Pro Musica Colorado goes “through the looking glass” Jan. 28

Music from “periods of change:” Haydn, Mozart and Caroline Shaw

By Peter Alexander Jan. 26 at 5:41 p.m.

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra celebrates their “Sweet Sixteen” anniversary Saturday (Jan. 28) with a nearly-new piece, a nearly-new soloist on the Boulder classical scene, and one piece from their very first concert.

The concert, at 7:30 p.m. in the Mountain View Methodist Church, will open with Caroline Shaw’s nearly-new and entirely intriguing Entr’acte for strings. Cellist Meta Weiss, who joined the CU faculty in January 2019 but has had little opportunity to perform in Boulder due to the pandemic, will play Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C major. The concert will conclude with Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 in A major, K201, a bright and cheerful piece that was on Pro Musica’s first concert.

Music director Cynthia Katsarelis will conduct.

Caroline Shaw

In her program note for the score, Shaw wrote that the Entr’acte was inspired by the minuet from Haydn’s String Quartet in F major ,op. 77 no. 2, a piece that “suddenly takes you to the other side of Alice’s looking glass. The shift from light and prancing to smooth and graceful . . . is certainly a distinct step into an utterly new place.”

That sense of going “through the looking glass,” which also gave the concert program its title, is what Shaw aims to recreate, but in a contemporary style. “One of the things that I love about her music and this particular piece is its dialog with the past,” Katsarelis says.

“She has nostalgic references to tonality and then it moves along to stuff that’s more modern. She uses some special effects, and kind of melts from the quasi-tonal idea into these special effects, and it’s really cool how she does that. It’s a real dialog with the past.”

Katsarelis particularly enjoys a part of the piece where the players create an effect of whispering. “They rub the bows pitchlessly over the strings,” she explains. “It sounds like whispers, so when we’re taking about a piece that’s in dialog with the past, it’s like ‘I wonder what they’re talking about. Are they talking about Haydn?’”

Meta Weiss. Photo by Betty Kershner

From a piece that might be talking about Haydn the program moves to a piece by Haydn, the Cello Concerto in C. Written around 1765, it is one of Haydn’s earlier pieces, and one of the earliest concertos for cello with orchestra to enter the repertoire.

“It’s such a happy piece,” Weiss says. “It’s just a perfect piece of music, it has a little bit of everything for everyone. It’s just so delightful, and it’s delightful to play.”

She knows, because it was the very first concerto she learned, when she was nine years old and studying cello in the San Francisco Bay area. She had been inspired to take up the cello when she heard Yo You Ma perform when she was about three-and-a-half. She went on to study with Joan Jeanrenaud, former cellist of Kronos, and then at Rice University and Juilliard. She came to CU in 2019, after teaching in Australia.

“There is a youthful exuberance to (Haydn’s Concerto),” she says. “We don’t always get that in concertos as cellists. It’s really nice to be able to explore the other side of the cello. And one of the beauties of the piece is that it’s so well written for the cello. It’s so well orchestrated, it’s perfect.”

It’s not surprising that Mozart’s A major Symphony K201 is one of Katsarelis’ favorite pieces that she has conducted. “The amount of repertoire that I’ve repeated is pretty small,” she says. “This will be my third time for Mozart 29. It’s a sublimely beautiful piece that I love.”

Katsarelis mentions that Mozart wrote the symphony in Salzburg, shortly before he moved to Vienna but also right after a trip to Italy, where he studied counterpoint. “He comes home with a great sense of counterpoint,” she says. That counterpoint, she believes, led to the full classical style by adding depth and intensity to the simple melodies and routine accompaniments in style right after the Baroque period.

“To have independent lines, very singing, beautiful lines going on underneath the melody, is a fairly new thing,” she says. ”If you love to enjoy the melodies, fine. If you love the inner voices and interplay, you’ve got it. The counterpoint is doing different things. It’s delighting the ear, it’s setting the mood, it’s adding excitement and complexity. It’s really fantastic.”

And that’s just the first movement. Katsarelis has equal praise for the rest of the symphony. “The slow movement is very singing, and again the inner lines are nice. The minuet is frolicking, and the symphony ends with a wonderful allegro con spirito, nice and fast with more counterpoint answering back and forth, which is really fun. It’s just delightfully enjoyable from start to finish.”

Cynthia Katsarelis with the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra

Katsarelis thinks that the program is perfect for these days after COVID has started to recede. We are all still carrying memories of the pandemic, but thinking ahead to days with fewer restrictions.

“Through the looking glass,” she says. “I think that points to the fact that these pieces are all written during periods of change. That’s music looking backwards and forwards, at a time when we are all doing the same thing.”

# # # # # 

“Through the Looking Glass”
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With Meta Weiss, cello

  • Caroline Shaw: Entr’acte
  • Haydn: Cello Concerto in C major
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A major, K201

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28
Mountain View United Methodist Church


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