Boulder-area summer festival tickets go on sale

Central City Opera, Colorado Music Festival tickets now available for purchase

By Peter Alexander April 21 at 10:15 p.m.

Two area organizations have now put tickets on sale for their summer festival seasons. Both Central City Opera and the Colorado Music Festival had announced their summer seasons earlier, but now tickets to individual events may be purchased for both. Both festivals will take place more or less as in past years, but with some important changes in access and ticketing brough about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Central City Opera will present all of its performances this summer at outdoor venues. Two mainstage productions—Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel and Verdi’s Rigoletto—will be presented at Hudson Gardens in Littleton, Colorado. There will be three differently-priced seating sections: a “VIP Section” closest to the stage, with seats provided; and two areas on the lawn farther back from the Hudson Gardens Concert Amphitheater where patrons can bring their own chair or blanket. 

Concert Amphitheater at Hudson Gardens

A smaller production of Henry Purcell’s Baroque-era opera Dido and Aeneas will be performed in the Central City Opera House Gardens. Relatively few seats are available for these performances.

For more information and dates of performances, see the previous article on Central City Opera on this blog, or the Central City Opera’s 2021 Festival listing. 

Tickets for all three productions may be purchased through the Central City Web page or or by phone through the Central City Opera box office, at (303) 292-6700. Due to COVID, there are no in-person box office sales. Frequently asked questions (FAQ) for the 2021 Central City Opera summer festival are listed here.  

The Colorado Music Festival will return to their usual home at the Chautauqua Auditorium for all summer programs—a total of 22 performances—but because it is an indoor facility, the auditorium brings its own problems.

Chautauqua Auditorium

The CMF will address health concerns by selling tickets in “bubbles” of 2, 3 or 4 seats, with appropriate distance between the bubbles. All tickets within each bubble will be sold together, so there will be no single tickets available for the summer. Because the orchestra has to expand the stage to maintain safe distances between the musicians, the first six rows of seats will not be available. Most aisle seats will be held back as well.

A full chart of seats available for sale, as well as answers to ticketing FAQs, can be found here. For a description of the 2021 summer festival, you may read the previously published post on this blog, or consult the calendar on the CMF Web page. You may also purchase tickets through the CMF calendar page.

The AIDS Quilt Songbook Lives On: World Premiere in Boulder

Baritone John Seesholtz and the Sohap Ensemble will perform “Lost Songs”

By Izzy Fincher Tuesday, April 20 at 5:50 p.m.

Art can heal during times of pain and loss. Long before COVID-19, art was a powerful source of healing during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, still the country’s deadliest virus to date.

One example was The AIDS Quilt Songbook project, a musical response to AIDS from 1993 that still lives on today. Last year, baritone John Seesholtz, CU-Boulder’s director of vocal pedagogy, published the first volume of works collected after 1993 in a collection titled The Lost Songs of the AIDS Quilt Songbook.

Seesholtz then recorded the first volume with the Sohap Ensemble, a Boulder-based start-up founded by CU-Boulder alums in 2020. Their world premiere recording will be livestreamed at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 22.

This publication, more than a decade in the making, has been a career-long passion for Seesholt, He feels excited to finally share his work with audiences and musicians around the world.

“There was a calling inside me to get this work published and out to people,” Seesholtz says. “I feel good about finally having it out there.”

NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. From National Institutes of Health website – Public Domain

The AIDS Quilt Songbook was inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, a community art project that commemorates those lost to AIDs. Created in 1985, the project became a powerful tool for raising awareness during the AIDs pandemic, eventually growing to 48,000 panels and more than 54 tons.

Baritone William Parker, diagnosed with HIV in 1986, decided to create a musical equivalent to the quilt called The AIDS Quilt Songbook. He began commissioning art songs for baritone and piano that paid tribute to victims of AIDS. By the early 1990s, Parker had collected and published 18 songs from prominent American composers, including Ned Rorem, William Bolcom and Ricky Ian Gordon.

Since then, The AIDS Quilt Songbook project has continued to grow to more than 100 submissions. Since 1993, however, these newer songs have remained unpublished. Seesholtz began collecting songbook submissions while pursuing his docorate at the University of North Texas. As part of the LGBTQ community, he felt drawn to the music, which he described as a time capsule of the 1980s and ‘90s. 

John Seesholtz

“(The songbook) gives you a window into that time and what it felt like to be gay and to have this disease that others thought you deserved,” Seesholtz says. “People with AIDS went through not only physical pain but also shame.”

Last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, Seesholt decided to revive the project and publish the first volume of The Lost Songs of the AIDS Quilt Songbook. “I wanted the music to be a source of remedy, instead of filling the pockets of editors and publishers,” he says. All profits from the songbook will be donated to AIDS charities.

Unlike the original collection, which focused on pain, suffering and death of AIDS victims, this new collection explores how the survivors cope with loss and move through grief, knowing their loved ones are no longer suffering. The first volume contains five unpublished songs by Douglas Boyer, Craig Carnahan, Daniel Kallman, Evan Kuchar and songbook veteran Gordon.

For the premiere recording, Seesholtz will sing Death Spirals by Kuchar, which he first heard at a 2008 AIDS Quilt Songbook performance in Chicago. Death Spirals explores choosing to live in the present moment and the acceptance of death. 

“Kuchar focuses on how we choose to live,” Seesholtz says. “We can either focus on death and the end, or we can be present in the now.”

Sabina Balsamo

The other four songs will be performed by soprano Sabina Balsamo, the Sohap Ensemble’s co-founder and artistic director, and mezzo-soprano Christine Li, a CU-Boulder master’s degree student and Sohap Ensemble member.

Balsamo will sing Carnahan’s “Domination Of Black,“ based on Wallace Stevens’ abstract poem about crying peacocks in a fierce storm, and Boyer’s “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep,“ a touching plea for loved ones not to mourn the speaker’s death and to remember the beauty of their life. 

Li will sing Kallman’s “When I Am Dead, My Dearest,“ based on a poem by Christina Rosetti about the peacefulness of death, and Gordon’s “The Yoke.“

Christine Li

As part of the LGBTQ community, Li feels excited and honored to be a part of the premiere. She believes the songbook continues to be a tool for activism, by breaking down the stigma attached to those who are currently suffering from, or have lost loved ones to AIDS.

Li hopes hearing these songs will inspire empathy in listeners, even for those not directly affected by AIDS, and might even inspire them to raise awareness in their own communities. “There is this issue with (shunning) groups that are experiencing something tragic or traumatic,” she says. “It’s about having empathy for people that are suffering and struggling even if it doesn’t affect you.”

Despite the themes of grief and loss, she believes the music can be hopeful and uplifting, demonstrating the power of art to reflect the human experience. “There is a lot of hope in the music,” Li says.

“Even when the person’s physical life ends, they live on in a way because people remember them, creating music and art from the impression left on their hearts.”

After the April premiere, Seesholtz hopes to continue expanding The Lost Songs of the AIDS Quilt Songbook with further volumes, which he also plans to record with the Sohap Ensemble. Through their work, he hopes the songbook, like the NAMES quilt, can continue to be an ever-expanding living memorial.

# # # # #

The Lost Songs of the AIDS Quilt Songbook, Vol. 1
Sohap Ensemble with John Seesholtz, baritone

  • Douglas R. Boyer: “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep“
  • Craig Carnahan: “Domination of Black“
  • Ricky Ian Gordon: “The Yoke“
  • Daniel Kallman: “When I Am Dead, My Dearest“
  • Evan Kuchar: “Death Spirals“

Livestream at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 22, can be accessed here

Seicento Baroque Ensemble presents “Inspire Baroque”

Series of educational sessions are open to the public

By Peter Alexander April 7 at 6:50 p.m.

Imagine that you are leading a chorus. What do you do when a pandemic prevents you from presenting concerts, or even gathering for rehearsals?

If the chorus is the Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Boulder’s chamber choir devoted to the music of the early Baroque period, you might see this as an opportunity to expand knowledge and understanding of the Baroque style of music. You could, for examle, provide educational sessions designed to “demystify ‘Baroque Performance Practice’ in classical music and dance.” 

Seicento Baroque Ensemble with their director, Amanda Balestrieri (in blue)

In fact, that is exactly what Amanda Balestrieri, Seicento’s artistic director, decided to do this spring.

This intriguing appraoch allows safe distancing, since each session only requires a single presenter, and perhaps one or two other participants. It provides insight into the often arcane matters of early Baroque performance—knowledge that will benefit both the choir’s audience and their members. It allows Seicento to stay in contact with their supporters, and might attract the attention of potential new listeners.

The first of the “Inspire Baroque” series, as it is called—a class on Baroque dance—was held in March, but four sessions remain. The first of those remaining sessions, “Cellos & Viols and Students, Oh My!” will premiere on YouTube at 6 p.m. Friday, April 9.

Sarah Biber

For that session, Baroque and viola da gamba specialist Sarah Biber will explore and explain the viol family of instruments—bowed stringed instruments of the Renaissance and Baroque periods that are similar to, but distinct to the more familiar violin and its larger relations. Assisted by colleagues and students, Biber will use the “La Folia” theme, employed by many Baroque composers and familiar to Baroque music enthusiasts.

Other sessions of the “Inspire Baroque” series and their premieres will be:

—“Historic Organs Meet 21st-Century Tech,” 6–7 p.m. Friday, April 23. Using a Virtual Pipe Organ (VPO) setup, historical keyboard specialist Wesley Leffingwell will discuss organ history and music that showcases the versatility of a virtual instrument.

—“What’s Your Temperament (and why does it matter)?” 6–7 p.m. Friday, May 7. Organist and harpsichord performer Eric Wicks will venture into the complex and deeply mystifying subject of Baroque-era intonation and systems of tuning, and explain the ways that different temperaments affect the sound and expression of early music performances.

—“The Flute’s Pleasure Garden,” 6–8:15 p.m. Friday, May 21. Flutist and recorder specialist Rob Turner will present Baroque music written or arranged for unaccompanied recorder and transverse flute, using his extensive personal collection of instruments. The YouTube premiere of the “Inspire Baroque” session will be followed by a Q&A session by Zoom. 

Each session is free, with a requested donation to Seicento. You may sign up for the individual sessions here.

CU Faculty Member wins “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” Grammy

Violist Richard O’Neill, newest member of the Takacs Quartet, wins first Grammy award

By Peter Alexander March 22 at 3:51 p.m.

Violist Richard O’Neill, member of the CU College of Music faculty and the Takacs Quartet, has won the Grammy award for “Best Classical Instrumental Solo.”

His recording of Christopher Theofanidis’ Concerto for Viola and Chamber Orchestra with David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony (Albany Records TROY1816, released August 2020) was nominated along with these recordings: 
• pianist Kirill Gerstein playing the Thomas Adès Piano Concerto, with Adès and the Boston Symphony; 
• pianist Igor Levit playing the complete Beethoven piano sonatas; 
• violinist Augustin Hadelich playing “Bohemian Tales,” a collection of music by Dvořák, Janáček and Josef Suk, with Jakub Hrůša and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; and
• pianist Daniil Trifonov playing the Second and Fourth piano concertos of Rachmaninov with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

O’Neill was caught by surprise last year when the nominees were announced. This time, of course he knew that he was in the running for the award and when the awards would be announced, but he nearly got caught by surprise again. For one thing, he looked at the distinguished list of other nominees, and thought, ‘OK, we’re going to lose’.”

For another, the streamed Grammy ceremony was held Sunday, March 14, the same day that Boulder was under a heavy blanket of snow. O’Neill had arranged to attend the ceremony online, but Sunday morning his internet kept going out. “I was like, ‘How am I going to be able to Zoom if I don’t have internet?’” he says. He even planned to walk to his studio in the CU Imig Music Building if he had to—since he couldn’t get out of his driveway.

Finally, the internet came back on just in time, but the ceremony was running ahead of schedule. “There was supposed to be 30 minutes buffer, and then you’re on,” he says. “I tuned in and it was basically five minutes to go! So I was like, ‘Holy, bleep!’ 

“And when they said ‘the Grammy goes to,’ I almost burst into tears. I just wasn’t expecting it.”

Richard O’Neill

To keep the ceremony on schedule, each recipient is allowed just 30 seconds to thank everyone. “There’s a very conspicuous clock, and it started right as they announced my name. Basically, they’ll just cut you off! It’s very, very short, but I tried my best to get everybody thanked. It was a really great, great moment, and then my phone was going crazy with all my friends who were watching.”

After than, O’Neill was asked to enter the virtual press room to take questions, and later he had several interviews with press from South Korea, where he is very well known. He took a quick break to step outside and gather his thoughts and chat with his neighbors, who were all out clearing their driveways and had no idea that he had just won a Grammy.

This was O’Neill’s third nomination for a Grammy and his first win. He also has won an Emmy Award and an Avery Fisher Career Grant. He has an extensive record of working with living composers, including the premieres of works written for him. Theofanidis’s Concerto was written for the distinguished violist Kim Kashkashian in 2002 and revised for O’Neill in preparation of his performances and recording.

O’Neill joined the Takacs Quartet in June of 2020, replacing Geraldine Walther as the group’s violist. He has appeared in streamed performances by the quartet, and in a handful of concerts before small, distanced audiences, but has not yet appeared onstage before a live Boulder audience.

Reflecting on the past year, O’Neill says it has been tough. He moved to Boulder, he joined the Takacs Quartet and the CU faculty, planned tours as solo artist and with the Takacs were interrupted by the pandemic, and his mother has had breast cancer—“This has been a long haul,” he says. 

“It feels good to have something nice happen.”

A time for gratitude and sorrow

Remembering the musicians who passed in 2020

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

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

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

Jaap Schröder

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

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

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

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

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

Mirella Freni

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

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

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

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

McCoy Tyner

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

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

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

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

Doriot Anthony Dwyer

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

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

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

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

Krzysztof Penderecki

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

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

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

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

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

Lynn Harrell

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

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

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

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

Little Richard

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

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

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

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

Vera Lynn

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

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

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

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

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

Leon Fleisher. Photo by Eli Turner

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

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

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

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

Stanley Crouch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performers during the pandemic: Ashraf Sewailam

CU graduate had to postpone Metropolitan Opera debut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violist Richard O’Neill nominated for Classical music Grammy

Newest member of Takacs Quartet part of a very distinguished slate

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s just an incredible honor.”

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

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

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

Richard O’Neill

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

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

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

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

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

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

KEEPING INSTRUMENT REHEARSALS SAFE DURING COVID-19

CU-Boulder researchers investigate aerosols from wind instruments

By Izzy Fincher Nov. 1 at 1:45 p.m.

Is playing wind instruments safe during COVID-19?

It can be. But it requires a layered safety approach.

Researchers at CU-Boulder recommend masks with mouth slits, bell covers, efficient ventilation and social distancing protocols. These guidelines are intended to reduce wind instrument’s aerosols, a key to safe music-making during the pandemic.

CU Prof. Shelly Miller

The CU team, led by mechanical engineering professor Shelly Miller, began researching aerosols and music earlier this year. Miller’s initial research focused on the Skagit Valley choir rehearsal in Washington State as a COVID-19 super-spreader in March, showing that singing unmasked indoors spreads COVID-19 via aerosols.

In June, Miller and her team began to study wind instruments and aerosols in collaboration with researchers at the University of Maryland. This study was commissioned by an international coalition of over 120 performing arts organizations. Lead funders for the study include the NAMM Foundation, National Federation of State High School Associations, D’addario Foundation and College Band Directors National Association.

Aerosol emission from clarinet

The study’s preliminary results, released in October, include aerosol research for four instruments, clarinet, flute, horn and trumpet, and a soprano singer. Analyzing aerosol emission concentrations and flow pathways, the researchers confirmed that wind instruments produce aerosols as predicted.

“What we have been seeing in our data recently has been confirming what we saw earlier,” Tehya Stockman, a graduate student in mechanical engineering and clarinetist, says. “We just have more data now.”

Stockman has been working in Miller’s lab since the study began. She measures quantities of aerosol emissions, often using her own clarinet as she works, and compares different risk mitigation strategies including bell covers. She admits creating guidelines to reduce risk of aerosol transmission has been challenging with so many unknown factors.

“When you are thinking about the risk of getting COVID-19 from people playing music, there are so many different factors,” Stockman says. “It’s not just how far away you are from someone else. What does the ventilation system look like? Are you playing inside or outside? Are people wearing masks? There are so many factors that you can’t know for each situation. These guidelines are more strict, so it can be applied to a wider range of situations.”

Aerosol emissions from trombone

Whether rehearsing indoors or outdoors, basic guidelines apply: six feet of distance, masks and bell covers. Using computational fluid dynamics (CFD), meaning air flow simulations, researchers in Maryland confirmed the effectiveness of social distancing with six feet apart. Twelve feet for wind instruments and singers is a conservative estimate, to keep musicians even safer.

In order to reduce aerosols, two types of masks are recommended for rehearsals. A mask with a slit should be used when playing, and at all other times, especially when moving or talking, a normal mask should be worn.

Nylon bell covers decrease aerosols significantly, according to Stockman. Larger aerosols, which usually move in a straight line, are trapped by bell covers. Bell covers are especially important for straight-shaped instruments, such as a trumpet or clarinet, which have higher aerosol emission than curved instruments. Although smaller aerosols can follow air streamlines out of key holes, the quantity is much lower. 

Clarinet with full instrument cover

Further research on key hole aerosols will be included in the next round of results.

In terms of location, outdoor rehearsals are recommended. However, as winter arrives, this is no longer possible. When indoors, musicians should have HEPA filters installed and must consider the efficiency of the room’s HVAC systems. HVAC efficiency will affect the air exchange rate—the number of times air is replaced in a room each hour. 

To calculate the risk of a specific indoor rehearsal space, musicians can use CU’s Risk Estimator Tool. On average most spaces will have three air exchanges per hour. Using this assumption, researchers in Maryland created CFD simulations of risk for an hour in an indoor space. They found that infection risk increases little from 0 to 30 minutes, followed by a sharp increase of risk from 30 to 60 minutes. Thus, they recommend rehearsals should include 30 minutes of playing, followed by a 15 minute break, where musicians leave the room, allowing for nearly an entire air exchange to take place.

At CU’s College of Music, musicians are following these guidelines for the fall semester. For band and chamber music rehearsals, students can be seen with two masks and bell covers, playing six to 12 feet away from each other.

For Stockman, seeing the impact of her research for CU and the broader music community has been encouraging. As a musician herself, she knows the importance of in-person music-making and is happy that her research can help facilitate that.

“Some music programs were going to be cut completely from schools,” Stockman says. “Once they are cut, they are hard to bring back. But now quite a few of them didn’t have to be cut.

“Our research showed there are ways to play music safely.”

PRO MUSICA COLORADO’S 2020-2021 SEASON FOCUSES ON HEALING, DIVERSITY

The hybrid season will offer livestream and limited in-person tickets.

By Izzy Fincher Oct. 7 at 4:50 p.m.

Amidst the turmoil of 2020, we can turn to music for comfort.

“Music has such a capacity to heal,” Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor of Pro Musica Colorado, says. “It has the capacity to comfort. It has the capacity to connect us, to remind us of our humanity, and to remind us of who we are.”

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra with conductor Cynthia Katasarelis

Katsarelis planned Pro Musica’s 2020-2021 season in response to the grief and suffering of 2020, hoping to offer comfort and healing to the audience through music.

“Usually we program a year or more in advance,” Katsarelis says. “But now with this season we can respond to what is going on in the world. We decided this season needed works that were healing, comforting and joyful discoveries.”

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross

Katsarelis’ original plans for the season dissolved mid-summer. To comply with COVID-19 social distancing requirements, she had to find repertoire for strings without winds or vocalists. This reduced her options and forced her to look for local soloists on short notice. At that time, she also decided to offer the season as both a virtual and limited in-person experience.

The December program, originally planned to be Handel’s Messiah with the Boulder Chorale, was scrapped in favor of an all-strings program and a new soloist—Yumi Hwang-Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony. Katsarelis decided to open the concert with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Novellette No. 1 for string orchestra, a lesser-known work for musical discovery, before moving to familiar works by Vivaldi, Corelli and Dvořák to heal.

For February’s concert, “Rainbow Valentine,” Katsarelis also wanted to begin the program with new discoveries. First, Pro Musica will premiere a new work by Jordan Holloway, the winner of CU-Boulder’s Composition Competition. Then they will play Joseph Bologne’s Violin Concerto No. 9 with soloist Harumi Rhodes, the second violinist of the Takács Quartet, and finish with the comforting Serenade for String Orchestra by Tchaikovsky.

Katsarelis is most excited for the Bologne violin concerto and feels grateful that Rhodes agreed to perform it on short notice. “This violin concerto is swashbuckling,” she says. 

Harumi Rhodes. Photo by
Michael Barnes

“Harumi sets the room on fire when she opens her violin case, let alone when the bow comes to the string. The combination of this swashbuckling concerto and Harumi will be electric. It will pass through the internet to all those tuned in.”

For the final concert in May, aptly named “Springtime,” Pro Musica will collaborate with Nicolò Spera, director of CU’s classical guitar program, on a concerto (currently TBA). The program will also include Carter Pann’s Three Secrets in Maine and  the chamber version of Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Katsarelis feels the works by Pann and Copland are distinctly American and will offer familiar sounds as the season’s final comforting gesture. 

Appalachian Spring is such a quintessential American piece,” she says. “It’s a good piece to play at this time. It’s a piece that reminds us who we are. It is an American work that speaks to the best of American culture.”

For those listening to concerts virtually, Katsarelis recommends working on a high-quality audio setup.

“People might want to get in touch with their inner audiophile,” Katsarelis says. “If they haven’t experimented with connecting their computer to decent speakers, now is the time. It would really enhance the listening experience.”

Beyond the three concerts, Pro Musica will also stay engaged with the Boulder community, particularly in local elementary schools, during the season. They will collaborate with Boulder MUSE, a non-profit organization that provides free music lessons for underprivileged children. Pro Musica’s string quartet will perform music by diverse composers, especially composers of color, from their previous season for young musicians at Columbine Elementary School and University Hill Elementary School. 

For Pro Musica, issues of diversity and representation have always been important. Since their conception in 2007, Pro Musica has aimed to share “new voices from ethnically and racially diverse cultures,” according to their mission statement. This perspective is important with 2020’s focus on diversity. This season includes works by two black composers, Coleridge-Taylor and Bologne.

For Katsarelis, diversity in classical music is personally important. She is currently the only female conductor of a professional orchestra in Colorado.

“This is something I have done my entire career, going back to the mid-1990s,” she says. “It’s not new for me or for Pro Musica. We have been presenting music by female composers, composers of color and underrepresented voices. We have a mission of bringing forward voices that have been silenced unjustly. 

“Artistic grounds alone are enough to bring this music forward. This is great music that has a lot to say to us and can really speak to our hearts.”

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Pro Musica Colorado
2020-2021 Season
Limited tickets available for live performances
Live-stream tickets available for Saturday night of each program

Holiday Moods
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Yumi Hwang-Williams, violin

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Novellette No. 1
Corelli: Christmas Concerto
Vivaldi: “Fall” and “Winter” from The Four Seasons
Dvořák: Serenade for Strings

*7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield 
3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, First United Methodist Church, Boulder

Rainbow Valentine
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Harumi Rhodes, violin

Jordan Holloway (CU Composition Competition winner): World Premiere
Joseph Bologne: Violin Concerto No. 9
Tchaikovsky: Serenade for String Orchestra

*7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield
2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14,Mountain View United Methodist Church, Boulder

Springtime
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Nicolò Spera, classical guitar

Carter Pann: Three Secrets in Maine
Concerto TBA
Copland: Appalachian Spring (chamber version)

*7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield
2 p.m. Sunday, May 2, Mountain View United Methodist Church, Boulder.

*Livestreamed concerts

Purchase individual in-person or livestream tickets or 2020-21 season subscriptions for Pro Musica Colorado here.

Thomas Steenland dreams of a world without mp3

The story behind Boulder-based label Starkland 

By Izzy Fincher Oct. 1

“New music always stood out to me. I gravitated toward it,” Thomas Steenland says.

After 43 years in new music, the appeal hasn’t faded for Steenland. With his Boulder-based label Starkland, he continues to release genre-defying, innovative new music for adventurous listeners.

Thomas Steenland

Steenland established himself in Colorado’s new music industry in the 1970s. After graduating from the University of Colorado, he took over Owl Recording, Inc., a new-music label founded in 1976. Owl, the brainchild of Steenland’s professor Cecil Effinger, was one of the United States’ first major non-profit labels, a revolutionary idea in the music industry. Freed from industry norms, Owl pursued their mission of releasing new music LPs of “high artistic, educational or historical worth not otherwise available” with Steenland at the helm. 

After 15 years at Owl, Steenland’s entrepreneurial spirit grew restless, as he saw Owl’s legacy fade when CDs began to eclipse LPs. He decided to revamp Owl’s mission to meet technological advancements. This led to the creation of his own label in 1991, based in Boulder, which released CDs exclusively. 

“I think a label can be based anywhere,” Steenland says. “But I was here in Boulder and had connections that evolved out of my experience with Owl. It was an easy transition from running that label to forming my own label.”

He decided to name his label Starkland, a play on his last name Steenland (which means “stone land” in Dutch).

“I have always loved the word stark, and I wanted it to indicate that it was edgy music,” Steenland says. “It wasn’t easy listening, new-age music.”

The word stark certainly embodied the label’s mission. Stark means utter and sheer, suggesting an absolute commitment to new music. Stark means severe, harsh and sharp, suggesting the tendency of new music to challenge expectations. Stark also means desolate and barren, perhaps a nod to unexplored musical territory and the sparsely populated landscape of the new music industry.

Original album of Dockstader’s Apocalypse

Starkland’s first release, a reissue of composer Tod Dockstader’s LPs on CD, sat at the intersection of unexplored musical and technological territory. The CD reissue presented the audio, especially the bass, with greater depth and authenticity than the original LPs released 25 years earlier. The reissue garnered attention and rave reviews from critics.

From there, Starkland grew, releasing music by cutting edge composers including Paul Dresher, Jay Cloidt and Guy Klucevsek. Later, Steenland experimented with new audio techniques, notably surround sound in the 2000 release Immersion, which featured 13 experimental electroacoustic commissions.

Nothing was too extreme for Starkland, not even Elliott Sharps’ 2015 album The Boreal, a turbulent auditory experiment.

“I can’t say I have rejected anything because it’s too extreme,” Steenland admits. “There would be other reasons. Elliott Sharp’s album is very challenging to listen to. You have to be in the right frame of mind. But he’s a big name, and that album got over 30 reviews. He has fans, but it’s not easy listening.”

In the digital music age, Steenland has been forced again to adapt to technological advancements, this time unwillingly, as CDs fade away like Owl’s LPs, eclipsed by mp3 and digital streaming services.

“The big change is how music is presented and sold to the public,” Steenland says. “I made the transition from LPs to CDs and now from CDs to digital, but the music is a constant. I really enjoyed CDs because the sound was significantly better than LPs. Now CDs are going away, and it’s becoming a digital world.”

Steenland is not a fan of this new “digital world.” Frustrated by low quality audio, he dismisses millennials’ listening habits.

“People are more interested in convenience than quality,” Steenland says. “On Spotify or SoundCloud, the quality is really low. It’s a very different experience for the listener. Spotify’s data rate is about one-seventh of what a CD is. They are throwing away six-sevenths of the music. That’s discouraging when you worked really hard to make a beautiful sounding master tape.”

In the future, he believes 5G wireless will eliminate the need for mp3 by expanding current limits on storage capacity and data rate.

“I think if 5G comes in, that is incredibly faster,” Steenland says. “It can stream high resolution video in real time. That would mean it can also stream high resolution audio. Hopefully then mp3 will go away, and we can go back to listening to CD or even better quality.”

Amidst the pandemic, he admits little has changed for Starkland, as the label focuses on chamber music releases. Musicians do their own recordings in home studios or in a socially-distanced studio setting. The only issue is promotion, such as Starkland’s recent release of Danielle Buonaiuto’s Marfa Songs, a “problem everyone faces” in the 2020 recording industry, he says.

“When COVID-19 came in, Danielle could not have a release party in New York City. That was really unfortunate. [A release party] gives critics more reason to pay attention to the album. It’s a problem. It’s disappointing, but what can you do?”

Instead in 2020, Steenland chooses to focus on what he can control. So he continues his 40-year mission of releasing new music and pursuing the highest-quality sound, meanwhile dreaming of a day when mp3 goes away.

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You may access the full Starkland catalogs here.