“Sacred Jazz” takes Ars Nova into new territory

Oct. 5 and 6 concert features composer Will Todd’s “Mass in Blue”

By Peter Alexander Oct. 4 at 12 noon

Ars Nova, Boulder’s a capella choir that specializes in Renaissance and contemporary concert music, is venturing into new territory.

“It is a bit of a departure for us,” says Thomas Edward Morgan, artistic director of Ars Nova, talking about a program of “Sacred Jazz.” That program, performed by Ars Nova and guest artists, will open their season Oct. 5 in Boulder and Oct. 6 in Cherry Hills Village.

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Thomas Edward Morgan (center) and the Ars Nova Singers

It was the main piece on the program, Will Todd’s Mass in Blue, that initially got Morgan’s attention “This piece has been on my radar screen for a while now, partly because the choral writing in it is really excellent,” he says. “You don’t find a lot of extended contemporary pieces that have this level of choral writing.”

The six-movement Mass will be performed with a jazz trio comprising Scott Martin, piano; Mark Diamond, bass; and Russ Meissner, drums. Soprano Kathryn Radakovich will appear as soloist for the Mass.

The Mass in Blue takes about 40 minutes, Morgan says. The concert will open with a separate 20-minute set of a capella pieces. The entire program, with about 60 minutes of music, will be performed without intermission.

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Thomas Edward Morgan

Opening the season with the Mass in Blue “was an opportunity for us to perform a piece with this level of choral writing, and also to reach a new crowd, with the jazz influence and the spectacular players that we have,” Morgan says. “We hope that we reach new people right at the beginning of the season who will then be interested in what we do and come back through the rest of the season.”

The composer, Will Todd, is a British jazz pianist who brings both his jazz experience and his knowledge of the English choral tradition to the composition of the Mass in Blue. The piece is an adventure for both the choir and for the jazz trio, in that it is deeply rooted in the Blues tradition, but also almost entirely written out.

Compared to most jazz combo work, Morgan says, “this has considerably more structure, which is interesting for the audience as well as for the choir, and I think interesting for the trio because it‘s certainly more composed than what they usually do. They pretty much have to play from a part because there’s a lot of time signature changes. It requires jazz musicians who can read and know where the changes happen.”

In fact, Morgan says, the piece is almost “over-composed,” in that the jazz trio has parts that could be played straight through as written, without improvisation. That way it can be performed by players who prefer to read it straight, but it can also be done with more freedom by proficient jazz artists.

“The way we approach it is we have the trio play in the style and not be note-specific to what the composer wrote,” Morgan explains. “The choir is really specifically notated, and they’ll do exactly what’s printed. It’s what’s underneath and around that, that gets a little bit freer, so it certainly has the jazz feel to it.”

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Kathryn Radakovich

A particular challenge, Morgan says, was finding a soprano soloist who can handle the demands of the part Todd has written. “The part for the soprano soloist is very virtuosic,” Morgan says. “We went through a couple of sopranos to find the right one to make it work, because it’s challenging. It’s high and very virtuosic. It takes the energy of the choir just one level further.”

The soloist Morgan found, Radakovich, is an extraordinarily versatile artist. She teaches vocal jazz at Metropolitan State University in Denver and has performed in Denver’s major jazz venues, but she also performs with early music groups including the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado and the Denver Early Music Consort. As an early music singer she has appeared at the Montana Early Music Festival, and the Victoria Bach Festival, among others.

The opening set will showcase the versatility of Ars Nova, Morgan says. It will include a Renaissance piece by English composer John Shepperd, a new piece by Eric Banks that includes text in Middle Persian, a spiritual arrangement, and Duke Ellington’s classic “Come Sunday.”

“We wanted to give the audience a little bit of a taste of what else we do,” Morgan says. “We mostly do a cappella things, so we’re going to do a 20-minute set a cappella.

“It’s a chance to introduce this audience to a wider selection of what Ars Nova does, so they may be more interested in coming back to hearing us again.”

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Ars Nova Singers

Sacred Jazz!
Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Morgan, conductor
With Kathryn Radakovich, soprano
Scott Martin,piano; Mark Diamond, bass; Russ Meissner, drums

A capella opening set including music by John Sheppard, Eric Banks, Duke Ellington
Will Todd: Mass In Blue

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Boulder
Tickets

7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6
Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills
Tickets

 

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An orchestra’s VIP

Sometimes a star on stage, the concertmaster is always a worker behind the scenes

By Peter Alexander Oct. 4 at 11:15 a.m.

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Glenn Dicterow was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for 34 years. Photo by Chris Lee in David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

If you have attended a classical orchestra concert, you’ve seen the concertmaster.

He or she enters after the rest of the orchestra is onstage, to polite applause. They ask the oboe to play a note, and the orchestra tunes. Once the music starts, they play any solos that are written in the orchestra score.

But what else do they do?

Quite a bit, it turns out. They serve as leader of the violin section, and by extension all of the strings; they help the conductor achieve his or her interpretation; they facilitate communication between conductor and players; they audition new players; and sometimes they represent the orchestra to the public. All of this work is done behind the scenes, which makes the concertmaster a very important person. It’s also why the conductor shakes the concertmaster’s hand at the end of the concert.

But the devil’s in the details, and to get the details, I talked to four current and former concertmasters. One of them is Glenn Dicterow, retired concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, who was in Boulder the last week of September for CU Bernstein at 100, the ongoing celebration of the Leonard Bernstein Centennial at the CU College of Music.

I also talked to Chas Wetherbee, concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic, who held the same role with the Columbus (Ohio) Symphony; Yumi Hwang-Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra in Santa Cruz, California; and Calin Lupanu, concertmaster of the Colorado Music Festival orchestra in the summer and of the Charlotte (North Carolina) Symphony.

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Chas Wetherbee in the concertmasters chair of the Boulder Philharmonic.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

 

 

 

Boulder Bach Festival opens season with a concert — and a little bit more

Gala event includes wine, tapas, conversation, and music in the lobby

By Peter Alexander Sept. 7 at 6 a.m.

The Boulder Bach Festival opens its 2018–19 season at the Stewart Auditorium in Longmont, Thursday, Sept. 13, with a concert, and something more.

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Robert Hill and Zachary Carrettin. Photo courtesy of Zachary Carrettin.

The 7:30 p.m. concert will feature music of J.S. Bach, played by the BBF’s artistic director Zachary Carrettin on Baroque viola, the shoulder-held cello da spalla, and Baroque violin; and guest artist Robert Hill, newly appointed to the CU Boulder music faculty, on harpsichord. The “something more” starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Stewart Auditorium lobby, with wine and tapas included in the ticket price, and short performances by BBF fellowship artists.

During the hour preceding the concert, there will be four short performances of pieces by Thomas Tallis, a 16th-century English composer of sacred choral music.

The following recital program of works by J.S. Bach will feature Hill performing two works for solo harpsichord, in addition to the three works that Hill and Carrettin will play together. In order, they will be Bach’s Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord in G major, with Carrettin playing a Baroque viola; Hill playing Bach’s Concerto Transcription for solo harpsichord after Vivaldi in C major; Carrettin alone on the Suite for unaccompanied cello in G major, played on the shoulder-held cello; Hill playing the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue for solo harpsichord in D minor; and the Sonata for Violin and Obbligato Harpsichord in G major.

“These are all amazing works, and they are all quite distinct from one another,” Carrettin says.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

38th Season Opening Gala
Boulder Bach Festival

Robert Hill, harpsichord
Zachary Carrettin, Baroque violin, Baroque viola, and cello da spalla
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13
Stewart Auditorium

Works by J.S. Bach.

BBF Season tickets and individual concert tickets here.

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