Eklund Opera brings 19th-century Paris to Macky

Puccini’s La Bohème, opera’s ‘gateway drug,’ Friday through Sunday

By Peter Alexander Oct. 19 at 4:12 p.m.

Leigh Holman

“It’s the gateway drug for opera, because I think it’s the best first opera that anybody could ever see.”

Leigh Holman, the director of CU’s Eklund Opera, is talking about Puccini’s La Bohème, the current CU production that opens Friday at Macky Auditorium (7:30 p.m. Oct. 21). “It’s not only the story and the singing and the music, but the pacing of the piece is brilliant,” she says.

Other performances of the production will take place in Macky Saturday and Sunday (7:30 p.m. Oct. 22 and 2 p.m. Oct. 23; ticket information below). Holman is the stage director of the production, and Nicholas Carthy conducts. Guest artist Wei Wu, a 2013 graduate of CU who is building a professional career in the US, will appear in the bass role of Colline. Other parts and the orchestra will be filled with current CU music students.

Miguel Ángel Ortega Bañales as Rodolfo, Sarah Cain as Mimi

If you don’t know the story, four young starving artists share a garret in Paris. They are poor, making money as they can, but at the start of the opera they are freezing and burning their work to keep warm. One of the four, the writer Rodolfo, meets Mimi, an equally impoverished seamstress, and they fall in love.

Rodolfo and Mimi join the other Bohemians for a Christmas eve dinner at the Café Momus. This scene, filled with families, children, street vendors, waiters and patrons of the café, is brilliant and spirited, introducing Musetta, the fiery girlfriend of Rodolfo’s roommate Marcello. The rest of the opera traces the passions and the breakups of the two couples, until Mimi returns to the garret deathly ill.

The characters’ emotional ups and downs always touch the hearts of audiences. “It’s a brilliant score,” Holman says. “The music’s great, in depicting what anybody’s feeling at any time. And the pacing’s brilliant— just when you think you can’t take any more heartache, somebody’s celebrating and you’re brought along in that.”

Another reason the characters touch people’s hearts is that they are relatable. Just like the Bohemians, most of us have passed through a stage of hopes and struggles at some point in our lives. And at CU the students in the cast are the same age as the characters.

Conductor Nicholas Carthy

Popular as it is, La Bohéme is not easy to produce. Carthy points out that unlike professional companies , CU can’t do whatever they want. “The difference between us and an opera company is that they look at what they want to do and go get the singers; we look at the singers and decide what we want to do,” he says.

The key to performing Bohéme is the role of Rodolfo, which vocally requires a slightly more mature singer than the others. “You have to build it around Rodolfo,” he says. “That’s going to be a slightly older voice.” 

When you have someone who can fit that role, then you put the others in place. In this case, all the parts were cast with students except Colline, one of the four sharing the garret. His role calls for a strong bass, particularly in the aria he sings in Act IV, a farewell to his overcoat. For Colline, CU invited Chinese bass and CU grad Wei Wu back to campus. (Watch here for a separate feature on Wei Wu.)

The score is also a challenge for the conductor. Arturo Toscanini, who conducted the premiere of Bohéme in 1896, once said if you can conduct Bohéme, you can conduct anything. “It’s a massive piece of organization,” Carthy explains, “especially the second act when you’ve got all sort of different chorus voices.

“You’ve got the kids’ chorus singing different things, you’ve got the chorus split into mothers and vendors and waiters, and all the people selling different foods. But it’s the most glorious, glorious thing you can conduct!”

On top of that, the conductor and the orchestra have to be very, very flexible, he says. The tempo keeps shifting throughout, to make the musical phrases expressive. “I told the orchestra, this is music that is so flexible that if you look down, if you’re not concentrating, when you look again I won’t be where you think I am.”

This is a mater of “rubato,” to use the musical term, which means slowing down to stretch one phrase or emphasize one word of the text, then resuming the former tempo. “Taking time isn’t the problem,” Carthy says. “Once you’ve taken the time, it’s getting the momentum back. They find that more difficult. Any orchestra—any professional orchestra would find that.”

Sarah Cain as Mimi and Miguel Ángel Ortega Bañales as Rodolfo in the opera’s final scene

Opera companies around the world, and university opera programs as well, include La Bohéme in their programs again and again. That is a tribute to Puccini’s success in communicating the emotions of the opera’s young characters. And once the emotions reach listener’s hearts, they stay there. “Many opera buffs have been going to operas since they were young,” Holman says. “And they keep coming back to Bohéme.

“Once you get hooked on La Bohéme, we keep those fans forever!”

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Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème
CU Eklund Opera, Leigh Holman, stage director
Nicholas Carthy, conductor

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct.21, and Saturday, Oct. 22
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23
Macky Auditorium

TICKETS

Grace Notes: Boulder Bach presents Jory Vinikour

Harpsichord recital features music by J.S. Bach and Rameau

By Peter Alexander Oct. 13 at 5:43 p.m.

The Boulder Bach Festival will present harpsichordist Jory Vinikour in a concert of pieces by J.S. Bach and Jean-Philippe Rameau Saturday afternoon at the Stewart Auditorium in Longmont (4 p.m. Oct. 15; details below).

Jory Vinikour

The program, titled “Journey to France,” will comprise two works that reflect the French Baroque style—one of the three recognized national styles of the 18th century, along with those of Germany and Italy. Bach, who mastered many different styles, wrote his Ouvertüre nach Französischer Art (Overture in the French Style) as part of the second volume of his Clavier-Übung (Keyboard practice). It is a suite of 11 dances in the French style as Bach perceived it.

That will be followed in Vinikour’s concert by a virtuosic keyboard suite by Rameau, also in 11 movements. Each movement has a descriptive title, such as La Joyeuse (the joyous) and Les Tourbillons (the whirlwind).

Vinikour has performed throughout Europe and received a Grammy nomination for his recording of the complete harpsichord works of Rameau. He will introduce each piece with his own personal commentary. 

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“Journey to France”
Jory Vinikour, harpsichord

J.S. Bach: Overture in the French Style, BWV 831
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Pièces de clavecin, 1724: Suite in D

4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15
Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum

TICKETS 

Grace Notes: Boulder’s Choral Groups’ 2022–23 Seasons

Ars Nova Singers, Boulder Chorale and Seicento lay out plans for 2022-23

By Peter Alexander Oct. 12 at 2:52 p.m.

The Ars Nova Singers, the Boulder Chorale and Seicento Baroque Ensemble—three of Boulder’s leading choral groups—have distinct qualities, in terms of repertoire and performance style. All three groups have now announced their concert schedules for the 2022–23 season:

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Under director Tom Morgan, Ars Nova generally avoids the historical middle of standard repertoire, preferring music either side of the 18th and 19th centuries—the Renaissance or the 20th and 21st centuries. Their concerts are challenging to the singers, and can be equally so to audiences, but they are always interesting as well.

On Nov. 4 they will be the first of the three to present a concert this season (see time and place below). Their opening program is devoted to one of the most fascinating figures of the late Renaissance. Carlo Gesualdo, the Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza, was the composer of harmonically advanced, highly chromatic madrigals unlike anything else of their time. He was also known for having murdered his first wife and her lover when he found them together in bed, a fact that has not gone unnoticed in appreciation of his extreme music.

Performances of Gesualdo’s music are rare, as is often the case with Ars Nova programming, so this performance is worth noting.

One major event of the Ars Nova season will be the presentation in March of the world-touring British a cappella group Voces 8. Their two performances under Ars Nova’s auspices will be Wednesday March 1, 2023 in Macky Auditorium (7:30 p.m., details below) and Thursday, March 2, at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver (7:30 p.m.; tickets on sale Oct. 15). Please note that these are two separate programs. (details below).

Here is a full listing of the Ars Nova 2022–23 season:

“Wonder”
Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director
With Sandra Wong, violin and nyckelharpa, and Ann Marie Morgan, viola da gamba
Carlo Gesualdo: Madrigals from Books 5 and 6

  • 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4
    St. John Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder
  • 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov5
    Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum
  • 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6
    St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver 

“Solstice”
Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director
With John Gunther, woodwinds
Music for the Winter Solstice and Christmas

  • 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9
    First Congregational Church, 1500 9th Ave., Longmont
  • 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11
    St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver

“Stardust”
Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director

  • 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb 10, 2023
    First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St, Boulder
  • 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023
    Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St., Denver

“Choral Dances”
Voces 8
Music by Byrd, Bach, Britten and Berlin

  • 7:30 pm. Wednesday, March 1
    Macky Auditorium

TICKETS 

“Lux Aeterna”
Voces 8
Music by Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff and Monteverdi

  • 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 2
    St. John’s Cathedral, 1350 n. Washington St., Denver

TICKETS available Oct. 15

“Reflections”
Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director
Music by Mahler, Thomas Jennefelt and Caroline Shaw

  • 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 21
    First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder
  • 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22
    Bethany Lutheran Church, 400 E. Hampden Ave. Cherry Hills Village
  • 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 3
    TANK Center for Sonic Arts, 233 County Rd. 46, Rangely, Colo

(This program will also be performed on tour in Colorado and New Mexico.)

See more information on the Ars Nova Web page

CORRECTION: The two programs by Voices 8 March 1 and March 2 were originally listed incorrectly. The correct information is “Choral Dances” on March 1 and “Lux Aeterna” on March 2, as now shown above.

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The Boulder Chorale is actually three different groups, and serves a role in music education as well as performance—in the words of the Web page, “for singers aged 5 to 85.” The Concert Chorale, the Chamber Chorale and the Children’s Chorale—the last divided by age into four different ensembles—perform separately as well as together. Under director Vicki Burrichter, the repertoire of the adult groups is eclectic, notably including world music, traditional styles from both European and non-European sources, and new works. As in the current season, their repertoire has often included work for chorus and orchestra.

Boulder Chorale opens their season Nov. 5, one day later than Ars Nova. Their opening weekends overlap, but you can easily plan to attend both. The chorale’s program is an example of their pursuit of world music. Titled “Origins: The Fertile Crescent,” the program highlights music from the Middle East and North Africa, including the Chorale’s own arrangements by Adam Waite of music from Israel, Afghanistan, Spain, Morocco and Syria.

Later in the year, the Chorale partners with the Longmont Symphony for performances of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 17) and a Messiah  singalong (Dec. 18; details below); and with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra for performances of Beethoven’s Mass in C.

Here is the full listing of the Boulder Chorale 2022–23 season through April 2023:

“Origins: The Fertile Crescent”
Boulder Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, conductor, with Catrene Payan, vocalist, and Middle Eastern instrumental ensemble, David Hinojosa,leader

  • 4 pm. Saturday, Nov. 5, and Sunday, Nov. 6
    First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce Street, Boulder, CO

“A Celtic Winter”
Boulder Chamber Chorale and Concert Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, director, and Boulder Children’s Chorale, Nathan Wubbena, director

  • 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, and Sunday, Dec. 11
    First United Methodist Church, Boulder 1421 Spruce Street, Boulder, CO

Handel’s Messiah
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With the Boulder Chamber Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, director

  • 4 p.m. Dec. 17
    Westview Presbyterian Church, 1500 Hover St., Longmont

“Hallelujah! A Messiah singalong”
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With the Boulder Chamber Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, director

  • 4 p.m. Dec. 18
    Westview Presbyterian Church, 1500 Hover St., Longmont

“A Nation of Immigrants
Boulder Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, conductor

  • 4 p.m. Saturday, March 18, and Sunday, March 19
    First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce Street, Boulder, CO

Beethoven Mass in C
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With the Boulder Chamber Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, director

  • 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1
    Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder

For more information on these and other concerts, visit the Boulder Chorale Web page.  

CORRECTION: The concert “Story of My life,“ previously listed here, was included by error. That is a performance by the Boulder Children’s Chorales, and has been removed from this listing. Also, clarification has been added as to which of the three chorales is performing in each of the concerts.

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Seicento specializes in Baroque music of the 17th (“Seicento” in Italian) and 18th centuries performed with, to use the currently accepted language, “historically informed” performance practice, including period instruments. Today they are directed by the group’s founder, Evanne Browne.

Founded in 2011, Seicento launches its second decade in December with “Nöel: Christmas in the late Renaissance and Early Baroque” (December 2–4), a program that includes carols still familiar today as well as little known choral works. The major event of the season will take place in May, when Seicento will be joined by an orchestra of historical instrument performers to present Colorado’s first historically informed performance of J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion.

Here is the full listing of Seicento’s season:

“Nöel: Christmas in the late Renaissance and Early Baroque”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Evanne Browne, conductor

  • 7:30 p.m. Friday Dec. 2
    St. Paul Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver
  • 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3
    First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder
  • 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4
    First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1500 9th Ave., Longmont

J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion (BWV 245)
Seicento Baroque Ensemble and historical instrument orchestra, Evanne Browne, conductor

  • 7 p.m. Friday, May 5
    Arvada United Methodist Church, 6750 Carr St., Arvada
  • 7 p.m. Saturday, May 6
    St. Paul Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver
  • 3 p.m. Sunday, May 7
    Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder 

For more information, see Seicento’s Web page.  

Varied program, mixed results for Boulder Phil

Season opening concert features world premiere

By Peter Alexander Oct. 9 at 12:15 a..m.

The Boulder Philharmonic opened their 2022-23 season last night with a carefully curated and varied program that brought Colorado Governor Jared Polis to Macky Auditorium.

Governor Jared Polis (c) congratulates the Boulder Phil on its 65th anniversary season before last night’s concert. With him are Jonathan Koehn (l), Boulder’s chief sustainability and resilience officer, and Boulder Phil executive director Sara Parkinson (r).

Speaking from the stage before the concert, Governor Polis honored the orchestra for its 65th anniversary season and thanked the players for their artistry during the COVID pandemic. Polis was there with Jonathan Koehn, Boulder’s chief sustainability and resilience officer, also to recognize the concert’s environmental theme, “Hymn to the Earth.”

Michael Butterman then led the orchestra through a program designed to consider climate change as a challenge and a result of hubris and heedlessness. That message was most conspicuous in the world premiere of Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet by composer Drew Hemenger. Identified as an “environmental oratorio,” the score calls for orchestra, chorus and tenor soloist. The music encompasses a wide range of moods, so that the transition from one movement to the next is often dramatic.

Drew Hemmenger

In five movements it traverses an arc from coexistence with nature to the damage done by the industrial revolution, to a portrait of a society on the verge of collapse, the current state of the environment and finally, a warning of a potential apocalypse to come. The first movement, “Spring is Come,” uses a text from Chief Sitting Bull. This movement essentially an environmental anthem, declaring that “our animal neighbors [have] the same right as ourselves to inhabit the land.” This movement could easily stand alone as an effective choral/orchestral piece with a benign environmental message. 

This jaunty and affirming movement is followed by a setting of Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much With Us,” an impassioned plea to recognize that “we are out of tune” with the natural world, written at the outset of the industrial revolution. Here tenor Matthew Plenk made a strong impression, managing well transitions from intense anguish to quiet despair. His voice has a penetrating quality that gets edgy when pushed too far, but is otherwise effective.

I had to step out for a moment and so missed the rhythmically charged third movement for orchestra alone, but caught the rest of the oratorio. The third movement incorporates a pedantic UN panel report on the environment (“Oceanic uptake of CO2 has resulted in acidification”), spoken by the chorus. This academic verbiage is effectively combined with words from environmental activist Greta Thunberg and saddened words from Chief Tecumseh. 

Alas, this movement cannot avoid pounding away at the moral, and it casts a didactic shadow over the rest of the piece. The final movement, a setting of Shelley’s darkly prophetic sonnet, Ozymandias, is again very emphatic. 

Hemenger employs a loosely tonal/modal style that speaks directly to the audience with no difficulty. He translates the message of the text directly into musical expression, but the preachy message will not be to everyone’s taste. A few people walked out during the fourth movement and at the end, but whether it was a political or aesthetic protest is uncertain. A handful in the audience stood at the end, and their numbers grew with each curtain call by Butterman and Plenk.

On the whole I judge Ozymandias to be a skillful score that accomplishes just what it aims at. The message will be welcome in some venues, but whether the piece as a whole will go on to more extensive familiarity remains to be seen. It was played well by the Phil and sung with conviction by the newly formed Boulder Philharmonic Chorus.

Boulder Phil. Music Director Michael Butterman

The concert had begun with Global Warming by Michael Abels, a piece infused with folkish-tunes and intricate rhythms. The solos in the wind section and percussion were notable, and the opening and ending exchanges between concertmaster Charles Wetherbee and assistant principal cellist Ethan Blake were played with elan. This is a pleasing, short piece that made an ideal opening for the program.

The second half of the concert began with an aptly dark reading of the Overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the first of two pieces that expressed the dangerous heedlessness of the legendary Don Juan figure.  The performance was a little muddy where lightness and clarity are called for, leaving some of the inner voices unclear.

Next up was Siegfried’s Trauermusic (Funeral march) from Wagner’s music drama Götterdämmerung. Here the Philharmonic’s brass section shone, playing with great depth and darkness of tone. The Phil does not have the number of strings to match the weight of the brass, but this was a well paced and pleasing performance.

Butterman saved the best for last with Richard Strauss’ orchestral tone poem Don Juan. The outstanding quality of the performance showed that the Phil’s wind players will rise to the challenges of a virtuoso orchestral score. Individual solos were outstanding, and the horn section clearly relished playing the soaring theme that portrays Don Juan’s charismatic presence—a ringing tune all horn players know from student days and truly love to perform, just as audiences love to hear it.

For the most part, Butterman’s construction of the program worked well. His pacing and control of each piece seemed convincing. Nevertheless, the extreme variety of styles on the program was double-edged: the wide range of moods was always interesting, but it created a slightly fractured effect overall.

Boulder Phil opens 22–23 season with ‘Hymn to the Earth’

World premiere and first appearance of the Boulder Phil Chorus Oct. 8

By Peter Alexander Oct. 6 at 7:10 p.m.

Conductor Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra will open their 2022–23 season Saturday evening (7 p.m. Oct. 8, Macky Auditorium) with a program aimed straight at Boulder’s social and environmental heart.

The Boulder Philharmonic with conductor Michael Butterman

Titled “Hymn to the Earth,” the program includes the world premier of Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet by Drew Hemenger, an environmental oratorio for orchestra, chorus and tenor co-commissioned by the Phil and the Rogue Valley Symphony of Oregon. Its five movements create an arc leading from a vision of unspoiled nature, through the industrial revolution to the current global climate crisis and culminating with Shelley’s dire warning about human arrogance in his great poem “Ozymandias.”

Composer Michael Abels. Photo by Eric Schwabel

The program opens with Global Warming by Michael Abels, a composer best known for his scores for the films of Jordan Peele. Not referring to climate, the title refers to the warming global relations at the end of the Cold War, and in in this context suggests the planetary unity required to face an environmental crisis. 

Works on the second half of the program have the theme of hubris and the consequences of humans’ heedlessness: the Overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Siegfried’s funeral music from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung; and Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Juan.

Gregory Gentry

The concert will be the first appearance of the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus, the newly-formed choral partner of the Phil, under the direction of Gregory Gentry. Tenor Matthew Plenk, a faculty member at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, will be soloist for Ozymandias.

Ozymandias is a score of remarkable diversity, of both textual sources and musical style. The text draws on poetry by Shelley and William Wordsworth, as well as texts from Native Americans, speeches by climate activist Greta Thunberg, and a definitively unpromising text for music, the 2014 Fifth Assessment Report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (Trust me; Hemenger makes it work.)

The commissioning of Ozymandias started with Butterman, who remembers reading Shelley’s poem many years ago. “I’ve loved that poem since I was a kid,” he says. “It’s short, but the irony of it smacks you in the face. He wrote this not thinking of climate change, but it’s the same hubris.”

Composer Drew Hemenger

The first movement of Hemenger’s score is titled “The Spring is Come,” and is taken from the words of Chief Sitting Bull in 1877, describing a time when the Lakota people lived in harmony with the earth. The second movement is a setting of Wordsworth’s poem from around 1802, “The World Is Too Much with Us.” At the beginning of the industrial revolution, Wordsworth is pointing out that man’s greed is leading to the loss of a connection to nature: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;/Little we see in Nature that is ours.”

The rhythmically driven third movement is entirely orchestral. The title is a Shawnee word, “Migeloti” (pronounced mah-jee-lo-ta), “which means a person who goes around disrespecting and destroying,” Hemenger says. Representing a society of decadence, “it’s like (Ravel’s) La Valse, filled with ecstasy and then collapse at the end.”

The fourth movement contains the chorus speaking text from the IPCC report and Thunberg’s speeches (“all you can talk about is money . . . how dare you!”), and sung texts from Shawnee Chief Tecumseh in 1810, “To Sell a Country.” “That is a preachy movement,” Hemenger admits, but “when you’re going to put that clear language (of the report), there didn’t seem to be any way around it.”

The finale is the setting of “Ozymandias,” ending with the forlorn words “the lone and level sands stretch far away.” The music, Hemenger writes in his program notes, “like the poem, fades away like the blowing dust in the desert.”

Michael Butterman. Photo by Shannon Palmer.

In spite of this message, Butterman hopes the program is not a downer. “I worry that the pieces are saying when you act as if things have no consequences, it doesn’t end well,” he says. “But since climate change is a huge issue that the world needs to pay attention to, and it’s something that many people in Boulder are sensitive to, it strikes me as a natural fit for this orchestra.”

He admires the music that resulted from his initial suggestions to the composer. “The fact that he went into Native American texts, the middle movement which is a latter-day La Valse, all of that was his idea, and I think it’s brilliant. There’s a lot of stuff in a relatively short piece, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out.”

The second half of the concert comprises pieces by Mozart, Wagner and Strauss that are known to classical audiences. While their composition had nothing to do with environmental issues, Butterman hopes the context can add meaning to those works. Particularly the Strauss will add brilliance to the overall program. “It’s so cinematic,” he says. “You get a very good image of this character (Don Juan), his personality, his swagger. Whether you like him or not, there might be something about him that you almost envy.”

For the concert, the Boulder Phil has partnered with the City of Boulder Climate Initiative Department. Members of the city’s climate team will be present at the performance to share climate action ideas and resources, and to collect submission to heir climate audio collage report.

Please note that the Boulder Phil has changed the starting time of their concerts for the season to 7 p.m., instead of 7:30 p.m.

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“Hymn to the Earth”
Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Matthew Plenk, tenor, and the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus, Gregory Gentry, chorus master

  • Michael Abels: Global Warming
  • Drew Hemenger: Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet (world premiere)
  • Mozart: Overture to Don Giovanni
  • Wagner: Trauermusik from Götterdämmerung
  • Richard Strauss: Don Juan

7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8
Macky Auditorium

TICKETS

CORRECTION: The original version of this post gave the start time of Boulder Phil concerts as 8 p.m. The correct time this season will be 7 p.m.

Grace Notes: Longmont Symphony opens 2022–23 season

World premiere anchors program

By Peter Alexander Oct. 4 at 9:45 p.m.

The Longmont Symphony will open its 2022–23 season at with a concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 8) in the Vance Brand Civic Auditorium in Longmont.

Music director Elliot Moore will conduct the concert, which features a world premiere and guest artist Clancy Newman, cello. The world premiere, written specifically for the time after the COVID pandemic, will be Symphony for the Great Return by John Hennecken. Newman will play Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, the most popular cello concerto. Other works on the program will be Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and George Walker’s Lyric for Strings.

Hennecken’s Symphony is in three movements. The first, “Dark Spring Horizon,” represents the feeling in early 2020, when there was a sense of foreboding but the pandemic had not yet broken out widely. The second, “Windows,” uses the disparate sounds of solo violin and timpani to represent social distancing and sense of isolation during the pandemic. And the finale, “The Great Return,” was written during the upheaval following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and uses a variation on African-American composer George Walker’s Lyric for Strings, also heard on the program.

Longmont Symphony and conductor Elliot Moore

Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With Clancy Newman, cello

  • Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man
  • George Walker: Lyric For Strings
  • John Hennecken: Symphony for the Great Return (world premiere)
  • Dvořák: Cello Concerto

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont
TICKETS

Grace Notes: Three classical organizations announce 2022–23 seasons

Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Pro Musica Colorado and Boulder Opera

By Peter Alexander Oct. 3 at 5:15 p.m.

With the 2022–23 concert season getting underway, Boulder’s many classical music organizations are getting their season schedules up on the Web. Here are three of the planned seasons for the coming year, from the Boulder Chamber Orchestra, starting Oct. 29; Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, starting Nov. 19; and Boulder Opera., starting Dec. 9.

While the seasons include some pretty standard repertoire, including Beethoven and Mendelssohn symphonies and two different renderings of Mozart’s early Symphony in A major, K201, it will also offer pieces that are not standard. These include Beethoven’s Mass in C by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra and Boulder Chamber Chorale, and music by Florence Price and Caroline Shaw by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra.

Here are the respective seasons:

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The Boulder Chamber Orchestra opens its season Oct. 29 without conductor Bahman Saless. Guest conductor Giancarlo De Lorenzo and violinist Loreto Gismondi, both from Italy, will perform a mostly Mozart concert featuring that composer’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K218, and Symphony No. 29 in A major, K201. Opening the concert will be Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from the oratorio Solomon. 

This concert is part of an exchange between De Lorenzo and Saless, who previously conducted the Italian orchestra with which De Lorenzo is affiliated.

Other orchestral concerts during the year will be “A Gift of Music” on Saturday, December 17, with soprano Szilvia Shrantz, BCO bassist Kevin Sylves and holiday selections; and a performance of music by Beethoven, Brahms and Mendlessohn with violinist Edward Dusinberre on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023. The season concludes with a performance of Beethoven’s Mass in C with the Boulder Chamber Chorale on Saturday, April 1. Saless will lead these performances.

Concerts by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra will take pace in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave. Here is the full season schedule:

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29
Boulder Chamber Orchestra with guest conductor Giancarlo De Lorenzo and Loreto Gismondi, violin

  • Handel: “Arrival of Queen of Sheba” from Solomon
  • Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K218
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A major, K201

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor, with Szilvia Shrantz, soprano, and Kevin Sylves, double bass

  • Handel: Selected arias
  • Henry Eccles: Sonata in G minor for double bass and strings
  • J.S. Bach: Concerto in D minor for two violins and orchestra 

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb.11
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor, with Edward Dusinberre, violin

  • Beethoven: Overture to Egmont
  • Brahms: Violin Concerto
  • Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 in A major (“Italian”)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor, with the Boulder Chamber Choir

Beethoven: Mass in C

TICKETS  

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The Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra will celebrate its “Sweet 16th” concert season with three programs, presented Nov. 19, Jan. 28, and April 29.

The programs feature several works by women composers, including a woman of color and two living composers, in addition to classic works by Mozart and Beethoven, and a major work of the early 20th century by Arnold Schoenberg. All three performances will be at 7:30 p.m. in Pro Musica’s musical home, Mountain View United Methodist Church at 355 Ponca Place Boulder.

Performances by Pro Musica Colorado will be under the direction of their music director, Cynthia Katsarelis. 

The opening concert will feature pianist Jennifer Hayghe, the chair of the Roser Piano and Keyboard Program at CU-Boulder, playing the Piano Concerto in One Movement by Florence Price. The first female African American composer to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra, Price was well known in the 1930s and 1940s/ After fading from prominence, her name has recently been returning to concert programs.

Other soloists during the season will be cellist Meta Weiss, chamber music coordinator at CU-Boulder, and Takács Quartet members Harumi Rhodes, violin, and Richard O’Neiill, viola. Each concert will be preceded by a pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. Here is the full season’s schedule:

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
“Apotheosis of the Dance”
Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Jennifer Hayghe, piano

  • Ben Morris: The Hill of Three Wishes
  • Florence Price: Piano Concerto in One Movement
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 92

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023
“Through the Looking Glass”
Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Meta Weiss, cello

  • Caroline Shaw: Entr’acte
  • Haydn: Cello Concerto in C major
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A major, K201

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 29
“Transfigured Night”
Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Harumi Rhodes, violin, and Richard O’Neill, viola

  • Jessie Lausé: World premiere
  • Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola in E-flat major, K364
  • Arnold Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht

TICKETS  

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Boulder Opera has announced their 11th season, featuring a family-themed production for the holiday season and a French Grand Opera early in 2023.

The first production of the season will be Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, which is a perennial holiday event for families with children in Germany and Austria. The Boulder opera production, scheduled for Dec. 9 through 18 at the Dairy Arts Center, will be presented in an abridged English version with narrator. 

Designed as an ideal introduction to opera, the performances will last only one hour, and include a Q&A session after each performance. The performance is suitable for children age three and up.

After the new year, Boulder Opera will present two performances of Manon by Jules Massenet, one of the classics of the French Grand Opera tradition. Performances will be Feb. 18 and 19 in the Dairy Arts Center. Here is the full schedule:

Engelbert Humperdinck: Hansel and Gretel
Boulder Opera, stage directed by Michael Travis Risner
Aric Vihmeisterr, piano, and Mathieu D’Ordine, cello

7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9
2 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11 and Saturday, Dec. 17
2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Grace Gamm Theater, Dairy Arts Center

TICKETS  

Jules Massenet: Manon
Boulder Opera, Steven Aguiló-Arbues, conductor, and Gene Roberts, stage director

7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18
3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19
Gordon Gamm Theater, Dairy Arts Center

TICKETS   

David Korevaar featured in Mini-Chamber Series

Three performances planned with members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra 

By Peter Alexander Sept. 22 at 2:25 p.m.

David Korevaar. Photo by Matthew Dine.

Pianist David Korevaar, distinguished professor of piano at the CU College of Music, will team up with members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) for a series of three concerts of chamber music with piano.

The first of the three concerts, featuring piano quintets with strings, will be Saturday, Sept. 24. Other concerts in the series will feature music for piano and winds, and will be Jan. 14 and April 8. All three concerts will be at 7:30 p.m. in the Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave. in Boulder. (See full program llistings and ticket information below.)

Each of the concerts pairs a work that is fairly well known with one that notably more obscure. For Saturday’s concert, that pairing brings Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat major with Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A minor. For Jan. 14 the program features Poulenc’s popular Sextet for pianos and winds with a Sextet for piano and wind quintet by Austrian composer Ludwig Thuille. And the concert April 8 combines Mozart’s Quintet in E-flat for piano and winds with Rimsky Korsakov’s rarely heard Quintet for piano and winds.

For the first concert (Sept. 24), Korevaar with appear with leaders of the BCO’s string sections—violinist Annamária Karacson, violist Aniel Cabán and cellist Joseph Howe—along with Karoly Schranz, the former second violinist of the Takács Quartet. Although the Elgar Quintet was recorded recently by the Takács Quartet and pianist Garrick Ohlsson, Korevaar has never played it before.

“It’s a piece that isn’t well known at all,” he says. “The fact that Takács has recorded it recently has given a little more visibility in our community. It was written at the same time as the Cello Concerto and the Violin Sonata, by the post-World War I, very mature Elgar. And it’s a beautiful piece.”

In contrast, Korevaar knows the Schumann Quintet very well, having learned it as a teenager and played it just recently with the Takács Quartet. “It’s the quintet that I first learned. I actually learned the first and last movement of the Schumann when I was 15 years old, in a summer camp.

“I don’t want to think what that sounded like—I think I play it a lot better now—but it’s been part of my life for a long, long time.”

Apparently the quintet caused a rift between the composer’s widow, Clara, and Franz Liszt, who thought it was rather pedantic. Liszt’s opinion aside, it has remained a popular piece in the chamber repertoire for pianists, and Korevaar says “it’s always a pleasure to play.

“For me, the piece feels like a (Baroque-era) concerto grosso, in the way (Schumann) treats the instruments. There’s opposition between the full forces and those areas where there might be two or three players. He works with the ensemble as if it were an orchestra, and then when he breaks out for solos it feels very much like the lightening of texture you get in a concerto grosso.”

Ludwig Thuille

Ludwig Thuille, who is featured on the January 14 concert, “is even more obscure than (his teacher) Rheinberger, which is saying something,” Korevaar says. Apart from the Sextet, his music is very rarely performed.

“The piece is wonderful, but it sounds very much of its time and place. (It represents) a nice late-Romantic idiom, with some occasional adventurous harmonies, (but) it doesn’t push boundaries in any way.

Poulenc’s Sextet is very popular with players and audiences alike. “It’s a classic,” Korevaar says. “If you think of one piece for piano and wind quintet, this is the piece you’ll think of. it’s very popular for good reason, filled with good infectious Poulenc-ey tunes, and the writing is brilliant for all the instruments. It’s just a marvelous, successful piece.”

The Rimsky-Korsakov Quintet for piano and winds that opens the April 8 concert is another piece that is rarely played. Korevaar has played it, but many years ago. “I don’t know what to say about the Rimsky-Korsakov, because I haven’t looked at it in so many years,” he says. “It’s Russian with good tunes, but in a rather old-fashioned style.”

Ending the concert series will be Mozart’s much-loved Quintet in E-flat for piano and winds, K452. Possibly the first piece for this combination of instruments—piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon—it is certainly the first that is familiar, and it inspired Beethoven to write a quintet for the same instruments and in the same key.

Mozart’s Quintet, Korevaar says, “reflects a chamber music aesthetic, because Mozart in Vienna had the professional (wind) players to work with. He writes this at the same time that he’s expanding his orchestration, particular in the piano concertos, to include much more important wind parts.

“There is a famous letter to his father in which he says he’s written this piece and it’s the best thing he’s ever composed. It’s one of his great works.”

Tickets for the BCO Mini-Chamber Concerts with David Korevaar can be purchased as season tickets, together with four concerts by the full orchestra under the direction of Bahman Saless Oct. 29, Dec, 17, Feb. 1 and April 1; or they can be purchased individually for each concert. More information and tickets are available on the BCO Web page.

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Boulder Chamber Orchestra Mini-Chamber Series
In collaboration with pianist David Korevaar

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24

David Korevaar, piano, with members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

  • Elgar: Piano Quintet in A minor, op. 84
  • Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat major, op. 44

7:30 pm. Saturday, Jan. 14

David Korevaar, piano, with members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

  • Ludwig Thuille: Sextet in B-flat major for piano and wind quintet, op 6 
  • Francis Poulenc: Sextet for piano and wind quintet

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8

David Korevaar, piano, with members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

  • Rimsky-Korsakov: Quintet in B-flat for piano and winds
  • Mozart: Quintet in E-flat major for piano and winds, K452

All concerts at the Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Avenue

Tickets available from the BCO Web page.

GRACE NOTES

Sept. 22 at 10:30 a.m.

CU Music grad featured in Opera News

Patrick Bessenbacher (r) as Tony with Christine Honein as Maria in CU production of West Side Story. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa)

Tenor Patrick Bessenbacher, a 2020 graduate of the CU-Boulder College of Music who went on to graduate studies at Juilliard, is featured in the “Sound Bites” column in the October 2022 issue of Opera News.

Bessenbacher, who studied voice with assoc. prof. Matthew Chellis at CU, appeared in several productions of the CU Eklund Opera. He was Lurcanio in Handel’s Ariodante in the spring of 2018, Tony in West Side Story in Macky Auditorium in the fall of 2018,  George Bailey in Jake Heggie’s It’s a Wonderful Life in Macky in 2019, and Benedict in a COVID-influenced online production of Berlioz’s Beatrice and Benedict in 2020. 

Opera News reports that Bessenbacher performed this past summer with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and will join Florentine Opera in Milwaukee, Wisc., as a Baumgartner Studio Artist for the current season.

The October 2022 issue of Opera News has only just arrived in mailboxes this week, and is available online to subscribers only.

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Cliburn Competition gold medalist will play solo recital Monday at Macky

Yunchan Lim

Pianist Yunchan Lim, who at 18 became the youngest gold medalist in the history of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June of this year, will play a solo recital featuring the music of Brahms, Mendelssohn and Liszt at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, in Macky Auditorium.

Lim’s recital is part of the CU Presents Artist Series at Macky. 

In addition to the Gold Medal, Lim won the Audience Award and the Best Performance of a New Work at the 2022 Cliburn Competition. A native of Korea, he was accepted at age 13 into the Korea National Instituted for the Gifted in Arts, where he began studies with Minsoo Sohn. He is currently in his second year at the Korea National University of Arts, where he continues to study with Sohn.

Lim’s complete program will be:

  • Brahms: Four Ballades, op. 10
  • Mendelssohn: Fantasy in F-sharp Minor, op. 28 (“Scottish Sonata”)
  • Liszt: Deux légendes
    —Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata

TICKETS

Doing an intricate dance, Seicento switches directors, then back again

The 2022–23 season features “Christmas in the Late Renaissance” and J.S. Bach

By Peter Alexander Sept. 20 at 11:32 a.m.

Changes in leadership for performing organizations happen all the time, but Seicento—Boulder’s semi-professional chamber choir and Baroque performance group—has pulled a double switch that is at least unusual.

Founding, and current, director Evanne Browne leads a concert by Seicento. Photo by John Lamb.

They just recently announced a change in the artistic director position, but to fully understand, you have to go back to the founding of the group in 2011.

Seicento was founded by Evanne Browne, an experienced early-music singer who served as artistic director until 2018, when she moved to Arlington, Virginia—“for love,” she says, moving to “explore a relationship that ended up wonderfully.” Amanda Balestrieri, a long-time friend who had performed alongside Browne in early music groups in the D.C. area and later moved to Boulder, took over and directed the group through COVID.

Now Browne and her husband, John Butterfield, have returned to Boulder, and by a total coincidence it’s Balestrieri who is moving to Virginia at the same time. It’s love again, but in this case a daughter and a grandchild.

Newly returned to Colorado, Browne told Seicento’s board, “I’m available!” And so she is returning to the organization she founded.

Musical pals and alternating Seicento directors Evanne Browne (l) and Amanda Balestrieri (r)

Have you got that? Today the artistic director is whichever of the two is not living in Virginia. Mostly.

That has worked out quite well, since Browne and Balestrieri have worked together enough that they know each other and trust each other explicitly. “That’s the beautiful thing about the two of us having both led Seicento,” Balestrieri says. “Even though Evanne or I leave Seicento, it’s going to be led the way that we both think it should be.”

The two musical partners arrived at this mutual respect from different backgrounds: Balestrieri from England, where she studied German and French at Oxford, and also studied voice in London and in Milan, Italy; and Browne from a musical education in the U.S., including voice studies at Rice University and post-graduate work in choral conducting.

“We come from different emphases and knowledge bases,” is the way Balestrieri puts it. But “the groundwork is always the note.”

In early music performance, not everyone always agrees even about the note, because the mists of time have left a lot to the interpretation of the performer. That’s where the shared background puts Browne and Balestrieri in agreement about the note, and much more. Their common professional experiences have led them to a mutual understanding of early music styles, and a shared interest in exploring the repertoire.

Balestrieri and Browne ended up in the Washington, D.C., area largely by chance, performing with early music ensembles including the Folger Consort and the Smithsonian Chamber Players. As they sang together in the same groups, they soon found great compatibility as singers. In fact, Browne says, “There were times where we could adjust our voices to be so similar that even I would sometimes go, who’s on which line?”

For a while their careers went in different directions. Balestrieri’s singing career took off, while Browne worked at the Smithsonian in Washington, picking up business skills that she has used with Seicento. Then it was again mostly by chance that they both ended up in Colorado.

Former director Amanda Balestrieri with Seicento

“That’s the beautiful thing, because we were not singing and performing together for quite a while,” Balestrieri says. “I wasn’t even assuming we’d see each other again musically, but it was lovely to reconnect, because we did have that background—even though it was not a continuous one.”

The best part of the saga is Balestrieri’s move to Virginia. She was well settled in Boulder, and had an ongoing relationship with Charley Samson of Colorado Public Radio. They both kept their homes, hers in Boulder and his in Denver, but were often together.

“I have two daughters, one was living in Virginia and one in San Francisco,” Balestrieri says. “The one in San Francisco said ‘Mom, are you going to move here?’ What was I supposed to do, choose? And so she moved to Virginia to call my bluff! She had a baby last December and bought a house. I was visiting her and the house next door came up for sale.”

Thinking that she would like to have a place to stay in both Colorado and Virginia, Balestrieri bought the house next door to her daughter. “I was struggling with leaving (the house in Boulder),” she says. “So I called (Samson) from Virginia and said, ‘Guess what I did! But I have this great idea.’

“So what we’ve done is, Charley sold his house, I bought the house next door to my daughter and I’m selling my house to Charley!”

Just like that, Balestrieri will have a base of operations in both places. She hopes to return to singing in D.C., where she still has many friends and professional contacts, and she has plans to perform in the Boulder area as well, both as a visitor with Seicento in the coming season and with other people she knows in this area.

In the meantime, Browne is going full steam ahead for the coming season of Seicento. The repertoire for two concerts—one in December and the other in May—has been set. The holiday concert, scheduled for December 2–4 with a venue tbd, is titled “Seicento’s Roots: Christmas in the late Renaissance.” The program will illustrate the transition from the choral style of the late Renaissance to the more ornate style of the Baroque period. The program will feature carols that are still familiar today, including “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming” by Michael Praetorius.

The spring concert, scheduled for May 5–7, will be a 300th anniversary performance of J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion, with Balestrieri as featured soloist. As far as Browne knows, this will be the first performance in Colorado of this passion setting with original instruments. This is by far the greater challenge, since it requires hiring specialist performers on the instruments of Bach’s time, but Browne is unafraid.

“Seicento needs to do this because when we do something that everybody wants to come see, and sing, then you get the response that you want,” she says. “I could have picked something very obscure that didn’t have Baroque oboes or Baroque flute players, but the joy of Seicento and the passion for the music is to find these pieces.”

In the meantime, Balestrieri and Browne both believe that Seicento has put the travails of COVID behind them and can return to the level they had achieved before. “I’m excited to see Seicento get the energy back after COVID,” Balestrieri says.

The group’s most recent concert this past April, which she directed, “had a very good feel,” she says. “The cohesion and spirit was back. The audience reviews were great. I’m just excited to see it and to be there when I’m in town.”

NOTE: The announcement of concert venues and tickets for Seicento’s 2022-23 concerts will be available on the group’s Web page.