Seicento Baroque Ensemble cancels 2020–21 season

Boulder’s latest COVID-19 casualty

By Peter Alexander

Boulder’s Seicento Baroque Ensemble, a choral performance group specializing in the music of the 17th century (“Seicento” in Italian) has announced that they will suspend all performances for the coming year.

The release from the organization states:

Because of the risk to our audience, singers, and guest artists, the Board has unanimously voted not to perform our normal fall concert this year, nor our normal spring concert in 2021. Members of the choir who are on the Board of Directors have expressed relief that they won’t be asked to rehearse and perform at a time that their health could be at risk, disappointment that they won’t be able to perform the music that they love, support for prudent planning, and hope for being able to resume singing when the pandemic passes.

Locally, Seicento is the first performing organization to definitely suspend all of next year’s concerts. Most other groups have delayed announcing their 20–21 season, anticipating the possibility of late starts in the fall. There is also widespread uncertainty about when and under what conditions groups will be allowed to bring audiences together, and to what extent audiences will be willing to gather.

Nationally, Broadway theaters in New York have suspended all performances until the start of 2021 at the earliest, and there is widespread uncertainty among performing groups about what will be possible.

Seicento Baroque ensemble

Coming later: a follow-up interview with Seicento artistic director Amanda Balestrieri about the group’s plan for restarting in the fall of 2021, and also life under quarantine.

Taking a summer festival apart: Central City Opera

“We will all work it out because that’s what we do.” —”Pat” Pearce

By Peter Alexander May 23 at 11:12 a.m.

CCO House stageCentral City Opera (CCO) was in a better position than most summer festivals when the Coronavirus pandemic hit.

“We were in the unique position of being able to pick this year’s season up and drop it into next season,” CCO artistic director Pelham (“Pat”) Pearce says from his home office in Denver. “While we had lots of things on hold [for 2021], we had not issued the first contract.“

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Pelham (Pat) Pearce in his basement office at home in Denver

So rather than outright cancel the three-work season that they had announced—Verdi’s Rigoletto, Rogers & Hammerstein’s Carousel and Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas—they simply postponed the entire season for a year. They could do that because of factors unique to an opera festival like Central City: They own their own facilities; they had planned only three works, rotated over the summer; and many of their employees apart from artists engaged for specific roles—the orchestra, stagehands, administrative staff and so on—are the same from year to year.

The singers engaged for the three works were offered the same roles next year. “Nobody out of any of the artists has wanted to pull out,” Pearce says. “Nobody has expressed a desire not to come and do this next year. And some of them did say that they’re excited that we didn’t cancel—especially the Carousel people, because they had invested a great deal of time learning dialog.”

In the past, Pearce noted, singers were often booked many years in advance, but since the economic crash of 2008–09, that has changed. “Because everyone had to deal with (having) so many contracts out when the bottom fell out in ‘09, that time span has shrunk for everybody,” he says. Not having future contracts to maneuver around was clearly an advantage.

As for the physical productions for the three works, the set and costume designs were done but nothing had been built yet. And since CCO owns their own opera house, there was no difficulty about dates or storage of supplies.

Like most summer festivals, Central City provides housing for the artists who come from out of state, but here again they were ahead of the game. “We own most of the housing we use,” Pearce says. “We were in the process of [arranging] for additional housing, which we ended up not having to do because we never signed the contracts.”

Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 2.18.03 PMThe main question became the timing of the announcement. “We decided to wait until we could wait no longer, and see where we were at that point,” Pearce says. “We had to roll back probably 30 days from the first day that we would be working in Central City—in the time frame when people would have to make travel arrangements, giving people at least a month’s notice that they were not going to be employed with us this summer.

“We were in a spot where if we went a week or so longer, we would start incurring things that we couldn’t get out of. But the important thing was that we waited as long as we could, and we could not see that the situation was going to change for the better.”

Like literally everyone else in the performing arts, Pearce and Central City Opera don’t know when audiences will be able—or willing—to return. “Until there’s a vaccine, frankly, we don’t know that we will have the ability to gather in large numbers again without any risk,” Pearce says. “Audiences will have a reentry period, probably, where they have to get used to being around other people and not having to be fearful.

“People will be reticent at the beginning, but our desire to engage and to consume art collectively is a very strong impulse, and I think that impulse remains. I believe that for our experience—music and theater—live is the primary experience. That is the true and honest experience of humans exchanging information and telling stories.”

Another way that CCO differs from other festivals is that within their home community, they are only a very small part of a huge economic engine: tourism. “We drive between 15 and 20,000 people up there, over [the summer], but the casinos represent somewhere between 80 and 90%” of Central City’s economy, Pearce says. “That revenue is how the city’s budget is paid for. It’s going to be very difficult for them.”

Pearce acknowledges that much remains unknown about when and how Central City and other opera companies around the country will get back to what looks like “normal.” There are too many uncertainties to make solid predictions.

“There are so many things that normally are fixed that all of a sudden became very fluid,” he says. “We know that something will happen that will allow people to gather again. It always has been that way and it will go that way again. So we fully intend to be in business next summer.

“We will all work it out because that’s what we do. We’re creative people and we are creative problem solvers. We will work it out.”

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Central City Opera House. Photo by Ahsraf Sewailam.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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.”

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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.

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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.”