Taking a summer festival apart: Colorado Music Festival

Home hosts and more than 125 visiting artists add to the complications

By Peter Alexander May 10 at 1:40 p.m.

Putting together a six-week festival of concerts is complicated. So is taking one apart.

In the case of the Colorado Music Festival, which recently joined summer festivals worldwide in announcing the cancellation of the 2020 season, that decision came down to an issue of safety.

Elizabeth-McGuire-Circle-Transparent

Elizabeth McGuire

“In terms of social distancing backstage at Chautauqua, it’s very tight,” says Elizabeth McGuire, the executive director of CMF. “That’s part of what’s charming about Chautauqua, it’s not a traditional concert hall. The musicians are standing outside, but when you’re inside you’re inches from each other.

“Even with our chamber orchestras, even with the smallest version of the orchestra that we could present, we couldn’t space people apart.”

The audience is an important consideration, too. “Our audience is typically over the age of 65,” McGuire says. “We thought [if we held concerts] we were putting them at risk.”

She also pointed out the difference between a resident orchestra and a festival orchestra. “You’re bringing in probably 125 artists—orchestra musicians and guest artists,” McGuire says. “They’re coming from all over north America, a couple form Europe. Guest artists, depending on their contract, are either housed with a local host, or they’re in a hotel. Orchestra musicians are mixed between host homes and one apartment complex that houses up to 75 musicians that come and go during the summer.

“The proximity of our housing hosts to people coming in from outside” was definitely a concern she says. “It got to the point that we realized that it just wouldn’t be possible to do [the festival] safely. Not with what we know today, and assuming that not much was going to change between now and the last week of June, so far as vaccines or treatments.”

The timing of the decision and announcement of the cancellation was based largely on one issue: tickets. “It was mostly administrative and how much time did we need to sell this number of tickets” if the festival went ahead, McGuire explained.

“A couple of our marketing contracts were going to come to fruition on May 1. We could have canceled them and then like re-upped them two weeks later if we wanted to have the festival. The contracts with the players didn’t have that kind of timeline.

“We considered all of that in our timing, but the health and safety piece was much more in the forefront. We didn’t think [going ahead with the season] was the right thing to do.”

This year’s cancellation will inevitably affect future programming, but it’s too soon to know how. “There are so many artists that we want to invite back,” McGuire says. “The first thing that’s happening is that we’re trying to re-engage people. It may not work out with everyone’s schedule, because the musicians that we’re bringing in are booked out years in advance. I think you’ll probably see them at some point in the coming years.

“What remains to be seen is what the repertoire will be. There may be some duplications, but not every artist is going to have the same repertoire ready to go next summer. A violinist might have the repertoire under his fingers this summer, because he’s playing it in a few other places in the world, and then next year is a different story.”

There was one way that McGuire and the CMF staff was ahead of the game when the Coronavirus struck: They were already moving to do more work from home. “We have our network set up to offer remote access to our shared files,” she says.

“Our office space is limited, and we have a couple of people who share desk space. A lot of people were able to focus on certain kinds of tasks at home, and so we had already adopted a modern philosophy on work hours. We think about productivity and result. We have a lot of conversations, so on the virtual work front we were prepared.”

online-piano-lessons-1The other side of the CMF organization is the Center for Musical Arts, the music school in Lafayette that merged with the festival several years ago. Coincidentally, they had already started offering online lessons.

“We had people who wanted makeup lessons—parents like me. My child was available for a lesson, but I couldn’t get him there physically. I wanted to be able to offer people the option to have an online makeup lesson We did not see [the pandemic] coming, of course, but we responded quickly.”

McGuire has one more thing she wants to say. Many of the CMF patrons who already bought tickets for the 2020 festival have willingly donated the value of their tickets back to the CMF musician fund. While not everyone can afford to make that donation, McGuire is grateful to those who can.

“Our festival musicians and some of our season staff have been hit very, very hard,” she says. “I appreciate that people are, to the extent that they are capable, willing to donate back their tickets for the musician fund.

“I would just say how much I appreciate their thoughtfulness.”

CMF_ORCH_JMZ_CROPPED-1500x575@2x

Colorado Music Festival Orchestra on the crowded Chautauqua stage

COMING NEXT: Pelham (Pat) Pearce on the cancellation of the Central City Opera season.

 

Musicians in their Lairs IV: Elliot Moore

Reading, playing Bach, and looking to the future of the Longmont Symphony

By Peter Alexander May 9 at 10:03 a.m.

Elliot Moore is sitting in his home in Erie, where he is sheltering in place with his wife, his six-month-old daughter and four dogs, and he seems pretty happy there.

Screen Shot 2020-04-22 at 2.04.28 PM

Elliot Moore, at home in Erie

“It’s actually been very nice,” he says via Skype. “It was really nice to have two weeks at least where it was pretty much me and my wife at home with [our daughter].”

Moore is the music director of the Longmont Symphony. His wife is a physician who does rehabilitation medicine, so she is able to do some of her work online. “She’s been doing telemedicine, but she has one facility that she sees that has COVID patients,” Moore says.

When she does go to see patients in person, she has a routine to keep the rest of the family safe. “She has clothes that she keeps in the garage,” he explains. ”As soon as she gets home she gets into clean clothes, immediately takes a shower, and then she’ll put on other clothes.

“She doesn’t want to bring any clothes into the house that have been exposed to patients who may have COVID-19.”

Apart from that risk, he is relieved that the pandemic hit when it did. “When I think about our daughter’s age, I don’t think we could be more lucky,” he says. “I am grateful that she won’t remember any of this. She doesn’t want to hang out with her friends, she doesn’t think her parents are annoying and dumb—thank goodness that we are her world and she doesn’t feel stuck at home.”

Other than entertaining her daughter and changing the occasional diaper, Moore has plenty to do. “I’m writing much more,” he says. “I have blog that I write, and I’ve called many of our symphony supporters and checked in with them to make sure that they’re doing OK.

“’I’m happy to say that they were all happy and healthy—maybe a little lonely, a little stir crazy, but besides that everyone’s fine.”

Moore works to keep from going stir crazy himself. “Everything seems to be changing on a daily basis, so at first I was really focused on things that I could control, mental health type things” he says. “Making sure that I’m OK, that my wife is OK, that our daughter is OK, that her parents are OK—that was my focus for probably for three weeks or so.”

He found that one thing he could control was playing music. “At the beginning, one of my coping mechanisms was to play the cello, maybe 30 minutes a day,” he says. “It was mostly solo Bach. I thought it would be really nice to have music in the house, have my daughter hear me playing the cello. I found it very relaxing and good for the soul to be paying Bach.

Screen Shot 2020-04-22 at 2.50.20 PM

Elliot Moore in his study with one of his dogs

“Once I knew that everything was OK, I started thinking about what is next season [at the LSO] going to look like— programming, guest artists. I started getting more down to that kind of work. I’ve never had this much time to put together a season!”

The big challenge that Moore and the LSO are facing—along with every other orchestra and music presenter in the country—is uncertainty. “How will things be different when we go back?” Moore asks. “Our hall seats roughly 1300 people. Are we going to have to cap it at 500 people? At 750 people? How do we deal with all of that? Spacing between seats? And the musicians?

“These are all aspects that I think all orchestras are probably thinking about. But it changes so quickly that until we know more, we need to have this on our minds, to consider different options, and then when it comes closer to concert season, to be thinking much more seriously how we actually go about doing that.”

It appears increasingly likely that for many organizations around the world, sharing performances by video streaming is going to be part of the answer. Here Moore has valuable insight, having worked with the Detroit Symphony on live streaming concerts in the past.

There are many financial and contractual hurdles that have to be figured out, but there are also advantages that Moore sees coming from sharing concerts online, “For an orchestra like the Longmont Symphony, people may start developing an affinity for certain sections of the orchestra, and feel like they get to know [the players] through live streaming,” he says.

“One of the things I am happy that we have done in the last three years is to do videos. We have a YouTube channel, but it’s not enough to just stream the concerts. It’s like television, where there should be an interview with a musician behind the scenes during intermission.

“These are all critical aspects to making this successful, as I saw with the Detroit Symphony from the time that I was sitting in broom closet with two other people, to the state-of-the-art room that has been built. They bought, I think it’s 15 cameras and there’s a whole team. [Today] there’s close to 12 or 15 people making their live Webcasts happen.”

Another part of Moore’s routine under quarantine has been reading. “One of the things that I quickly started doing was reading books,” he says. He was particularly drawn to stories about conductors and other musicians who had gone through war, political oppression, and other struggles in their lives. “It was good for me to read about performing artists who had to weather the storm,” he says. “

There were plenty of other storms before we came along. So that did give me some perspective, I think.”

Colorado MahlerFest will be virtual, May 13–17

Schedule includes films, a virtual symposium, performances

By Peter Alexander May 6 at 2:30 p.m.

MahlerFest01_square-01Colorado MahlerFest has announced a virtual festival to run May 13–17, with many of the online offerings available beyond those dates.

The online festival was modeled on the original plans for MahlerFest XXXIII, which would have taken place in Boulder over those same dates. Those plans had to be canceled early in April due to the Novel Coronavirus pandemic.

Like the planned live MahlerFest XXXIII, the virtual festival will culminate with a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, in this case on video.

The full schedule for the virtual festival, available here,  includes performances, films, a virtual symposium and an art gallery, among other offerings. These will be made available at the MahlerFest online page, and will be released at 3:30 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time each day.

Kenneth Woods

MahlerFesti artistic director Kenneth Woods

In a release issued May 5, MahlerFest artistic director Kenneth Woods is quoted saying, “Canceling this year’s festival was a particularly painful step. We had worked all year to put together what we felt was the most dynamic and ambitious program the festival has ever delivered. Reinterpreting those plans into something we could present online was a new challenge. We are proud of what we have assembled and excited to share it.”

Among the highlights of the online festival will be a message from former Governor John Hickenlooper; a film made for the virtual festival by Gavin Plumley, showing why Mahler is a good composer for life under quarantine; CU distinguished professor and Helen and Peter Weil faculty fellow David Korevaar performing Schubert from his home; interviews and podcasts with musicians who were scheduled to be part of the festival; and other related events.

The Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. Photograph by Moriz Nähr. 1907.

Gustav Mahler

Central City summer season is “postponed to 2021”

Previously announced schedule for 2020 will be presented next summer

By Peter Alexander May 4 at 10:25 a.m.

In a release sent out this morning, Central City Opera announced that its planned summer 2020 season has been postponed to next year.

unnamedThis year’s schedule was to have featured Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, Verdi’s Rigoletto and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. All  three will be presented in the summer of 2021.

In the message sent out this morning, Central City Opera general/artistic director Pelham “Pat” Pearce is quoted as saying “This news is extremely disappointing, but the decision is in the best interest of our audience, artists, staff and the community. The COVID-19 crisis is drastically impacting the livelihoods of hundreds of performers, musicians and technicians who bring stories to life on our historic Opera House stage.

“We are heartbroken audiences won’t experience their work this summer.”

Current ticket holders have the option to donate the cost of their ticket back to Central City Opera’s newly established COVID-19 Relief Fund, which will support the organization’s commitment to pay all of its 2020 Festival artists and staff a portion of their contracts and assist CCO during this unprecedented time.

Donations will be matched up to $100,000 by Carousel performance sponsors and long-time CCO supporters Pam and Dutch Bansbach. Additional matching support will be provided by the Central City Opera Board of Directors. Full refunds and transfer of tickets to 2021 are also available to patrons.

Ticket holder options are described here.  You can also call the box office for assistance at (303) 292-6700. You may read Pearce’s message to Central City Opera patrons here.

CCO Night.2.Sewailam

Central City Opera House. Photo by Ashraf Sewailam.

 

 

 

Musicians in their Lairs III: Michael Butterman

Busier than ever, and figuring it all out as he goes

By Peter Alexander May 1 at 9:40 p.m.

“The biggest difference is that I’m not traveling,” says Michael Butterman, conductor of the Boulder Philharmonic.

Screen Shot 2020-04-17 at 2.15.23 PM

Michael Butterman, speaking by Zoom from his home office in Shreveport, La.

He is speaking from his home in Shreveport, La., where he is spending his time with his wife and daughter during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a normal year, the Shreveport Symphony, with the Boulder Phil, is one of three orchestras he leads. He is also conductor of the Pennsylvania Philharmonic, a regional orchestra that presents educational programs and concerts in central and southeastern Pennsylvania. When you add in guest conducting gigs, that creates a lot of travel.

“Typically about 10% of my time is spent performing and in rehearsals, and the other 90% is divided between administrative details, phone calls and emails,” Butterman says. “And studying scores, which I do at home. That’s what you do as a conductor, more than wave your arms around: look at dots on the page and try to figure out what they’re all about.”

When he first found himself at home full time, Butterman thought he would have lots of time for new musical projects. “When this first started, I thought, this is going to be a blessing in disguise,” he says.

“There’s so many scores that I haven’t cracked the code of yet, or things that are coming up that I want to get a jump on. And there’s all these other things, like practice piano—two hours a day even, which would be about 1 hour and 45 minute more than I had been doing for the past 10 years. All of that sounded like I could make good use of the time.”

The reality turned out differently, as all three orchestras had planning to do for the post-pandemic world. Since no one knows what to expect, or when, the planning had to encompass various scenarios. “I have found myself occupied with re-inventing what we do in these orchestras,” Butterman says.

“First dealing with the immediate fallout of all of this. How we’re going to re-budget for the rest of the season. Then there’ve been issues of how to reschedule next season, how many plan Bs and Cs and Ds do we need.”

The planning had to encompass several unknowns: when and under what conditions will they be able to invite people back into concert halls? Will there be a maximum occupancy imposed? And when will their audience be willing to gather in a full auditorium? Performing arts groups are grappling with those questions world-wide, the Boulder Phil as much as the Chicago Symphony or the Metropolitan Opera.

“More immediately, how can we continue to be a presence in our communities and in the lives of our patrons?” Butterman asks. The obvious answer is through the sharing of performances online, but most American orchestras were not well prepared for that possibility, both because of the lack of archival material in hand and because of union contracts that limit how electronic material can be shared.

“Most European orchestras were video recording all of their concerts, for archival purposes or for broadcast,” he explained. “But most American orchestras—no.”

The Boulder Phil has a few performances on video, and eventually those will be made available one way or another. And going forward, the possibility of streaming concerts is something that almost every orchestra and performer is thinking about. But it takes serious equipment for that to work above a very rudimentary level.

In the meantime, Butterman is doing what he can to keep the orchestras alive online. For all three he has already posted some combination of conversation and performance. You can see these posts for the Boulder Phil, Shreveport Symphony and the Pennsylvania Philharmonic online. Numerous posts are available on Butterman’s Youtube channel.

Negotiating this new world has taken more of Butterman’s time and energy than the familiar world of rehearsals and concerts. “I find myself busier now than I was before,” he says. “I knew how to do everything before. I knew how to study scores, I know how to plan rehearsals, I knew where to be at what time. And now we’re just figuring it out.”

Like everyone else these days, he is facing new tasks at home, too. “I do a lot more laundry than I ever did before,” he says, laughing. “Taking more walks, riding my bike—that’s all good.”

His daughter is in high school, so he does not find himself facing the homeschooling challenges that parents of younger children do. “I don’t think in some ways my role has changed much,” he says. “In fact, in many of the classes she’s studying now I’m not going to be much help, other than I’m a decent proofreader of English sentences.”

He and his wife, violinist Jennifer Carsillo, have already posted one performance on Youtube, and he hopes to post more performances. Making music is important for him.

Screen Shot 2020-05-01 at 3.42.01 PM

Michael Butterman and violinist Jennifer Carsillo, performing on Youtube from their home in Shreveport, La. 

“I really do hope to play more piano, because it allows me to create,” he says. “I’m never able to produce sound as a conductor, but at least I’m around sound that I have some influence over. But now nothing. So I have to get back to pressing keys and making sound myself. There is joy in that, of course, and that will make me a better musician the more I do “

The current crisis has led Butterman, like many musicians around the world, to think about the place of music in our culture, both in the current situation and beyond. “To put it bluntly, does it matter that we’re not able to get together and play a Beethoven symphony right now?” he asks.

“I think it does to some extent, but I also understand the larger context in which all of this is taking place.”

2020 Colorado Music Festival is canceled

Music director Peter Oundjian is working to create a virtual festival

By Peter Alexander May 1 at 10 a.m.

In a statement released to the press and public this morning, the board of directors of Boulder’s Colorado Music Festival has announced the cancellation of the 2020 festival that was scheduled to take place June 25–Aug. 1 at the Chautauqua Auditorium.

chautauqua-boulder-colorado

Chautauqua Auditorium

A quote attributed to executive director Elizabeth McGuire and board president Anne Beer states that it is impossible “to ensure the health and safety of our beloved musicians patrons, housing hosts, volunteers and staff—a responsibility we hold paramount.

“The staff and board of directors are all profoundly saddened by the loss of the festival’s 2020 live performance season.”

The CMF management have created a Musician Fund to help provide financial support for musicians and staff of the festival who have lost work as a result of the cancellation. Public contributions to the fund are possible through the Web page. People who have already purchased tickets for the 2020 festival are given the choice of donating some of all of their ticket values toward the Musician Fund, crediting their ticket value toward the 2021 festival, or requesting a full refund.

PeterOundjian-1

CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian

Peter Oundjian, the CMF music director, is working with artists to create a “virtual festival” online. According to the CMF’s statement, the virtual festival content “will be released first to those who purchased tickets to the 2020 festival, and later to the public. The virtual festival will be available through the CMF Website. http://www.coloradomusicfestival.org/festival

Oundjian is quoted in the CMF statement: “While we are faced with the disappointment of canceling this year’s Colorado Music Festival, we are grateful to have the opportunity to offer a virtual festival. Without exception, the musicians I’ve spoken to are eager to participate.”

While it seems unlikely that anything approaching full orchestral performances will be part of the Virtual Colorado Music Festival, several chamber music performances were listed as likely events. These included performances by CMF orchestra musicians; a performance by the Takacs Quartet to mark the debut of the their new violist, Richard O’Neill; an evening with the Juilliard Quartet in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the quartet’s founding first violinist, Robert Mann; and a performance and discussion with the St. Lawrence String Quartet and 2020 composer-in-residence John Adams.

More information about the Virtual Colorado Music Festival will be released when possible, through the CMF Web page.

CMF_ORCH_JMZ_CROPPED-1500x575@2x

Musicians in their Lairs II: Cynthia Katsarelis

Online teaching leads to at-home learning for the teacher

By Peter Alexander April 26 at 5:40 p.m.

Cynthia Katsarelis is in her happy place.

The music director of the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra is speaking by Facetime from the basement of the home she shares with her wife, musicologist Rebecca Maloy. This is her office, where she is surrounded by her violin and her music and her books and her Roland digital piano.

“It’s really true, that saying that musicians either are practicing or should be practicing,” Katsarelis says. “I reflect on that almost daily. I’ve been practicing a great deal and making some terrific discoveries on the violin.”

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 1.39.58 PM

Cynthia Katsarelis in her “happy place”

But she’s been doing much more than practicing her violin. She has been able to accelerate her work on a Doctor of Musica Arts degree, which she had expected to finish next December. “Perhaps I’ll finish in August or even July,” she says.

She is also “doing a lot of professional development stuff”—playing Bach chorales from open score, with each voice part in a different clef, and playing “figured bass,” Baroque-era keyboard parts where only the bass line is given with numbers to indicate the chords above the bass. “It’s like floss for the brain,” she says. “I figure if I’m not out and about and interacting with people, it keeps the brain lively, so that’s a good thing to do.”

Like a lot of musicians during the crisis, Katsarelis is teaching online. Since 2004 she has had a relationship with students in Haiti, through the Holy Trinity School of Music in Port-au-Prince, where she has regularly taught violin and guest conducted the Orchestre Philharmonique Sainte Trinité.

“One of the things that I took up was asking Haitian students if they wanted [online] lessons,” she says. “The next thing I know I’ve got 45 Haitians who want lessons! That became huge really fast.”

It also took on a new dimension when a Haitian violinist that Katsarelis knows, Victoria Joseph, launched an etude challenge. “In addition to the online lessons, I’ve been making videos of how to practice certain etudes,” she explains. (You may see one of her etudes—with her apologies for her halting Haitian French—here.)

“I’ve tried to pick the etudes very, very strategically, to pick the kind of things that will really further their technique,” she says. “I pick etudes that work on a particular aspect of technique so they can explore it in greater depth and ideally things that they can do mostly on their own, with a little guidance.”

Katsarelis says that this project has been a learning experience for her as well as the Haitian students. As she has gone through her extensive collection of violin etudes, including ones she played as far back as middle school, she is looking at her own training with new eyes.

Screen Shot 2020-04-25 at 12.29.05 PM

Katsarelis teaching online from her basement

“There’s something about revisiting that old stuff,” she says. “I went through all of my etudes from whenever, and I just see gobs of wisdom from these early etudes. I think, ‘Oh, that’s what my teacher was trying to teach me! I wish I had really absorbed the lesson,’ but also ‘How can I teach it to [my students]?’ That’s been really beneficial.

“And when I practice the advanced stuff, it reminds me how to teach the intermediate students so they can get to that advanced place. Sometimes you forget how you got there. So now I’ve been tracing the steps to success. So the next stage will be for me to work through how to get [my students] into the advanced stage.”

The result of going back through the etudes she has studied over so many years: “I’ll be a much better teacher. This could actually be helpful in [getting a job], but I’m doing it because it’s really beneficial right here and now, for the Haitian musicians and for my own playing.”

Katsarelis and Malloy have gotten their old turntable out and have been listening to some of the old vinyl recordings in their collection. This includes old Classical recordings, by artists including Zino Francescatti, Leon Fleischer and the Philadelphia Orchestra, but also 1960s and early ‘70s rock. Katsarelis says she favors the Beatles, while Maloy also has a collection of the Grateful Dead.

Even though there are no concerts, Katsarelis still has work to do as conductor of Pro Musica. She and the board have been hard at work already for the 2020-21 season. In addition to deciding the programs for next year, they have decided to drop the performances they have been giving in Denver, and to look into options for streaming their concerts.

“We worked things through and decided to focus our efforts in Boulder, and to put  more energy into outreach,” she says. “And once the virus hit, I’ve been working on creating a season that has a smaller budget. I’m having a lot of fun, but I’m busy on pretty fulfilling stuff.”

“I keep really busy, but when I’m not busy I tend to worry about people. I want people to be healthy and happy—and listen to lots of music, because it really does help the time pass beautifully.

“I just hope everybody’s doing well.”

Musicians in their Lairs I: Michael Christie

Creating wide-ranging playlists, learning while homeschooling

By Peter Alexander April 22 at 7:05 p.m.

NOTE: This is the first of a series of posts about musicians with Boulder connections, and what they are doing while they can’t rehearse or perform. You can expect a non-formal photo to accompany each story.

Michael Christie is listening to music. A lot of music.

Christie, who was music director of the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder 2001-13 is spending the COVID-19 quarantine at this home in Minneapolis. Because his wife is a physician, a large part of his time is taken with homeschooling their two children while she is on the front lines of the pandemic.

Screen Shot 2020-04-17 at 11.24.12 AM

Michael Christie, inside his home in Minneapolis, planning another playlist

When he’s not tied up with those duties, he’s creating online playlists, under the title “Michael Christie’s Jukebox.

So far he has posted 10 lists, nine that reflect his own thoughts, and one in collaboration with composer Kevin Puts, whose opera Silent Night Christie conducted at Minnesota Opera in 2011. The complete opera serves as the anchor piece of “Jukebox #8.”

It turns out there is a lot of listening involved in creating each playlist. He has to not only select the pieces, but also the individual performances of those pieces. “The process of selecting the pieces encourages me to listen to full albums,” he says. “So that I’ve enjoyed, but the tricky part is that I’ve tried to keep the bites fairly digestible, except for the showpiece of each list.”

The playlists are a way for Christie, who is now music director of the New West Symphony in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to stay in touch with audiences during the pandemic. “I observed as COVID was shutting things down that people were hunkering down—hunkering down in their homes but also hunkering down in their own areas of expertise, musically,” he says.

“I thought ’what a pity!’ These people listen to a lot of other things, and yet they’re only talking about the narrow window that they’re professionally working in. That was the genesis of the playlists, and then it was trying to make sure that I was being faithful to that by looking at 400 years of music then saying, ‘Alright, what’s interesting’?”

One feature of Christie’s playlists that will seem familiar to those who recall his years with CMF is the breadth of the music that he finds interesting. It includes portions of standard classical repertoire by Haydn, Beethoven, Rossini, Dvořák and others that you would expect. But there is also world music; jazz by Branford, Wynton and the late Ellis Marsalis; Bill Haley and the Comets, the Beatles and Radiohead; an excerpt from Hamilton; stunning Baroque selections by Jean-Philippe Rameau and Claudio Monteverdi; newer music from Benjamin Britten and Philip Glass; and even Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five.

From creating his own lists it was an easy step to start asking other musicians what they were listening to. “I thought people are going to get sick of hearing my thoughts, and also, I’ll run out of ideas eventually,” he says. “I’ve reached out to a lot of people, and no one has said no yet.

“The interesting thing is that all of the composers that I’ve been in contact with have said, we’re using this time to catch up. They’re so busy right now taking advantage of the time to not be traveling, and as a consequence they get to focus in a different way.”

Christie says he learns as much homeschooling his two children, ages five and 11,  as they do. “It’s a big learning process every day,” he says. “It definitely takes more patience and a different time scale. Time has to stretch out to flow with the day a bit more. Things that they do in 25 minutes in school take more time than that. But there are so many resources online, that’s amazing!

“Mercifully this is happening in springtime. If this was happening in November, I think—boy! Stuck in the cold and snow? I just can’t even imagine.”

But he definitely relishes the time spent at home. “The children are very different, but curious about the world, clever and sympathetic,” he says. “Being home steadily after years on the road is a great joy!”

Christie spends some of his time planning for his next season at the New West Symphony, particularly the new pieces that the orchestra will introduce. One feature of the concerts began at CMF as “Intermission Insights” interviews. The New West Symphony now has “Entr’acte Composers,” in which a composer is introduced at the beginning of intermission in a conversation with Christie, much as occured at CMF. Later, their piece is played first thing after intermission, giving the audience members the choice to linger in the lobby or hear the new work.

“So far, we’ve only had a handful of people willingly not listen to the new piece,” he says. “The vast majority stay for the interview, like they did in Boulder, and the vast majority come back for the new piece. I’m very careful about what that new piece is, and trying to get [it into a] five- to eight-minute time frame.

“But it’s great, because people have the opportunity to interact with the artist, and people have the opportunity to hear something they’ve never heard before at every concert.”

And in that respect, Christie is not doing anything new at all, quarantine or no quarantine. It’s what he did at CMF, and what he now does for audiences in Thousand Oaks.

You can access all of Christie’s playlists at Michael Christie’s Jukebox.

 

How to fill the hours of isolation? Music by unfamiliar composers

New CDs from local performers offer rare pleasures

By Peter Alexander April 11 at 3:30 p.m.

The hours stretch empty before you, and you’ve already re-watched all 202 episodes of The X-files. Or was it Game of Thrones?

Now is the time to expand you horizons and discover music you don’t know, by composers whose names are not familiar. And happily, Boulder-area musicians have new offerings that you can order by internet and have delivered directly to your front porch without violating social distancing.

Here are four that are worth attention.

81OtBx57QHL._SL1200_Ernst Dohnányi: Piano Quintets Nos. 1 & 2, String Quartet No. 2. Takács Quartet and Marc-André Hamelin, piano. Hyperion CDA68238

Hungarian composer Ernst Dohnányi is best known for his set of orchestral variations on the French nursery tune Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman, which you probably know as “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” A highly skilled and original composer, he also wrote chamber music and pieces for piano that provide a more complete perspective of his output.

The Takács Quartet teamed up with pianist Marc-André Hamelin to record Dohnányi’s two piano quintets and the String Quartet No. 2. Presented in chronological order on the disc, the quartet falls neatly between the two quintets.

The First Piano Quintet, composed in 1895 when Dohnányi was 17, is a remarkably assured student work, and a perfect representation of post-Brahms late Romanticism. The movements are carefully plotted out and filled with attractive themes. This is music to let wash over you and enjoy the warm blanket of sound. There are moments of excess, when the layering of figuration and overripe harmonies threaten to over-thicken the soup, but Hamelin and the Takács players do a remarkable job of maintaining transparency.

Dohnányi’s style matures and shifts over the course of the three works, but it is always marked by the late Romantic ethos. The String Quartet, composed in 1906, 11 years after the First Quintet, is at times lighter in tone, with notable playful touches in the first movement. The second movement (marked “presto acciacato,” or “crushed presto”) is a propulsive, driven scherzo-like movement, which the Takács plays with perfect precision, with a thoroughly contrasting, gentle chorale in the center.

The Second Quintet, written on the precipice of the First World War in 1914, is the most original and striking piece on the disc. Too early to have been influenced by better known works by Stravinsky and Prokofiev, it almost seems to foreshadow the neo-classical style that would emerge after the war. It is marked by sudden, quirky changes of direction and mood. Here Hamelin and the Takács are at their best, bringing out every swerve of mood without losing the forward movement of the music.

This is a disc filled with remarkable pleasures: engaging, interesting music given exemplary performances. Whether you listen with attention to details or prefer to sit back and simply enjoy, you will find much to appreciate on the disc. Available here and here.

# # # # #

TOCC0528_webcoverHermann Grädener: Orchestral Music, Vol. One. Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, op. 22; Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, op. 41. National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Gottfried Rabl, conductor, with Karen Bentley Pollick, violin. Toccata Classics TOCC 0528.

The German/Austrian composer Hermann Grädener taught at the Vienna Conservatory for 35 years (1877-1913). His works were often found on concert programs in Vienna and elsewhere, if not warmly embraced by the stern critics of the time. After his death, however, he disappeared, and in recent years his music has gone unrecorded and is nearly impossible to find.

Or it was until Viennese conductor Gottfried Rabl and his Indiana University grad-schoolmate violinist Karen Bentley Pollick began investigating his music. (Pollick is a Colorado Mahlerfest festival artist who has performed in Boulder and served as principal second violinist in last year’s Mahlerfest orchestra. Disclosure: I also knew her when we were both students at Indiana University, and we have stayed in touch over the years.)

Pollick and Rabl have teamed up for the first volume of a planned series of recordings of Grädener’s orchestral works, a CD of his two violin concertos with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. This is a well played and well engineered recording of music that is available nowhere else. As such it is a worthy addition to any collection.

Grädener was born before Dohnányi, and is consequently more in the Romantic mainstream than post-Romantic—or as the liner notes laconically state, he was firmly “downstream from Brahms.” His music is lush, sometimes overripe, always attractive to the ear. It is filled with striking Romantic moments, from the very first opening solo by the horn in the First Concerto.

The first movements of both concertos are on the longwinded side, with discursive passages that tend to wander. It’s all pleasant music, if occasionally overripe, that sometimes gives the impression of having lost the plot. The shorter movements are more successful, particularly the second movement of the second concerto, where a lyrical opening section with long, flowing melodic lines is followed by a more energetic middle section and a return of the opening mood.

Both finales are buoyant rondos. That of the First Concerto has plenty of fireworks which Pollick handles gracefully. The finale of the Second Concerto opens dramatically, but soon turns to a more cheerful character, again played with assurance.

Pollick plays with an alluring sound and great confidence. Rabl and the Ukrainian orchestra provide a solid background. They never threaten to overwhelm the soloist; indeed, either the performance or the engineering so favor the soloist that the orchestra seems understated.

These is no question that this is attractive music, skillfully woven together. The recording helps fill in a blank spot in the history of 19th-century music and is certainly worth enjoying, but whether either concerto adds up to more than a lovely 35–40 minutes in the concert hall—or sitting in front of your speakers—is something each listener will have to decide. Available here and here.

# # # # #

91+vB0jSWxL._SL1396_Paul Juon: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1–3. Charles Wetherbee, violin, and David Korevaar, piano. Naxos 8.574091.

Paul Juon, much like Hermann Grädener, had a successful career as a teacher and composer before falling into obscurity. Born in Russia to Swiss parents, he was educated in Moscow and Berlin, and spent most of his professional life in the latter city. He is another conservative late-Romantic composer who music is associated with an earlier generation; during his lifetime, he was called “the Russian Brahms.”

Over the years there have been a few recordings of his music, most recently a disc from Naxos featuring CU faulty Charles Wetherbee, violin (known to many as concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic) and David Korevaar, piano, performing Juon’s three sonatas for violin and piano.

Although his style is comfortably Romantic, Juon is on some ways a strange composer who avoids the expected. Korevaar’s notes for the album says the his music “suggests a narrative,” which may be another way of saying that it is episodic. Juon often writes wonderful, striking fragments that never quite coalesce into whole themes.

This is especially evident in the first work on the disc, the Sonata No. 2 in F major of 1920. Playing different material, the violin and piano respond to one another in an interesting musical dialog throughout the first movement. Their disparate themes and motives are like pieces of a mosaic that create an image that is always colorful, never quite distinct.

The slow movement features mysterious meanderings full of odd twists and turns. Once again the violin and piano take turns commenting on each other’s different themes and motives. The finale moves from a light, airy opening that suggests a traditional finale, but transforms unexpectedly to a more spooky feeling.

The one-movement Sonata No. 3 in B minor from 1920 features a lovely central section in slower tempo. This leads to a jolly conclusion that is the closest Juon comes to providing the expected, but still with his own surprise twists.

The First Sonata in A major (1898) offers the most conventional music on the disc. All three movements have clear structures and identifiable, if highly individual themes. In spite of being the longest individual movement of the three sonatas, the first movement is the easiest to follow. Its attractive themes are laid out in a clear ex[position, and can be discerned though the extensive development section. The second movement is an uncomplicated set of variations of contrasting moods and styles, and the finale is a lively rondo.

The sensitive partnership between Korevaar and Wetherbee make this disc a pleasure to listen to. They match each other well through all the thematic give and take, maintaining a comfortable balance between the two voices. Wetherbee plays warmly and with great expression, especially in the slower, reflective passages. The performance is marked by a careful sensitivity to the shifts of mood and expressive swerves that characterize Juon’s style.

If you enjoy exploring unfamiliar byways of the Romantic style, this disc will be most rewarding. Available here and here.

# # # # #

71GxFdVIH2L._SL1426_Longing: Chamber Music of Reza Vali. Charles Wetherbee violin; David Korevaar, piano; Dariush Saghafi, santoor; Carpe Diem String Quartet. MSR Classics 1738.

More adventurous than the CDs of music by Dohnányi, Grädener and Juon is Longing, a new disc from the Carpe Diem String Quartet that features the music of Iranian-American composer Reza Vali. Several disparate works of chamber music are performed by the quartet, and by their first violinist Charles Wetherbee, again with pianist David Korevaar. Dariush Saghafi joins them playing the Santoor, an Iranian and Indian hammered dulcimer, for one track.

Vali was born in Iran, educated in Tehran, Vienna and the United States, and now teaches composition at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. His music embraces both his Iranian/Persian cultural heritage and his education in Western styles and genres. It is an intriguing mix, though the two are more comfortably paired in some works than in others.

The album includes two sets of pieces for violin and piano, “Three Romantic Songs” and “Love Drunk,” five folk song settings. All eight movements are essentially very conservative, Romantic character pieces, relatively short (1”32” to 3’31”) and expressing a single mood. They are varied, from wistful fragments to strongly characterized dance pieces to a forceful memory of a lost beloved.

For the most part the music of these duets flows on the surface of romantic yearnings, with a heavy sense of nostalgia deriving from the conservative 19th-century idiom. Wetherbee and Korevaar’s expressive performances bring out the varied qualities of the movements, while revealing glimpses of deeper feelings.

The remaining other works on the disc—all for string quartet—draw heavily on Vali’s Iranian/Persian musical heritage. Some are based on folk songs, others make us of Persian modes, which are significantly different from Western keys and scales

Listening to these works I often had the sense of a meaning, a structure and a musical sense that remains just beyond my Western-trained comprehension. This music provides a great adventure for the adventurous listener, even when it seems partly hidden behind a veil of unfamiliarity.

santoor

Santoor

The most interesting work is Calligraphy No. 14, part of an ongoing series of works, also titled Âshoob. This work exists in two versions, both a little over 6 minutes in length, one for string quartet alone and one for string quartet and santoor, a type of hammered dulcimer found in Iran and India. For the recording, the santoor is played by Darius Saghafi, a medical doctor and master santoor player.

The version with santoor has an exoticism that is enchanting. The santoor gives the music a stronger profile than in the version for strings alone. For me this is the best track on the album, an engaging mix of Western and Eastern elements that fit comfortably together with no sense of unease.

I do not have the expertise to know how well the Carpe Diem Quartet handles the Persian elements in Vali’s scores, although it is clear that they play with confidence and commitment. They are a solid quartet, and in this unusual and challenging repertoire they have their parts well under control. Most likely a native Iranian will hear their playing differently than I do, but I find the result intriguing and engaging. At its best, this an adventurous and enjoyable album. Available here and here.

 

 

 

 

Colorado MahlerFest joins list of cancellations

The next festival will be in 2021

By Peter Alexander April 8 at 12:10 p.m.

MahlerFest01_square-01Colorado MahlerFest has announced the cancellation of this year’ festival events. The next MahlerFest will be held May 16–23 of 2021.

This year’s festival would have been the 33rd annual MahlerFest. The planned program, scheduled May 9–17, included a performance of Mahler Symphony No. 2, as well as Act One of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre and Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, among other works.

Instead, MahlerFest will present a selection of online content during what would have been this year’s festival week. Information on ticket refunds may be found on the MahlerFest Web page.

Kenneth Woods

Kenneth Woods

A release from MahlerFest included this statement from artistic director Kenneth Woods:

Cancelling this year’s festival was a particularly painful step. We had worked all year to put together what we all felt was the most dynamic and ambitious program the festival has ever delivered. MahlerFest, and the sense of fellowship and discovery it brings, has come to be one of the cornerstones of my professional life, and I shall miss all our musicians and our passionate and engaged audiences this year.

Plans for next year’s festival include a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. MahlerFest will return to the program planned for this year for the 2022 festival, including the Second Symphony and Act One of Die Walküre.