Musical Adventures 2: David Korevaar’s Faculty Tuesday

Jan. 26 recital includes works by Frescobaldi, CPE Bach and Margaret Bonds

By Peter Alexander Jan. 25 at 4:25 p.m

David Korevaar is an adventurous pianist.

“I’ve always been interested in music that’s off the beaten track,” he says. And the shutdown from the COVID pandemic has given him an opportunity to do more music off the beaten track than ever. “This has been an amazing experience, quickly learning a lot of repertoire,” he says.

David Korevaar off the beaten track

His latest explorations will be revealed Tuesday on Korevaar’s latest online CU Faculty Tuesday recital (Jan. 26, livestream at 7:30 p.m.). Titled “Variations Fantastiques,” the program brings together composers that are not on the well worn path: 17th-century Italian composer Girolamo Frescobaldi; J.S. Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel; Clara Schumann, the wife or Robert; and African-American composer Margaret Bonds.

Two other works are from more familiar composers: a Rondo by Mozart, and the Symphonic Etudes by Robert Schumann. “The Schumann Symphonic Etudes is the only thing on this program I had played before, and it’s been a long, long time,” Korevaar says. “That was a major act of resuscitation of a very difficult piece.”

Translation: Korevaar put a lot of work into this recital. 

David Korevaar at the piano (but still off the beaten track)

The opening piece gets right to the variations idea, Frescobaldi’s Partite sopra l’Aria della Romanesca—a set of variations over a standard Renaissance bass line known as Romanesca. Many composers wrote pieces based on the Romanesca bass, but don’t be embarrassed if you have not heard them before, unless you pay unusually close attention to the music played in church.

“Frescobaldi is not often played, period,” Korevaar says. “Organists play his music, and harpsichordists do. Frescobaldi was a native of the keyboard, he understood how to put notes together on a keyboard with hands.”

Frescobaldi’s music comes out of his experience improvising. “All of his toccatas and the variation sets represent a kind of frozen improvisation,” Korevaar says. “It’s fascinating— he manages to combine the traditions of renaissance vocal writing with keyboard improvisation. He transfers the kind of affective language of the Renaissance madrigal to this keyboard medium.”

The next work on the program, C.P.E. Bach’s Rondo in G Major, grows from the same soil as Frescobaldi’s Partite. “When C.P.E. Bach writes for keyboard, he’s writing again as an improvisor,” Korevaar says. “These rondos are particularly peculiar. This one has always fascinated me, because while there is a larger-scale structure, it works in four-bar bits that keep repeating the same material in various embellishments and modulations. And it’s like early Beethoven in the use of silence.”

Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes does not resemble traditional variation sets. “[Schumann] does say it’s etudes in the form of variations, but you’ve got to search a little bit,” Korevaar says. “Every now and then he’ll throw in the head motive to remind you where he started, but several have little to do with the theme. This is typical of Schumann’s transformative techniques.”

The piece actually began as an explicit set of variations on a theme by a friend of the Schumann family, plus a Finale that may be based on an entirely different theme from an opera by Heinrich Marschner. It is this original version of a later much-revised work that Korevaar will perform.

Clara Schumann. Daguerrotype by Franz Hanfstaengl (1854)

Even in that form, not all the etudes are related to the theme. Schuman’s approach is more one of transformation, as Korevaar says, than variation. At least three do not include the theme at all. “Thinking about it as variations, you realize how loose [Schumann] is with that term,” Korevaar says.

Both Clara Schumann and Brahms wrote a set of variations on the same theme by Robert Schumann. Both sets were published together in 1854, after Robert had been confined to a mental asylum. In both sets, Clara’s and Brahms’s, the variations on the theme are clearly delineated.

“It’s a remarkable piece because it’s a fully mature composition by a fully mature composer, with her own voice,” Korevaar says. “We forget that. We say, ‘Oh, she’s a woman who clearly did not get the opportunities.’ She played this piece throughout her career.

“It’s pianistically not friendly—she must have had a phenomenal technique! It’s a remarkable piece. This is a composer who was very much influenced by Robert Schumann, influenced by Chopin, influenced by Mendelssohn, and she has her own brand of virtuosity.”

Margaret Bonds

Bonds’s Spiritual Suite comprises three movements, each derived from a spiritual or traditional African-American song, each a set of variations or embellishments of the theme. Korevaar compares the middle movement, based on “Peter Go Ring them Bells,” to a Bach chorale prelude. “She introduces this descant first before we get the tune. It’s quite fun what she does: nesting in the middle of it is this wonderful waltz. It’s a wonderful piece.

The third movement, “Troubled Water,” has been published separately and is performed more often that the other two. The recent interest in African-American composers this year has resulted in the whole suite being played more, Korevaar says. “A lot of people have started taking it on., which is nice. It’s a good piece. It deserves to be played and heard.”

Korevaar enjoyed building a program with so many pieces that are new to him and likely to his audience. “I had more fun putting this program together than I’ve had in a long time,” he says. 

“It’s liberating to do stuff that I don’t know!”

# # # # #

“Variations Fantastiques”
David Korevaar, piano

Girolamo Frescobaldi: Partite sopra l’Aria della Romanesca
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Rondo in G Major
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Rondo in A minor, K511
Robert Schumann: Symphonic Etudes
Clara Schumann: Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann
Margaret Bonds: Spiritual Suite

Streamed here or here at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26

Free or pay what you can

NOTE: One quote by David Korevaar corrected 1.25 to state that we think of Clara Schumann as “a woman who clearly did not get the opportunities.” The original post omitted the word “not.”

Musical Adventures 1: Now’s the time to explore new musical territories

A Grammy nominee and a new disc from the Takacs Quartet

By Peter Alexander Jan. 19 at 11:15 p.m.

I am someone who enjoys adventures, in music as in other ways.

I’m not as interested in new Beethoven recordings, although I got notices about plenty of them last year. (In case you were completely isolated last year: 2020 was the 250th anniversary of his birth.) But give me a recording with composers I have never heard before, and I will go straight to the CD player.

Since we are likely to be isolated for a while longer, now is a good time for you to have your own musical adventures. Committed performances of music we don’t know, even music we don’t like, helps clean out the ears and open the mind to new experiences. If you don’t like it, don’t listen again; but at least you know what’s out there.

In that spirit, this is the first of several articles I plan to write about recordings that offer musical adventures, small steps into new territory. And if one of these is not new territory for you, congratulations. I will have other suggestions.

There is no better place to start than a stunning recent recording by violist Richard O’Neill, the newest member of the Takács quartet. His performance of the Concerto for viola and chamber orchestra by Christopher Theofanidiswith the Albany Symphony Orchestra and conductor David Alan Miller (Albany Records TROY1816, released August 2020) has been nominated for a classical music Grammy. Since the Grammy awards have been postponed until March 14, you can hear the recording before the winners are announced.

Theofanidis teaches composition at Yale and is co-director of the composition program at the Aspen Music Festival. His orchestral work Rainbow Body has been performed by more than 150 orchestras worldwide. He is a composer of remarkably wide imagination and creativity, as his Viola Concerto shows.

The concerto was written for the violist Kim Kashkashian in 2002 and revised for O’Neill in preparation of his performances and recording. Partly inspired by Navajo texts, it is by design a work of great emotional intensity. “It is written as a response to [Kashkashian’s] incredible intensity and focus as a performing artist,” Theofanidis wrote.

O’Neill provides all the intensity Theofanidis calls for. As soloist he creates a wide palette of sounds that match the kaleidoscopic moods and sounds of the score. The are passages of dark, brooding gloom and fleet passages of sheer virtuosity, with O’Neill flying through these changes without a hitch or a stumble.

Each movement has its own individual rewards. The first is dominated by pulsing sounds in the orchestra, an extension of drum patterns that open the movement, interrupted by fleet passages for the soloist. The second enters a totally different sound world, with a static orchestral haze overlaid with barely-musical fragments for the soloist that gradually coalesce to reach a moment of passionate intensity.

The emotional high point is the third movement, written in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and using a Sikh melody that was sung at a memorial held at Yankee Stadium. Here O’Neill’s expressive playing creates a deep sense of mourning. This is eloquent music of loss, a barren emotional landscape that accepts the light of consolation only at the end. After this catharsis, the scurrying finale closes the concerto with an explosion of energy.

So varied are the movements and their internal sections that it is easy to see why this recording stood out to the Grammy committee. O’Neill’s interpretation and integration of the disparate elements seems flawless as he flies confidently through this emotionally virtuosic work. “No matter what happens with this nomination,” O’Neill says, “ I think this piece deserves to be in the repertoire.”

The Viola Concerto is paired on Albany’s disc with Theofanidis’s Violin Concerto, played by Miller and the Albany Symphony with violinist Chee-Yun. Another dramatic and varied work, it is dominated by a movement based on a theme the composer wrote for his new-born daughter. That moment of lyrical blossoming is framed by a dramatic movement where the soloist seems pitted in a struggle with forces of nature, and another whirlwind finale.

# # # # #

Takacs

The full Takacs Quartet, recorded before O’Neill replaced Geraldine Walther in the viola chair, offers a comfortable adventure with their recording of the piano quintets of Amy Beach and Edward Elgar. Released in June, the recording was made with pianist Garrick Ohlsson (Hyperion CDA68295).

The first American woman to achieve success as a composer, Beach was a teenaged piano prodigy in the 1880s but had to give up her public career when she married. She published first under the name Mrs. H.H.A. Beach until her husband’s death in 1910, and then as Amy Beach. Her Quintet in F-sharp minor for piano and strings of 1905 was widely performed in her lifteime, often with the composer playing the piano part.

The Quintet was heavily influenced by Brahms’s popular Quintet in F minor, which she had played. An echo of Brahms is heard in the first movement, but Beach announcers her own imagination at the very opening, sustained notes that overlay dramatic flourishes in the piano. Here the atmospheric performance by the Ohlsson and the Takacs pulls the listener in from the first notes. They follow Beach’s expressive turns, through sudden changes of mood from warmth to spookiness and a gentle sigh at the ending.

The sigh is followed by a realm of sweetness and gentle repose through a second movement marked by long, lyrical lines that build to a strong climax, subsiding to a quiet close. The finale seems less integrated, as passage follows passage. This is no fault of the performers, who follow Beach in her rambling walk. Every section is well crafted, creating just the sound that the composer wants, but it fails to hang together as an organic whole. It is none the less pleasant for that, especially as played by Ohlsson and the Takacs.

Elgar is closer to the beaten path than Beach, although the Quintet is less familiar than his “Pomp and Circumstance” or “Enigma” Variations. Like his other works, the Quintet is marked by a cheerful mixture of drama and playfulness that seems thoroughly Victorian in style. It is a musically challenging work that lacks conspicuous flamboyance; even the most energetic passages remain genial in mood.

The first movement is a moderate allegro that anecdotally may be based on supernatural tales about a wooded copse near Elgar’s home. The exact source of inspiration remains mysterious, and any sense of menace the woods may have suggested is lessened by sudden bursts of song. 

The second movement begins in a state of serenity, in Elgar’s best warm if slightly fuzzy Romantic manner. One is easily carried along by the flow of the Takacs Quartet’s performance, which conveys a feeling of enveloping comfort, with no danger in sight.

One idea succeeds another succeeds another in the long, fantasy-like Finale. In the hands of Ohlsson and the Takacs Quartet, the changing tempos seem organic across a wide and shifting range. Each idea and section emerges seamlessly from the material before, even as Elgar extends and extends his material toward a final firm ending. The performance is well balanced among the instruments, with the performers achieving a notable clarity of texture in spite of Elgar’s luxuriant harmonic language.

Both performances are exemplary. There is no better place to begin your musical adventures than with these congenial and thoroughly enjoyable works. And if these works are not new to you, stand by for further suggestions.

Longmont Symphony announces spring-summer concerts

Performances include guest artists, small orchestra and full symphony

By Peter Alexander Jan. 8, 2021, at 10:10 p.m.

The Longmont Symphony has announced a spring and summer season of six virtual concerts, featuring solo guest artists, small orchestra ensembles, and the full orchestra.

Tickets for the spring–summer season, Jan. 16–Aug. 7, are on sale, both individually and a discounted package for the full season. All performances will be streamed starting at 7 p.m. Saturdays.

Guest artists will be percussionist Cameron Leach, who was engaged for a concert last spring that was cancelled, Jan. 16; duo pianists Yuki and Tomoko Mack, March 20; and cellist Clancy Newman, Aug. 7. Performances by the LSO will a program of music for strings, including Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Feb. 27; an all Mozart program for small orchestra, including the Clarinet Concerto performed by Colorado Symphony principal clarinetist Jason Shafer, April 17; and a full orchestra program June 19.

LSO director Eliot Moore

For the audience, it will be good to see a varied series of programs, but you might miss the most significant feature of the season. “There’s something that’s noteworthy [about the season] and it’s not really about the music at all,” LSO music director Elliot Moore says. “It’s this pivot that the LSO had made during the time of COVID, from presenting an orchestra to becoming a presenting organization.”

Moore is referring to the solo guest artists that the orchestra has presented during the fall and will present during the coming spring and summer. “That is a way that we can keep the level the audience has expected from the Longmont Symphony organization,” he says. “We’ve been able to have unbelievable guest artists that are so engaging that people buy tickets.

“The thing that has been amazing is keeping our commitment to excellence during this time. We’ve done it and I’m proud of it.”

Moore admits that he wasn’t sure what the audience response would be to essentially a hybrid season, including both small orchestra performances and solo artists, all of it online. Today, he is thrilled that the response was so enthusiastic. “Our audience gave us way more than we expected,” he says. “We have a following now for these guest artists.”

Percussionist Cameron Leach. Photo by Joshua Jorel Gutierrez

Each of the three guest performances during the spring and summer offers something unique, Moore says. Percussionist Cameron Leach “is phenomenal,” he says. “He commissions pieces from all kinds of composers. And one of the things he’s been investigating during the pandemic has been technology—how can he purchase equipment, making a space in his home where can record and have a product to market.”

Concerning duo pianists Yuki and Tomoko Mack, “my thought was it’s really hard to have two pianos here, onstage with the LSO,” Moore says. “There’s not a venue I know of where we could do that. I was thinking, how do I create a season that we wouldn’t always be able to have?”

Himself a cellist, Moore is especially excited to have Clancy Newman as a guest artist “When he was a freshman at Juilliard he beat out undergrads, graduate, doctoral cellists to win the Juilliard Cello Competition— when he was getting a double degree in cello performance and in English at Columbia,” he says.

Clancy Newman. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

One thing Newman is known for is writing cello pieces based popular music. “He would every month look at the number-one pop song and create a solo cello caprice that’s like wickedly impossible to perform,” Moore explains. “So he’s going to play a couple of his own cello caprices, based on pop songs.”

The three programs played by the LSO were planned to gradually increase the numbers of performers, in the hopes that recovery from the pandemic will parallel the planed programming. “The idea is, let’s stay safe, in terms of where we are currently,” Moore says.

That meant starting with a program where everyone could be masked, which meant an orchestra of only strings [see full programs below]. Following that is a concert with small orchestra, which in this case is all music by Mozart. 

“I have had different ideas about how can I focus on a single composer,” Moore says. “This portrait of Mozart is a good way to pave the path, whether it would be a festival where our community can delve deeper into the works of a specific composer, really get into what was going on in the composer’s lifetime. That’s been on my mind for several years.”

The last of the LSO’s performances will be a program for full orchestra, to be recorded outside and presented in June. “This is the first time we’ve had a summer season, so that’s a new aspect for the Longmont Symphony,” Moore says. 

“That will be our first time as an orchestra to get back into rehearsing and performing together. So that really is one of the big points of this season.”

# # # # #

LSO 2021 Spring and Summer

7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021
Cameron Leach, percussion: solo concert

7p.m., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021 -Vivaldi: Four Seasons
Grieg: Holberg Suite
George Walker: Lyric for Strings
Vivaldi: Four Seasons

Yuki and Tomoko Mack

7 p.m. Saturday, March 20, 2021
Yuki and Tomoko Mack, duo pianists

7 p.m. Saturday, April 17, 2021 –A Portrait of Mozart
Overture to La finta semplice, K.51 (46a)
Concerto for clarinet and orchestra, Jason Shafer, soloist
Symphony No. 25

7 p.m. Saturday, June 19, 2021 –Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony
Borodin: Polovtsian Dances
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 (“Reformation”)

7 p.m. Saturday, Aug 7, 2021
Clancy Newman, cello: solo concert 

Individual and season tickets

NB: Minor typos corrected 1/9

A time for gratitude and sorrow

Remembering the musicians who passed in 2020

By Peter Alexander Dec. 30 at 5:50 p.m.

Here is my annual remembrance of musicians that we the living lost in the past year. Rather than grief that they have left us, I invite you to experience gratitude that they were here in the first place. We should reflect upon the blessings that each and every one of them bestowed on the rest of us.

As always, my list is often quite personal. I may not include those that you will miss the most, and you are always welcome to add your own memories in the comments.

Jaap Schröder

Jan. 1: Jaap Schröder, Dutch violinist and conductor who was a historical performance pioneer, first as a member of Concerto Amsterdam with Gustav Leonhardt and Frans Brüggen, later as director and concertmaster of the Academy of Ancient Music, 94

Jan. 2: Joan Benson, clavichordist who once studied at Interlochen with Percy Grainger, and later in Europe with Olivier Messiaen, taught at Stanford and Oregon, and as an early advocate of the music of CPE Bach was one of the first artists to record on the clavichord, 94

Jan. 15: Bruno Nettl, distinguished ethnomusicologist and one of the original members of the Society for Ethnomusicology, professor and later professor emeritus at the University of Illinois from 1964 until his death and the recipient of many honors and honorary degrees, 89

Jan. 16: Barry Tuckwell, Australian horn player who spent most of his professional life in England, including 13 years as first horn of the London Symphony Orchestra, which he left in 1968 to pursue a career as soloist and conductor, 88

Feb. 1: Peter Serkin, pianist descended from the eminent pianist Rudolf Serkin and the legendary violinist Adolf Busch, who early found the heritage a burden but later founded the chamber group Tashi and was known for his thoughtful performances of contemporary music, 72

Mirella Freni

Feb. 9: Mirella Freni, beloved Italian prima donna who sang mostly lyric soprano roles around the world for nearly 50 years, won her first vocal competition at the age of 12, started with the lighter roles, made Mimì in La Bohème her signature part in which she made her 1963 Metropolitan Opera debut, and was most recently active as a teacher, 84

Feb. 10: Lyle Mays, jazz keyboard player who was the driving force and principle composer of the Pat Metheny Group, and a winner of 11 Grammy Awards, 66

Feb. 11: Joseph Shabalala, founder and director of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who brought Zulu music to world prominence, especially through their collaboration with Paul Simon on his album “Graceland” and their own Grammy-winning album “Shaka Zulu,” 78

Feb. 29: Bill/William O. Smith, clarinetist and composer who (as Bill) had a career as a jazz player who collaborated extensively with Dave Brubeck, and (as William O.) performed and composed ground-breaking, virtuosic new music for clarinet and developed advanced techniques for the instrument, 93

McCoy Tyner

March 6: McCoy Tyner, jazz pianist who was one of the leading figures of modern jazz in the 1960s and played in John Coltrane’s groundbreaking quartet, 81

March 6: Elinor Ross, a soprano remembered for a spectacular debut at the Metropolitan Opera, stepping in for Birgit Nilsson in Turandot in 1970, and a career cut short nine years later by Bell’s palsy, having sung many other roles at the Met, 93

March 9: Anton Coppola, an opera conductor who sang in the US premiere of Turandot and later wrote an ending for Puccini’s last opera, wrote his own opera Sacco and Vanzetti at the suggestion of his son, the filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, and conducted with opera companies in New York, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Seattle and Tampa, 102

March 11: Charles Wuorinen, fiercely 12-tone composer of works for major orchestras and operas on Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Seas of Stories and Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 at the age of 31, and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, 81

Doriot Anthony Dwyer

March 14: Doriot Anthony Dwyer, who became only the second woman to hold a principal chair in a major U.S Orchestra in 1952 when she was appointed principal flutist of the Boston Symphony, a position she held for nearly 40 years, 98

March 20: Kenny Rogers, the legendary genre-spanning country/pop singer who, over a career spanning six decades, sold more than 100 million records, including 21 no. 1 country hits, two of which were also no. 1 pop hits, and numerous songs on the pop top-40 chart, 81

March 22: Eric Weissberg, multi-instrumental bluegrass musician best known for his 1973 recording “Dueling Banjos,” which made it to No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart, and who was also a highly successful session musician who worked with John Denver, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Herbie Mann and others, 80

March 24, Edward Tarr, musicologist and trumpet player who discovered and edited for performance many unknown works, and whose research and elegant performances helped lead the revival of the natural trumpet in Baroque music, 83

Krzysztof Penderecki

March 29: Krzysztof Penderecki, Polish composer and conductor whose music defied categorization, first known for his Threnody ‘For the Victims of Hiroshima’, also the composer of eight symphonies, four operas, the Polish Requiem, St. Luke Passion and other choral works, and whose music appeared in films including The Exorcist and The Shining, 86

April 1: Ellis Marsalis, supremely influential jazz musician from New Orleans who helped bring about the late 20th-century jazz revival, both through his own work and through the impact and artistry of his four sons, Wynton (trumpet), Branford (sax), Delfeayo (trombone) and Jason (drums); from the complications of the coronavirus, 85

April 7: John Prine, country/folk singer discovered by Kris Kristofferson in 1970, known for hard-hitting songs of desperation and loneliness, like “Sam Stone” about a drug-addicted Vietnam War veteran, and “Angel from Montgomery”; from the complications of the coronavirus, 73

April 8: Nicholas Temperley, English-American musical scholar and long-time professor of musicology at the University of Illinois, known for his research in British music, especially of the Victorian age, 87

April 22: Peter Jonas, impresario who led the English National Opera in London 1985–93 and the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich 1993–2006, known for encouraging directors and designers to create productions that were surprising and innovative, 73

Lynn Harrell

April 27: Lynn Harrell, Texas-born cellist who joined the Cleveland Orchestra at 18 and served as principal cellist for seven years prior to launching a major international solo career in 1971, winner of the Avery Fisher Prize and a Grammy Award, and an influential teacher at several institutions including Juilliard and the Royal Academy of Music, 76

April 29: Martin Lovett, cellist and last living member of the legendary Amadeus Quartet, which remarkably retained its four founding members throughout a 40-year career (1947–87), due to complications fromCOVID-19, 93

May 3: Rosalind Elias, the youngest of 13 children who was able to pursue her dream of singing opera, including more than 50 roles and 687 performances with the Metropolitan Opera between 1965 and 1996, and made her Broadway debut in 2011 at the age of 81, in a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, 81

May 7: John Macurdy, bass whose career of 38 years and 1001 performances at the Metropolitan opera encompassed 62 roles, from Sarastro in The Magic Flute to world premieres, singing at the farewell concert at the Old Met in 1966 and the opening of the New Met in Lincoln Center later the same year, 91

Little Richard

May 9: Richard Penniman, aka Little Richard, the flamboyant, supercharged rock star whose whoops and wild energy transformed rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s with “Tutti Frutti” and other hits, and who continued to perform, with interruptions, until 2012, and influenced almost everyone who came after him, from the Beatles to Freddie Mercury to Prince, 87

May 13: Gabriel Bacquier, French baritone, known for his performances of French opera and song as well as major Italian-language roles from Mozart to Puccini, who had performed world wide, 95

May 19: Bert Bial, long-time contrabassoonist and de facto official photographer of the New York Philharmonic, whose countless unstaged photos, many taken from his chair in the orchestra, among other memorable subjects showed members of the orchestra, Leonard Bernstein with Dmitry Shostakovich and Michael Jackson, Zubin Mehta with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, and many guest soloists, 93

May 25: Joel Revzen, a staff conductor at the Metropolitan Opera and former conductor of the Minnesota Chorale and the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, and assistant conductor of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, due to complications from COIVD-19, 74

Vera Lynn

June 18: Vera Lynn, English singer known during World War II as the “Forces’ Sweetheart,” beloved of British troops and Britons at home and known particularly for “We’ll Meet Again” and “(There’s Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover,” 103

July 6: Ennio Morricone, Italian composer of film scores for spaghetti westerns, most notably Sergio Leone’s so-called “Dollars Trilogy” that featured the universally recognized ocarina-colored theme song, but also hundreds of other films by a long list of directors, winner of an Oscar for lifetime achievement and numerous other international awards, 91

July 6: Charlie Daniels, country/rock fiddler, singer, songwriter and leader of the Charlie Daniels Band, known for hits including No. 1 country single “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and for politics that swung from an early hippie outlook (“Long-Haired Country Boy”) to a later avidly right-wing stance (“A Few More Rednecks”), 83

July 9: Gabriella Tucci, Italian soprano who was a mainstay at major opera houses around the world, including 13 seasons at the Metropolitan opera, who sang dramatic roles including Aida and Tosca, as well as coloratura roles, 90

July 28: Bent Fabricius-Bjerre, known as Bent Fabric, Danish composer of the instrumental hit “Alley Cat,” better known at home as the composer of music for more than 70 films and TV shows, as well as music for ballet and theater, 95

Leon Fleisher. Photo by Eli Turner

Aug. 2: Leon Fleisher, the remarkable American pianist who rose to fame as a highly acclaimed artist until focal dystonia in his right hand —potentially caused by over practicing—forced him to play with the left hand alone, until he regained the use of his right hand 30 years later, and who taught masterclasses until his very final days, 92

Aug. 11: Trini Lopez, American singer/guitarist who combined Latin, American folk and rockabilly styles in a number of top hits in the 1960s, and who continued to record albums until 2011, from complications of Covid-19, 83

Aug. 14: Julian Bream, widely heralded English guitar and lute player who expanded the guitar repertoire backward in time by taking up the lute, and forward in time by commissioning new works from major composers, and out into the classical era with his transcriptions of Bach, Schubert and other composers, 87

Aug. 7: Constance Weldon, who became the first woman tuba player in a major orchestra when she joined the Boston Pops in 1955, served as acting principal of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra while studying in the Netherlands, and later played with the Kansas City Philharmonic and taught at the University of Miami, 88

Stanley Crouch

Sept. 16: Stanley Crouch, jazz and social critic who linked jazz and democracy, and whose life encompassed the 1965 Watts race riots, several years as a Black nationalist, work as a newspaper columnist and a novelist, helping to launch Jazz at Lincoln Center, and ultimately winning a MacArthur Foundation award, 74

Sept. 28: Maynard Solomon, musicologist and record producer, founder in 1950 of pioneering Vanguard Records, known for signing blacklisted performers including Paul Robeson and The Weavers during the McCarthy era, and the author of influential if controversial biographies of Beethoven and Mozart that were both admired and criticized for their Freudian analyses of their subjects, 90

Oct. 6: Eddie Van Halen, lead guitarist and co-founder of the self-titled rock band Van Halen, who was known for his exuberant and dazzling guitar style that made him one of the most influential guitarists of his generation, and who was No. 1 on the Guitar World Magazine’s 2012 list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” 65

Oct. 19: Spencer Davis, leader and rhythm guitarist of the Spencer Davis Group, author of several big hits of the ‘60s including “Gimme some Lovin,’” who discovered and introduced Steve Winwood, and whose music was most popular in England, 81

Oct. 21: Viola Smith, who went from drummer with the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra of Wisconsin to the “hep girl” of the swing era, overcoming considerable prejudice against women drummers in the jazz world of the 1930s and ‘40s, later performing in the “Kit Kat Band” jazz quartet in Cabaret on Broadway, 107

Nov. 25: Camilla Wicks, a child violin prodigy in the 1940s who successfully became a major virtuoso at a time when most serious violinists were men, she became a recognized soloist, took a break in the late ‘50s to raise five children, and later became a respected teacher, 92

Dec. 12: Charley Pride, the first great Black star of Country Music, winner of the CMA entertainer of the year award in 1971, with 51 records in the country Top 10, of Covid-19, 86

NB: Edited to add links to performances by some of the named musicians Dec. 30 and 31.

Performers during the pandemic: Ashraf Sewailam

CU graduate had to postpone Metropolitan Opera debut

By Peter Alexander Dec. 23 at 12:45 p.m.

It is the best of resumes, it is the worst of resumes.

Reflecting on his situation during the pandemic, bass Ashraf Sewailam muses, “I was one of the quote unquote lucky artists who never had to do anything but perform. But I discovered how unlucky that was, not to have anything to fall back upon.”

Asrhaf Sewailam (l) in Central City Opera’s Magic Flute (2018) with tenor Joseph Dennis. Photo by Amanda Tipton.

Sewailam, a CU graduate who has sung extensively in the area, at the Central City Opera, with the Boulder Bach Festival and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, as well as CU operas, found himself without work when the pandemic occurred. Even a planned December online program of Messiah arias with the Longmont Symphony had to be cancelled. He ended up doing deliveries for Amazon, until a broken foot put an end to that, too.

“Lots of my colleagues, when they first went to New York had to do other jobs to keep body and soul together—secretarial jobs or finance, banks, or even waiting tables,” he says. “All of this is actually good experience to have to fall back on. I have this super-impressive resume, in academia and performance, but I couldn’t get myself hired in anything that needed previous experience, so this was big wake-up call.”

It was an especially tough time for Sewailam to call a halt in his opera career because he had contracts and roles upcoming that would be impressive additions to that resume, and likely have led to more work. He was in rehearsal for a production of Aida at Virginia Opera when things suddenly were shut down.

Sewailam rehearsing Aida with Virginia Opera (2020). Photo courtesy of Ashraf Sewailam.

“We had just made a promotional TV appearance about the show, and then we got back to the hotel to change into rehearsal garb, and we got the call that it was cancelled,” he says. “It was sad because it’s an excellent production.”

And that’s only the beginning of what Sewailam had planned for 2020 and ’21. “Right after that I had a Bohème in Seattle, and then I was directing [Donizetti’s] Anna Bolena in New York in the summer,” he says. “And then I had [Rossini’s] Cenerentola (Cinderella) with Minnesota opera in the spring of 2021, [and Donizetti’s] Elixir of Love in Amsterdam.”

The biggest disappointment of all, however, was that he had a contract at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for three roles during the fall—the kind of breakthrough contract that all opera singers dream about. “The Met is the pinnacle of the mountain that we’re climbing,” he says. “And who knows what would have materialized in early 2021 before the Cenerentola because stuff just jumps into my lap.”

Like most of us, Sewailam also had personal affairs to take care of during the pandemic. In his case, family issues took a lot of time and travel back and forth to his home country of Egypt.

“The situation is that I provide for mom there, while my sister manages the situation on the ground,” he says. “My mom has Alzheimer’s, and my sister had a cancer scare. I basically jumped on a plane and went to Egypt and stayed there for two months, mid-May to mid-July, and then early September to early October.

Ashraf Sewailam (l) with his siblings Reham and Ahmed in Egypt during the summer. Photo courtesy of Ashraf Sewailam.

“Logistically [travel] was difficult. Security provisions [in Egypt] are much tighter and it was a little rattling to go through it. Then when I came home I took care of a couple of elderly friends, so I travelled to Seattle and up and down the California coast. I had to keep getting tested [for Covid] just to be able to look after my friends. And I’ve been fine so far.”

When he came back to Boulder, Sewailam took the job delivering packages, so he could continue supporting his mother and sister in Egypt. But with all the travel he has hardly done any singing since the pandemic began—just one streamed performance of “Some Enchanted Evening,” done remotely from Cairo with pianist Mohamed Shams in New York.

Sewailam in costume as Ramfis in Aida, Opera Theater of the Rockies, 2018. Photo courtesy of Ashraf Sewailam.

The lack of singing and being cut off from the field for so long concerns Sewailam. “Singers are professional athletes,” he says “You’ve got to keep stretching yourself, keep practicing,. You’ve got to keep seeking the right advice, because this is one of the most opinionated careers. Everybody has an opinion about the art form, about the singers in it, definitely about you and your voice, and everybody loves to opine.”

As for the future, “there were irons in the fire well into late 2022,” Sewailam says. But even if those and the prior contracts that were cancelled turn into firm offers later, there’s no guarantee that he would be able to accept all of them. 

“Once things open up and companies start re-scheduling themselves, a lot of us might end up having to choose between gigs that we were already contracted for, that they would get rescheduled at the same time,” he says.

“That would be sad, because not only did we loose all the money from all those gigs, as well as the artistic gratification, but also you end up losing all of that money all over again, and then we would end up suffering for that.”

In other words, the return to live performing could be the best of times, but it could bring serious dilemmas, too.

Violist Richard O’Neill nominated for Classical music Grammy

Newest member of Takacs Quartet part of a very distinguished slate

By Peter Alexander Dec. 18 at 4 p.m.

Violist Richard O’Neill, the newest member of the Takacs String Quartet, has been announced as one of a distinguished slate of Grammy nominees in the “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” category.

O’Neill was nominated for his recording of the Concerto for Viola and Chamber Orchestra by Christopher Theofanidis, with the Albany Symphony and conductor David Alan Miller. This is O’Neill’s third nomination. Winners will be announced in an online ceremony Jan. 31, 2021.

O’Neill replaced Geraldine Walther as the Takacs Quartet’s violist starting in June of this year. He has appeared in streamed performances by the quartet, but has not yet appeared onstage before a live Boulder audience.

O’Neill learned of the nomination when he was in Los Angeles. “I was sort of lounging around and turned on the Grammy announcement on their Facebook page,” he says. “A friend of mine, Nicola Benedetti, was reading the names for the classical things. When she read my name I was just floored.

“It’s just an incredible honor.”

The other nominees for “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” are pianist Kirill Gerstein for the Thomas Adès Piano Concerto; pianist Igor Levit for the complete Beethoven piano sonatas; violinist Augustin Hadelich for “Bohemian Tales,” a collection of music by Dvořák, Janáček and Josef Suk; and pianist Daniil Trifonov for a recording of the Second and Fourth piano concertos of Rachmaninov.

O’Neill knows and admires most of the other nominees. “Those people, they’re just my favorite artists, every one!” he says.

O’Neill is speaking by Zoom from Korea, where he is quarantining in preparation for scheduled concerts over the Holidays. He notes that the current Covid-19 transmission rate in Seoul is almost high enough for a complete shutdown. “I might not have work when I get out of quarantine,” he says.

Richard O’Neill

Theofanidis’s Viola Concerto was originally written in 2001 for violist Kim Kashkashian and has since been revised. The current recording is the first of the revised version of the concerto. Before he performed and recorded the concerto, O’Neill met Theofanidis met at a Starbucks near Lincoln Center in New York to discuss the piece.

“I remember that meeting,” O’Neil says. “Everything he says is very meaningful. The way he talked to me about the third movement just moved me very deeply.”

That is partly due to one of the sources of inspiration for the work. In his program notes, Theofanidis writes “This work was written before, during, and in the shadow of September 11th, and I believe is deeply influenced by that event.”

O’Neill explains that “I had actually been living in [New York City] for a few weeks when the planes hit the twin towers. For anybody who was in the city at that time, especially a newbie like me, it felt like the end of the world.”

For O’Neill, just getting the nomination for a Grammy is very meaningful, regardless of who wins. “The nomination is not something that I lobbied or I wrote to somebody,” he says. “It was an anonymous panel that had hundreds if not thousands of records to listen to and judge, and they chose these five albums. That to me, to be in that category—it’s great.”

What matters most, he says, is the piece itself, more than the award. “What happens next is anybody’s guess, and that’s fine with me,” he says. “[Theofanidis] has written a piece that, no matter what happens with this nomination, I think this piece deserves to be in the repertoire and more played.”

Reflections of a female, Japanese-American classical guitarist.

A search for musical identity, community and representation

Editor’s note: Izzy Fincher has just completed an internship through the CU, Boulder, College of Media, Communication and Information, writing for Sharps & Flatirons. You may have read her articles. A conscientious and skilled writer, she has been an important part of our coverage of classical music events in and near Boulder during the fall. It is hoped that she will continue to make occasional contributions to this page. In the meantime, here are her reflections on the other part of her double major, as a female classical guitarist in a world where she is part of a distinct minority. You may learn more about her performing life and hear recordings on her personal Web page.

By Izzy Fincher Dec. 13 1:45 p.m.

As a young classical guitarist, I am still searching for a distinctive musical identity—a nebulous and daunting task.

Izzy Fincher. Photo by Anna Haynes.

I often ask myself, “How is my interpretation unique? Whose story am I telling? How can I embody the composer’s experiences when we are separated by lifetimes, thousands of miles, race, nationality and gender?”

As a mixed-race, Japanese-American woman in classical guitar, I struggle to see myself reflected in the community and repertoire. Like most of the classical music world, I find myself within the white-male frame, telling musical stories by white men.

I began playing guitar at age six. Since then, 83% of my primary teachers have been white men. One hundred percent of my studio at CU-Boulder is white men. Before college, 100% of the guitar repertoire I had played or heard during concerts was written by white men.

These statistics are not offered to criticize my mentors and colleagues, who did their best to support me as a female guitarist. Their advice and guidance has become an integral, guiding force in my musical development, and for that I am grateful.

However, I cannot ignore the impact of existing in less diverse spaces, of seeing the musical world as beautiful and profound, yet also incomplete.

Growing up, I never saw myself as a feminist or an activist. Like many women, I am naturally conflict-averse and a people pleaser. Being an advocate for diversity in my musical community felt too risky. 

But now, as I continue to struggle with defining my own musical identity, I feel I can no longer ignore or deny the lack of representation, and I see how choosing silence can be another way of reinforcing the white-male frame.

So, I raise my pen and share the beginning of my journey of telling women’s stories on the classical guitar.

My first experience telling women’s stories came in March of 2020, when I performed Sofia Gubaidulina’s “Serenade” at “Persevering Legacy,” a concert featuring only female composers hosted by the Diverse Musicians Alliance at CU-Boulder. For four minutes, under the hot stage lights of Grusin Hall, I felt the thrill of telling one woman’s story, a moment filled with empowerment and excitement.

While researching repertoire for the concert in 2019, I stumbled across a Spotify playlist entitled “Women classical guitar composers” by Heike Matthiesen, featuring over 600 works for solo guitar by female composers, nearly 30 hours of music. For Matthiesen, this playlist is a form of musical activism, a way to increase awareness and accessibility of female composers’ works for solo guitar. 

The playlist stems from her work as a touring classical guitarist and director of “The Archive of Women in Music” in the Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (Germany). The archive includes 25,000 media by more than 1800 women from 52 countries, from the 9th century to the present day. The classical guitar part of the archive includes over 800 female composers who have written for solo guitar, 600 of which were discovered by Matthiesen. The scores are available for research and personal use only, so Matthiesen’s main focus is connecting classical guitarists with information and then directly with composers, a process she believes could be key to “opening up the canon,” she says. 

“I want to be the connection between the archives and the players and audience,” Matthiesen says. “The music is there. Discover it. From the 19th century on to the present, if you are looking for a certain type of repertoire, you can always find a solution with a woman’s name on it. This is something the world needs to know.”

Her work as a musical activist began to garner attention only in the last few years, after the release of her album “Guitar Ladies,” which features works by notable female composers, including Madame Sidney Pratten, María Luisa Anido, Ida Presti, Sofia Gubaidulina, Carmen Guzman, Sylvie Bodorova, Annette Kruisbrink, Tatiana Stachak and Maria Linnemann.

“In 2015, no one was playing (repertoire by) women composers,” Matthiesen says. “I did it for karma points. I was being idealistic. I thought, ‘Nobody will be interested or buy the CD.’ But I had no idea that I was at the right moment in the right place with it. Now suddenly I am the expert for the repertoire.”

Another powerful voice in this movement is Candice Mowbray, a classical guitarist and educator, who leads the guitar program at Shepherd University in West Virginia. Her doctoral thesis from Shenandoah University, which was published in 2012, focused on “Ida Presti as a Solo Performer and Composer of Works for Solo Guitar.”

Ida Presti

Presti (1924-1967), a French classical guitarist and part of the Presti-Lagoya duo with her husband, was one of the most influential female guitarists and composers of the 20th century. Before Mowbray, no one had researched her solo and compositional career in-depth. Besides Presti, Mowbray has collected information about many other female guitarist-composers, which she shares on Facebook and her personal blog.

Presenting lectures at universities and music events is also an important part of Mowbray’s musical activism. In 2020, she gave a lecture “Women in the History of the Classical Guitar” at the Guitar Foundation of America (GFA) festival, the largest and most prestigious competition in the United States, where I first learned about her work.

Candice Mowbray

With her musical activism, Mowbray’s main goal is to share knowledge, which she hopes will inspire classical guitarists to integrate female composers into their teaching and performance careers. She believes raising awareness is the key to creating a more inclusive space in the classical guitar community.

“Women existed this whole time,” Mowbray says. “But when you open a book with 1000 years of music history, there are no women. The history we are studying is a great one, but it is really incomplete.

“My goal was to put these women in the same conversation. When I teach, I say the great guitarists of the 20th century, Andrès Segovia, John Williams, Ida Presti and David Russell. Let’s just change the conversation to include (women).”

Though Mowbray, Matthiesen and other activists have been working for years, the classical guitar community, like the rest of the classical music world, has been particularly receptive to messages about women in 2020.

In 2020, the GFA created a mentorship program “to support and develop talent among classical guitarists of color through instruction, engagement, and career development.” Exaequo, a non-profit run by successful younger classical guitarists, has created a new initiative called “Changing the Canon,” to commission new classical guitar works by nine Black American composers, including several women. Ben Verdery, the head of Yale University’s classical guitar program, updated the graduate student audition requirements to recommend several female composers, including Francesca Caccini, Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre, Emilia Giuliani-Guglielmi, Joan Tower and Hannah Lash.

And this is just the beginning. According to Matthiesen, the heightened awareness around diversity and equity in 2020 is the “perfect time” to advocate for change, a chance for “a golden era for female composers” in the classical guitar community.

“Before, the canon was played by men, dictated by men, and composed by men,” Matthiesen says. “There was no chance to change that. It took more women in the (classical guitar world) to open up the repertoire.”

Though these new opportunities are unprecedented and exciting, the importance of activism has not diminished at all. Our community must actively ride this tidal wave of equality, rather than let it crash suddenly over us and leave us stranded in the sea of under-representation.

Information is power. However, information has to be accessible and spread widely for the power to be transformative. Female composers can’t be relegated to dusty reference books, out-of-print scores or forgotten CDs. They have to exist in our daily conversations, on our music stands and in our concert halls, if we want profound, long-lasting change.

Representation matters. Representation gives diverse musicians the chance to hear and play reflections of themselves and their lives. Representation gives us the space to dream beyond the boundaries of the canon and to imagine with fewer limits.

Though the search for a distinctive musical identity still remains far from easy, an inclusive, representative musical world makes my journey less daunting and more universal. As I walk the path, I know many diverse women have been, are and will be in my shoes, and that we are all united by our love of the classical guitar.

Opera in a time of pandemic

Following strict health protocols, CU stages Hansel and Gretel for streaming

By Peter Alexander Dec. 9 at 4:15 p.m.

Putting on a staged opera during a pandemic is challenge.

There are many restrictions: distancing of performers, at least 12 feet because of the spread of aerosols by singers; no orchestra in the pit; rehearsal and performance space having to be aired out every 30 minutes; and of course no audience.

Leigh Homan

All of those challenges and more have been met by CU Eklund Opera director Leigh Holman and music director Nicholas Carthy. Fully staged, streamed performances of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel will be available online starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, through 11 p.m. Monday, Feb. 15, 2021.

The pandemic has had a major effect on the CU opera program. But the students depend on their experiences at CU to prepare for their careers, and Holman and Carthy were not willing to lose a full year of students’ educations.

The pandemic arrived in March just as the opera program was preparing Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. “When we got in dress rehearsal for Figaro and that turned into nothing, the outpouring of both grief and love was enormous,” Carthy says.

The opera planned for the late spring was Beatrice and Benedict by Hector Berlioz. Unwilling to let it drop, Carthy and Holman found a way to record individual musical numbers with singers performing separately. Holman worked over the summer with a videographer to make those numbers available online (see the final product here.) 

After that, they turned their attention to the fall production. As it turns out, Hansel and Gretel is the ideal opera to produce at this time: the cast is small, the opera is fairly short, which made it easier to observe time limits singing together, and it is a Christmas tradition in many opera houses. And another benefit: CU produces the opera every few years, so there was a complete set and costumes in storage.

Nicholas Carthy

But obstacles remained, including the orchestra. “We were told by the College of Music in no uncertain terms that we could not have the orchestral members to do it,” Carthy says. But rather than deny the students the opportunity of singing with an orchestra, he entered the entire score into a music writing program and sampled the score through a symphonic sound library. The result is a sampled orchestra, using real players and instruments.

Carthy set the tempos throughout. The performance tempos are not rigid—there are ritardandos and accelerandos—but they will be the same each time. “My role changed from somebody whose sole object in the pit is to be with the singers, to somebody who has to force the singers to be with me,” Carthy explains.

Holman had her own obstacles. “We had quite a list of protocols that we needed to follow (to stay safe),” she says. “When we practiced the staging all of the singers wore masks.”

They had to limit the singing in rehearsals, Holman says, because “even if you sing through the mask it starts the clock, and you can only sing for 30 minutes before you have to leave the room for 15 minutes.”

For the early staging rehearsals, no one sang—a rehearsal pianist would play the score while the singers spoke their lines in rhythm. “Once we had a scene ready to sing through, they would take their masks off,” Holman says. “We sang for 30 minutes and then left the room.”

Linsey Duca, Tommy Bocchi and Kely Riordan observing social distancing in CU’s Hansel and Gretel

The staging too had to observe the protocols. The singers had to stay 12 feet apart. ”Our technical director Ron Mueller was so helpful in marking out the stage so that we knew exactly where 12 feet was,” Holman says.

“We tried to make it as active as possible but stay 12 feet apart——a lot of circles around the stage. There’s a sword fight with brooms but the brooms are six feet long, and we used little bandanas that they could use when they weren’t singing, or when (Hansel and Gretel) were asleep under the trees.”

The stored sets for Hansel and Gretel were designed for Macky Auditorium, but the rehearsals and recordings took place in the much smaller Music Theater. This meant individual set pieces had to be combined on the small stage; scenic artist Jennifer Melcher Galvin hand painted a backdrop that other set elements could fit into. “It is one of the stars of the show!” Holman says. “It really brings it all together.”

The performances will feature three different casts, two singing the original German and one singing an abridged version of the opera in English, designed for school outreach, that lasts about an hour. Purely orchestra material—the overture and the Witch’s Ride—are cut from both versions. All the performances were taped the weekend of Oct. 24–25.

Tenor Tommy Bocchi as the Witch

You will notice that in all three casts, the witch is sung by a male tenor. This is often done in opera houses, to give the witch an additional bit of humor and to add a man’s voice to a cast dominated by women. In CU’s case, there is another reason: a male witch gives more male students the opportunity to be cast. 

Although the origin of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale is quite dark, Carthy and Holman point out that the opera is more humorous than scary. In the opera, Carthy says, “It wasn’t an evil stepmother, it was a mother with two boisterous children and a headache. And the witch has to be so funny!”

Holman agrees. “This is a story about a real family who love each other but they are going through hard times,” she says.

It is overcoming the challenges of presenting opera at all that Holman keeps coming back to. “We really paid attention and stressed the protocols that our epidemiologist gave to us,” she says.

“Our singers were very, very serious about these protocols. I did want to make that point, because when people see the video of people on stage together, that can make them nervous. Everybody did take it so seriously. And we’re really proud of them about that.”

# # # # #

Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck
CU Eklund Opera
Nick Carthy, conductor
Leigh Holman, stage director

Stream available from 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, through 11 p.m. Monday, Feb. 15

Detailed program information and stream access available here.

NOTE: Edited for clarity 12/9/20

HOLIDAY CONCERTS TO STREAM AT HOME

Celebrate the holidays virtually this year with local festive concerts.

By Izzy Fincher and Peter Alexander December 3 at 10:45 a.m.

Relax with a hot cocoa, a warm blanket and your favorite holiday tunes, all from the comfort of your own home.

This year, holiday music on Boulder’s classical scene will not be the same without the decked-out concert halls and communal holiday spirit. However, the holiday celebrations will continue virtually in Boulder with CU-Boulder’s Holiday Fest and festive concerts from Pro Musica, the Boulder Phil and the Longmont Symphony. 

Holiday Festival 2020 Dec. 4

The 2013 Holiday Concert in Macky Auditorium. (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

This year CU-Boulder’s Holiday Festival won’t be the usual grand event at Macky, where the auditorium is filled with students, faculty, family and other fans. Instead, 2020’s scaled-down online broadcast of the Holiday Fest will have pre-recorded performances of seasonal favorites and traditional selections from the fall semester. The holiday spirit of a festive Macky continues on from the comfort of home.

“Holiday Festival 2020”
CU-Boulder College of Music students and faculty
Available from 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4
Tickets

“Holiday Moods” Dec. 5 and 6

Under the direction of Cynthia Katsarelis, Pro Musica will present “Holiday Moods,” featuring both traditional and diverse holiday tunes. Earlier this year, Katsarelis planned to collaborate with the Boulder Chorale to perform Handel’s Messiah, but due to COVID-19 restrictions she decided on an all-strings program instead. 

Yumi Hwang-Williams

The program will feature soloist Yumi Hwang-Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony. The two performances of “Holiday Moods” with a limited in-person audience at the Broomfield Auditorium and First United Methodist Church have been canceled and moved to an online broadcast, available for up to 48 hours after the concert times, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6.

“Holiday Moods” continues Pro Musica’s season theme of diversity and healing. The program opens with Novellette No. 1 by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a Black composer and conductor active in England in the early 20th century. The rest of the program is composed of traditional repertoire, to offer healing and comfort to listeners, according to Katsarelis.

The second work is Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, which was composed for Christmas night (Fatto per la notte di Natale) in 1690, likely for Corelli’s patron, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, in Rome. Next, Hwang-Williams takes center stage for “Fall” and “Winter” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, another Baroque classic. To end the program, Pro Musica will play Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings, one of the composer’s most popular orchestral works.

“Holiday Moods”
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Yumi Hwang-Williams, violinist
Available from 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6
Tickets

“Happy Holidays from the Phil” Dec. 13

Michael Butterman rehearsing in the Brungard Aviation hangar at Boulder Municipal Airport

With conductor Michael Butterman, the Boulder Phil’s brass and percussion sections will present a selection of carols and other holiday tunes. Like the rest of the Boulder Phil’s fall 2020 season, this concert was recorded in a hangar at Boulder Municipal Airport, on a tight 48-hour rehearsal and recording schedule. 

The wide-ranging program is a mix of holiday favorites, including “Carol of the Bells,” “Deck the Halls,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (mashed up with the French carol “Patapan”). The program also features lesser-known carols, including “Wassail Song” and “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day”; modern holiday music, Dan Forrest’s “Jubilate Deo”; and a Hanukkah observation, “A Celebration of Hanukkah.”

“Happy Holidays from the Phil”
Boulder Philharmonic Brass and Percussion, Michael Butterman, conductor
Available from 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13, through Sunday, Dec. 27
No tickets required; contributions welcomed

Vocal Concert will substitute for Messiah Dec. 13

The Longmont Symphony Orchestra (LSO) will present a Holiday Concert Sunday, Dec. 13—but not the one they had originally planned. 

The LSO previously announced pared-down selections from Handel’s Messiah with four soloists but no chorus as their seasonal offering. That performance was to have been recorded in the Longmont Museum’s Stewart Auditorium and streamed starting at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13.

With the recent announcement that Boulder County has reached COVID Dial “Red Level: Severe Risk,” Stewart Auditorium became unavailable, and no other acceptable venue for the recording was found.An announcement from the LSO states, “The restrictions made it difficult to find a venue and to safely film the performance with our musicians.”

Consequently, the LSO reluctantly decided Tuesday (Dec. 1) to cancel the performance. Instead, the LSO will present a Holiday Concert featuring pianist Spencer Myer and baritone Mario Diaz-Moresco, from their home in New York City. The performance will include classical song selections by Handel and Schubert, as well as holiday favorites.

Their performance will be streamed at the same time as was announced for Messiah—4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13. Season tickets for the LSO fall 2020 season and tickets purchased separately for Messiah will be honored for the Myer/Diaz-Moresco concert. For more information, see the LSO Web page

“Holiday Concert, New York—Longmont”
Spencer Myer, piano, and Mario Diaz-Moresco, baritone
Available from 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13
Tickets

HEARING BEETHOVEN, THE 19TH-CENTURY WAY

Jorgensen and Bryant discuss their CD of Beethoven’s violin sonatas, played on period instruments.

By Izzy Fincher Nov. 22 at 1 p.m.

Albany Records TROY 1825–28
(4 CDs)

Listening to Beethoven on early 19th-century instruments is the next best thing to time travel.

On their CD recording of Beethoven’s sonatas for piano and violin (Albany Records TROY 1825–28), released in July 2020, violinist Jerilyn Jorgensen and pianist Cullan Bryant play all 10 sonatas on restored historical instruments, transporting listeners back in time to 19th-century Vienna.

As historical performance practice instrumentalists, Jorgensen, a member of Colorado College’s performance faculty, and Bryant, a chamber musician based in New York, are breaking new ground. They are the first duo from the United States to release Beethoven’s complete violin sonatas on period instruments from an American collection.

Jerilyn Jorgensen and Cullan Brant. Photo by Lee A. Brown

Their expertise in classical-era performance practice has led to invitations from the Historical Keyboard Society of North America in 2018 and 2021, performances at the National Music Museum in South Dakota, and an early-piano concert series in North Carolina.

In 2020, the 250th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth, a year flooded with Beethoven recordings, their interpretation stands out, offering listeners an opportunity to hear Beethoven’s music as it sounded during his lifetime.

On a first or superficial listening, listeners may find the sonic differences between period and modern instruments rather subtle. But after learning about the historical context and the technological developments in instrument making, listeners will be better able to identify and appreciate the musical nuances.

“Playing on period instruments doesn’t lend one to being more academic in one’s interpretation,” Bryant says. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It invites more emotional involvement, and in the case of Beethoven, a little more insanity, a more romantic interpretation.

Jorgensen and Bryant. Photo by Christopher Greenleaf.

“The instrument is telling you how to play. It is telling you what it needs to express the music. You don’t play the same (as on modern instruments), and you gain a new insight into what Beethoven was looking for interpretively. It is precious.”

On the album, Jorgensen uses a Viennese classical-era violin constructed by Andrea Carolus Leeb in 1797, and four period bows. The Leeb violin is one of few surviving period violins with the original neck setup, which allows for traditional gut strings.

The modern violin fingerboard and neck setup allows for greater tension on the modern wire strings. This creates a larger, louder sound that can fill a larger concert hall, but it does not necessarily reflect the sound that Beethoven had in mind while composing.

The distinctive aesthetic of Jorgensen’s period violin, when compared to a modern violin, is the most striking difference of the recordings. The sound is slightly thinner and quieter, almost delicate at times, yet it also has a deep, rich resonance and profound, lyrical expressivity.

Bryant recorded the album on five historical pianos from the Frederick Collection, which is located in Ashburnham, Mass., a small town located 50 miles north of Boston. The Fredericks own the largest playable, historical piano collection in the United States, which currently includes 24 restored pianos, dating from 1795 to 1928, mostly built in Vienna and Paris.

Anonymous piano from 1795, the oldest instrument in the Frederick collection

“We went up there originally to choose a piano for the set,” Bryant says. “But both of us were like kids in a candy store. The character of each piano lent itself so wonderfully to the music.”

“I was absolutely blown away,” Jorgensen adds. “This is the best collection of working early pianos that you can play in the United States.”

For Bryant, playing on these different period pianos was difficult at first, due to the difference in touch and size from a modern piano. For each recording session, he needed a few days to adapt his technique.

“The pianos sound dramatically different than a modern piano, (in terms of) the clarity, the smallness of the instrument and the technique,” Bryant says. “There is a great distance between a sforzando and pianissimo. For a pianissimo, you can’t even see your fingers move.”

Despite Bryant’s assertions, the differences between the period pianos and the modern piano can be quite subtle, especially when compared to the period vs. modern violin. Overall, the Frederick Collection’s pianos can be distinguished by a quicker speed of attack and less sustain when a note is played and a solid dynamic range, allowing for extremely quiet moments that maintain clarity and gradual, steady dynamic builds.

The collection’s oldest piano, an unsigned Viennese style piano from 1795, is featured on the album’s opening work, Sonata No. 1 in D major. The piano, with a reverse-color, five-octave keyboard and geometric-patterned case, has a somewhat sharp attack, though this is balanced by an overall lightness of sound.

Piano by Caspar Katholnig (1805–10)

A piano by Caspar Katholnig, used for Sonatas 3, 5, 6 and 7, has a notable historical connection with Beethoven. In the early 19th century, this piano, built between 1805 and 1810, was housed in Esterházy palace, located outside of Vienna in Eisenstadt. Prince Nikolas II Esterházy, known for being the last patron of Haydn, also supported Beethoven early on and in 1807 commissioned his Mass in C. This instrument has a deeper, richer tone than the 1795 piano, lending itself well to the passionate turmoil and expressivity of these four middle-period sonatas.

Bösendorfer piano, ca 1830

For the 10th sonata, composed in 1812, Bryant chose a Bösendorfer piano built between 1828 and 1832. Ignaz Bösendorfer was an apprentice of Joseph Brodmann, whose piano was used for Sonatas 2 and 8. He later became one of Vienna’s most influential piano makers, after being championed by Franz Liszt in 1838. The company still exists today, though owned by the Yamaha Corporation. The Bösendorfer‘s sound is almost modern, with more sustain, a smoother attack and greater aural consistency.

To complement the Bösendorfer’s aesthetic, Jorgensen uses a modern style bow, built in 1830, rather than the transitional bows she used for the first nine sonatas. The transitional bows, referring to those in use between the Baroque bows of the 17th century and the more modern bows of the 19th century, were designed to resonate more than project. 

Violin bows, from Baroque to modern

In contrast, the convex modern bow, developed in France by François Tourte in the early 19th century, was designed to project in larger concert halls. The bow is capable of more tension on the bow hairs and thus a louder sound. Jorgensen felt a modern bow would better match the “sustaining quality of the piano and the lyrical lines of the 10th sonata,” Jorgensen says.

”The 10th sonata is sitting on the cusp of Beethoven’s late period,” Bryant adds. “He got more introspective with more lyrical, longer lines.”

Overall, Jorgensen and Bryant present a unique window into Beethoven’s musical world that is both intellectually and sonically stimulating. Though the album is still enjoyable for casual listeners, to truly understand the musical significance, listeners must commit to deeper, dedicated listening with an ear for subtle differences.

“I hope that (listeners) will be able to hear the music in a new way,” Jorgensen says. “(Period classical instruments) are not anything that people have necessarily heard before. I am hoping that people will say, ‘Wow! That really caught my attention. I never really heard it that way before.’

“I hope they will be entranced with the sound and feel transported back in time a little bit.”

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NOTE: For more information on bows, watch the documentary The Bowmakers, presented online during the holidays by the Friends of Chamber Music in DenverThe stream of The Bowmakers will open Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 26, and be available through Sunday Dec. 6.

The documentary features Brooklyn Rider, the Miró and Dover quartets. More information and streaming tickets are available here.

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NOTE: Updated to correct the sentence “They are the first duo from the United States to release Beethoven’s complete violin sonatas on period instruments from an American collection.” The sentence as originally posted did not include the modifier “from an American collection.”