2019: Many farewells in the music world

Remembering some of the fabulous musicians we have lost

By Peter Alexander Dec. 28 at 3:20 p.m.

Below are listed some of the musicians we lost in the past 12 months. There is kind of melancholy symmetry to the fact that Carol Channing, famous for the role of Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly, is the first person in the list, and Jerry Herman, that evergreen show’s composer and lyricist, is the last.

These are just the names that caught my eye. Feel free to add any names that have been overlooked.

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Who else? Carol Channing

Jan. 15: Carol Channing, the instantly recognizable Tony-winning platinum blond who became permanently associated with the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello Dolly, a role she revived at the age of 74, 97

Jan. 17: Theo Adam, German bass-baritone known for Wagnerian roles including Hans Sachs and Wotan, which he sang at Bayreuth, the Wiener Staatsoper and the Metropolitan Opera, 92

Jan. 26: Michel Legrand, arranger and composer of hundreds of film scores, known especially for the music for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and “The Windmills of your Mind” from The Thomas Crown Affair, 86

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Sanford Sylvan as Chou En-lai

Jan. 26: Sanford Sylvan, American baritone who was particularly memorable in operas by John Adams, including as Chou En-lai in Nixon in China and Leon Klinghoffer in Death of Klinghoffer, 65

Feb. 20: Dominick Argento, celebrated composer of songs, choral music, and 14 operas including Postcard from Morocco and Casanova’s Homecoming, 91

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Hilde Zadek

Feb. 21: Hilde Zadek, Austrian soprano who sang at the Wiener Staatsoper from her remarkable debut as Aida—without ever having previously studied the role or even sung onstage—in 1947 until her retirement in 1971, and at other major houses world-wide, 101

Feb. 28: Andre Previn, pianist/composer/conductor whose career spanned jazz, pop and classical music, and who once received three Academy Award nominations in a single year (1961), 89

March 1: Joseph Flummerfelt, American choral conductor known for collaborations with the New York Philharmonic and other orchestras, who also trained younger choral conductors at the Westminster Choir College, 82

March 3: Peter Hurford, British organist, composer and choir director known for his performances of J.S. Bach and a complete recording of Bach’s organ works, 88

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J.H. Kwabena Nketia

March 13: J.H. Kwabena Nketia, Ghanaian scholar and composer who was recognized as the leading scholar of African music, well known to anyone who studied ethnomusicology in the past several generations, 97

March 15: Michael Gielen, German conductor known for his performances of contemporary music and radical productions he led at the Frankfurt Opera, 9

March 16: Dick Dale, guitarist whose left-handed, upside-down playing technique and Lebanese ancestry contributed to his famed “Surf Guitar” style, featured in in the hit song “Misirlou,” 81

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Marilyn Mason

April 4: Marilyn Mason, concert organist and teacher at the University of Michigan for a remarkable 67 years, and a champion of music by living composers, 93

April 5: Sam Pilafian, virtuoso tubist who played everything from classical to jazz, helped found The Empire Brass, taught with exuberance and earned ecstatic reviews everywhere he worked, including Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, 69

April 16: Jörg Demus, Austrian pianist who made more than 350 recordings; accompanied Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Elly Ameling, and other major vocalists; and performed classical-era four-hand works with Paul Badura-Skoda, 90

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Doris Day singing ‘Que será, será” in The Man Who Knew Too Much

April 22: Heather Harper, Northern Irish-born soprano known for her performances of Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes and other roles in Benjamin Britten’s operas, as well as repertory from the Baroque to the 20th century, 88

May 13: Doris Day, born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff, a singer who was compared to Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra before she became the perpetually chaste star of films including Pillow Talk and That Touch of Mink, 97

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Dr. John

June 6: Dr. John, the six-time Grammy winning New Orleans pianist, singer and songwriter whose musical gumbo blended everything from Mardi Gras flamboyance to voodoo mystery, and whose real name was Malcolm John Rebennack, Jr., 77

 

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Franco Zeffirelli’s Turandot

June 15: Franco Zeffirelli, Italian film and opera director who brought lavish, extravagant productions to the Metropolitan Opera and other houses around the world, including popular versions of Carmen, La Bohéme and Turandot (1987) at the Met, 96

June 15: Michael Jaffee, co-founder with his wife Kay of the Waverly Consort, which got its start preparing music for a graduate musicology class at New York University and went on to become one of great popularizers of early music, 81

June 23: Spiro Malas, a bass with a long career in supporting roles at the New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, who found fame as Tony Esposito in the 1992 Broadway revival of The Most Happy Fella, 86

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Vivian Perlis

July 1: Sid Ramin, a lifelong friend of Leonard Bernstein who won both an Oscar and a Grammy for his work orchestrating West Side Story, 100

July 4: Vivian Perlis, founder of Yale University’s Oral History of American music, an archive of 3,000 recordings collected over more than 40 years with interviews of composers and other important musicians including Aaron Copland, Elliot Carter, Duke Ellington and John Adams, 91

July 6: João Gilberto, the recording artist and songwriter credited as the creator of the complex Brazilian song style known as bossa nova (“the new thing”), 88

July 9: Aaron Rosand, violinist who performed worldwide and whose students won many major violin prizes, and who sold his Guarneri del Gesù violin for $10.1 million, of which he gave $1.5 million to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, 92

July 12: Robert Orth, an American baritone known for creating roles in new operas, having sung the premieres of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, Ricky Ian Gordon’s Grapes of Wrath, and Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick, among many others, 72

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Ben Johnston

July 21: Ben Johnston, American composer, an advocate of just intonation, a longtime faculty member at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, whose best known work, string quartet/variations “Amazing Grace,” was performed by several groups including Kronos, 93

July 25: Anner Bylsma, Dutch cellist who won the Pablo Casals International Competition, served as principal cellist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and became known for his historical performances of Baroque music, 85

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Hal Prince

July 31: Hal Prince, the legendary Broadway producer and multiple-Tony winner who collaborated with Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and others, and produced and/or directed shows including West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Sweeney Todd and Phantom of the Opera, 91

Aug. 17: Rosemary Kuhlman, mezzo soprano who sang the role of Amahl’s mother in the 1951 world premiere telecast of Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors on NBC, a role she sang for many years and that led to a career at New York City Opera, 97

Aug. 23: Mario Davidovsky, Pulitzer Prize-winning Argentine-American composer known for combining live performance with electronics, former head of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, 85

Sept. 17: Harold Mabern, a Blues and jazz pianist, composer, recording artist and teacher who worked with “Cannonball” Adderley, Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton and others over a long career as a self-described “”Blues player with chops,” 83

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Christopher Rouse

Sept. 22: Christopher Rouse, Pulitzer- and Grammy-winning composer of vivid, energetic and often loud orchestral works that grew out of his enjoyment of rock music and his studies with George Crumb, 70

Sept. 23: Myron Bloom, principal horn of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell, later principal of the Orchestre de Paris and faculty member of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, 93

Sept. 25: Paul Badura-Skoda, Austrian pianist who was known for his elegant and refined performances, who overcame an early prejudice against period keyboard instruments to record the complete sonatas of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert on both modern and historical instruments, 91

Sept. 29: Martin Bernheimer, the ruthless and feared, but also widely respected music critic of the Los Angeles Times, where he won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for criticism and twice won the ASCAP Deems Tayler Award, as well as the Financial Times and other outlets, 83

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Jessye Norman

Sept. 30: Jessye Norman, exceptional dramatic soprano who performed leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala and other major houses, became the youngest winner of Kennedy Center Honors in 1997, received the National Medal of the Arts and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was a Commander of the French Order of Arts and Letters, 74

Oct. 4: Diahann Carroll, tony-winning singer and actress, for whom Richard Rodgers wrote a part in No Strings after he saw her in Harold Arlen’s House of Flowers, and who then went on from success in musicals, to her first move role in Carmen Jones, and finally became the first black woman to have her own TV show, Julia, 84

Oct. 22: Raymond Leppard, English conductor who made a reputation reviving early Baroque operas, tailoring them to what he considered modern tastes rather than recreating original performances (which he called a “faddish pursuit”), then went on to conduct orchestras in St. Louis, Manchester and Indianapolis, 92

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Chou Wen-Chung

Oct. 25: Chou Wen-Chung, Chinese-born composer who taught for many years at Columbia University, one of the first composers to blend Asian and Western sounds in his scores and was called “the godfather of Chinese contemporary music” by his student, composer Tan Dun, 96

Nov. 24: Juan Orrego-Salas, distinguished Chilean-American composer who taught composition for 26 years and co-founded the Latin-American Music Center at Indiana University, 100

Nov. 30: Mariss Jansons, Latvian conductor who led the Bavarian Radio Symphony and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and whose touring appearances around the world were widely anticipated, 76

Dec. 12: Dalton Baldwin, American pianist who was known and widely admired as a recital accompanist to some of the greatest singers of his time, including Elly Ameling, Frederica von Stade, Jessye Norman, Nicolai Gedda and Gérard Souzay, 87

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Cover of Christmas album by Peter Schreier

Dec. 25: Peter Schreier, German lyric tenor and conductor who trained in East Germany and performed more than 60 opera roles in major opera houses world wide, and whose final performance in 2005 was Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in Prague, in which he both conducted and sang the role of the Evangelist, 84

Dec. 26: Jerry Herman, composer of notable Broadway musicals about vibrant women—Hello, Dolly and Mame—and notably the first musical featuring gay lovers, La Cage aux Folles, winner of many awards including Tonys for Dolly and La Cage, which also won the Tony for best revival in both 2004 and 2010, 88

NOTE: Edited to correct typos, 12/28 and 12/29

 

 

 

Bahman Saless takes the night off

Italian guests bring their own Christmas music to the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

By Peter Alexander Dec. 19 at 11:20 p.m.

Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) has some holiday surprises planned for a concert Saturday (Dec. 21) that opens with music by Mozart. And one of the surprises is that the group’s music director, Bahman Saless, will not lead the performance — which is fine with him.

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Arturo Armellino will conductors the BCO

“Tell people that Bahman is not conducting this,” he says, laughing. “It will sell out!”

The concert, titled “Un dono di musica” (a gift of music), will be led by a guest artist from Italy, conductor Arturo Armellino. Appearing with him as a guest artist will be bassoonist Luciano Corona, who will play Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto on the Mozart half of the program. The concert will be Corona’s U.S. debut appearance.

Hopefully, it will not come as a surprise to the audience that the concert time has been changed. Originally announced at 7:30 p.m., the concert will start an hour earlier, at 6:30 p.m., in the Boulder Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

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Luciano Corona will play the Mozart Bassoon Concerto

The first half of the concert will be all Mozart: Symphony No. 33 in B-flat major, and Bassoon Concerto in B-flat major. Both are first performances for the BCO.

For the second half of the concert, they will perform Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in G minor for strings, subtitled “fatto per la notte di Natale” (made for the night of Christmas) and popularly known as the “Christmas Concerto.” The rest of the performance will comprise music for Christmas to be announced from the stage.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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“Gift of Music/Un dono di musica
Boulder Chamber Orchestra
Arturo Armellino, conductor, with Luciano Corona, bassoon

Mozart: Bassoon Concerto
Mozart: Symphony No. 33
Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto Gross in G minor, op. 6 no. 8 (“Christmas Concerto”)
Christmas selections to be announced from the stage

6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21
Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton, Boulder

Tickets

A beloved staple of the holiday season in a new medium

Eklund Opera brings ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ to the Macky stage

By Peter Alexander

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Photo by Glenn Asakawa for the University of Colorado Eklund Opera Program

It’s a Wonderful Life, a new opera by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, started its performance life with a workshop at CU Boulder in 2016, then went to its world premiere in Houston, followed by performances in Indiana and San Francisco, and now it returns to Boulder.

Based on the much loved film of the same title, the opera will be presented this weekend (Nov. 15–17) in a completely new production by the CU Eklund Opera Program. The student orchestra will be conducted by Nick Carthy. Leigh Holman, head of Eklund Opera, will direct the student cast.

“To take it home to Boulder is special, because we workshopped it there, and made so many artistic decisions in the process of creating it there,” Scheer says.

It’s a Wonderful Life was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera, Indiana University and San Francisco Opera. Essentially the same production was used in all three locations. After Houston, Scheer and Heggie trimmed, streamlined and improved the opera in various ways. Eklund Opera will therefore present only the second physical production in the latest version of the opera.

The opera follows the basic story of the film, which tells of George Bailey’s despair and thoughts of suicide on Christmas Eve. He is rescued by an angel who shows him all the people he has touched in his life, and what his hometown of Bedford Falls would have been without him. The 1946 film, directed by Frank Capra, has become a beloved staple of the holiday season.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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It’s a Wonderful Life
An opera by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer
CU Eklund Opera

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15 and Saturday, Nov. 16
2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17
Macky Auditorium

Tickets

 

Meet the Ivalas Quartet

New CU Graduate Quartet in Residence will play free concert 

By Peter Alexander Nov. 7 at 11:40 a.m.

The Ivalas Quartet only recently arrived in Colorado, but if you follow classical music you will be hearing about them soon.

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Ivalas Quartet: L-R Anita Dumar, Reuben Kebede, Pedro Sanchéz, Aimée McAnulty, rehearsing at the CU College of Music. Photo by Peter Alexander.

That’s because they are the new graduate string quartet-in-residence at the University of Colorado College of Music, studying with the Takács Quartet. And they are very good — but don’t take my word for it. They will play their first full concert program in Boulder at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 18, at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church. The performance is free and open to the public.

Their program fits the standard format for student recitals — or, for that matter, most professional string quartet concerts: A classical period quartet (in this case, Haydn’s Quartet in D major, op. 71 no. 2); a 19th century quartet (Beethoven’s String Quartet in E minor, op. 59 no. 2, the “Second Razumovksy” Quartet); and one work that is more recent or less known (the First String Quartet by 20th century American composer George Walker).

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Ivalas Quartet
Reuben Kebede and Anita Dumar, violin; Aimée McAnulty, viola; Pedro Sánchez, cello
7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, 2425 Colorado Ave., Boulder

Haydn: String Quartet in D major, op. 71 no. 2
George Walker: String Quartet No. 1
Beethoven: String Quartet in E minor, op. 59 no. 2

Free and open to the public

 

Seicento Baroque Ensemble presents “Praise and Lamentations” Nov. 8 & 10

‘Beautiful, inspired’ choral music from the 17th century

By Peter Alexander Nov. 6 at 11:15 p.m.

Amanda Balestrieri’s family just got a lot larger.

The conductor of the Seicento Baroque Ensemble thinks of the choir as family, and they just added 20 new members for their 2019–20 season. “We had just over 20 [singers] last time, and we’ve got over 30 this time,” she says.

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Amanda Balestrieri with Seicento from a past season

“It’s like having a third of your family new family members. It’s been really exciting to greet this new group of people and the atmosphere is great and everyone is very devoted and I think it’s wonderful!”

The expanded “family” will have its debut with a concert titled “Praise & Lamentation: Sacred Music of the Early Baroque,” to be performed in Boulder Friday and Denver Sunday (Nov. 8 and 10). Seicento will be accompanied on the concert by an ensemble of two violins, two violas da gamba and organ. Members of Seicento will play recorder to supplement the ensemble for some pieces.

The program is divided into two sections: “The Croatians,” featuring music by little known composers Vinko Jelić and Ivan Lukačić; and after intermission, music by Franz Tunder, Heinrich Biber and Salamone Rossi, all of whom are well known to scholars of the Baroque, if not to general audiences.

All of the composers on the program were active in the 17th century, the early years of the Baroque style, which is Balestrieri’s performance specialty and the focus of Seicento (the name means 17th-century).

Musical programs get created in many ways. Sometimes, as in the case of some selections on “Praise & Lamentation,” the conductor selects some favorite pieces and arranges compatible pieces around them.

And sometimes the conductor gets a random email from a distant country.

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Amanda Balestrieri

That is exactly what happened with Balestrieri while she was planning the concert. “I received an email from someone in Croatia,” she explains. “It just said, ‘would your ensemble be interested in performing these works by Croatian Baroque composers?’ So I wrote, ‘Tell me more!’”

It turned out that the email came from a retired Croatian architect who has copies of music that is known in Croatia, but largely unknown elsewhere. “Radio choirs in Croatia have done recordings [of their works] that you can find on YouTube, but there’s not a lot of information about these composers,” Balestrieri says

Both composers travelled around Europe, and particularly to Italy, which was a center for the development of the Baroque musical style. “They heard this music and a lot of what was happening in Italy was also happening elsewhere,” Balestrieri says. “So when you listen to this music you would think you were listening to Monteverdi”—the leading Italian composer of the time. “It’s that style of writing.”

The main difference from Monteverdi and others of the time, she says, is that “there are a few unusual harmonies in there. And the other thing you should listen for is the use of female voices” for the phrases of chant that are included in some of the pieces. It was more common for phrases of chant to be assigned to the men’s voices.

The second half of the program came from Balestrieri’s interest in separate settings of Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon.” She knew of the two settings, one in German by Tunder (An Wasserflüssen Babylon) and one in Hebrew by Rossi (Al naharot bavel), and thought it would be fascinating to juxtapose the two on the same program.

“I wanted to do the two settings that contrast so beautifully, one very guttural setting and one beautiful setting,” she said.

But the two settings contrast in other ways than their language and musical style. Tunder sets the first part of the Psalm, which is entirely a lamentation: “We sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. . . How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Rossi’s setting adds the final lines of the Psalm, which are a violent call for revenge: “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed. . . Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

The inclusion of those texts then led Balestrieri to add the “praise” part of the program, to provide balance for the audience. “I always try to make sure that there’s some kind of flow in the emotions,” she says. “If you’re going to go into the depths, you also want to have something uplifting, so that people have a more balanced experience.”

The rest of the program then consists of music by Tunder, by Heinrich Biber, and by Rossi. “It’s almost like a catharsis in the middle of the program,” Balestrieri says.

Salamone Rossi

Salamone Rossi

All three composers have attracted Balestrieri’s attention in the past. Of the three, Rossi is a particularly interesting figure in the history of Baroque music. An Italian Jewish musician, he was employed by the Catholic court of Mantua as concertmaster of the court orchestra, where he heard and played the music of the leading composers of the time.

Rossi’s own works include instrumental pieces and choral settings of Jewish liturgical music in the original Hebrew language—an entirely novel development in his time, and one for which he had to have the permission of the Rabbi. Seicento has sung his music before, and Balestrieri loved it. “The music itself is so beautiful, I wanted to program more of it,” she says.

The concert as a whole mostly comprises music that will be unfamiliar to anyone who has not studied the music of the 17th century, but Balestrieri wants you to know that she doesn’t chose pieces just because the are unknown. “My main criterion is the music has to be really good,” she says. “It’s not a question of just finding any old music that people haven’t heard.”

On this concert, she says, the music she found “is really solid and beautiful and inspired.”

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble

“Praise & Lamentation: Sacred Music of the Early Baroque”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri, conductor
Music by Vinko Jelić, Ivan Lukačić, Franz Tunder, Heinrich Biber and Salamone Rossi

7:30 p.m. Friday, Mov 8, First United Methodic Church, Boulder
3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, Our Merciful Savior Episcopal Church, Denver

Tickets

Cellist Adrian Daurov joins Longmont Symphony for Shostakovich Concerto

LSO extends its Beethoven symphony cycle with “Eroica” Nov. 9

By Peter Alexander Nov. 4 at 4:50 p.m.

The Longmont Symphony’s current cycle of Beethoven symphonies enters a new phase next Saturday (Nov. 9), when the full orchestra performs the popular Third Symphony, known as the “Eroica,” in Vance Brand Civic Auditorium.

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LSO and Eliot Moore in Vance Brand Civic Auditorium

The first and second symphonies were performed by the LSO’s smaller chamber orchestra in Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum. The Third, however, was a breakthrough work for Beethoven and the history of the symphony. It is larger in every way than any previous symphony—longer, more intense—and as such needs a larger venue and larger performing forces.

It will be performed Saturday on a program with Shostakovich’s daunting First Cello Concerto, played by Russian-born cellist Anton Daurov. Opening the concert will be the very rarely heard Prelude in Unison from Georges Enesco’s Suite No. 1 for orchestra.

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Elliot Moore

The Enesco score is, as the title says, entirely for strings in unison, with occasional punctuation from a timpani. “The Prelude in Unison is a piece that called out to me because there’s something about everyone playing in unison,” LSO conductor Elliot Moore says.

“There’s something that’s very moving about all of those string voices being one, while they’re all singing the same thing. How their voices come together is very beautiful, very moving. It’s a beautiful thing to experience.”

The Cello Concerto occupies a special place for both Moore and Daurov. Moore is a cellist as well as conductor, and both he and Daurov grew up listening to recordings of the concerto by the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom it was written.

“It’s one of the pieces that made me really fall in love with classical music,” Moore says. “It’s just an incredible masterpiece for the cello.”

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Adrian Daurov

Daurov confirmed the concerto’s reputation as one of the most difficult pieces in the cello repertoire. “It’s emotionally as well as musically hard,” he says. “There’s a lot of work for the brain as well as the fingers.

“From the first there is not a moment to relax. Even in the slow movement it’s not like your nice and Romantic slow movement than you can just enjoy playing. You really need to build the tension throughout. It’s challenging.”

Unlike most concertos, Shostakovich’s Concerto No.. 1 has a lengthy, fully written out cadenza that leaves the soloist completely exposed. “Not many concertos have a in-written cadenza for 10 minutes in the middle of the piece,” he says.

“You sit in front of people in front of you in the hall, and 100 people behind you in the orchestra, and you have to play this really musically and emotionally challenging cadenza when you are already tired from the first two movements.”

Daurov does feel a special connection to the concerto having grown up in Russia. Like Shostakovich, he attended the St. Petersburg Conservatory. “He went up the same steps and studied in the same classrooms that I did,” he said. “The atmosphere was there and I captured the spirit of the epoch that he was in.”

Because of that connection—and how well he plays the concerto—it is a piece that Daurov is often asked to perform. “I’ve played it with many, many different orchestras,” he says. “I love playing it, I never get tired of it.”

For Moore, Beethoven’s Third Symphony represents a major turning point for the symphony in general. “The ‘Eroica,’ is so much larger than the first or second symphony, or any symphony really that came before it,” he says. “It is the work that ushered in the romantic period. It’s where he breaks new ground.

“It’s big, and I’m really thrilled with what all the musicians are bringing to this performance. I think that the orchestra is bringing a lot of heart and soul and vigor to making this performance something that really is heroic work”

“I think it’s going to be really exciting how we bring these notes off the page!”

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Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor
With Adrian Daurov, cello

Georges Enesco: Prelude in Unison
Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1
Beethoven: Symphony No 3 (“Eroica”)

7:30 pm. Saturday, Nov. 9, Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont

Tickets

Boulder Phil guest pianist/composer López-Gavilán elicits cheers and applause

Butterman flavors an intriguing program with fiery expression

By Peter Alexander Nov. 4 at 12:15 a.m.

Last night (Nov. 3), conductor Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic brought their audience a remarkable piece of music that is likely unlike anything they had heard before.

Lopez Gavilan

Aldo López-Gavilán

The piece in question is Emporium: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra by the Cuban composer/pianist Aldo López-Gavilán. Butterman first heard Emporium on the radio and was captivated. His description of the piece as having bits and pieces of Philip Glass, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Prokofiev, and the Downton Abbey theme music, among other things, is both intriguing and apt.

As the title suggests, Emporium contains many things, all presented with a Cuban accent. With so much going on, it expands most listeners’ understanding of what a piano concerto might sound like. Last night it was performed by Phil with the composer as the engaging soloist.

The opening movement is dramatic and powerfully scored for both orchestra and piano. At one point I was thinking, ‘are we supposed to hear the piano?’ As the music built to a crashing climax, López-Gavilán, for all his obvious strength as a pianist, disappeared into the overall sound, only to emerge again as the music subsided toward a gentle close.

The impressionistic second movement blends, according to the composer’s notes, a Cuban revolutionary song with American country music as a symbol of peace between peoples. It is a beautiful, impressionistic movement and was beautifully played with lyrical exchanges between pianist and orchestra. The driven, exciting finale got an incisive performance from orchestra and soloist, and elicited raucous approval.

López-Gavilán is an exciting and energetic performer of stunning technical ability, and he is a composer of imagination. He returned to hold the audience spellbound with an astonishing, dense, intricately rhythmic encore that again was unlike anything you are I have likely heard. More cheers, whistles and shouts followed.

The concert opened with Ryan Alaniz, a 9-year-old 4th-grader, delighting the audience as guest conductor while the orchestra played “America the Beautiful.” The audience was invited to sing along, but no one in my section took up the invitation.

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Michael Butterman

Next was Astor Piazzolla’s Tangazo, a piece that Butterman likes to perform. It is one of the few pieces he has repeated with the Phil, but this time there was a twist: dancers Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne of the Boulder Tango Studio performed their own choreography in the narrow space between the orchestra and the edge of the stage.

Their performance was a free dance that responded to the changing moods and tempos of Piazzolla’s music. Like the score, the dance had tango elements throughout. I am not a dance critic, and I am not going to prove it by writing more, except that it was fun to see how artists from another medium responded to Piazzolla’s music. I and the rest of the audience enjoyed their dramatic flair.

After intermission, the orchestra performed Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes. With each variation devoted to specific solo instruments, it gives the orchestra’s section leaders an opportunity to display their virtuoso skills.

From the opening soulful theme presented by harp and solo cello, through the sequence of variations for woodwinds, strings and brass soloists, the players responded to the challenge. Every solo dazzled. The final variation for full orchestra, set in the style of the high-voltage gaucho dance the malambo, was particularly dynamic.

The concert concluded with Ravel’s ubiquitous Bolèro. Everyone has heard this, in concert, in films and TV, in ice-skating competitions, and almost anywhere else music is used. The Phil’s performance provided what it is called for: a long, slow, carefully controlled crescendo, from the whisper of snare drum at the beginning until the sudden key change that is now so familiar it no longer surprises. Butterman and the players paced the performance nicely, never letting tempo or volume get out of control.

After the appropriately noisy conclusion, Butterman brought forward the snare drummer—who was stationed center stage throughout—for his own bow. After alternating two variations of the same one-measure rhythmic pattern for 15 minutes (or 16 or 17 depending on tempo), he deserved to be applauded.

The Boulder Philharmonic sounded as good last night as I have heard. The strings sound was smooth and warm and at times glossy. The winds played with precision and all the necessary flair in their solos. Butterman brought out the colors and the fiery expression of this intriguing program, which made for a fascinating and enjoyable evening.

CORRECTED Nov. 4 to add the name of the guest conductor, Ryan Alaniz.