CMF’s mid-summer mini-fest puts the focus on French music

Artist-in-residence Benedetto Lupo will play both Ravel piano concertos in one evening

By Peter Alexander

The mid-summer mini-festival, happily restored to the Colorado Music Festival season, this year will fill Chautauqua Auditorium with the sounds of French music — Ravel, Debussy and others less familiar.

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Pianist Benedetto Lupo will be artist-in-residence for the CMF French Music mini-festival.

This is a welcome opportunity for Boulder audiences. The orchestral repertoire is so dominated by German and Russian composers that we can easily forget that France too had a vital musical culture.

The choice is also unsurprising: French music is the natural home of Jean-Marie Zeitouni, the CMF’s music director. “This is a repertoire with which I have intimate affinities,” he says. “I grew up with the Montreal Symphony playing Ravel and Debussy, so I have a special love for it.”

In addition to Zeitouni’s affinity for the repertoire, the other factor in the programming was the availability of pianist Benedetto Lupo. Although he is Italian, Lupo says he “always had an interest” in French music. He studied with Aldo Ciccolini, another Italian who was renowned for his performances of French music.

Lupo will be the CMF artist-in-residence during the mini-festival week and will be part of all four concerts — a Festival Orchestra concert July 20, an abbreviated repeat for “Fresh Fridays” July 21, a solo and chamber concert July 21 and a CMF Chamber Orchestra concert July 25.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Colorado Music Festival
French Mini-Festival
All performances in Chautauqua Auditorium

Festival Orchestra, Jean Marie Zeitouni, conductor, with Benedetto Lupo, piano
7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 20

Fresh Friday performance
Festival Orchestra, Jean Marie Zeitouni, conductor, with Benedetto Lupo, piano
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 21

Benedetto Lupo, piano, with Joseph Meyer, violin; Elizabeth Jaffe, viola; and Aaron Merritt, cello.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 22

Fauré’s French Soirée
CMF Chamber Orchestra, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor
Benedetto Lupo, piano; Calin Lupano, violin; Catherine Turner, horn; Vivian Cumplido Wilson, flute.

Tickets

‘Carmen’ and ‘Così’ highlight Central City Opera’s summer season

For 2017, all performances will be in Central City

By Peter Alexander

Central City Opera Opening Night 2006- Page 2 of Book

Opening Night at Central City Opera. Photo courtesy of Central City Opera.

Central City Opera (CCO) is offering two operatic mainstays in their historic 1878 opera house this summer, Bizet’s Carmen (July 8–Aug. 6) and Mozart’s Così fan tutte (July 15–Aug. 4).

Carmen and Così are joined on the Central City season by limited performances of three short operas presented in smaller venues in Central City (July 26–Aug. 4): The Burning Fiery Furnace by Benjamin Britten, The Cabildo by Amy Beach, and Gallantry by Douglas Moore. Though little known, these works are an important part of CCO’s long-term goal.

“We’re doing this to build new audiences,” Pat Pearce, CCO’s artistic director, says. “Come up and see one of these one-acts! You’re out in an hour, and it’s in English.”

The two mainstage productions appear to be worlds apart. Carmen is a gritty story about a decent man destroyed by his fatal passion for an untamed Gypsy, Così fan tutte an artificial semi-comedy about two pairs of lovers. But beneath the surface, both works explore the same emotions: love, jealousy, anger.

Read more in Boulder Weekly

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CCOperaLogoPreferredCentral City Opera
Summer 2017

Georges Bizet: Carmen
Central City Opera House
Matinees at 2:30 p.m.: July 12, 14, 16, 18, 22, 26, 30, Aug 3, 6
Evenings at 8 p.m.: July 8, 20, 28; Aug. 1

Mozart: Così fan tutte
Central City Opera House
Matinees at 2:30 p.m.: July 19, 23, 25, 19, Aug. 2, 4
Evenings at 8 p.m.: July 15, 21, 27

Benjamin Britten: The Burning Fiery Furnace
The Martin Foundry, Central City
12 noon July 26 and Aug. 2
5 p.m. July 27

Amy Beach: The Cabildo
Williams Stables, Central City
8 p.m. July 26, 29, Aug. 2 (Double feature with Gallantry)

Douglas Moore: Gallantry
Williams Stable
8 p.m. July 26, 29, Aug. 2 (Double feature with The Cabildo)
12 noon Aug. 3 and 4

Tickets

 

 

CMF founding director Giora Bernstein and pianist Olga Kern return to Boulder

Opening weekend: “high-profile guests, big orchestral pieces, variety, intensity”

Olga Kern

Olga Kern returns to CMF for the opening concert, June 29. Photo by Chris Lee.

By Peter Alexander

The opening weekend of the Colorado Music Festival’s 40th anniversary season, Thursday, June 29 through Sunday, July 2, will set the pattern for the entire 2017 season.

“It will be a microcosm of the whole festival,” music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni says. “A variety of repertoire, Baroque, Classic, Romantic, 20th-century, high-profile guest soloists, big orchestral pieces, variety, intensity; it sums it all.”

The opening concert will feature pianist Olga Kern playing two Russian concertos: Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Framing Kern’s solo turns will be Shostakovich’s Festival Overture, and Rachmaninoff’s deeply Romantic Symphony No. 2 in E minor.

Kern will also appear in a solo recital of American and Russian music on July 1, featuring Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Balakirev and several pieces by Gershwin. The next day, CMF founding director Giora Bernstein returns to Boulder for the first time in 10 years to conduct the CMF chamber orchestra. 

GIora Bernstein

CMF founding director Giora Bernstein

“The greatest satisfaction is that (CMF) really has established itself,” Bernstein says. “To see it 40 years (after its founding) is just wonderful.”

The first weeks of the festival culminate with performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Thursday and Friday, July 13 and 14. 

“It’s basically right in the middle of the festival so it’s a way to mark a certain apex,” Zeitouni says.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Colorado Music Festival (Classical Concerts through July 14)
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, music director

Opening Night, Festival Orchestra, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor: Olga Kern Plays Rachmaninoff, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 29

Olga Kern solo recital: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 1

Mozart with CMF Founder Giora Bernstein and CMF Chamber Orchestra: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 2

“All-American” concert, Festival Orchestra with conductor Cristian Măcelaru and violinist Elina Vähälä: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 6

Young People’s Concert, directed by Scott Terrell: 10 a.m. Saturday, July 8

Chamber Music: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 8,

Beethoven’s Ninth, Festival Orchestras, Jean-Marie Zeitoun, conductor: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 13

Fresh Fridays – Beethoven’s Ninth: 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 14

Chamber Orchestra with Pianist Stewart Goodyear: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 16

All performances in the Chautauqua Auditorium

Tickets 

CU NOW rewards audiences, composers and performers

Adamo’s Gospel of Mary Magdalene is getting an intimate makeover

By Peter Alexander

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2016 CU NOW rehearsal. Photo by Peter Alexander

CU NOW, the University of Colorado Eklund Opera Program’s annual New Opera Workshop, is one of the most rewarding events on the Boulder classical music scene.

It is an opportunity to see how operas are put together. It is an opportunity to hear new works, often before their professional world premieres, and possibly, through feedback sessions with the composer, to influence the final product. And falling between the end of the main music season and the beginning of the summer festivals, it comes at a time when the classical scene is starting to get dry.

And that’s just the benefits for the audience. It almost goes without saying that the composer has the reward of seeing his work in an informal setting, where he can tweak the score and make improvements, and the singers reap the reward of learning a new work and preparing it for the composer. I count that a win-win-win.

Usually a workshop for completely new works, the NOW program goes in a different direction this year. Composer Mark Adamo is in Boulder to re-work his Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which was premiered by the San Francisco Opera in 2013 (under conductor Michael Christie, known locally for his years at the Colorado Music Festival). Following the somewhat controversial premiere, Adamo decided to revise the opera to make it smaller in scope than the San Francisco production, more intimate, more human.

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Composer Mark Adamo

Or as he was quoted in the CU press release, he wanted the show to be “more witty and modern, a lot closer to Godspell.”

Complete performances of the re-worked Gospel of Mary Magdalene will be free and open to the public, 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Imig Music Building Music Theater. The cast and ensemble of CU students and alumni will be accompanied by piano and harp.

Knowing the history of CU Now, Adamo says he was unsure about bringing a work that had already had a premiere, and a grand one at that, to Boulder. “Leigh (Holman, director of the Eklund Opera Program) talked to me about this, because ordinarily CU NOW does pieces before they’re given a premiere,” he says. “I wanted to revisit this because I’m not sure that the show that we staged (in San Francisco) was entirely the show that I meant.

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Leigh Holman

“It was a beautiful production, it was brilliantly cast, it was a beautiful set, it was a beautiful design, the direction was very sensitive, and yet . . . I didn’t feel like the tone was what I hoped for. And so Leigh said ‘we’re absolutely the place for that.’”

Adamo wrote both the libretto and the music for The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. The opera places Mary Magdalene at the center of the story, making her an important influence on Jesus’ teachings. Adamo’s libretto is based in part on the Gnostic Gospels, early Christian texts that were discovered in 1945. Not accepted by most Christian traditions, the Gnostic Gospels suggest that Jesus and Mary were lovers, and later married, and that Jesus was illegitimate.

The libretto grew out of Adamo’s own research, which was so thorough that the libretto even contains footnotes, some of which are sung. One important part of his goal was to counteract anti-female ideas of some Christian traditions. The opera opens with modern characters expressing their unease with the negativity toward sex and women that they have encountered in the church.

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San Francisco Opera production of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Set by David Korins. Photo by Cory Weaver.

In the San Francisco production, which Adamo describes as “more King of Kings, if you will, that kind of Biblical spectacular look,” the modern characters got much less emphasis than he wanted. “Given the grandeur and the somberness of the setting, it was a stage that you could not do anything remotely personal, or witty,” he says.

To shift the focus back to the modern characters, and their relationship with the Biblical characters they conjure from their imaginations, Adamo cut the cast from 72 including chorus down to 16. “In San Francisco we had the five seekers (modern believers) and the chorus in modern dress, and then the Biblical characters, and all the supporting characters,” he explains. All of that has been reduced to the four principals—Yeshua (Jesus), Mary Magdalene, Miriam (Mary) and Peter—plus a dozen ensemble singers who take the other roles.

The original production was 2½ hours of music, plus intermission, which some listeners found to be ponderous. Adamo says he has reduced that to under 2½ hours including intermission. “Here’s the joke,” he says, “Nothing has been cut. A five-minute opening has been added, and the running time is shorter than in San Francisco.”

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Mark Adamo

“It starts with me,” he admits. “I had under-marked the tempos to so dramatic a degree that when I went back to the score in preparation for this production, I was looking at the metronome markings and saying, ‘what was I thinking? Are these tempos sponsored by Ambien?’

“All of this needs to move much more conversationally. When I met with (conductor) Andrew (Bisantz), I said, ‘assume the metronome markings you’ve got are 12 (beats per minute) slow.’”

Finally, Adamo wanted a setting that was not as monumental as the San Francisco production. “Is there a setting that is illustrative of the concerns of the show, that allows more nimbleness and a wider variety of dramatic tones?” he asks. “I did come up with that,” he says, adding slyly, “I’ll leave the surprise for you if you see the show.”

Adamo is particularly happy that the smaller number of singers and the more intimate setting has shifted the emotional focus of the performance. “For the most part, the stress is squarely on what the performers are doing and how they are defining the space and the emotional terms of the piece, rather than anything more elaborate,” he says.

“That and making the whole stage into a group, rather than principals and then a chorus, have been the principal innovations, and it has been a delight.”

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CU NOW
Leigh Holman, founder and artistic/general director

The Gospel of Mary Magdalen
By Mark Adamo
Andrew Bisantz, conductor

7:30 p.m. Friday, June 16
2 p.m. Sunday, June 18
Music Theatre, Imig Music Building, CU

Free and open to the public

Advisory: These performances include adult content, sexual situations, and a stylized suggestion of violence, and may not be suitable for children.

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