Boulder Philharmonic has a full season for 2020-21—all of it online

Players are currently rehearsing and recording six of the eight programs

By Peter Alexander Sept. 21 at 10:30 a.m.

There were airplanes coming and going at the Boulder Municipal Airport last week, there were mechanics working on airplanes, pilots picking up brake fluid for airplanes—all the activity you would expect.

And there was an orchestra.

Members of the Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman rehearse in the Brungard Aviation hangar at Boulder Municipal Airport Sept. 15.

In fact, the Boulder Philharmonic was busy rehearsing their fall 2020 season in the Brungard Aviation hangar. It’s not usual activity at the airport, but if the pilot picking up brake fluid was taken aback, he didn’t show it.

This is part of the Boulder Phil’s answer to keeping the music alive during the pandemic. As conductor Michael Butterman explains, he and the orchestra spent several months looking for a way to have a 2020–21 season.

“This is probably the 40th iteration of ‘20–‘21,” he says. “Throughout the summer we kept changing our thoughts about what we’re going to be able to do.”

They finally found a way to stream the season online. Seven of the eight concerts will be available individually or by subscription through the Boulder Phil Web page. The eighth concert, the holiday program, will be available free with voluntary contributions. Each concert will be available for a limited time after its online premier. (See the full schedule below.)

Who are those masked violinists? Rehearsals in the time of COVID.

To rehearse and record, Butterman realized, the players would have to be safely distanced and most playing with a mask. For that to be possible, they would have to use a reduced orchestra, mostly strings, and they would have to have a large space. For the former, there is a lot of available repertoire, but where would they find an appropriate space?

Michael Butterman at rehearsal in the Brungard Aviation hangar, Sept. 15

“It occurred to me that we have had galas at an airplane hangar at Rocky Mountain Airport,” Butterman says. “We ended up locating an opportunity at Boulder Municipal Airport, at Brungard Aviation’s hangar, and we’re grateful to them for that.”

Over a two week period—Sept. 15–20 and Sept. 22–27—players from the orchestra will rehearse and record for later streaming six of the eight concerts scheduled for the season. There will be three rehearsals and one three-hour recording session for each program.

The last two concerts—one a collaboration with the CU-Boulder Department of Theatre and the other with Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance—will be recorded later. That gives flexibility in working with the collaborating organizations and keeps open the possibility that some kind of live performance might be possible by the end of the season.

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Two artists who have appeared with the Boulder Phil in the past—pianist Simone Dinnerstein and cellist Zuill Bailey—were invited to collaborate in chamber or chamber orchestra performances. “Zuill and Simone are wonderful to work with,” Butterman says. “The fact that we’ve had them both to Boulder already, and that they’ve been very popular with our audience, they were obvious choices.”

Zuill Bailey

To make the video recordings, the Boulder Phil recruited the service of sound and video engineer Michael Quam. There will be 10 cameras recording each piece, providing a wide variety of camera angles for the streamed performances.

Streamed concerts offer both a challenge and an opportunity. “This season may offer opportunities for greater access for some people,” Butterman says: “anybody who has problems with transportation, who has a schedule conflict Saturdays at 7:30, who lives far enough from Boulder that they don’t want to drive in.” And of course the hope is that the convenience of being able to see concerts on demand will attract new audiences 

The necessity of limiting the number of performers led to some thoughtful  programming. For example, during the years after World War I and during the Spanish flu, Stravinsky and other composers did not have access to large orchestras. Instead, they wrote music for smaller groups, including Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat for seven players, which is ideal for the pandemic year. It will be on the April 3 program. 

Other works will be performed in arrangements for reduced ensembles, such as Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony on April 24, arranged for a string sextet, and Ellen Taaffe Zwillich’s Cello Concerto, which the composer re-arranged for chamber ensemble, on March 13.

In fact, Butterman says, “the idea of this being a re-imagined season is embodied in each of the programs. We’re presenting pieces that themselves have undergone some amount of transformation. In the case of Vivaldi (recomposed by Max Richter, on the Oct. 17 concert), that’s obvious. The least obvious example is the Bach concert (Nov. 14), but any time you’re playing Bach on piano, that is a bit of a re-imagining.

“We’re obviously retooling the concert experience. I think there’s some very, very strong upsides to that, including bringing you inside the experience, and making the access wider.”

And if they find new fans among the mechanics at Brungard Aviation, or pilots that need brake fluid, so much the better.

# # # # #

Boulder Phil 2021: Reimagined
All performances streamed online
Tickets available through the Boulder Phil Web page

Vivaldi Recomposed
Michael Butterman, conductor
Charles Wetherbee, violin

Jesse Montgomery: Strum
Benjamin Britten: Simple Symphony
Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons

Available from 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17

The Beauty of Bach
Simone Dinnerstein, pianist and conductorChristina Jennings, flute, and Charles Wetherbee, violin

J.S. Bach/Philip Lasser: Erbarm’ Dich
J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor
Keyboard Concerto in D minor
Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D major

Available from 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14

Happy Holidays from the Phil
No tickets required; contributions welcomed
Available from 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13

Zuill and Zwillich
Zuill Bailey, cello, with Michael Butterman and Jennifer Hayghe, piano

Rachmaninoff: Vocalise  for cello and piano
Ellen Taaffe Zwillich: Cello Concerto (chamber version)
Schubert: Piano Quintet in A major (“The Trout”)

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23

Mozart and Mendelssohn
Simone Dinnerstein, piano

Scott Joplin: “Solace” and “Bethena”
Mozart/Ignaz Lachner: Piano Concerto in C major, K467
Mendelssohn: Octet for Strings

Available from 7:30 Saturday, Feb. 13

A Celebration of Cello
Michael Butterman conductor, with Zuill Bailey, cello

Debussy/Schoenberg: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Schumann/Philip Lasser: Cello Concerto in A minor
Paul Trapkus: Trio for Three Violins
Giovanni Sollima: Violencelles, Vibrez!
Wagner: Siegfried Idyll

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 13

The Soldier’s Tale
Michael Butterman, conductor 
CU Department of Theatre and Boulder Ballet

Stravinsky: L’Histoire du soldat (The soldier’s tale)

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 3

Beethoven 6 and Frequent Flyers
Michael Butterman, conductor
Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance

George Walker: Lyric for Strings
Korine Fujiwara: Suite from Claudel
Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F major (“Pastoral”; arr. for string sextet by M.G. Fischer)

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24

“Music and Moore,” a classical-music TV show for young and old

Shows feature conductor Elliot Moore, the Longmont Symphony and a Beethoven wig

By Izzy Fincher Sept. 15 at 11:10 a.m.

Elliot Moore had to reimagine the 2020-21 season. It started with a TV show. 

“I have always had a belief that we need to bring the art to the people, not that the people have to come to the concert hall,” Moore, the conductor of the Longmont Symphony Orchestra, says. “We need to make the artists, who perform the music, accessible to the public. Due to social distancing, I thought to myself, a television show is a way of bringing the music to the people.”

Elliot Moore, host of “Music and Moore”

This led to the creation of the program “Music and Moore,” produced by the Longmont Symphony Orchestra and Moore. New episodes are released every other week in partnership with Longmont Public Media.

Hokusai: “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”

The first episode, released Aug. 21, explores Smetana’s symphonic poem Vltava, known in English as The Moldau.Composed in 1874, The Moldau depicts the longest river in Bohemia, or today’s Czech Republic, a source of national pride for Smetana. Continuing the theme of water, the second episode, released Sept. 4, focuses on Debussy’s La Mer (The sea) and his inspiration from Hokusai’s print “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” Both episodes include LSO’s own archived performances from 2018, filmed and produced by Phil Huff. 

Moore also diversifies the show with other content. He believes music alone is not enough outside of the concert hall, so he hopes to create “a fusion of Mr. Rodgers meets world news tonight,” allowing for “depth with entertainment and educational value,” he says.

The show has a bit of everything—music history, comedic relief, coffee-making, interviews, archived performances, new virtual collaborations and a fan Q&A. He even dresses up as Beethoven with a scraggly brown wig and vaguely German accent, to make the show “feel a little bit less isolating,” he says.

Moore hopes the Beethoven persona and fun approach to classical music will engage a younger audience. He says he wants to “create connections between school children and the Longmont Symphony.” Learning packets for each episode, created by music educators, also increase engagement and serve as an educational resource for local K–12 students and teachers. 

Elliot Moore in his more familiar role, conductor

Beyond Longmont’s youth, Moore hopes to reach a wide audience in terms of age and classical music knowledge. 

“I’m not sure if it matters how old you are,” Moore says. “I think it can be pretty easily understood from a third grader to a musicologist. It’s fun, and it’s light in a way they can relate to. What I hope is that it breaks down some barriers. It can be sophisticated, but at the same it is very basic and very human. It’s something we all experience.”

In future episodes, Moore hopes to move beyond music history to relevant topics of social justice, classical music stigmas and diversity. He also looks forward to in-person conversations on “Music and Moore” when the LSO can safely resume, though Beethoven will still be his favorite co-host.

#####

“Music and Moore”
Featuring Elliot Moore, the Longmont Symphony and “Beethoven”

Episode 3 to be released Sept. 18. 

Zack Reaves has had a lot of free time since March

Former Altius Quartet cellist has new skills, and online posts to prove it 

By Peter Alexander Sept. 14 at 3:55 p.m.

Zack Reaves did a lot of traveling until the pandemic hit.

Cellist Zack Reaves

The former cellist of Boulder and CU’s Altius String Quartet moved to Los Angeles last year. “I was still playing with Boulder Phil, but then I began a temporary teaching position at Oklahoma City University,” he says. “I was flying back and forth between LA and Oklahoma City while I was still playing some concerts in Colorado, so it was kind of a crazy year.”

All of that came to a sudden halt in March. Like most musicians, he no longer had work. And like many others, he started recording himself at home and posting the results online—but he had one big advantage over most classical musicians. The cello can play from the bass register way up into the range of violins. Cellists have always taken advantage of their wide range by arranging everything from Rossini overtures to Sousa marches for cello ensembles.

Reaves took the obvious next step: arrange pieces for five or six cellos, and then record all the parts himself. So far, he has two pieces posted online, with more to come. Currently available are Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G minor, op. 23 no. 5, arranged for six cellos, and the Passepied from the Suite Bergamasque by Debussy, arranged for five cellos, both performed entirely by Reaves.

“It’s definitely a lot of work,” he says of the process of creating videos. First he has to arrange a piece for cellos, then learn and record all the parts, then do the editing to pull them together into a single tiled video, with all of his performances perfectly synchronized.

Zack Reaves x 6, playing Rachmaninoff

“The first few videos that I did, I was l just home,” he explains. “I didn’t have any work that I had to be at, so I [thought] ‘I’m just going to do this until it‘s done!’ I would start recording in the morning and work on it all day, and a couple of videos I worked on until 4 in the morning.

“It was completely unreasonable,” he admits, and with his wife’s urging he has cut back. “Now I take a couple of weeks on a project.”

The first album by the Altius Quartet; Zack Reaves on the far right

The arranging part of the process was something Reaves had done before. He had made arrangements for the Altius Quartet, in particular for their first album, Dress Code, and in other contexts over the past seven years. “I really enjoy it,” he says. “To me it’s kind of like putting together a puzzle.”

So will there be more completed puzzles showing up online? “I’m hoping to build up an online presence, so I definitely plan to do more,” Reaves says. “I try to pick songs that I enjoy, and ones that I think will work. The next one that I plan to do is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen.”

Reaves’s string sextet version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was presented by the Altius Quartet and guests several years ago in a Dairy Center concert, and he created an all-cello version last year for his students in Oklahoma. They never got to perform it publicly, but his last visit to Oklahoma before the pandemic included a rehearsal with the entire cello studio.

At this point in the process of learning to make online videos, Reaves sees positives as well as the obvious negatives of the pandemic. “I will say that the pandemic is forcing musicians to think outside the box, especially classical musicians,” he says. 

“We are not always known for our creativity. I for one am enjoying learning some other skills: working on my arranging, and learning the technical skills. The more I perfect that skill, more opportunities it opens for me in the long run.

“You need to improve as many things are you’re capable of. That’s what I’ve always been about.”

Boulder Chorale has set an online plan for the fall

Tuesday programs include lectures, films, and a video performance

By Peter Alexander Aug. 31 at 3 p.m.

The Coronavirus keeps chugging along, but so does the Boulder Chorale

They’re not able to sing together again yet—choruses will be one of the last performing groups to come back, because singers spread droplets when singing and all breathe the same air. But Vicki Burrichter, the chorale’s artistic director, and the members of the Boulder Chorale are determined to keep their musical community running.

Boulder Chorale with Vicki Burrichter (center, blue dress)

They have created an online program for the fall, “United in Song,” that will allow chorale members—and anyone else who is interested—to keep singing and stay in touch with one another. The program includes events ranging from a book discussion and a film about the great choral conductor Robert Shaw to lectures on choirs and choral singing. 

In addition to Burrichter, guests who will appear as part of the program include Julie Simson, former CU professor of voice currently teaching at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University; Joslyn Ford Keel, a Grammy-nominated singer who has appeared and toured with the Boulder Chorale; and the chorale’s assistant artistic director, Larisa Dreger.

These events will be Tuesday nights, all but one at 7 p.m. (note full schedule below).

There will also be online rehearsals, as choir members learn “All of Us,” the inspirational closing number from Craig Hella Johnson’s Considering Matthew Shepard. The fall season will culminate with the online release of a video performance of “All of Us,” put together by Stephen Ross of the award-winning Boulder rock band FACE.

“We surveyed the singers in the spring,” Burrichter says. “We asked open-ended questions about what they value about the chorale, what things were important to them, what they would be willing to pay for. We got a tremendous response— I think 3/4 of the chorale responded in some way.”

Vicki Burrichter, interviewed from her home

After going through all the responses, Burrichter came up with what she calls “The Four Pillars of Community” for the Boulder Chorale. Those are vocal maintenance; music education, especially choral music and choirs in music history; community building and the social experience; and singing together.

“I built the season around that,” Burrichter says, “and invited some of our favorite people” to be part of the series of events. She also stressed that the fall program is open to anyone. There will be no auditions, and anyone who signs up will be free to choose which events to attend. You may attend the educational events without having to sing in the final performance.

“This is for anybody,” Burrichter says. “’We have two people from Brazil joining us, we have one of our member’s mom who lives in San Francisco joining us, we have a guy in England who may be joining. It’s just an online thing for anybody who misses their choir experience.”

For those who participate as singers, the final product—the compilation performance of “All of Us” —will be unveiled to the singers Nov. 24. and will be available to the public the week of Thanksgiving. “It’s a very, very beautiful, very moving, piece,” Burrichter says. “My pianist Susan Olenwine and I have to figure out [how we’re going to do it online]. I picked a piece that’s really hard. A lot of tempo changes—oh man! What was I thinking?”

Burrichter is still meeting with Ross to work out all of the technical details for the performance, which will be forthcoming for the singers by the time the series gets under way.

If you want to be part of the Boulder Chorale fall program, you can read and download the brochure, with all details of the individual programs here.  Registration for the program is $150, and is due by Monday, Sept. 7. The online registration form is here

# # # # #

Boulder Chorale online program: “United in Song”
All events Tuesdays, 7–8:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted

Sept. 8: “Singing Together.” Stephen Ross will discuss the video project and an online tool, “My Choral Coach,” will be introduced.

Sept. 15: “Maintaining our Voices.” Julie Simson and Vicki Burrichter will answer questions from chorale members.

Sept. 22: Learning about Choral Music: “The Great Choirs.” Vicki Burrichter. 

Sept. 29: Singing Together. Zoom will be used to give rehearsal notes and practice together

Oct. 6: Maintaining our Voices. Special training for the sections of the chorale
6:30 p.m.: altos and bases
7:30 p.m.: sopranos and tenors

Oct. 13: Book Club Night. Discussion of Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

Oct. 20: Learning about Choral Music. World Music Night: Diversity in vocal technique

Oct. 27: Movie Night. Vicki Burrichter will show the documentary Robert Shaw: Man of Many Voices

Nov. 3: Maintaining our Voices. Larissa Dreger and Vicki Burrichter

Nov. 10: Learning about Choral Music. Singer Joslyn Ford Keel will talk about her experience with the renowned Fisk Singers.

Nov. 17: Singing Together. Vicki Burrichter and Larisa Dreger will choose easy choral songs that can be sung together over Zoom.

Nov. 24: Community Fun and Connection: The unveiling of the video performance of “All of Us” compiled by Stephen Ross 

Dec. 1: No event

Dec. 8: Community Fun & Connection: Holiday Party

Two productions will bring live music back to Boulder

Outdoor performances Ag. 14–16 and Aug. 29 will observe Coronavirus safety protocols

By Peter Alexander (Aug. 11 at 11:20 p.m.)

Live music is back in Boulder—in a limited, outdoorsy sort of way.

Two outdoor performances later this month will provide live music, for the limited audiences who can get tickets. Both presenters have worked with Boulder Parks and Recreation Department to meet all health requirements. Both will be strictly social distanced, with limited numbers admitted and carefully spaced.

The Gerald Stazio Softball Fields parking lot, site of drive-in performances Aug. 14–16

Boulder Arts Outdoors will present what it calls “A socially-distanced drive-in performance pop-up” this coming weekend, Friday–Sunday, Aug. 14–16. The mixed program of classical, blue-grass, soul, salsa, dance and juggling, will be presented before a drive-in audience at the parking lot of the Gerald Stazio Softball Fields off 63rd Street in East Boulder.

Later in the month, Boulder Opera (BOC) will present its annual Opera in the Park performance in the Boulder Band Shell on Canyon Drive, to an audience limited to 175 people. The performance Saturday, Aug. 29, will be in two parts, with separate admission for each so that more people might have the opportunity to attend. The first half will be music from fairy-tale and fantasy operas, and the second half will be music from Zarzuelas, a popular genre of Spanish musical theater.

Mara Driscoll, the organizer of the Drive-In Festival, recently returned to Boulder from New York, where she dances at the Metropolitan Opera. “I’m still connected to the Boulder arts community, having gown up here, and as a performer I was feeling the disappearance of live performance,” she says.

The band Lady Romeo, one of the groups performing on Boulder Outdoor Arts
drive-in concert

“I really value everyone’s efforts to make things digital and to live stream, but we all know it’s just not the same. I was watching drive-in movie theaters pop up all over the country, and seeing how that made it possible for people to assemble safely, I thought, why not apply that same model to performance? There’s very, very stringent health regulations right now; a lot of the permit process was making sure that I could keep everyone socially distanced.”

The cars the parking lot will be spaced apart, in every second space, and arranged in a horseshoe shape for maximum visibility of the elevated stage located at one end of the lot. The music will be amplified, and also streamed through an FM transmitter for anyone who does not wish to lower their windows.

“The capacity is 40 vehicles, so people will be close enough to the stage that they can hear well, and see the performers,” Driscoll says. “It should feel like an outdoor amphitheater experience, you’re just looking through your windshield.”

The bluegrass duo Sugar Moon

Driscoll used her connections to the Boulder dance and music communities to invite artists and groups to be part of the performances. Some contacts suggested other performers, so that the total program grew to be extremely diverse. 

The schedules over the three nights includes members of the Boulder Symphony, the Renaissance-music vocal quintet Solis Singers, the soul/rock band Lady Romeo, the Bluegrass groups Chandler Holt & Eric Wiggs, Sugar Moon and Bowregard, djembe drumming by Abdoul Doumbia, a new piece created for the occasion by dancer Helanius J. Wilkins, Salsa dance by Marcela Lay and Musa Starseed, Third Law Dance/Theater, and juggling by Peter Davison. The program is slightly different each evening; the full program by date can be seen here

Helanius J. Wilkins

“It’s all about the artists,” Driscoll says. “I really wanted to create a platform for artists to do what they do. It’s exciting what everyone’s going to bring to the table, and I think audiences are going to go for this great ride and leave with a sense of awe at all the creativity and talent that’s right here in Boulder.”

Boulder Opera has offered “Opera in the Park” for several summers running, but this year was different due to the pandemic. “We definitely had to go through a lot of hoops putting in an application with the city of Boulder, to make sure we are following all of the safety precautions for performing live,” Dianela Acosta, the company’s artistic director, says.

“The event is going to be capped at 175 people, and we usually attract between 400 and 600. We have to do social-distance seating, and everybody has to wear masks. We’re going to have to set out some areas where people can sit and be six feet away from each other.

Boulder Opera’s 2019 “Opera in the Park”

The performance is free, Acosta notes, but audience members have to register in advance through Boulder Opera Web page , and bring a copy of their registration with them. Boulder Opera staff will be on hand to direct people to their seats and ensure that no-one who is not registered gets inside the audience area. 

“Our overhead expense have gone up, because there’s  lot of work we have to do to prepare for this,” Acosta says. “And then, for the performer’s safety, we follow the same guidelines, and there’s going to be a protective plastic barrier in front of the stage.”

The program is divide into two halves, each with its own theme and content. “You can register for the first part, or the second part of the concert, or you can register for both parts,” Acosta explains. The music from operas based on fairy tales, including “Hansel and Gretel” and “Cinderella,” on the first part might be more family oriented. The second part features music from a popular Spanish style of light opera, Zarzuela.

Singers from the 2019 performance of Boulder Opera’s “Opera in the Park”

Featured on the first half will be a scene from Hansel und Gretel by Humperdinck; an aria from Rimsky Korsakov’s Snow Maiden; “Olympia’s Song” and the “Barcarolle” duet from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman; “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka by Dvořák, an opera based on the same folk tale as “The Little Mermaid”; a duet and quartet from El Gato con Botas (“Puss in Boots”) by Spanish composer Xavier Montsalvage; and several numbers from La Cenerentola (“Cinderella”) by Rossini.

Forming the second half of he program, “Zarzuela is a traditional opera from Spain,” Acosta says. “It’s based on the folkloric tales and folk songs that have been adapted for operatic singing. And it’s very well known in Spain.”

Dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Zarzuela is contemporaneous with the rise of operetta and musical comedy in the U.S. Neither the titles nor the composers—including Gerónimo Giménez, Federico Moreno-Torroba and Francisco  Barbieri—are familiar to American audiences. Singers for both halves of the program are members of the Boulder Opera company, including Acosta herself. They will be accompanied on piano by Nathália Kato, the BOC staff pianist.

“Our theme is opera for people, and we want to bring these beautiful pieces to our audience as a way to bring the community together,” Acosta says. For those we cannot be brought together on this occasion, when the audience size is limited, the performance will be live streamed through the BOC Facebook page

“That [distanced performing] is going to be just for a little while, and then we are going to hopefully meet together soon again,” Acosta says. “[Online viewing] cannot replace live performances. That’s the beauty of what we do, performing in a live stage! 

“Nothing can substitute for what it means to be sitting there and feeling the vibration of the voice in the instant.”

# # # # #

Boulder Arts Outdoors: “Drive-in Festival”
6:30 p.m. Friday–Sunday, Aug. 14–16
Gerald Stazio Softball Fields parking lot
Tickets

Boulder Opera: “Fairy-Tale Opera, Zarzuela and Dance”
7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29: Fairy-Tale Fantasy
8:10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29: Zarzuela and Dance
Boulder Bandshell, 1212 Canyon Drive
Tickets
Live stream on the Boulder Opera Facebook page

Director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble feels lucky in spite of the pandemic

But Amanda Balestrieri is eager to be “in the music” again

By Peter Alexander July 20 at 1:15 p.m.

“My main interest is to be in the music,” Amanda Balestrieri says.

Seicento in happier days when they could congregate and perform. Amanda Balestrieri (in blue) and associate conductor Gerald W. Holbrook

The director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble misses her colleagues, and the Seicento choir, and the other musicians that she worked with before the pandemic hit. “For me that’s the hardest thing, not working with other musicians,” she says. “I think this is very hard, because I have been re-examining how I want to do music. How do you practice your art?

“We’re all trying to reconfigure and problem solve, but we don’t really know what the parameters are going to be. Do you carry on, and how much of a mission do you have to teach, or perform in smaller venues?”

Those of course are the more abstract, broader questions that all musicians are facing in the time of COVID-19. Balestrieri tends to be philosophical about the big issues, partly because she has faced difficulties before. “I’ve been through some trials in my life; this is not the first,” she says. And the advice that she offers from her life experiences?

“When you know you’re in for a long haul, with challenges, you have to decide if you’re going to turn off and stop, or if you’re going to get up the next day and see what happens. It makes time slow down because there’s a lot things we can’t fix. I’m a fixer, so I’m frustrated right now. But it’s a good lesson to learn to back off  and let things get there.”

Balestrieri, Zooming in from her kitchen

She remains optimistic for the long term. “Most of the musicians that I know, and all of the audience members, will not let live performance not come back,” she says. “The subtlety of the musical conversation in person, even with a large group—it’s going to come back.”

In the meantime, there are the nitty gritty details of taking care of Seicento—working with the board and coming up with plans B, C and D for the future in the face of all the uncertainty. “They’re keeping me on as artistic director for a reduced fee” Balestrieri says. 

“We’re in the process of brainstorming about how we can accomplish keeping the choir cohesive. There’s a lot of things that we’re thinking through. Now it’s a question of figuring out how we can pull people in, use the technology that we have in the works. We know that we can’t have an online rehearsal where everybody can hear everybody, because we don’t have those programs.”

Educational programming that Balestrieri could offer to the singers, small group performances, Zoom meetings with rotating groups from the choir are all being considered. “Our mission is to promote the understanding and practice of the Baroque performance practice,” Balestrieri says. “I’m thinking of doing that with the choir.”

Like most of us, Balestrieri has activities for her free time as well. “I have relatives in England, and it seems to me that everybody’s gardening their heads off,” she says. “I’ve been gardening my head off! I’m on the warpath against the weeds that grow into my air-conditioning units.

“I have made a rockscape, so I have been moving flagstones from the patio, buying pea gravel—with my mask on!—and going back for another bag, since I never quite have enough. And then I’ve had all of these other things; right after the (March) concert got canceled, my fridge died. So after a $400 replacement, now my dishwasher has died and my jacuzzi has started to leak. I fixed that myself, so actually I’m like Rosie the riveter! I’ve been doing things like that.”

Every interview with people isolated during the pandemic eventually gets around to books, which are a source of both entertainment and solace. As it turns out, Balestrieri didn’t go into the period of isolation with a reading list in mind. “We’ve been raiding the local little free libraries, so it’s kind of random what we get,” she says. 

“I started reading this very odd book of short stories about Lord Peter Wimsey by Dorothy Sayers. I haven’t read any of this kind of stuff for eons. Charley [Samson, classical music host and producer at Colorado Public Radio] read it and he said, you know, these are really fun, but they’re kind of gruesome.

“I have to agree, they’re kind of gruesome. It’s like some guy copper plates his beautiful wife! So I told him I don’t want to read anything quite that grizzly.”

Balestrieri wants you to know that she has much to be grateful for. “I don’t mind being home. I need alone time. I love doing practical stuff, like rockscapes and baking, making bread and pizza. I’m a good cook so I enjoy that.

“I’m really lucky because I’m safe, I have a place to live, I have food, I have projects, I have a brain, as far as I know I’m not sick. I’m like everybody else trying to work out where everything comes down, and at the same time being extremely patient.”

The patience comes in part from having a goal to work for: getting back to live performances. “The first day that you’re able to either go and attend a concert like that, or be in it,” she says, “the joy of that will be very intense!”

Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick sits out the pandemic in Mexican pueblo

“I wouldn’t rather be anywhere on the planet than right where I am”

By Peter Alexander July 7 at 2:50 p.m.

Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick has been in San Pancho, a Mexican pueblo of about 2,500 people, since the pandemic hit.

Save your sympathy for someone else, though. She has food, she has the internet, she has her husband and her dog with her in San Pancho, and she loves the pueblo. “I wouldn’t rather be anywhere on the planet than right where I am,” she says.

Pollick in her home in San Pancho, Mexico

Pollick lived several years in Evergreen, and has performed chamber music and solo recitals in Boulder. She played principal second violin and was a featured artist at Mahlerfest and was poised to do the same this year until the coronavirus forced the cancellation of the festival—and an entire tour that she had planned for the spring. 

“I was due to fly to San Jose (Calif.) April 8, and to spend my father’s 86th birthday with him,” she says. She had rehearsals and performances with the Paul Dresher Ensemble—an innovative contemporary performance group—in San Francisco, and work in New York before Mahlerfest, which would have included a house concert and chamber music in addition to the main orchestra concert. Then she would have returned to the West coast for a project with composers from around the world at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).

Tour or no tour, Pollick has no trouble  filling her time. She always has projects and music to practice. “My life’s not very much different—the only difference is that I’m not getting on planes and going anywhere,” she says. Besides, “I love spending time alone. 

“During those first weeks [in San Pancho], I watched every night the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts—that was my coping,” she says. “Then after one week of opera I dove frenetically into what I’m doing.” Because she enjoys working with composers and meets many of then on her travels, “what I’m doing” is often contemporary, creative and cutting edge.

Poillick and flutist Klaus Liebetanz performing John Kreitler’s Conversations Beyond the Stars on her Webcast concert in May

One of the first projects on her music stand was a Webcast of new music with electronics planned for May. It was intended to be performed live in real time and streamed from Pollick’s home studio in San Pancho, but because the Internet connection was too slow, that plan was scrapped. Instead, everything was prerecorded for CCRMA to stream from their studio.

Another project she has dived into is creating a new version of a piece that she recorded in 2015, “Užupis Constitution Song” by Swedish composer Ole Saxe. Pollick was living in Vilnius, Lithuania, at the time and working on a recording project with Saxe.

Užupis is a neighborhood within Vilnius that historically has been a center for the arts and artists. The semi-humorous constitution, posted in 23 languages on a wall in Vilnius, contains 41 articles, including “Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation,” “Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown,” and “A dog has the right to be a dog.”

Saxe’s piece for solo violin has a melody that “closely mirrors the text as lyrics,” he says. When Pollick recorded “Užupis Constitution Song” in 2015, it appeared on a CD (Peace Piece) and on a YouTube video with the text of the various articles scrolling like subtitles. But, Pollick says, “There are a lot of lyrics in there that are not coming through on the violin part, so I’m going to make it a vocal version.

“I started looking at it, and thought, ’Oh my goodness, this is too high for me.’ So it’s got to be not a violin piece, but a viola piece”—taking it down to a range that Pollick could sing. Saxe re-wrote the song down five notes, and added a piano part. Pollick studied the video of her playing the violin version on the banks of the Vilnele river in Vilnius. She played and recorded the viola part, carefully matching the bow strokes with the video, then recorded the new piano part on her Casio keyboard.

Karen Bentley Pollick playing “Užupis Constitution Song” on the banks of the Vilnele River

“Now that my Webcast is over I’m going to be recording the vocal part, to add onto that,” she says. “It’s one thing to see the articles of the constitution streaming, but once you have the words and the melody it becomes real. I want my voice on it, so I’ve been training and coaching myself and we’re 80% there.“

In her notably diverse musical universe, Pollick has other projects as well. “The other thing I have occupying my music stand, are several amazing virtuosic bluegrass pieces,” she says. “One’s by Joel Friedman called ‘Uncle Hokum’s Fiddle,’ and the other one is by Jimmy Bunch called ‘Devil’s Bargain’.”

Like many of us, Pollick is reading some favorite authors during the pandemic. “One of my favorite writers is Chris Bohjalian,” she says. “I read his book, The Flight Attendant, now I’m reading The Sleepwalker.

“I just finished a book by Alex Halberstadt. It’s a wonderful book—Young Heroes of the Soviet Union—which is about his grandfather being a bodyguard for Josef Stalin. It’s a personal testimonial [that records] how trauma travels from generation to generation.”

She also is active in the San Pancho community. “Our community is based on tourism, and [now] most of the people in my pueblo are unemployed,” she says. “Our goal is to feed everybody. We have a food bank that feeds 250 people per day, five days a week.” Pollick picks up supplies for the food bank from Costco in Puerto Vallarta, about 40 minutes from San Pancho.

San Pancho, Mexico

So she has her musical projects, she has books, and she enjoys being a part of her community. “People are very nice, and the local population is very proud of their pueblo,” she says.

As for the coronavirus, “I feel safe,” she says. “The municipal, state and federal police are taking extremely good care of the population. They have a new normal, and it’s respected. Most people have their face masks on.

“We’re very respectful of ourselves and each other here.”

Lessons from virtual conferences

League of American Orchestras, OPERA America go online

By Peter Alexander June 24 at 3 p.m.

I recently “attended” two national conferences of classical music service organizations, the League of American Orchestras (LAO) and Opera America (OA). They were both informative about their fields in these difficult times, but also about the very nature of the conferences themselves. 

Here are a few of the things I learned.

First, we have the technology we need now to be holding meetings online rather than requiring everyone to get together in person. In the 1990s I held a minor post with a scholarly society and from my post of no significance I tried to nudge the powers that were toward making their conferences available online. 

It was (and is) expensive for students to travel across the country to make the contacts necessary to advance their careers. And I foresaw a future when air travel would become more expensive and more damaging to the environment, or when some largely unexpected event would render travel impractical. I thought then, and still do, that everyone would benefit from greater accessibility of the national meetings.

You will not be surprised that I had no influence at all.

But now, both the LAO and OA handled the details of online presentations and panel discussions smoothly. The only glitches came from individual users with compromised internet connections or unfamiliarity with Zoom. There is simply no reason going forward not to make most sessions of future conferences available online.

I understand the value of professional peers getting together for networking and sharing of ideas outside of formal sessions, and the building of relationships through social events. But both organizations reported the highest attendance in their history, with the LAO attendance growing from 2,000 in the first week to 3,700 for the closing session. This shows that there are many members and interested supporters who are unable to attend the national meeting, for financial reasons or conflicting obligations, who would benefit from being able to “attend” the sessions online. Now that LAO and OA have gotten their feet wet with the technology, there is no reason a national meeting cannot be offered in both formats—and in fact, as I understand it, OA has already been doing so. 

Professional and scholarly associations, are you paying attention?

Another lesson from both groups is that while they are attempting to be prepared for the fall, and an eventual re-opening of performances, nobody knows when or how that can be. Plans B, C and D are common, showing the multitude of unfamiliar challenges performers face.

Deborah Borda. Photo by NY Phil.

Deborah Borda, CEO of the New York Philharmonic, estimated that to put an audience in 2,700-seat David Geffen Hall with social distancing, they could admit 387 people. Obviously, no orchestra could pay the bills with such reduced ticket sales. And that doesn’t even get to the issue of how people get in and out of the hall or use the restrooms.

Mark Pemberton, director of the Association of British Orchestras, sounded a similar note, observing that no more than 30 people could be onstage at one time, and most halls have very limited space backstage. There are suggestions of having “bubbles” of musicians, he said, groups that would be tested and associate together but stay removed from other “bubbles.” That’s a creative approach, but it will not solve the problem of 20% capacity in the hall—a number greater than what Borda estimated for Geffen Hall.

The LAO meetings featured discussion about the lack of scientific research into the diffusion of droplets, and therefore of the virus, by wind instruments. Mark Spede, director of bands at Clemson University and president of the College Band Directors National Association, described research sponsored by the CBDNA that is being conducted by CU prof. Shelley Miller. Results of her work will be helpful by the fall, when performing organizations face decisions on resuming rehearsals and performances.

A separate session addressed issues of musician-generated content—either individual performances, or the compilation performances that we all have seen with multiple musicians, each playing from their own space. The challenge of generating professional-level content is extreme. Someone who engineered one performance compared it to being dragged by a train and stuck by lightening at the same time, and another person—a composer—begged “Don’t do it, please! Your life will be much happier.”

Opera America panel discussion on diversity and inclusion (screen shot)

Both LAO and OA offered valuable sessions on the subjects of diversity and inclusion. The LAO session “Out of the Box,” featured minority musicians from around the country. One salient point from this discussion was who gets to define success. To a large extent, it is musicians’ training that determines what “success” will look like, and it is very difficult for individuals to redefine it for themselves. Nevertheless, the panelists agreed that reclaiming control of one’s own narrative is crucial for minority and other musicians working outside the orchestral mainstream.

The most impressive presentation was by Nina Simon of the non-profit organization OF/BY/FOR ALL. Her message is that it is not enough to provide arts FOR under-represented segments of the community; they must be BY and OF that community.

Nina Simon

Simon spoke to both LAO and OA; I saw the OA presentation, which was well crafted, professional, and very powerful. One of her most important messages was that for change to happen, power must be shared. This will make some supporters uncomfortable, she said, but in the end, “comfort is a byproduct of privilege.”

Aaron Flagg

It is no secret that minorities are under-represented in the performing arts. Aaron Flagg, a jazz studies faculty member at Juilliard, speaking on a panel on “Anti-Black Racism and American Orchestras,” pointed to one of the most crucial issues when he said that tokenism is not enough. In hiring or recruiting musicians of color, he said, you must “show your respect for their artistry, not just your need for their color.”

# # # # #

You may access some of the League of America Orchestras sessions at their Youtube Channel.

You may also access the OPERA America sessions at their YouTube channel.

NOTE: The session at which Aaron Flag spoke was corrected at 6 p.m. 6/24. It was “Anti-Black Racism and American Orchestras,” not “Outside the Box,” as originally stated. Other minor editing errors were corrected at the same time.

CU Eklund Opera production of “Marriage of Figaro” now available online

Spring performances were canceled due to Coronavirus

By Peter Alexander June 23 at 9 p.m.

The University of Colorado College of Music/Eklund Opera student production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro was in the final week of dress rehearsals in March.

PR still for the Eklund Opera production of Le Nozze di Figaro (Photo by Glenn Asakawa—University of Colorado)

The production, under the musical direction of conductor Nick Carthy and stage directed by Eklund Opera director Leigh Holman, promised to be an outstanding realization of one of the greatest—or the greatest—operas in the repertoire. (Read my original preview story in Boulder Weekly.)

But at one of the very last dress rehearsals, Holman had to tell the cast that all performances on the CU campus had been canceled. They ran through the opera one last time, they cried, they hugged one another, and then they went home.

Now that final dress rehearsal has been made available through CU Presents. You can access the stream of the full dress rehearsal here. The stream is described as a “pay what you can performance,” in which viewers are asked to make whatever contribution they can afford after watching the stream.

The performance lasts 150 minutes (2 hours, 30 minutes), and has English titles throughout. The CU Presents Webpage does not say how long the stream will be available.

Eklund Opera’s “Marriage of Figaro,” production shot.

CMF announces six virtual summer concerts, June 25–July 30

Compilation orchestra performances and composers from marginalized communities

By Peter Alexander June 19 at 2 p.m.

The Colorado Music Festival (CMF) announced a series of six virtual, online concerts, featuring the Takács Quartet and other guest artists, members of the CMF orchestra, and music director Peter Oundjian.

The performances will be presented free of charge, on demand through the CMF Website.  The performances will be made available at 7:30 p.m. on six consecutive Thursday evenings, June 25 through July 30. Each performance will be available for some time after the time they are first posted.

CMF’s usual summer home, the Chautauqua Auditorium

A letter from CMF music director Peter Oundjian places the virtual festival in the current times, and particularly issues of racial justice in the United States. “It is no secret to any of us that the story of this country is riddled with the murder and mistreatment of non-white races,” Oundjian writes. “I am committed to doing everything in my power to make this festival an instrumental platform for musicians who come from marginalized communities.

CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian

“This summer’s festival will include only a fraction of what our programming will look like next summer, and the summers that follow. We will be featuring the music of a number of composers, both living and deceased, who come from different marginalized communities all across the country and the world.

“This is just the beginning.”

For the abbreviated 2020 virtual festival, the inclusion of minority and marginalized musicians includes works by, among others, Florence Price, Agustin Barrios Mangoré, Keith Jarrett, Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank, Jessie Montgomery and George Walker. The festival will conclude with performances by the current quartet-in-residence at CU Boulder, the Ivalas Quartet, a multi-cultural group with members from Hispanic and Black communities.

Takács Quartet

The six performances and their full programs will be:

June 25: Festival Orchestra and the Takács Quartet, featuring the debut of the quartet’s newest member, violist Richard O’Neill. The program will feature a previous Festival Orchestra performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide; and the Takács Quartet on the Chautauqua stage playing Schobert’s Quartettsatz and movements from Florence Price’s String Quartet No. 2; Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 2, and Beethoven’s String Quartet in C major, op. 59 no. 3.

Sharon Isbin. Photo by J. Henry Fair.

July 2: A celebration of women in music. Guitarist Sharon Isbin will play works by Enrique Granados, Antonio Lauro, Leo Brouwer, Nanomi Shemer and Agustin Barrios Mangoré. Percussionist Jisu Jung will play works by Howard Stevens and Keith Jarrett. Framing their performances, CMF musicians will play virtual compilation performances of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and two marches by John Philip Sousa. 

July 9: Violinist Augustin Hadelich will join Oundjian in his home to perform music by J.S. Bach, Eugène Ysaÿe and Francisco Tarrega.

July 16: Pianist Jan Lisiecki will perform cadenzas from the Beethoven piano concertos nos. 1 through 4,  and join Oundjian in a discussion of those pieces.

July 23: Brooklyn Rider string quartet will share a performance from their “Healing Modes” repertoire, which features works by Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank and Kinan Azmeh. The program will open with a virtual compilation of Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 5, performed by members of the CMF Orchestra brass section.

Ivalas Quartet

July 30: CU’s Ivalas Quartet will perform movements from quartets by Joseph Haydn and Jessie Montgomery, and the piano duo of twin sisters Michelle and Christina Naughton will perform music by Ravel, Debussy, George Walker, Rachmaninoff, and Conlon Nancarrow. CMF orchestra members will open the program with Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, and close the virtual festival with the second and fourth movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Except for the Overture from Candide, all the performances by CMF orchestra musicians will be virtual compilation performances, assembled from separate videos submitted by the players. These individual video will be compiled by the festival’s recording and sound engineer Michael Quam and CMF staff.

Other performances will be recorded in advance for broadcast at the stated program times.

You may register for the virtual festival performances here