Boulder Chamber Orchestra offers a journey from darkness to joy

Beethoven Ninth Symphony is the culmination of BCO’s 13th season

By Peter Alexander

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Bahman Saless with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. Photo by Keith Bobo.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has become the ultimate summit for many in the musical world: conductors, orchestras, singers and audiences.

The symphony, and especially the last movement with its text proclaiming that “all men become brothers,” has become equal parts an artistic, spiritual and political icon of Western culture. It the first choice for orchestras celebrating everything from an important anniversary up to the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, when Leonard Bernstein conducted a multi-national performance in the city where the wall had once stood.

As the culmination of their 13th season, the Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra reach that summit Friday at Macky Auditorium, with additional performances in Lakewood Saturday and Lone Tree Sunday. Performing with the BCO will be the Boulder Chorale and soloists Szilvia Schranz, soprano, Rebecca Robinson, mezzo-soprano, Jason Baldwin, tenor, and Malcolm Ulbrick, bass.

As it has for many orchestras, the Ninth closes the cycle of the Beethoven symphonies for the BCO. It’s a large undertaking for a small orchestra, but it was a goal that Saless and the BCO could not pass up.

“It’s the last Beethoven symphony we haven’t done yet,” Saless says. ”We sat together with the board and said ‘Well, we’ve done all the eight, what are we going to do next?’ So it just kind of made sense from a historic point of view.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony/Ode to Joy
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
Boulder Chorale
Szilvia Schranz, soprano, Rebecca Robinson, mezzo-soprano, Jason Baldwin, tenor, and Malcolm Ulbrick, bass

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 5, Macky Auditorium, Boulder (Unity Concert)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6, Lakewood Cultural Center, Lakewood

2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Lone Tree Arts Center, Lone Tree

Tickets

 

 

Once ‘the twain shall meet’ at The Dairy

Reena Esmail brings Indian and Western music together

By Peter Alexander

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Composer Reena Esmail joins East and West. Photo by Rachel Garcia.

“East is East and West is West,” Rudyard Kipling famously wrote, “and never the twain shall meet.”

Kipling never met Reena Esmail. A composer who is thoroughly trained in both Western and North Indian classical music, she comfortably combines the two in her personal experiences and work. And bringing that cross-cultural blend to a broader public has become her mission.

Together with composer/percussionist Payton MacDonald, Esmail leads Shastra, an organization that aims to musically overthrow Kipling’s poetic decree. Or as the website states, Shastra “connects musicians working in both the Indian and Western musical traditions.”

Esmail and MacDonald bring their boundary-breaking project to the Dairy Arts Center in “Shastra! Indian/Western Fusion,” a concert featuring Front Range artists. “It’s basically a single evening of artists who do this kind of collaboration,” Esmail says. “It’s musicians but there’s also dance.”

In addition to the concert, The Dairy will present MacDonald’s film Sonic Divide in the Boedecker Theater. The film documents MacDonald’s 2016 bicycle ride along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, from Antelope Wells, New Mexico, to Banff, Canada. He rode the 2,500-plus mile route alone, stopping along the way to perform music composed specifically for the event.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

Mixing things up on CD and at the Dairy

From Led Zeppelin to Haydn with the Altius Quartet

By Peter Alexander

The Altius Quartet likes to mix things up.

nv6078-dresscode-frontcoverThe string quartet in residence at the CU College of Music, Altius just released a new CD, Dress Code, which does just that, in original and unexpected ways. And they have a concert Saturday at the Dairy Arts Center, “The Many Faces of the Altius Quartet,” that aims in part for the same goal (details below).

“Part of our identity from the getgo has been, how do we introduce people to classical music who otherwise wouldn’t set foot in a concert hall,” cellist Zachary Reaves says. “When we were still in college we would play shows in pubs, and we’d start with Led Zeppelin or whatever. We’d immediately follow it with a Haydn quartet. It was amazing how people’s reaction to Haydn was when they knew we also played Hendrix.”

Ever since the Kronos Quartet broke that ground in the 1970s, a lot of ensembles have mixed popular music with contemporary and standard classical pieces. Altius goes beyond that, in both the CD and the Dairy program, by scrambling the classical pieces in creative ways.

Take the play list for Dress Code. Just like their pub sets, it includes both Led Zeppelin and Haydn. But the Haydn Quartet—Op. 74 no. 1—is spread across the disc, with other pieces between the movements. Those other pieces include Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” as well as three rags by William Bolcom and other pop arrangements.

That description doesn’t quite do justice to the quirky and slyly subversive playlist. Apparent stylistic whiplash is better conveyed by the whole list—and even better by hearing the CD from beginning to end.

  1. Haydn: String Quartet in C major, op 74 no. 1, I. Allegro Moderato
  2. Dave Brubeck/Michael Jackson: Take it (arranged Reaves)
  3. William Bolcom: Graceful Ghost Rag
  4. Led Zeppelin: Stairway to Heaven (arr. Reaves)
  5. Haydn: String Quartet in C major, op. 74 no. 1, II Andantino grazioso
  6. Bolcom: Poltergeist Rag
  7. Haydn: String Quartet in C major, op. 74 no. 1, III Menuetto
  8. Bolcom: Incineratorag
  9. Ben E King: Stand by Me (arr. Reaves)
  10. Haydn: String Quartet in C major, op. 74 no. 1, IV Vivace
  11. a-ha: Take on Me (arr. Reaves)

Altius.1“The idea was that instead of putting all four movements of the Haydn together, for maybe a millennial to skip over, to intersperse it, while giving a taste of what a string quartet sounds like,” Reaves says. “In the arrangements, we try to sound like a classical ensemble, playing pieces that people are familiar with. Then, when they get used to that sound, listening to a Haydn quartet is not so weird.“

The same aesthetic applies in the program for the Dairy. In this case the most unorthodox program choice is a set of Beethoven scherzos, from three different string quartets: Op. 18 no. 6, Op. 59 no. 1 (“Razumovsky”) and Op. 131—one early quartet, one middle and one late.

This idea was hatched between Reaves and James Bailey, curator of the Dairy’s music series. “Bailey’s become a great friend,” Reaves says. “He and I will just talk about ‘What kind of weird things can we do?’ This program is a brainchild between him and me, showcasing how (Beethoven’s) style in general but also specifically his style in scherzos evolved over his entire career.”

The program also includes Through Fog, a piece written for the Altius Quartet by J.P. Merz, who was a masters composition student at CU when he wrote it. “We performed it at Carnegie Hall in November,” Reaves says. “It’s been a huge hit.”

For a portion of the concert, the members of Altius will be joined by violist Stephanie Mientka and cellist Matt Zalkind to perform three sextets: Atlantic Jigpipe by Mientka’s brother Gabriel; Reaves’s arrangement of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody; and Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night).

If the stylistic mix sounds disorienting, I should note that the decisive playing of the Altius moderates the stylistic dislocations. Played with conviction and stylistic clarity, Haydn and Queen sit comfortably together on the same stage.

This is in the quartet’s toolkit, no doubt because, as Reaves says: ”We all grew up listening to so many different kinds of music that it’s hard to pick one.” But it is also a mark of their solid training and great musicianship that Dress Code is an artistic success as well as a milestone in the young quartet’s career.

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Altius has been in Boulder for nearly three years, working with the Takacs Quartet. They will shortly complete their residency, but they plan to stay in the Boulder area as they pursue a career as a professional string quartet. “We’ve kind of fallen in love with area,” the quartet’s cellist, Zachary Reaves, explains. “Being close to the mountains, but aside from that, we’ve met a lot of great people here and made a lot of really good contacts.”

In addition to Dress Code, they have also recorded an album of music by Shostakovich, which will come out in the fall. In the meantime, they will celebrate the first album with a CD release party 7 p.m. Thursday, April 13, at Caffè Sole, 637R South Broadway in Boulder (Broadway and Table Mesa Drive).

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Dress Code. Altius Quartet: Joshua Ulrich and Andrew Giordano, vioins; Andrew Krimm, viola; Zachary Reaves, cello. Navona Records NV6078

One Night Only: “The Many Faces of the Altius Quartet
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8, the Gordon Gamm Theater, Dairy Arts Center

Atlantic Jigpipe by Gabriel Mientka
3 Scherzos by Beethoven
Through Fog by J.P. Merz
Bohemian Rhapsody by Freddie Mercury
Verklärte Nacht by Arnold Schoenberg

Tickets

 

Pro Musica concerts, and season, culminate with Beethoven’s “Eroica”

From Creation to love and death to triumph in just three concerts

By Peter Alexander

Pro Musica

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra

Cynthia Katsarelis first played Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony when she was 16. Since then she has played it, and conducted it, dozens of times, but she still feels she has more to learn.

“That’s what’s so great about great music,” she says. “Every time I look at it there’s something new that I discover.”

Photography by Glenn Ross. http://on.fb.me/16KNsgK

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

Katsarelis’ latest opportunity to look at the “Eroica” comes this weekend, when it will be the culmination of not just a pair of concerts in Denver and Boulder (details below), but in fact the whole 2016–17 season of the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra.

The Pro Musica’s season opened in October with a performance of Joseph Haydn’s Creation. A second concert in January paired a joyful symphony by Schubert with Shostakovich’s dark meditation on death in his 14th Symphony. And now Beethoven: in Katsarelis’s description of the season, “We started with creation, we went into love and death, and we come out in triumph.”

The concerts Friday and Saturday will open with the world premiere of a new piece by CU composition student Egemen Kesikli, Weltschmerz (world-weariness or world’s pain). Also on the program is Carl Nielsen’s neo-classical Flute Concert, performed by CU flute professor Christina Jennings. The concerts will end, after intermission, with Beethoven’s Symphony.

A piece about world weariness and resignation seems like a strange place to begin a concert titled “Triumph,” but Katsarelis thinks it fits right in. “It’s great because we get to kind of replay the arc of the season within the concert,” she says. “We are starting from pain, finding joy in the Nielsen, and overcoming in the Beethoven. It’s a microcosm of the season.”

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Egemen Kesliki

Weltschmerz was commission by Pro Musica Colorado. The CU composition faculty selected scores by several students, which they presented to Katsarelis. Based on the scores she saw, she selected Kesikli to write a new piece for the 2016–17 season.

“It’s a really beautiful piece,” she says. “It has some interesting effects—playing with the wooden part of the bow, raindrop effects that some players do with their left hand, violin parts that are written in eight different parts. It will have an interesting sound to it, and the piece has a nice arc to it.”

Nielsen is best known for his expansive, lushly Romantic symphonies, but Katsarelis stresses that the Flute Concerto is not like those works at all. “It’s really a charming, neo-classical piece,” she says.

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Christina Jennings

“I guess mercurial is the word for it. You think it might be a majestic piece, but then it has these charming 1/16-notes with off-beats in the accompaniment, and then it goes on to a really sweet melody. It covers a range of emotions, and does it rather quickly. So it’s very mercurial, but it’s fun.”

Beethoven’s Third Symphony is one of the best known works in the classical canon, and Katsarelis says it is one of the greatest symphonies ever written. It was longer and more powerful than any symphony written before. But what makes it great, Katsarelis says, is the way Beethoven’s personal struggles turned the symphony into a universal statement of triumph.

It was written soon after Beethoven discovered that he was going deaf, and that his deafness would only get worse. Rather than give in to thoughts of suicide, he turned his suffering into music that speaks of overcoming pain and hardship.

“He says it’s his art that keeps him alive,” Katsarelis explains. “He makes peace with the deafness, and out of that despair he enters his ‘Heroic’ period. The sense of Beethoven bringing the inspiration of heaven starts with the opening chords of the ‘Eroica’.”

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Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Mähler, painted around the time of the Eroica Symphony

It is also well known that Beethoven originally intended to dedicate the symphony to Napoleon, until he crowned himself emperor. Out of disillusionment, Beethoven violently removed the emperor’s name from the cover page. “When Beethoven scratched out the dedication to Napoleon and made it to ‘a great person,’ he turned it into something universal,” Katsarelis says.

The universality of the symphony’s message can also generate personal impact. “It gets personal, as certain pieces do,” Katsarelis says. “I was playing in an orchestra when my grandmother died. I missed one rehearsal, and when I got back we were doing the Eroica and the first thing we rehearsed was the funeral march.

“I see it personally, but I also see it universally. I think the personal connection helps me to see the universal.”

Katsarelis says that “everybody should come” to the concert, because the message of Beethoven’s music is still relevant today. “The triumph in Beethoven’s Eroica was more aspirational than accomplished, even when Beethoven wrote it,” she says.

“I think that taps into our aspirations today, and can really ignite our inspiration to strive for a better world, in just being the best that we can be.”

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“Triumph”
Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra of Colorado
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Christina Jennings, flute

Egemen Kesikli: Weltschmerz (world premiere)
Carl Nielsen: Concerto for Flute
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op. 55 (“Eroica”)

7:30 p.m. Friday, April 7, First Baptist Church, 1371 Grant St., Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8, First United Methodist Church, 1412 Spruce St., Boulder
Pre-concert talk, 6:30 p.m. both evenings.

Tickets

 

Opening the door to classical music

World premiere, Berlioz’s fever dream and Liszt’s evocation of doom 

Josh Bell, Quicksilver Baroque on the 2017–18 CU Presents Series

By Peter Alexander

Quicksilver

Quicksilver Baroque Ensemble

CU Presents, the performing arts series on the University of Colorado, Boulder campus, has announced several noteworthy classical music events as part of the 2017–18 season.

Josh Bell by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Josh Bell. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzocco.

Among these are a solo recital by award-winning violinist Joshua Bell Feb. 9, 2018, and a concert by the historically informed Quicksilver Baroque Ensemble April 20, 2018. The yet-to-be-selected winner of the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition will perform a solo recital Nov. 3, 2017. This year’s competition will be held in Ft. Worth, Tex., May 25–June 10.

Other Artist Series events in Macky Auditorium will include the Martha Graham Dance Company, Oct. 5, 2017; jazz and R&B vocalist Dianne Reeves Dec. 16, 2017; and Béla Fleck and Brooklyn Rider Jan. 20, 2018.

This season also features five concert pairs by the Takács Quartet and a performance by CU Boulder’s current graduate quartet-in-residence, the Altius Quartet. The Eklund Opera Program’s season features productions of Franz Lehár’s Merry Widow Oct. 27–29, the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd March 16–18, and Handel’s Ariodante April 26–29.

The full CU Presents season is listed below. More information is available on the CU Presents Web page. Season ticket sales begin Monday, April 3 at 10 a.m., and single tickets will be available beginning Monday, Aug. 14. Tickets will be available here, or over the phone at 303-492-8008.

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CU PRESENTS 2017–18 SEASON

Artist Series at Macky Auditorium

Martha Graham Dance Company
Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017

The Triplets of Belleville
Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves

Van Cliburn Gold Medal Winner
Friday, Nov. 3, 2017

Dianne Reeves 
Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017
Holiday Concert

Béla Fleck and Brooklyn Rider
Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018

Joshua Bell
Friday, Feb. 9, 2018

Ailey II
Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018

Lila Downs
Saturday, March 3, 2018

RUBBERBANDance
Saturday, March 24, 2018

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Holiday Festival in Macky Auditorium

Quicksilver Baroque Ensemble
Friday, April 20, 2018
Stile Moderno: 17th Century Italy

Holiday Festival
Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017, 4 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, 4 p.m.
Macky Auditorium

Eklund Opera Program

The Merry Widow
By Franz Lehár
(Sung in German with English surtitles)
Friday, Oct. 27, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, 2 p.m.
Macky Auditorium

Sweeney Todd
By Stephen Sondheim
Friday, March 16, 2018, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 17, 2018, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 18, 2018, 2 p.m.
Macky Auditorium

Ariodante
By George Frideric Handel
Thursday, April 26, 2018, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, April 27, 2018, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 28, 2018, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 29, 2018, 2 p.m.
Music Theatre, Imig Music Building

Takács Quartet

Takasce SQ

Takacs Quartet

Chamber Series (sold out by subscription)
Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, 4 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, 4 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, 4 p.m. (Altius Quartet)
Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, 4 p.m.
Sunday, March 11, 2018, 4 p.m.
Sunday, April 29, 2018, 4 p.m.
Grusin Music Hall

Encore Series (limited availability)
Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 30, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, 7:30 p.m. (Altius Quartet)
Sunday, Feb. 5, 2018, 7:30 p.m.
Monday, March 12, 2018, 7:30 p.m.
Monday, April 30, 2018, 7:30 p.m.
Grusin Music Hal

Evanne Browne says farewell with Handel

Seicento performs two early psalm settings composed in Italy

By Peter Alexander

Seicento 3

Seicento Baroque Ensemble

Over the weekend—Friday to Sunday, March 24–26—Evanne Browne will conduct her farewell concerts with Seicento, the Baroque performing group that she founded only six years ago.

Evanne Browne 009a Color

Evanne Browne

The program comprises entirely music by Handel, including settings of Psalm 110, Dixit Dominus, and Psalm 117, Laudate Pueri. Both are set for choir and soloists with strings and will be accompanied by a small orchestra of period instruments, including harpsichord and small organ. There will also be sections of secular cantatas to fill out the program. Performances will be in Denver, Boulder and Estes Park (see below for details).

“It’s my last concert, but it’s the beginning of a new energy with Seicento,” Browne says. “We’re financially sound, we’re finishing the sixth year, and we’ve been well received. People say, ‘oh, that’s your baby,’ but the baby has grown up and is ready for a new influence.”

Interviews have already been held for a new director and auditions will be conducted next week. Browne said the board hopes to announce the new director in April.

Browne moved to the Washington, D.C., area, where she had lived and worked before coming to Boulder, in September and has travelled back to Colorado for all the Seicento’s concerts this year. In the meantime, she has been singing professionally and teaching in the D.C. area since her move.

balestrieri

Amanda Balestrieri

She picked the program for the concert before she knew it would be her last with Seicento, but the choice is appropriate. “I have known Dixit for along time and wanted to do it,” she says. “Dixit is one of his most incredible choral pieces, and both pieces are chorally flamboyant, and difficult choral singing. If you think Messiah has lots of runs, Dixit is that times two or three.”

The second Psalm setting, Laudate Pueri, was pointed out to Browne by Mark Alan Filbert, who has served as musical director in Browne’s absence this year. Both pieces were written in 1707, when Handel was 22. He was living in Rome, where the Pope had banned opera but sacred music filled the void. Roman choirs of the time seem to have been particularly capable, which explains the difficulty of the music in both Psalm settings.

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Kathryn Radakovitch

While living in Italy, Handel “was influenced by Corelli and other Italians,” Browne says. “He was into an Italian expressiveness, which is so much about word painting and florid vocal lines. And the crunchiness of the dissonances is very Corelli-like. He took that style into his later works, his operas and his oratorios, but I think he’s really exploring the craft here.”

The two Psalm settings do not quite make an hour of music, so Browne selected movements from three of Handel’s cantatas to fill out the program. She chose them, she says, because they contain music that the audience will recognize—the original versions of melodies that appeared later in Messiah.

“People will recognize [the tunes],” she says. “One is ‘For Unto Us a Child is Born,’ and the other is ‘And He shall Purify.’ It’s great fun to hear these Italian texts and especially the Messiah melodies that we know so well in their original form. It’s so familiar but it’s so different.”

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Barbara Hollinshead

Soloists for the performances will be sopranos Amanda Balestrieri and Kathryn Radakovitch and tenor Todd Teske, all from the Boulder area, and mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead who performs in Washington, D.C. There will also be short bass solos from members of Seicento.

“We have fabulous soloists,” Browne says. “There are two duets and one solo cantata, and the women who are doing the cantatas—oh my gosh, they can sing runs, and beautifully! It’s going to be a lot of fun to hear that.”

Just six years ago, Seicento became one of the first historical performance groups in the Boulder area. “When I first came to Boulder, there was very little Baroque vocal music going on, and a little bit of Baroque stringed period-instrument music,” Browne says, pointing out how much more there is now. “I am very, very proud of this organization and the way it has been managed,” she says.

“I’m grateful and I’m excited for the future of Seicento.”

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble
Evanne Browne, artistic director and conductor
Sopranos Amanda Balestrieri and Kathryn Radakovitch, mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead and tenor Todd Teske

Handel: Dixit Dominus and Laudate Pueri
Selections from Italian secular catnatas

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24
St. Paul Lutheran Church & Catholic Church, 1600 Grant. St. Denver

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25
First United Methodist Church, 2412 Spruce St., Boulder

2 p.m. Sunday, March 26
Stanley Hotel Concert Hall, 333 east Wonder View, Estes Park

Tickets