

Seicento Baroque Ensemble with their director, Amanda Balestrieri (in blue)

In fact, that is exactly what Amanda Balestrieri, Seicento’s artistic director, decided to do this spring.

This intriguing appraoch allows safe distancing, since each session only requires a single presenter, and perhaps one or two other participants. It provides insight into the often arcane matters of early Baroque performance—knowledge that will benefit both the choir’s audience and their members. It allows Seicento to stay in contact with their supporters, and might attract the attention of potential new listeners.

The first of the “Inspire Baroque” series, as it is called—a class on Baroque dance—was held in March, but four sessions remain. The first of those remaining sessions, “Cellos & Viols and Students, Oh My!” will premiere on YouTube at 6 p.m. Friday, April 9.

Sarah Biber

For that session, Baroque and viola da gamba specialist Sarah Biber will explore and explain the viol family of instruments—bowed stringed instruments of the Renaissance and Baroque periods that are similar to, but distinct to the more familiar violin and its larger relations. Assisted by colleagues and students, Biber will use the “La Folia” theme, employed by many Baroque composers and familiar to Baroque music enthusiasts.

Other sessions of the “Inspire Baroque” series and their premieres will be:

—“Historic Organs Meet 21st-Century Tech,” 6–7 p.m. Friday, April 23. Using a Virtual Pipe Organ (VPO) setup, historical keyboard specialist Wesley Leffingwell will discuss organ history and music that showcases the versatility of a virtual instrument.

—“What’s Your Temperament (and why does it matter)?” 6–7 p.m. Friday, May 7. Organist and harpsichord performer Eric Wicks will venture into the complex and deeply mystifying subject of Baroque-era intonation and systems of tuning, and explain the ways that different temperaments affect the sound and expression of early music performances.

—“The Flute’s Pleasure Garden,” 6–8:15 p.m. Friday, May 21. Flutist and recorder specialist Rob Turner will present Baroque music written or arranged for unaccompanied recorder and transverse flute, using his extensive personal collection of instruments. The YouTube premiere of the “Inspire Baroque” session will be followed by a Q&A session by Zoom. 

Each session is free, with a requested donation to Seicento. You may sign up for the individual sessions here.

Tickets available for Sunday’s concert by Takács Quartet

Music by Haydn, Schubert, Dutilleux: Stream available through May 10

By Peter Alexander April 7 at 12:30 p.m.

The CU-based Takács Quartet has played a series of concerts in Grusin Hall this year, but you can be forgiven if you missed them. They were played without an audience, and most of the live streams were available only to season ticket holders.

The final concert of ’20-21, at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 11, will again be in an empty hall, but tickets for the stream are available to the general public. The performance will be streamed live at 4 p.m., and the stream will remain available through Monday, May 10.

David Requiro

Cellist and CU faculty member David Requiro will join the Takács for Schubert’s much loved Quintet in C major for Strings, D956. Other works on the program will be two quartets by Joseph Haydn—Op. 42 and Op. 103, both in D minor—and the atmospheric Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night) by 20th-century French composer Henri Dutilleux.

András Fejér, the quartet’s cellist, has been with the Takács since it was founded in 1975. He has played everything on the program many times, but he never gets tired of his job. “The literature is so incredibly rich!” he says. “One can argue and counter argue on any page of any of the pieces for lifetime. It’s a joy to listen to (other players’) ideas.”

Take for example the two Haydn quartets that will open the program. “With Haydn, whenever we start learning and studying you are just swept away by his generosity of ideas—surprising key changes, character changes and trickery,” he says.

Fejér believes the “trickery,” for which Haydn is well known, was done for the composer to entertain his audience—and himself. “If you spend 40 years in a palace on the Austro-Hungarian border, however generous your patron is, you need to care about your own entertainment,” he says.

Some of the fun also comes from Haydn’s contact with the local peasants, Fejér believes. “They were full of joy, they were full of rowdiness, probably some dancing, and we can find most of it on those pages. Hopefully you will see the enjoyment in our body language, and you will be transported into the 18th-century. It’s got such spice and an earthy, primal energy. Wonderful!”

Both Haydn quartets are unusual among the composer’s works. For one thing, they are both in D minor, at a time when few works were written in minor keys. Further, both are short works that do not belong to a larger set, as most Haydn quartets do. Op. 42 is in four short movements—less than 20 minutes all together. 

One of the last pieces Haydn wrote, Op. 103 remains a fragment of two movements. Written in B-flat major and D minor, they are assumed to have been the second and third movements of a planned four-movement quartet, but even that is uncertain. Haydn was in poor health as he was writing, and was unable to finish a full quartet.

Like the Haydn Op. 103, Schubert’s Quintet in C major was the composer’s last piece of chamber music. It was completed about two months before Schubert’s death in Nov. 1828 but was not performed until 1850, and published three years after that.

Schubert added a second cello to the standard string quartet, which gives a great resonance and warmth of sound to the ensemble. This is especially true because the piece is in C major, and the two bottom string of the cello are C and G, tonic and dominant of the key. Fejér explains that “the open strings of the cello, C and G, resonate just by lightly touching the instrument. It just rolls out—wonderful!”

Henri Dutilleux

The Takács Quartet has performed the Schubert with Requiro in the past, including a performance at Lincoln Center. “We are just looking forward to (performing with) David Requiro,” Fejér says. “We already played the Quintet many times with him, and it was wonderful.”

Schubert’s String Quintet has become one of the most loved pieces of chamber music from the 19th century. Like many of Schubert’s last works, it has a warmth and benedictive quality that audiences have responded to. It is indicative of that quality, Fejér says, that “the most people I know ask for the Schubert Quintet slow movement for their own funeral.”

That is unlikely to be true for the final piece on the program, which comes from another world. Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night) is a highly atmospheric work from the late 20th century. The composer has been identified with the atonal 12-tone style of composition, although he notably rejected the more radical and intolerant aspects of musical modernism.

“The music is extremely atmospheric,” is how Fejér describes Ainsi la nuit. “Many composers were trying to give meaning for the noises of the night, and Dutilleux certainly tries it his own ways. As performers, we need to (bring out) the colors and character to give the audience some sense of within what cosmos are we moving about.

“There are clashes and supernovas and black matter and God knows what else, but the beauty and atmosphere keep recurring.”

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Takács Quartet

Takács Quartet, with David Requiro, cello

Haydn: String Quartet in D minor, op. 42
Haydn: String Quartet in D minor, op. 103
Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night)
Schubert: String Quintet in C major, D956

Live stream at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 11; available through 11 p.m. Monday, May 10

Tickets

Boulder Philharmonic continues exploring music for small orchestra

Streamed concert available April 3 will feature Stravinsky’s “Soldier’s Tale”

By Peter Alexander April 2 at 1 p.m.

The past year has been the year of the chamber orchestra.

To respect the need for safe distancing between players, orchestras including the Boulder Philharmonic have presented entire programs of music written, or arranged, for reduced orchestra or chamber ensembles. Each of the Philharmonic’s 2020-21 performances has been recorded and streamed for ticket purchasers to access from the safety of their homes—as most orchestras have done.

That trend continues with the Phil’s next concert, but with a twist. The one piece on the program for Saturday (April 3, available from 7:30 p.m.), Stravinsky’s theater piece L’Histoire du soldat (The soldier’s tale), is ideal for performance during a pandemic—because it was in fact written during the last global pandemic, the Spanish Flu of 1918–19.

Stravinsky sat out World War I in Switzerland. As the war was coming to an end, the production of large-scale works, such as his previous ballets The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring, was no longer possible. Instead, Stravinsky thought of creating a theater piece for a small group of musicians and actors that could be toured to Swiss villages. 

Stravinsky and the Swiss writer C.F. Ramuz collaborated to write L’Histoire du soldat, based on a Russian folk tale and written for seven players (violin, string bass, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone and percussion), three actors and a dancer—ideal numbers for safely distanced performances. In the end, the flu defeated Stravinsky’s plan for a tour, but L’Histoire was premiered in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1918. The music has retained a place in the chamber orchestra repertoire, and the score is important as a bellwether of the transition from the massive musical works of the pre-war period to the neo-classicism of the late 19-teens and ‘20s.

The folktale that provided the plot is one that Stravinsky knew from Russia, but it is found in many different cultures: A lonely soldier engages in a contest with the devil. This is a well known story, from legends of Paganini selling his soul for unnatural fiddle skills, to Blues musicians being in league with the devil, to the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

C.F. Ramuz and Stravinsky

In the story worked up by Stravinsky and Ramuz, the soldier trades his fiddle—representing his soul—to the devil for knowledge that will make him wealthy. The soldier prospers and marries a princess, but the devil returns and triumphs in the end. 

“I think it’s a confusing story to follow,” Michael Butterman, conductor of the Boulder Phil, says. “It helps to have some frame of reference. I’m going to give a brief outline of what’s happening, so that people understand that the devil keeps coming back in different guises and disguises.”

The basic moral of the story, Butterman says, is that the soldier gets lots of stuff, but stuff doesn’t make him happy. “It’s all nothing without the fiddle—that’s your soul,” Butterman says. This is essentially the message of a passage from the Gospel According to Mark, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Butterman suggests.

Although 20th-century modernist in style, the music is easily grasped by listeners. “We have marches,” Butterman explains. “Although they are not totally regular in their march rhythm, they still feel like left, right, left, right. You have three dances that are stylized, but clearly identifiable. And there’s chorales that sound like chorales.”

The dances are a tango, a waltz, and one titled “Ragtime”—but, Butterman observes, “it’s not going to remind anybody of Scott Joplin.” Stravinsky had never heard American jazz performed, although he had some printed copies. He used the rhythms as he saw them on the page and listeners will likely recognize the syncopations.

Michael Butterman. Photo by Rene Palmer.

“Stravinsky sees everything through his own unique prism,” Butterman says. “What’s interesting about the piece to me is that it sounds less complex that it appears on the page. It’s a very complicated piece to put together and to conduct, just technically speaking. Much of the music does not line up at all with the meter that he’s [notated].”

Those are complications for the performers, but not necessarily for the listeners. “There’s enough familiar both in terms of the story and in terms of the musical forms that you know where to glom onto it” Butterman says. “The music is accessible, it’s not highly dissonant, it’s downright tuneful, quite clever, and always given to you in digestible chunks.”

The performance is presented in collaboration with the CU Department of Theater and Dance and the Boulder Ballet. The performance, which has already been recorded, was staged by Bud Coleman, department chair. Theater students fill the roles of four actors—a narrator, the soldier, and two actors to portray the devil. Boulder Ballet has provided the dancer and choreography.

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Members of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Butterman, conductor
Staged by Bud Coleman with actors from the CU Dept. of Theater and Danc
Dance from the Boulder Ballet

Stravinsky: L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale)

Available at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 3 (through April 17)

Pre-concert discussion at 7 p.m.

Tickets