There are No Tragic Endings on Central City Opera MainStage this year

Rollicking comedy and light-hearted drama lead the summer schedule

By Peter Alexander July 8 at 5:30 p.m.

There will be no babies thrown into the fire (Il Trovatore, 2018), or innocent girls murdered in place of a dissolute count (Rigoletto, 2021) at Central City Opera this summer.

CCO has not been able to perform in their exquisite opera house in Central City since 2019, and between returning to their home and this year’s 90th anniversary, the company wanted a cheerful summer. In the words of Central City Opera chief executive officer Pamela Pantos, the aim was that “after what we’ve all been thorough, people will come and smile, be back in the opera house and enjoy themselves.”

Opening Night at Central City Opera. Featured in Central City Opera’s 75th anniversary book, “Theatre of Dreams, The Glorious Central City Opera—Celebrating 75 Years.”

Both mainstage productions in the Central City Opera House will be light-hearted works: the frothy Viennese confection of Johann Strauss, Jr., Die Fledermaus; and The Light in the Piazza, a Tony-winning Broadway musical by Adam Guettel, which has moments of melancholy but ends happily with boy-marries-girl.

The only darker tones come later in the summer, with a production of Two Remain, a chamber opera by Jake Heggie based on the stories of two Auschwitz survivors. That will be performed at the Martin Foundry in Central City (see dates and time below).

Broadway musicals have often been performed by Central City Opera: Carousel (2021), Man of La Mancha (2015), The Sound of Music (Denver, 2014), Show Boat (Denver, 2013), Oklahoma! (2012) among others. Pantos hopes that there will be ongoing support for musical comedies, for the breadth they bring to the repertoire.

Central City Opera’s production of ‘The Light in the Piazza.’ Photo by Amanda Tipton Photography

A Light in the Piazza tells the story of 1950s American housewife Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara—who seems to be developmentally disabled from a childhood accident. This being a musical, Clara falls in love with a handsome young Italian man, and Margaret has to decide if the young couple will be allowed to see each other, and ultimately, to marry.

The conflict revolves around Margaret’s desire to protect her daughter, and to let her live her own life. There are also cultural differences between the Americans and the Italians, which create another level of dilemma for everyone. With her husband busy in the United States, Margaret has to find her own path, just as Clara does.

Rebecca Caine (Margaret Johnson) and Diana Newman (Clara Johnson) in the CCO production of ‘The Light in the Piazza.’ Photo by Amanda Tipton Photography.

“While there are moments of seriousness to the piece, it is quite lighthearted,” Pantos says. “It had a long run on the stage in New York, (and) Tony-winning is always Tony winning! There’s a little bit of melancholy, but beautiful music—it is a romance!”

Composed by the grandson of Broadway legend Richard Rodgers, A Light in the Piazza reflects the style and traditions of 20th-century American Music Theater. Die Fledermaus, however, reflects just as deeply the style and manner of a very different world: that of 19th-century Vienna. There are swirling waltzes (of course), a grand party thrown by a bored Russian count, mistaken identities and masks, and hilarious comedy from beginning to end, all capturing the splendor and decadence of Imperial Vienna.

The plot is almost too complicated to explain, except that it is a tale of foolishness, and of revenge between friends, that starts in an elegant home and ends in a dreary prison, with a glamorous dinner party in between. But even in the prison, everyone comes away happy. The musical numbers will be performed in German but the dialog in English so everyone should be able to follow the story.

Conductor John Baril.

The Viennese musical style, combining elegance and sentimentality, is not always easy for non-native performers. There are unwritten rules for modifying rhythms and tempos that are known to the Viennese, but not necessarily outsiders—kind of like the unwritten rules in American jazz.

“The trick in getting Fledermaus right is all of the little things that aren’t on the page,” conductor John Baril says. “There’s a lot of little Viennese things that are done, especially in waltz tempi. You rush the second beat—it’s not written down that way so you have to explain it to an orchestra.

“And then you also have to get them to not play it when you don’t want it. There’s a lot of little things that are traditions, little slow-downs here and little commas there. None of that is written, it all has to be explained. And getting singers to do that and not just do what’s written on the page can be hard.”

One traditional showstopper is a very flashy Hungarian Czardas, sung by one of the characters in the second act. “It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever conducted,” Baril says. “It’s super hard to conduct because again everything that the singer needs to do with that piece, to make it interesting, is not on the page.“

In addition to singing one of the lead characters himself, Baril says he has studied recordings and performances by native Austrian and Viennese conductors. “I’m going to do it the way I want to do it,” he says. “And the way I want to do it is all the Viennese things that I’ve heard done.”

Baril mentions one other challenge to any performances at Central City Opera. “We’re at 8500 ft., and some of the phrasings that you could do at sea level you simply cannot do,” he says. “We never know—there’s no way TO know—when a new artist is coming up here, whether they can adapt.”

The production is one that CCO bought from Virginia Opera and modified to fit their small stage. “I saw the set at Northwestern and it’s beautiful,” Baril says. “It is a set that takes place in Vienna, so it will be as Viennese as we can make it. 

“I love Fledermaus. I think it’s a masterpiece of the order of anything else.”

Pantos wants people to make the trip up the mountain to Central City to see the shows, but also just to experience the intimate 550-seat opera house, built in 1878. “Being in such a jewel of a theater and being so close to the stage, you have the unique opportunity of experiencing theater in a way that you’ll never experience it anywhere else,” she says.

The interior of the Central City Opera House

“Because it is such an intimate theater, there is not a bad seat in the entire house. You’re so close to the performers, that it’s exhilarating and the energy literally emanates from the stage and you feel it because its is such a beautiful small theater.”

# # # # #

Central City Opera
Summer 2022 season

The Light in the Piazza
By Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas
Performed in English

Adam Turner, conductor
Ken Cazan, stage director

2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10; Tuesday, July 12; Sat. July 16; Wednesday, July 20; Friday, July 22; Sunday, July 24; Thursday, July 28
8 p.m. Friday, July 8; Thursday, July 14; Tuesday, July 26

Central City Opera House

Die Fledermaus (The bat)
By Johann Strauss, Jrs., Karl Haffner and Richard Genée
Performed in German with dialog and titles in English

John Baril, conductor
Joachim Schamberger, stage director

8:00 p.m. Saturday, July 9; Friday July 15; Thursday, July 21; 
2:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 13; Sunday, July 17; Tuesday, July 19; Saturday, July 23; Wednesday, July 27; Friday, July 29; Sunday, July 31

Central City Opera House

Two Remain: Memories of Auschwitz
By Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer

Performed in English
John Baril and Brandon Eldridge, co-conductors
Dan Wallace Miller, stage director

7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 16 (sold out); Wednesday, July 20
2:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21 (sold out)
11 a.m. Thursday, July 28

Martin Foundry, 212 Eureka St., Central City

Tickets available through the Central City Opera Web page.

Colorado Music Festival under way with music by living composers

Composer-in-residence John Adams, “Music of Today” are featured in the 2022 season

By Peter Alexander July 6 at 10:30 p.m.

The 2022 Colorado Music Festival (CMF), underway at Boulder’s Chautauqua Auditorium, offers some terrific programs, but if you want to know which ones are most exciting, don’t ask Peter Oundjian. The festival’s music director and conductor loves them all.

Peter Oundjian at Chautauqua

“Since I designed it, there’s nothing I’m not excited about,” he says of this year’s festival. “You’ve got really interesting guests and wonderful artists, the Takács Quartet and John Adams and Mahler’s Fifth and a fanfare by Wynton Marsalis. It’s full of exciting prospects!” (See the complete, updated program for the festival below.)

In fact, there is enough excitement that it’s hard to mention it all in one sentence. Other intriguing prospects for the summer are performances of all five Beethoven piano concertos on three concerts, by rising Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki (July 7–10); a week of “Music of Today” (July 12–17); world premieres of music by Timo Andres (July 17) and Wang Jie (Aug. 4); guest performances by pianist Jeremy Denk (July 17), violinist Randall Goosby (July 21–22) and clarinetist Anthony McGill (Aug. 4).

Here are closer looks into some of the headline events during the summer:

Jan Lisiecki. Photo by Mathias Bothor—DG

Lisiecki’s Beethoven Piano Concerto series opens Thursday. “Jan is a young musician and p pianist, really remarkable, and he just recorded the piano concerti of Beethoven for Deutsche Grammophon [record label].” Oundjian says. “He was supposed to play them two years ago, for Beethoven’s 250th. I really didn’t want to lose that idea for the festival, and he promised that he would come back and play them all.”

Another anniversary, one this year, provided the other idea for programming the three concerts. The year 2022 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose works will open the concerts that conclude with Beethoven’s piano concertos. Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis open the first of the Beethoven-Vaughan Williams concerts (July 7), followed by the Overture to The Wasps (July 8), and the Fifth Symphony (July 10).

“I’ve always been an enormous admirer of Vaughan Williams’s music,” Oundjian says. “It’s the 150th anniversary and I don’t think anybody in this country has acknowledged it, so that’s what we’re doing. The Fifth Symphony is really extraordinary—it’s so evocative, it’s so beautiful and so sad and reflective, but it ends with a great sense of optimism.”

“Music of Today” (July 12–17) is central to Oundjian’s concept of the festival. “I hope to think it’s important to everyone, but it’s certainly important to me,” he says. Music for the week-long mini-festival was selected by Oundjian together with the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams, who is the CMF composer-in-residence. In addition to his works being featured throughout the festival, Adams personally selected some of the composers for the festival, and he will conduct part of the programs July 14 and 17.

At 75, Adams is one of the country’s most revered composers. He is perhaps best known for his operas, including Nixon in China (1987) and Dr. Atomic (2005), but he has also written numerous orchestral, chamber, and solo piano works, several of which will be heard at CMF. His On the Transmigration of Souls, written in commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Centra in New York, won the Pulitzer Prize.

John Adams. Photo by Riccardo Musacchio

All four of the “Music of Today” concert include music by Adams, but they also include younger composers who are, so far, less known. The mini-festival opens with the Attacca Quartet (July 12), a young string quartet who describe themselves as “passionate advocates of contemporary repertoire.” 

In addition to selections from Adams’s John’s Book of Alleged Dances, Attacca will perform music by Flying Lotus, a DJ, producer and rapper from Los Angeles; Anne Müller, a German cellist/composer; American singer-songwriter Louis Cole; Philip Glass; and Caroline Shaw, who at 30 became the youngest-ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize in composition.

A Festival Orchestra concert (July 14) will feature both Oundjian and Adams conducting. The program comprises Adams’s City Noir, an atmospheric and jazzy symphony inspired by the culture of Los Angeles and noir films of the ‘40s and ‘50s; a Chamber Concerto by his son, Samuel Adams; and the world premiere of Dark Patterns by pianist/composer Timo Andres, a CMF commission. In addition to Dark Patterns, Andres has received commissions from Carnegie Hall for the Takacs Quartet, the Boston Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the New World Symphony. 

Surely a highlight of “Music for Today” will be the “Kaleidoscope” concert (July 15), with performances by guest artists Tessa Lark, violin, and Timothy McAllister, saxophone, with members of the CMF orchestra. Using lighting and video to create a theatrical performance as well as a concert, “Kaleidoscope” features, yes, a kaleidoscopic array of different composers—Adams, Glass, John Corigliano, Osvaldo Golijov, and others.

“It’s so much fun!” Oundjian says. “We put a screen up, and cameras everywhere, so you can watch the artists normally, or you can watch them at various different angles. And all of this cool lighting.! It’s like a theater evening rather than a concert.”

Gabriella Smith

“Music of Today” concludes with another concert shared by Oundjian and Adams as conductors of the CMF orchestra, with pianist Jeremy Denk playing Adams’s Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? (July 17).Also on the program is Tumblebird Contrails by Gabriella Smith, a committed environmentalist as well as composer. The score was inspired by an experience Smith had backpacking at the edge of the ocean at Pt. Reyes, Calif. The title, she writes, “is a Kerouac-inspired nonsense phrase.”

The final piece of the “Music of Today” week is also the only piece by a composer who is no longer living, the Symphony No. 6 by Christopher Rouse. “John and Christopher knew each other quite well,” Oundjian says. “(Rouse) basically composes his own final moments—when the gong sounds at the end, that is the final moment of life, and it’s very, very moving. So that’s why I’m ending the whole week with it.”

Later in  the summer, former CMF music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni will return to Boulder to lead two programs (July 18–29 and July 31). The first will feature more or less standard repertoire, including Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero playing Tchaikovsky’s every-popular First Piano Concerto. Known for her brilliant improvising skills, Montero has appeared in Boulder before, most recently with the CMF orchestra in July 2019.

Zeitouni’s second program is more interesting: Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst for strings, Bizet’s youthful Symphony in C major, and Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This very familiar music is rarely heard in its intended context—the play by William Shakespeare. The CMF performance will provide at least a taste of the original idea, with musical passages presented with texts from Shakespeare’s play spoken by actors John de Lancie and Marnie Mosiman. The performance will feature sopranos Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and Abigail Nims.

The Festival Finale Concert (Aug. 7) ends the festival with a bang: the Colorado premiere of Wynton Marsalis’s fanfare Herald, Holler and Hallelujah! a CMF co-commission, and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Ending the summer with a Mahler is symphony is not a convention at CMF, but Oundjian would not mind if it were. 

“I wouldn’t want to call it a tradition yet, because we only did it ‘19.” he says. “There’s nothing quite like Mahler for an orchestra, for a conductor, for the experience to listening as a music lover. So I like the idea. We’re going to try again for ‘23.”

The festival’s mix of audience favorites—Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto and Mahler’s Fifth, for example—with interesting new works by John Adams, Christopher Rouse, and younger composers including Carolyn Shaw, Flying Lotus, Gabriella Smith and Timo Andres, brings Oundjian’s vision of the festival to life.

“You can’t only program for the box office,“ he says. “You have to program for vision, and for maybe down-the-road box office. If you put interesting juxtapositions together, people develop a trust in you, and they’ll buy stuff they wouldn’t have bought two years earlier.

“It’s like when you go into an art gallery: you don’t have to love everything you see. It’s important that you enjoy an incredibly select [portion] that’s just amazing.”

With such wide ranging repertoire, this year’s CMF gives the audience a lot of opportunities to discover something “just amazing.” And perhaps to discover some new favorite composers in the process.

# # # # #

Colorado Music Festival 2022
(Remaining concerts)
All performances at Chautauqua Auditorium

7:30 pm. Thursday, July 7
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major
    —Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor

6:30 p.m. Friday, July 8
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Overture to The Wasps 
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major
    —Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 in D major
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major (“Emperor”)

——-Music of Today——-

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 12
Attacca Quartet

  • John Adams: selections from John’s Book of Alleged Dances 
  • Flying Lotus: Clock Catcher
    Remind U
    Pilgrim Side Eye
  • Anne Müller: Drifting Circles 
  • Louis Cole: Real Life
  • Philip Glass: String Quartet No. 3, “Mishima”
  • Caroline Shaw: The Evergreen
  • Gabriella Smith: Carrot Revolution

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14
Peter Oundjian and John Adams, conductors
With Samuel Adams, composer; Tessa Lark, violin; and Timothy McAllister, saxophone

  • Timo Andres: Dark Patterns (world premiere commission)
  • Samuel Adams: Chamber Concerto 
  • John Adams: City Noir

7:30 p.m. Friday, July 15: Kaleidoscope
Timo Andres, piano; Tessa Lark, violin; Timothy McAllister, saxophone; and members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • David Skidmore: Ritual Music 
  • Stacy Garrop: Reborn in flames (from Phoenix Rising)
  • Osvaldo Golijov: Last Round
  • Valerie Coleman: Red Clay & Mississippi Delta for Wind Quintet
  • Timo Andres: Honest Labor 
  • Roshanne Etezady: Recurring Dreams 
  • John Corigliano: STOMP 
  • Philip Glass: Etude No. 6 
  • John Adams: Road Movie

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17
Peter Oundjian and John Adams, conductors, Jeremy Denk, piano

  • Gabriella Smith: Tumblebird Contrails 
  • John Adams: Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? 
  • Christopher Rouse: Symphony No. 6

—————————

7:30 Tuesday, July 19: Flavors of Russia
Members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • Borodin: String Sextet in D minor
  • Mikhail Glinka: Trio Pathétique in D minor
  • Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence Sextet in D Minor, op. 70

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 22
Ryan Bancroft, conductor, with Randall Goosby violin

  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Ballade in A minor for orchestra
  • Florence Price: Violin Concerto No. 2
  • Saint-Saëns: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, op. 28
  • Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 24
Ryan Bancroft, conductor, with Albert Cano Smit, piano

  • Mozart: Serenade in C minor for winds, K388 
    —Piano Concerto B-flat major, K595 
    —Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K543

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 26
Members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • Mozart: Flute Quartet in D Major, K285
  • Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson: Movement for String Trio
  • Dvořák: Terzetto in C Major, op. 74
  • Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B minor, op. 115

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 28
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 29
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor, with Gabriela Montero, piano

  • Mussorgsky, arr. Rimsky-Korsakov: Night on Bald Mountain
  • Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor
  • Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 31
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor with Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and Abigail Nims, sopranos; John de Lancie and Marnie Mosiman, actors

  • Jessie Montgomery: Starburst 
  • Georges Bizet: Symphony No. 1 in C major 
  • Felix Mendelssohn: Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2
Danish String Quartet

  • Henry Purcell, arr. Benjamin Britten: Chacony in G minor
  • Folk Music from the British Isles, arr. Danish String Quartet
  • Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”)

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Anthony McGill, clarinet

  • Wang Jie: Flying On the Scaly Backs of Our Mountains (world premiere)
  • Carl Maria von Weber: Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor 
  • Debussy: Première Rhapsodie for clarinet and orchestra
  • Stravinsky: Suite from The Firebird (1919) 

6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7: Festival Finale Concert
Peter Oundjian, conductor

  • Wynton Marsalis: Herald, Holler and Hallelujah! (Colorado premiere, co-commission)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor

Portions of new opera to be presented Sunday

Kamala Sankaram’s Joan of the City is inspired by homelessness and Joan of Arc

By Peter Alexander June 17 at 5:23 p.m.

Composer Kamala Sankaram says that many of the pieces she writes start with her own imagination and not the way many operas get written— with a commission for a specific performing organization. 

“They start with a crazy idea that I have” Sankaram says. “Then I talk to people and see who also is crazy.” She then works with the “also crazy” people to bring her idea to life.

Kamala Sankaram

For her latest project, an opera titled Joan of the City that combines themes of homelessness with the Joan of Arc story, those conversations led her to Leigh Holman, director of the Eklund Opera Program at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the New Opera Workshop (CU NOW).

Sankaram has been in Boulder for the past two weeks, composing music and working with students in the opera program to start turning her “crazy idea” into a site-specific opera that will be premiered next year by Opera Omaha. Completed portions of Joan of the City will be performed at 3 p.m. Sunday (June 19) in the Music Theatre of Imig Music Building.

The performance is free and open to the public, and will take place entirely in the Music Theatre space.

The basic idea of the opera is that not one but five Joans will be fighting, not the English invaders in France, but gentrification and other forces creating homelessness in American cities. Starting in five different places within Omaha, the Joans eventually meet up, as audiences move with them through the city.

Sankaram grew up in Southern California, where the car is king, but after she moved to New York she started walking everywhere. “Whenever I go to a new city I’m walking, and I see the homeless community,” she says. “I think it’s important to have people see what does that feel like, to be walking the city, instead of driving by in a car.

“I started thinking about [homelessness] several years ago, and it has become increasingly problematic and prevalent . . . [in] all places across the United States. So the idea was how do you get people to look and see things that they normally look past.”

Another idea was the use of technology, which features in a lot of Sankaram’s work. It is technology that will allow the onsite performances in Omaha to take place in different places across the city, and also will allow audience members to participate in the performance by playing audio from their cell phones.

The final piece of Sankaram’s “crazy idea” was working with homeless agencies—Mary’s Place in Seattle and Micah House in Omaha—to connect the finished work to the homeless community. With her co-creator of Joan of the City, New York-based hybrid-theater director Kristin Marting, Sankaram and the homeless shelters presented writing workshops for the shelter clients.

Leigh Holman (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

The work that came from those workshops became the basis of the text for Joan of the City. “The libretto is all these poems that the shelter clients wrote, and then they’re sort of structured on this overall dramatic arc from the Joan of Arc story,” Sankaram explains. “It starts off as arias and then as the Joans meet each other, it turns into duets and trios and finally a quintet.”

Sankaram’s work is an example of the kind of creative and adventurous projects that CU NOW aims to support. Many new works go through a workshop process, but CU NOW is unique in that it offers a longer than average period for composers to work with performers while refining their work. 

The program is largely Holman’s brainchild. She started CU NOW in 2010, and it has offered several composers the opportunity to refine works that were in development, including It’s a Wonderful Life by Gene Scheer and Jake Heggie, which was premiered by Houston Grand Opera in 2016 and performed by the CU Eklund Opera in 2019.

The composers and works are chosen for CU NOW largely through Holman’s contacts in the professional world. “So far nobody has ever submitted anything (for consideration),” she says. “It’s only been knowing somebody or meeting somebody through relationships, or going to see their operas. I just invite them, and they do it because they want to develop their piece and we can provide the students and the facilities and the musicians.”

In addition to the work that is done by an established composer preparing a new piece, there is simultaneously an educational component for young composers. Under the rubric Composer Fellows’ Initiative (CFI), a composer and librettist have been brought in to work with students to develop both their musical skills and their understanding of stagecraft.

Tom Cipullo

This year, the students have been working with composer Tom Cipullo, whose comic opera Hobson’s Choice was featured at CU NOW in 2019, and librettist Gene Scheer, whose was in Boulder for CU NOW last year (Intelligence, with composer Jake Heggie) as well as 2016 (It’s a Wonderful Life). 

“It’s a marvelously thrilling thing to be a part of,” Cipullo says of CFI. The composers in this year’s program “are extraordinary young musicians,” he says. “CFI gives them a push into writing operas. They have an interest, they’re all talented. How much they’ll pursue it, what works they’ll create, who can say, [but] they jumped in and they’re doing some really good things.”

# # # # #

CU Now Opera Workshop
(CUNOW)
Leigh Holman, director

Kamala Sankaram: Joan of the City (portions)

3 p.m. Sunday, June 19
Imig Music Building, Music Theatre (N1B95)

Free

Longmont Symphony announces 2022–23 season

Season includes Beethoven cycle, Handel’s Messiah, world premieres

By Peter Alexander June 8 at 1:54 p.m.

The Longmont Symphony recently announced their 2022–23 season of concerts. The season features six mainstage concerts, three chamber orchestra concerts, and a Messiah singalong during the Holiday season (Dec. 18; see full season listings below).

The Beethoven symphony cycle will continue with Symphony No. 8 (Oct. 22 and 23), and other familiar orchestral repertoire will be represented by works of Dvořák and Sibelius. There will also be works by less familiar composers, including two world premieres, adding up to a season with intriguing discoveries to be made on most programs.

Composer John Heineken

The first of the two world premieres is Symphony for the Great Return by American composer John Hennecken on the opening night of the new season, Oct. 8. With it on the same program are Dvořák’s familiar Cello Concerto, played by Naumburg Competition winner Clancy Newman, Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, and George Walker’s elegiac Lyric for Strings.

The next installment of the LSO’s Beethoven cycle will feature the Eighth Symphony, possibly the least familiar of the canonical nine symphonies (Oct. 22 and 23 in Stewart Auditorium). Sharing the same chamber orchestral program is a symphony by Anton Reicha, a contemporary and friend of Beethoven. An adventurous and experimental composer for his times, Reicha is little known today, but his work serves to fill in the context in which Beethoven worked.

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate

The major work on the November mainstage concert (Nov. 19) will be Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major, a cheerful and upbeat piece that was written shortly before the composer’s 1892–93 visit to the United States. It will be preceded by three works that reflect the native American experience: Overture to the choral-orchestral Song of Hiawatha by the black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor; American composer Michael Daugherty’s Trail of Tears for flute, strings and harp, inspired by the forced removal of Cherokees from their homeland; and Chokfi’ (Rabbit) for strings and percussion by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, a composer who is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma. Flute soloist for Trail of Tears will be Brice Smith.

The LSO will celebrate the Holidays with a complete performance of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 17), followed by an audience-participation truncated Messiah “singalong.”

Silvestre Revueltas

The new year begins with a family concert (“Painting the Orchestra,” Jan. 21, 2023), followed by an all-Sibelius program (Feb. 18, 2023). Sibelius is generally under-represented in orchestra repertoire now, so it’s good to have a complete concert of his music, even if the program sticks to his more familiar works—Finlandia, the Violin Concerto with soloist Judith Ingolfsson, and the Symphony No. 2 in D major.

March 18 and 19 will see the second concert of the “Made in America” series, opening with Alcancías (Penny banks) for chamber orchestra by the 20th-century Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas. Jason Shafer, principal clarinet with the Colorado Symphony and a previous soloist with the LSO, returns to play Copland’s Clarinet Concerto. Completing the program are Gershwin’s Lullaby and Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, written for piano as a tribute to the Baroque composer François Couperin and later transcribed for orchestra.

Tyler Harrison

The season’s second world premiere will be the Symphony No. 3 by pianist/composer and CU, Boulder, alumnus Tyler Harrison. It will be paired with Tchaikovsky’s brooding Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique,” in a program titled “Darkness and Light” (April 15).

The 2022–23 concert season wraps up May 6 with a lighter program, “LSO Goes to the Movies,” featuring music by John Williams, Ennio Morricone and Hans Zimmer. Subscriptions are available through the LSO Web page. Tickets to individual concerts will go on sale Friday, July 29.

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2022–23 Concert Season
Longmont Symphony Orhestra

Longmont Symphony and conductor Elliot Moore

“The Great Return”
Elliot Moore, conductor, with Clancy Newman, cello

  • Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man
  • George Walker: Lyric For Strings
  • John Hennecken: Symphony for the Great Return (World premiere)
  • Dvořák: Cello Concerto

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8
Vance brand Civic Auditorium

Beethoven Symphony Cycle
Elliot Moore, conductor

  • Anton Reicha: Symphony in G
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 8

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

“Made in America,” Part 1
Elliot Moore, conductor, with Brice Smith, flute

  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Overture to Song of Hiawatha
  • Michael Daugherty: Trail of Tears
  • Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate: Chokfi’
  • Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 in G major

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

Candlelight Concert
Elliot Moore, conductor

  • Handel: Messiah

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

Messiah Singalong
Elliot Moore, conductor

  • Handel: Messiah (selections)

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

”Painting the Orchestra!” Family Concert
Elliot Moore, conductor
Program includes:

  • Prokofiev: March from The Love for Three Oranges
  • John Williams: Nimbus 2000
  • Prokofiev: Cinderella Ballet Suite (selections)

4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium

“Sibelius: A Portrait”
Elliot Moore, conductor, with Judith Ingolfsson, violin

  • Sibelius: Finlandia
  • —Violin Concerto
  • —Symphony No. 2 in D major

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium

“Made in America,” Part 2
Elliot Moore, conductor, with Jason Shafer, clarinet

  • Silvestre Revueltas: Alcancías
  • Copland: Clarinet Concerto
  • Gershwin: Lullaby
  • Ravel: L’Tombeau de Couperin

7 p.m. Saturday, March 18, 2023
4 p.m. Sunday, March 19, 2023
Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum

“Darkness and Light”
Elliot Moore, conductor

  • Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique”
  • Tyler Harrison: Symphony No. 3 (World premiere)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 15, 2023
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium

“LSO Goes to the Movies”
Elliot Moore, conductor
Program includes:

  • John Williams: Music from Star Wars and Harry Potter films
  • Ennio Morricone: Music from Cinema Paradiso
  • Hans Zimmer: Music from Pirates of the Caribbean

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6, 2023
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium

Season tickets now available. Single-even tickets go on sale July 29.

Ars Nova Singers, guitarist Spera will present ‘postcards to the future’

Concerts June 3–5 feature new work by Theofanidis and Pizzetti’s 1922 Requiem

By Peter Alexander May 23 at 9:12 p.m.

Nicolò Spera

Guitarist and CU music professor Nicolò Spera was shocked by things going on the U.S. after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He wanted to respond in the best way he knew—with music.

The musical work that came from that desire, Door Out of the Fire by Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Christopher Theofanidis, will be the centerpiece of a concert by Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers, under the direction of Thomas Edward Morgan. The Ars Nova performance will be the Colorado premiere, following a performance by Spera in Michigan in October, 2021.

Also on the program is the Requiem of Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti. Performances will be June 3, 4 and 5, in Denver, Boulder and Longmont, respectively (see details below). In addition to the live performances, the concert will also be available by livestream. Information and tickets for the concerts, which close out Ars Nova’s 2021–22 season, are available here.

Christopher Theofanidis

After Ginsburg’s death, “I wanted a composer to write some ‘postcards to the future,’ in music,” Spera wrote in a recent email. He turned to Theofanidis, who had recently written an orchestral work, On the Bridge of the Eternal, for the 2020 centennial of the CU Boulder College of Music.

Writing for and with Spera, Theofanidis composed four choral “messages in a bottle” based on poems by Melissa Studdard. Each of the four choral settings is preceded by a prelude for guitar.

The texts reflect some of the major issues of our time, including the threat posed by climate change. They are titled “Burning Cathedral,” “The Book of Rahul,” “Ruth’s Aria”—to be sung by CU music faculty member Abigail Nims, mezzo soprano—and “Migration Patterns.” The work is dedicated to “le nostre speranze”—our hopes—Spera’s children, Julia and Giacomo.

Pizzetti’s Requiem will be presented in observance of the 100th anniversary of its composition. The Requiem, Pizzetti’s only liturgical music, is written for a-capella choir. The musical setting includes Gregorian chant as well as movements that recall Renaissance madrigals. The texture varies from single-line chant to eight voices to multiple choirs in the manner of 17th-century Venetian polychoral music.

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Thomas Edward Morgan and Ars Nova Singers

Made Real
Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan, director
With Nicolò Spera, guitar, and Abigail Nims, mezzo-soprano

  • Christopher Theofanidis: Door Out of the Fire
  • Ildebrando Pizzetti: Requiem

7:30 p.m. Friday, June 3
St. Paul Community of Faith, Denver

7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 4
First United Methodist Church, Boulder

7 p.m. Sunday, June 5
Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum

Information and tickets, including livestream

MahlerFest includes works by Bartók, Casella, guest composer Christopher Gunning

Thirty-fifth festival returns to near-normal with five days of activities

By Peter Alexander May 16 at 10:20 p.m.

It has only been nine months since the COVID-postponed 34th Colorado MahlerFest, but the festival is returning in its usual May slot and with a full schedule this week.

Performances in the 35th festival include the usual Sunday afternoon Stan Ruttenberg Memorial Concert (May 22) in Macky Auditorium featuring a Mahler Symphony—this year the Third— as well as a symposium Saturday. Other events include music for piano (Tuesday), a film screening (Wednesday), chamber music (Thursday), a free concert of film music at the Boulder Bandshell (Friday) and an opera performance (Saturday; see full schedule below). There are also open rehearsals and social events during the week.

Kenneth Woods with the Colorado MahlerFest Orchestra. Phot by Keith Bobo.

Full details and tickets are available on the MahlerFest Web page.

“We’re really excited to do a quote ‘normal’ festival,” MahlerFest’s artistic director Kenneth Woods says. “It will be the biggest festival we’ve done so far.”

The signature event of the festival is the annual performance of a Mahler symphony. That is how the festival was started, and it remains the culmination of the week’s activities. The Third Symphony “is the biggest of the big pieces, the most Mahler-ish of the Mahler symphonies,” Woods says. It will be presented in the first U.S. performance of a new critical edition from the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel.

The Third is indeed a sprawling work in six movements divided into two parts: An opening march, titled “Pan Awakes; Summer Marches In” that lasts 30 minutes or more; and a series of five movements in differing styles and for differing forces, titled respectively “What the flowers in the meadow tell me,” “What the animals in the forest tell me,” “What man tells me,” “What the angels tell me” and “What love tells me.”

In Woods’s words, the opening movement is “a creation myth. It’s incredibly epic.” That exuberant, bold march is followed by a series of more intimate reflections that grew out of Mahler’s reverence for nature. The flowers inspire a graceful minuet, the animals an energetic scherzo that includes a nostalgic offstage posthorn solo.

Kenneth Woods. Photo by Chris Stock.

“What man tells me” is an ominous alto solo using a text from Nietzsche, “O Man! Take heed!” The angels are represented with a folk-like tune accompanied by a children’s chorus imitating bells, and in the final movement the full orchestra without singers brings love’s message in the form of a broad, lyrical slow movement. 

“Modern-day fascination with this piece for me is trying to understand what Mahler means when he says, ‘What the flowers tell me’,” Woods says. “It’s quite remarkable that he’s taking these almost naive ideas and writing huge movement after huge movement of intricate, sophisticated music.

“I see the piece almost as a call to action. It ought to inspire us to listen as Mahler listened, (and) to listen to Mahler’s music as he listened to the flowers. It’s so timely—what was once gentle warnings are now urgent cries of alarm. When you think about Mahler’s evocation of the flora and fauna, and what no longer exists, there is an element of a prophetic warning in the Third Symphony, but a whole lot of hope.”

Since taking over as director of the festival in 2015, Woods has expanded the scope of the festival to include music by composers related to Mahler in one way or another. In addition to the Third Symphony of Mahler, the Sunday concert will feature the world premiere of the 10th symphony of British composer Christopher Gunning.

Christopher Gunning

A prominent composer of film scores who has turned more to the writing of symphonies, Gunning is related to Mahler through the world of film music. Woods points out that the earliest film composers—Franz Waxman, Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold—were all Austrian- or German-born musicians who brought the style of Mahler and his contemporaries to Hollywood.

And now, he says, Gunning is returning the film-music style to the symphony, “a kind of musical arc of the last 100 years coming full circle. Gunning is taking where film music got to and going back into that large-scale exploration of sonata form (of the symphony) using the language that it evolved through to him.”

The presence of Mahler’s style in film music will be explored in more depth in the free Friday evening concert at the Boulder Bandshell, in a program titled “Mahler and the Movies.” 

Another work with a distant relationship to Mahler is the opera Bluebeard’s Castle by Bartók, which will be presented in a chamber version Friday. Half a generation younger than Mahler, Bartók wrote the opera in 1911, the year of Mahler’s death, and saw its first performance in 1918.

“It is the most amazing of operas,” Woods says. “I would not try to convince anyone that Bartók and Mahler are in any way the same, but they’re breathing the same air, and feeding from the same streams. What fascinates me is stylistically how far they diverge, but the role of vernacular music in both composers is provocative for its time, and that’s something that does link them in an interesting way.”

Soprano April Fredrick

The chamber version of Bluebeard’s Castle will be presented in a concert performance, featuring soprano April Fredrick as Judith and bass Gustav Andreassen as Bluebeard. Fredrick will speak about the opera at Saturday’s symposium in a talk titled “Self-will and missed connections in Bluebeard’s Castle.”

The rest of the symposium program, and the programs of the other concerts are listed in full below. There is a great deal of music not by Mahler—pieces by Bruckner, Casella, George Crumb, Beethoven, John Williams and others—but for Woods the focus remains firmly on Mahler’s symphonies, regardless of the program content.

“This will be the first year that you can hear some of every single Mahler symphony in the festival, if you come to every event,” he says. “In fact, I can guarantee listeners that they’ll hear some of every Mahler symphony on Friday night (“Mahler and the Movies”)—just not in the way they are used to hearing it.”

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Colorado MahlerFest XXXV
“What Mahler Tells Me”

Mahler at the Piano
David Korevaar and Jeremy Reger, piano

  • Bruckner: Symphony No. 3, movements II and IV (arranged by Mahler)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 3, “Menuetto aus der III. Symphonie” (arranged by Ignaz Friedman)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 4, movement IV ”Das himmlische Leben” (arranged for piano by Mahler; played by Mahler via piano roll)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 5, movement I “Trauermarsch” (arranged by Stadl)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 6, movements II and III (arranged by Alexander Zemlinsky)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 7, movement V (arranged by Alfredo Casella)

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 17
Grusin Hall, CU Imig Music Building

Movie: Under Suspicion
Film Screening of Under Suspicion, starring Liam Neeson and Laura San Giacomo
Film score by MahlerFest guest composer Christopher Gunning

3 p.m. Wednesday, May 18
Boedecker Theater, Dairy Arts Center

Quartets and More
Zachary De Pue, Karen Bentley Pollick and Suzanne Casey, violin; Lauren Spaulding, viola; Kenneth Woods and Parry Karp, cello; and Jennifer Hayghe, piano

  • Christopher Gunning: Piano Trio
  • Alfredo Casella: Cello Sonata No. 1
  • George Crumb: Sonata for solo cello
  • Beethoven: String Quartet No. 16 in F major, op. 13
    III. Lento assai, cantabile e tranquilla
  • Bartók: String Quartet No. 1

4 p.m. Thursday, May 19
Mountain View United Methodist Church

Mahler and the Movies
Colorado MahlerFest Chamber Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductorMax Steiner: Music from King Kong (arr. Steven Stanke)

  • Christopher Gunning: The Belgian Detective: Theme from Angela Christie’s Poirot (arr. Kenneth Woods)
  • Franz Waxman: Suite from Sunset Boulevard (arr. Matthew Lynch)
  • Mahler: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 (arr. Kenneth Woods)
  • Korngold: Suite from Captain Blood (arr. Luciano Williamson)
  • John Williams: Theme from Schindler’s List
  • Gunning: Music from Under Suspicion (arr. Kenneth Woods)
  • George Morton: Mahler, A Final Frontier, Fantasy on themes of Mahler and Courage

6 p.m. Friday, May 20
Boulder Bandshell, 1212 Canyon Blvd.; Free

NOTE: An alternate venue in case of inclement weather will be the Mountain View United Methodist Church.

Symposium
MahlerFest XXXV Symposium

  • Leah Batstone: “Mahler’s Nietzsche: Philosophical Resonances in the Early Symphonies”
  • April Fredrick: “’Now all is darkness’: Self-Will and missed connections in Bluebeard’s Castle
  • Peter Franklin: “Mirroring the world? What a sentimental trombone, a distant posthorn and The Bird of the Night tell us about a symphony”
  • Kenneth Woods: “Interpreting Mahler’s Third Symphony”
  • Nick Pfefferkorn: “Mahler Third Symphony: Insights on the first critical edition from the editor’s desk”

9 a.m.–4 p.m. Saturday, May 21
Mountain View United Methodist Church; Free

Bluebeard’s Castle
Colorado MahlerFest Chamber Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor
April Fredrick, soprano, and Gustav Andreassen, bass

  • Bartók: Bluebeard’s Castle
    Arranged for chamber orchestra by Christopher van Tuinen and Michael Karcher-Young

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21
Mountain View Methodist Church

Mahler’s Third Symphony 
Colorado MahlerFest Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor
With Stacey Rishoi, mezzo-soprano, Women of the Boulder Concert Chorale and Boulder Children’s Chorale Festival Choir

  • Christopher Gunning: Symphony No. 10 (World premiere)
  • Mahler: Symphony no. 3

3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 22
Macky Auditorium

More information and tickets for all MahlerFest performances are available HERE.

CORRECTIONS (May 17 at 12 noon): April Fredrick’s family name was corrected; it is not Frederick. Violist Mario Rivera has replaced Lauren Spaulding on the “Quartets and More” program May 19. Due to technical constraints in the venue, there will be no lighting effects in the performance of Bluebeard’s Castle as was originally stated.

Grammy-winning violist to play with Boulder Phil

Richard O’Neill of the Takacs Quartet will play Walton Concerto Saturday

By Peter Alexander May 12 at 1:20 p.m.

Richard O’Neill

It was in the middle of the pandemic and a massive blizzard when Richard O’Neill won a Grammy award. 

The Grammy awarded in 2021 was for his recording of the Viola Concerto by American composer Christopher Theofanidis—during the same year that he joined the Takács Quartet, moved to Boulder and joined the CU faculty. “This has been a long haul,” he said at the time. 

Hopefully, things are closer to whatever can be called normal for a performing musician/recording artist, as O’Neill takes the stage Saturday (May 14) to perform William Walton’s Viola Concerto with the Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman (concert details below; tickets here).

A demanding and dramatic work. Walton’s concerto was composed in 1929, when the composer was 27 years old, and premiered that year by the composer/violist Paul Hindemith. Since then it has become one of the landmarks of the viola repertoire.

Composer Anna Clyne has drawn on a variety of sources for inspiration in her compositions, from the paintings of Mark Rothko to music by Beethoven. Her Sound and Fury was inspired by Shakespeare’s soliloquy for Macbeth and by Haydn’s unusual and quirky six-movement Symphony No. 60, Il distratto (The distracted one), which began as incidental music for a comic play.

Anna Clyne. Photo by Jennifer Taylor.

In a program note, Clyne wrote: “My intention with Sound and Fury is to take the listener on a journey that is both invigorating—with ferocious string gestures that are flung around the orchestra—and reflective—with haunting melodies that emerge and recede.”

Sir Edward Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme, known as the “Enigma Variations” from the word Elgar wrote at the top of the score, remains one of the most popular works in the orchestral repertoire, more than 120 years after its premiere. Each of the 14 variations has an inscription that refers to one of Elgar’s friends. 

Those subjects of the individual variations have been identified. The larger enigma, however, is what Elgar wrote in his program note: “The Enigma I will not explain. Its ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed. . . . Over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes,’ but is not played.”

Whether that “larger theme” is a musical or a philosophical one is one of the many mysteries that surround the piece. Guesses as to the musical theme have ranged from “Rule Britannia” to “Pop Goes the Weasel” to Luther’s “A Might Fortress is Our God,” to Liszt’s Les Preludes, none of which have convinced a majority of musical scholars.

And so that enigma remains unsolved. Feel free to go to the concert and devise your own solution.

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Richard O’Neill, viola

  • Anna Clyne: Sound and Fury
  • William Walton: Viola Concerto
  • Elgar: Enigma Variations

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 14
Macky Auditorium

TICKETS

Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and Pro Musica choose ‘Joy’

Music of Tchaikovsky, Bach and Dvořák for Sunday’s concert

By Peter Alexander April 29 at 1:10 p.m.

Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis found inspiration for her next concert in poetry.

In the midst of dire events in Boulder and around the world—the pandemic, the Marshall Fire, and the war in Ukraine—“I was thinking, how are we going to find joy?” she asks. “There’s a wonderful quote by an African-American poet, Toi Derricotte, ‘Joy is an act of resistance.’ It’s really been a source of inspiration.”

The renovated sanctuary of Mountain View Methodist Church

With that in mind, she decided to put together a concert program for the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra titled “Joy” that would offer joy through music. The concert will be at 3 p.m. Sunday (May 1) in the newly remodeled Mountain View Methodist Church (see details below). 

The program comprises three pieces: Andante cantabile by Tchaikovsky, the Orchestral Suite in B minor by J.S. Bach, and the Serenade for Winds by Dvořák.

Katsarelis found another source of inspiration in the history of her own family, which has ancestral ties to Greece. “I thought a lot about my family in World War I and in World War II,” she says. “They found joy in their lives in the middle of all this, so I was thinking, how are we going to find joy?

Cynthia Katsarelis

“You can find joy going to a concert and hearing great music, connecting to your own humanity but also connecting to the humanity around you—people in the audience, the musicians (and) the artists. So it was really out of the depths that I decided to put on a concert called ‘Joy.’”

Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile is a string orchestra version of the slow movements from the composer’s First String Quartet. “It’s just this really beautiful work,” Katsarelis says. “It opens the concert with a lovely wash of the soul and a little tug at the heartstrings.”

It’s inclusion on this program is also a subtle political statement about the war in Ukraine. Katsarelis explains: “You have to remember that Tchaikovsky was a gay man who had to hide it, and was oppressed because of it. Putin has been brutal on the LGBTQ+ community, and when the Russians invaded Ukraine they had a list of people to target (including) LGBTQ+ activists. Tchaikovsky suffered in the society that he was in, and that element’s still there.”

Michelle Stanley

The Orchestral Suite in B minor for flute and strings is one of Bach’s best known works. The featured performer will be Michelle Stanley, Pro Musica’s flutist and a flute professor at Colorado State University.

Katsarelis says that Pro Musica’s approach to Bach’s work would be “historically informed on modern instruments,” meaning that all of the orchestral players will have modern instruments, with their large dynamic range and fuller sound, but they will also make use of Baroque-era conventions in the treatment of rhythms and other details of articulation and interpretation.

“There are some conventions that we follow that are part of the Baroque dance,” Katsarelis says. “There’s a lot about Baroque music that’s suggestions, but you don’t play exactly what’s on the page. We add dynamics, we add articulations, we do the rhythms and in a way that represents the movements (of the different dances).”

The final piece of the “Joy” program is Dvořák’s Serenade for Winds, a piece that Katsarelis has programmed before. She turned to music for winds because she had been able to present music for strings over the past two years, since they can play while wearing masks, but “the winds were out of work for a year and a half during the pandemic,” she says. “And so I thought it was time to do the Dvořák again.”

Dvořák wrote the Serenade in 1878 when he was 37, and included it in an application for an Austrian state award for musicians, which he won. “Brahms was on the jury of that competition and specifically mentioned that he enjoyed that piece,” Katsarelis points out. “It’s a beautiful gem of a piece.

“It’s just lovely to listen to and really nice in character and sophisticated in a way where you don’t have to work at it. It’s very satisfying emotionally and it’s almost like therapy to play and listen to this beautiful piece. And to give the wind players an opportunity to really shine for 25 minutes in a major work is really special for us.”

In fact, Katsarelis hopes that the entire program becomes “almost like therapy” for the audience. “In the depths of everything going on in the world, reaching for joy and happiness felt like the medicine we all need,” she says.

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“Joy!”
Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Michelle Stanley, flute

  • Tchaikovsky: Andante cantabile, op. 11
  • J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor
  • Antonín Dvořák: Serenade for Winds in D minor, op. 44

3 p.m. Sunday, May 1
Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder

TICKETS

CORRECTION 4/29: The spelling of poet Toi Derricotte’s name was corrected. It is Derricotte, not Deracotte.

Frequent Flyers join Boulder Phil for ‘Butterfly Lovers’

Concert April 30 includes music celebrating rebirth and reconnection

By Peter Alexander April 27 at 5 p.m.

Two years ago, conductor Michael Butterman had drafted a program to celebrate the return of spring with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra.

That program, originally planned for April 2020, had to be postponed, due to COVID. But now the long-planned concert celebrating renewal and rebirth has itself been resurrected for performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (April 30) in Macky Auditorium (tickets here).

A previous performance by Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance with the Boulder Philharmonic

“This was a program that was originally intended to reflect the notion of rebirth that happens in springtime,” Butterman says. “It still reflects that, but it has an additional layer of meaning for us—our own emergence from our pandemic isolation.”

The starting point for the program was The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto by Chinese composers He Zhanhao and Chen Gang, which the Philharmonic will perform with violin soloist Claude Sim and Boulder’s Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance Company. Before that performance the concert will open with Undistant by Mason Bates, which addresses our return to human interaction after the recent period of widespread self isolation.

Original costume design for Stravinsky’s Firebird by Léon Bakst (1913)

Filling out the program will be first Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, which has obvious seasonal significance. The final piece will be Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, which Butterman selected because it ends with the rebirth of knights and 13 princesses who have been under a magic spell—another connection to the idea of renewal.

The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto was written by two Chinese students of Western music at the Shanghai Conservatory and premiered in 1959. Written for a Western orchestra, it is based on a Chinese legend of lovers who are separated by death, but reunited as butterflies. “It works very well for Western audiences,” Butterman says. “It’s extremely relatable on first hearing.”

Butterman and the Phil have done a number of performances with Frequent Flyers. He thought that The Butterfly Lovers would be a good piece for further collaboration and suggested it to Nancy Smith, Frequent Flyers’ artistic director. “It strikes me that it has a narrative arc, and certainly has potential as a work for visual interpretation,” he says.

“(Smith) agreed and they really embraced the thing. They constructed this large wing-like structure that will be hung above the stage. It acts as one fixed structure for most of the piece, but it also has hinges and it can bend like butterfly wings. It will be quite something to see!”

Violinist Claude Sim

The soloist, Claude Sim, is associate concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony. The Phil’s concertmaster, Charles Wetherbee, was first scheduled to perform the concerto, but when he became unavailable Sim stepped in to serve as soloist and as concertmaster for the concert.

The one piece that was not in the original program Butterman conceived two years ago is Bates’s Undistant. That is the piece on the program that best connects with the idea of people re-emerging from isolation as the pandemic abates—at least a little. “Undistant is a piece that (Bates) wrote in 2020, and it is a work that mirrors in some ways our separation,” Butterman says.

Michael Butterman. Photo by Jiah Kyun.

“There are two groups of musicians that are placed away from the rest of the orchestra. (Bates) has written an electronica part that incorporates static, sounds of Zoom and other communication platforms that we came to use a great deal during the pandemic. Over about seven minutes he brings these different elements back together, and there are little wisps of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy,’ just enough that it’s recognizable. That begins to coalesce until we have an affirming and positive ending.”

Apart from the theme of rebirth and renewal, there is one thing that joins all four pieces musically, and that is their uplifting endings. It’s there in all four pieces. In Bates’s Undistant, it is the transformation from separation and static to hints of the “Ode to Joy.” In the Butterfly Lovers, it’s the overcoming of first separation and then death through the transformation of the lovers into butterflies, gently portrayed in music.

In the second half, the Russian Easter Overture opens with the solemn tones of two Russian Orthodox hymns, “Let God Arise!” and “An Angel Cried.” Rimsky-Korsakov wrote in an autobiography that “the gloomy colors of the Andante lugubre seemed to depict the holy sepulcher . . . [and] the solemn trumpet voice of the Archangel is then displaced by a tonal reproduction of the joyous, dance-like tolling of the bells.”

The progress of Stravinsky’s Firebird is no less joyous, with “The Infernal Dance of Katschei” being followed by the “Berceuse”—a tender lullaby that lulls Katschei’s demonic minions to sleep—and the “Finale” that portrays in music the return of Katschei’s prisoners to life.

You might say these are four variations on the theme of life returning after a long winter—or a pandemic.

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“The Firebird and Frequent Flyers”
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Claude Sim, violin, and Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance

  • Mason Bates: Undistant
  • He Zhanhao and Chen Gang: The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto
  • Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture
  • Stravinsky: Firebird Suite (1919)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 30
Macky Auditorium

TICKETS

LSO will premiere music with 6,000-year history

Michael Udow’s Ancient Echoes on Saturday’s program with Stravinsky and Brahms

By Peter Alexander April 21 at 7:10 p.m.

It’s not often that an orchestra premieres a piece with roots that go back 6,000 years.

Saturday (April 23) the Longmont Symphony and conductor Elliot Moore will do just that when they give the first performance of Ancient Echoes, a score by percussionist/composer and Longmont resident Michael Udow (see concert details below; tickets are available here). 

Udow’s concerto for multiple percussion instruments will feature soloist Anthony Di Sanza playing instruments including one designed by Udow, based on ancient artifacts from Colorado that date back thousands of years. As part of the same piece, Di Sanza will play a variety of instruments from cultures around the world, including Indonesia, Japan and Korea. The concert program also includes Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Brahms’s Symphony No. 1.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Colorado’s San Luis Valley, where ancient lithophones have been found. Photo by Peter Alexander.

Udow’s piece has a long backstory—although not quite 6,000 years. In fact it started around 2000, when archaeologist Marilyn Mortorano was doing consulting work at Great Sand Dunes National Park. The museum at the park has a number of ground stone artifacts, shaped roughly like baguettes, up to a two feet long, in their collection. 

They had been found at archaeological sites throughout the park, including one that was standing up in the sand, and other sites in the San Luis Valley. In fact, Mortorano says, “Almost all the collectors (in the area) had them and they didn’t know what they were, and we didn’t either.”

Archaeologist Marilyn Mortorano with ancient lithophones found in Colorado. Photo by Peter Alexander.

They were carefully worked, but way too heavy to be used as grinding tools like the mano and metate sets found throughout the Southwest. But “somebody spent a lot of time making them,” Mortorano says. “It bothered me because I thought, why do we not know what these are?”

Then in 2013 she ran across a YouTube video from the Musée de l’Homme (Museum of man) in Paris, which had similar artifacts that French soldiers had brought back from Africa. At the time she had several of the Colorado stones for research purposes, so she was surprised when she learned that the stones in Paris produced a musical sound when tapped. (You can see and hear them here; narration in French.)

In fact a set of them was used for Paleomusique, written by French composer Philippe Fenelon. Those stones were used for a single series of performances in 2014, and then packed away for storage, never to be played again.

“I thought this is crazy,” Mortorano says, “but I’ll see if (the stones from Colorado) could be musical. My younger daughter is a percussionist, so she had a basket of mallets. I couldn’t believe it—they rang like bells!”

When Mortorano returned the stones to the museum at Great Sand Dunes the next day, she showed her discovery to Fred Bunch, the chief of resources. He was startled, and promised to support any further research that Mortorano could pursue with the stones. 

“We don’t know how these were used, because we don’t know the whole context,” Mortorano says. “But we know now from studying lithophones (musical instruments made of rocks), they’re all over the world. They’re in Africa, they’re in Asia, they’re in South America, they’re even in Hawaii.”

In the meantime, Mortorano had talked to Colorado Public Radio’s Ryan Warner several years earlier, before she realized that the stones could be lithophones, who told her to let him know if she figured out what they were used for. She contacted him again after discovering their musical qualities and he did a new interview that was picked up by National Public Radio and noted on other national media.

Percussionist/composer Michael Udow

And this is where Udow enters the story. When he heard about Mortorano’s research and the Colorado stones, he wanted to see and hear them. When he contacted Mortorano, he discovered that she only lived about two blocks from his home in Longmont. He went over for a visit.

“Marilyn and (her husband) Sal had them set up beautifully on a long table with a hemp chord set at the nodes so they get maximum vibration,” Udow says. “I played them and I went home and thought, this is really important. It shows the musical side of the creative human spirit from 6,000 years ago, and wouldn’t it be interesting to compose a work!”

The Longmont Symphony had previously played two pieces by Udow, so his next step was to contact LSO director Elliot Moore and propose a new piece for orchestra using the stones. When he met Mortorano and heard the stones, Moore became interested in the project, and eventually got a commitment from the LSO board to support a new piece from Udow.

“What I really have the privilege of getting to do is putting this all together,” Moore says. “You can have the idea to write a piece of music and you can find these ancient stones, but until there’s an orchestra willing to premiere this, it’s theoretical. I feel lucky that when I presented it to the Longmont Symphony, everybody said, ‘Let’s do it!’”

Udow realized that the more or less random collection of stones that had been found was not really suitable for a piece all by themselves. He decided he needed to create a new instrument that as well as possible duplicated the nature and sound of the ancient ground stones: a modern lithophone that was tuned to play with a modern orchestra.

Michael Udow’s absolute black granite lithophone

This turned out to be a lengthy process, but one that paid off in the end. He visited granite quarries in Colorado, but none of them had stone that resonated well enough to be used in a musical instrument. He discovered that the best stone was absolute black granite from India, which fortunately he could get from Colorado manufacturers of granite countertops. 

He ended up purchasing two slabs of black granite, only one of which had good acoustical qualities. He was able to have that one cut into bars of varying length, which could be tuned by delicately cutting and grinding the stone, using a circular saw with a diamond blade.

In the end Udow estimates he spent about $5000 of his own money for the granite, the shop time to produce the bars, the frame that holds them and special cases to protect the bars. But he ended up with a playable instrtrument.

The completed score is virtually a concerto for multi percussion with orchestra. Udow’s lithophone will be featured, along with a number of other instruments: a marimba, a vibraphone, gongs from Korea, drums from Japan, a bamboo rattle from Java and German cowbells. For the one performance Saturday, the soloist will also briefly play four of the original ancient stones before they are returned to their museum collection.

Udow decided to use instruments from other cultures because in his travels as a percussionist, he had played instruments all over the world and he wanted to capture not only the timelessness of the original stones, but the universal quality of music. 

Percussion soloist Anthony Di Sanza

That also inspired Moore. “One of the main things that have kept me going is remembering that we’re bringing these things to life,” he says. “A fundamental human characteristic that we all share is, we love music. That’s been one of the great things about this whole process.”

The soloist for the performance, Anthony Di Sanza, is a former student of Udow who currently teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In fact, he will bring instruments that used to be Udow’s with him to fill out the solo percussion array. 

One issue that Di Sanza will have to deal with is the width of the bars on Udow’s new lithophone. It turns out that the bars have never been standardized by percussion makers. “Michael sent me all of the dimensions of the instrument, including the overall length and height, and also the bar width,” Di Sanza says. “The bar width (of other instruments) can vary to small increments or great increments, so we get used to making that adjustment.”

Di Sanza has had at least some of the music since last summer. Talking by phone from his home last week, he reported “I am at the stage now where I’m playing through the piece, listening to the midi (digital recording). That’s really fun because there are three-and-a half different physical setups on the stage. I start at one place, move to a different place for another part, come back for a different part, move to a third setup.

“A particularly challenging thing is as you move from one place to the next, knowing here’s where I’m going next! So that’s really fun, and fairly common with multiple percussion in the western classical tradition. And we thought a lot about how the instruments are grouped, to make sure the audience could see into the setups, and see what’s happening.”

LSO conductor Elliot Moore

Moore selected the rest of the program to go with Udow’s piece, with some very specific reasons for both the Stravinsky and the Brahms. “I thought that Stravinsky’s Firebird, with the idea of the rising phoenix, was something that could work well with this concerto,” he says. “It was the idea of matching Michael’s piece with the Stravinsky where I thought we had a winning program.

“And the other thing (is), I haven’t done a Brahms symphony (in Longmont). We have a wonderful cellist that retired pre-pandemic, Carmen Olguin, and as she was walking offstage with me for the retirement, she said, ‘Elliot, if you ever program a Brahms symphony, would you let me come back and play it?’ And I said ‘Sure.’

“I’ve always had in my mind this woman who wanted to play a Brahms symphony so bad, and I never programmed one, and I thought this was a good time to do it. So she joined us again, for her first rehearsal in probably three years.”

Brahms’s First Symphony is very standard orchestral repertoire, but Moore says the audience will hear some new things Saturday. “We are looking at this with fresh eyes and fresh ears, and I think it’s going to feel fresh. We’re taking a direction that is little bit leaner and a little bit closer to what the score indicates, not über Romantic.”

“People are going to be interested to hear it if for no other reason, that reason.”

In case you wonder about the new instrument, Di Sanza will take it back to Wisconsin, and eventually take it to a percussion museum in Indianapolis where he and others can use it for performances. Udow also hopes that some day, someone else might want to write music for it.

“That would be a hope of mine, to share it,” he says.

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“Soundings: Past and Present”
Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor
With Anthony Di Sanza, percussion

  • Michael Udow: Ancient Echoes (World Premiere)
  • Stravinsky: Firebird Suite (1919 version)
  • Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C major

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 23
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont

TICKETS

NOTE: Effective immediately and until further notice, the Longmont Symphony no longer requires patrons to show proof of COVID vaccination, and masks will remain optional. This decision has been made with guidance from local, state, and federal officials.