Ars Nova Singers present music “Made Perfect” Oct. 15–16

Concert features music of Renaissance composer Palestrina

By Peter Alexander Oct. 14 at 5:35 p.m.

The music of Renaissance composer Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina was regarded as having been “made perfect” by the generations that followed him.

Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina

Boulder’s Are Nova Singers will present a concert devoted largely to Palestrina’s perfectly made music, along with a piece by the contemporary English composer John Tavener, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 at St. Pauls’ Community of Faith in Denver, and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, in First United Methodist Church in Boulder. Tickets are available for both in-person attendance, and also for an online audience for the Oct. 15 performance, on the Ars Nova Web page.

Proof of vaccination must be shown for admission, and masks must be worn indoors throughout the concert.

The leading composer of sacred music in the 16th century, Palestrina spent his entire life in or near Rome, having been born just outside the city. He served for many years as director of the Capella Giulia, the papal choir at St. Peter’s Basilica. His reputation then and later was so great that he was long and falsely credited with having “saved” polyphonic (multi-voice) sacred choral music during the Council of Trent, which was tasked with purging and clarifying church doctrine as part of the 16th-century Counter-Reformation.

It was Palestrina’s mastery of counterpoint that was so widely admired by musicians and theorists. The teaching of counterpoint for several generations after was based on his works, which were characterized by the smooth movement of voices, with very few leaps between notes, and careful control of dissonance. In fact, his style is still taught today as “Renaissance polyphony.” It has been the verdict of history that he was the greatest composer of sacred music of his generation.

Palestrina wrote at least 104 polyphonic settings of the mass, more than 300 motets, 35 magnificats, and 140 madrigals, among other works. From this vast output, Are Nova will perform a Missa Brevis (short mass), a movement from another setting of the mass, and three motets. 

John Tavener

Twentieth/twenty-first century composer John Tavener (1944-2013) was also known for his extensive output of sacred choral music. His “Song for Athene” became particularly well known when it was performed in 1997 at the funeral for Diana, Princess of Wales. The “Exhortation” is written for double chorus. It was commissioned for the 2003 Festival of Remembrance in London’s Royal Albert Hall and is based on the poem “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, which begins “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.”

Like much of Tavener’s music, “Exhortation” conveys both serenity and a mystical quality that seems related to his extensive spiritual exploration by means of Russian and Greek orthodox Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Tavener described himself as “essentially Orthodox,” which became an important aspect of his musical identity.

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Ars Nova Singers
Thomas Morgan, director
2021–22 Season

“Made Perfect”

  • Palestrina: Missa Brevis
  • Surge amica mea
  • Diffusa est gratis
  • Accepit Jesus calicem
  • Agnus Dei (Missa Benedicta es)
  • John Tavener: Exhortation

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15
St. Paul’s Community of Faith
1600 Grant St, Denver

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16
First United Methodist Church,
1421 Spruce St, Boulder

In-person and livestream TICKETS

“Made Merry”

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10
St. Paul’s Community of Faith, Denver

4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12
United Church of Christ, Longmont

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 16
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Boulder

7:30 p.m. Friday Dec. 17
First United Methodist Church, Boulder

“Made Fragile”

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022
St. Paul’s Community of Faith, Denver

4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022
First United Methodist Church, Boulder

“Made Light”
With Sandra Wong, nyckelharpa and violin; Ann Marie Morgan, viola da gamba

Regional tour: March 24, Pueblo, Colo.
March 25, Albuquerque, N.M.
March 26, Santa Fe, N.M.

April 1: Central Presbyterian Church, Denver
April 2: First United Methodist Church, Boulder

Longmont Symphony visits Stewart Auditorium for concerts Oct. 16 & 17

Reduced orchestra will play works of Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss and Jessie Montgomery

By Peter Alexander Oct. 13 at 4 p.m.

Elliot Moore spent the pandemic listening to music. Many of us did, but Moore’s listening wasn’t just a way to pass the lonely hours. As conductor of the Longmont Symphony Orchestra (LSO), he was listening to symphonies by Joseph Haydn—not quite all 108 of them, but enough that he found the one that spoke to him.

That symphony—No. 96 in D major, known as “The Miracle”—will anchor the LSO’s next program, a concert for smaller orchestra to be presented in the Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17. In addition to Haydn’s symphony, the program will feature cellist Matthew Zalkind playing Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, “Starburst” by Jessie Montgomery, and Richard Strauss’ Serenade for 13 Winds. Tickets for the concert can be purchased here

Haydn’s Symphony “just grabbed me,” Moore says. “I listened to countless of Haydn’s symphonies, just getting to know them, getting to know his orchestral world. First of all, I love it. What a creative symphonist! His level of creativity for the genre was astronomical. It blew me away.”

The Symphony No. 96 was given the name “Miracle” on the mistaken belief that it was the work by Haydn that was being played when a chandelier collapsed onto the floor during a concert the composer presented in London in 1791. It was actually another symphony, during a performance in 1795, where the audience dodged the chandelier when they all pressed forward to the edge of the stage. The name “Miracle” has stuck, and so Moore plans to celebrate a miracle of another sort with the performance.

Matthew Zalkind Courtesy photo

“When you’re just getting back to in-person performances—to me, that’s the miracle,” he says.

The other major anchor piece on the program will be Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, usually known as the Rococo Variations, for solo cello and orchestra. A graceful and lyrical piece, the variations are not really Rococo in style. As Moore explains it, Tchaikovsky “takes the Rococo, the gestalt of it, and puts it in a very Romantic, Russian sort of way.” In other words, there are subtle nods to the highly decorated Rococo style of the 18th century in the theme, but the overall feeling of the piece is pure 19th-century Romanticism.

Zalkind teaches cello at the Lamont School of Music in Denver. A graduate of Juilliard and the University of Michigan, he is co-artistic director of the Denver Chamber Music Festival. He was awarded First Prize in the Washington International Competition, as well as top prizes in the Beijing International Cello Competition and Korea’s Isang Yun Gyeongnam International Competition.  

The concert will open with Montgomery’s “Starburst.” A violinist and composer, Montgomery has found her compositions for string orchestra featured in numerous performances over the past year. Written for a small ensemble, they proved ideal for streamed performances during the pandemic, and they have been popular with both players and audiences1.

“She’s a string player, and she writes for strings very well,” Moore says. “Starburst is something I’m looking forward to, something that’s got high energy [to] open the performance.” 

To balance the program by featuring the SLO’s winds as well as the strings, Moore chose Strauss’ Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments. Written when the composer was just 17, it is one of his earliest works. The score calls for four horns, reflecting the influence of the composer’s father, a noted horn player in the Munich court orchestra. The tuneful and generally lyrical single-movement Serenade also reflects the senior Strauss’ conservative musical tastes, which scarcely went beyond mid-period Beethoven.

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Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, director
With Matthew Zalkind, cello

  • Jessie Montgomery: “Starburst”
  • Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33
  • Richard Strauss: Serenade for 13 Winds
  • Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 96 (“The Miracle”)

7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17
Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum
TICKETS

Central City Opera announces 2022 summer festival season

90th season is planned to be back in the beautiful Central City Opera House

By Peter Alexander Oct. 6 at 5:40 p.m.

Central City Opera has announced three delicious offerings for the 90th summer season in 2022, scheduled to be back in  the exquisite but small Central City Opera House in Central City, after last year’s outdoors performances at Hudson Gardens in Littleton.

Opening Night at Central City Opera. Featured in Central City Opera’s 75th anniversary book, “Theatre of Dreams, The Glorious Central City Opera—Celebrating 75 Years.”

The 2022 season will open on July 2 and run through July 31. The two works scheduled for mainstage performances in the Central City Opera House will be Die Fledermaus, the frothy Viennese operetta by Johann Strauss, Jr., and  The Light in the Piazza, a 2005 Broadway show by Adam Guettel—Richard Rodgers’s grandson—based on a novella by American writer Elizabeth Spencer. The third production will be Two Remain, a two-act opera by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer based on the true stories of Holocaust survivors Krystyna Zywulska and Gad Beck. Two Remain will be performed in the Martin Foundry in Central City.

The mainstage productions promise lighter fare for next summer, with no murder-for-hire plots (Rigoletto, 2021), suicides (Carousel, 2021, and Madame Butterfly, 2019), hangings (Bully Budd, 2019), or burnings at the stake (Il Trovatore, 2018). This may be just what audiences need after the COVID pandemic; I for one look forward to a summer without operatic death. I also look forward to all three works: one I love (Die Fledermaus) and two that I am eager to discover (The Light in the Piazza and Two Remain).

Central City Opera has provided the following descriptions of the works in the 2022 season:

  • The light comic operetta Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss Jr. premiered in 1874 and continues to be treasured by audiences today. Gabriel von Eisenstein playfully tosses his friend Doctor Falke out of a carriage en route home from a lavish costume party. Dressed in a ridiculous bat disguise, Falke is now known about town as Doctor Bat, or Die Fledermaus. Later, Eisenstein is attempting to dodge a short jail sentence for yet another overture of mischief. Under the guise of one final night on the town, Falke launches a champagne-soaked prank with the help of Eisenstein’s wife Rosalinde, determined to entertain the evening’s dinner party host Prince Orlofsky.
  • A 2005 Broadway premiere by composer Adam Guettel (grandson of Richard Rodgers of Rodgers and Hammerstein), The Light in the Piazza sees strong-willed Southern housewife Margaret Johnson and her charming daughter Clara vacationing in Italy in the summer of 1956. Margaret hopes the magic and memories of Florence will sweep her off her feet, but it’s Clara and earnest inamorato Fabrizio who fall in love at first sight. Torn from their guidebooks, mother and daughter must brave blossoming love, buried secrets and a startling cultural clash to uncover the hopeful new chapters they didn’t know they’d been searching for.
  • Two Remain tells the powerful true stories of Holocaust survivors Krystyna Zywulska and Gad Beck. Premiering in 2016 under the title Out of Darkness, the two-act opera was commissioned by Music of Remembrance at Benaroya Hall in Seattle and composed by Jake Heggie. The libretto by Gene Scheer is based on documents and journals found in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Central City Opera’s production will be the Colorado regional premiere of this stunning piece.

New subscriptions to Central City Opera will be available in January, 2022. Single tickets will go on sale April 1, 2022. More information and access to tickets sales can be found on the Central City Opera Web page.

NOTE: Typo corrected 10/7.

Pro Musica Colorado opens 2021–22 season

Both in-person and streaming options are available for the 2021-22 season

By Peter Alexander Oct. 6 at 12 noon

The Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra returns to the stage with “Rainbow Strings! A Concert of Hope,” Thursday, Oct. 7, in Longmont and Saturday, Oct. 9, in Boulder.

For their first in-person concert post-pandemic, music director Cynthia Katsarelis and the orchestra will be joined by violinist Harumi Rhodes for the Violin Concerto in G major of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint Georges, the 18th-century mixed-race French-Caribbean violinist and fencing master sometimes referred to as “the Black Mozart.” Also on the program will be Dance Card by American composer Jennifer Higdon, and the much loved Serenade for Strings by Tchaikovsky.

Cynthia Katsarelis with the Pro Music Colorado Chamber Orchestra

Thursday’s performance will be at 7:15 p.m. in Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum, with tickets available from the museum. Saturday’s performance will be at 7:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Boulder. Tickets for the concert are available through the Pro Musica Web page. Proof of vaccination and masks will be required for both in-person performances. Like other concerts in Boulder this fall, the program will be about an hour in length, with no intermission.

Digital access will also be available for anyone who prefers not to attend in person. Thursday’s performance in Stewart Auditorium will be recorded and streamed for digital access at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, at the time of the Boulder performance. Access to digital streams of this and other Pro Musica concerts in the coming year is available here.

Like other conductors this fall, Katsarelis thought seriously about how she wanted to begin live performances after such a long layoff. One consideration is that she wanted music that connected to Pro Musica’s mission. “We really believe in celebrating great music, and bringing forth voices that deserve to be heard,” Katsarelis says. That specifically means lifting up composers and music from under-represented groups, she says, listing BIPOC (Saint Georges), women (Higdon), and members of the LGBTQ+ community (Higdon and Tchaikovsky) for this program.

Jennifer Higdon. Photo by J.D. Scott

“Maybe you can’t hear [the color or sexual identity of the composer], but we can celebrate it,” she says. “I think that diversity, inclusion is about the tapestry of humanity. We want to experience all the parts of this tapestry and celebrate the difference, celebrate the identity, and celebrate the great music.”

Higdon’s Dance Card is particularly effective as a place to start because it is a fun and energetic piece. “It’s about the joy of being a string player,” Katsarelis says. “It has that rhythmic vitality that we associate with American music. Her music is very colorful in general, but her slow movements are impressionistic in an American way.

“It’s a fun piece to play. It’s a difficult piece, it’s a very tricky piece, but I think our players will sink their teeth deeply into it.”

Saint Georges is one of the most interesting composers of the 18th century. He was born in the French colony of Guadeloupe, the child of a wealthy planter and a slave. He was educated in France, becoming both a virtuoso violinist and an accomplished swordsman. He played in and conducted an orchestra in Paris that commissioned and premiered the six “Paris” Symphonies of Joseph Haydn. After the revolution he fought for the French Republic as a colonel in the first all-Black regiment in Europe.

Chevalier de Saint Georges. Painting by Auguste Robineau.

Katsarelis and Rhodes had first planned to perform the concerto more than a year ago, but that performance was postponed due to COVID. “We didn’t want to cancel it, we really loved the piece,” Katsarelis says. “It’s got a lot of that style that you kind of expect around Mozart. It’s definitely that classical style, with a sort of French twist. And the virtuosity of string writing! I mean, it goes way up into the stratosphere. You can tell he was quite the virtuoso.

“When I hear his music, you can really see the Chevalier de Saint Georges with his sword. There’s a whole series of gestures that come with that. I can not hear that he’s black, but I believe that I can hear that he’s a champion fencer.”

The final work on the program was also chosen for this particular time, because it is a well loved and comforting piece for many listeners. The Serenade for strings is “a really heartfelt piece, one of Tchaikovsky’s favorites himself,” Katsarelis says. “He wrote it in the style of Mozart in terms of the form, but the emotional content is his. And the deeper I look into it [I find] how he goes from one place to another is not only genius and not only beautiful, but he’s found the way to be beautiful and at the same time his harmonies pull at the heart strings. 

“We call the concert ’Rainbow Strings,’ but it really could be ‘Heart Strings.’ The emotional content is really rich, deeply heartfelt, and I think very authentic. I thought it would be a great piece to hear, to experience, and for the players to play after the last year and a half of loss. 

“I think it’s going to be cathartic for us all.”

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“Rainbow Strings! A Concert of Hope”
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra
Cynthia Katsarelis, Music Director and Conductor
Harumi Rhodes, violin 

  • Jennifer Higdon: Dance Card
  • Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint Georges: Violin Concerto in G Major
    Harumi Rhodes, violin
  • Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings 

7:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7
Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum
(Tickets available from the Longmont Museum)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9
First United Methodist Church, Boulder
In person and digital access tickets

Longmont and Boulder orchestras return to live performances for grateful audiences

Abbreviated concerts featured careful COVID protocols, no intermissions

By Peter Alexander Oct. 3 at 11:30 p.m.

For a short time this past weekend, you could have believed that concert life in Longmont and Boulder had returned to normal.

Of course, no one knows what tomorrow will bring. But both the Longmont Symphony and the Boulder Philharmonic presented their first in-person concerts in nearly two years, and sitting in the audience hearing live music was a welcome return to near-normal.

Longmont Symphony Saturday (Oct. 2) with soloist Hsing-ay Hsu and conductor Elliot Moore in Vance Brand Auditorium

Both concerts—the LSO at Vance Brand Auditorium at 7 p.m. Saturday, and the Boulder Phil at Mountain View Methodist Church at 4 p.m. Sunday—had restrictions that for now we might consider the “new normal.” In both cases, patrons were met outside by orchestra representatives checking proof of vaccination and ID, masks were required at all times, and seating was limited to less than full capacity of the respective venues. Conductors and orchestral string players wore masks for the performances as well. Both concerts were presented without intermission, so that the audience did not have the chance to mix and mingle. 

Both conductors, Elliot Moore with the LSO and Michael Butterman with the Boulder Phil, commented on how good it felt to be back, and both were greeted with enthusiasm. I would add that both concerts received standing ovations, but that has long since become normal, so it is not really anything new.

The Longmont Symphony began with a rousing performance of Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture. In his introduction, Moore noted that in spite of its name, the overture is not really academic in nature, because it is actually based on student drinking songs of Brahms’s era. As Moore intended, it started the post-pandemic musical scene with infectious energy. 

Brahms was followed by Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major, K414, featuring soloist Hsing-ay Hsu. She introduced the concerto with heartfelt remarks about the opportunity to perform again before an audience, and played with solid confidence and sensitivity. The concert of orchestral repertory standards ended with Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor. Any minor lapses of intonation or ensemble were easily forgiven for musicians who had not played together for so many months. Shouts of “Bravo” were heard through the standing ovation.

Michael Butterman leads the Boulder Philharmonic in Haydn’s Symphony No. 1 at Mountain View Methodist Church

Butterman chose much less standard works for the Boulder Phil’s return to the stage. Two works by Haydn were featured, none of them among the composer’s better known symphonies or concertos. In fact, the concert started at the very beginning, one could say, with Haydn’s Symphony No. 1 of 1759. A three-movement work of about 12 minutes in length, it has the tunefulness and energy, if not the sophistication, of Haydn’s larger late Symphonies. “If you liked that piece,” Butterman quipped, “there are 100 more like it!” (For the record, current research has identified 108 symphonies by Haydn.)

The symphony was paired with Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante written for London in 1792, a larger and more mature work that features violin, oboe, cello and bassoon soloists with orchestra. The principal players from the orchestra played the solo parts with elan and polish. Using modern instruments, and heard in a church that has only a cement floor due to ongoing renovations, the orchestral sound struck me as a little on the thick side, not as transparent as Haydn would have expected.

Butterman’s final work for the program is one that he particularly loves, the Petite symphonie concertante by the 20th-century Swiss composer Frank Martin. It was a treat to hear this genuine rarity live in concert. It is scored for a double string orchestra with harpsichord, piano and harp soloists, creating an utterly unique sound world. Although written using 12-tone techniques, the music is often consonant, always enjoyable, and unlike any other piece I know. 

Butterman led the orchestra with obvious relish. The size and full-bodied sound of the Phil’s strings was ideal for a 20th-century work. In his analytical introduction to the score, Butterman said that he hoped that the audience would enjoy the Petite symphonie concertante as much as he does. I can’t speak for the rest of the audience, but hearing a committed live performance of an intriguing rarity was the weekend’s highlight for me. 

Like both audiences, I was thrilled to hear live music again, and to be back in the hall with musicians who love what they are doing. More, please!

NOTE: Minor typos and editing errors corrected Monday, 10/4.