Macky concert by violinist Josh Bell and pianist Sam Haywood is sold out

Program featuring Mozart, Schubert and Richard Strauss provides food for thought

By Peter Alexander Feb. 4, 12:05 a.m.

Superstars—and there are some in the classical music world—sell out concerts on the basis their names alone.

Josh Bell byRichard Ascroft

Josh Bell. Photo by Richard Ascroft.

A year ago, it was Yo-Yo Ma, who sold out a recital in 2000-seat-plus Macky Auditorium long before the performance. This year, Josh Bell has done the same for his upcoming performance with pianist Sam Haywood (7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9). Even though you can no longer get tickets, the program and the event itself are still worth thinking about. I recently spoke with Haywood for his perspective on various aspects of the performance.

Although Bell came to fame as a teen prodigy, Haywood didn’t know him then. Of course he’s aware of Bell’s history, and he see vestiges of that experience in Bell’s playing still. “He manages to keep the freshness and the vitality of that early period (of his life),” he says. “The energy is very much there, and it’s certainly a great pleasure to work with him.”


Sam Haywood

Bell and Haywood work together not as star and accompanist but as chamber music collaborators. For example. they often discuss potential concert programs together. “Because he’s so super busy, it has fit in practically, it has to be something that he has time to work on,” Haywood says.

On the other hand, the Strauss Sonata on the Boulder concert was originally something Haywood wanted to play. “We played the Strauss before, and I think the first time was at my suggestion,” he explains. “I always wanted to play the Strauss (because) there’s not a great deal of solo piano music by him.”

Of course Haywood understands that the audience is likely to think of Josh Bell as the star, especially since the concert is billed that way: “Joshua Bell” in large type (no instrument listing necessary), followed by “with Sam Haywood, piano” in small type. But he resists being stereotyped in a subsidiary role.

For the audience “to approach it as if they’re coming to hear a great star with background piano—they will only get 50% of the music,” he says. “I think that’s a shame, because how you prepare yourself to listen is always important. When we play at Carnegie Hall they have us in equal billing. I think when people see that, they think, ‘Aha! We’re going to see a duo performing!’”

It is useful to know that Haywood does far more than tour with Josh Bell and other solo artists. His career includes solo recitals as well as chamber music, he has founded a music festival in England and composed a children’s opera, among other works. He is fascinated with historical keyboard instruments, and has recorded a CD of music by Chopin on the composer’s Pleyel piano (available through Amazon UK).

Sam Haywood.Pleyel

Sam Haywood playing Chopin’s Pleyel piano.

YouTube videos of Haywood playing historical instruments can be seen here and here.

“I’m very conscious of not wanting to be pigeon-holed,” he says. “I’m just a musician, a music lover, and I love to play all kinds of different repertoire. I was just playing some Wolf lieder with a wonderful soprano, and it’s all just wonderful music to be able to immerse ourselves in.”

One fascinating aspect of the program that Bell and Haywood are playing in Boulder is the way it illustrates the changing character of music for violin and piano over about a century, including a shift in the relationship between the two players.

When Mozart wrote his Sonata in B-flat major in 1784, music for that pairing of instruments was often described as an “accompanied piano sonata,” with the violin in the secondary role. This reflected the fact that Mozart and other composers of the time were first and foremost keyboard players who might perform with students and amateurs who played violin.

Schubert’s Fantasie in C major was written to be performed privately among friends—in a salon, for something like a house concert. Although the piece definitely has some strong, expressive moments, it was largely intended for intimate music-making between friends who would have been on equal footing as players.

The Strauss Sonata, on the other hand, is much more of a concert piece. By the time it was written in 1888, touring virtuosos were common, and Strauss would have expected it to be performed for a public audience, in a concert hall. This music comes closer to being for soloist with accompaniment, although Haywood points out that the sonata is “a lot to get your teeth into” for the pianist. “It’s very orchestral. The textures, the colors, they’re all very vivid. It works very well in a large hall.”


Josh Bell. Photo by Marc Hom.

Which is the final issue we talked about. With the Mozart and the Schubert, music written for small spaces has been taken into a very large hall. That significantly changes the relationship between the performers and the audience.

“It’s very, very difficult,” Haywood says. “ I think you approach the piece in a slightly different way, because you’ve got to think of the poor people right in the back. They’ve got to hear it as well. You’ve got to really be conscious of projecting and painting in quite bright colors.”

He also noted that he has “learned a lot about playing in large halls through playing with Joshua. When we first started to play (together) I hadn’t played in the 2,000-seater (halls) before, and he has this wonderful way of projecting his sound and his personality, with such intensity that he can hold a large number of people.

“That’s something I’ve learned from him.”

# # # # #

Joshua Bell, violin, and Sam Haywood, piano

Mozart: Violin Sonata No. 32 in B-flat Major, K.454
R. Strauss: Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18
Schubert: Fantasie in C Major, D.934
Additional works to be announced from the stage

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9
Macky Auditorium


2017: The Year in Classical Music

Some outstanding concerts, and some changes of leadership in Boulder

By Peter Alexander

With the year drawing to a close, it is time to look back at 2017. It has been a tumultuous year in many realms, including some aspects of Classical music. But before that, it is good to remember the outstanding musical experiences of 2017 here in the Boulder area.

Pro Musica

The year began on an expressive high point when Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and soloists Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano, and Ashraf Sewailam, bass, presented Shostakovich’s rarely-heard Symphony No. 14.

I wrote at the time: “This somewhat gloomy meditation on death is not often given live, partly because of the difficult assignments facing the soprano and bass soloists, but mostly because of the difficult subject matter. But it is a major statement from a great composer—what Katsarelis calls ‘a piece that needs to be heard’—and so the rare performances are to be treasured.”

The February visit of Deborah (Call Me Debbie) Voigt to Macky Auditorium will be a cherished memory for fans of the classical voice. Voigt Lessons, the superstar soprano’s candid retelling of her struggles with relationships, substances, and weight that clouded her career not only showed some realities of life at the top of the opera world, it also revealed the very human person beneath the superstar image. For both reasons, this was a meaningful event.

Takasce SQ

Takacs Quartet

The Takacs Quartet always provides some of the year’s best performances. It’s hard to chose just one, but for 2017 I would single out their February concert including Beethoven’s Quartet in G major, op. 18 no. 2—performed while the Takacs was in the midst of a full Beethoven cycle at several venues—and CU music faculty Daniel Silver, clarinet, playing the Brahms Quintet in B minor, op. 115. An especially beautiful rendering of this beautiful work had at least one audience member in tears by the end.

March saw the arrival of another superstar in Boulder when Sir James Galway played at Macky Auditorium, and the departure of an important member of Boulder’s classical music community when Evanne Browne gave her farewell concert with Seicento Baroque Ensemble, the organization she founded in 2011.


Boulder Phil at Kennedy Center

One of the biggest events of the year for Boulder performing arts was the visit in March of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Michael Butterman and Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance Company to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for the first annual Shift Festival of American Orchestras. The Phil repeated a concert they had given in Boulder a few days earlier, including the world premiere of All the Songs that Nature Sings by Stephen Lias and Copland’s Appalachian Spring, performed with Frequent Flyers.

An audience favorite of the festival, the Boulder Phil played to a sold out house. Butterman wrote the next day, “It was a peak experience for me, and, I think, for all of us at the Phil. . . . To be there with our orchestra, with that crowd and with that repertoire—it was something I shall never forget. We had a great sense of pride in representing our hometown.”

Several important changes of personnel were announced for Boulder classical scene in the spring. In April, Jean-Marie Zeitouni announced that he was stepping down as music director of the Colorado Music Festival. He will remain with CMF as principal guest conductor, and conductor/violinist Peter Oundjian will serve as artistic advisor for the 2018 season. Later the same month, James Bailey left his position as music curator of the Dairy Arts Center, to be replaced by Sharon Park.

Elliot Moore at Lake McIntosh - credit - Photography Maestro (1)

Elliott Moore

In May, Seicento Baroque Ensemble announced the appointment of Kevin T. Padworksi as artistic director, succeeding Browne, and the Longmont Symphony announced the appointment of Elliot Moore to succeed long-time music director Robert Olson.

The same month, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra wrapped up its 2016–17 season with its largest performance to date, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony presented in Macky Auditorium. The performance under conductor Bahman Saless was unfortunately the occasion of a protest by the anti-fracking group East Boulder County United. Seven members of EBCU blew whistles, shouted slogans and left flyers before the concert to voice their opposition to the orchestra having accepted a contribution from Extraction Oil & Gas.

Olga Kern

Olga Kern, photographed by Chris Lee at Steinway Hall.

Zeitouni proved to be anything but a lame duck conductor at the Colorado Music Festival. The 2017 season started at the end of June with an all-Russian program featuring exciting performances of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. On the same concert, one of Boulder’s favorite guest artists, pianist Olga Kern, gave scintillating performances of Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Other high points over the summer included the return of CMF’s founding director Giora Bernstein to lead a concert of Mozart, Zeitouni conducting Beethoven’s Ninth as the CMF centerpiece, and the visit of violinist Gil Shaham at the end of the summer season. Up in the mountains, Central City Opera’s Downton-Abbey-inspired Victorian-era production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte was one of the year’s highlights for opera lovers.

Another delight for the opera crowd came in the fall, with the CU Eklund Opera Program’s serio-comic production of Lehar’s Merry Widow. In November, Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra returned to its core repertoire with a lively concert featuring two youthful works for smaller ensemble: the Concerto for piano, violin and strings by the 14-year-old Mendelssohn, with violinist Zachary Carrettin and pianist Mina Gajić, and Janáček’s Idyll for Strings.

Zachary & Mina

Carrettin and Gajic

Carrettin and Gajić were featured performers in December when the Boulder Bach Festival gave one of its most intriguing and adventurous concerts in its increasingly adventurous schedule. With guest artist Richie Hawley, the program offered insight into the instruments and performance practices of the early 20th century, performed on Hawley’s 1919 Buffet clarinet, Gajić’s 1895 Érard piano, and Carrettin’s violin set up with strings typical of the period.


# # # # #

For the classical music world outside of Boulder, the biggest news was certainly the intrusion of a long-overdue reckoning for sexual misconduct that is going on in our society generally. The first bombshell, not unexpected by people in the business but a bombshell nonetheless, landed Dec. 3 with the suspension of conductor James Levine from the Metropolitan Opera and other organizations, including the Boston Symphony and the Ravinia Festival. Accusations against Charles Dutoit, artistic director and principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, surfaced later in the month.


James Levine

Both conductors are in the twilight of long careers. Rumors about Levine have been widely known in the classical music world; indeed I first heard them in the 1980s. Every music journalist I know has heard the same stories, but so far as I am aware, no one who experienced Levine’s assaults was previously willing to speak publicly. In the case of Dutoit, I had not heard the rumors, but I do know one of the women who spoke publicly about what happened to her, and I believe her unquestioningly.

As the controversy has swirled about the subject of sexual abuse, harassment and assault in classical music, several critics have written powerfully about the subject: Anne Midgette of the Washington Post, Jennifer Johnson of the Guardian, Andrew Riddles of Classical Ottawa to name three. Singer Susanne Mentzer has written about her personal experiences in the opera world for the Huffington Post, as has Dan Kempson for Medium.

There are certain to be more revelations. One major journalist has more first-hand information, with names including some of the of the most famous classical artists, and is preparing an article. I have no doubt that several men are nervously awaiting that story, or some other revelation that reveals past misdeeds.

Will this tidal wave reach Boulder?

It’s hard to say with certainty. I have spoken with many on the classical scene here, and the only rumor I have heard, from several sources, has been of inappropriate comments and behavior by one person, none of which reached the level of abuse or assault. “He might not have been hired today,” one person speculated, but as so often happens, the people who heard the comments preferred not to make an issue of it.

Another person told me he had never heard any rumor from the College of Music, so Boulder may escape the worst of this necessary but unhappy process. In the meantime, it is my wish for 2018 that society in general and the music world specifically create a safe environment, where powerful men do not feel free to behave like adolescent boys.


Edited for clarity 12.31.17

Finding Lessons in a Fiasco

What can we learn from the collapse of the Colorado Masterworks Chorus?

By Peter Alexander

The collapse of the Colorado Masterworks Chorus (CMC) last month, and the story of the unpaid musicians the organization left behind, were reported in several media at the time (see the Boulder Daily Camera and Denver CBS 4).

The CMC was formed in 2016 and gave its first performance during the summer, presenting the Brahms Requiem under conductor Evanne Browne. In October 2016, the CMC appeared with the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and conductor Cynthia Katsarelis in two performances of Haydn’s Creation.

Their next performances were March 3, 2017, in Denver and March 4 in Boulder, when they presented Handel’s large-scale oratorio Israel in Egypt. For those performances, the CMC engaged a chorus, some of whose members had written contracts and were paid for their performances, as well as soloists and an orchestra. The performances were led by conductor Vicki Burrichter, who also had a written contract as artistic director and was paid.

However, the orchestral musicians, including Katsarelis as concertmaster, and others who were involved in the preparation and performance of the oratorio did not have written contracts, and were not paid.

Michael Madsen, the organizer and board chairman of the CMC had expected ticket sales and a silent auction to cover most of the costs of the performance, but they fell far short of expectations. With somewhere between $12,000 and $16,500 in unpaid bills, Madsen filed dissolution papers with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office to abolish the organization, and ambitious plans for several future performances were cancelled.

That was the situation at the end of March, when the news stories appeared about CMC’s collapse. Today little has changed, and many of the musicians remain unpaid. Musician Relief, a campaign through Colorado Gives that aims to solicit private gifts to pay the musicians, has so far raised about half of its $16,500 goal.

From the money that has been raised, some of the musicians who performed with the CMC have received funds to make up for their loss. As freelance musicians, many of them depend on income from performances to pay their basic expenses, and some of the players had incurred expenses for travel and/or babysitting.

People involved in the performances have expressed differing opinions on how the CMC handled its business and why it broke down. I do not wish to throw fuel on dying embers by going over those disagreements. Nor do I wish to give a forum for accusations against any individuals. More important is a larger question: What does this mean for musicians and musical organizations in the Boulder area? What can we learn from what happened?

From talking with people directly involved in the CMC and its collapse, I found five major lessons for other arts organizations, for their board members, and above all for musicians.

It is very difficult, and takes time, to establish a new arts organization. Anyone who wants to do so needs to have a solid financial plan extending for two or more years, until the organization can qualify for grants. Most arts organizations make no more than 1/3 of their costs from tickets and other sales, with the other two thirds coming from supporters’ contributions and grants. Without one of those three legs, organizers need to be prepared for initial deficits.


Michael Allen, president of Local 2623, Denver Musicians’ Association

Few new arts organizations survive. Michael Allen, the president of Local 2623 of the Denver Musicians Association, has seen this firsthand. “Any time I see a new group, I’m thinking, ‘Why?’” he says. “It really doesn’t make any sense, unless there is a unique point of view. There are a couple of groups that have cropped up in the last decade that have that unique point of view, but they’re in the minority.”

Among the issues making survival difficult is the fact that Boulder is already saturated with musical organizations. There is a great deal of competition for dates, and many weekends see multiple events competing for the same audience. For just one example, early in April there were events in Boulder and Longmont by Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra chamber series, the Boulder Symphony, the Boulder Opera and the Longmont Symphony, all on the same Saturday evening.

Madsen seems to have underestimated the competition for the group. He complains about the Boulder Film Festival that was the same night as the Handel performance in Boulder, although those may not have been the same people that would have attended a Handel oratorio. But even more challenging than direct conflicts with performance dates is the competition for audience interest and financial support. There are many organizations to support in Boulder, and established patterns of support are very hard to change.

Madsen expected that the quality of the group would be enough to capture support. “I thought we could get by [the competition] by getting the best singers in the front range,” he says. “The chorus was superb, but I was wrong about that, because very good, extremely prepared doesn’t bring the (audience) in here.”

vicki mhc picture

Vicki Burrichter conducted performances of handle’s Israel in Egypt in March

Most people seem to agree with Madsen that the chorus was superb. “It was an excellent chorus, “ Burrichter says. “When you get professional level voices, it automatically raises the level of the chorus. We had a great time and the Handel was spectacular.”

That level of quality may attract attention, but one spectacular performance is not enough to change people’s patterns of support overnight, which is what Madsen was counting on. When that failed to materialize, the organization was left with bills it could not pay. Or as Burrichter says, “It was very, very beautiful and moving, but unfortunately it was on the backs of the instrumental musicians.”

Consult with people who know the business. Several of Madsen’s expectations were unrealistic, as he himself now admits. “Always before when we had done this, we were doing it for larger organizations,” he says. That experience led him to overestimate how much money the CMC would bring in during its first years. For example, Madsen hoped the silent auction would bring in a significant amount of money toward the cost of the performances.

“We were hoping for a $15,000 auction,” he says. That estimate was based on his experience with a refugee ministry, but that is very different than raising money for an arts organization. For her part, Burrichter recognized the problem. “As somebody who’s been artistic director with boards that have done silent auctions, I could tell pretty early on that the silent auction was not going to be successful,” she says. “There were just a lot of errors.”

The $10,000 that Madsen budgeted for ticket sales was also unrealistic. By reports, the Handel performance in Denver had an especially small audience. “I could have told him, having been a musician in Denver for 10 years, that you’re not going to build an audience in Denver overnight,” Burrichter says.

Once again, more caution and better advice would have prevented unrealistic budgeting. “No musical event is paid for by ticket sales and one very humble fundraising attempt,” Katsarelis says. “A little bit of research and planning would have exposed the flawed nature of the plan. They just didn’t know what to expect because they hadn’t asked people who know.”

Everyone involved must understand and follow non-profit laws and best practices. This may be the most contentious area of disagreement among the people involved in the CMC: whether it was run with appropriate board oversight, or Madsen made decisions on his own. For his part, he says only “my wife and I were simply on the board.”


Kathy Kucsan spoke with people affected by the CMC’s collapse

Kathy Kucsan, a consultant who works with arts organizations in Colorado, has spoken with some of the people affected by the CMC’s dissolution. “It sounds like the board of directors wasn’t really a functioning board,” she says. “The board has legal and fiduciary responsibility for the organization.

“From my point of view I would say set up your organization properly” is the most important lesson to be learned.

An attorney would have to clarify the legality of actions that were taken, and no one has claimed that laws were broken. However, several issues have cropped up in background conversations about the CMC that, if true, would be violations of good nonprofit governance. Three are particularly troubling.

The first is that board members were not given enough information on the finances and business practices of the organization. Burrichter says that Madsen “didn’t tell the board what was going on in terms of finances beyond certain very basic things. I’m sure the board didn’t know that (the instrumental musicians) didn’t have contracts.” That information is well within the board’s area of responsibility and if they were not kept informed, they should have been.

Second, Burrichter says that she was excluded from most board meetings, where she could have offered advice that would have prevented some of the miscalculations leading to the CMC’s failure. “I requested to go to a board meeting at one point, but (Madsen) said no, I just want to you to come once a year to talk about the artistic vision.”

It is extremely unusual that an artistic director, who is asked to carry out the objectives of the organization, would not be present and offer advice at meetings where the decisions are made. In hindsight, Burrichter says, “I should have insisted that if I were not going to be on the board, I would not take the job.”

The final question that has been raised is whether the dissolution of the CMC was done properly. This requires action by the board and should not be done by any one individual. Madsen says that he carefully followed a “20-point checklist” from the Secretary of State’s office for dissolving the organization, but has offered no more details.

None of the board members was willing to speak on the record, but I have heard from numerous people close to the organization and the board that, as one person who asked not to be named wrote to me, “The board was just as shocked as everyone else that the Madsens dissolved the chorus.”

These questions show how important it is for anyone who is thinking of starting a nonprofit group, or for anyone who is asked to serve on a nonprofit board, to do their homework. “There are so many resources for brand new nonprofits,” Kucsan points out.

For example, the Colorado Nonprofit Statutes are easily available online. There are simplified guides to the statutes here and here, and the Colorado Nonprofit Association has posted Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence.  Other resources are easy to find through online searches.

Too often, supporters are asked to serve on a board without adequate understanding of the responsibilities of board members. In the case of the CMC, it is possible that better preparation and understanding by all the board members, including Madsen, would have prevented some of the problems that occurred.

Freelance musicians need to protect themselves from being exploited. This may mean that they may no longer be willing to play without a written contract. One way to accomplish this of course is to go through the musicians’ union for all engagements.

That is clearly the preference of Allen and the union local in Denver. “We sent a fairly strong message to the union musicians that participated in that production that if they want their union to step in for them, they need to do things under union rules,” he says. “That includes both playing for scale and only working under a contract.

“If a contract had been filed, the union would have paid the musicians and then we would have used our resources to go after the Colorado Masterworks Chorus to seek reimbursement. That was sort of an expensive lesson for (the musicians) to learn.”

In the past, union musicians who took jobs below union scale would have been punished by the local, but Allen says that is not the approach today. “What we try to do is treat this as a teachable moment,” he says. “This is an opportunity to inform a larger group of people about not only what the union could have done, but also why we have the rules that we have.”

With or without the union, it is likely that musicians in Boulder will be more reluctant to take jobs without written contracts. “This is where I think things in Boulder are going to change,” Katsarelis says.

“We’ve always gone on trust, and it’s been reasonable to do that. But (after this) I think that organizations and musicians are going to tighten up and require contracts, instead of the trust method. I don’t think I’m going to play a gig like this again, that isn’t contracted through the union.

“That means they’ll have to pay union scale, which is higher than the kind of prevailing rate, and this is going to stretch the budgets of organizations that hire professional musicians.”


Cynthia Katsarelis, artistic director Pro Musica Colorado and concertmaster of the Handel performances.

Katsarelis says that one final lesson is for everyone who is interested in, attends, or supports musical performances to understanding the real cost of musical performances. “Professional music making in our region is underfunded,” she says. “I wish we could make a stronger case for what high quality professional music making brings to a community.

“This awful debacle that robbed some of the region’s most compelling musicians asks the community to respond in several ways. We have a fundraiser to right that injustice, but there also has to be a response to what high quality professional music making really costs and the value it brings.”

At the end of the day, Kucsan says, “It’s just unfortunate, and it’s a learning experience for everybody involved. You actually have to try, and ask, and sweat the first couple of years, and if you’re still here, there’s a place for you. But to pack it up and leave people in the lurch is not the way to do it.”

You may make a contribution to help the musicians who were not paid by Colorado Masterworks Chorus at the Colorado Gives Musician Relief page, sponsored by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra.

NOTE: Edited for clarity and correction of typos 4/26.

NOTE: Upon reflection, I have now blocked further comments on this article and removed all comments naming or blaming others in the dispute between the musicians and the organizers of the Colorado Masterworks Chorus. No purpose is being served by finger pointing on this site.

I believe there are two important issues for readers, and I will remain focused on those:

  1. Lessons can be learned from this fiasco. That was the focus of my article, and I believe it remains the main subject of interest for anyone who was not directly involved.
  2. Musicians who gave their time and talent, and whose livelihoods depend on their professional activities, remain unpaid. I urge anyone who is concerned with the health of Boulder’s musical scene to make a contribution through the page listed above.


Women in Classical Music: Some Good News, Some Bad News

“Blind” orchestral auditions have leveled the playing field.

By Peter Alexander


Missy Mazzoli was composer in residence with the Boulder Philharmonic in 2016

Sometimes a cliché is true.

For example, for women entering the field of classical music, there’s some good news and some bad news. Depending on the career goals, the prospects can be good, mixed, or troubled.

In a year when women’s status in society is daily in the news, this is a timely subject. For the purposes of this article, I will look at the orchestral scene, the most visible part of the classical music world and one where numbers are easily available.

First the good news: professional orchestras are filled with women today, a vast contrast to 40 or 50 years ago when orchestras were almost entirely male. This is now a viable career for the most talented women instrumentalists.

The bad news is that the picture is not nearly as rosy for women composers, who are not well represented on orchestral programs. And women conductors are no better off than composers.

The growing numbers of women in professional orchestras at every level can be traced to a single innovation that began around 1970: “blind auditions,” where competing candidates for open orchestral jobs play behind a screen. The selection committee does not know if it is hearing a man or a woman. The rapid change in the makeup of orchestras since 1970—casually visible and backed up by the numbers—is compelling evidence of the opposition women orchestral players faced before that innovation.


Susan Slaughter

Susan Slaughter, the first female principal trumpet player in the U.S. was interviewed in 2009 when she retired after 40 years in the St. Louis Symphony. In the article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, she recalled that orchestras were not interested—until they heard her play. She wrote to 30 orchestras when she was starting out, and was invited to three auditions.

When she auditioned for St. Louis, one string player on the committee later admitted that he actually got up to go get coffee when she walked onstage. “He waited to hear a few notes, just for form’s sake,” the article said. “He said, ‘Your playing made me sit back down.’”

Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra Member Portraits Day 9

Elizabeth Baker

Violinist Elizabeth Baker, a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 1987, has experienced auditions from both sides of the screen. She does not doubt the importance of blind auditions. “The screened rounds were the main reason why women were able to advance and realize positions in major symphony orchestras,” she says.

She has seen this in her own family. Her mother, Virginia Voigtlander Baker, was one of the first women in a principal string position in an American orchestra. She was engaged as assistant concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony in 1972, shortly after the introduction of screened auditions, and held the position until 1993.

Baker’s belief is supported by scientific research. In an article titled “Orchestrating Impartiality,” published in 2000 in The American Economic Review, researchers Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse concluded that “the screen increases—by 50 percent—the probability that a woman will be advanced from certain preliminary rounds and increases by severalfold the likelihood that a woman will be selected in the final round.” Their conclusion is backed up by 25 pages of charts, graphs and statistical studies.


A violinist prepares to play an audition behind the screen.

The numbers are striking. According to the most recent information from the League of American Orchestras, the percentage of women instrumentalists has gone from 38.2% in 1978, the earliest year that these records were kept and already after the first screened auditions, to nearly 50% today. Some individual orchestras have up to 60% women.

The numbers are similar locally. Based on the rosters on their Web pages, approximately 44% of the Colorado Symphony and 58% of the Boulder Philharmonic is female. Significantly, the concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony is a woman, as are the assistant concertmaster and several principal players in the wind sections of the Boulder Phil.

The numbers were much lower before screened auditions were introduced. In the 1950s and ‘60s, orchestras were considered a male preserve. Older women instrumentalists often recall being explicitly told to get a college degree so they could teach, because “orchestra jobs are for men.”

Today blind auditions are just about universal in American orchestras. The Code of Ethical Audition Practices that professional orchestras follow does not specify screened auditions, although it does prohibit discrimination of the basis of sex, and they often are required in union contracts between orchestras and musicians.

# # # # #

Individual women composers have seen some well publicized successes recently. In December the Metropolitan Opera produced L’Amour de Loin by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho to great acclaim—the first opera by a woman at the Met in 113 years. The Santa Fe Opera premiered Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain in 2015, and Opera Colorado premiered Lori Laitman’s Scarlet Letter in 2016. But while such widely publicized events may open doors for other women, they do not tell the whole story.


Jennifer Higdon’s “Cold Mountain” was premiered at the Santa Fe Opera in 2015

For one thing, composers do not have the advantage of auditioning anonymously. Music directors and board committees know whose music they are choosing. “We’re completely at the mercy of the people who do the programming,” Higdon explains. “We have no control over our careers, basically, especially in the orchestral realm.”

A highly successful composer by any standard, Higdon is an exception, a Pulitzer prize winner with more than 200 performances every year. But that does not mean she has not met casual sexism in her career. People still tell her “I can’t believe a woman wrote that piece!” and she was even asked by a documentary filmmaker once if he could get a shot of her ironing.

“I was like, ‘What? Did I hear that correctly?’” she recalls.

Missy Mazzoli, a 2016 composer in residence with the Boulder Philharmonic, points out that women composers often cannot know when discrimination occurs. “It operates on different levels, a lot of which I would be the last person to be aware of,” she says. “I’m not behind closed doors where people are making decisions, but I think the numbers speak for themselves.”

What the numbers say depends on which ones do the speaking. In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, the period that still forms the largest part of the classical repertoire, women were discouraged, when not actually prevented, from being composers. That is no longer the case, so while there is little music by women from the core of the classical repertoire, there is a great deal of newer music by women.

Statistics kept by the Baltimore Symphony reflect that discrepancy. They show that only 1.8% of all works performed by major orchestras in 2014–15 were by women. But when limited to works performed by living composers, that number jumped to 14.8%.


Boulder native Kristin Kuster

Still, that remains a smaller share of the repertoire than the growing numbers of women composers would suggest. Kristin Kuster, a composer from Boulder who teaches at the University of Michigan, reacted when the figures were first released, writing, “These numbers are both abysmal and embarrassing, particularly in this day and age.”

She knows first-hand how many women are moving into composition. “We are seeing a gradual increase in the number of female composers applying to our undergraduate and graduate programs” at Michigan, she says today. And at last summer’s “Composing in the Wilderness” workshop in Alaska (covered in Boulder Weekly in October), open registration attracted five women and four men.

Local figures hover around the national averages. In the 11 seasons under conductor Michael Butterman (including the current season), the Boulder Philharmonic has played six pieces by six different female composers. That is approximately 3.2% of all the repertoire programmed on major concert performances, slightly above the 2014–15 single-season national average . Among living composers, it is 15%, almost exactly the national average.

That is a stark difference from the orchestra’s early years. In all of the recorded repertoire before Butterman, back to 1966, the percentage of women composers on concert programs was exactly 0—unless you count the 1995 “performance” of “Happy Birthday” by Mildred and Patty Hall.

For the Colorado Music Festival, it is more difficult to calculate percentages, because there are so many different genres and ways of listing programs. What can be gleaned from the records is that in the first 20 years of the festival, through 1996, there were seven works played by women—six of them by Betsy Jolas, who is also part of the upcoming 40th anniversary season.

More recently, Michael Christie’s 13 years with the festival featured nine works by seven women. Looking only at Festival Orchestra concerts that have full program listings in the record, three women make up 1.3% of all composers and 9.4% of living composers in the Christie era, below the national averages. For the CMF Chamber Orchestra in the same period, however, the figures are slightly above the national average: five women represent 2.5% and 17.9% respectively.


“Click” Commission winner Hannah Lash

Since Christie left, the only works by women were Hannah Lash’s “Click” Commission winner in 2016, and the upcoming piece by Jolas.

The “Click” Commission choice is particularly interesting. The commission has been granted in five festival seasons between 2011 and ’17. The winners of the commission are selected by the public, who vote with their pocketbooks by making contributions.

In those five years, there have been 14 men and three women candidates. Of these, the voters selected three men and two women—Kuster in 2013 and Lash in 2016. This is a far higher rate than women have been programmed locally or nationally. Since there were two women candidates in 2013, voters have actually chosen a female composer every time one was available. This is a very small sample, but it suggests that, at least in Boulder, audiences are more willing than program committees and music directors to choose female composers.

This adds up to a mixed picture for female composers: progress, but well short of representation in proportion to the numbers of active composers. For her part, Kuster calls on everyone to be part of the solution. “We all have a responsibility to change our culture to be more inclusive, and to represent the reality that there is a vast diversity of musical voices to be heard,” she says.

# # # # #

The most prominent musicians at orchestral concerts are the soloists and conductors. For soloists, the rise of women in orchestral positions has been paralleled by women with solo careers, particularly violinists. The rosters of three of the largest artists management companies in New York—Columbia Artists, IMG and Opus 3—together list 37 violinists, of which 16, or 43.2%, are women. Female pianists fare less well, with 13 out of 59, or 22%.

But it is as conductors that women appear least successful. In this area, management rosters may slightly underrepresent women. The management companies represent 153 conductors and only 11 women, or 7.2% of the total, whereas the numbers of women in actual orchestral conducting positions are slightly higher.

The League of American Orchestras reports that among all conductors at league orchestras—including both music directors and assistants—14.6% are women, almost exactly the same rate at which women are included in orchestral programs. At the highest level, 9.2% of all music directors of LAO orchestras are women. However, the discouraging fact is that both numbers have changed very little over the past 10 years of league records, and throughout the same period there has been only one female music director in the top 24 U.S. orchestras by budget, Marin Alsop at the Baltimore Symphony.

Whatever numbers you look at, women are underrepresented at the top levels of the orchestral world. When asked about this, women refer over and over again to the same issues that face women in leadership positions in business and other fields: it is more difficult for women to be taken seriously as strong leaders.


JoAnn Falletta

JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Symphony and one of the senior women conductors today, explains it this way: “Probably the greatest factor is that [symphony] boards are run by people who believe very strongly in the status quo. And that means board members trusted generally in an older man, and I think that has lasted for decades.”

Beverly Everett, music director in Bismarck, N.D., and Bemidji, Minn., is well accepted in both communities, but says that in many cases boards’ “perception of leadership is someone who can go out and be buddy-buddy with someone on a golf course.” One position that she considered, she recalls, “I had a friend who knew some of the people on the board, and they told him flat out that they would not consider a woman.”

Laura Jackson, music director of the Reno Philharmonic, says the perception of a conductor is often even more narrow than that, of an older European male—a long-term prejudice in the U.S. that can hamper younger men as well as women. “The average person has in their mind a Toscanini, sort of an Einstein-looking character,” she says. “The young male conductors suffer from the stereotype as much as I do.”

Laura Jackson conducting

Laura Jackson

The good news is that it is not usually the musicians in the orchestra who have a problem with women conductors. “Most people just want somebody competent on the podium, period,” Jackson says. “If you’re an iguana and you do what you do well, they’ll take it.”

She has seen more concern about the gender of the conductor from the public than from musicians. When she was a conducting fellow at Tanglewood, Mass., she says, “It was the patrons who said, ‘Do you realize how long it’s been since we had a female here? This is really freaky!’”

That perception in turn puts extra pressure on women conductors, who may be seen as representing all women. “It was scary because I felt like one false move, if anything was wrong, it would end up being blamed on my gender,” Jackson says.

Another challenge that is familiar to all women in all fields is the difficulty of being assertive—which goes against society’s expectations of girls and women. For example, Falletta had to learn at the outset not to be apologetic. “There can be a subtle sense of apology in what women say,” she says.

Jorge Mester, a conductor who was Falletta’s teacher and mentor when she was younger, puts it more bluntly. “It’s the teaching that little girls are given about being subservient,” he explains. “I said to her, ‘JoAnn, do you want to be a nice Catholic girl, or do you want to be a conductor?’”

In other words, women have to step outside the traditional social role to exert leadership—but if they are too assertive they run the risk of being perceived as shrill, or worse. “The most difficult thing is figuring out the window of leadership where you can be commanding and make a point passionately without being seen as angry, where you can be not seen as brittle and mean,” Jackson says.

Another challenge familiar to women in business is dress. “For any performer male or female, the way you look is very important,” Jackson says. “With a woman there are many extra layers to getting that right. If a man walks in and his shirt is a little wrinkled, he’s a disheveled genius. If a woman looks like that, she’s incompetent.”

“Concert dress is something men may not even think about,” Falletta adds. “With a woman, it seems to be more laden with social importance.”

Women like Falletta and Jackson and Everett have shown that women can be successful orchestral conductors. But is that career path one that is becoming more open to women generally? The evidence is mixed. As noted, the numbers recorded by the League of American Orchestras have been static for at least ten years. And individual experience varies widely.

Photography by Glenn Ross.

Cynthia Katsarelis

Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor of the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra, is the only female orchestral conductor in the front range area. “When I was at the Peabody Conservatory, the conducting class was 50-50, male-female, all talented,” she observes. “At each new level of my career, there were fewer women. In top masterclasses and summer programs there would be fewer women. I would be the only woman at several professional auditions and now there are many music director searches where no women are auditioned.”

As it happens, that has been exactly the case in the most recent high-profile searches in this area.

In 2010, the Colorado Symphony had eight guest conductors, all European males, and hired Andrew Litton from that field. Six years later, Brett Mitchell was hired to replace Litton, without any other candidates appearing with the orchestra. Around the same time, two other men were hired in conducting positions, Associate Conductor Christopher Dragan and Assistant Conductor Andres Lopera.

In 2014, the Colorado Music Festival featured four official candidates to replace Michael Christie, all male. The two or three other names that were informally discussed were also male. The Longmont Symphony is currently searching for a new conductor, and once again all the finalists are male.

That’s the local picture, but it may not be broadly representative. Jackson believes more women are coming into the field. “In the past three years it’s like the floodgates are opening,” she says. “I think we are on the cusp. I think that I have probably done my last music director audition where I am the only woman.”

She sees some situations where being a woman may even be an advantage. “For an orchestra that needs a big change, when they see your résumé and see your picture, you are automatically that change, that clean slate,” she says. “That can put you in a category where people will ask, ‘Why not?’

“I think it’s going to be less and less of an issue.”

Falletta believes that the publicity around some recent high-profile women conductors helps. The Finnish conductor


Susanna Malkki conducted at the Metropolitan Opera in 2016

Susanna Malkki, chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic who also who led Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin at the Metropolitan Opera is one example. Another is Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, new music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony in England. In 2013, Alsop became the first woman to conduct the BBC’s “Last Night of the Proms” in London.

“Once it’s happened on a high level, people are more open to it,” Falletta says. “All of us  tend to look to orchestras that are bigger than us as models. As they start to have more women on the podium—and more women composers, as well—I think smaller orchestras will do the same.”

At least the way is now open for women to learn the skills as conductors. University and conservatory programs are accepting women, and the Dallas Opera has made a 20-year commitment to its Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Women Conductors. The League of American Orchestras has held special programs for women conductors, as did the Lucerne Festival in 2016.

In the end, it all comes down to fairness, and the opportunity of talented women to pursue the career of their choice. But Higdon has her own perspective on the whole issue, that opening doors to women is good for classical music generally.

“Young people don’t come to classical concerts because it looks so un-hip,” she says. “One reason is because there are so few women represented. They are used to women being part of the scene from popular music and hip-hop and everything else they listen to.

“If you want to be more hip and appeal to younger audiences, program more women!”

NOTE: An abridged version of this story appeared in Boulder Weekly.

Edited lightly to correct typos and clarify the numbers that are provided, 4/13.

Composers go into the wild and come home transformed

By Peter Alexander


Composers in the Wilderness, Denali National Park and Preserve

There is a wildness in the natural world that most of us never meet. But when we do, we are likely to be transformed.

“I definitely feel changed as a person,” Alondra Vega says after brushing against the Alaskan wilderness. “The experience almost seems like it was too extraordinary to have happened,” Cassie To writes.

13690752_594538287385367_7602763590110916242_nFor Sam Young, an ex-Boulderite living in Los Angeles, touching the wild was an epiphany: “Whenever I come to a place like this, I re-evaluate my entire life and think, ‘Is it all wrong, what I’m doing?’”

Vega, To and Young were three of nine participants in “Composing in the Wilderness,” a workshop led by composer Stephen Lias in Alaska this past summer. The goal of the workshop, Lias says, is to give composers the transformative experience that comes from stepping into the natural world.

“Going into the backcountry of Alaska, I know the experience will change people,” he says. “I wouldn’t presume to guess in what way, but the art that they create will be a manifestation of whatever the change was.

“My favorite thing is putting these composers in that environment and just watching Alaska do its thing on them.”


Composer Stephen Lias

Lias is known to Boulder audiences for his orchestral piece Gates of the Arctic, premiered by the Boulder Philharmonic in 2014 — a product of Alaska doing its thing on him. He will be back this year, when his All the Songs that Nature Sings will be premiered by the orchestra and conductor Michael Butterman March 25, 2017, and subsequently performed by them at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., March 28.

Working in cooperation with Alaska Geographic, the National Park Service and the Fairbanks Arts Festival, Lias has presented the workshop every year since 2012. It is designed as both an outdoors and an artistic adventure. The composers gather in Denali National Park, where they hike and explore the backcountry. They learn about the wilderness environment from rangers and naturalists.

After Denali, the composers transfer to the remote Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, where they have four days to compose a new piece inspired by their experiences. Written for performers from the Fairbanks Arts Festival, the pieces are all trios or quartets, but adding to the musical adventure, the composers don’t know in advance what instruments they will write for.

The pieces have to be fairly short and simple, because they have to be written quickly and learned even more quickly by the performers. That forms the third and final segment of the workshop: in just a few days the completed pieces are rehearsed and performed, first in Denali National Park, and then as part of the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.

The workshop takes nine participants on a first-come, first-served basis. This year there were five women and four men, ranging in age from early 20s to AARP-eligible. They came from all over: two from Australia, one from New Zealand by way of New York, one from Cuba by way of Canada, the rest from around the U.S.


The author in Alaska with sons Michael (l) and Ivan (r): Kenai Fjords National Park

As it happens, I had my own Alaskan adventure this summer, driving, hiking and flightseeing in the state with my two oldest sons. I timed my trip to hear this year’s workshop concert, “Sounds of Nature: Alaska Premieres,” July 26 at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. I saw glaciers larger than counties, and stretches of boreal forest larger than several states. And like the composers in the workshop, the vast land profoundly moved me.

When you face such an overwhelming immensity of nature, full of life but devoid of visible human presence, it’s hard not to be affected.

. . . . .

We are often told that nature is cruel, but that is not really true. Nature understands neither kindness nor cruelty; it is indifferent. That is the great lesson of the wilderness, as I was reminded in Anaktuvuk Pass and the composers, well cared for as they were, encountered in Denali: When we leave our well insulated lives to venture into the real world of nature, we have to be prepared to take responsibility for ourselves.

13718714_594543404051522_4074485623699253369_nWashington, very much a city-dweller from New York, had an experience that captures just what Lias hopes the composers will discover in their brush with nature. “We hiked up this high mountain pass and we were given space to go out on our own and just sit quietly and reflect,” she recalls. “I felt like an intruder in some ways — like my breathing was too loud.

“A moth came and landed on my hand, and I didn’t want to move because I was interrupting its space. It was really peaceful, and really real because everything has been undisturbed for so long. Being able to trespass there for a couple of days has been really calming.”

13718623_594538980718631_7012257335267384579_nOf all the participants, David John Lang may have captured the power of wilderness most eloquently. After returning to his home, in Adelaide, South Australia, he writes: “I took my journal, in which I often write letters to God, but I was surprised at how little I wrote while I was in Alaska. It was like I was too busy being a listener for once, hearing and seeing and loving God’s creation.

“I felt really, really small, and it was awesome.”

Read the entire article in Boulder Weekly.

New CMF music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni: “Don’t call me maestro!”

The conductor wants to build a relationship with the orchestra

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

By Peter Alexander

Jean-Marie Zeitouni, the new music director of the Colorado Music Festival, finds Boulder a very comfortable place to fit in and make friends.

Just don’t call him “maestro.”

He made this clear when he introduced the 2015 festival season Thursday evening (Feb. 26) at the Chautauqua Community House. “You can call me Jean-Marie or JMZ,” he said. “You can call me many things behind my back. But don’t call me maestro.”

When asked about that a couple of days later, he shook his head and made a sour face. “No,” he said. “I have played in an orchestra. There is not one master and the rest are slaves.”

This experience as an orchestra member is a very important part of the way Zeitouni thinks about his job here in Boulder. “I try to be the conductor I would want as a member of the orchestra,” he says. “The greatest goal for me this year (at the Colorado Music Festival) is to develop my relationship with the orchestra.”

One part of that relationship is to be found in the repertoire that Zeitouni, as music director, selects for the players, as members of the orchestra, to rehearse and perform. And in the season that was announced Thursday night, Zeitouni has included pieces that the musicians may be expected to relish.

For example, in addition to the usual Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and Sibelius symphonies, which the orchestra members have probably played many times, there are pieces such as Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 3 and Michael Daugherty’s Deus ex Machina that are outside the standard repertoire.

Surely some of the orchestra members will look forward to the French Baroque music of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Les Boréades. A rarity like George Antheil’s Jazz Symphony will have its advocates. And next to the perennially popular American in Paris there is the rare opportunity to play Darius Milhaud’s response, A Frenchman in New York.

But probably nothing will be more exciting for the players than Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle. As with much of Bartók’s orchestral music, this is a virtuoso score that gives the players a chance to really show their worth. Although it has two singing characters, Zeitouni describes Bluebeard’s Castle as “an opera where the orchestra is the main character.” (It will be performed in Hungarian with English surtitles.)

Andrew Bradford

Andrew Bradford

Indeed, Zeitouni and CMF executive director Andrew Bradford confirm that they have already heard from members of the orchestra that this is the piece that they are most looking forward to.

Zeitouni, who lives in Montreal, will spend the summer in Boulder with his family. He readily cites Boulder’s concern for health, the environment, and the presence of many different cultural—and counter-cultural—elements as aspects of the city that he likes. “Like in Canada, you can be whoever you are,” he says. “I feel comfortable here.”

“It reminds me of the places I have been most joyous, in the Rockies of Canada, especially Banff.”

Speaking of their vision of the CMF, Zeitouni and Bradford point out that there were some limitations to what they could do in the first year. There was not time to develop partnerships that could be assets to the festival, and many potential soloists were not available on relatively short notice. That will change as they have more time to plan coming seasons.

2015-festival-icon-with-dates-300x213As for the future, Zeitouni says there is no fixed version of what any festival should be. He is clear that taking the heritage and the strengths of the CMF in consideration, they expect to move in new directions, aiming to make the summers more exciting, and to gain more national recognition for a festival that has already achieved a great deal in its history.

“We have many ideas” Zeitouni says. “We have big things in mind that we are starting to organize, but we want people to focus on what is there this year.

“What we have put together is quite good and we want to people to get excited about that.”

# # #

Read my season preview, and view a complete listing of the summer’s concert, below.

Je suis Charlie


Cartoon by Rob Tornoe in response to the killings in Paris.

By Peter Alexander

What happened is Paris today (Jan. 7) has nothing to do with classical music and nothing to do with Boulder. But some principles transcend artistic categories and borders.

In that spirit, and as a journalist in my own little corner of the media world, I declare my absolute solidarity with the cartoon artists and journalists of Charlie Hebdo, of France, and of the world. Freedom of expression, which is enshrined in the very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is an irreplaceable cornerstone of democracy and freedom in a progressive society.

Are some of the cartoons that Charlie Hebdo has published offensive? Yes. But the magazine offended widely, not narrowly; to use an overworked phrase, they were truly an “equal opportunity offender,” far more so that most who claim that title. Do some of them cross a line that I would not want to cross? Yes. But the right of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists to offend and to cross lines is part of the freedom that we cherish. Freedom of expression is no freedom at all if it only applies to opinions that are endorsed by social convention. Which is why I am posting this on sharpsansflatirons.

I also want to express my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the French journalists and police who were slaughtered. I cannot imagine the anguish that is being felt. But I have been heartened by the response of the French people and the world’s press.

Here are links to a few of the responses that I have found, and that I urge readers to look at and consider. There is much duplication among the cartoons, but it is valuable to observe how widely they are being shared around the world today. That is, if nothing else, an indication of how universal the response has been to this horrible—but sadly no longer unthinkable—tragedy.

onislam: “What Muslim Scholars Say About Paris Attack”

Buzzfeed: “23 Heartbreaking Cartoons From Artists Responding to the Charlie Hebdo Shooting”

BBC: “Charlie Hebdo Attack: the response in pictures”

Vox: “12 Powerful Political Cartoons responding to the Charlie Hebdo attack”

Washington Post: “#JeSuisCharlie: Cartoonists react to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris”

Toronto Globe and Mail: “Cartoonists Around the World Respond”