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.”

# # # # #

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.

# # # # #

You may access the full Starkland catalogs here.

Longmont Symphony’s virtual fall season celebrates orchestra’s return

“(Re)Sounding! 2020 Reimagined” opens Oct. 11 with Bach and Mozart

By Peter Alexander Sept. 29 at 12:45 p.m.

Elliot Moore is more than ready to get back to work.

The conductor of the Longmont Symphony designed the orchestra’s fall season to celebrate playing together again after COVID forced the suspension of the last season in April. “It’s been a very long pause for us,” he says. “It’s been a very long pause for every single orchestra across the country, across the world really, and we wanted to have a celebration that our sounds continue.”

Longmont Symphony conductor Elliot Moore

In that spirit, the LSO is calling the fall half-season “(Re)Sounding: 2020 Reimagined.” There will be two concerts featuring a small orchestra—cut down to observe safe distancing—and two programs featuring guest artists.

The orchestra was on the brink of canceling the rest of 2020, but “I kept thinking about how we could do (a fall season),” Moore says. “There’s so many constraints now, so the idea that I had was to have bookends that are the orchestra—but it has to be obviously a very small orchestra. That already is a large constraint.

Violinist Caroline Campbell

“And in the middle of our fall season, I wanted to showcase soloists that would enhance the season, and who even though they’re in their homes and not in Longmont, would still be a draw for our audience. To that end I picked an incredible violinist named Caroline Campbell, who is the go-to violinist for many artists including Barbara Streisand and Andrea Bocelli. She has had videos on YouTube with 34 million views.”

For the other guest artist, Moore selected pianist Nathan Lee, who won the Young Concert Artists International Audition at 15. Still in his teens, he is a musical ambassador to younger audiences. “He is just a beautifully thoughtful, poetic musician and pianist,” Moore says. “I thought not only would he be a draw for our patrons, but also that may be a way to get him virtually in the schools to talk with students.”

Following each solo performance, there will be a live Q&A session with the guest artist, speaking from their home, with Moore serving as moderator from Longmont.

Pianist Nathan Lee. Photo by Chris Lee.

Both LSO performances will be recorded in the Longmont Museum in advance of the online broadcast. The orchestra will play music by Bach on Mozart on Sunday, Oct. 11, including Bach’s Concerto for two violins, featuring the LSO’s new concertmaster and associate concertmaster, Benjamin Ehrmantraut and Kina Ono. The opposite bookend, Sunday, Dec. 13, will be a holiday program with music from Handel’s Messiah with four solo singers performing solo pieces, and joining together for the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

“I think that it’s imperative that we give [the audience] not only a good sound quality, but also a good visual quality,” Moore says. Having worked on streamed performances by the Detroit Symphony, he is working with the cameramen in planning the streams. “We’re talking about different shots, different camera angles and even more than that,” he says. 

“I’m also speaking with someone who’s going to be our host, so we can have a curated experience. These are all new things for us, but I have full confidence in the staff of the Longmont Symphony, and with our collaborators from Longmont Public Media, who are working so beautifully with us to bring all of this to life.”

Both individual concert and fall season virtual tickets are available from the LSO Web page. Each virtual ticket allows the holder to view the performance at their convenience, starting at the listed performance times. Each performance will be available for a period of time after the premiere.

# # # # #

(Re)Sounding: 2020 Reimagined
Longmont Symphony
(Streamed performances; admission through the LSO Web page)

Bach “Double” and Mozart “Salzburg symphonies”
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With Benjamin Ehrmantraut and Kina Ono, violins

J.S. Bach: Concerto for two violins and orchestra, BWV1043
Mozart: Divertimento in D major, K136
Divertimento in B-flat major, K137
Divertimento in F major, K138

4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11

“Los Angeles to Longmont”
Caroline Campbell, violin
Program tba
4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25

“Seattle to Longmont”
Nathan Lee, piano
Program tba
4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25

Handel’s Messiah, Solo Sections
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With four vocal soloists to be named later

Handel: Messiah solo pieces
“Hallelujah” Chorus

4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13

Boulder Philharmonic has a full season for 2020-21—all of it online

Players are currently rehearsing and recording six of the eight programs

By Peter Alexander Sept. 21 at 10:30 a.m.

There were airplanes coming and going at the Boulder Municipal Airport last week, there were mechanics working on airplanes, pilots picking up brake fluid for airplanes—all the activity you would expect.

And there was an orchestra.

Members of the Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman rehearse in the Brungard Aviation hangar at Boulder Municipal Airport Sept. 15.

In fact, the Boulder Philharmonic was busy rehearsing their fall 2020 season in the Brungard Aviation hangar. It’s not usual activity at the airport, but if the pilot picking up brake fluid was taken aback, he didn’t show it.

This is part of the Boulder Phil’s answer to keeping the music alive during the pandemic. As conductor Michael Butterman explains, he and the orchestra spent several months looking for a way to have a 2020–21 season.

“This is probably the 40th iteration of ‘20–‘21,” he says. “Throughout the summer we kept changing our thoughts about what we’re going to be able to do.”

They finally found a way to stream the season online. Seven of the eight concerts will be available individually or by subscription through the Boulder Phil Web page. The eighth concert, the holiday program, will be available free with voluntary contributions. Each concert will be available for a limited time after its online premier. (See the full schedule below.)

Who are those masked violinists? Rehearsals in the time of COVID.

To rehearse and record, Butterman realized, the players would have to be safely distanced and most playing with a mask. For that to be possible, they would have to use a reduced orchestra, mostly strings, and they would have to have a large space. For the former, there is a lot of available repertoire, but where would they find an appropriate space?

Michael Butterman at rehearsal in the Brungard Aviation hangar, Sept. 15

“It occurred to me that we have had galas at an airplane hangar at Rocky Mountain Airport,” Butterman says. “We ended up locating an opportunity at Boulder Municipal Airport, at Brungard Aviation’s hangar, and we’re grateful to them for that.”

Over a two week period—Sept. 15–20 and Sept. 22–27—players from the orchestra will rehearse and record for later streaming six of the eight concerts scheduled for the season. There will be three rehearsals and one three-hour recording session for each program.

The last two concerts—one a collaboration with the CU-Boulder Department of Theatre and the other with Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance—will be recorded later. That gives flexibility in working with the collaborating organizations and keeps open the possibility that some kind of live performance might be possible by the end of the season.

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Two artists who have appeared with the Boulder Phil in the past—pianist Simone Dinnerstein and cellist Zuill Bailey—were invited to collaborate in chamber or chamber orchestra performances. “Zuill and Simone are wonderful to work with,” Butterman says. “The fact that we’ve had them both to Boulder already, and that they’ve been very popular with our audience, they were obvious choices.”

Zuill Bailey

To make the video recordings, the Boulder Phil recruited the service of sound and video engineer Michael Quam. There will be 10 cameras recording each piece, providing a wide variety of camera angles for the streamed performances.

Streamed concerts offer both a challenge and an opportunity. “This season may offer opportunities for greater access for some people,” Butterman says: “anybody who has problems with transportation, who has a schedule conflict Saturdays at 7:30, who lives far enough from Boulder that they don’t want to drive in.” And of course the hope is that the convenience of being able to see concerts on demand will attract new audiences 

The necessity of limiting the number of performers led to some thoughtful  programming. For example, during the years after World War I and during the Spanish flu, Stravinsky and other composers did not have access to large orchestras. Instead, they wrote music for smaller groups, including Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat for seven players, which is ideal for the pandemic year. It will be on the April 3 program. 

Other works will be performed in arrangements for reduced ensembles, such as Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony on April 24, arranged for a string sextet, and Ellen Taaffe Zwillich’s Cello Concerto, which the composer re-arranged for chamber ensemble, on March 13.

In fact, Butterman says, “the idea of this being a re-imagined season is embodied in each of the programs. We’re presenting pieces that themselves have undergone some amount of transformation. In the case of Vivaldi (recomposed by Max Richter, on the Oct. 17 concert), that’s obvious. The least obvious example is the Bach concert (Nov. 14), but any time you’re playing Bach on piano, that is a bit of a re-imagining.

“We’re obviously retooling the concert experience. I think there’s some very, very strong upsides to that, including bringing you inside the experience, and making the access wider.”

And if they find new fans among the mechanics at Brungard Aviation, or pilots that need brake fluid, so much the better.

# # # # #

Boulder Phil 2021: Reimagined
All performances streamed online
Tickets available through the Boulder Phil Web page

Vivaldi Recomposed
Michael Butterman, conductor
Charles Wetherbee, violin

Jesse Montgomery: Strum
Benjamin Britten: Simple Symphony
Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons

Available from 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17

The Beauty of Bach
Simone Dinnerstein, pianist and conductor
Christina Jennings, flute, and Charles Wetherbee, violin

J.S. Bach/Philip Lasser: Erbarm’ Dich
J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor
Keyboard Concerto in D minor
Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D major

Available from 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14

Happy Holidays from the Phil
No tickets required; contributions welcomed
Available from 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13

Zuill and Zwillich
Zuill Bailey, cello, with Michael Butterman and Jennifer Hayghe, piano

Rachmaninoff: Vocalise  for cello and piano
Ellen Taaffe Zwillich: Cello Concerto (chamber version)
Schubert: Piano Quintet in A major (“The Trout”)

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23

Mozart and Mendelssohn
Simone Dinnerstein, piano

Scott Joplin: “Solace” and “Bethena”
Mozart/Ignaz Lachner: Piano Concerto in C major, K467
Mendelssohn: Octet for Strings

Available from 7:30 Saturday, Feb. 13

A Celebration of Cello
Michael Butterman conductor, with Zuill Bailey, cello

Debussy/Schoenberg: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Schumann/Philip Lasser: Cello Concerto in A minor
Paul Trapkus: Trio for Three Violins
Giovanni Sollima: Violencelles, Vibrez!
Wagner: Siegfried Idyll

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 13

The Soldier’s Tale
Michael Butterman, conductor 
CU Department of Theatre and Boulder Ballet

Stravinsky: L’Histoire du soldat (The soldier’s tale)

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 3

Beethoven 6 and Frequent Flyers
Michael Butterman, conductor
Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance

George Walker: Lyric for Strings
Korine Fujiwara: Suite from Claudel
Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F major (“Pastoral”; arr. for string sextet by M.G. Fischer)

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24

“Music and Moore,” a classical-music TV show for young and old

Shows feature conductor Elliot Moore, the Longmont Symphony and a Beethoven wig

By Izzy Fincher Sept. 15 at 11:10 a.m.

Elliot Moore had to reimagine the 2020-21 season. It started with a TV show. 

“I have always had a belief that we need to bring the art to the people, not that the people have to come to the concert hall,” Moore, the conductor of the Longmont Symphony Orchestra, says. “We need to make the artists, who perform the music, accessible to the public. Due to social distancing, I thought to myself, a television show is a way of bringing the music to the people.”

Elliot Moore, host of “Music and Moore”

This led to the creation of the program “Music and Moore,” produced by the Longmont Symphony Orchestra and Moore. New episodes are released every other week in partnership with Longmont Public Media.

Hokusai: “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”

The first episode, released Aug. 21, explores Smetana’s symphonic poem Vltava, known in English as The Moldau.Composed in 1874, The Moldau depicts the longest river in Bohemia, or today’s Czech Republic, a source of national pride for Smetana. Continuing the theme of water, the second episode, released Sept. 4, focuses on Debussy’s La Mer (The sea) and his inspiration from Hokusai’s print “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” Both episodes include LSO’s own archived performances from 2018, filmed and produced by Phil Huff. 

Moore also diversifies the show with other content. He believes music alone is not enough outside of the concert hall, so he hopes to create “a fusion of Mr. Rodgers meets world news tonight,” allowing for “depth with entertainment and educational value,” he says.

The show has a bit of everything—music history, comedic relief, coffee-making, interviews, archived performances, new virtual collaborations and a fan Q&A. He even dresses up as Beethoven with a scraggly brown wig and vaguely German accent, to make the show “feel a little bit less isolating,” he says.

Moore hopes the Beethoven persona and fun approach to classical music will engage a younger audience. He says he wants to “create connections between school children and the Longmont Symphony.” Learning packets for each episode, created by music educators, also increase engagement and serve as an educational resource for local K–12 students and teachers. 

Elliot Moore in his more familiar role, conductor

Beyond Longmont’s youth, Moore hopes to reach a wide audience in terms of age and classical music knowledge. 

“I’m not sure if it matters how old you are,” Moore says. “I think it can be pretty easily understood from a third grader to a musicologist. It’s fun, and it’s light in a way they can relate to. What I hope is that it breaks down some barriers. It can be sophisticated, but at the same it is very basic and very human. It’s something we all experience.”

In future episodes, Moore hopes to move beyond music history to relevant topics of social justice, classical music stigmas and diversity. He also looks forward to in-person conversations on “Music and Moore” when the LSO can safely resume, though Beethoven will still be his favorite co-host.

#####

“Music and Moore”
Featuring Elliot Moore, the Longmont Symphony and “Beethoven”

Episode 3 to be released Sept. 18. 

Zack Reaves has had a lot of free time since March

Former Altius Quartet cellist has new skills, and online posts to prove it 

By Peter Alexander Sept. 14 at 3:55 p.m.

Zack Reaves did a lot of traveling until the pandemic hit.

Cellist Zack Reaves

The former cellist of Boulder and CU’s Altius String Quartet moved to Los Angeles last year. “I was still playing with Boulder Phil, but then I began a temporary teaching position at Oklahoma City University,” he says. “I was flying back and forth between LA and Oklahoma City while I was still playing some concerts in Colorado, so it was kind of a crazy year.”

All of that came to a sudden halt in March. Like most musicians, he no longer had work. And like many others, he started recording himself at home and posting the results online—but he had one big advantage over most classical musicians. The cello can play from the bass register way up into the range of violins. Cellists have always taken advantage of their wide range by arranging everything from Rossini overtures to Sousa marches for cello ensembles.

Reaves took the obvious next step: arrange pieces for five or six cellos, and then record all the parts himself. So far, he has two pieces posted online, with more to come. Currently available are Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G minor, op. 23 no. 5, arranged for six cellos, and the Passepied from the Suite Bergamasque by Debussy, arranged for five cellos, both performed entirely by Reaves.

“It’s definitely a lot of work,” he says of the process of creating videos. First he has to arrange a piece for cellos, then learn and record all the parts, then do the editing to pull them together into a single tiled video, with all of his performances perfectly synchronized.

Zack Reaves x 6, playing Rachmaninoff

“The first few videos that I did, I was l just home,” he explains. “I didn’t have any work that I had to be at, so I [thought] ‘I’m just going to do this until it‘s done!’ I would start recording in the morning and work on it all day, and a couple of videos I worked on until 4 in the morning.

“It was completely unreasonable,” he admits, and with his wife’s urging he has cut back. “Now I take a couple of weeks on a project.”

The first album by the Altius Quartet; Zack Reaves on the far right

The arranging part of the process was something Reaves had done before. He had made arrangements for the Altius Quartet, in particular for their first album, Dress Code, and in other contexts over the past seven years. “I really enjoy it,” he says. “To me it’s kind of like putting together a puzzle.”

So will there be more completed puzzles showing up online? “I’m hoping to build up an online presence, so I definitely plan to do more,” Reaves says. “I try to pick songs that I enjoy, and ones that I think will work. The next one that I plan to do is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen.”

Reaves’s string sextet version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was presented by the Altius Quartet and guests several years ago in a Dairy Center concert, and he created an all-cello version last year for his students in Oklahoma. They never got to perform it publicly, but his last visit to Oklahoma before the pandemic included a rehearsal with the entire cello studio.

At this point in the process of learning to make online videos, Reaves sees positives as well as the obvious negatives of the pandemic. “I will say that the pandemic is forcing musicians to think outside the box, especially classical musicians,” he says. 

“We are not always known for our creativity. I for one am enjoying learning some other skills: working on my arranging, and learning the technical skills. The more I perfect that skill, more opportunities it opens for me in the long run.

“You need to improve as many things are you’re capable of. That’s what I’ve always been about.”