From Nutcracker to a sing-along Messiah

A listing of Holiday performances by area musical organizations

By Peter Alexander

‘Tis the season, and the halls are alive with the sounds of Christmas.

The 2013 Holiday Festival by the College of Music in Macky Auditorium (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

In the coming weeks, area musical organizations will offer performances ranging from The Nutcracker to Messiah, from Gregorian chant to Judy Collins, and from the Bach Christmas Oratorio to A Charlie Brown Christmas

In fact, the first Nutcrackers have already been completed, with more performances coming this weekend in Longmont (Dec. 3–4 with the Longmont Symphony and Boulder Ballet; see below for details, including links for tickets for all performances mentioned in this article). The Longmont performances include a “gentle Nutcracker,” an abridged, “sensory friendly” performance that welcomes neurodiverse audience members, their families and caregivers.

Boulder Ballet Nutcracker. Image by Amanda Tipton Photography

Other dance companies in the area offer The Nutcracker well into December and can easily be found on the Web; here I am listing the many musical groups in our area. This weekend the very popular CU Holiday Festival, with CU orchestras, bands and choirs starts the festivities on Friday at 7:30 in Macky Auditorium, with additional performances Saturday and Sunday (Dec 2–4). Check the Web page soon; some performances are close to selling out.

If you get enough “Rudolph” and “White Christmas” in the mall, several organizations offer alternative Holiday fare. Seicento Baroque Ensemble will present ”Noel: Christmas in the late Renaissance and early Baroque” over the coming weekend, Friday through Sunday (Dec. 2–4), in Denver, Boulder and Longmont. Ars Nova Singers will present their usual eclectic fare in the same cities over the following week (Dec. 9 & 11, 15 & 16). Their program, titled “Solstice,” includes Gregorian chant, Renaissance music based on chant, contemporary works for the time of solstice, and the premiere of director Tom Morgan’s own arrangement of the French carol “Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella” (“Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella”).

The most wide-ranging program is surely that of The Boulder Bach Festival’s CORE (COmpass REsonance) Chamber Choir. Their “Christmas Across the Ages” program (Dec. 16 in the Broomfield Auditorium) offers exactly that, with selections from J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas, music by early American composer William Billings and songs by John Denver and Judy Collins. 

With their familiar penchant for embracing musical cultures around the world, the Boulder Chorale and conductor Vicki Burrichter will present “A Celtic Winter,” a program of traditional music performed with a Celtic ensemble led by Jessie Burns. The Boulder Chamber Orchestra offers “The Gift of Music” Dec. 17 (Boulder’s Seventh Day Adventist Church), including Handel arias sung by soprano Szilvia Schranz. Instrumental pieces will include Bach’s “Double” Violin Concerto in D minor, and Holiday selections.

If you wanted to hear Handel’s Messiah in Longmont, you will have to bring a score and sing along. The Longmont Symphony’s performance Dec. 17 is already sold out, but the Sing-Along Messiah Dec. 18 still has tickets available. The Boulder Philharmonic Brass will perform traditional songs of Christmas and Hanukkah at Mountain View Methodist Dec. 18. And with that, the musicians that I know about will pack up their cases and likely enjoy some eggnog. There are surely other events out there that have not come to my attention. With a little enterprise you can find those performances online, too.

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CU Holiday Festival
CU College of Music orchestras, bands and choirs

  • Traditional music of the Holiday season

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2
1 and 4 p.m. Saturday, Dev. 3
4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4
Macky Auditorium

TICKETS

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“Noel: Christmas in the late Renaissance an early Baroque”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Evanne Browne, artistic director
With Wesley Leffingwell, organ; and Joseph Howe, Baroque cello

  • Program includes music by Palestrina, Victoria, Sweelinck and Rossi.

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, St. Paul, Lutheran Church, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3. First United Methodist Church, Boulder
3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, First Congregational Church, Longmont

TICKETS

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The Nutcracker ballet
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With the Boulder Ballet

  • Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker

1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 (“Gentle” Nutcracker: abridged, “sensory friendly” performance))
4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3
2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4

TICKETS

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“Solstice”
Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director
With John Gunther, saxophone

Program includes:

  • Gregorian Chant, Vox clara Ecce Intonat
  • Gabriel Jackson: Vox clara Ecce Intonat
  • Tomás Luis de Victoria: Ave regina caelorum
  • Bob Chilcott: The Shepherd’s Carol
  • Tom Morgan, arr: Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella (premiere)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, First Congregational Church, Longmont
4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Denver
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder
7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, First United Methodist Church, Boulder
LIVESTREAM: 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11

TICKETS

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Christmas Across the Ages”
Boulder Bach Festival CORE Chamber Choir
With Claire McCahan, mezzo-soprano, and Jeremy Reger, keyboards

Program includes:

  • John Tavener: “A Christmas Round”
  • William Billings: “A Virgin Unspotted”
  • —“Bethlehem” (While shepherd watched their flocks by night)
  • Jamaican folk tune: “An’ She Rock de Baby”
  • John Denver: “Aspenglow”
  • Judy Collins: “The Blizzard”
  • J.S. Bach: Selections from Christmas Oratorio
  • Vince Guaraldi: “Christmastime is Here” (From A Charlie Brown Christmas)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16
Broomfield Auditorium

TICKETS

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Longmont Symphony
Elliot Moore, conductor, with chorus and soloists

  • G.F. Handel: Messiah

4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17
Westview Presbyterian Church, Longmont

SOLD OUT

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“The Gift of Music”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Szilvia Schranz, soprano, and Kevin Sylves, double bass

  • G.F. Handel: Selected arias
  • Henry Eccles: Sonata in G minor for double bass and strings
  • J.S. Bach: Concerto in D minor for two violins and orchestra
  • Holiday selections

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17
Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Boulder

TICKETS

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“Singalong Messiah
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With vocal soloists

  • G.F. Handel: Selections from Messiah

4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Westview Presbyterian Church, Longmont

TICKETS

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“Holiday Brass”
Boulder Philharmonic brass and percussion
Brian Buerkle, conductor

  • Program includes traditional songs of Christmas and Hanukkah.

4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder

TICKETS

Icelandic Legends and the Spirit of the Dance

Pro Musica Colorado concert has a hopeful message

By Peter Alexander Nov. 17 at 4:48 p.m.

Composer Ben Morris

Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra will present the world premiere of The Hill of Three Wishes by former CU composition student Ben Morris on their next concert, Saturday at Mountain View Methodist Church in Boulder (7:30 p.m. Nov. 19).

The score was selected last year as the winner of an annual competition that Pro Musica holds in collaboration with the CU composition department. The department gives Katsarelis works by several composers, and she selects one composer to receive a commission from a fund that was financed by the late Thurston Manning. Normally the new works are premiered in the spring, but last year’s planned performance was postponed. 

The concert, titled “Apotheosis of the Dance,” opens the Pro Musica 2022–23 season of three concerts. Other works on the program are Florence Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement, which concludes with an African American juba dance; and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in A major, which has such exuberant rhythmic movement that Richard Wagner once called it “the apotheosis of the dance.”

Pianist Jennifer Hayghe, the chair of the CU Roser Piano and Keyboard Program, will be the soloist for Price’s concerto.

“Ben Morris is a wonderful emerging composer,” Katsarelis says. “First of all he really knows what to do with an orchestra. His orchestration is superb, and his colors, and the textures. 

“He has two major influences: a jazz background, but also a Scandinavian (Norwegian) background. And so he gets this Nordic folk music aspect into his music, sometimes with extended jazz chords.”

Helgafell, Iceland. Photo by Ben Morris.

The Hill of Three Wishes is based on Helgafell, a site in Iceland that Morris visited. The legend about Helgafell is that if you can hike to the top without looking back, you will be granted three wishes. He incorporated an ancient Icelandic song into the score, which gives the music “a medieval sound,” Katsarelis says. “He weaves it in nicely, and you can really imagine the climb up the hill.”

Price, whose career spanned the first half of the 20th century, was a composer, pianist and organist trained at the New England Conservatory. She was the first African American woman to have music presented by a major orchestra, when her First Symphony was played by the Chicago Symphony in 1933.

For many years, the original score of her Piano Concerto in One Movement was lost, and the piece was known only from a two-piano version. Some orchestral parts were found in Price’s former summer home, and others turned up recently at an auction, allowing the assembly of the original orchestration. That original version has been published and will be used by Pro Musica.

Florence Price. Photo by G. Niledoff.

“Although it’s a piano concerto in one movement, it does have three sections that correspond to a fast first movement, a slow second movement, and then a jolly finale,” Katsarelis says. “The finale is a juba dance, and the whole thing clearly draws on her African American background.

“The second movement is reflective (and) has a call and response aspect to it. The first movement has melodies that you can associate with spirituals, or maybe a blues. It’s quite virtuosic for the piano, which I think speaks to Florence Price’s (skills as a pianist).”

Price was born in Little Rock, Ark., but she and her family joined the Great Migration of Southern Blacks to the north and settled in Chicago. There she became part of what is called the “Chicago Renaissance,” which was akin to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ‘30s. “She was incredibly active,” Katsarelis says. 

“She belonged to two women’s music clubs, she was playing recitals all the time, she got her symphony performed by the Chicago Symphony, (and) her other symphonies were done by the Women’s Symphony in Chicago and Detroit. She got excellent reviews for the piano concerto and her symphony, and then it all disappeared. Her music is re-emerging, and rightfully so: it’s such a wonderful, authentic, American voice and we owe a great debt of gratitude for her.”

The program concludes with Beethoven Seventh Symphony, which Katsarelis selected for several reasons. “It’s one of his most beloved symphonies for good reason,” she says. “I could have picked a couple of other Beethoven symphonies, but I thought (the Seventh) went so well with the Florence Price, with the juba dance. It’s an incredibly joyful and energetic piece, with long (melodic) lines and moments of insanity—it takes you on a journey!”

Another reason is that she thinks that the symphony, with its joyful ending, speaks to our current time in an important way. “Beethoven’s music is perceived as coming out of that enlightenment philosophy of the common man who can rise above with his achievements,” she says. “That’s something that we always admire.

“Given the challenges of our time, I think it’s an inspirational and hopeful message.”

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“The Apotheosis of the Dance”
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With Jennifer Hayghe, piano

  • Ben Morris: The Hill of Three Wishes (world premiere)
  • Florence Price: Piano Concerto in One Movement (restored original version)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 72

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
Mountain View Methodist Church, 35 Ponca Place, Boulder

Both in-person and online tickets are available HERE.

Grace Notes: Music from America

Concerts by Sphere Ensemble and the Longmont Symphony

By Peter Alexander Nov. 16 at 2:50 p.m.

The Sphere Ensemble, a string ensemble formed by professional string players in the Denver area, will present a kaleidoscope of many American musics at the Mercury Café in Denver Friday (7:30 p.m. Nov. 18) and the Canyon Theater of the Boulder Public Library Saturday (7:30 p.m. Nov. 19; details below).

Under executive director Alex Vittal, a longtime violist and arranger with the group, Sphere has brought educational programming to marginalized audiences, including people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, women’s shelters, children’s hospitals and assisted living facilities.

Sphere characteristically includes both concert music written for string orchestra and arrangements of works drawn from popular and other vernacular genres in their programs. In the case of the “Kaleidoscope” concert, that ranges from music by 20th-century African-American composer Florence Price, to the contemporary Chickasaw composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, to the Pulitzer Prize-winner Carolyn Shaw, to a medley of music by Prince.

Tate’s Pisach has been arranged for Sphere through a special agreement with the composer, and several of the pop pieces were arranged specifically for the ensemble. Vittal’s arrangement of the Prince Medley has been particularly popular in past performances. The concert announcement from Sphere states, “This concert program focuses on the wide range of what ‘American’ music is: with composers from diverse backgrounds, genres from classical to pop, and arrangements written by Sphere musicians.”

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“Kaleidoscope”
Sphere ensemble

  • Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate: Pisach. (adapted with permission of the composer by Alex Vittal and Alejandro G. Gullien)
  • Caroline Shaw: Entr’acte
  • Florence Price: “Juba” from Second String Quartet
  • Tan Dun: Symphony for Strings
  • Gordon/Warren: “At Last,” arr. Chris Jusell
  • Prince: Prince Medley, arr. Alex Vittal
  • Randy Newman: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” arr. Sarah Whitnah
  • Scott Joplin: “Wall Street Rag,” arr. Alex Vittal
  • Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Souvenir de Porto Rico, arr. David Short

7:30 pm. Friday, Nov. 18
Mercury Café, 2199 California St., Denver

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
Canyon Theater, Boulder Public Library

TICKETS 

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The Longmont Symphony Orchestra and conductor Elliot Moore will focus on America in two of their subscriptions concerts this year. The first of these, “Trail of Tears: America—Part 1” will be presented Saturday at the Vance Brand Auditorium (7:30 p.m. Nov. 19; details below).

The concert takes it title from composer Michael Daugherty’s “Trail of Tears” Flute Concerto, which will be performed by soloist Brice Smith and the orchestra. Smith teaches flute at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colo.

The concerto is named for the route that Cherokees and other Native Americans were forced to travel from their ancestral homes in Southeastern states to reservations in present-day Oklahoma. In his program notes, the composer has described the piece as “a musical journey into how the human spirit discovers ways to deal with upheaval, adversity and adapting to a new environment.”

Other works on the program are the Overture to The Song of Hiawatha by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and the Symphony No. 8 in G major by Dvořák. Coleridge-Taylor was a mixed-race British composer and conductor who had a significant career in both England and the United States, where he was known as “the African Mahler.” 

His trilogy of cantatas The Song of Hiawatha was written 1898–1900. The first part to be performed, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, became popular world-wide and earned praise from leading English musicians including Sir Arthur Sullivan.

Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony is one of the composer’s most popular and joyful pieces. It was composed in 1889, soon before the composer’s famous and fateful trip to the United States in 1892. More than any of the Dvořák’s symphonies, it draws on the music of the composer’s homeland, giving it a uniquely relaxed and folkish quality.

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“Trail of Tears”
Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore conductor
With Brice Smith, flute

  • Samuel Coleridge Taylor: Overture to Song of Hiawatha
  • Michael Daugherty: Trail of Tears
  • Dvořák: Symphony No 8 in G major

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont

TICKETS

Boulder Phil features two living composers Saturday

Jennifer Higdon and Xavier Foley share concert program with Dvořák and Bottesini

By Peter Alexander Nov. 10 at 2:53 p.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra will perform two new pieces born from the drama of American history on Saturday (7 p.m. Nov. 12 in Macky Auditorium; details below).

Boulder Philharmonic and Michael Butterman in Macky Auditorium

Both are by living composers: the orchestral Suite from Jennifer Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain, based on the popular Civil War novel by Charles Frazier; and For Justice and Peace, music by Xavier Foley written to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves in the United States. Other works on the program will be the Gran Duo Concertante for violin, double bass and orchestra by Giovanni Bottesini; and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major.

Boulder Phil music director Michael Butterman will conduct the concert, which also features violinist Eunice Kim, Foley playing double bass, and a quartet of singers from the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus.

Jennifer Higdon

Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain had its premiere at the Santa Fe Opera in 2015. The opera was so popular that an additional performance was scheduled. Since then there have been performances in North Carolina and Minnesota, as well as Higdon’s home town of Philadelphia, where it sold out five performances in the 2,400-seat Academy of Music. 

The Boulder Philharmonic is one of 37 co-commissioners for the Suite from Cold Mountain, which has been performed several places since its premiere by the Delaware Symphony in September, with many more performances scheduled. “I’m looking forward to doing it,” Butterman says. “I’m sure (the suite) will allow (music from Cold Mountain) to be more widely heard than if it just all remained within the opera.”

When she returned to the opera score to create the suite, Higdon re-discovered her own music. “I had to really go back in,” she says. “It surprised me when I opened the score and started looking. I kept saying, ‘I can’t believe I wrote this!’

“I went through all the emotions of the characters, which is what I used to guide me in picking music for the suite. I took it from the viewpoint of what would be the most interesting progression of pieces, what would stand strongly on its own, and how to vary the music so it’s not always intense. I looked for the biggest variety, really contrasting quiet and loud, and agitated and dissonant and soft and melodic.”

Xavier Foley

You don’t need to read the book or know the story to enjoy the music. “That’s one of the things people have been asking me,” Higdon says. “The music is set up in a way to speak to you even if you don’t have a clue what this novel is about. It will stand on its own.”

A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Foley has become known both as a virtuoso bass player and a composer. He won First Prize in the 2014 Sphinx Competition, a national award for young Black and Latinx string players, and the 2016 Young Concert Artists Auditions. As a player, Butterman says, “his virtuosity is amazing! I became intrigued about working with him as soloist, and then got to know that he was also a composer.”

For Justice and Peace was commissioned by the Sphinx Organization to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival the slave ship “White Lion” in Jamestown, Virginia. It is a small-scale concerto for violin, double bass and strings, with two additions that link the music to the subject: the sounds of a gavel, representing the auction of slaves, and a brief text sung by a vocal quartet that asks “Your Honor, where is my freedom?”

Giovanni Bottesini

To pair with that piece, Butterman selected another work for the same players, the Gran Duo Concertante for violin, double bass and strings by Giovanni Bottesini. Once widely celebrated, Bottesini is largely unknown today except to bass players. Known as “The Paganini of the Bass,” he was the first celebrated virtuoso of the instrument. Also an opera composer and conductor, he was selected by Verdi to conduct the premiere of Aida in 1871.

The Gran Duo seems to reflect Bottesini’s career in opera. Parts of the score resemble an operatic scene between a soprano and a bass—represented by the violin and double bass. “I do think of a dialog between me and the violin,” Foley says. Butterman hears the piece in the same way, describing it as an “operatic showcase for a couple—almost like a couple of singers.”

All of that occurs before intermission, and the second half of the concert will be occupied by one piece, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major. “Everybody should love that piece!” Butterman says. “It’s always successful because of it’s tunefulness and the optimism and energy of that last movement (which) is one of the more joyful things in the repertoire. I love it!”

But the final words about the concert go to Foley, who says, “I hope people get their money’s worth and enjoy the show.”

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“Gran Duo”
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Xavier Foley, contrabass, and Eunice Kim, violin
Vocal quartet from the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus

  • Jennifer Higdon: Suite from Cold Mountain (Colorado premiere)
  • Xavier Foley: For Justice and Peace
  • Giovanni Bottesini: Gran Duo Concertante for violin, double bass and strings
  • Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 in G major, op. 88

7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
Macky Auditorium

TICKETS

Two choral groups open their season over the weekend

Ars Nova and Boulder Chorale start 2022–23 with unusual programming

By Peter Alexander Nov. 3 at 10:20 p.m.

Two of Boulder’s choral organizations open their 2022–23 seasons this weekend. The programs by the Ars Nova Singers and the Boulder Chorale could hardly be more different—bizarrely chromatic music from the late Renaissance and music from Middle Eastern cultures, respectively—but they are similar in being well outside the mainstream of choral repertoire. 

If you search for stimulating and unusual musical experiences, as I do, you could have a busy weekend. Both programs look promising for the adventurous listener.

Ars Nova Singers and conductor Tom Morgan

In a program titled “Wonder,” the Ars Nova Singers and conductor Tom Morgan will explore the music of Carlo Gesualdo de Venosa, Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza. Gesualdo has a secure place in music history because of the extraordinary chromaticism of the harmonic language in his madrigals, which is unlke any other music written at the time. Performances will be Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Boulder, Longmont and Denver (details below).

Carlo Gesualdo

Gesualdo’s notoriety in music history also derives from the fact that he killed his fist wife and her lover when her found them together. Although he was not charged with a crime, due to the circumstances, he felt a burden of guilt for the rest of his life, which may have contributed to the intensity of expression in the music he wrote. 

Ars Nova will perform seven of the madrigals from the last two collections Gesualdo wrote, Books 5 and 6, which were published in 1611. This was right at the transition from the Renaissance style of counterpoint to the more chord-based style of the early Baroque period.

“You just don’t hear some of these chords and changes [Gesualdo wrote] until the 20th century,” Morgan says. “It’s such fascinating music to me, and I think the singers enjoy it because you don’t have anything like it in the repertoire. And it’s a lot of fun to do.”

The chromaticism is most extreme in the slower sections of the madrigals, giving the singers the time to make the unexpected note and chord changes. The most extreme chord changes are associated with the most extreme emotions, whereas other parts of the madrigals are more straightforward, and may even move in a fairly brisk tempo.

Sandra Wong and nyckelharpa

“It’s challenging for the singers,” Morgan says, “because the character of the music changes word to word. It’s fascinating how quickly the affect changes in the pieces.”

In spite of the extreme use of chromatic notes and chords, Morgan points out that in some ways, Gesualdo was not really a revolutionary composer. “He’s really clinging to the old imitative counterpoint [of the Renaissance era], but stretches the harmonic language as far as it would go.”

The constant shifting of chords gives the music an uneasy, ungrounded quality that can be tiring to listen to. “How to present Gesualdo is always a bit of a challenge,” Morgan says. “A straight-through listening of Book V or Book VI would be really hard for a modern audience. Too many in a row, the singer gets tired, [and] the listeners get overwhelmed.”

In order to give listeners a break, Morgan invited two instrumentalists—Ann Marie Morgan on viola da gamba and Sandra Wong on violin and the Swedish folk instrument the nyckelharpa—to play interludes in between the madrigals. “We’re doing little pairs of madrigals, and interspersing them with completely instrumental things,” Morgan explains. “Some are from [Gesualdo’s] era, some from slightly later.”

“That allows the ear to refresh and allows the mind to process things differently, and then you come back to Gesualdo. Ann Marie (Morgan) and Sondra (Wong) are both wonderful to work with, and by breaking (the madrigals) up into smaller chunks it’s better for both the singers and the audience.”

Boulder Chorale and conductor Vicki Burrichter

While Morgan is exploring challenging music of the past, conductor Vicki Burrichter and the Boulder Chorale continue their explorations of world music. In a program titled “Origins: The Fertile Crescent,” they will present music from across the Middle East, from Sephardic Jewish folk songs from Spain to Israel to Egypt, Tunisia and Afghanistan.

Performances will be Saturday and Sunday in Boulder, and will also be available by live stream on Sunday (details below).

An oud

Burrichter came to the subject for this concert by listening to the Trio Joubran, three Palestinian brothers from Nazareth who all perform on the oud—a stringed instrument from the Middle East that is the predecessor of the lute.

“The sound of the oud is magnificent—mysterious and deep,” Burrichter says. “The three of them playing together was beautiful. I listened to them a lot, and then I thought I should listen to more Arabic music. I’m very excited about it, but it’s the most nerve-racking concert I’ve ever done, because it’s so outside what I know about.”

Aside from her lack of background in the style, Burrichter had to adapt the music to an American choir. For one thing, the music does not have much harmony, and for another, it uses languages that hardly anyone in the choir knew. She tackled these issues first by hiring a guest band assembled and  led by David Hinojosa that includes percussion, violin, bass and an oud player, plus a singer, Catrene Payan, who is an Arabic-speaking Israeli. They will perform with the chorale and separately.

Catrene Payan

She also turned to Adam Waite, who has made arrangements for the Chorale in the past, to make versions of the songs for the chorale’s singers. And she asked Raouf Zaidan, who has sung with the group, to help coach the language. “He lives in two worlds,” Burrichter says. “He’s an Egyptian but also a Western opera singer. He was able to help the choir with the language.”

Many of the pieces on the program are well known in the Middle East, including some that have been sung by the most popular singers in their home countries. “When I showed Raouf what is in the concert, he said ‘These are songs everybody knows,’” she says. 

For example, she mentioned Oum Kulthum, an Egyptian singer who was called the Star of the East. “She is like a goddess figure there” Burrichter says. “She’s done ‘Lammaa Badda,’ and [Lebanese singer] Fairouz has done it. In the Middle East, everybody knows that song. And ‘El-Heelwa Dii’ is also extremely popular.”

Burrichter says that the melodies are not hard to sing, but there are nuances that are not easy for an American chorus. “We were trying to make it so that they could sing it, because they don’t speak the language, they don’t have experience with this music which is so very different from American music.

“We hope Arabic people or people from Israel who come to the concert will say, this is a group that tried their very best to represent and respect our culture. What I’m trying to do is for people to enter a cultural experience—the audience, the singers, everyone. 

“The most important thing in the end is not the language, it is the joy of it.”

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“Wonder”
Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, artistic director
With Sandra Wong, violin and nyckelharpa, and Ann Marie Morgan, viola da gamba

  • Carlo Gesualdo: Selections from Madrigals, Books 5 and 6
  • Instrumental music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4
St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5
Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum

4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6
St. Paul Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver

TICKETS

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“Origins: The Fertile Crescent”
Boulder Concert and Chamber Chorales 
Vicki Burrichter, artistic director
With Catrene Payan, singer, and instruments led by David Hinojosa

  • Music of Arabic lands in the Middle East

4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, and Sunday, Nov. 6
First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder

TICKETS for live performances and for live stream Sunday only

Grace Notes: Ivalas Quartet returns to CU

Performances will be on the Takács Quartet concert series, Sunday and Monday

By Peter Alexander Nov. 2 at 4:46valas p.m.

The Ivalas Quartet spent the years 2019-22 in residence at CU-Boulder, under the mentorship of the Takács Quartet. Now serving as the Graduate Resident String Quartet at the Juilliard School in New York, they have returned to the CU campus to perform as guests on the Takács’s concert series.

Their program, featuring the music of Beethoven, Eleanor Alberga and Osvaldo Golijov, will be performed at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6, and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7, in Grusin Music Hall of the Imig Music Building. Tickets to both live performances, and to a live stream that will be available from 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6, though 11 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, are available from CU Presents.

Composer Eleanor Alberga

The Ivalas Quartet has always been creative in the their programming. The group has stated a goal to “disrupt the classical music world by . . . spotlighting BIPOC composers.” Among the composers whose works they have presented is Eleanor Alberga, a Jamaican composer who currently lives and works in the United Kingdom.

Although not well known in the U.S, Alberga’s music has been performed throughout the United Kingdom as well as in Australia, China, South American and Canada. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2021. She has said that her First String Quartet was inspired by a lecture on physics, particularly the notion that our bodies are made of stardust.

Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov draw on both his Jewish heritage and his Latin American roots in works such as The Dream and Prayers of Isaac the Blind for klezmer clarinet and string quartet, and his opera Ainadamar. Golijov described Tenebrae as “the slow, quiet reading of an illuminated medieval manuscript” that offers “a ‘beautiful’ surface” but with pain beneath that surface.

Compared to works by Alberga and Golijov, Beethoven’s String Quartet op. 130, is familiar to most classical music audiences. One of the composer’s late quartets, it was completed in 1826. The slow movement, titled “cavatina,” is considered the high point of the score and was included on the “Golden Record” sent on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977.

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Ivalas Quartet

Ivalas Quartet

  • Eleanor Alberga: String Quartet No. 1
  • Osvaldo Golijov: Tenebrae
  • Beethoven: String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, op.130

4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6
7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7
Grusin Hall, Imig Music Building

Tickets to both live performances and a live stream of the concert are available HERE.

Weekend Concerts Feature Mozart

Boulder Chamber Orchestra Oct. 29; Takács Quartet Oct. 30–31

By Peter Alexander Oct. 25 at 10:20 p.m.

Guest conductor Giancarlo De Lorenzo and violinist Loreto Gismundi, both from Italy, will launch the 2022–23 season of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) Saturday, Oct. 29, in a program titled, unoriginally, “Mostly Mozart” (see concert details below).

In this case, however, the name definitely fits: the program features a violin concerto (No. 4 in D major, K218) and a symphony (No. 29 in A major, K201) by a youthful Mozart, and just one short intro to the concert, Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from the oratorio Solomon.

This concert is part of an exchange between De Lorenzo and BCO director Bahman Saless, who previously conducted the Italian orchestra with which De Lorenzo is affiliated.

Mozart

The two Mozart works were both written in Salzburg, between the young Mozart’s three trips to Italy as a teenaged opera composer (1769–71, 1771–72 and 1772–73) and his disastrous trip to Paris (1777–79) during which he failed to find a permanent job and lost his mother. He was not particularly happy in Salzburg, but this was a fairly stable period of his life, and these are some his first important, mature compositions. 

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“Mostly Mozart”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra with guest conductor Giancarlo De Lorenzo and Loreto Gismundi, violin

  • Handel: “Arrival of Queen of Sheba” from Solomon
  • Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K218
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A major, K201

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29
Seventh-day Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave

TICKETS  

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The English composer Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) comes from a later generation then the Hungarian Bélá Bartók (1881–1945), but in their next CU campus concert the Takács Quartet scrambles the chronology just a little bit by playing the very first quartet by Britten, followed by the last quartet by Bartók, written four year later (1941 and 1945). 

That program, which also features Mozart’s String Quartet in D major, K499, will be presented at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30, and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31, in Grusin Hall on the CU campus. The performance is also available by live stream (see ticket information here).

Benjamin Britten

Due to World War II, both the Britten and Bartók quartets were written in the United States. A pacifist and conscientious objector, Britten left England in 1939, although he returned to his native country before the war was out. He wrote several works in the US, including the String Quartet No. 1 and his first opera, Paul Bunyan. He wrote his popular Ceremony of Carols on a dangerous and stressful return voyage across the U-boat infested North Atlantic in 1942.

Bérla Batók

Bartók came to the US a year later out of his opposition to nazism, and eventually became a US citizen shortly before his death from leukemia in 1945. In addition to the Sixth String Quartet, other works written in the US include his Third Piano Concerto, his unfinished Viola Concerto, and the Concerto for Orchestra.

The Takács, which started in 1975 as quartet of four music students in Budapest, has long been associated with the music of fellow-Hungarian Bartók. Only one of the original four—cellist András Fejér—remains, but from long history and tradition, the quartet retains its reputation as performers of music by the Hungarian composer, alongside an unparalleled recognition for excellence across the quartet repertoire. 

Although the exact CU program is not duplicated elsewhere, all three works do appear on upcoming concerts by the Takács Quartet while on tour in England.

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Takács Quartet

  • Benjamin Britten: String Quartet No. 1 (1941)
  • Bartók: String Quartet No. 6 (1945)
  • Mozart: String Quartet in D major, K499

4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30
7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31
Grusin Hall, Imig Music Building
In person and live-stream tickets HERE

Beethoven and Halloween Hit the Concert Stages

Longmont Symphony at Stewart Auditorium, Colorado Chamber Players in Broomfield

By Peter Alexander Oct. 21 at 5:15 p.m.

The Longmont Symphony nears the end of its Beethoven symphony cycle this weekend at the intimate Stewart auditorium of the Longmont Museum.

Conductor Elliot Moore leads the orchestra in the next-to-last of the composer’s nine symphonies, in a cycle that was begun in 2018 and continued nearly unabated through the recent pandemic. The Symphony No. 8 in F major, op. 93, will be joined on the program by the Symphony in G major by Beethoven’s contemporary and lifelong friend Anton Reicha.

The concert will be presented twice, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2s2, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23. Tickets are available here.

Beethoven referred to his Eight Symphony, one of his lighter and more cheerful works, as “my little symphony in F.” It is more classical in structure and style than either the Sixth or Seventh symphonies, which were more revolutionary than the 8th. Written while Beethoven was trying to prevent his brother Nikolaus Johann from marrying, the score reveals none of the emotional turmoil that both were undergoing at the time.

Reicha became Beethoven’s friend when both played in the court orchestra in Bonn. Only a few of his wind quintets are known today, and his orchestral works, because they were never adequately catalogued, are almost never played. The Longmont Symphony is calling their performance of the Symphony in G “its premiere performance as a fully restored work after a very long 200 year wait.”

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Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor

  • Anton Reicha: Symphony in G major (premiere of restored version)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 in F major, op. 93

7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22
4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23
Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum

TICKETS   

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The Colorado Chamber Players aim to transport listeners into the “Twilight Zone” for the Halloween season.

The program, subtitled “Strange and Supernatural Music of the Baroque,” will be presented in Denver (Oct. 21), Montclair (Oct. 22) and Broomfield (7:30 p.m. Broomfield Auditorium; details below). The music selected for the program has been incorporated into a musical and poetic hybrid theater work by John Harwell. Music will be performed by members of the Colorado Chamber Players, and narration and poetry recitation by actor Chris Kendall.

The Baroque era is usually defined as music of the 17th and early 18th centuries. Many of the works from this era, particularly music by Vivaldi, Handel and Bach, have become very popular today, but the word “Baroque” was not originally meant as a compliment. Meaning “bizarre” or “oddly shaped,” it was applied to music that broke from the patterns of Renaissance music in various unexpected ways. As such, programming of Baroque music for Halloween makes sense.

Some of the musical pieces portray grotesque subjects, such as Marin Marias’ Tableau de l’Operation de la Taille (A description of the operation of the stone) for bass viola da gamba and narrator. Others, like Henry Purcell’s Fantasia No 4 in E minor for viols, are included for their unusual and unsettling sound content. 

Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill” Sonata for solo violin and bass is included for it’s legendary origin in a dream where the composer saw the Devil playing the violin. Other works on the program are by Heinrich Biber and Anthony Holborne. 

Now in their 29th season, the Colorado Chamber Players have grown from a string trio in 1993 to a mixed ensemble of 10 players today. The versatile group includes a string quartet, string bass, flute, harp, piano, viola d’amore and voice. Located in Denver, they perform concerts, educational programs and broadcasts of collaborative chamber works throughout the Denver and front-range region.

For more information, visit the CCP Facebook page.

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“Twilight Zone: Strange and Supernatural Music of the Baroque”
Music/theater hybrid work by Josh Hartwell
Poetry and narration performed by Chris Kendall
Music performed by Colorado Chamber Players

Program includes:

  • Henry Purcell: Fantasia No 4 in E minor for viols
  • Marin Marais: Tableau de l’Operation de la Taille (A description of the operation of the stone) for bass viola da gamba and narrator
  • Giuseppe Tartini: Violin Sonata in G minor (“Devil’s Trill”)
  • Music by Heinrich Biber and Anthony Holborne, and poetry by Emily Dickinson, Moya Cannon and Robert Herrick

7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23
Broomfield Auditorium

TICKETS

Wei Wu returns to CU, where he started in opera

Now a guest artist in same role, same opera, same set, same stage, ten years later

By Peter Alexander Oct. 20 at 10:10 p.m.

Wei Wu left Beijing in 2008, a young bass singer with his eyes on a career in opera. The first place he came outside of China was Colorado, to study with Julie Simpson at the CU-Boulder College of Music.

He remained in Boulder for five years, singing in most productions during those years, and graduated with a master’s degree in 2013. The first full opera role he sang anywhere was on the Macky stage, in the role of Colline in Puccini’s La Bohéme.

Wei Wu as Colline in the current CU production of “La Bohéme”

This weekend he returns to the Macky stage, in the role of Colline in Puccini’s La Bohéme—and in the very same set as ten-plus years ago! (You can read about the opera and the current production here.) He will appear in all three performances presented by the Eklund Opera program, Friday through Sunday (Oct. 21–23; details below).

“It’s been like 10 years and that was the first production I did, and I’m so happy to be back,” Wu says. “Boulder has been so special to me and to my wife too, because Colorado is the first state I came to. I just love Colorado.”

Indeed, he loves Colorado so much that he has moved back to Boulder permanently. His operatic career is well established, he has an agent who can land roles for him with opera companies around the country, his wife has a job in Boulder, and he still has many friends here who are “more like a family member to us,” he says. After several years in New York, he was happy to return to a place he loves. 

Leigh Holman

Leigh Holman, the director of the Eklund Opera Program and stage director for La Bohéme is equally happy to have him here. “It’s been great for the students for him to work right alongside of them,” she says. “They have the opportunity to ask him questions and get to know him as a person, but also ask him about his experiences as a young artist.”

Wu’s experiences after leaving CU have been a model for rising young singers. After graduating, he landed a position in the Domingo Young Artist Program at Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. From D.C. he moved to New York for several years, in order to be close to auditions and agents that could help him launch into the professional world.

Weigh Wu (r) with Ken Howard (l) as Steve Jobs at the Santa Fe Opera, 2017. Photo by Ken Howard.

He sang with several companies, but his breakthrough came in 2017 when he sang the role of Kōbun, Steve Jobs’s guru, in the world premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs by Mason Bates at the Santa Fe Opera. I reviewed that production on the Sharpsandflatirons blog, writing that he “sang with a deep resonant bass as Kōbun. In a role filled with both wisdom and wry humor, he captured the changing nuances perfectly.” (See the full review here.)

“That was my career turning point, singing in Santa Fe,” Wu says. “The world premiere brought me many other world premieres, doing more new operas. And on that they did a live recording that won the Grammy!”

His Chinese family has come to visit him in Colorado, but he has not been able to return to Beijing since the pandemic hit. His family played a large role in his interest in music: his grandfather played trumpet in jazz bands in the 1950s, and when he was growing up in the ‘80s, his father had cassette recordings of classical music.

Wu admits to a certain amount of culture shock when he first arrived in the US, and credits Holman with helping him adjust. “She was definitely one of my big mentors during my student years, who opened up my mind and helped me develop a lot,” he says. “She gave me a lot of opportunities to touch something as me.” 

His sang roles that certainly were not stereotyped for an Asian singer, including Jigger in Carousel and the sexually predatory southern preacher Olin Blitch in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. Asked about his mastery of Southern English, he said that he has a good ear for accents, then sang out, “Howdy Brethren and sisters!” with a good touch of twang.

After the production of Bohéme in Macky, Wu has some exciting professional engagements coming up. Next will be Tosca in Los Angeles in November and December, and Bellini’s Norma at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in February and March. And The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs continues to pay dividends: he will sing in a new production that was co-commissioned by several companies around the country, including the Utah Opera, where you can see him May 6–14, 2023 in Salt Lake City.

Now that he lives in Boulder, there may be more guest appearances with the Eklund Opera as well. “As long as the schedule works out, I would love to,” he says. 

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Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème
CU Eklund Opera, Leigh Holman, stage director
Nick Carthy, conductor

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct.21, and Saturday, Oct. 22
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23
Macky Auditorium

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Eklund Opera brings 19th-century Paris to Macky

Puccini’s La Bohème, opera’s ‘gateway drug,’ Friday through Sunday

By Peter Alexander Oct. 19 at 4:12 p.m.

Leigh Holman

“It’s the gateway drug for opera, because I think it’s the best first opera that anybody could ever see.”

Leigh Holman, the director of CU’s Eklund Opera, is talking about Puccini’s La Bohème, the current CU production that opens Friday at Macky Auditorium (7:30 p.m. Oct. 21). “It’s not only the story and the singing and the music, but the pacing of the piece is brilliant,” she says.

Other performances of the production will take place in Macky Saturday and Sunday (7:30 p.m. Oct. 22 and 2 p.m. Oct. 23; ticket information below). Holman is the stage director of the production, and Nicholas Carthy conducts. Guest artist Wei Wu, a 2013 graduate of CU who is building a professional career in the US, will appear in the bass role of Colline. Other parts and the orchestra will be filled with current CU music students.

Miguel Ángel Ortega Bañales as Rodolfo, Sarah Cain as Mimi

If you don’t know the story, four young starving artists share a garret in Paris. They are poor, making money as they can, but at the start of the opera they are freezing and burning their work to keep warm. One of the four, the writer Rodolfo, meets Mimi, an equally impoverished seamstress, and they fall in love.

Rodolfo and Mimi join the other Bohemians for a Christmas eve dinner at the Café Momus. This scene, filled with families, children, street vendors, waiters and patrons of the café, is brilliant and spirited, introducing Musetta, the fiery girlfriend of Rodolfo’s roommate Marcello. The rest of the opera traces the passions and the breakups of the two couples, until Mimi returns to the garret deathly ill.

The characters’ emotional ups and downs always touch the hearts of audiences. “It’s a brilliant score,” Holman says. “The music’s great, in depicting what anybody’s feeling at any time. And the pacing’s brilliant— just when you think you can’t take any more heartache, somebody’s celebrating and you’re brought along in that.”

Another reason the characters touch people’s hearts is that they are relatable. Just like the Bohemians, most of us have passed through a stage of hopes and struggles at some point in our lives. And at CU the students in the cast are the same age as the characters.

Conductor Nicholas Carthy

Popular as it is, La Bohéme is not easy to produce. Carthy points out that unlike professional companies , CU can’t do whatever they want. “The difference between us and an opera company is that they look at what they want to do and go get the singers; we look at the singers and decide what we want to do,” he says.

The key to performing Bohéme is the role of Rodolfo, which vocally requires a slightly more mature singer than the others. “You have to build it around Rodolfo,” he says. “That’s going to be a slightly older voice.” 

When you have someone who can fit that role, then you put the others in place. In this case, all the parts were cast with students except Colline, one of the four sharing the garret. His role calls for a strong bass, particularly in the aria he sings in Act IV, a farewell to his overcoat. For Colline, CU invited Chinese bass and CU grad Wei Wu back to campus. (Watch here for a separate feature on Wei Wu.)

The score is also a challenge for the conductor. Arturo Toscanini, who conducted the premiere of Bohéme in 1896, once said if you can conduct Bohéme, you can conduct anything. “It’s a massive piece of organization,” Carthy explains, “especially the second act when you’ve got all sort of different chorus voices.

“You’ve got the kids’ chorus singing different things, you’ve got the chorus split into mothers and vendors and waiters, and all the people selling different foods. But it’s the most glorious, glorious thing you can conduct!”

On top of that, the conductor and the orchestra have to be very, very flexible, he says. The tempo keeps shifting throughout, to make the musical phrases expressive. “I told the orchestra, this is music that is so flexible that if you look down, if you’re not concentrating, when you look again I won’t be where you think I am.”

This is a mater of “rubato,” to use the musical term, which means slowing down to stretch one phrase or emphasize one word of the text, then resuming the former tempo. “Taking time isn’t the problem,” Carthy says. “Once you’ve taken the time, it’s getting the momentum back. They find that more difficult. Any orchestra—any professional orchestra would find that.”

Sarah Cain as Mimi and Miguel Ángel Ortega Bañales as Rodolfo in the opera’s final scene

Opera companies around the world, and university opera programs as well, include La Bohéme in their programs again and again. That is a tribute to Puccini’s success in communicating the emotions of the opera’s young characters. And once the emotions reach listener’s hearts, they stay there. “Many opera buffs have been going to operas since they were young,” Holman says. “And they keep coming back to Bohéme.

“Once you get hooked on La Bohéme, we keep those fans forever!”

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Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème
CU Eklund Opera, Leigh Holman, stage director
Nicholas Carthy, conductor

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct.21, and Saturday, Oct. 22
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23
Macky Auditorium

TICKETS