From Nutcracker to a sing-along Messiah

A listing of Holiday performances by area musical organizations

By Peter Alexander

‘Tis the season, and the halls are alive with the sounds of Christmas.

The 2013 Holiday Festival by the College of Music in Macky Auditorium (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

In the coming weeks, area musical organizations will offer performances ranging from The Nutcracker to Messiah, from Gregorian chant to Judy Collins, and from the Bach Christmas Oratorio to A Charlie Brown Christmas

In fact, the first Nutcrackers have already been completed, with more performances coming this weekend in Longmont (Dec. 3–4 with the Longmont Symphony and Boulder Ballet; see below for details, including links for tickets for all performances mentioned in this article). The Longmont performances include a “gentle Nutcracker,” an abridged, “sensory friendly” performance that welcomes neurodiverse audience members, their families and caregivers.

Boulder Ballet Nutcracker. Image by Amanda Tipton Photography

Other dance companies in the area offer The Nutcracker well into December and can easily be found on the Web; here I am listing the many musical groups in our area. This weekend the very popular CU Holiday Festival, with CU orchestras, bands and choirs starts the festivities on Friday at 7:30 in Macky Auditorium, with additional performances Saturday and Sunday (Dec 2–4). Check the Web page soon; some performances are close to selling out.

If you get enough “Rudolph” and “White Christmas” in the mall, several organizations offer alternative Holiday fare. Seicento Baroque Ensemble will present ”Noel: Christmas in the late Renaissance and early Baroque” over the coming weekend, Friday through Sunday (Dec. 2–4), in Denver, Boulder and Longmont. Ars Nova Singers will present their usual eclectic fare in the same cities over the following week (Dec. 9 & 11, 15 & 16). Their program, titled “Solstice,” includes Gregorian chant, Renaissance music based on chant, contemporary works for the time of solstice, and the premiere of director Tom Morgan’s own arrangement of the French carol “Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella” (“Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella”).

The most wide-ranging program is surely that of The Boulder Bach Festival’s CORE (COmpass REsonance) Chamber Choir. Their “Christmas Across the Ages” program (Dec. 16 in the Broomfield Auditorium) offers exactly that, with selections from J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas, music by early American composer William Billings and songs by John Denver and Judy Collins. 

With their familiar penchant for embracing musical cultures around the world, the Boulder Chorale and conductor Vicki Burrichter will present “A Celtic Winter,” a program of traditional music performed with a Celtic ensemble led by Jessie Burns. The Boulder Chamber Orchestra offers “The Gift of Music” Dec. 17 (Boulder’s Seventh Day Adventist Church), including Handel arias sung by soprano Szilvia Schranz. Instrumental pieces will include Bach’s “Double” Violin Concerto in D minor, and Holiday selections.

If you wanted to hear Handel’s Messiah in Longmont, you will have to bring a score and sing along. The Longmont Symphony’s performance Dec. 17 is already sold out, but the Sing-Along Messiah Dec. 18 still has tickets available. The Boulder Philharmonic Brass will perform traditional songs of Christmas and Hanukkah at Mountain View Methodist Dec. 18. And with that, the musicians that I know about will pack up their cases and likely enjoy some eggnog. There are surely other events out there that have not come to my attention. With a little enterprise you can find those performances online, too.

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CU Holiday Festival
CU College of Music orchestras, bands and choirs

  • Traditional music of the Holiday season

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2
1 and 4 p.m. Saturday, Dev. 3
4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4
Macky Auditorium

TICKETS

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“Noel: Christmas in the late Renaissance an early Baroque”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Evanne Browne, artistic director
With Wesley Leffingwell, organ; and Joseph Howe, Baroque cello

  • Program includes music by Palestrina, Victoria, Sweelinck and Rossi.

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, St. Paul, Lutheran Church, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3. First United Methodist Church, Boulder
3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, First Congregational Church, Longmont

TICKETS

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The Nutcracker ballet
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With the Boulder Ballet

  • Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker

1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 (“Gentle” Nutcracker: abridged, “sensory friendly” performance))
4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3
2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4

TICKETS

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“Solstice”
Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director
With John Gunther, saxophone

Program includes:

  • Gregorian Chant, Vox clara Ecce Intonat
  • Gabriel Jackson: Vox clara Ecce Intonat
  • Tomás Luis de Victoria: Ave regina caelorum
  • Bob Chilcott: The Shepherd’s Carol
  • Tom Morgan, arr: Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella (premiere)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, First Congregational Church, Longmont
4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Denver
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder
7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, First United Methodist Church, Boulder
LIVESTREAM: 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11

TICKETS

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Christmas Across the Ages”
Boulder Bach Festival CORE Chamber Choir
With Claire McCahan, mezzo-soprano, and Jeremy Reger, keyboards

Program includes:

  • John Tavener: “A Christmas Round”
  • William Billings: “A Virgin Unspotted”
  • —“Bethlehem” (While shepherd watched their flocks by night)
  • Jamaican folk tune: “An’ She Rock de Baby”
  • John Denver: “Aspenglow”
  • Judy Collins: “The Blizzard”
  • J.S. Bach: Selections from Christmas Oratorio
  • Vince Guaraldi: “Christmastime is Here” (From A Charlie Brown Christmas)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16
Broomfield Auditorium

TICKETS

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Longmont Symphony
Elliot Moore, conductor, with chorus and soloists

  • G.F. Handel: Messiah

4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17
Westview Presbyterian Church, Longmont

SOLD OUT

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“The Gift of Music”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Szilvia Schranz, soprano, and Kevin Sylves, double bass

  • G.F. Handel: Selected arias
  • Henry Eccles: Sonata in G minor for double bass and strings
  • J.S. Bach: Concerto in D minor for two violins and orchestra
  • Holiday selections

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17
Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Boulder

TICKETS

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“Singalong Messiah
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With vocal soloists

  • G.F. Handel: Selections from Messiah

4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Westview Presbyterian Church, Longmont

TICKETS

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“Holiday Brass”
Boulder Philharmonic brass and percussion
Brian Buerkle, conductor

  • Program includes traditional songs of Christmas and Hanukkah.

4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder

TICKETS

Rousing Beethoven from Pro Musica Colorado

Folkish new piece by UC grad Ben Morris, “utterly enjoyable” concerto by Florence Price

By Peter Alexander Nov. 20 at 12:15 a.m.

Last night (Nov. 19) conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and the Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra opened their 2022-23 concert season in the newly-renovated sanctuary of the Mountain View Methodist Church in Boulder.

Cynthia Katsarelis and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra

Venue renovations often bring gains and losses, and this was no exception. This is worth noting, because the Mountain View church is being used more as a concert venue. It is a visually attractive space, and offers about the best parking of any venue in Boulder.

The carpet has been removed and replaced with a hard wood floor, and the  pews have been replaced with reasonably comfortable chairs, which is all to the good. The sound is much more lively than before, and it may take performers a while to adjust to the new acoustic. Balance is problematic, as the strings had a hard time being heard over the boosted wind sounds. The wood floor certainly beefed up the bass, although not always in a helpful way. In time performers will likely adjust to the increased resonance.   

Ben Morris

The concert opened with the world premiere of The Hill of Three Wishes by Ben Morris, winner of the 2021 CU composition Competition. Reflecting the legend of Helgafell , a magical hill in Iceland that grants three wishes to anyone who can walk to the top without looking back, the score has an attractive folkish quality. It is written in a modal style that avoids harsh dissonance and welcomes listeners.

Morris makes great use of instrumental sounds to create a mythic quality that Katsarelis compared to The Lord of the Rings. Opening brass gestures establish the setting. An ancient Icelandic folk song adds a sense of timelessness, and at the end the music drifts atmospherically into silence. From the score I couldn’t tell if Morris was granted his wishes—did he, like Orpheus, submit to the temptation to look back?—but the hike is clearly a pleasant one. The brief score should find willing performers and audience enjoyment.

Another rare adventure was provided by the Piano Concerto in One Movement by Florence Price, whose music from the early 20th century was once forgotten but is being rediscovered. The first African American woman to have her music performed by a major orchestra when her First Symphony was premiered by the Chicago Symphony in 1933, Price was a skilled and accomplished composer. The concerto is symbolic of her fate: the full orchestral setting was lost and only rediscovered in 2019. Pro Musica is among the first to perform it as originally written. 

The concerto is, however, misnamed as it is not truly in one movement. There is a clear cadence and break between the first and second movements, and the dramatic transition from the slow movement to the lively finale parallels many classical concertos. Like many of Price’s works, the score draws on her African American heritage, from the bluesy trumpet and trombone riffs at the outset, to the slow movement that channels dozens of great spirituals, and the juba dance finale that could easily be mistaken for a Joplinesque rag. This is a unique and valuable part of our country’s musical history.

Jennifer Hayghe

Pianist Jennifer Hayghe gamely tackled the difficult solo part—Price herself was a virtuoso pianist—but while she started with a resounding first entrance, at other times balance issues prevented her playing from being clearly heard. Moments of lighter orchestration, with the piano against one or two winds, worked best. As well as I could hear, Hayghe carried off the solo part handily. Special notice should go to flutist Michelle Stanley, oboist Miriam Kapner and cellist Carole Whitney (if the program is to be trusted) for their solos in the second movement.

The finale had compelling energy, but as performed it was essentially an orchestral dance movement with the piano playing along. This is an utterly enjoyable movement, whether it shows off the pianist to full advantage or not. Katsarelis, Hayghe and the Pro Musica deserve our gratitude for bringing a valuable but rarely heard piece to the Boulder audience. Now that the original score has been reassembled, others should take up this concerto.

The concert concluded with a spirited reading of Beethoven’s powerful, popular Seventh Symphony. Audiences are used to hearing it played by larger ensembles, but a smaller orchestra like Pro Musica can bring a welcome muscularity and clarity to this and other classical scores. Once again, however, the lively acoustic was sometimes problematic. The fast rhythmic figures of the first movement and rapid passages in the strings were sometimes obscured by the punctuating chords or lost in the general resonance of the space.

Katsarelis followed all the road signs of Beethoven’s score, outlining both the structure and the drama of the piece.  While some dynamic differences were swallowed in the overall resonance, she kept the tempo and maintained the thrust all the way to the end. That’s just what Beethoven calls for, and it provided a rousing culmination for the concert.

Icelandic Legends and the Spirit of the Dance

Pro Musica Colorado concert has a hopeful message

By Peter Alexander Nov. 17 at 4:48 p.m.

Composer Ben Morris

Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra will present the world premiere of The Hill of Three Wishes by former CU composition student Ben Morris on their next concert, Saturday at Mountain View Methodist Church in Boulder (7:30 p.m. Nov. 19).

The score was selected last year as the winner of an annual competition that Pro Musica holds in collaboration with the CU composition department. The department gives Katsarelis works by several composers, and she selects one composer to receive a commission from a fund that was financed by the late Thurston Manning. Normally the new works are premiered in the spring, but last year’s planned performance was postponed. 

The concert, titled “Apotheosis of the Dance,” opens the Pro Musica 2022–23 season of three concerts. Other works on the program are Florence Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement, which concludes with an African American juba dance; and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in A major, which has such exuberant rhythmic movement that Richard Wagner once called it “the apotheosis of the dance.”

Pianist Jennifer Hayghe, the chair of the CU Roser Piano and Keyboard Program, will be the soloist for Price’s concerto.

“Ben Morris is a wonderful emerging composer,” Katsarelis says. “First of all he really knows what to do with an orchestra. His orchestration is superb, and his colors, and the textures. 

“He has two major influences: a jazz background, but also a Scandinavian (Norwegian) background. And so he gets this Nordic folk music aspect into his music, sometimes with extended jazz chords.”

Helgafell, Iceland. Photo by Ben Morris.

The Hill of Three Wishes is based on Helgafell, a site in Iceland that Morris visited. The legend about Helgafell is that if you can hike to the top without looking back, you will be granted three wishes. He incorporated an ancient Icelandic song into the score, which gives the music “a medieval sound,” Katsarelis says. “He weaves it in nicely, and you can really imagine the climb up the hill.”

Price, whose career spanned the first half of the 20th century, was a composer, pianist and organist trained at the New England Conservatory. She was the first African American woman to have music presented by a major orchestra, when her First Symphony was played by the Chicago Symphony in 1933.

For many years, the original score of her Piano Concerto in One Movement was lost, and the piece was known only from a two-piano version. Some orchestral parts were found in Price’s former summer home, and others turned up recently at an auction, allowing the assembly of the original orchestration. That original version has been published and will be used by Pro Musica.

Florence Price. Photo by G. Niledoff.

“Although it’s a piano concerto in one movement, it does have three sections that correspond to a fast first movement, a slow second movement, and then a jolly finale,” Katsarelis says. “The finale is a juba dance, and the whole thing clearly draws on her African American background.

“The second movement is reflective (and) has a call and response aspect to it. The first movement has melodies that you can associate with spirituals, or maybe a blues. It’s quite virtuosic for the piano, which I think speaks to Florence Price’s (skills as a pianist).”

Price was born in Little Rock, Ark., but she and her family joined the Great Migration of Southern Blacks to the north and settled in Chicago. There she became part of what is called the “Chicago Renaissance,” which was akin to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ‘30s. “She was incredibly active,” Katsarelis says. 

“She belonged to two women’s music clubs, she was playing recitals all the time, she got her symphony performed by the Chicago Symphony, (and) her other symphonies were done by the Women’s Symphony in Chicago and Detroit. She got excellent reviews for the piano concerto and her symphony, and then it all disappeared. Her music is re-emerging, and rightfully so: it’s such a wonderful, authentic, American voice and we owe a great debt of gratitude for her.”

The program concludes with Beethoven Seventh Symphony, which Katsarelis selected for several reasons. “It’s one of his most beloved symphonies for good reason,” she says. “I could have picked a couple of other Beethoven symphonies, but I thought (the Seventh) went so well with the Florence Price, with the juba dance. It’s an incredibly joyful and energetic piece, with long (melodic) lines and moments of insanity—it takes you on a journey!”

Another reason is that she thinks that the symphony, with its joyful ending, speaks to our current time in an important way. “Beethoven’s music is perceived as coming out of that enlightenment philosophy of the common man who can rise above with his achievements,” she says. “That’s something that we always admire.

“Given the challenges of our time, I think it’s an inspirational and hopeful message.”

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“The Apotheosis of the Dance”
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With Jennifer Hayghe, piano

  • Ben Morris: The Hill of Three Wishes (world premiere)
  • Florence Price: Piano Concerto in One Movement (restored original version)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 72

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
Mountain View Methodist Church, 35 Ponca Place, Boulder

Both in-person and online tickets are available HERE.

Grace Notes: Music from America

Concerts by Sphere Ensemble and the Longmont Symphony

By Peter Alexander Nov. 16 at 2:50 p.m.

The Sphere Ensemble, a string ensemble formed by professional string players in the Denver area, will present a kaleidoscope of many American musics at the Mercury Café in Denver Friday (7:30 p.m. Nov. 18) and the Canyon Theater of the Boulder Public Library Saturday (7:30 p.m. Nov. 19; details below).

Under executive director Alex Vittal, a longtime violist and arranger with the group, Sphere has brought educational programming to marginalized audiences, including people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, women’s shelters, children’s hospitals and assisted living facilities.

Sphere characteristically includes both concert music written for string orchestra and arrangements of works drawn from popular and other vernacular genres in their programs. In the case of the “Kaleidoscope” concert, that ranges from music by 20th-century African-American composer Florence Price, to the contemporary Chickasaw composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, to the Pulitzer Prize-winner Carolyn Shaw, to a medley of music by Prince.

Tate’s Pisach has been arranged for Sphere through a special agreement with the composer, and several of the pop pieces were arranged specifically for the ensemble. Vittal’s arrangement of the Prince Medley has been particularly popular in past performances. The concert announcement from Sphere states, “This concert program focuses on the wide range of what ‘American’ music is: with composers from diverse backgrounds, genres from classical to pop, and arrangements written by Sphere musicians.”

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“Kaleidoscope”
Sphere ensemble

  • Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate: Pisach. (adapted with permission of the composer by Alex Vittal and Alejandro G. Gullien)
  • Caroline Shaw: Entr’acte
  • Florence Price: “Juba” from Second String Quartet
  • Tan Dun: Symphony for Strings
  • Gordon/Warren: “At Last,” arr. Chris Jusell
  • Prince: Prince Medley, arr. Alex Vittal
  • Randy Newman: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” arr. Sarah Whitnah
  • Scott Joplin: “Wall Street Rag,” arr. Alex Vittal
  • Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Souvenir de Porto Rico, arr. David Short

7:30 pm. Friday, Nov. 18
Mercury Café, 2199 California St., Denver

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
Canyon Theater, Boulder Public Library

TICKETS 

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The Longmont Symphony Orchestra and conductor Elliot Moore will focus on America in two of their subscriptions concerts this year. The first of these, “Trail of Tears: America—Part 1” will be presented Saturday at the Vance Brand Auditorium (7:30 p.m. Nov. 19; details below).

The concert takes it title from composer Michael Daugherty’s “Trail of Tears” Flute Concerto, which will be performed by soloist Brice Smith and the orchestra. Smith teaches flute at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colo.

The concerto is named for the route that Cherokees and other Native Americans were forced to travel from their ancestral homes in Southeastern states to reservations in present-day Oklahoma. In his program notes, the composer has described the piece as “a musical journey into how the human spirit discovers ways to deal with upheaval, adversity and adapting to a new environment.”

Other works on the program are the Overture to The Song of Hiawatha by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and the Symphony No. 8 in G major by Dvořák. Coleridge-Taylor was a mixed-race British composer and conductor who had a significant career in both England and the United States, where he was known as “the African Mahler.” 

His trilogy of cantatas The Song of Hiawatha was written 1898–1900. The first part to be performed, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, became popular world-wide and earned praise from leading English musicians including Sir Arthur Sullivan.

Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony is one of the composer’s most popular and joyful pieces. It was composed in 1889, soon before the composer’s famous and fateful trip to the United States in 1892. More than any of the Dvořák’s symphonies, it draws on the music of the composer’s homeland, giving it a uniquely relaxed and folkish quality.

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“Trail of Tears”
Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore conductor
With Brice Smith, flute

  • Samuel Coleridge Taylor: Overture to Song of Hiawatha
  • Michael Daugherty: Trail of Tears
  • Dvořák: Symphony No 8 in G major

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont

TICKETS

Central City Opera plans season of three Mainstage shows

Summer 2023 will feature Shakespearean subjects, June 24–Aug. 6

By Peter Alexander Nov. 16 at 10:50 a.m.

Central City Opera returns to their pre-COVID schedule of three Mainstage productions in their main house for the 2023 summer festival season, with three different works all based on Shakespeare: Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod, Otello by Rossini, and Kiss Me Kate, Cole Porter’s 1948 Broadway spinoff from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.

Central City Opera House. Photo by Ashraf Sewailam.

The six-week summer season also features the return of CU graduate Ashraf Sewailam to Central City, but in this case as the stage director of Otello, rather than as a singer. Another CU graduate, bass Wei Wu who was recently featured in the CU Eklund Opera production of La Bohème, will have a role in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. 

The season will open June 24, 2023, with the three productions running in rotating repertoire through Aug. 6. All three will be sung in their original language: Otello in Italian, Roméo et Juliette in French, and Kiss Me Kate of course in English. Season tickets will go on sale Dec. 1. Single ticket sales will begin March 1, 2023. Visit the Central City Opera Web page for more details, including cast and production credits. 

Written in 1816, when the composer was only 24, Rossini’s Otello is the earliest of the three works on the 2023 season. It is not often performed today, partly because of the difficulty of casting three difficult tenor roles: Otello, Iago and Rodrigo.

The interior of Central City Opera’s theater

Unlike Shakespeare’s play and the Verdi’s better known opera on the same subject, Rossini’s Otello takes place entirely in Venice. In another departure from the other works, in Rossini’s opera Rodrigo is a major character, the son of the Doge of Venice. He had been promised Desdemona’s hand in marriage, but before the curtain she and Otello had been married in secret. A major dramatic turning point is her father’s disapproval of the marriage.

As in Shakespeare and Verdi, Iago deliberately uses Rodrigo to stir up Otello’s suspicions of his wife. All three versions end with Otello stabbing Desdemona, and then his own death when Iago’s treachery and his wife’s innocence are revealed.

Gounod’s opera was premiered in Paris in 1859, and had  more than 300 performances by 1868, including its first performance in the US. The story and the incidents are similar to Shakespeare’s well known play, with Roméo and Juliette falling in love and getting secretly married. There is a duel between Roméo and Tybalt, who is killed by Roméo. The story ends with the familiar scene at Juliette’s tomb.

The story of Porter’s Kiss Me Kate is less a re-telling of Shakespeare than it is a comedic spinoff. The plot revolves around a company presenting musical version of The Taming of the Shrew, with ongoing feuds between the actors playing Petrucchio and Katherine, who are also ex-spouses. The musical includes portions of the play set to music, but also rehearsals, backstage scenes, a side-plot involving gangsters, and a happy ending with lovers united and re-united. Among the songs remembered from the show are “Another Openin’, Another Show,” “Where is the Life that Late I Led,” “Always True to You in My Fashion” and “Brush Up your Shakespeare.”

Kiss Me Kate is considered Porter’s response to Rodger and Hammerstein’s groundbreaking, fully-integrated musical Oklahoma! The winner of the very first Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949, Kiss Me Kate was Porter’s only show to run more than 1000 performances. Although very much a show of its time it has never lost its popularity, and has been revived several times to great success. The most recent Broadway revivals were in 1999 with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, and 2019 with Will Chase and Kelli O’Hara.

CORRECTION: 11/21 The automatic spell corrector change of Ashraf Seawila’s name to “Ashram” was corrected. The correct spelling of his given name is Ashraf.

Boulder Phil features two living composers Saturday

Jennifer Higdon and Xavier Foley share concert program with Dvořák and Bottesini

By Peter Alexander Nov. 10 at 2:53 p.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra will perform two new pieces born from the drama of American history on Saturday (7 p.m. Nov. 12 in Macky Auditorium; details below).

Boulder Philharmonic and Michael Butterman in Macky Auditorium

Both are by living composers: the orchestral Suite from Jennifer Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain, based on the popular Civil War novel by Charles Frazier; and For Justice and Peace, music by Xavier Foley written to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves in the United States. Other works on the program will be the Gran Duo Concertante for violin, double bass and orchestra by Giovanni Bottesini; and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major.

Boulder Phil music director Michael Butterman will conduct the concert, which also features violinist Eunice Kim, Foley playing double bass, and a quartet of singers from the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus.

Jennifer Higdon

Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain had its premiere at the Santa Fe Opera in 2015. The opera was so popular that an additional performance was scheduled. Since then there have been performances in North Carolina and Minnesota, as well as Higdon’s home town of Philadelphia, where it sold out five performances in the 2,400-seat Academy of Music. 

The Boulder Philharmonic is one of 37 co-commissioners for the Suite from Cold Mountain, which has been performed several places since its premiere by the Delaware Symphony in September, with many more performances scheduled. “I’m looking forward to doing it,” Butterman says. “I’m sure (the suite) will allow (music from Cold Mountain) to be more widely heard than if it just all remained within the opera.”

When she returned to the opera score to create the suite, Higdon re-discovered her own music. “I had to really go back in,” she says. “It surprised me when I opened the score and started looking. I kept saying, ‘I can’t believe I wrote this!’

“I went through all the emotions of the characters, which is what I used to guide me in picking music for the suite. I took it from the viewpoint of what would be the most interesting progression of pieces, what would stand strongly on its own, and how to vary the music so it’s not always intense. I looked for the biggest variety, really contrasting quiet and loud, and agitated and dissonant and soft and melodic.”

Xavier Foley

You don’t need to read the book or know the story to enjoy the music. “That’s one of the things people have been asking me,” Higdon says. “The music is set up in a way to speak to you even if you don’t have a clue what this novel is about. It will stand on its own.”

A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Foley has become known both as a virtuoso bass player and a composer. He won First Prize in the 2014 Sphinx Competition, a national award for young Black and Latinx string players, and the 2016 Young Concert Artists Auditions. As a player, Butterman says, “his virtuosity is amazing! I became intrigued about working with him as soloist, and then got to know that he was also a composer.”

For Justice and Peace was commissioned by the Sphinx Organization to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival the slave ship “White Lion” in Jamestown, Virginia. It is a small-scale concerto for violin, double bass and strings, with two additions that link the music to the subject: the sounds of a gavel, representing the auction of slaves, and a brief text sung by a vocal quartet that asks “Your Honor, where is my freedom?”

Giovanni Bottesini

To pair with that piece, Butterman selected another work for the same players, the Gran Duo Concertante for violin, double bass and strings by Giovanni Bottesini. Once widely celebrated, Bottesini is largely unknown today except to bass players. Known as “The Paganini of the Bass,” he was the first celebrated virtuoso of the instrument. Also an opera composer and conductor, he was selected by Verdi to conduct the premiere of Aida in 1871.

The Gran Duo seems to reflect Bottesini’s career in opera. Parts of the score resemble an operatic scene between a soprano and a bass—represented by the violin and double bass. “I do think of a dialog between me and the violin,” Foley says. Butterman hears the piece in the same way, describing it as an “operatic showcase for a couple—almost like a couple of singers.”

All of that occurs before intermission, and the second half of the concert will be occupied by one piece, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major. “Everybody should love that piece!” Butterman says. “It’s always successful because of it’s tunefulness and the optimism and energy of that last movement (which) is one of the more joyful things in the repertoire. I love it!”

But the final words about the concert go to Foley, who says, “I hope people get their money’s worth and enjoy the show.”

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“Gran Duo”
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Xavier Foley, contrabass, and Eunice Kim, violin
Vocal quartet from the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus

  • Jennifer Higdon: Suite from Cold Mountain (Colorado premiere)
  • Xavier Foley: For Justice and Peace
  • Giovanni Bottesini: Gran Duo Concertante for violin, double bass and strings
  • Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 in G major, op. 88

7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
Macky Auditorium

TICKETS

Two choral groups open their season over the weekend

Ars Nova and Boulder Chorale start 2022–23 with unusual programming

By Peter Alexander Nov. 3 at 10:20 p.m.

Two of Boulder’s choral organizations open their 2022–23 seasons this weekend. The programs by the Ars Nova Singers and the Boulder Chorale could hardly be more different—bizarrely chromatic music from the late Renaissance and music from Middle Eastern cultures, respectively—but they are similar in being well outside the mainstream of choral repertoire. 

If you search for stimulating and unusual musical experiences, as I do, you could have a busy weekend. Both programs look promising for the adventurous listener.

Ars Nova Singers and conductor Tom Morgan

In a program titled “Wonder,” the Ars Nova Singers and conductor Tom Morgan will explore the music of Carlo Gesualdo de Venosa, Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza. Gesualdo has a secure place in music history because of the extraordinary chromaticism of the harmonic language in his madrigals, which is unlke any other music written at the time. Performances will be Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Boulder, Longmont and Denver (details below).

Carlo Gesualdo

Gesualdo’s notoriety in music history also derives from the fact that he killed his fist wife and her lover when her found them together. Although he was not charged with a crime, due to the circumstances, he felt a burden of guilt for the rest of his life, which may have contributed to the intensity of expression in the music he wrote. 

Ars Nova will perform seven of the madrigals from the last two collections Gesualdo wrote, Books 5 and 6, which were published in 1611. This was right at the transition from the Renaissance style of counterpoint to the more chord-based style of the early Baroque period.

“You just don’t hear some of these chords and changes [Gesualdo wrote] until the 20th century,” Morgan says. “It’s such fascinating music to me, and I think the singers enjoy it because you don’t have anything like it in the repertoire. And it’s a lot of fun to do.”

The chromaticism is most extreme in the slower sections of the madrigals, giving the singers the time to make the unexpected note and chord changes. The most extreme chord changes are associated with the most extreme emotions, whereas other parts of the madrigals are more straightforward, and may even move in a fairly brisk tempo.

Sandra Wong and nyckelharpa

“It’s challenging for the singers,” Morgan says, “because the character of the music changes word to word. It’s fascinating how quickly the affect changes in the pieces.”

In spite of the extreme use of chromatic notes and chords, Morgan points out that in some ways, Gesualdo was not really a revolutionary composer. “He’s really clinging to the old imitative counterpoint [of the Renaissance era], but stretches the harmonic language as far as it would go.”

The constant shifting of chords gives the music an uneasy, ungrounded quality that can be tiring to listen to. “How to present Gesualdo is always a bit of a challenge,” Morgan says. “A straight-through listening of Book V or Book VI would be really hard for a modern audience. Too many in a row, the singer gets tired, [and] the listeners get overwhelmed.”

In order to give listeners a break, Morgan invited two instrumentalists—Ann Marie Morgan on viola da gamba and Sandra Wong on violin and the Swedish folk instrument the nyckelharpa—to play interludes in between the madrigals. “We’re doing little pairs of madrigals, and interspersing them with completely instrumental things,” Morgan explains. “Some are from [Gesualdo’s] era, some from slightly later.”

“That allows the ear to refresh and allows the mind to process things differently, and then you come back to Gesualdo. Ann Marie (Morgan) and Sondra (Wong) are both wonderful to work with, and by breaking (the madrigals) up into smaller chunks it’s better for both the singers and the audience.”

Boulder Chorale and conductor Vicki Burrichter

While Morgan is exploring challenging music of the past, conductor Vicki Burrichter and the Boulder Chorale continue their explorations of world music. In a program titled “Origins: The Fertile Crescent,” they will present music from across the Middle East, from Sephardic Jewish folk songs from Spain to Israel to Egypt, Tunisia and Afghanistan.

Performances will be Saturday and Sunday in Boulder, and will also be available by live stream on Sunday (details below).

An oud

Burrichter came to the subject for this concert by listening to the Trio Joubran, three Palestinian brothers from Nazareth who all perform on the oud—a stringed instrument from the Middle East that is the predecessor of the lute.

“The sound of the oud is magnificent—mysterious and deep,” Burrichter says. “The three of them playing together was beautiful. I listened to them a lot, and then I thought I should listen to more Arabic music. I’m very excited about it, but it’s the most nerve-racking concert I’ve ever done, because it’s so outside what I know about.”

Aside from her lack of background in the style, Burrichter had to adapt the music to an American choir. For one thing, the music does not have much harmony, and for another, it uses languages that hardly anyone in the choir knew. She tackled these issues first by hiring a guest band assembled and  led by David Hinojosa that includes percussion, violin, bass and an oud player, plus a singer, Catrene Payan, who is an Arabic-speaking Israeli. They will perform with the chorale and separately.

Catrene Payan

She also turned to Adam Waite, who has made arrangements for the Chorale in the past, to make versions of the songs for the chorale’s singers. And she asked Raouf Zaidan, who has sung with the group, to help coach the language. “He lives in two worlds,” Burrichter says. “He’s an Egyptian but also a Western opera singer. He was able to help the choir with the language.”

Many of the pieces on the program are well known in the Middle East, including some that have been sung by the most popular singers in their home countries. “When I showed Raouf what is in the concert, he said ‘These are songs everybody knows,’” she says. 

For example, she mentioned Oum Kulthum, an Egyptian singer who was called the Star of the East. “She is like a goddess figure there” Burrichter says. “She’s done ‘Lammaa Badda,’ and [Lebanese singer] Fairouz has done it. In the Middle East, everybody knows that song. And ‘El-Heelwa Dii’ is also extremely popular.”

Burrichter says that the melodies are not hard to sing, but there are nuances that are not easy for an American chorus. “We were trying to make it so that they could sing it, because they don’t speak the language, they don’t have experience with this music which is so very different from American music.

“We hope Arabic people or people from Israel who come to the concert will say, this is a group that tried their very best to represent and respect our culture. What I’m trying to do is for people to enter a cultural experience—the audience, the singers, everyone. 

“The most important thing in the end is not the language, it is the joy of it.”

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“Wonder”
Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, artistic director
With Sandra Wong, violin and nyckelharpa, and Ann Marie Morgan, viola da gamba

  • Carlo Gesualdo: Selections from Madrigals, Books 5 and 6
  • Instrumental music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4
St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5
Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum

4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6
St. Paul Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver

TICKETS

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“Origins: The Fertile Crescent”
Boulder Concert and Chamber Chorales 
Vicki Burrichter, artistic director
With Catrene Payan, singer, and instruments led by David Hinojosa

  • Music of Arabic lands in the Middle East

4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, and Sunday, Nov. 6
First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder

TICKETS for live performances and for live stream Sunday only

Grace Notes: Ivalas Quartet returns to CU

Performances will be on the Takács Quartet concert series, Sunday and Monday

By Peter Alexander Nov. 2 at 4:46valas p.m.

The Ivalas Quartet spent the years 2019-22 in residence at CU-Boulder, under the mentorship of the Takács Quartet. Now serving as the Graduate Resident String Quartet at the Juilliard School in New York, they have returned to the CU campus to perform as guests on the Takács’s concert series.

Their program, featuring the music of Beethoven, Eleanor Alberga and Osvaldo Golijov, will be performed at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6, and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7, in Grusin Music Hall of the Imig Music Building. Tickets to both live performances, and to a live stream that will be available from 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6, though 11 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, are available from CU Presents.

Composer Eleanor Alberga

The Ivalas Quartet has always been creative in the their programming. The group has stated a goal to “disrupt the classical music world by . . . spotlighting BIPOC composers.” Among the composers whose works they have presented is Eleanor Alberga, a Jamaican composer who currently lives and works in the United Kingdom.

Although not well known in the U.S, Alberga’s music has been performed throughout the United Kingdom as well as in Australia, China, South American and Canada. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2021. She has said that her First String Quartet was inspired by a lecture on physics, particularly the notion that our bodies are made of stardust.

Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov draw on both his Jewish heritage and his Latin American roots in works such as The Dream and Prayers of Isaac the Blind for klezmer clarinet and string quartet, and his opera Ainadamar. Golijov described Tenebrae as “the slow, quiet reading of an illuminated medieval manuscript” that offers “a ‘beautiful’ surface” but with pain beneath that surface.

Compared to works by Alberga and Golijov, Beethoven’s String Quartet op. 130, is familiar to most classical music audiences. One of the composer’s late quartets, it was completed in 1826. The slow movement, titled “cavatina,” is considered the high point of the score and was included on the “Golden Record” sent on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977.

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Ivalas Quartet

Ivalas Quartet

  • Eleanor Alberga: String Quartet No. 1
  • Osvaldo Golijov: Tenebrae
  • Beethoven: String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, op.130

4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6
7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7
Grusin Hall, Imig Music Building

Tickets to both live performances and a live stream of the concert are available HERE.