Wall of Sound at the Britt Festival

Next Stop: Santa Fe Opera

By Peter Alexander

Last week I was in Oregon visiting family. While I was there, I took the opportunity to attend the opening orchestra concert of the Britt Festival in Jacksonville, Ore.

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Teddy Abrams with the Britt Orchestra. Photo by Peter Alexander.

The concert featured an attractive program of West Coast composers, including John Adams, Andrew Norman, Mason Bates, Henry Cowell and John Williams. During a break, there was a humorous nod to John Cage’s 4’33”. Darius Milhaud was included, courtesy of Mills College in Oakland, Calif. And there was an attractive world premiere of Song of Sasquatch by Oregon native Kenji Bunch—a Britt commission that gives humorous acknowledgment to the festival’s and composer’s home region.

Teddy Abrams was the conductor. Joshua Roman, who has appeared several times in Boulder, was the soloist for Bates’s Cello Concerto.

I was not there as a critic, and so this is not a review of their performances. But I wanted to make one observation: the concert, held in an outdoor venue, was heavily amplified. By heavily, I mean that the winds and the bass especially were over-amplified, and sometimes the percussion as well. The balance was seriously distorted, and at times the blend muddied the interior voices and blended complex textures into a single Phil Spector-ish wall of sound.

Every sound engineer has his or her ideal sound, so I can only assume that was exactly what the engineer at Britt wanted. If so, it is not a sound that is appropriate for complex classical orchestral music. The clarity of textures and the precision of balances that we take for granted at the Colorado Music Festival was nowhere to be heard—which served to remind me how lucky we are in Boulder.

My next travels, to the Santa Fe Opera, will be as a critic. Watch here for reviews of the 2017 season productions, including the world premiere production of Mason Bates’s The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, conducted by former CMF music director Michael Christie.

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“The (R)evelution of Steve Jobs” at the Santa Fe Opera. Photo by Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera.

CMF ends on a high note

‘Classically Jazz,’ Mahler’s Ninth and violinist Gil Shaham will end the season

By Peter Alexander

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Gil Shaham

When you plan a summer festival, you want to end on a high note. And this year, Jean-Marie Zeitouni and the Colorado Music Festival (CMF) will end on three separate high notes that bring the 40th anniversary season to a grand conclusion, July 30–Aug. 4.

The first: former CMF first-clarinetist Boris Allakhverdyan returns to Boulder to perform the Copland Clarinet Concerto on a program titled Classically Jazz, Sunday, July 30; the second: Zeitouni leads the Festival Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, last performed at CMF more than 20 years ago, Thursday, Aug. 3; and the third: Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, performed by super-star soloist Gil Shaham, described by Zeitouni as “a wonderful man and musician,” Friday, Aug. 4.

“The idea for the last week is to do something for the orchestra — and [Mahler’s Ninth] is a piece that they’ve all been dying to play — and something for our patrons in the form of a major guest artist,” Zeitouni says. “One concert is more about the orchestra, and one is a gift to the audience.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Colorado Music Festival Final Week
All performances 7:30 p.m. in Chautauqua Auditorium

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Boris Allakhverdyan

CMF Presents: Chamber Music
Boris Allakhverdyan, clarinet, with members of the CMF Orchestra
Saturday, July 29

Classically Jazz
CMF Chamber Orchestra, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor, with Boris Allakhverdyan, clarinet
Sunday, July 30

Mahler’s Ninth
Festival Orchestra, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor
Thursday, Aug. 3

Festival Finale
Festival Orchestra, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor, with Gil Shaham, violin
Friday, Aug. 4

Tickets

Sharpsandflatirons one of the top 50 classical music blogs?

A limited but interesting list is posted by the blog sharing page Feedspot

By Peter Alexander

Classical Music transparent_1000pxFeedspot, a Web page that aims to bring some order to the varied world of blogs, has selected Sharpsandflatirons one of the “Top fifty classical music blogs and Websites for classical music fans.”

While I neither endorse nor discourage readers from making use of the Feedspot page—you can apparently start for free—it is gratifying to be included on a list with blogs by Greg Sandow in ArtsJournal, the classical music blog pages of the New York Times and the Telegraph, and the Classics Today blog. What I do encourage is that readers check out the full list. I found some new blogs that I will want to read regularly, and you may as well.

I will add that there some excellent blogs that were missed in the Feedspot list, particularly Alex Ross’ “The Rest is Noise” and the classical music news page of Arts Journal. But the really important message here is that there is a lot going on in the classical world, and you have many sources to turn to for news, all at your fingers, thanks to the magic of the Internet.

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A programming note for my followers: I have been on vacation for a couple of weeks, camping in Utah and entertaining family in Colorado, but the classical scene in the Boulder area is heating up for the summer. Look for coming stories on CU NOW, the Colorado Music Festival, Central City Opera, the Santa Fe Opera, and whatever else catches my attention and fits into my schedule.

Ending with a bang

Boulder Phil concludes a historic season with Italian program, premiere

By Peter Alexander

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A Welshman among Italians: Stephen Doss’s concerto, based on a novel by Italo Calvino, will be premiered by the Boulder Philharmonic on it s season finale concert

The Boulder Philharmonic ends a spectacular season Saturday with the spectacular orchestral fireworks of Respighi’s Pines of Rome.

The 2016–17 season saw sell-out performances, a trip to Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center and national recognition at the Shift Festival of American Orchestras. “We’re celebrating a successful season, and one that’s been historic for us,” says Michael Butterman, music director. “I wanted to have an exclamation point at the end of the season.”

Respighi’s showpiece is the culmination of an almost all-Italian program. Everything on the concert is either by an Italian, based on Italian music or — in the case of the world premiere of a concerto by Welsh composer Stephen Goss — inspired by an Italian novel.

Goss’s piece was written for guitarist Nicolò Spera and the Phil’s concertmaster, violinist Charles Wetherbee, both CU faculty members. His Double Concerto for violin, guitar, strings and percussion is titled Invisible Cities, which is also a short novel by Italo Calvino that is a favorite of Spera.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Season Finale: Pines of Rome
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Charles Wetherbee, violin, and Nicolò Spera, guitar

Stravinsky: Monumentum pro Gesualdo
Luciano Berio: Four Original Versions of Boccherini’s Return of the Nightwatch from Madrid
Stephen Goss: Invisible Cities: Double concerto for violin, guitar, strings and percussion (world premiere)
Verdi: Overture to Nabucco
Puccini: The Chrysanthemums for string orchestra
Respighi: The Pines of Rome

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22, Macky Auditorium
Tickets

 

“The role of an orchestra is to reflect the values of the community, just as it is to open doors and windows to the rest of the world.”

—David Handel, candidate for Music Director of the Longmont Symphony

By Peter Alexander

Each of the four candidates for music director of the Longmont Symphony Orchestra will conduct a concert during the 2016–17 season. When each candidate visits Longmont, I will take the opportunity to introduce him with serious questions about the job of a music director, as well as questions that help introduce each of them to the reader. I hope this will give a clearer picture of the strengths of each candidate.

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David Handel

The second candidate, David Handel, will conduct the orchestra on Saturday, Jan. 28. The following works are on the program: George Frideric Handel’s Overture to Music for the Royal Fireworks, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with violinist Geoffrey Herd, and the Symphonie Fantastique of Hector Berlioz.

Here are his answers to the questions I asked:

PA: What attracted you to the Longmont Symphony?

DH: There are announcements of these music director positions, and you don’t apply if you’re not interested. And the first thing to do is to investigate the orchestra. I had not heard about the orchestra before, so I investigated online, and I was impressed. And what most impressed me was when I looked for them on YouTube, and I was surprised that a community this size had an orchestra that performed on that level.

The LSO clearly possesses a professional mentality and level of accomplishment, but with a community spirit. I can only imagine that this is due to Robert Olsen’s leadership over 34 years, and the human qualities of the LSO musicians. [Because of] my background and considering my passion for orchestra building, to say nothing of the unique demographics of Longmont and the combined communities’ potential for growth, I thought that this might be a good fit.

How do you think about programming for a community orchestra? What would a season of the LSO with David Handel look like?

It’s precipitous to give you a clear idea. I think before you can structure a season you really need to dig your hands in and get them dirty and get to know the people, their preferences and the different elements in the community.

When you program a season, you really want to be thinking about what’s the makeup of that community. Otherwise, there’s no way you can achieve being relevant to the community and participate in a dynamic dialog with the contents of the community. So that’s essential. I would say that that the role of an orchestra in its programming is to reflect the values of the community as a whole, just as it is to open doors and windows to the rest of the world.

The programs I’ve seen of the orchestra in past years has been very traditional, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all— you don’t want to alienate the public. But at the same time, you want to provide an opportunity to the musicians in the orchestra, because they do it because it’s their passion, and to the public, because they’re thrilled to appreciate the art of members of their community. So you want to achieve the right balance between opening doors and windows, and performing what people in this community love.

There have recently been alarm bells for classical music and orchestras, especially the larger orchestras that have had serious budget issues and labor disputes. Do you think that these problems will affect community orchestras as well? And if not, what do you think are the challenges for the smaller orchestras?

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Conductor David Handel

I think that’s a really interesting question, because I think that in the United States, the community and regional orchestras are really the future of live classical music. They can be more flexible, in terms of the number of programs they present in a year, in terms of making decisions about institutional priorities.

Second, if you look at the enormous orchestras, like the New York Philharmonic, which probably has a $100 million dollar budget, or Buffalo Philharmonic, which has a barely $10 million budget, the issues that they confront of maintaining a staff adequate to meet the needs of the administration are just insane in relation to what an orchestra does. By way of example, the Chicago Symphony up until the 1950s had an administrative staff I think of just five or 10 people. Today, their administrative staff is larger than the orchestra, just to find the money to sustain themselves. So those kinds of organizations are perceived as unhealthy. But of course they can continue on, some better than others, because there is so much wealth concentrated in that community.

On the other end of the spectrum, the community orchestras, which can perform on a very high artistic level, don’t depend on such enormous budgets. They are also linked to the community on a human level—in other words, it’s not just 90 musicians onstage in a city of 10 million people. It may be a community of 100,000, and 90 people onstage that they’re going to see in the restaurants and cafes and diners in their community. In that sense, I think regional and community orchestras are better positioned than the big corporate orchestras.

How do you balance and prepare for the various aspects of the conductor’s job: the musical requirements, the social demands with the public, and the diplomatic demands with contributors, the board and musicians?

I’m the music director of two orchestras, and balancing those demands obviously is critical. I would say principle number one is that you’re not a politician, and by that I mean you’re not there to manipulate and you’re not there to articulate any political perspective. Your group of people, whether it’s the board, the orchestra itself, or the public will have people from every segment of the political spectrum. As the face of the organization, it’s not your job to take a position and suggest that your values reflect the public’s values, the orchestra’s values, or the board’s values.

The number one priority is artistic excellence, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a professional, semi-professional, or amateur orchestra: all of the people who are performing on stage, every one of them wants to participate in a magical, artistically rewarding experience.

Also part of the balancing act is that your job is to be able to synthesize the values of the board of directors, the musicians and the community, and intuit a vision for the organization, from day one looking five years down the road.

Another element is that to conduct well, you need to somehow be a natural leader. There are all kinds, but you have to somehow have that capacity of persuasion. One of my teachers coined a phrase: the impulse of will. Beyond this part (waving his arms), which is traffic management, you have to be able to project what it is you want. That goes to the rehearsal and the performance, just as it does to the board meeting.

And being a music director means being in some way a brother, an uncle, a father. I can’t tell you how many weddings and funerals that I’ve been to, and that’s been tremendously rewarding for me.

About you, now: Where did you grow up?

I’m from Buffalo New York, until I was 16, and then I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I loved it there. I just had wonderful teachers.

Did you come from a musical family?

Yes and no. I’m an adopted child, but I know my biological family. They are all artists—painters and singers and composers. My biological mother taught painting, and they were beatniks! They were crazy people, so I’m glad they offered me up for adoption. I had the most wonderful (adoptive) parents you could dream up. They don’t have a musical background but they are music lovers, so I had the good fortune of having a subscription to the Buffalo Philharmonic from the time I was 10, and started violin at 6. They supported every artistic interest and instinct I had.

masur-kurt-117Who are your musical mentors?

There are a lot of them, but the main mentor was Kurt Mazur, since I served as his assistant conductor. That made a huge impact on me.

Also [violinist] Ruggiero Ricci. At one point my father wanted to put his foot down and say, ‘David, Handel cannot be a musician!’ [laughs] You need to do something serious.’ So I picked up my bike, got on a greyhound bus. I called Ricci and said, this is my situation. He said, ‘Come stay with me,’ so I stayed with him, and the great thing was I had lessons all the time! Then Ricci called my father, and my father felt it was good counsel. He understood.

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Ruggiero Ricci

An additional mentor was Gustav Meier, recently deceased and the dean of conducting teachers in the U.S., a former Bernstein assistant.

Are there any other conductors whose work you especially admire?

The list is long. Wilhelm Furtwangler—his interpretive mind was always working and was very creative. Leonard Bernstein, of course. Colin Davis, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Riccardo Muti—a lot his repertoire is very exciting. Carlos Kleiber of course.

Moving on to some less serious questions: Do you have a favorite food?

I am a foodie, but it’s not just one favorite. I like lots. I love Mexican food—who doesn’t? I love French sauces, I love Russian food. You don’t see many Russian restaurants but its really, really tasty. My wife is from Turkmenistan, a central Asian country, so I like central Asian cuisine. I like sushi. I’m an omnivore.

I eat out on the road, and I love culinary adventure, but at home I love to cook. I think that every conductor thinks of himself as a chef.

As you know, Colorado is an outdoor recreation state. Do you have a favorite activity outdoors? Or are you too busy shut up in your studio studying scores?

I suppose my two favorites are skiing and canoeing. So when you asked about why the Longmont Symphony, that’s a perk.

Do you follow any sport or team?

You know I really don’t follow sports, but if the Buffalo Bills are playing or Michigan is playing, then I take an interest. That has more to do with loyalty than a particular interest. Otherwise, I love baseball, in part because the rules of the game allow for human nature—stealing bases! And because the pitcher’s role is so dynamic. And the rhythm of the game, fast, slow, fast.

From opposite ends of the spectrtum

Pro Music Colorado offers “Love and Death” through Schubert and Shostakovich

By Peter Alexander

The next concert from the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and conductor Cynthia Katsarelis will bring together two opposing worlds.

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Dmitri Shostakovich

The concert, titled “Love and Death,” will be presented Friday in Denver and Saturday in Boulder. There are only two works on the program: the Symphony No. 14 by Shostakovich, a vocal-orchestral meditation on death; and Schubert’s frolicsome Symphony No. 5. Soloists for the Shostakovich, singing poetic texts by Federico García Lorca, Guillaume Apollinaire, Wilhelm Kuchelbecker and Rainer Maria Rilke, will be soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and bass Ashraf Sewailam.

The two works come from the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. “Right, and that’s by design,” Katsarelis says. “The Shostakovich is really intense, and you don’t want to leave people on their own at the end of this piece. The Schubert is a sublimely beautiful feel-good piece, and it will be a good antidote to the emotional intensity of the Shostakovich.”

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson

“Love and Death”
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano, and Ashraf Sewailam, bass

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 14
Schubert: Symphony No. 5

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Ashraf Sewailam

7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, First Baptist Church, 1373 Grant St, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce, Boulder

Tickets

Shining a light on a musical ‘blind spot’ in Vienna

One hundred years of music from the Hapsburg Court

By Peter Alexander

Vienna’s rich musical heritage of the Classic-Romantic periods is very familiar to audiences. But for a full century before Haydn or Mozart ever set foot in Vienna, the Austrian capital had a musical culture that scholar/performer Mario Aschauer calls “a phenomenon unique in music history.”

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Scholar/performer Mario Aschauer uncovers the forgotten music of Vienna with the Boulder Bach Festival

Between 1637 and 1740, four consecutive Hapsburg emperors were trained musicians and composers. “They had an amazing court (music establishment),” Aschauer explains. “They had international personnel and produced an unspeakable amount of music in pretty much every genre that was popular at the time.”

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Zachary Carrettin playing the cello da spalla

To open the door on these riches of the Baroque era, the Boulder Bach Festival has invited Aschauer to present “A Journey to Vienna with Mario Aschauer,” a concert of music from the Austrian court, to be presented Thursday in Boulder and Saturday in Longmont. The program features both operatic and instrumental selections, performed by Aschauer on harpsichord; the Bach Festival’s director, Zachary Carrettin, on Baroque violin and his recently revived cello da spalla; and by soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, who performed with the Bach Festival in last season’s performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

Works on the program include music by one of the emperors and court composers of different generations. There are pieces for keyboard alone, a sonata for violin and keyboard, and several arias with an obbligato instrument—an instrument that becomes a duet partner with the singer.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson

Journey to Vienna, with Mario Aschauer, harpsichord
Zachary Carrettin, Baroque violin and cello da spalla
Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano

Music by Emperor Leopold I, Georg and Gottlieb Muffat, Atonio Caldara, Attilio Ariosti and Johann Joseph Fux.

7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8
Grace Lutheran Church, 1001 13th St., Boulder

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10
Stewart Auditorium, 400 Quail Rd., Longmont

Tickets