CU College of Music recognizes two outstanding artists

Bass/baritone Ashraf Sewailam, writer/guitarist Izzy Fincher honored by the College of Music

By Peter Alexander April 27 at 7:01 p.m.

The University of Colorado College of Music recently announced honors for students and alumni. Two of the honorees—bass/baritone Ashraf Sewailam and writer/guitarist Izzy Fincher—may be familiar to readers of the Sharpsandflatirons blog, as their names have appeared here many times.

Ashraf Sewailam (CU-Boulder BM ’94, MM ’96, DMA ’08) has been selected to receive the College of Music’s 2023 Distinguished Alumnus Award. As a freelance operatic bass/baritone, Sewailam has appeared around the United States at the Minnesota Opera, Seattle Opera, Washington Concerto Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, among others. His international career has taken him to New Zealand and Australia, and he was a member of the Cairo Opera Company in his native Egypt for eight years.

Ashraf Sewailam

In announcing the award, the College of Music wrote that Sewailam is “an internationally recognized and prize-winning opera star (whose) extensive travels . . . include roles on the world’s most prestigious stages. . . . Sewailam’s stunning career stands out for its range. From serving as a voiceover actor for Disney when he was still living in Cairo . . . to winning over audiences around the world, Sewailam is ‘one of our most successful voice alums,’ according to associate professor of opera Leigh Holman.”

The announcement also states, “Sewailam credits his career accomplishments and accolades directly to the education, professional connections and personal relationships he gained while studying at the College of Music. ‘I couldn’t have started my professional career without having been situated at CU Boulder,’ he says.”

Sewailam first appeared in Sharpsandflatirons in January 2017, when he appeared in a performance of the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra singing the music of Shostakovich. He has since been noted for performances with the Boulder Bach Festival and at Central City Opera, including roles in The Magic Flute and Il Trovatore. 

Most recently, Sewailam was reviewed here in Seattle Opera’s world premiere production of Sheila Silver’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, where I wrote that he “sang beautifully, using his resonant bass to create contrast with the violence that surrounds his family.” He is scheduled to direct Central City Opera’s production of Rossini’s Othello this summer. 

Izzy Fincher

Among current undergraduate students, the College of Music singled out Izzy Fincher as their outstanding graduating senior. Fincher will graduate with a BM in classical guitar performance, a BA in journalism and a business minor, and has also been named outstanding graduate of the CU College of Media, Communications and Information. 

Outstanding students in the College of Music are selected each semester based on academic merit, a strong record of musicianship and a record of service and leadership. Fincher will be recognized and deliver a speech at the College of Music commencement ceremony on May 11.

Fincher served an internship with Sharpsandflatirons in the fall of 2020, writing both news articles on the limited events taking place during the COVID shutdown, and opinion pieces on “The White Male Frame” in classical music and “Reflections of a Female, Japanese-American Classical Guitarist.” Since then she has continued to write occasional preview articles and reviews, and she served as both a reporter and editor for the CU Independent. Her senior guitar recital April 23 reflected her research work on female composers of music for guitar.

After graduation, Fincher will attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to pursue a master’s degree in classical guitar performance under René Izquierdo. An outstanding and insightful writer, her presence at Sharpsandflatirons will be missed. 

GRACE NOTES: A sellout at CU; RM Chorale; Transfigured Night

All performances of CU’s Chicago are sold out, but RMC and Pro Musica have tickets

By Peter Alexander April 25 at 10:55 p.m.

If the “Merry Muderesses” of Kander and Ebb’s Chicago are your cup of tea, you might be out of luck.

That is, unless you already have your ticket to the CU College Music production this weekend. The five performances in the Music Theatre of the Imig Music Building are completely sold out. The box office has a wait list that you can join HERE.

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John Kander and Fred Ebb: Chicago
CU College of Music

7:30 p.m. Thursday–Saturday, April 27–29
2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday April 29 and 30

Music Theater


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Jimmy Howe, conductor of the Rocky Mountain Chorale, wanted plenty of variety in the group’s spring program.

To achieve that, he hit upon the idea of a “composite mass,” settings of the five sections of the Mass Proper by five different composers. He himself provided the music for the first movement Kyrie, a movement that he described in program notes as “set to mimic classical style.” Other movements are by actual Baroque and Classical-era composers, plus one living composer. 

The Gloria movement is by Vivaldi, the Credo  by Schubert. They will be followed by “The Ground” from the Sunrise Mass of Norwegian-American composer Ola Gjielo, representing the Hosanna movement. The Composite Mass concludes with the Agnus Dei from Joseph Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli (Mass in time of war).

The other major work on the program is The Hope of Living, a five-part work for chorus and string quartet by Jake Runestad. In his description of the score, Runestad wrote “I continue to dwell on the importance and impact of love—love shown to others and love shown to oneself.” Commissioned by the Miami-based choral group Seraphic Fire, the five movements of The Hope of Loving are based on mystical writings about love selected by the composer.

Howe filled out the program with shorter works by himself, Susan Blockoff and Mark Sirrett.

A mixed choir of more than 60 singers, the Rocky Mountain Chorale was founded in 1978. Their repertoire typically includes classical works as well as pop and world folk music.

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“Hope of Loving”
Rocky Mountain Chorale, Jimmy Howe, conductor
With Parker Steinmetz, asst. conductor; Walton Lott, piano
Jennifer Crim and Marci Pilon, violin; Aaron Lockhart, viola; Desiree Anderson, cello

Program includes: 

  • Composite Mass:
    —Jimmy Howe: Kyrie
    —Vivaldi: Gloria
    —Schubert: Credo
    —Ola Gjeilo: Hosanna from Sunrise Mass
    —Haydn: Agnus Dei from Missa in tempore belli (Mass in time of war)
  • Jake Runestad: The Hope of Living
    —I. “Yield to Love”
    —II. “Wild Forces”
    —III. “Wondrous Creatures”
    —IV. “My Soul is a Candle”
    —V. “The Hope of Loving”

7:30 p.m. Friday April 28, Heart of Longmont Church, Longmont
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 29, First Methodist Church, Boulder


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A solar eclipse in the mountains, a magical night in the forest, and a little Mozart: Those are the ingredients of the next program to be presented by the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra of Colorado Saturday (7:30 p.m. April 29; details below).

The concert, led by Pro Musica’s music director Cynthia Katsarelis, will also feature violinist Harumi Rhodes and violist Richard O’Neill, both members of the Takács String Quartet.

Composer Anne Guzzo

The program opens with The Bear and the Eclipse by Anne M. Guzzo, a faculty member at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Inspired by and dedicated to the bears of Grand Teton National Park, the score portrays the story of a bear experiencing, and being transformed by, a solar eclipse.

As a bookend to The Bear and the Eclipse, Schoenberg’s Verklárte Nacht closes the program. A work with its feet equally planted in both the richly Romantic style of the late 19th century and the expressionistic style of the early 20th century, it is a musical interpretation of a poem describing a man and woman walking through the forest on a moonlit night. The woman confesses a troubling secret and finds that the man’s love has transfigured the darkness to splendor. 

In her program notes, Katsarelis wrote “I love the stories in both (pieces). One is an origin story for the solar and lunar eclipses . . . and ‘Transfigured Night’ is the story of a woman overcoming the fear of telling her story. . . . The whole program is about human connection in the context of cosmic beauty.”

The central pillar of the program is Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola and orchestra, featuring the two soloists. Essentially a concerto with more than one soloist, the Sinfonia Concertante was a popular genre in 18th-century Paris and Mannheim, two cities Mozart visited on his travels. “The music is sublimely beautiful and the interaction between the violin and viola soloists is not to be missed,” Kartsarelis wrote. 

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“Transfigured Night”
Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With Harumi Rhodes, violin, and Richard O’Neill, viola

  • Anne M. Guzzo: The Bear and the Eclipse
  • Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major for violin, viola and orchestra, K364 
  • Schoenberg: Verklárte Nacht (Transfigured night)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 29
Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Pl., Boulder


Boulder Phil boldly goes to Orion Nebula for Saturday’s concert

Program centers on piano-and-orchestra works by Ravel, Rachmaninoff, with pianist Angela Cheng

By Peter Alexander April 20 at 5:10 p.m.

Conductor Michael Butterman, pianist Angela Cheng and the Boulder Philharmonic will visit France and Russia for their concert Saturday (7 p.m. April 22 in Macky Auditorium; details below).

Image taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the sharpest view ever taken of the Orion Nebula, including more than 3,000 stars of various sizes. Image from 2006.

Those are the native countries of composers Ravel and Rachmaninoff, whose works are featured. But if you add in the subjects of the other programmed works by Tchaikovsky and Boulder native Leigha Amick, the itinerary expands to Shakespeare’s Verona and the Orion Nebula as seen by the Hubble telescope.

The concert will open with the world premiere of Amick’s Gossamer Depths, the 2022 winner of the “Resound Boulder” composition competition. Now a graduate student at the Curtis Institute, Amick grew up in Boulder, where she began her composition studies with CU faculty member Daniel Kellogg. One of her earlier pieces was played at a Boulder Phil Discovery Concert when she was still in high school.

Gossamer Depths was inspired by a photo taken from the Hubble Telescope. “I saw that and thought it needed to be depicted in an orchestra setting,” Amick says. Her music portrays different elements that can easily be seen in the photo: “The different (harmonic) layers of the piece represent the different layers of color within the photograph,” she says.

Boulder native and composer Leigha Amick

On top of those layers of chords that move independently of one another, Amick explains, “swirls of dust and space gasses are represented by 16th-note runs throughout the orchestra. And then there are stars on top of all this, and those are accented notes, mostly in winds, brass and percussion.”

Amick’s evocative score will be followed by two separate piano solo works with orchestra, played by Angela Cheng: first Ravel’s Concerto in G major before intermission, and then Rachmaninoff’s popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini opening the second half. Although both works were written around 1930, Ravel’s restrained, jazz-influenced concerto contrasts strongly with Rachmaninoff’s deeply romantic Rhapsody.

Angela Cheng

“They are such different kinds of music—different sonorities, different kinds of touch required of pianists,” Cheng says. “The one similarity is the orchestra is fully an equal partner. In the Ravel Concerto, the orchestra part is just as difficult for some of the wind instruments—it’s almost like concerto for orchestra and Piano. And the same thing with the Rachmaninoff, you really feel like the orchestra is a full partner.

“Of course the sound that needs to come out of the piano is completely different—the (Ravel Concerto) is much lighter, much more transparent. In the Rachmaninoff, the lushness, the richness of the sonorities in the writing and what is required of the pianist, is great in the piano.”

Beyond the differences in playing technique, Cheng struggles to find just the right metaphor to describe the two pieces. Clearly she loves both, each in its own way. “I don’t know very much about wine, but what I know, how whites can be a little bit lighter, maybe that’s Ravel? And a richer red for the Rachmaninoff.

“Or you could compare it to food, even Chinese cooking: Cantonese, where there’s a lot of steaming, lightness, fresh vegetables, would be the Ravel. Rachmaninoff has heavier sauces, maybe northern cooking where it’s richer. Something like that, but they’re both delicious.”

Michael Butterman. Photo by Jiah Kyun

The Rhapsody is a series of variations on a theme used by the violin virtuoso Paganini for his own set of challenging variations in his Caprice No. 24 for solo violin. A simple harmonic outline, it is so well suited for creating variations that dozens of composers have used the same framework for their own variations. 

The most familiar of Rachmaninoff’s variations is No. 18, in which the melodic outline is inverted—turned upside down—and turned into a dreamy, Romantic tune out of character with the dramatic nature of other parts of the score. “It seems to come from a completely different world than the rest,” Butterman says. “It’s marvelous!”

The combination and contrast of Ravel and Rachmaninoff was the starting point of the program, Butterman says. “Originally this was going to be a French and Russian thing,” he says. “I have always thought (there were) color similarities between French and Russian music.”

The concert will conclude with Tchaikovsky’s well known Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy-Overture, which Butterman describes as “an example of music that has made its way into the popular awareness of filmmakers and more. I find it a really effective piece that doesn’t attempt to trace the narrative arc, but gives you the emotional arc of the play, from tragedy, of course, to the overwhelming sense of being head over heels in love. You can go through this whole gamut of emotions in 20 minutes.

“It’s marvelous, and people will love it and I think it pairs well with the Rachmaninoff.”

The concert will be dedicated to the memory of violist Megan Edrington, a member of the Boulder Philharmonic who died March 16 at the age of 43.

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Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor 
With Angela Cheng, piano

Concert dedicated in loving memory of Megan Edrington (1979–2023)

Leigha Amick: Gossamer Depths (World premiere; Resound Boulder Commission)
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy-Overture

7 p.m. Saturday, April 22
Macky Auditorium


CORRECTIONS: The original post was incorrectly dated April 22. April 22 is the date of the concert, not of the blog post. April 20 is the correct date.
The correct title of Leigha Amick’s piece is Gossamer Depths. And earlier version of this story misstated the title as Gossamer Depth.

Longmont Symphony recognizes Mental Health Awareness and Pride months

“Beautiful Minds—Darkness and Light” includes world premiere April 15

By Peter Alexander April 13 at 10:05 p.m.


Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, known as the “Pathétique,” appears frequently on orchestral programs. But conductor Elliot Moore and the Longmont Symphony will turn this standard piece of programming in to a little bit of a statement for their next concert, Saturday (7:30 p.m. April 15; full details below) in Vance Brand Civic Auditorium.

The program features two works: the “Pathétique” and the world premiere of a new work by composer Tyler Harrison commissioned by the LSO. Harrison’s Symphony No. 3, subtitled “The Garden of Tears,” was planned as an answer to Tchaikovsky’s final and most emotionally wrought symphony. The programming has been announced by the orchestra as recognizing “Mental Health Awareness Month” (May 1-30) and “Pride Month” (June 1–30).

It is well known that Tchaikovsky was gay, and in 19th-century Russia he necessarily suffered both legal and emotional trauma as a result. It has even been suggested that his death, soon after the completion of the symphony, was a suicide because of his homosexuality being revealed. While that remains speculative, there is no doubt that the composer suffered personal anguish throughout his life. 

The Longmont Symphony Web page states that the two works “take a look at musical expressions of mental health and identity struggles from two similar voices, separated by a century.” But ultimately, Harrison’s symphony has a more optimistic character than Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique.” Harrison wrote of his music, “The garden of life thrives on the tears that water it, but it is laughter that ultimately defines its beauty.”

Tyler Harrison

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“Beautiful Minds—Darkness and Light”
Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor

  • Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique”
  • Tyler Harrison: Symphony No. 3, “The Garden of Tears” (LSO commission; World Premiere)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 15
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium


Bandoneon virtuoso will share program with Takács Quartet

Julien Labro will play with the Takács and perform solo, Sunday and Monday in Grusin Hall

By Peter Alexander April 13 at 9:30 p.m.


Their next concert program takes the Takács Quartet outside the standard string quartet repertoire.

The performances Sunday and Monday (4 p.m. April 16, and 7:30 p.m. April 17; details below) will feature bandoneon virtuoso Julien Labro, who will play three works with the quartet and perform a solo set. The quartet will also play Ravel’s String Quartet in F major without Labro.

Astor Piazzolla with bandoneon

The bandoneon is a type of concertina, somewhat similar to the accordion. Like those more familiar instruments, sound is creating by opening and closing a bellows to force air across reeds. Pitch is controlled by buttons, similar to those of the button accordion. While it was invented in Germany in the 19th century, bandoneon is primarily associated today with the tango music of Argentina and Uruguay, and particularly the works of Astor Piazzolla.

Labro and the Takács were brought together by the musical consortium Music Accord, an American organization devoted to the commissioning and promotion of new chamber music. They have been playing together on tour for about a year. This is their first joint performance in Boulder.

The current program opens with Circles, a piece written for them by Bryce Dresner. A versatile and prolific composer of film music and a guitarist with the Rock Band the National, Dresner has collaborated with a wide variety of artists, from Kronos Quartet to Philip Glass to Taylor Swift.

Julien Labro

Circles will be followed by Labro’s own Meditation #1, and then a set of pieces for bandoneon alone: a chorale tune by J.S. Bach, to illustrate the instrument’s background as a substitute for organ in small parishes in Germany; Minguito by Argentinian bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi; and Labro’s Astoración, a tribute to Piazzolla.

Astoración “involves myself playing with a tape that I made, with Piazzolla speaking about the tango and the bandoneon,” Labro explains. ”There is little bit of him playing, so we have this virtual duet between the tape and myself.”

After Labro’s solo set, the Takács returns for Ravel’s quartet, and the program ends with Clash by Brazilian-American composer Clarice Assad. A native of Brazil, Assad has been performing professionally since the age of seven. As a composer, she has been influenced by popular Brazilian culture and jazz, and studied composition with Michael Daugherty at the University of Michigan.

In her program notes, Assad describes Clash as an argument between two antagonists. “On one side we have a person who argues, throws violent insults, interrupts, and yells—and on the other side; another who either retaliates or retreats, appeals to guilt, pleads and indulges in oversentimentalism. These are constant themes in this work.”

The pieces for bandoneon and quartet—by Dresner, Labro and Assad—will be on a CD recording to be released by the Takács in the future. The recording is planned to include other works and piano improvisations by Assad as well as the collaborations with Labro.

Composer Clarice Assad

“Being paired up with the Takács is a dream,” Labro says. “I pinch myself every time, because of the legacy that they carry. I’m grateful and I’m enjoying every concert. And now the fact that I get to play on their home turf is also cool. I’m really pleased that I get to see them where they hang out and play and teach.”

In fact, he enjoys not only the pieces they play together. Labro has been listening with attention to the Takács’s performances of the Ravel Quartet as well. “The work is incredible, but hearing them play is fantastic,” he says. “Ravel’s writing is outstanding—the colors, the timing—and players of that caliber and the musicianship they bring to it—always when I hear that piece, I wish Ravel had written more than one string quartet!

“Just be ready,” he advises.

Labro grew up in Paris. He first learned to play the accordion when he was nine, after hearing it on the television. When he was around 13, he says, “I discovered the music of Astor Piazzolla, and that experience led me to learn the bandoneon. Today I do play a fair amount of both instruments.”

He will use his solo set to introduce the bandoneon to the audience. “It’s not every day that you get to see an instrument like mine presented in a chamber music setting,” he explains.

Labro ends his conversation where he started, talking about how much he enjoys working with the Takács Quartet. “We’ve been having a lot of fun,” he says. “It’s been a joy, really, being able to make music with them. It’s been a lot of fun getting to know them outside of the music making, just spending time together. They obviously are amazing players, but they’re equally amazing people.

“Every time we step onstage I just cherish the event, because I know we’re going to have fun no matter what happens.”

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Takács Quartet by Amanda Tipton Photography

Takács Quartet with Julien Labro

  • Bryce Dessner: Circles
  • Julien Labro: Meditation #1
    (Julien Labro, bandoneon, with Takács Quartet)
  • Johann Sebastian Bach: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, S64
  • Dino Saluzzi: Minguito
  • Julien Labro: Astoración (with pre-recorded tape)
    (Julien Labro, bandoneon & accordina)
  • Maurice Ravel: String Quartet in F Major
    (Takács Quartet)
  • Clarice Assad: Clash
    (Julien Labro, bandoneon & accordina with Takács Quartet)

4 p.m. Sunday, April 16
7:30 p.m. Monday, April 17

Grusin Music Hall

TICKETS (in-person and digital)

Grace Notes: Sonic Alchemy at Boulder Bach; piano quintets with winds

Mozart, Pärt and Vasks at the Dairy; Mozart and Rimsky-Korsakov chamber music

By Peter Alexander April 5 at 11:45 p.m.

The Boulder Bach Festival continues to explore musical connections across time, as their upcoming concert (4 p.m. Saturday, April 8; details below) brings together works by Mozart with contemporary works by Arvo Pärt and Pēteris Vasks.

A composer from the Baltic nation of Estonia, Pärt is known for his development of a style he calls “tintinnabulation,” in which fragments of sound recur to suggest the ringing of bells. His music is deeply influenced by the mysticism of Byzantine Christianity, and in this concert will be contrasted with the rationality of the European Enlightenment, as reflected in the music of Mozart.

The two are conflated in Pärt’s Mozart-Adagio, a work for violin and piano that balances Mozart’s style and Pärt’s “tintunnabuli” and brings their two centuries—the 18th and the 20th—into close conjunction.

Vasks hails from another Baltic country, Latvia, where he was trained as a violinist and double-bass player. His highly original style has been described as “spiritual,” “powerfully evocative” and “imagematic”—i.e., creating a strong visual impression. Apart from his musical works, he is known primarily for his devotion to environmental causes, which often appear as the subjects of his works.

The performance, which includes two of Mozart’s keyboard fantasies, will be recorded for later release. That will be the second CD release from the Boulder Bach Festival, which has already issued a joint CD and Blu-ray recordings of music from the 2022 Boulder Bach Festival. That recording, “Boulder Bach Festival” on the Sono Lumnus label, can be purchased from the recording studio

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“Sonic Alchemy”
Boulder Bach Festival: Mina Gajić, piano; YuEun Ki, violin; Coleman Itzkoff, cello

  • Mozart: Fantasia in C minor, K475
  • Arvo Pärt: Fratres for cello and piano
  • Pēteris Vasks: The White Scenery for piano solo
    Interior Castle for violin and cello
  • Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel for violin and piano
  • Mozart: Fantasia in D minor, K397Pärt: Mozart-Adagio for piano trio

4 p.m. Saturday, April 8
The Gordon Gamm Theater, Dairy Arts Center


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The Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) will present the last of its 2022-23 Mini-Chamber concerts Saturday (7:30 p.m. April 8; details below), featuring the music of Rimsky-Korsakov and Mozart.

Pianist David Korevaar, who has been the featured artist for the mini-chamber concerts this season, returns to play two quintets for piano and winds with members of the BCO. It is notable that both works feature the wind players as much as the piano.

David Korevaar. Photo by Matthew Dine.

In 1876, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote a String Sextet for a competition sponsored by the Russian Musical Society. After completing the Sextet, he decided to write a separate piece for piano and winds. The composer described the work in his autobiography as follows:

“The First movement, Allegro con brio, (is) in the classic style of Beethoven. The Second Movement, Andante, contained a good fugue for the wind instruments with a very free accompaniment in the piano. In the finale, Allegretto vivace, I wrote in rondo form. Of interest is the middle section where I wrote cadenzas for the flute, the clarinet and the horn to be played in turns. Each was in the character of the instrument and each was interrupted by the bassoon entering by octave leaps.”

Mozart’s Quintet was written for a concert the composer presented in 1784, when he was at the height of his success in Vienna. In came right after thee piano concertos, K449, K450 and K451, and can thus be considered virtually a chamber concerto for piano, although the winds each have their own solo moments as well. After finishing the quintet, Mozart wrote to his father, “I consider it the best work I have ever written.”

The Quintet has the same three-movement structure as a concerto. The first has a slow introduction followed by an allegro where each instrument has its own theme. That is followed by a gentle slow movement and a rondo that, like the central section of Rimsky-Korsakov’s finale, leads to cadenzas for all five players. 

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Mini-Chamber Concert 3
David Korevaar, piano, with members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

  • Rimsky-Korsakov: Quintet for piano and winds in B-flat major
  • Mozart: Quintet for piano and winds in E-flat major, K452

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8
Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave.