GRACE NOTES: Boulder Piano Quartet and Boulder Symphony Friday

Brahms and Bonis at the Academy; Beethoven, Britten and Korngold downtown

By Peter Alexander May 18 at 1:10 p.m.

The Boulder Piano Quartet will perform a piece by one of the most interesting composers you’ve never heard of—Mel Bonis, aka Mélanie Hélène Bonis Domange— as part of a concert Friday at the Academy in Boulder (7 p.m. May 19; details below).

Oh, and there will be some Brahms, too—someone who is slightly better known to music lovers today.

To be specific, the program comprises Bonis’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in D major and Brahms’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor. The concert will feature performers Alex Gonzalez as guest violinist, with regular Boulder Quartet members Matthew Dane, viola; Thomas Heinrich, cello; and David Korevaar, piano. Gonzalez substitutes for the late Chas Wetherbee, a member of the quartet who died Jan. 9.

Born in 1858, Bonis was a child prodigy who taught herself to play piano. She entered the Paris Conservatory at 16, where she studied with Cesar Franck and was in the same class with Debussy. To satisfy her parents’ conservative sense of priorities she married a businessman who apparently didn’t like music, and consequently she gave up composition. Later she re-encountered a former classmate and ex-lover who was able to encourage her composition and connect her with publishers. Both her composing and her affair with the former classmate blossomed as a result.

When Saint-Saëns heard some of her music around 1901, he is supposed to have said “I never imagined a woman could write such music!” After her husband’s death in 1918, Bonis devoted herself fully to composition. The Second Piano Quartet, written in 1927, is one of her later pieces which she described as her “musical legacy.”

Brahms wrote his Piano Quartet in G minor 1856–61. It was premiered in his hometown of Hamburg in 1861 with Clara Schumann playing the piano part. Brahms himself later played it for his Vienna debut as a performer. The Quartet is best known for its finale, marked Rondo alla Zingarese, based on the Roma dance-music style that was often mistaken for Hungarian folk song. 

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Boulder Piano Quartet

  • Mel Bonis: Piano Quartet No. 2 in D major, op. 124
  • Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, op. 25

7 p.m. Friday, May 19
Chapel Hall, The Academy University Hill

Free admission; reservations HERE

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The Boulder Symphony and conductor Devin Patrick Hughes open their concert Friday (7:30 p.m. May 19 at Grace Commons Church) with another interesting composer, and one who should be better known, Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

Music from Korngold’s score for the 1940 film starring Errol Flynn, The Sea Hawk, opens the program, which also features probably the best known symphony of all time, Beethoven’s Fifth. Between these works violinist Yumi Hwang-Williams and violist Andrew Krimm will appear as soloists for Benjamin Britten’s Double Concerto for violin and viola.

Korngold was one of many composers who came to the United States to escape the Nazi regime in Germany and Austria. Hailed as a child prodigy, the had a thriving career in Austria as a composer of operas and other major works. He moved to Hollywood in 1934, where he wrote the scores to 16 films, including several Errol Flynn adventure epics such as Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk

His concert music has recently enjoyed a revival, and Opera Colorado recently presented his 1920 opera Die tote Stadt (The dead city), written when the composer was 23. The Sea Hawk was the last of his scores for a “swashbuckler.” It is considered one of his best film scores, and it was a recording of that score and others by Korngold that sparked a revival of interest in his film music in the 1970s.

Britten’s Double Concerto ranks alongside Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante as one of a very few works for solo violin and viola. Written in 1932 when Britten was 18, it was later rejected by the composer and not performed in the composer’s lifetime. However, a copy survived in a reduced score and the rediscovered concerto was premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1997.

Nothing in classical music is more recognizable than the opening gesture of Beethoven’s Fifth—three shorts and a long, the four-note motive that came to stand for “Victory’ in World War II (based on the morse code signal for V, dot dot dot dash). The piece has become so familiar that it is easy to forget how tightly it is constructed, with the four-note motive running throughout in various forms, and the thrilling transformation from C minor to C major representing a kind of musical victory of its own.

Hwang-Williams has been concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony for 20 years and recently released two CD recordings of music by Korean composer Isang Yun. Krimm came to Colorado as a member of the award-winning Altius Quartet, the former quartet-in-residence at the CU, and is currently executive director of the Boulder Symphony.

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Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor
With Yumi Hwang-Williams, violin, and Andrew Krimm, viola

  • Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Film music from The Sea Hawk
  • Benjamin Britten: Double Concerto for violin and viola
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 19
Grace Commons Church, 1820 15th St., Boulder


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