English a capella group Voces8 at Macky March 1

“Choral Dances” concert sponsored by Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers

By Peter Alexander Feb. 27 at 3:30 p.m.

In 2005 brothers Paul and Barnaby Smith, who had both been choristers at Westminster Abbey, formed their own a capella vocal group. With eight members, they drew on their classical Latin learning and called the group Voces8 (Voices8).

Today the group tours internationally, commissions new works, has released more than a dozen recorded albums, has their own educational foundation, a composer-in-residence, and now has a Grammy nomination to their name. Comprising two sopranos, one alto, one countertenor, two tenors, a baritone and a bass, they perform a variety of styles from folk to pop, from music of the Renaissance to classic jazz, often in their own arrangements.

A promotional photo of the English a cappella group Voces8

Thanks to sponsorship by Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers, Voces8 will appear in Colorado this week: at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Macky Auditorium in Boulder and Thursday at St. John/s Cathedral in Denver (March 1 and 2). The Denver performance is sold out, but tickets for Wednesday’s Macky Auditorium performance are still available HERE.

Under the title “Choral Dances,” the Macky program offers what the group calls “a rare mix of ethereal and angelic,” and will include performances by Ars Nova, under the direction of Tom Morgan. Both groups will present music that reflects their individual traditions of performing music from the Renaissance to the current day.

Voces8 will open with a celebratory sacred piece from the Renaissance, “Buccinate in Neomenia Tuba” (Blow the trumpet when the moon is new) by Giovanni Croce. Characteristic of their eclectic programming, that will be followed by an eight-part motet by Mendelssohn (“Denn er hat seinen Engeln befohlen”—For He shall give his angels charge), music by group co-founder Paul Smith (“Nunc Dimittis”—Now depart) and the great cellist Pablo Casals (“O vos omnes”—O all ye).

“Drop, drop, slow tears,” one of the best known songs of the English Renaissance composer Orland Gibbons, is paired with a setting of “The deer’s cry,” a sacred poem also known as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Ars Nova closes the first half of the concert with three pieces from their repertoire, by English Renaissance composer John Shepherd, late Renaissance Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo, and contemporary American composer Caroline Shaw.

In the second half of the concert Voces8 will sing one of their most popular numbers, a setting of Elgar’s famous “Nimrod” variation from The Enigma Variations to the text “Lux Aeterna” (Eternal light). Other composers on their program are Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, and the great early Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi. The program closes with another piece by Orlando Gibbons, the joyful “O Clap Your Hands.”

The group’s Voces8 Foundation is a registered charity in the United Kingdom. It was set up by Paul and Barnaby Smith in 2006 to develop the ensemble’s music education and outreach programs. Located in London, the foundation works with choral and small vocal groups in both performance and education. It presents workshops and masterclasses, and awards choral scholarships to young singers. There is a separate Voces8 USA Foundation.

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Ars Nova Singers presents Voces8

“Choral Dances”

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 1
Macky Auditorium


“Lux Aeterna”

7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 2
St. John’s Cathedral, Denver—SOLD OUT

Opera Colorado presents beautifully conceived production

Korngold’s rarely performed Die tote Stadt soars

By Peter Alexander February 26 at 11 p.m.

Opera Colorado opened their new production of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Die tote Stadt under difficult circumstances Saturday (Feb. 26): last- minute vocal paralysis of the star soprano, Sara Gartland.

Her indisposition was capably overcome with the help of dramatic soprano Kara Shay Thomson and some artful directorial sleight-of-hand. Thomson, who didn’t have time to learn the staging but knew the music, sang from the pit while Gartland acted the role onstage.

Die tote Stadt: Act II scene rendering by Robert Perdziola

Korngold wrote Die tote Stadt in 1920, when he was only 23, and later went on to write hugely successful Hollywood film scores, winning two Academy Awards. Unsurprisingly, the score of Tote Stadt has an expressive immediacy that connects with audiences.

The opera, too long neglected, soared in a beautifully designed and conceived production that featured a generally strong cast. Conductor Ari Pelto kept things well under control. He and the orchestra seemed comfortable with Korngold’s cinematic and emotionally descriptive style.

Robert Perdziola’s beautiful and evocative designs colorfully combined the interior of protagonist Paul’s apartment and a replica the O.L.V.-Kerk (Church of Our Lady) church tower in Bruges, Belgium, the symbolically “dead city” of the opera’s title. A large scrim at the back allowed for spectral appearances from his fantasies, including his beloved late wife Marie and a procession of nuns that appear during his fevered dreams.

Jonathan Burton (Paul) and Sara Gartland (Marietta/Marie). Photo courtesy of Opera Colorado

This unit set served all three acts effectively, with plenty of room for the scene to shift from Paul’s artist’s studio to the canals of Bruges. A boat with dancers and commedia dell’arte characters and the procession of nuns parade in and out of the scene, as they do through Paul’s nightmares.

With a ringing sound and a secure top, tenor Jonathan Burton was effective in the long and difficult role of Jonathan, a young artist who suffers delusions that Marie has returned to life. His belief that the dancer Marietta is Marie reincarnated is the dramatic crux of the opera and places Paul at the emotional center. The Heldentenor demands of the part stressed his voice by the end, although the resigned reflection of his final scene came through affectingly.

He was a better singer than actor; the intensity of his role, as Paul spins into madness, came through more potently in his singing than his movements or posture. That may be why a moment that should be chilling—when a maddened Paul dreams that he has strangled Marietta and, imagining the corpse at his feet, sings “now she is exactly like Marie”—elicited out-of-place laughter from the audience.

Kara Shay Thomson. Photo by Devon Cass

Singing as Maria/Marietta, Kara Shay Thomson was at a disadvantage standing in a corner of the pit. Neither elevated above the orchestra nor singing out toward the audience, she was not always clearly audible. If the words were sometimes muffled, she sang the role with confidence and solid sound, ascending comfortably to the highest reaches of the part.

The vocally indisposed Sara Gartland was the very image of the dancer Marietta. She moved comfortably about the stage, and her emotions were often visible in her posture. It is difficult to maintain the intensity of a role when only mouthing the words, and she did not always succeed, but her dance scene in Act II was effective.

Baritone Daniel Belcher has a bright, steely voice well suited to his part as Frank, Paul’s friend. He ably conveyed Frank’s stability and groundedness in dealing with Paul’s delusions. As Brigitte, Paul’s housekeeper, Elizabeth Bishop’s warm, plush voice helped shape her role as a caretaker. She had the best diction of the cast; otherwise you would have had difficulty relying on the German text to follow the story. Young tenor Jonathan Johnson made a solid impression as Viktorin, director of Marietta’s dance company.

Stage direction by Chas Rader-Shieber served the story. The large stage area never looked too wide as the singers interacted. Only when the singing Marietta was in the pit on one side of the stage while the acting Marietta was on the other was there any (unavoidable) awkwardness. 

NOTE: In the second act, Marietta dances a scene with shrouded nuns that might not make sense to modern viewers. This scene comes from a French grand opera, Robert le diable (Robert the devil) by Giacomo Meyerbeer. In that original scene—a third-act ballet that would have been familiar to Korngold’s 1920s audiences—dead nuns rise from their graves to perform a scandalous dance celebrating drinking, gambling and lust. The choice of this scene to fuel Paul’s imagination of Marietta and her company is deliberately provocative and suggests Marietta’s debased character, Paul’s derangement, or both.

Before the curtain, Opera Colorado artistic director Greg Carpenter came onstage to thank the opera company’s board for agreeing to present his “favorite opera.” I join in his appreciation, for being able to see an opera that I had never before seen live, produced on a high professional level.

If you love opera, you should not miss the opportunity to see this engaging, late-Romantic work that is rarely performed in the United States. Three performances remain at Opera Colorado (Feb. 28, Match 3 and March 5; details and tickets HERE).

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Opera Colorado
Die tote Stadt by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Libretto by Paul Schott (Erich and Julius Korngold)
Ari Pelto, conductor; Chas Rader-Shieber, director

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, and Friday, March 3
2 p.m. Sunday, March 5

Ellie Caulkins Opera House, Denver Performing Arts Complex


Colorado Opera presents a Romantic hit of the 1920s

Die tote Stadt: A saga of love and delusion by the first great Hollywood composer

By Peter Alexander Feb. 23 at 5:15 p.m.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s opera Die tote Stadt (The dead city) is rarely performed today, but it was one of the greatest hits of the 1920s. 

Design rendering for Die tote Stadt, Act II, by Robert Perdziola

Korngold’s lush, Romantic score and the tale of love and madness resonated with European audiences after World War I. Even though the composer was only 23, Die tote Stadt was premiered simultaneously in two cities in 1920, and within two years had been performed world wide, including performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Suppressed by Nazi authorities because of Korngold’s Jewish heritage, the opera disappeared. But with its early record of success, Die tote Stadt is ripe for revival, and Opera Colorado is stepping up with a production that opens this weekend at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver (7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25; additional performances will be Tuesday, Feb. 28, Friday, March 3, and Sunday, March 5. See full details below).

Opera Colorado’s original production of Tote Stadt was designed by Robert Perdziola. The performances will be conducted by Opera Colorado’s music director Ari Pelto. Stage director is Chas Rader-Shieber.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold in 1920

Born in Austria in 1897, Korngold was one of many central European musicians of his generation who enriched the musical life of the U.S. when they fled the Nazi regime. Though not as well known today as Schoenberg or Bartók, he had immense impact on American musical life. He was the first great composer of music for Hollywood films, notably several swashbucklers starting Errol Flynn including Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and The Sea Hawk (1940). Korngold won Academy awards for his scores for Anthony Adverse (1936) and The Adventures of Robin Hood.

The story of Tote Stadt is derived from a novel by the Belgian symbolist Georges Rodenbach, Bruges-la-Morte (The dead city of Bruges). Korngold’s father knew the translator of Rodenbach’s novel into German, and suggested the story to his son as an opera. Father and son wrote the libretto together, under the name Paul Schott.

The plot concerns Paul, an artist living in Bruges, Belgium, whose wife Marie had died before the opera begins. Unable to accept his wife’s death, Paul keeps a morbid memorial to her in his apartment. One day he becomes convinced that a woman he saw in the street, a dancer named Marietta, is Marie reincarnated. He tells his friend Frank about this delusion.

Sara Gartland as Marietta. Photo courtesy of Opera Colorado.

Marietta visits Paul, and dances for him, then leaves for a rehearsal. Paul has an extended vision that involves a meeting with Frank and various members of Marietta’s dance company, and a liaison with Marietta. Later Paul imagines that he strangles Marietta rather than allow her to leave, but in the end he realizes that it was all an illusion.

With such an intriguing story, Tote Stadt might seem a good candidate for a return to the popularity it achieved in the 1920s. But there are reasons beyond Nazi suppression that it is not performed often. “I understand one reason why it’s not done very much, because it’s difficult music,” cast member Jonathan Johnson says. “The orchestra has to be on top of their game, we have to be on top of our game.”

In addition to Johnson, who sings the relatively minor roles of Viktorin, head of the dance company that features Marietta, and Gaston, who sings from offstage, the cast includes tenor Jonathan Burton, who recently appeared in Puccini’s Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera, in the leading role as Paul. Frank will be sung by Daniel Belcher, who has sung at the Met as well as houses in Paris, London, Berlin, Tokyo and other cities around the world. Elizabeth Bishop, another Met soloist, will sing the role of Brigitte, Paul’s maid who leaves his service to join a convent.

The role of Marietta and the spectral Marie, taken by a single soprano, is more complicated. Sara Gartland, who has sung major soprano roles with companies across the U.S., was engaged for Marietta/Marie but developed severe vocal fatigue after arriving in Colorado. She was diagnosed with laryngeal nerve paresis, paralysis of the vocal cords, possibly a result of a past COVID-19 infection. As a result, Kara Shay Thomson, another experienced soprano, will sing Marietta/Marie while Gartland acts the role onstage.

This arrangement is not unusual when singers develop severe problems late in the preparation of a production. It happened at Opera Colorado in 2013 when bass Kevin Langan was unable to sing the role of Frère Laurent in Gounod’s Romeo et Juilliette. Langan acted onstage, while an apprentice singer sang the role from the side of the stage. The same thing happened at the 2011 world premiere of Kevin Puts’s Silent Night at Minnesota Opera, when tenor William Burden was unable to sing the lead role of Sprink on opening night and chorus member Brad Benoit sang the part while Burden acted and lip-synced. Many opera singers have had similar experiences.

Johnathan Johnson. Photo by Dario Acosta for Opera News

Although he has a relatively small role in the production, Johnson may be on his way to greater renown. He was featured in the February 2023 issue of Opera News magazine. “I was thrilled,” he says about the article. “It puts my name in front of people who don’t know who I am.”

The article came as a surprise, Johnson says, probably as the result of a principal role he took in Stewart Wallace’s opera Harvey Milk at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis last summer. As for his role in Tote Stadt, “I’m the ringleader of the cacophony that happens in the second act,” he says. 

Even though Viktorin is onstage for only about 10 minutes, Johnson is committed to making the role more than a walk-on. “Small roles don’t know that they’re small roles, and that’s how you should play them,” he says. “I try to never rest when I’m onstage, and think about my relationship to all of these other characters.”

But in this case you shouldn’t take what you see literally. “It’s a dream-like sequence where we’re all in Paul’s mind,” he explains. “The version of us that you see is not necessarily the version that exists offstage.”

Before being cast in the Opera Colorado production, Johnson had only heard a single aria from Tote Stadt, and he is relishing learning the opera. “I have such appreciation for Korngold, how he weaves the themes throughout,” he says. “It’s an express train that you have to get on, and if you miss your stop, good luck getting back on! It just rolls. And because of that I find it incredibly compelling to hear.

“This music is so beautiful and film-like, in a way that I think people will respond to. There are parts that still give me chills.”

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Opera Colorado
Die tote Stadt by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Libretto by Paul Schott (Erich and Julius Korngold)
Ari Pelto, conductor; Chas Rader-Shieber, director

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, Tuesday, Feb. 28, and Friday, March 3
2 p.m. Sunday, March 5

Ellie Caulkins Opera House, Denver Performing Arts Complex


NOTE: Opera Colorado has announced their 2023–24 season, featuring productions of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Wagner’s Flying Dutchman and Saint Saëns’s Samson and Delilah. Information about season tickets may be found on the Opera Colorado Web page

Grace Note: Longmont Symphony presents Sibelius

Saturday’s concert features violinist Judith Ingolfsson

By Peter Alexander Feb. 16 at 11:05 a.m.

“Sibelius’s only desire was to depict the greatness of his native Finland,” Longmont Symphony conductor Elliot Moore wrote for the orchestra’s newsletter.

He so far succeeded, Moore noted, that he became a potent symbol of his nation and its people. And it was Finland’s resistance to Russian control, symbolized in Sibelius’s music,  that inspired Moore to choose Sibelius as the subject of a musical portrait, just as we all observe the struggle of Ukraine against Russian control.

Jean Sibelius in 1890.

That musical portrait will be the next concert of the Longmont Symphony, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 18 in Vance Brand Civic Auditorium). The concert will open with Finlandia, the composer’s most overt expression of Finnish nationalism and patriotism, and close with the Second Symphony, which Sibelius called “a confession of the soul.” The program will also feature violinist Judith Ingolfsson playing Sibelius’s Violin Concerto.

Finlandia was written specifically for a celebration of the Finnish press in 1899, which was intended to protest Russian censorship. Originally performed under other names to avoid Russian suppression, the score later became Sibelius’s best known work and has been performed widely around the world.

Judith Ingolfsson

Completed in 1902, Sibelius’s Second Symphony was written soon after the premiere of Finlandia. The final movement, with a powerful transition from minor to major, was associated by many with Finland’s struggle against Russia, and at one time the piece was popularly known as the “Symphony of Independence.” Though no longer called by that name, the Second Symphony remains one of the composer’s most performed works.

Sibelius wrote his Violin Concerto—his only concerto for soloist and orchestra—in 1904, but that original version was not a success and is rarely performed. The revised version was premiered the following year with Richard Strauss conducting the Berlin Court Orchestra and violinist Karel Halíř. Sibelius removed passages that he thought had not worked, but this slightly easier version is still one of the leading virtuoso concertos in the violin repertoire.

Ingolfsson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, and moved to the United States at the age of 14. She studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Cleveland Institute. She currently lives in Europe where she teaches at the State University of Music and Performing Arts in Stuttgart and is co-artistic director and founder of the Festival Aigues-Vives en Musiques in France. 

At the age of eight she played as a soloist with the Iceland Symphony. She won the gold medal in the 1998 Indianapolis International Violin Competition, and was a prize winner at the Paganini Competition in Genoa and the Concert Artists Guild Competition in New York. In 1999 she was named “Debut Artist of the Year” by NPR’s “Performance Today.”

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“Sibelius: A Portrait”
Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor
With Judith Ingolfsson, violin

  • Sibelius: Finlandia
    —Violin Concerto in D minor
    —Symphony No. 2 in D major

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium


Young girl yearns for luxury at Boulder Opera

Massenet’s Manon Saturday and Sunday at the Dairy

By Izzy Fincher Feb. 14 at 1:30 p.m.

Costume rendering by
Alyssa Rider

“It has never been a matter of wonder to me that human resolutions are liable to change; one passion gives them birth, another may destroy them,” wrote L’Abbé Prévost in his classic novel Manon Lescaut from 1731. 

Manon, a young French girl, is tormented by dreams of grandeur, yearning for a life filled with luxury and wealth in early eighteenth-century Paris. But as she climbs the social ladder, she soon finds herself torn between the power of true love and her own self-destructive greed.

Costume rendering by
Alyssa Rider

The tragic tale of Manon will take the stage for Boulder Opera at the Dairy Arts Center. The company will present Jules Massenet’s opera Manon based on the novel Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 18 and 19 (details below), with Amy Maples as Manon and Cody Laun as Des Greiux, under stage director Gene Roberts and conductor Steven Aguiló-Arbues.

The modernized production, set in the 1960s, aims for a fresh take on the classic.

“In certain ways, the excesses and heavy drug use of the 1960s can serve as a mirror for the original time period,” Laun says. “The opera is a cautionary tale of what will happen if you take this to excess. I think [the different eras] parallel each other well. The nostalgia and the familiarity will help to draw people in.”

Costume rendering by
Alyssa Rider

Originally set at the height of the Belle Époque (beautiful epoch; 1871–1914) in Paris, productions of Massenet’s Manon are often quite lavish. For the extravagant, stylish haute couture, women wear ornate dresses crafted to exaggerate the S-shaped Edwardian silhouette, while men don sleek tailored sack suits.

In contrast, Boulder Opera’s production will be more toned down with colorful, vintage fashion. This era certainly has its draw—as shown with Jean Aurel’s 1968 film Manon 70, starring Catherine Deneuve, set in the swinging ‘60s in Paris. 

In any era, Massenet’s opera holds its own with the vibrant music and dynamic storytelling. The opera, which debuted at Paris’ Opéra-Comique in 1884, has become one of the composer’s greatest and most enduring successes for a reason.

“In his musical language and storytelling, Massenet uses lots of lush textures and rubato for the expressive shaping of phrases,” conductor Aguiló-Arbues says. “His music is full of charm and speaks directly to the [audience].

“The music is almost cinematic. The overarching, sweeping ideas and characterizations paint the scenes in a very emotional, grandiose way.”

Amy Maples (Manon), Cody Laun (Des Grieux) and Nick Navarre (Guillot) rehearsing Manon

The opera depicts the passionate relationship of Manon and Des Grieux, her on-and-off-and-on-again lover. While Manon aspires to have social status and wealth, Des Grieux dreams of a simple, happy life with his partner. A dissatisfied Manon soon gives in to her greed, and the couple’s conflicting dreams pull them apart, eventually leading to their downfall.

“Manon is that wild card friend who is always flying on the seat of her pants, barreling into life fearlessly,” Maples says. “She’s a ‘yes’ person.”

It can be easy to play into the role of Manon as the femme fatale, a seductive, manipulative woman who uses her beauty and charm to ensnare men like Des Grieux and De Brétigny, her other love interest. However, Maples hopes to dig deeper into Manon’s motivations and backstory, to help the audience see Manon as a more sympathetic character.  

“At first, I didn’t sympathize with her,” Maples says. “I just thought she was selfish. But then I realized that underneath all of her desire for wealth is actually a drive for significance in the world. For me, that opened up my heart to her a little more.”

During the opera, Manon is only 15 years old. This can be easy to forget, considering the sophistication of the role, which requires a mature virtuoso soprano. The vocally demanding part has even been described as “the French Isolde” by American opera singer Beverly Sills. 

Steven Aguiló-Arbues, conductor

Manon’s arias call for light agility, as in “Je suis encore tout étourdie” (I’m still all dazed), virtuosic power with sparking high notes during her time with the Parisian aristocracy, as well as delicate sensibility, as in the mournful “Adieu, notre petite table” (Farewell to our little table).

Her duets with Des Grieux need to be convincing yet not melodramatic, as the two fall suddenly into an all-consuming love.

“There is lots of imitative music between Manon and Des Grieux, where one will echo the other’s theme or finish it for them,” Laun says. “This shows how their relationship is sweet on one hand, but it is also a little codependent and unhealthy. They can’t live well without each other.”

Throughout the opera, Massenet relies on leitmotifs like this to characterize each protagonist and express their turbulent emotional states. Combining Wagner’s concept of musical drama with the lyricism of the Italian operatic tradition and the expressiveness of French grand opera, Massenet showcases his compelling, distinctive style.

Thus, Massenet’s music draws the audience into the lover’s misadventures and heartbreak. As Manon barrels headfirst toward her inevitable downfall, the audience begins to sympathize with the misguided young girl—even though, in the end, she only has herself to blame for the personal tragedies she faces.

“This shows how people should have the freedom to delight,” Laun says, “but it’s also a cautionary tale of (the need for) temperance and discernment, because getting too carried away can lead to one’s own destruction.”

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Jules Massnet: Manon
Boulder Opera
Gene Roberts, stage director, and Steven Aguiló-Arbues, conductor 

7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18
3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19
The Dairy Arts Center


Takács Quartet’s Dusinberre appears as soloist in Brahms Concerto

Concert with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra will be Saturday

By Peter Alexander Feb. 9 at 2:10 p.m.

“You know you’re going to want more later,” Bahman Saless says about the Brahms Violin Concerto.

“It’s like German chocolate cake. It’s heavy, it’s sweet, it’s filling—I love the entire piece!”

Edward Dusinberre

Saless will conduct this tasty concerto with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra on Saturday (7:30 p.m., Feb. 11; details below) with violinist Edward Dusinberre of the Takács Quartet as soloist. Other works on the program will be Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A major (“Italian”).

Dusinberre has especially warm feelings for the concerto, which he learned as a student at the Royal College of Music in London. “I first performed the piece with an amateur orchestra in northwest England,” he wrote in an email communication. “My grandfather was playing in the viola section. 

“What I remember more than the actual concert was my Dad driving from many miles away, both to hear the concert and so that he could drive me south afterwards. I was . . . a bit insecure about how I had played. I cherish that memory of his reassuring presence as we drove late at night through the countryside.”

Dusinberre cherishes the concerto not only because of that memory, but also for its musical qualities. “I love the balance of drama and lyricism,” he wrote. “The first solo entrance and other sections are propulsive and intense, but the movement has moments of ethereal wonderment—those are some of my favorite passages in all music.”

Both Saless and Dusinberre singled out the slow movement for comment. “The slow movement is one of the greatest slow movements of any violin concerto,” the conductor says, while the soloist wrote that “after the serenity of the slow movement, the high-spirited, at times joking mood of the finale is a necessary foil and satisfying conclusion.”

Saless hopes that as they listen to the concerto, the audience will pay attention to how the violin and orchestra relate and interact. “Brahms wrote it as a piece of music where it isn’t necessarily always the orchestra that’s going to accompany the violin,” he explains.

“A lot of the melodic line is in the orchestra, which is fascinating. There are some incredible parts that require the listener to really listen to the orchestra.”

Bahman Saless with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

Saless chose to open the concert with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture because it is such an ideal program opener. “It’s so powerful and captivating that it’s like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in eight minutes,” he says. And “it’s a great piece, not only because of the quality of it, but as far as marketing is concerned there are a lot of people that know it.”

Following the drama of Beethoven and the deep beauty of the Brahms, the program switches gears for the final piece, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4. Known as the “Italian” Symphony, it was begun when Mendelssohn was visiting Italy as a young man and is full of the cheery liveliness so often associated with that country. “It will be the jolliest piece I have ever done,” Mendelssohn wrote to his sister.

“To me it definitely does show that joy and brightness of Italy, and the energy and life of Italian culture,” Saless says. “It’s one of these pieces that as soon as I start listening to it or singing it, it doesn’t stop. It’s a very fun piece that I thought would be good compliment to a relatively heavy Brahms and Beethoven half (of the concert). It’s kind of a lighter, brighter piece, and also we’ve got such a great string section I thought it would be a really good showcase for them.”

Once again Saless wants to draw attention to the slow movement. “It’s simplicity at it best, short, very simple,” he says. “It also has a tiny bit of Bach. Mendelssohn was a huge fan of Johann Sebastian Bach, and it’s almost like an homage to him with the way that the basses have this little walking bass part that reminds you of a lot of Bach pieces.”

Saless and Dusinberre are both pleased to have the opportunity to work together. “I’m honored to have Ed perform with us,” Saless says. “I’m really, really looking forward to this.”

As for Dusinberre, in addition to his busy world-wide concert schedule with the Takács Quartet, he is happy to play a favorite concerto with the local musicians of the BCO. “Every now and again it’s great to return to works that I played before I joined the Takács,” he wrote. “It’s a joy to perform with Bahman and the BCO, many of whose players are friends or former students. There’s an inspiring spirit of community in the orchestra.

“I feel grateful to be part of that.”

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Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Edward Dusinberre, violin

  • Beethoven: Overture to Egmont
  • Brahms: Violin Concerto in D major
  • Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 in A major (“Italian”)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11
Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder


Grace Notes: Guest artists for Ars Nova and Boulder Bach

“Stardust” for Black History Month, and a renowned guest artist

By Peter Alexander Feb. 7 at 10:04 p.m.

The Denver-based string group Sphere Ensemble will be a guest of Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers for a concert recognizing Black History Month. Titled “Stardust,” the program will be presented at 7:30 pm. Friday in Boulder and Saturday in Denver (Feb. 10 and 11; details below).

Joel Thompson

Under the direction of Ars Nova’s artistic director Tom Morgan, the program opens with the world premiere performances of Love Songs from Lonely Letters by Joel Thompson. Ars Nova is one of five American choirs that jointly commissioned the Love Letters, which are based on the writings of Ashon Crawley, who teaches at the University of Virginia. 

An Atlanta resident and Emory College grad, Thompson is the composer of a widely acclaimed opera based on “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats, the most checked-out book in the history of the New York Public Library. Thompson’s opera was premiered in August 2021 by Houston Grand Opera, where he currently holds a residency. Thompson will speak at the Ars Nova performances about his Love Songs, a work that explores individual agency and transformative joy.

The Sphere Ensemble will play their own arrangements of works by the Black English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and the remarkable Brazilian woman composer Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzaga, known as Chiquinha Gonzaga.

The program concludes with music by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Ars Nova will repeat his Berlin Mass, a 1990 composition that they performed with the Boulder Philharmonic in 1997. Originally written for voices and organ, the score was arranged by the composer for voices and strings and incorporates the composer’s tintinnabula technique (from the Latin word for “bell”)—a way of creating deep resonance in slow-moving passages by combining notes of the tonic chord with simple scale patterns.

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Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan, conductor
With Sphere Ensemble

  • Joel Thompson: Love Songs from Lonely Letters
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Three-fours, II: Andante (arr. Alex Vittal)
  • Chiquinha Gonzaga: “Corta-Jaca” (arr. Alex Vittal)
  • Arvo Pärt: “Es sang vor langen Jahren” (Long years ago the nightingale sang)
    —Virgencita (Little Virgin)
    Berlin Mass

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10
First United Methodist Church, 14521 Spruce St., Boulder

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11
Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St., Denver

TICKETS, including livestream Feb. 10–28

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The Ukrainian-born Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman and the Indonesian pianist Janice Carissa will present a joint recital as guests of the Boulder Bach Festival, at 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, in the Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum.

Vadim Gluzman. Photo by Marco Borggreve

The children of musicians, Gluzman was born in the former Soviet Union and grew up in Riga, Latvia. He began studying violin at seven and moved to Israel with his family at 17. Today he teaches at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore as distinguished artist in residence and plays a Stradivari violin that once belonged to the virtuoso Leopold Auer.

Carissa first studied piano with her mother in her native Indonesia. She came to the United States to study at the Curtis Institute in 2013 and made her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of 16. She is currently a master’s student of Robert McDonald at the Juilliard School. She has appeared at Caramoor, Marlboro and Ravinia festivals, among others.

Their program features J.S. Bach’s Sonata in C minor for violin and keyboard, as well as the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita in D minor for solo violin, with a piano accompaniment by Robert Schumann. Continuing a tour through music history, Gluzman will play the A minor sonata for violin solo by the late Romantic violinist/composer Eugène Ysaÿe and par.ti.ta for solo violin written for the Bachwoche (Bach week) in Ansbach, Germany, by Lera Auerbach.

Gluzman wrote, “par.ti.ta is an incredible work, projecting Lera’s lifelong fascination with Bach. . . . We hear traces and echoes of Brandenburg Concerti, Concerto for two violins, sonatas and partitas for violin solo. No particular work is being quoted, yet I can’t help the feeling of being drawn to an incredible world of shades, echoes—are these shades of ourselves?”

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Boulder Bach Festival
Vadim Gluzman, violin, and Janice Carissa, piano

  • J.S. Bach: Sonata in C minor, S1017, for violin and clavier obbligato
  • Eugène Ysaÿe: Sonata in A minor, op. 27 no. 2, for violin solo
  • Lera Auerbach: par.ti.ta
  • J.S. Bach: Partita in D minor, Chaconne, with piano accompaniment by Robert Schumann

4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11
Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum