Colorado Music Festival is back

Live performances, premieres, chamber music mark the 2021 summer season

By Peter Alexander June 24 at 2 p.m.

As the COVID-19 pandemic ebbs, life and music are slowly returning to “normal.”

Artistic director Peter Oundjian and the CMF Festival Orchestra. Photo by Michael Ensminger

For the Colorado Music Festival, that means live concerts in Chautauqua Auditorium. The orchestra is reduced, but the 2021 festival has a full schgedule of performances, July 1–Aug. 7. And as health regulations and recommendations are relaxed, the box office has made more seats available. (The full schedule and latest box office information are available from CMF at coloradomusicfestival.org .)

Two things that distinguish the 2021 festival reflect the personal interests of CMF artistic director Peter Oundjian: an emphasis on new music, including four world premieres; and a new series of chamber music concerts named for Robert Mann, the legendary first violinist of the Juilliard Quartet. Other highlights will be a residency by violinist Augustin Hadelich, who made a notable appearance at CMF in 2018, and a series of Beethoven performances rescheduled from the cancelled 2020 season, celebrating the composer’s 250th birthday.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

Composer Jake Heggie will bring ‘Intelligence’ to Grusin Hall

CU New Opera Workshop will preview new opera written for Houston Grand Opera

By Peter Alexander June 15 at 11:30 p.m.

Six years ago composer Jake Heggie was in the Smithsonian Institution when a docent told him what his next opera should be.

The composer of the successful operas Dead Man Walking, Moby Dick and It’s a Wonderful Life, Heggie usually has no trouble finding his own subjects. “My first response was ‘Yay! I’ve never heard that before!’” he says. But six years later, Intelligence, his opera based on that very idea, is being workshopped at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in preparation for its premiere in a future season of the Houston Grand Opera. 

Composer Jake Heggie (L) and librettist Gene Scheer (R)
Photo by David Starry

As Heggie tells the story, “We were [at the Smithsonian] doing some events, and this docent pulls me aside. He said ‘Have you ever heard of Elizabeth Van Lew and Mary Bowser?’ I said no, and he goes ‘You need to look them up, and that should be your next opera.’ And he walked away.”

Heggie and Scheer started doing research into the two women, and the more they learned the more interested they became. Heggie recalls, “I started Googling and I was like ‘Gee!’ And I remember Gene calling me and saying, ‘Jake, it’s an incredible story!’”

The two women were spies for the Union during the Civil War. Van Lew was a white abolitionist living in Richmond, Virginia, the capitol of the Confederacy. Bowser—who went by several names including Mary Jane Richards—was a former slave of the Van Lew family who had been freed, educated in the North, and then travelled to Liberia in Africa as a missionary. She returned to Virginia, even though her freedom there was illegal, and joined a spy ring operated by Van Lew.

As women, they were able to operate without raising suspicion—no one expected women to be dangerous. That was doubly true for Richards/Bowser, who was virtually invisible in the Southern society of the time so long as she acted like an uneducated slave. On one occasion she went into the Confederate White House on the pretext of collecting laundry and managed to read the papers in Jefferson Davis’s study. What she read there was passed on to Union generals.

“Her story, aside from the aspect of being a spy, is just amazing,” Scheer says. “We are weaving various aspects of her life and Van Lew’s life, focused on the Civil War. There are pivotal points that are known historical facts that we could thread together. And these facts became the springboard for us to create the story.”

Early on Heggie realized that one thing was missing for the opera. “We needed to have not only a woman’s perspective, but we needed and African-American woman’s perspective, because we are two white guys,” he explains. 

“I thought, what if this had an element of movement and dance? I started thinking about the dance world and I called friends and I said, ‘Do you know of a choreographer/director or a company that would be right for an opera that is a hybrid of these things?’”

L-R: Heggie, Scheer, and Jawole Will Jo Zollar at a rehearsal on the CU campus. Photo by David Starry.

They all gave Heggie the same name: Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founding artistic director of the dance troupe Urban Bush Women. He wrote her an email to ask if she would be interested. She was in the middle of other projects so could not respond immediately, but once she talked to Heggie she was drawn in.

“I became so intrigued by not only the story, but their point of view and what they wanted to do,” Zollar says. “It felt  right for me, and it also felt like the right time for me to engage in a project like that.”

Heggie is thrilled at the contributions Zollar makes to the project. When they began the workshop, he says, “it became even clearer, first of all, this is exactly right, and everyone was right to tell us exactly the right person. We hit it off and liked each other right away. She is helping conceive the whole thing.”

“We all have different perspectives from our lived experiences, individually, and then our history collectively,” Zollar says. “That’s what I bring with me. What I was really intrigued by was Mary Jane as this woman who had been freed, which means that there is a certain way of carriage in her body, and now is in a house where she is enslaved, and so she has to carry that. I’m intrigued by her ability to code switch.”

The workshop has involved the dancers from Urban Bush Women, who have gotten together for the first time since the pandemic. This return to working in person has made CU NOW a joyful as well as intense time for the participants.

Scenes from Intelligence will be performed in run-throughs Friday, June 18, and Sunday, June 20. Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer will be present and will participate in talkback sessions after the performances. In addition to the CU students who are singing most of the parts, three guest artists fill roles that did not fit any of the current students: Jasmine Habersham and Raehann Bryce-Davis are singers affiliated with Houston Grand Opera, and Aaron Jenkins is a CU alumnus.

CU NOW was started in 2010 by Eklund Opera director Leigh Holman as an educational experience for the students. “It has been said that this is the golden age of American opera,” she says. “I feel if we don’t educate our students about creating new opera, it’s akin to malpractice.

“CU NOW was started, and I keep it going, for the education of our students.”

Often, as the composer hears their piece being performed, they decide to change parts of the score, or the singers may suggest ideas that improve a given vocal line or part. The composer might make the change on the spot, and ask the student to learn the new music for the next day’s rehearsal.

“Our students never had that experience before CU NOW,” Holman says. “Never before had they been given a brand new piece of music and told, ‘learn this by tomorrow.’ They can’t listen to a recording of how to do it, so it has really built their skills.”

Today most major opera companies are doing new works. CU NOW has given students the experience to successfully learn new works, and several graduates of the program have sung premieres or workshops at Minnesota Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and other companies. 

“That’s why we started this,” Holman says.

Singers rehearsing Heggie and Scheer’s Intelligence for CU NOW. Photo by David Starry.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the readings of excepts from Intelligence are open to the general public. They are not. Due to campus-wide COVID restrictions, attendance is by invitation only.

Colorado Music Festival expands ticket availability

Danish Quartet replaced with Brooklyn Rider

By Peter Alexander June 11 at 4 p.m.

The Colorado Music Festival has announced that seats in the first five rows of Chautauqua Auditorium are now available for all festival concerts.

Those seats had previously been withheld from sale in order to maintain a safe distance between musicians and audience members. However, it is has now been determined that those seats may be occupied safely. Those rows are now being sold at full capacity.

Brooklyn Rider. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano

Furthermore, the planned “bubble seating” to maintain distance between concert patrons in the auditorium has been removed. This means that you may purchase less than a full bubble, and you may end up sitting next to another patron who is not part of your party. You may read the full health and safety plan for the summer at Chautauqua here.

Those are not the only changes that have been announced for the CMF 2021 season. The Danish String Quartet, previously scheduled for the Robert Mann Chamber Music Series for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3, has now been replaced by Brooklyn Rider. Due to COVID, the Danish String Quartet was unable to travel to the United States. 

Brooklyn Rider will play three works: Schisma (2019 by Caroline Shaw, Tenebrae (2002) by Osvaldo Golijov, and Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14, (“Death and the Maiden”). Known for collaborations with artists from differing musical traditions , Brooklyn Rider appeared at CMF during last year’s virtual festival.

Tickets to the Danish String Quartet performance will be valid for the Brooklyn Rider performance on the same date. If you prefer to exchange your tickets or request a refund, you may contact the Chautauqua box office by email (boxoffive@chautauqua.com) or at their walk-up tickets kiosk at Chautauqua by June 23.

Ajax Ensemble will perform on the Museum of Boulder rooftop

Program includes works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and more

By Peter Alexander May 4 at 2:40 p.m.

The Ajax Ensemble, one of Boulder’s many small classical ensembles that should not be overlooked, is playing a program at the Museum of Boulder rooftop Saturday (June 5).

Boulder Museum rooftop

With a capacity of 60, the rooftop performance is already sold out, but lucky for you, it will be repeated next Wednesday, June 9. The concert will take place on the museum’s rooftop from 5 to 6:30 p.m. It will be preceded by a “Walk Around the Museum” for ticketholders from 4 to 5 p.m., and followed by a Q&A period with the artists from 6:30 to 7 p.m.

There will be another opportunity to hear this same program, when—weather permitting—the Ajax Ensemble performs at the Linden HOA Park, 3750 Lakebriar Drive in North Boulder from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday, June 6.

Ajax will perform as a string trio comprised of violinist Tom Yaron, violist Tanner Menees, and cellist Joseph Howe. Yaron and Howe are graduates of the CU Boulder College of Music, and all three players are active in the Boulder musical scene, and with experience performing world wide.

Ajax Ensemble in an earlier outdoor concert

The program for June 5, 6 and 9 will feature the following works:

  • J.S. Bach: Selections from the “Goldberg” Variations
  • Schubert: String Trio No. 1 in B-flat, D471
  • Ernst von Dohnányi: String Serenade, movements I, II and  IV
  • Mozart: Divertimento in E-flat Major, K563, movements I and IV
  • Gideon Klein: Trio for violin, viola, and cello
  • Beethoven: String Trio in E-flat Major, op. 3

The rooftop performances are presented by the Boulder Museum in partnership with Concertize, a Boulder-based company that provides concert-planning services and access to performers in the Boulder area. They serve as concert managers for Ajax, and state that their goal is “making music happen in more places, from vaccine clinics to concert halls.”

Tickets for all Concertize events are available on their Web page. Tickets for the Museum of Boulder events can also be purchased through their Web page.

Correction: The correct identification for the performing group is Ajax Ensemble, not Ajax Trio, and the violist will be Tanner Menees, not Joshua Ulrich.

Boulder Phil appoints new executive director

Collaborative pianist Sara Parkinson uses her musical skills in administration, too

By Peter Alexander June 3 at 2:30 p.m.

The new executive director of the Boulder Philharmonic credits her musical training for her success in administration.

Sara Parkinson

Sara Parkinson was recently appointed the Phil’s executive director, following nearly a year as interim director. Before that, she was director of education and community engagement for the orchestra. 

But she was trained in collaborative piano—including what you might call “accompanying”—a field in which she holds a doctorate from CU Boulder.

The job of the collaborative pianist is to solve problems. Whether accompanying a single soloist or playing in a chamber group, they must listen to and respond to the other players. If their collaborators skip a beat or lose their place, they must seamlessly make things right—which is not all that different from the job of directing an artistic organization.

“Absolutely, I have transferred all of my skills that I use as a pianist into the boardroom,” Parkinson says. “Stepping into this role during the pandemic year, seeing an organization through a crisis—I was cut out for situations like that. (As a collaborative pianist) you make things work. And beyond that, you see how to make it better.”

As for the responsibility she has been given to lead the organization, “It’s beyond an honor to see Boulder Phil through a crisis, and now to head into the future that is so bright,” she says.

“This is an exciting time, with (music director) Michael Butterman’s 15th season upon us, and my first season in this role, but we are a team and we are already talking about three years into the future. We have exciting plans in the works.”

One particular challenge for Parkinson was that she steeped into the interim director role during the pandemic. There was literally no guidance for running an orchestra at a time when they couldn’t play for an audience.

“There was no playbook,” she says. “I blazed my own path by bringing people together, which I have done throughout my career. That allowed me to lead in a way that I never had before, and to see the possibilities in the crisis. We continued to connect with our patrons, to build a full virtual season, not only with our main series concerts but with our education program. 

“Our discovery program, a highlight of the year for local schools—we pivoted online and we have reached over 16,000 students throughout the world. That includes 23 states and four different countries. Who knew that we could expand our reach that far?”

Parkinson has made it a priority to support Butterman and facilitate his goals. “My collaborative approach to everything really helps that relationship,” she says. “And I want to focus on our musicians. So many of the musicians in the orchestra are colleagues of mine. I’ve made music with so many of them, and they are the reason why I go to work every day.”

If moving into administration makes use of her skills as collaborative pianist, Parkinson is not giving up her life as performer. “Keeping that passion [for performance] alive—that’s not something I’ll leave behind,” she says.

Parkinson has served on the staff and faculties of University of Colorado at Boulder, Cornell College in Iowa and Metropolitan State University of Denver. She performs with the Colorado Ballet Orchestra and members of the Colorado Symphony, and she is a founding member of the tango ensemble Grande Orquesta Navarre. She made her operatic conducting debut in 2018 leading Mozart’s Così fan tutte for Boulder Opera, and she served as music director at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Boulder 2015–2020. She holds degrees in piano performance from the University of Iowa and the New England Conservatory of Music, in addition to her doctorate in collaborative piano from CU. 

Q and A about the proposed Longmont Performing Arts Center

A conversation with Bob Balsman of the Longmont Performing Arts Initiative and Longmont City Councilman Tim Waters

By Peter Alexander May 25 at 4:35 p.m.

Members and advocates of the Longmont arts community have proposed a new Performing Arts Center for the city, to be built in conjunction with a Convention and Events Center. With the support of Visit Longmont and the City of Longmont, private funds were raised for a feasibility study conducted by Johnson Consulting, a real estate and consulting firm with experience in the planning of performance venues. Their feasibility study was recently submitted to and accepted by the Longmont City Council. If carried through, this project would have enormous impact on performing arts organizations and audiences in Longmont and throughout Boulder County. 

Bob Balsman

To clarify some of the questions surrounding the project, I sat down—virtually—with Bob Balsman, president of the Longmont Performing Arts Initiative (LPAI, pronounced l’PIE) and Longmont City Councilman Tim Waters, who is one of several supporters of the project in city government. Here is a lightly edited version of our conversation.

Bob Balsman, you are president of LPAI, which played a role in the proposed project from the very beginning. Exactly what is LPAI?

BB: The Longmont Performing Arts Initiative is an association made up of several of Longmont’s major non-profit performing arts groups: The Centennial State Ballet, the Longmont Chorale, the Longmont Concert Band, the Longmont Symphony Orchestra, the Longmont Youth Symphony, and the Long’s Peak Chorus. Together we have hundreds of people that participate directly in the performing arts, and we all perform before thousands of people in the greater Longmont area.

Tim Waters

Tim Waters, I assume most people reading this will know what the City Council is. But I believe politics is relatively new for you.

TW: My professional life put me at the nexus of research and leadership and policy and politics, without ever running for elective office. I turned the page from retirement into a new chapter and started attending City Council meetings so [city councilor Marcia Martin] would have somebody to process the issues with. The more I attended, the more interested I got in the issues. When Brian Bagley was elected mayor, the seat for Ward 1 opened up, and since I had been attending meetings, I thought, you know, this is kind of interesting.

Please describe the project that we’re talking about. 

BB: We’re working towards the construction of a performing arts facility in Longmont. Our overall hope is to see Longmont have a new venue in the range of somewhere between 1000 and 1500 seats, and later that we would also have a smaller venue of about 500 seats. 

And the plan is to combine the performing arts facility with a convention and events center?

BB: Event space is desperately needed in Longmont ever since the Plaza closed a couple of years back and now has been sold. There is no suitable space for gatherings of 200 or more people—even a large-scale wedding reception, not to mention conventions and trade shows. Visit Longmont has estimated that in the past couple of years alone they’ve lost out on 2.6 million dollars worth of business. So these are significant needs in the community.

Where do we stand now on the project?

BB: We first started work on this publicly back in 2018, I believe it was, when we spoke before City Council about the needs for such a center. Since then, members of LPAI have formed into a nonprofit, raised more than half the cost of a feasibility study. That study [performed by Johnson Consulting] has now been completed with a presentation to the City Council, so we’re looking forward to the next steps as soon as those numbers are finalized and validated by city staff.

With the two facilities together, what is the cost of the proposed facility?

BB: According to the feasibility study, that is estimated to be up to $158 million. That’s a pretty big price tag, but we were encouraged when the consultants said those were high estimates, and that they had seen quality venues constructed for 25% less.

Where will that money come from?

TW: We’ve seen the estimates of $105 to $158 million, and I think the City ought to have an investment in that. I think the private sector ought to have an investment in that. LPAI will have to organize a capital campaign to raise private sector money. But I don’t think a project like this can or should be accomplished without an investment by the city. How big a bite that will be is going to depend on a whole lot of variables. With today’s interest rates, we could probably generate $65 million or so of city revenue without having to raise taxes. It’s not simple, but there’s a way to get there. 

Also, the projected site is in an opportunity zone. There may be an investor out there who would like to move some money to avoid capital gains taxes somewhere else into a project like this. The City could aggregate the land and then lease it to a developer. That could substantially lower the top-line cost, on a 30-year lease in a public-private partnership. So there are a variety of funding mechanisms to get it done.

Where is the projected site for the facility?

BB: In the feasibility study, there were five different locations that were identified, and a couple were ruled out for various reasons, including that they’re not even in the City proper right now. The prime location that was identified was in southern downtown near the First and Main intersection, what’s called the “Building Steam” area. That area was identified because of certain advantages, which include the overlap of a few different incentive zones, to help make the financing easier. And there’s also mention of transportation that’s going to be there, nearby parking that will help the facility.

What does it mean that the consultant’s reports was ‘accepted’ by the City Council?

TW: It’s a great question. We accepted the report, and tasked the staff with investigating it.

BB: That was a unanimous acceptance, and then they directed again unanimously for City staff to investigate the numbers, which means double-check everything. Then will be the next steps, how do we get from ‘OK, we know what’s recommended’ to we open the doors some time down the road.

What will those next steps look like?

TW: In terms of steps going forward, if the city is going to invest, then LPAI, in partnership with others, needs to come back with decisions that have to be made. These aren’t problems, they’re just areas where we need to make decisions, like how to we think about governance of the facility, what does the business plan look like, what are the assumptions that have to be made such as if you’re going to have a successful business plan, then you need to have this number of performances and this kind of occupancy—which gets into some of the numbers the consultants had.

On that question, who will be responsible for operating the facility?

BB: You know, one of the better models that we have seen is the formation of a nonprofit governing entity that can make all of these decisions for the facility, while another entity actually operates it.

TW: So LPAI as a nonprofit contracts with a manager—there are people out there in the business of managing these kinds of facilities, booking talent and implementing a business plan. I would assume what you do is contract a pro.

BB: None of us in LPAI operate our own venues. We can see what looks like a good decision or a bad decision, but the hands-on, day-to-day work is not something that we are accustomed to. So you have a governing body making policy decisions, LPAI or some other group, and then you have operational staff.

I know that the facility is intended not only for LPAI members and other local groups, but for touring acts as well.

BB: The intention is not to just provide the six LPAI groups with a home. To make it work economically, and to benefit the community, the intention is to bring in outside groups that right now, everybody goes out of Longmont to see because they just do not come to town. You see an awful lot of touring acts that really have nowhere to go in Longmont. For example, you could think of jazz artists like Michael Bublé or Diana Krall. Why don’t you see these people come to Longmont? Because in Longmont, the only places which are large enough to hold an audience for any performer of this caliber, to make it economical, are churches and schools.

People might ask about the school auditoria. Can they accommodate touring shows?

BB: There are some that were built for performances, but you run into many scheduling conflicts for their intended purposes, which is education. Hosting performances is not their deal, and that’s not why people pay taxes to support the schools. There’s another obstacle in that only three of them, I’m told, have dedicated tech staff. The others are operated largely by volunteers.

When you talk about touring shows, that raises the possibility of bringing in audiences from outside Longmont. 

BB: I see a performing arts hall drawing from all of the surrounding communities.

That should have an economic impact on Longmont as well.

BB: In the feasibility study the consultants identified an annual impact to Longmont of, a positive impact of $8 million injected into the local economy just by having these facilities. If the project is built in phases, that’s $6.5 million per year for Phase I, and then hotel stays go up by about $21,000 some, plus sales and hotel taxes coming back to the city of about $621,000 per year. And then jobs, just Phase I, it’s an estimated 173 new jobs, or $5.6 million per year in increased earnings.

By the time you get to Phase II, you get taxes that come back from sales and hotel taxes of $872,000 per year, and 245 total jobs. That’s some pretty impressive statistics. When you first see that big price tag, you think how are we going to get to there and this is nothing but a expense, but no, it’s not just an expense. The reason that these things get built is that they are a catalyst. Yeah, it costs something to build them, but then you get an annual return back into the economy

Are there other benefits to the community that we should talk about?

TW: We currently have no place in Longmont to bring kids who might aspire for, if not a career at least a lifetime in the arts. There is no venue to take them to say ‘imagine yourself here.’ I can imagine in a performing arts facility like we’re talking about bringing world-class entertainment to town, with an educational outreach task that goes with every one of them. That expands the horizons and the education experience of all the kids in this community, in ways that we simply don’t get a chance to do right now. So, let’s imagine that we could bring Hamilton here. What an educational opportunity for every kid in this town, whether you aspire to be an artist or not, to look at American history thorough the arts. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many ways that the lives of our children can and should be enriched that simply aren’t options for us today in Longmont.

Are there misconceptions about this project that should be corrected?

TW: Right off the top is, ‘If you do this there’s a bunch of other things we can’t do. If you do this, we won’t serve well our most disadvantaged residents.’ That’s a misconception that somehow we either lack the resources or the capacity to do this. The argument, if you do this you can’t do something else, I think is a bogus argument. I think it’s a scarcity mentality and a view of the world as a zero-sum experience,. I just don’t see it that way.

I think another misconception is that that ultimately it will serve an elite constituency in Longmont. On the contrary, we have a bunch of people in this town, children in particular. This serves the entire community.

BB: I’d say it’s definitely not elitist. Longmont’s performing arts scene does include more than the LPAI organizations. We have other groups, such as Bario E’ in town that’s from Puerto Rico, for example. And other groups that represent other ethnic groups. And aside from that, none of these people are paid to do what they do. This is all a grass-root effort. What you’re looking at when you see LPAI and the other groups around town is a large-scale volunteer effort. People want to be involved in these groups. It’s certainly not just for the advantaged.

Thank you both for spending some time with me and answering my questions.

You may access the feasibility study that was presented to the Longmont City Council and other documents here.

A statement on the Longmont Center by City Council Member Marcia Martin is here.

Boulder Philharmonic announces 2021–22 season

Live concerts again at last, and a return to CU Macky Auditorium in January

By Peter Alexander 8 a.m. May 22

The Boulder Philharmonic is taking cautious steps back to the future.

In other words, they will return to full orchestral concerts in Macky Auditorium, suspended for the COVID-19 pandemic, but not all at once. In announcing their 2021–22 season, they have revealed a schedule that will feature four small orchestra concerts in a smaller space in the fall, followed by a return to Macky in January, 2022.

Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman in Macky Auditorium

Those will not necessarily be full capacity concerts. According to a statement from the orchestra, they have “developed health and safety protocols to ensure a safe environment for performers, audience members, staff, and volunteers. Measures will include adjusting venue capacity and seating plans, and wearing masks. Plans will adjust in response to public health measures as they evolve in the coming months.”

The fall portion of the season will take place in Mountain View United Methodist Church in Boulder (355 Ponca Place). There will be two programs, each presented twice without intermission (see full schedule below) and led by the orchestra’s music director, Michael Butterman. The first will be a program of music for chamber orchestra, including Haydn’s very first symphony, composed in 1759, and the second a program of 20th-century music from Europe influenced by jazz, featuring works by the Russian Shostakovich, the French composer Darius Milhaud and the German Kurt Weill.

December will see a return of the evergreen Nutcracker ballet, performed by the Boulder Phil with Boulder Ballet in Macky Auditorium. CU music prof. Gary Lewis will conduct. Tickets to Nutcracker will be available in the fall.

The Marcus Roberts Trio will join the Boulder Phil for their first concert back in Macky Auditorium

After the holidays, the Phil will present a subscription series of six concerts, January through May. These concerts will feature guests soloists and collaborations, starting with the “Opening Weekend” concert Jan. 22, a “Gershwin Celebration.” Renowned jazz pianist Marcus Roberts and his Trio will join the Phil for a performance of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F on a program that also features An American in Paris. This program will be repeated at the Lone Tree Arts Center Jan. 23.

Violinist Rachel Barton Pine returns to Boulder Feb. 12 to play the world premiere of the Violin Concerto by Grammy-winning jazz pianist Billy Childs. Pine was in Boulder in 2014, when she played the Berg Violin Concerto with the Philharmonic. Other soloists through the spring will be pianist Terence Williams, who will play Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto March 19; Philharmonic concertmaster Charles Wetherbee, who will play The Butterfly Lovers Concerto on a program that will also feature Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance, April 30; recent Grammy winner violist Richard O’Neill, who will play William Walton’s Viola Concerto May 14; and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, who will appear with the Phil and his trio, May 28.

Subscription packages of the six concerts in 2022 go on sale Monday, May 24. Subscription purchasers can add any of the concerts at Mountain View Methodist Church at a discounted price. Any remaining single tickets will be available in September, along with Nutcracker tickets. Information and, starting on Monday, subscription purchases will be available on the Boulder Phil Web page

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Butterman, music director
2021-22 Season Schedule

Michael Butterman. Photo by Shannon Palmer

“Together Again”
Michael Butterman, conductor

  • Haydn: Symphony No. 1 in D Major
  • —Sinfonia concertante in B-flat Major
  • Frank Martin: Petite symphonie concertante, op. 54

4 & 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3 (no intermission)
Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder

“The Art of Jazz”
Michael Butterman, conductor

  • Shostakovich: Jazz Suite No. 1
  • Darius Milhaud: The Creation of the World, op. 81a
  • Kurt Weill: Little Threepenny Music

4 & 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30 (no intermission)
Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder

The Nutcracker with Boulder Ballet
Gary Lewis, conductor

2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26, Saturday Nov. 27 and Sunday, Nov. 18
7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27
Macky Auditorium

Opening Weekend: “Gershwin Celebration”
Michael Butterman, conductor
Marcus Roberts Trio: Marcus Roberts, piano; Rodney Jordan, bass; Jason Marsalis, drums

  • Gershwin: An American in Paris
  • —Piano Concerto in F

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022 
Macky Auditorium

1:30 p.m. Sunday Jan. 23, 2022
Lone Tree Arts Center

Rachel Barton Pine. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Michael Butterman, conductor, with Rachel Barton Pine, violin

  • Billy Childs: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (world premiere/co-commission)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12
Macky Auditorium

Michael Butterman, conductor, with Terrence Wilson, piano

  • Cindy McTee: Circuits
  • Alan Hovhaness: Symphony No. 2, “Mysterious Mountain”
  • Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19, 2022
Macky Auditorium

The Firebird & Frequent Flyers
Michael Butterman, conductor, with Charles Wetherbee, violin
Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance

  • Mason Bates: Undistant
  • He Zhanhao/Chen Gang: The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto
  • Rimsky Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture
  • Stravinsky: Firebird Suite (1919)
Richard O’Neill

7:30 pm. Saturday, April 30, 2022
Macky Auditorium

Michael Butterman, conductor, with Richard O’Neill, viola

  • Anny Clyne: Sound and Fury
  • William Walton: Viola Concerto
  • Elgar: Enigma Variations

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 14, 2022
Macky Auditorium

Jake Shimabukuro, ukulele, and trio, with the Boulder Phil
Michael Butterman, conductor

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 28, 2022
Macky Auditorium

CU Eklund Opera offers “toe-tapping good music”

Handel’s 1709 opera Agrippina will be streamed starting Friday

By Peter Alexander May 13 at 9:30 p.m.

“It’s toe-tapping good music,” Leigh Holman, director of the CU Eklund Opera Theater, says. “There’s always a beat going!”

George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner

She’s talking about the company’s next production, Handel’s 1709 opera Agrippina, which opens in a streamed production at 7:30 p.m. Friday (May 14). The stream, which is offered on a pay-what-you-can basis, will be available here for three weeks, until 11 p.m. Friday, June 4.

The opera was rehearsed and performed with strict observance of social distance protocols. After a postponement due to the March snowstorm, two casts were filmed over a single weekend in the Music Theater of the Imig Music Building. The singers will be accompanied by a reduced orchestra of five players under the direction of Nick Carthy.

Baroque opera can be a challenge for audiences, because the stories are often based on classical mythology or, in the case of Agrippina, Roman history that may be unfamiliar to modern listeners. The music is presented in a series of arias that expose emotions, alternating with recitatives that advance the action. With all the arias structured the same, the lack of variety can be monotonous.

“That’s where I come in,” Holman says, referring to all the ways she as director can make the show accessible and more fun to watch. In the case of Agrippina, a story about the rise of the infamous Roman emperor Nero, Holman and CU have placed the production the board room of a modern high-tech firm in Silicon Valley.

For longtime PBS fans, the story of Agrippina starts up where the 1976 TV series I, Claudius leaves off. Emperor Claudius’ wife Agrippina wants her son, Nero, to be the next emperor—or in the CU production, the next CEO. When a false report arrives of Claudius’ death, she goes into overdrive trying to position Nero for the top job.

Bust of Nero at the Capitoline Museum, Rome

When Claudius turns up alive, Agrippina tries to manipulate everyone—Nero, who desperately wants to be emperor; Ottone, who is madly in love with Poppea; Claudius, who also lusts for Poppea; Poppea herself; and several minor characters—to clear the way for Nero’s ascent. After many twists and turns, Claudius realizes that Nero wants to be emperor and Ottone wants to marry Poppea, which he facilitates. Everyone is happy—for the moment. (History tells more that is not in the opera.)

In spite of the high stakes game being played by everyone, Holman insists that the opera is funny. “It’s a comedy, and we really had a good time bringing that out,” she says. “There is a pair, Pallante and Narciso, [who] are goofballs.”

At the same time, there are arias that are serious. “The aria by Ottone, when he realizes that nobody wants him and he’s left all alone—he sings this gorgeous aria and it’s one of the most touching things in the world.

“But in the next scene you’ve got goofball antics.”

Leigh Holman

Holman had to get the students to find the right groove for the opera’s comedy. “I kept saying to the students, I know this is Handel, and I know that this music is hard for you to sing,” she says. “But for those moments that are funny, don’t be too reverent!”

Handel, Holman likes to point out, wrote operas for entertainment. “This is for people to enjoy,” she says. “There are some very touching moments, but most of all it’s just entertainment and there’s nothing wrong with that. We need that right now!”

This is the third Baroque opera Holman has directed at CU. There was Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea—which takes up where Agrippina leaves off—in 2015, and Handel’s Ariodante in 2018. “Baroque opera is a challenge, because the actors, the director and the conductor can find so much,” she says. 

“There’s so much room to dig without it being handed to you. It opens up lots of different different ways to play it. I think that’s fun.”

The difficulty of having so many arias strung together, all in the same structure—diagrammed ABA—Holman sees as another challenge to the performers. She asks the singers what changes during the aria. “How does the character change in that aria,” she asks, “during A and then the different music in the B section, and then going back (to A)—why does the character do that? That gets them to think about those things.”

The singers have responded to the challenges of Baroque opera. “These students are very serious,” Holman says. “The only thing they need to do is read about the history of these characters. They’re really good about it—they seem to enjoy it.”

Holman has no doubt that people will enjoy Agrippina. “The music’s beautiful, and this is one of the greatest groups of singers we’ve had at CU,” she says. “People that are attracted to opera because they want to hear good voices, they’re going to get it. If they like good storytelling, they’ll be really happy. If they like good acting, they’re going to see students that are doing far more than I could ever imagine.

“There’s something for everyone in this production.” 

# # # # #

CU Eklund Opera
George Frideric Handel: Agrippina
Performed in Italian with English titles

Leigh Holman, stage director
Nicholas Carthy, music director

Stream available at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 14, though 11 p.m. Friday, June 4.

Full cast and credits, and pay-what-you-can access to the streamed performance, are here.

Musical Adventures 5: Music as a unifying power

Donna Weng Friedman supports the AAPI community with a recording of diverse composers

By Izzy Fincher May 11 at 11 p.m.

Donna Weng Friedman believes music is a unifying power.

As a Chinese-American pianist, she wants to use her platform to promote compassion and tolerance for people of all backgrounds, especially for the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community during COVID-19.

“I believe if I share stories and music of leading Asian-American musicians, people can feel more connected to (our community),” Friedman says. “I hope there can be more understanding and empathy and less blame.”

In honor of AAPI heritage month, Friedman released her EP (extended play recording) Heritage and Harmony: Silver Linings May 1. For the EP, she collaborated with Indian American soprano Indira Mahajan to perform four works by AAPI and BIPOC composers Beata Moon, Florence Price, Chinary Ung and Margaret Bonds. All proceeds will be donated to the Korean American Community Foundation. 

For Friedman, recording this EP has been an emotional and intensely personal process, which helped her cope with the trauma of 2020.

In March of 2020, Friedman experienced an anti-Asian racist incident. While walking in New York’s Central Park at midday, she was verbally assaulted by a large man, who shouted racist insults and tried to rush her. For the next six months, she felt unable to leave her apartment. Later in the year, she and her family all became sick with COVID-19.

Donna Weng Friedman

Meanwhile, anti-Asian violence continued to increase around the U.S. Last year, the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, a non-partisan research and policy center, reported that the number of anti-Asian hate crimes rose by nearly 150%. According to their data, hate crimes in New York City, where Friedman lives, increased by 833% to 28 in 2020 from only three in 2019.

“Seeing (anti-Asian hate) last year was so heartbreaking,” Friedman says. “I felt it was my responsibility to do something.”

In response, she decided to share music from AAPI composers and performers with her community. Last May for AAPI heritage month, she created the video series Heritage & Harmony in partnership with WQXR. The series includes eight traditional and contemporary works by AAPI composers, including Christopher Tin’s Baba Yetu, the first video game score to win a Grammy Award.  

Since then, Friedman has continued to perform works by underrepresented composers, leading to the creation of Heritage and Harmony: Silver Linings. The EP opens with Prelude for solo piano by Moon. A Korean-American composer and pianist, she was one of Friedman’s fellow piano students at Juilliard before she began composing professionally. Written in 1995, Prelude was her first composition. 

“This song touched me on a very deep level,” Freidman says. “It’s so hard to explain. It gives me this sense of calm and contentment.”

The third track is Ung’s Space Between the Fish and the Moon for solo piano, which Friedman previously recorded for the WXQR series. Ung is a Cambodian composer based in California who draws on elements of traditional Cambodian music and Buddhist spirituality in his work. Space Between the Fish and the Moon was inspired by the poem Night Oceans by Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet.

Friedman feels a strong connection to Ung’s works, which remind her of her own Buddhist upbringing.

“This piece is very special to me,” she says. “It reminds me of attending the Buddhist temple on Sundays with my parents. During the meditation, monks would ring these little bells. It would create this reflective atmosphere, which I hear in Ung’s music.”

Friedman with soprano Indira Mahajan

For the other two works, Friedman decided to pivot toward underrepresented composers outside of the AAPI community. Price, the first Black woman recognized as a symphonic composer, has seen a resurgence in popularity since her unpublished scores were discovered in 2018. Bonds, a former student of Price, was known for her arrangements of Black spirituals and collaborations with the poet Langston Hughes.

In collaboration with Mahajan. Friedman recorded Price’s art song Night, set to text by Black poet Louise C. Wallace, and Bond’s arrangement of He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.

Hes Got the Whole World in His Hands is very uplifting,” Friedman says. “It makes me feel hopeful and optimistic, even after my family became sick with COVID. I am very grateful that my family and I are healthy now, and I’m grateful to have this music.”

Though sharing her story has been difficult, Friedman hopes it will inspire others to speak out about anti-Asian racism and empower others to becomes allies, even in small ways.

“I think the AAPI community is finally speaking out,” she says. “We are finally finding our voices together.”

“There are so many people who want to support the AAPI community, but they don’t know what to do and how to do it,” Friedman continues. “By streaming this EP, they can directly support our community. Every little bit helps.”

CORRECTIONS: Friedman was verbally assaulted by a man in New York’s Central Park, not a white man as an earlier version of this story stated. The sentence on Chinary Ung’s use of ideas drawn from Buddhist spirituality has been re-worded to better reflect the connection outlined in his personal bio. The source of information on hate crimes has been identified, information that was not originally included in the article.

Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra brings “a tsunami of happiness” May 1

Concert will be streamed, and performed live to invited supporters

By Peter Alexander April 29 at 7 a.m.

Cynthia Katsaarelis. Photography by Glenn Ross.

“We are so excited to be playing music—and in front of an audience of our [invited] supporters!” Cynthia Katsarelis, music director of the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra, says.

“Those 30 or 35 people are going to get a tsunami of happiness to actually hear [live] music.”

Violin soloist Yumi Hwang-Williams will appear with Katsarelis and the orchestra to perform “Spring” and “Summer” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Other works will be the Suite from Copland’s Appalachian Spring in the original version for 13 instruments, and the premiere of a piece by CU College of Music graduate student Jordan M. Holloway. This performance will also be available in a live stream at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May. 1. 

Members of the public who want to share in the “tsunami of happiness” may purchase tickets for the stream here

The program opens with the premiere of Holloway’s Three Coloradan Snowscapes, winner of Pro Musica’s annual Composition Competition. The three movements are musical depictions of scenes Holloway has experienced. They are also likely familiar to many Coloradans: “”Flurries (The Loch, June 2020),” “White Abyss (Independence Pass, October, 2020)” and “Downhill (Vail, February 2019).”

The first movement “is really cool,” Katsarelis says. “He’s got these blips and blops that are definitely like the snow hitting you in the nose—something like that. And lovely soaring themes that are fitting for the mountains.”

View from Independence Pass without clouds

For the second movement Holloway describes a drive over 12,000-foot Independence Pass with clouds filling the valleys below. “The typically clear valleys were filled with a great fog, which created this amazing and visually impenetrable wall of snow and vapor,” Holloway wrote in program notes.

“The second movement is particularly interesting” is Katsarelis’s response. “It’s aleatoric [using elements of chance] and unmeasured.” As conductor, she will mark points that are spaced 5 or more seconds apart—“just telling [the players] when to change texture and pitch.

“You’re creating the soundscape but it’s not technically challenging—it’s just fun.”

The third movement, “Downhill,” is “a tight-knit image of an alpine skier, very fast-paced with angular melodies that make for a turbulent two minutes,” the composer wrote. After looking at the score, Katsarelis decided he’s a pretty good skier. 

“I think it’s a double or triple diamond that he must be on,” she says. “The reason I think this is the underlying rhythm is the ‘Mission Impossible’ rhythm!”

Yumi Hwang-Williams

For a concert during the pandemic, portions of Vivaldi’s Seasons are an obvious choice. It only calls for string players, who can wear masks while performing; just about every string player knows The Seasons; and it’s always popular with audiences.

“Pretty much every violinist in the orchestra” knows the solo part, Katsarelis says. “Even I can play it!” But she wanted to ask Hwang-Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony, because Katsarelis knows that she’s up for most anything. “I really know I can rely on Yumi,” she says.

The final part of the program is a piece that Katsarelis believes is practically tailor made for our current time. “I find [Copland’s Appalachian Spring] a fascinating piece,” Katsarelis says. “It’s so easy to just take it as this wonderful, optimistic, joyful American work, but there’s something deeper there, if you’re inclined to look for it.”

Katsarelis believes that is particularly true of the original version, which was written for the 13 instruments that would fit in the pit of the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress where the first performance of Martha Graham’s ballet took place. “The intimacy makes the emotion of it more powerful,” she says. “It will be a very, very personal expression from all of the players.”

The score is noted for it’s spare texture and open chords, which were aspects of American modernism of the 1940s when it was written. That aesthetic is reflected in the music, but was also evident in the dance and the very limited sets designed for the premiere by Isamu Noguchi.

“The open chords, like the open set of Noguchi, leaves  a lot of space for our projections of our hopes, dreams,” Katsarelis says. “And inside is this space that you can inhabit in a really intimate and reflective way.”

The intimacy of the chamber version and the open, welcoming aesthetic of Appalachian Spring  fit the current moment, she believes. “I think we all are just dying for a human connection that music is so uniquely capable of bringing,” she says. “And that Copland can do more powerfully than almost any other piece I can think of.” 

The excitement that Katsarelis and the players feel about playing together again and sharing their music-making with an audience also carries a lesson, Katsarelis says. “It’s been a really rough year. I’m ecstatic about the fact that we’re about to make music, but there’s a lot of things I hope never to take for granted again, ever.”

# # # # #

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With Yumi Hwang-Williams, violin

  • Jordan M. Holloway: Three Coloradan Snowscapes (World Premiere)
    —I. “Flurries (The Loch, June 2020)”
    —II. “White Abyss (Independence Pass, October, 2020)”
    —III. “Downhill (Vail, February 2019)”
  • Vivaldi: “Spring” and “Summer” from The Four Seasons
  • Copland: Appalachian Spring, Ballet for Martha, Suite for 13 players

Stream available from 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1

Tickets available here.