Boulder Phil presents videos and Terrence Wilson plays Rachmaninoff

Saturday at Macky sees Michael Butterman’s return to lead the orchestra

By Peter Alexander March 18 at 12:10 a.m.

The next concert of the Boulder Philharmonic will feature a co-commission by the orchestra, but none of the music will be new.

Instead, the co-commission is a video created by Stephen Lias to accompany the performance of a work composed in 1955, the Symphony No. 2, “Mysterious Mountain,” by American-Armenian composer Alan Hovhaness. 

Stephen Lias in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Peter Alexander

That is one of two videos that will be presented as part of the concert, which will open with a performance of Circuits by Cindy McTee with video by Aleksi Moriarty. Finishing the program is Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, performed by pianist Terrence Wilson. The performance will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19, in Macky Auditorium (tickets available here).

Lias is better known as a composer than a videographer. The Boulder Phil premiered his Gates of the Arctic in 2014 and commissioned his All the Songs that Nature Sings, which they premiered in 2016. In this case the Boulder Phil’s music director, Michael Butterman, wanted to perform the Hovhaness score, and to feature a video with it.

Butterman is back in Boulder to lead the concert, after having to miss the orchestra’s last performance in March due to a health concern.

“When we played (Lias’s) works before, he created visuals that would accompany the music,” Butterman explains. “I approached him about creating a video not for his own music this time, but for someone else’s. And he really ran with it.”

One of Stephen Lias’s composite images for Mysterious Mountain.

By “ran with it,” Butterman really means that Lias worked tirelessly to learn video techniques that he had never used before. “The learning curve was extremely steep for me, because I had no background in visual art or complex video effects,” Lias says. ”A lot of what I learned was very useful and fascinating, but boy it was a big investment! I had to learn to use a collection of high-end applications (and) packages of software that animators use.”

The more complex video techniques were important, Lias says, because—unlike pieces that he created videos for before—Hovhaness’ score is not about a specific location. In fact, the title Mysterious Mountain was added after the music had been written. “The title simply suited the mysterious atmospheric, meditative nature of the music,” Lias says.

Image by Stephen Lias for Mysterious Mountain

“This feels like it needs to be more amorphous and ambiguous (than Lias’s earlier video creations). My concept was to create virtual mountain ranges comprised of (pictures) from all over the world. There are animated, floating lines in space that reveal the mountain range, and then they are transformed before your eyes and you realize these are (different photos) laying over top of one another. 

“Later various virtual environments float around you, and then you end up in a place that is entirely real, but you’re not sure it’s real. The goal is a lingering ‘where are we?’ question. We are clearly not in real life, but the things from real life are mixed with things that make it clearly artificial. You’re in an invented world.”

Image by Stephen Lias for Mysterious Mountain

This fits the spiritual qualitied of Hovhaness’ music, Lias says. He describes the music and video together as “a musical and visual journey through all the things that mountains can be and might become.”

Some people in the audience may recognize some of the locations in the video. “Certainly anyone from Boulder will recognize the places that Longs Peak sticks its head out,” Lias says. “There’s some Banff, Glacier (National Park), and the Great Wall of China.”

Butterman describes the concert’s other video, accompanying McTee’s Circuits, as “entirely abstract,” but in an entirely different way. There are no concrete images at all, but rather abstract patterns.

“(Moriarty) went through the piece in an analytical way,” Butterman says. “He broke it down into a motive for a bar and a half, and then three bars, and then later on it comes back upside down. He identified these musical kernels and created a graphic representation for each one. Once he created the video translations of the musical ideas, he followed the template that the music itself played out. So theoretically, it’s a video representation of the structure and thematic content of the music.”

Butterman warns the audience that the video moves very fast, as does the music. “I would say (it’s) very fast paced,” he says. “If you are bothered by flashing, you would be wise to at least be aware of that. It’s only about five and a half minutes, but it’s very intense. I’m hoping that if anybody feels that’s a difficulty, they can simply look away.”

Both video works are engineered so that the length can be adjusted to fit individual performances. Moriarty works with a program developed by Ion Concert Media of Minneapolis, and Lias developed his own system using a sound, video and lighting control application for the Mac called QLab. Both result in a system where the conductor does not have to follow a click track or any other pre-established speed in the performance.

That’s an important issue for Butterman. “The real bane of (performing with video) is the tyranny of the click track,” he says. “Whenever you’re doing a Hollywood movie for example, you have a screen in front of you and time codes and little bars sweep across (the screen), and you have an earpiece where you can hear clicks, and it’s maddening.”

Terrence Wilson. Photo by J. Henry Fair.

While the videos will be the most unusual aspects of the March 19 concert, the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto will certainly be the most familiar. It is beloved by audiences, but as a virtuoso showpiece it should never be thought to be routine. It was Rachmaninoff’s favorite of his four piano concertos, but also has the reputation of inspiring fear in pianists.

“I’m delighted to have Terrence Wilson joining us,” Butterman says. “He’s someone I’ve enjoyed collaborating with.”

Wilson performed the Grieg Piano Concerto with Boulder Phil in 2007 and has had an impressive performing career in the intervening years, including a 2011 Grammy nomination and a 2015 appearance at the Colorado Music Festival. A graduate of Juilliard, he has also received an Avery Fisher Career Grant and appeared on NPR’s “Performance Today.”

“Closing with Rachmaninoff is a little unusual,” Butterman says, “but at 43 or 44 minutes, it certainly has the heft of a symphony!”

The heft, and I would add, all the fireworks you could want for a rousing concert closer.

# # # # #

Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Terrence Wilson, piano
Videos by Aleksi Moriarty and Stephen Lias

  • Cindy McTee: Circuits
  • Alan Hovhaness: Symphony No. 2, “Mysterious Mountain”
  • Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19
Macky Auditorium

TICKETS

Boulder Opera to present Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’

Performances will be at the Dairy Arts Center March 19 and 20. 

By Izzy Fincher March 15 at 12:15 p.m.

What is the secret to pulling off Verdi’s Il trovatore? According to the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, it’s easy—as long as you have “four of the greatest singers in the world.”

As part of their 10th Anniversary Season, the Boulder Opera Company will present Il trovatore (The troubadour) March 19 and 20 at the Dairy Arts Center. With scenic projections, a reduced orchestra and a chorus, this four-act opera is one of the company’s most ambitious, large-scale productions to date. 

Azucena (Dianela Acosta) in the Boulder Opera production of Verdi’s Il trovatore

Il trovatore is a hard opera to present, with four principal roles that require large, dramatic voices and demanding vocal techniques. This is especially true for the lead female characters. The Romany woman Azucena (played by Dianela Acosta) needs a lyrical yet dramatic mezzo soprano with a large range, while noblewoman Leonora (Michelle Diggs-Thompson) needs a coloratura soprano voice that is both flexible and hefty. 

“Now that I have been singing for a while, I think that Verdi has kind of settled in my voice,” Diggs-Thompson says. “I don’t think I would have been able to pull off this role 20 years ago.”

Beyond this, the opera poses an artistic challenge—that of bringing to life an impossibly melodramatic storyline with twisted characters in a relatable way. Set in 16th-century war-torn Spain, this blood-curdling tale of revenge features burning babies, kidnapping, beheading, gypsy curses and death by poison.

Premiered in 1853, Il trovatore is a part of a group of three operas by Verdi, along with Rigoletto (1851) and La traviata (1853), that represented a fundamental shift in his dramatic style. Il trovatore is based on Spanish playwright Antonio García Gutiérrez’s first commercial success, El trovador (The troubadour) of 1836. 

For the adaptation, Verdi worked with prolific librettist Salvadore Cammarano, best known for Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. In his correspondence with Cammarano, Verdi urged the playwright to stay true to the sensationalism in the original play, stating “the more unusual and bizarre the better.” Initially, he wanted to call the opera La zingara (The Gypsy), in honor of Azucena, who is at the heart of the melodrama. 

The Count di Luna (Karl Butterman)

The plot centers around a twisted love triangle. In the kingdom of Aragon, Count Di Luna (Karl Butterman), a nobleman in the service of the prince, is madly in love with Leonora, one of the Queen’s noblewomen. But she is in love with another man: Manrico (Nathan Snyder), a troubadour and officer in the army of the Prince of Urgel and Azucena’s son, who is leading rebel forces against the monarchy.

“Manrico is a hot-head,” says Snyder. “Verdi writes him in such a bombastic way. It’s electrifying.”

“This story is so powerful (because) it deals with three faces of love,” stage director Gene Roberts says. “It deals with romantic love at the center of the story. It deals with the fierceness of a mother’s love and how that lasts over many years. But the one that seems to be the most powerful in this story and the undoing of everyone is obsessive love.”

But what drives the opera forward is a thirst for revenge, which is introduced in the convoluted backstory. Years ago, a Romany woman set a curse upon Di Luna’s infant brother, causing the child to become sick. The Count had the woman burned at the stake. To avenge her mother, the woman’s daughter—Azucena—kidnapped the infant and supposedly threw him into the fire. The Count swears to get his revenge, though this will ultimately destroy him and those he loves. 

“When you are really obsessed with the thought of vengeance, it colors everything, even love,” Roberts says. “Love can become really obsessive. If you can’t have it, no one can have it. Focusing on your vendetta, rather than forgiving those around you, can blind you from seeing those who are close to you.

“There are surprises in this story until the last eight measures of music.”

Manrico (Nathan Snyder center-right) confronts (L-R) the Count di Luna (Karl Butterman) and Ferrando (Allen Adair)

Despite the melodramatic plot, Il trovatore features some of Verdi’s most profound and innovative music. 

Verdi incorporates elements of Spanish music, such as flamenco rhythms and guitar-like textures, as well as Moorish and Romany music. There are numerous quotable melodies, including the iconic “Anvil Chorus” in Act II with clanging anvils, triangles, cymbals and drums, Azucena’s “Stride la vampa,” Manrico’s “Di quella pira” and Leonora’s “Miserere.”

“Verdi has this powerful way of completely melding the drama and the music,” Snyder says. “He puts it right into your face, and it’s a blast.”

# # # # #

Il trovatore
By Giuseppe Verdi and Salvadore Cammarano
Boulder Opera Company
Jorge Salazar, conductor; Gene Roberts, stage director
With Michelle Diggs-Thompson, Nathan Snyder, Karl Butterman and Dianela Acosta
Performed in Italian with English titles 

7 p.m. Saturday, March 19
3 p.m. Sunday, March 20
Gordon Gamm Theater, Dairy Arts Center

TICKETS

Eklund Opera travels to 1950s with Guys and Dolls

Performances Friday through Sunday at Macky Auditorium

By Peter Alexander March 9 at 5:07 p.m.

The Eklund Opera Theater at CU will transport audiences back seven decades this weekend.

Their production of Frank Loesser’s Tony Award-winning 1950 Broadway hit Guys and Dolls, certainly one of the greatest of the era’s classic musical shows, runs Friday through Sunday at Macky Auditorium (details below). Performances, featuring students in the opera and music theater programs, have been stage directed by Leigh Holman, with choreography by Tracy Doty. Nicholas Carthy conducts.

Sky Masterson (Ian Saverin)in Eklund Opera’s Guys and Dolls. Photo by Lily Valdez.

Based on stories by Damon Runyon, Guys and Dolls features characters from prohibition-era New York, including gamblers and their henchmen, nightclub “girls,” tough cops and Salvation Army missionaries. The main plot revolves around two pairs of potential lovers: the gambler Nathan Detroit and his long-waiting fiancée, nightclub singer Miss Adelaide; and the even flashier gambler Sky Masterson and the pious Salvation Army sergeant Sarah Brown.

Other Runyon-esque characters surrounding the leads include such colorful personalities as “Nicely-Nicely” Johnson, “Harry the Horse,” “Big Jule,” police lieutenant Brannigan, who is always one step behind the gamblers, and an ensemble of Hotbox Club dancers.

The Eklund production is set not in the prohibition times of Runyon’s stories, but in the 1950s of the show’s premiere—when alcohol was not illegal as in the ‘30s, but gambling still was: illegal and a little bit glamorous. Spoiler alert: this being golden-age Broadway, “it is a feel-good story,” Carthy says. At the end, the two couples get married and the leading men renounce their shady habits to adopt respectable lives.

Miss Adelaide (Annie Carpenter) and the Hotbox dancers. Photo by Lily Valdez.

As far as the 1950s are from today’s college students, Holman says the cast members were eager to do the show. “Students came out in droves to audition for this piece,” she says. “We were able to choose really good singers and dancers.”

Not only were students eager to audition, they have really immersed themselves in the show. “They are so absolutely committed to it,” Carthy says. “They put in the work, and it’s incredibly gratifying—they love it.”

Holman says they have also been doing their research into the time period. “They’re teaching us!” she says. “They’ve got the accents down, the way to walk—it’s made our job super easy. And there are so many references to things that don’t exist today: Brooks Brothers, Ovaltine, A&P, Whitney Colors”—the last being the livery colors for racehorses owned by the prominent and wealthy Whitney family.

As for the style of the classical Broadway musical, “they love it,” Holman says. “They really get the timing and the style of this type of musical.”

One thing Holman did have to teach was how to use a pay phone—something that was new and strange for the young people in the cast. “They said, ‘I’ve heard of it,’ Holman recalls. “I said, ‘You pick up the receiver, and then you put the coin in, and then you dial,’ and they’re doing it with me like it’s choreography. ‘You dial, and then you listen, those four steps: receiver, coin, dial, listen.’

Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Sam Bruckner) at the Save-A-Soul Mission. Photo by Lily Valdez.

“Nick and I are the caretakers of all the 20th century. We’re teaching whatever from the 20th century that these folks don’t know.”

Such details of life in the 1950s as forgotten brand names and pay phones are quaint, but it was also an era when social conventions were very different than they are today. It was a largely patriarchal society, and the women are looking for traditional 1950s marriages, but both Carthy and Holman are adamant that the show is not inherently sexist.

“I don’t see it,” Holman says. “Are there examples of men objectifying women? Of course there are. But the women don’t take it! They’re strong women! Adelaide is doing exactly what she wants to do, and Sarah is on a mission. But I don’t think any one of those women put up with much.”

“I do not think it’s a sexist piece in any way,” Carthy says. “It is a child of its time, and child of its time means it’s got fantastically witty dialog and amazing show tunes. It needs to be enjoyed for what it is: an intelligent, non-sexist story with fabulous music and dance.”

Holman is especially pumped about the dance. “The dance is not like anything you’ve seen at Eklund Opera before,” she says. “It’s worth the price of admission on its own! Tracy Doty, who did the choreography, has done wonders with them.”

In fact Holman is, as always during the rehearsal process, pumped about the whole show. “This is one of the strongest books I’ve ever been involved with,” she says. “There’s a lot of dialog, but it’s so brilliantly written, and it really does carry the story forward. We’ve had a lot of fun with that. We’re really excited to be doing this piece!”

For his part, Carthy summarizes the show’s longstanding popularity, saying, “It’s full of big tunes and witty text, (so) how could you not love it, really?”

# # # # #

Guys and Dolls
Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
CU Eklund Opera Theater

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 11, and Saturday, March 12
2 p.m. Sunday, March 13

Macky Auditorium

TICKETS

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly listed the photos as by Collin Ring. They were taken by Lily Valdez. We apologize for the error. Correction posted 3/10.

Between tours, Takács Quartet plays hometown concerts March 6–7 and April 10–11

Programs include Haydn, Shostakovich, Dvořák, Schumann, Mendelssohn

By Peter Alexander March 4 at 1:25 p.m.

COVID-19 is, momentarily, receding, and the Takács Quartet is back to a full performing schedule.

They had to cancel several concert tours over the past two years, but not in 2022. “We just came home from Princeton, Berkeley and Los Angeles,” the group’s cellist, András Fejér, explains. “And now we will go to New York, Sarasota, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

Around and between those trips, they have their usual concerts on the CU campus: music by Haydn, Shostakovich and Dvořák March 6 and 7; and music by Schumann performed with pianist David Korevaar, and Mendelssohn with the CU graduate quartet in residence, the Ivalas Quartet, April 10 and 11 (see performance details below).

Takács Quartet. L-R: Edward Dusinberre, András Fejér, Harumi Rhodes, Richard O’Neill. Image by
Amanda Tipton Photography

Except for the interruption caused by the pandemic, touring is a normal part of life for the Takács Quartet. “It’s a nice chugging-along routine,” Fejér says. “We just say we would love to tour, say, 10 days each month in the States, and that gives us enough time to rehearse and teach and rest a little.” They also make longer tours every year to Europe and Asia, all arranged through their agents.

Joseph Haydn. Painting by Thomas Hardy.

Like the Takács now, Haydn had just returned from touring in 1796, in his case home to Vienna from two trips to London. Upon his return, an aristocratic patron commissioned a set of six quartets, published a few years later as Op. 76. These works are considered the pinnacle of Haydn’s quartet composition.

The Fourth Quartet of the set, known as the “Sunrise Quartet,” opens the Takacs’s March concerts—but Fejér wants you to know that Haydn is not “just a warmup piece” for the rest of the program. “I mean, the guy invented the (string quartet)!” he says. “We are just in awe—(playing his music) is a constant wonderment. Even familiar pieces, we try to dig deeper. We always try to give his music justice.”

Likewise, Dvořák wrote his G major String Quartet, the final piece on the program, soon after returning home from his years in America. It is considered one of the composer’s most profoundly expressive quartets, particularly the meditative slow movement.

The quartet has enjoyed exploring Dvořák ‘s score. “It’s fascinating for us,” Fejér says. “Its scope is unprecedented, in length and orchestration. Most of the time it sounds totally symphonic. He goes left and right and returns—just totally unpredictable and delightful. We love it.”

Dmitri Shostakovich

Between Haydn and Dvořák, the Takács will play Shostakovich’s Eleventh Quartet. Written in memory of a violinist with the Beethoven Quartet, which was long associated with Shostakovich’s music, the Eleventh Quartet is an austere work that uses the instruments sparingly. It’s seven movements are anything but cheerful, but as Fejér says, with Shostakovich “cheerful is not the first description which would come to mind.

“I’m always amazed about the simplicity of his motifs. How such simple notes can work in mysterious ways on the audience is unbelievable. You cannot put together a more simple music and somehow the effect on audiences is mesmerizing. I notice it every time.”

For the April concerts the quartet has programmed two pieces, each of which includes invited guests. First they will be joined by pianist David Korevaar to perform Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet. Written in 1842 and dedicated by the composer to his wife, Clara, it is the first major quintet written for piano and string quartet.

Schumann alternates between intimate passages that feature conversational exchanges among the five instruments, and nearly symphonic passages that feature the four strings together against the piano. At a time when chamber performances were first moving into the concert hall, Schumann helped create the model for the quintets that followed by Brahms, Dvořák and Franck, all destined for the concert hall.

The April program concludes with another piece that had no precedent, the Octet for Strings, which the Takács will play with the members of the Ivalas Quartet. Like the Schumann Quintet, the combination of instruments was unprecedented when Mendelssohn wrote the Octet at the age of 17, and it’s one of the most magical pieces to come out of the Romantic era. “It’s such an adrenalin rush (to play it),” Fejér says.

Ivalas Quartet. L-R Aimée MsAnulty, Tiani Butts, Reuden Kebede, Pedro Sánchez.

“It’s wonderful and makes you humble all over again. Comparing what most of us had been doing at 17, it’s even more impressive.”

Fejér gives two reasons that he is looking forward to playing the Octet. First, he says, “we love playing with additional people because the function of our individual instruments is different from a string quartet. I’m not playing as much bass line as I usually do, (and) I enjoy the different role very much.”

The second reason is the opportunity to share the stage with the their students in the Ivalas Quartet. “It is their final month in April at CU of their three years, and we loved working with them,” Fejér says.

“We look forward very much to have fun with capital letters with this Mendelssohn Octet!”

# # # # #

Takács Quartet

  • Haydn: String Quartet in B-flat Major. op.76 no. 4 (“Sunrise”)
  • Shostakovich: String Quartet Nr.11, op.122
  • Dvořák: String Quartet No. 13 in G-major, op.106

4 p.m. Sunday, March 6
7:30 p.m. Monday, March 7
Grusin Music Hall

TICKETS

Takács Quartet and guests

  • Schumann: Quintet for piano and strings in E-flat major, op. 44
    With David Korevaar, piano
  • Mendelssohn Octet for Strings in E-flat major, op. 2
    With the Ivalas Quartet

4 p.m. Sunday, April 10
7:30 p.m. Monday, April 11
Grusin Music Hall

TICKETS

NOTE: Digital tickets are available for both programs

LSO continues Beethoven cycle over next two programs

Symphonies Five, Six and Seven provide musical “comfort food”

By Peter Alexander Feb. 24 at 10:56 p.m.

The Longmont Symphony Orchestra (LSO) and their conductor Elliot Moore continue their ongoing cycle of the nine Beethoven symphonies with their next two concert programs. 

Symphonies Five and Six will be performed Saturday, Feb. 26 (7:30 p.m., Vance Brand Auditorium), and the Seventh Symphony will be performed alongside works by Haydn and Mozart Saturday and Sunday, March 12 and 13 (7 p.m. and 4 p.m. respectively, Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum; full programs below).

Beethoven. Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

While Beethoven is just about the most frequently performed classical composer in the world, Moore points out that his symphonies have not often been performed in Longmont. When he first announced plans for the full cycle of all nine symphonies, he said “particularly the earlier symphonies of Beethoven have been underperformed here in Longmont. 

“I think it’s important to understand how the Beethoven symphonies helped bring the symphony into its current form.”

He has always been clear that this is part of the educational mission of the LSO as a community-based orchestra. He has named two groups that will benefit: “One is the orchestra, the other is the audience,” he says. “I want (both groups) to experience the freshness of the classical style.”

First up in this next round of the cycle will be Symphonies Five and Six, performed Saturday, Feb. 26, as part of a program titled “Beethoven: A Portrait.” The Fifth Symphony, with its progression from the ominous opening four-note motive to the triumphant finale, has been taken as a symbolic expression of the composer’s own triumph over his deafness.

Because of the uplifting narrative, it has become one of the most familiar orchestral works for audiences everywhere. It has been recorded countless times, by all the great orchestras and conductors, but Moore has no hesitation in having the LSO bring the symphony to its local audience.

“I think it’s important that we know how to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,” he says of the orchestra. And of his opportunity to conduct a work that so may have led before him, he says “What allows me to feel OK is that I’ve spent so much time studying the score. That’s the only reason I have any right to get up in front of those people (in the orchestra).”

Beethoven: sketches for the Sixth Symphony

The Sixth Symphony is known as the “Pastoral” because it describes a day in the country, as the composer often experienced in his walks outside Vienna. The movement titles are “Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside,” “Scene by the brook,” “Merry gathering of country folk,” “Thunderstorm,” and “Shepherd’s song: Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm.”

Some literal details are embedded in the music, including the sounds of bird songs and the rumbling of the thunder. But Moore sees more than a series of picturesque scenes in the score. “I think that it’s religious music,” he says.

“Beethoven believed in a higher power, which he found in nature, which the ‘Pastoral Symphony’ reflects. How we are rehearsing, how we are bringing out a sound that matches the intent of the work—that is proving very meaningful for the musicians, and hopefully will be meaningful for the audience.”

The program scheduled for March 12 and 13 is titled ““The First Viennese School,” which refers to the three great composers who lived in Vienna just before and after 1800: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Opening the program is Haydn’s Sinfonia, or Overture, to his opera L’incontro improvviso (The unexpected encounter). 

Moore expects this to be a fun piece to perform, because it is an example of a popular musical genre of the late 18th century, “Janissary music.” Based on the music of the Turkish military, Janissary music typically included drums, bells, cymbals, triangles and other percussion, which was not always fully written out.

Elliot Moore

“The conductor gets to work with the principal percussionist on what instruments are appropriate,” Moore says. “You have some freedom built in, so I think its going to be a lot of fun to come up with what’s in the style.”

Mozart is represented on the program with his Symphony No. 31 in D major, which was written in 1788 for the Concert Spirituel, a prominent concert series in Paris. At the time Mozart was hoping for a job in Paris, and so he made every effort to please the local audience. He incorporated a number of brilliant orchestral gestures that he knew would please the listeners. 

“The audience was quite carried away,” he wrote afterwards to his father. “There was a great outburst of applause!”

The program concludes with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, a work filled with driving rhythms that is one of the most energized works of the time. Among other things, Moore says, it includes “the first time a triple fortissimo arrives in the orchestral repertoire—certainly in Beethoven’s symphonies.” 

He believes that moment, near the end of the finale, should be the high point of the entire work. “You have to keep something in reserve for that moment,” he says.

Moore talks about another facet of the symphony that is not often described. “Beethoven wrote 179 British Isle folk tunes,” he points out. “I think that the folk songs played a pretty large role, especially for the finale of the Seventh Symphony. It sounds like a Scottish reel! I think that is reason that it has energy. It’s an extension of all the things that he had been doing.”

Moore has one more thought about performing so much music by a composer as familiar as Beethoven at this particular time. “There’s been so much trauma in the world in the past two years that I think there’s something about being comfortable,” he says.

“There’s a thing called comfort food, and I think that Beethoven is comforting.”

# # # # #

Elliot Moore with the Longmont Symphony Orchestra

“Beethoven: A Portrait”
Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor

  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F major (“Pastoral”)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26
Vance Brand Auditorium
TICKETS

“The First Viennese School”
Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor

  • Haydn: Sinfonia from L’incontro improvviso (The unexpected encounter)
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 31 in D major (“Paris”)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major

7 p.m. Saturday, March 12
4 p.m. Sunday, March 13
Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum
Live stream with ticket purchase, beginning Saturday, March 19
TICKETS

Ars Nova Singers offers free online performance Friday

By Peter Alexander Feb. 17 at 9:40 p.m.

“We wanted to bring the music from one of our finer performances,” Tom Morgan says.

The conductor of Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers wanted to offer a free online gift to the disaster-wearied local community at the start of 2022, before the choir starts having in-person rehearsals and performances later in the spring. But he faced one problem: the group has made a lot of sound recordings of their concerts, but not any videos. 

Tom Morgan wanted to give a gift to the Boulder community

What he wanted to share was a pre-COVID performance from October 2018, of Will Todd’s Mass in Blue, a jazz-inflected, modern setting of movements from the Latin Mass. Morgan decided that rather than showing a static image or series of still images, which he says are “not particularly interesting to look at,” he would create his own video with abstract and natural imagery to accompany the music.

Under the title “Made Cool,” the resulting video will be offered free to the public at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18, through the Ars Nova Web page.

Soprano Kathryn Radakovich performs the virtuosic solos in the Mass in Blues

With imagery that responds to the music rather than any specifics of the liturgical texts, the video transcends specific religious or doctrinal interpretations. Morgan feels that style of video fits well with the score, which brings together a jazz trio of piano, bass and drums with a virtuosic soprano solo and the choir.

“Todd in his conception and setting is making a pretty clear attempt to universalize the mass,” Morgan says. “He’s trying to make it more both modern and universal by taking it into this musical language.

“I thought we should go even a step further with the visuals. It adds another layer of meaning to the music. To establish the intent of universalizing the mass and bringing it to a wider audience, I thought a video overlay that also universalizes the mass opened it up to more interpretation, (by) not being overly literal with the mass.”

The video is very much a COVID-era product. To build his skills in video editing, Morgan took online video-editing classes during the early months of pandemic. He first used his newly-developed abilities in his former job as music director at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder. With that experience, he then transferred those skills to his work with Ars Nova.

Morgan plans to make more use of his video editing experience in future work with Ars Nova. Now that he has retired from his church job, he has “more opportunities to think about how we do the art that we do, in ways that is not the usual concert,” he says. Since the pandemic, “we’re having to think in new ways and broaden what we do. It’s a good challenge, but a necessary one right now.”

In creating the “Made Cool” video, Morgan selected a different visual theme for each of the six movements of Todd’s Mass. These range from photos he himself took in a church in England to visuals of nature and natural phenomena. Other than the photos Morgan took in the Sanctus movement, they mostly came from online sources.

“There’s online libraries of all kind of video possibilities, used for advertising,” Morgan explains. “There’s also wonderful public libraries like from NASA, and those have been valuable and interesting to work with, too.”

In some cases Morgan was able to connect with specific photographers whose online material he responded to, and get more material from them. He could use the visuals in that way to create continuity within a movement, for example—“so that it’s not completely a mishmash,” he says.

“I thought about how a narrative might come through each particular movement, and also something that would connect across the piece. I tried to find little arcs within the movements and then find an overall one that would allow the music to expand into that space. That also ties into what an actual Mass is, in terms of a sequence that has a relationship to redemptive history.”

Many of the videos were available for a small fee, although Morgan and Ars Nova drew the line at paying one videographer in England £45 per second for his video. “That’s way out of our price range,” Morgan says. “We said, ‘Let’s find something else!’” Other material however they paid for the rights to use, the same as they did for the music and the performances of the musicians  involved.

With the video, Morgan is taking part in the development of new forms of art—a kind of classical choral-music video. “It’s a different take on the traditional choral concert,” he says. 

“I hope it will get out to a wider audience than our usual concert supporters.”

# # # # #

“Made Cool”
Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director
With Kathryn Radakovich, soprano; Scott Martin, piano; Mark Diamond, bass; and Russ Meissner, drums
Video editing by Tom Morgan

Will Todd: Mass in Blue

  • Kyrie
  • Gloria
  • Credo
  • Sanctus
  • Benedictus
  • Agnus Dei

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18

Free virtual performance HERE

Boulder Phil plays world premiere by Billy Childs, Saturday

Gary Lewis substitutes for Michael Butterman with violinist Rachel Barton Pine

By Peter Alexander Feb. 10 at 9:55 p.m.

Billy Childs might think his new Violin Concerto is under a curse.

Commissioned by several groups including the Boulder Philharmonic, it was twice scheduled to premiere at the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago, in 2020 and 2021, and it was twice postponed by COVID. It will finally have its premiere Saturday by the Boulder Philharmonic with violinist Rachel Barton Pine, for whom it was written (7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 in Macky Auditorium).

Gary Lewis will substitute for Michael Butterman with the Boulder Philharmonic

But Boulder Phil music director Michael Butterman is unable to travel to Colorado, so prof. Gary Lewis of the CU College of Music has stepped in at the last minute to conduct the premiere. And it will finally make its way to the Grant Park Festival in the coming summer—hopefully.

Childs’s brand new Concerto shares the program with a very familiar piece, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major. Termed “the apotheosis of the dance” by Richard Wagner, the Seventh has been one of the most performed of all Beethoven’s symphonies, standing at No. 3 on the list of orchestral works performed at Carnegie Hall. It’s standing in Boulder may not be quite third, but it certainly has been performed here several times in the last few years.

Pine appeared with the Boulder Phil once before, in 2015, when she played the Berg Violin Concerto. A musician of wide ranging interests, she has performed heavy metal as well as classical music, and created a foundation to promote the music of Black composers from the 18th to the 21st centuries.

Rachel Barton Pine. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

The concerto, Childs’s Violin Concerto No. 2, is not the first piece he has written for Pine. They met through his work as a board member of Chamber Music America, and he wrote his Four Portraits for solo violin, modeled on the Bach D-minor Partita for solo violin, for her in 2017. That was followed by Incident on Larpenteur Avenue for violin and piano, and now the concerto.

“The pieces have been getting exponentially bigger,” Childs says. “Solo violin, then piano and violin, and then all of a sudden a quantum leap into orchestra and violin.” And what’s next? 

“I would love to write something for her and my jazz chamber ensemble,” he says.

Every bit as much as Pine, Childs is a musician of diverse interests. A jazz pianist who has played with Freddie Hubbard and Wynton Marsalis, he has also written concert music in the classical tradition, including chamber and orchestral pieces. Speaking of his musical training, he says “Jazz was the strongest (influence), but there was no one that I was tethered to.” 

Growing up he heard Bach and Handel at home, but also Nat “King” Cole. This was in the ‘70s, so he also heard the Temptations, the Four Tops and the Supremes. His older sisters introduced him to Bob Dylan, Laura Nyro, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. In school he became acquainted with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis and Yes. “My musical influences were all over the map,” he says.

“I started thinking, what music do I like that dramatically moves me? That’s all I care about. I don’t care about the genre.” 

He approaches each piece he writes in terms of the expressive capabilities of the instruments. “I am concerned with the story of each piece, the dramatic implications of a piece, what instruments I’m writing for and how those instruments express the drama of the piece,” he says.

“There are certain thing that an orchestra does that no other ensemble does, so you listen to the masters of that genre. You check out what they did—people like Ravel, Bartók, Samuel Barber.”

Billy Childs. Photo by Raj Nail.

In terms of musical style, “my aim had always been to marry, or create a hybrid form of Western European classical music and American classical music—jazz—but do that on an organic level,” he says. But don’t listen for specific jazz influences in the concerto. “If you hear Ellington, it’s because you want to,” he says.

”I’m reluctant to describe the music, because that’s impossible. But it’s in the style of the mid-20th century composers. I took a cue from that language. Since it’s orchestra, I tried to do what the great orchestrators do—the Ravels, the Barbers, Stravinsky. How they used the orchestra—I tried to do that.”

The shape of the concerto was partly determined by the fact that Childs wrote the movements in reverse order. “I wrote the last movement first, and the first movement last,” he says. “I don’t know why that happened, I guess because the last movement is a very exciting and angular and difficult movement.

“That was the first thing that I wrote during 2019 and 2020. Especially during 2020 when COVID hit, things were just out of our control. And then I kind of calmed down. There’s a lyricism in all the movements, but the second movement is elegiac, and the first one is celebratory.”

So two years after the planned premiere, is the Concerto really finished? Well, not exactly. “I really like what I wrote, but I know that I will be going in there (to the performance) with a notepad, changing a lot of stuff,” Childs says.

“You never really know until you actually hear it.”

# # # # #

“Beethoven and Billy Childs”
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Gary Lewis, guest conductor
With Rachel Barton Pine, violin

  • Billy Childs: Violin Concerto No. 2 (World premiere, co-commission)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12
Macky Auditorium
TICKETS

Pro Musica responds to past year’s events in Boulder with music

“A Concert for Healing” in Longmont Friday, Boulder Saturday

By Peter Alexander Jan. 31 at 5 p.m.

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

Cynthia Katsarelis planned the next concert for Pro Musica Colorado (PMC) Chamber Orchestra as an opportunity for healing for the Boulder community—from the March 2021 King Sooper’s Shooting and from the pandemic.

In planning the 2021-22 season over the summer, she says, “I’m thinking about our response to the pandemic and all our losses there, and the King Soopers shooting.” In that context, she decided that the first concert program of 2022 would be devoted to healing, with music that seemed suited for that purpose. 

“Mozart: A Concert for Healing” will be performed in Longmont at 7:30 Friday (Feb. 4) at the Stewart Auditorium and in Boulder at 7:30 Saturday (Feb. 5) at the First United Methodist Church (see concert details below).

“Something I think always works medicinal magic in the hearts of human beings is Mozart,” Katsarelis says. And so two of Mozart’s symphonies became the bookends of the program: Symphony No. 15, chosen in honor of the orchestra’s 15th season to open the program, and the “Jupiter” Symphony to round it off with a masterpiece.

Flutist Christian Jennings

The rest of the program fell into place through a collaboration with flutist Christina Jennings from the CU Music faculty. Last summer Katsarelis and Jennings were talking about what they could do together, and Jennings said, “Maybe Carter (Pann, a CU composition professor) will write something for me.”

“She must have texted him,” Katsarelis says, because in less than half an hour, Jennings had Pann’s agreement. “Of course we’ll do a world premiere,” Katsarelis says. “The idea was born via text in about 30 minutes!” And completing the program Jennings will play one of the flute’s most lively pieces, Vivaldi’s Concerto for Flute known as “The Goldfinch.”

Carter Pann

It should be remembered that at the time she planned this program, Katsarelis had no idea that a third disaster would strike in the middle of the orchestra’s season. “Of course we didn’t know the Marshall Fire was going to happen,” she says. “I’m glad that we planned this concert as we had.”

Katsarelis was looking around for pieces numbered 15 to fit the PMC’s anniversary, and since Mozart is always a good programming choice she decided to look at his 15th Symphony. Written when Mozart was 16, it is not a well known work, but Katsarelis says “he’s pretty mature actually by that point.

“The symphony has a lot of witty details. In the recapitulation, when you expect the scale to go up as it had before, it goes down—things like that. It’s four movements, but they’re really short. It makes a good opener—it has wonderful energy, and these wonderful ideas. It’s a dynamite piece.”

At the opposite end of the program and of Mozart’s career is his last symphony, the “Jupiter.” “It marks Mozart’s progression as a composer,” Katsarelis says. “It marks [the transition] of the early classical to the high classical style, and Mozart is in dialog with Bach with contrapuntal and fugal writing.

“Mozart’s always loaded with ideas, and they’re always beautiful and balanced and have incredible variety and different kinds of energies and characters. But this [symphony] goes beyond. This is just astonishing.”

As familiar as the “Jupiter” Symphony has become, the key for performers and listeners, Katsarelis says, is to approach it like a new piece, “like it’s the freshest idea ever. That’s how you have to present it. That’s (PMC’s) approach to Mozart—doing it like we’re composing it ourselves. That’s what we bring to it, and I think that the aspect of familiarity done really beautifully in this way is part of healing.”

European Goldfinch

Of the two pieces that Jennings will play, the Vivaldi concerto is bright, cheerful and showy. It was written for girls at a famous orphanage in Venice, the Ospedale della Pietà, where Vivaldi taught. The girls’ orchestra was internationally famous, with people coming from all across Europe to hear their performances. With music as their main activity, the girls were renowned for their virtuosity.

Carter Pann’s piece creates a strong contrast with Vivaldi, and it fits the concert theme very well. “It’s beautiful and evocative,” Katsarelis says. “Christina (Jennings) was really into the theme about healing, and wanting a beautiful , cantabile kind of work—something that was more soulful and more cantabile. That’s what we thought would be really nice in this program, and I think it works out really well. 

As she talks about the concert, Katsarelis keeps reflecting on subject of healing and the triple challenge Boulder has had to face in the past year, with a pandemic, a shooting and then a fire. “I just never thought I would see that level of devastation,” she says. “It seems to me that the arts have to respond. All of us in the arts need to think deeply and ponder our role, what do we need to say, who do we need to be for the community.

“That’s been on my heart a great deal.“

# # # # #

“Mozart: A Concert of Healing”
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With Christina Jennings, flute

  • Mozart: Symphony No. 15 in G major, K. 124
  • Vivaldi: Concerto for Flute in D major, op. 10 no. 3, “The Goldfinch”
  • Carter Pann: My Cross for solo flute and chamber orchestra (world premiere)
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551 (“Jupiter”)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4
Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5 
First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder

TICKETS

NOTE: All Pro Musica musicians have been vaccinated. Audience members must show proof of vaccination at the door. Audience members age 2 and up will be required to wear a mask. Audience capacity will be limited to allow for approhripriate distancing, and patrons are asked to observe social distancing in the hall and the lobby. If you cannot receive the vaccine for medical or religious reasons, you will be asked to show a negative COVID test taken 72 hours before the performance.

Pianist Andrew Staupe brings two very different concertos to the BCO

Bahman Saless will conduct works by J.C Bach, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky

By Peter Alexander Jan. 26 at 10 p.m.

Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bobo.

Conductor Bahman Saless will join with pianist Andrew Staupe and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra Saturday (7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Boulder Adventist Church) to present “Diversions from History,” a program that balances some diversions from the usual programming with one of the most familiar works from the Romantic era.

“That’s what you do when you do programming,” Saless says. “You go ‘well, we need something that brings the audience in.’”

“Something” in this case is the Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings, a piece that the often self-critical composer wrote “does not lack artistic worth.” It does not lack admirers, either, being one of the most performed of Tchaikovsky’s works. It has been heard in films, TV shows, and, remarkably, as the lead in to commercial breaks for an NFL playoff game.

If the Serenade provided the audience draw, the other two works on the program provided the concert’s title. And they are certainly a diversion from the standard repertoire: the Piano Concerto in E-flat, op 7 no. 5, by Johann Christian Bach, and the Concerto No. 1 for Piano by Shostakovich. 

Andrew Staupe

“Staupe wanted to do two small concertos,” Saless explained. This may have been a reaction to his last performance with Saless and the BCO in 2018, when he played the massive Piano Concerto No 3 of Johann Nepomuk Hummel, a contemporary of Beethoven. “It’s crazy hard!” Saless says of that concerto, suggesting that Staupe wanted something different this time.

When they started looking for shorter concertos, Saless remembered conducting music by J.C. Bach in Europe. “I was fascinated,” he says. “Also, I read that he and another composer, (Carl Friedrich) Abel, wrote the first piano concertos, the way we know them, in terms of writing for piano rather than harpsichord.”

The youngest son of J.S. Bach, Johann Christian is known as “The London Bach” from having lived there for many years. He is important in history as a transitional figure between his father’s Baroque style and the high classic style of Mozart and Haydn, and for having taught the eight-year-old Mozart in London. In fact, the young Mozart’s first concertos were modeled on works by J.C. Bach.

At a distance of more than 150 years, Shostakovich stands at a long remove from J.C. Bach. “We’re basically playing the music by a composer from the beginning of piano concerto as we’re familiar with, to the end of piano concerto as we’re familiar with,” Saless says.

But there is a musical connection, in that Shostakovich ties his concerto to earlier eras in various ways. He uses contrapuntal textures that recall the Baroque era of the elder Bach in the concerto’s fast movements, and quotes themes by Beethoven, including the “Appassionata” Sonata at the very outset, and the so-called “Rage Over a Lost Penny” in the finale.

Derek McDonald

Shostakovich originally set out to write a trumpet concerto, but at some point he decided that the music needed a piano. As he continued to compose, the piano became more prominent, until he decided it was turning into a concerto for piano—with trumpet—although it is effectively a double concerto for the two instruments. The trumpet soloist will be Derek McDonald, the principal trumpet of the BCO.

The two soloists have their work cut out for them, Saless says. “The tempos are so wild! When it’s that fast, it’s a hard piece to put together. We’re going to have to practice a lot.”

Because of the fast tempos, “the pianist makes the decisions because the jumps in the left hand between the very end of the piano and the middle are ridiculous. Most of the tempos came from (Staupe) and (McDonald) is just making sure that he can play at the tempo that Andrew wants.”

In places it goes so fast that “the best thing (for the conductor) is not to get in the way,” Saless says. “You just conduct really small and let them do it. And you pray!”

Tchaikovsky wanted a large, lush string orchestra for the Serenade. The BCO is limited in numbers, due to COVID and the small stage space of the Adventist Church where they perform. “The problem is, how many people can we fit on that stage, and how many people do we WANT on the stage during the pandemic,” Saless says.

“But we’ve got 24 strings, so this is one of our bigger string sections. We have five cellos and two basses, which is pretty big for us. It’s going to be a nice, full sound.”

It’s not obvious, but the Serenade’s rich, Romantic score has a connection to the Classical elements of the other works on the program. Tchaikovsky was an ardent admirer of Mozart, to whom he intended a tribute in the Serenade’s first movement.

Whether you hear a connection with Mozart—and it is subtle—or hear the Beethoven quotations in Shostakovich, the program of three varied works is designed to appeal to varied tastes. And Saless hopes you will want to experience all three. “Come hear,” he says, suggesting a pun. 

“Come see. And listen!”

# # # # #

“Diversions in History’
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Andrew Staupe, piano, and Derek McDonald, trumpet

  • Johann Christian Bach: Piano Concerto in E-flat major, op. 7 no. 5
  • Shostakovich: Concerto No. 1 for Piano
  • Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29
Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder

TICKETS

Boulder Phil returns to Macky with Gershwin Celebration

Concert with pianist Marcus Roberts Jan. 22 will also be streamed

By Peter Alexander Jan. 20 at 11 a.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra returns to Macky Auditorium Saturday (7:30 p.m., Jan. 22) for the first time in two years, with an all-Gershwin program.

Marcus Roberts Trio

Two works are featured: An American in Paris and the Piano Concerto in F, performed with the Marcus Roberts trio: Roberts, piano, Rodney Jordan, bass, and Jason Marsalis, drums. The same program will be presented Sunday at the Lone Tree Arts Center (1:30 p.m. Jan. 23). Tickets to both concerts, and for a live stream Saturday, are available through the Boulder Phil Web page.

While an all-Gershwin program is a little unusual for a symphony orchestra, “this is a nice way to get back to Macky” conductor Michael Butterman says. “A Gershwin celebration just feels festive.”

The Concerto harks back to a concert early in Butterman’s tenure with the orchestra, when Roberts and his trio played the Concerto in F. “I think it was my very first season,” Butterman says. “I remember that as one of the highlights of my time in Boulder, because it’s exciting to see the musicians of the orchestra so engaged.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

# # # # #

Gershwin Celebration
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Marcus Roberts Trio: Marcus Roberts, piano; Rodney Jordan, bass; Jason Marsalis, drums

  • Gershwin: An American in Paris
    —Piano Concerto in F

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, Mackey Auditorium
1:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 23, Lone Tree Arts Center
Masks and proof of vaccination are required.

Live steam 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22

TICKETS