March 9 CU Faculty Tuesday performance takes a look at identity in music
By Izzy Fincher March 4 at 11:55 p.m.
Is our cultural identity more of a mosaic or a melting pot?
With a cultural mosaic, individuals retain their distinct ethnic identities, while coexisting as a greater whole. With a melting pot, ethnic identities mix together, assimilating to create a singular culture.
In “Exploring Cultural Identities,” three CU Boulder professors, pianist Alexandra Nguyen, violinist Claude Sim and cellist David Requiro, will tackle this dichotomy of cultural representation versus assimilation by exploring Asian and Slavic cultural identities in classical music. The program will include compositions by Zoltan Kodaly from Hungary, Alexina Louie from Canada and Antonín Dvořák from Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic).
“Exploring Cultural Identities” will be streamed on CU Presents at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 9, as part of CU Boulder’s Faculty Tuesday concert series.
“Presenting music through the lens of cultural identity is a fascinating exploration,” Sim says. “I believe that we truly play as we are. In other words, our artistry is a result of our diverse backgrounds, heritage and upbringing.”
Nguyen curated the program for “Exploring Cultural Identities” to pay tribute to her diverse heritage, later choosing her collaborators Sim and Requiro. As a Vietnamese Canadian, Nguyen often doesn’t see her identity reflected in the music she plays.
“As an Asian woman, I am playing music by dead white men a majority of the time,” Nguyen says. “How can I relate to this music?”
To represent her own cultural identity, Nguyen has decided to champion Asian composers, particularly Louie, a Chinese Canadian. She feels very connected to Louie, who shares her Asian-Canadian heritage.
“In Canada, your heritage is a substantial part of your identity,” Nguyen says. “But in the U.S., the approach is very different. You want to blend in. No one wants to be the ‘other’.”
Nguyen will be playing Louie’s most famous work for solo piano, Scenes from a Jade Terrace, written in 1988, as the second piece on the program. The suite is filled with references to Chinese culture and folklore, while the harmonic language is colorful and complex, similar to contemporary composers George Crumb and Olivier Messiaen.
Overall, the suite is aggressive in its texture and timbre. The first movement, “Warrior,” depicts the ghost of an ancient warrior and combines aggressive virtuosity with vulnerability. The second movement, ”Memories in an Ancient Garden,” feels eerily peaceful. Louie’s written direction on the score reflects this poetic, dreamy feeling, as she tells the performer “to play as if intoxicated by the scent of a thousand blossoms.” In the final movement, “Southern Sky,” the music depicts a dynamic starry night, as fast notes explode from the piano with sudden dynamic changes and intense dissonances.
To complement Louie’s suite, Nguyen wanted to pivot toward exploring cultural identity through a European lens. She decided to program chamber music written by two Slavic composers, Kodaly and Dvořák, and to explore the role of Slavic nationalism in 19th and 20th century classical music. “Kodaly and Dvořák are two composers who felt strongly about their cultural identity and national heritage and (wanted to) reflect it in their music,” Nguyen says.
The program will begin with Nguyen and Requiro performing Kodaly’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 4, which incorporates harmonies and dance forms from Hungarian folk music. To finish the concert, Requiro and Sim join Nguyen for Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 4, Op. 90, nicknamed the “Dumky.” The trio uses elements of Bohemian folk music. The six-movement work is a “dumka,” a form used by Slavic composers to indicate a brooding, contemplative lament interspersed with cheerful, rhythmic, dance-like moments.
For her next Faculty Tuesday concert, Nguyen aims to go even further with her exploration of cultural identities with an all-Asian program with Asian performers. She wants to represent distinct cultural mosaics in CU Boulder’s concert hall, as her personal contribution to more diversity and inclusivity in classical music.
“If we want to represent all voices, then we have to perform all those voices,” Nguyen says. “If we want to respect all voices, then we have to hear them all.”
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“Exploring Cultural Identities” Alexandra Nguyen, piano; Claude Sim, violin; and David Requiro, cello
Zoltan Kodaly: Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 4 Alexina Louie: Scenes from a Jade Terrace Dvořák: Piano Trio No. 4, Op. 90 (“Dumky Trio”)
From America’s musical heritage to 21st-century Geneva
By Peter Alexander Feb. 22 at 11:25 a.m.
One of the perks of job that I do is that people send me recordings.
They want me to review or write about them. Sometimes they come in the U.S. mail, actual CDs. Sometimes they come in the form of links to Mp3 files, although I prefer not to review those because the sound quality of CDs is better. Sometimes I write and ask for a CD instead, and sometimes they send me one.
These recent CDs that showed up in my mailbox all provide opportunities to hear music outside of standard concert fare. This is all the more welcome as the past year has shown even more clearly than usual how much of the music on offer is the same from concert to concert, place to place, year to year. These discs contain music that is definitely not standard concert fare, and they are recommended to help widen your horizons.
“A Quiet Madness” (Belarca records belarca-008) features music by composer William Susman (b. 1960). In addition to composing for concert and film, Susman heads the New York-based contemporary ensemble OCTET and Belarca Records.
His music has the characteristics of post-20th-century minimalism—a term he apparently accepts, since it appears in the liner notes for the CD. It is generally characterized by sections of unchanging textures with shifting harmonies. Endings of sections and pieces are not preceded by any recognizable cadential momentum; they just stop, as if to say, “And that’s all I have to say on that subject.”
The CD has six tracks, opening with “Aria,” performed by Susman on piano with violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, who is known in Boulder as festival artist and principal second violin with Mahlerfest. Tracks 2, 4 and 6 are titled “Quiet Rhythms” nos. 1, 5 and 7, solo piano pieces played by Francesco Di Fiore. Filling the other slots are “Seven Scenes for Four Flutes,” all parts performed with apparently effortless cohesion by Patricia Zuber (Track 3); and “Zydeco Madness,” performed on accordion by Stas Venglevski.
In “Aria,” Pollick soars sweetly above a murmuring piano accompaniment for long passages broken by occasional spells of pizzicato and rhythmic double stops. The music moves organically through several sections that are unified by a mood of calm continuity At the end, the violin’s long descending scales build in intensity and weight. Not exactly purposeful, this is music of sustained grace and tranquility.
The three “Quiet Rhythms” convey the essence of Susman’s style. Each is in two sections separated by a sudden stop and instant of silence. While the rhythmic motion and mood of each section is distinct, they all convey a sense of a boundless vista, suddenly interrupted.
With a sense of nervous energy, “Zydeco Madness” stands apart from the others. The rate of change is faster, creating an impression of a series of studies in accordion techniques. Characteristic textures are animated by cheerful syncopations, creating the mood of zydeco if not the sound.
All performances are exemplary, within the relatively narrow palette of emotions and musical impulses Susman requires. This is not a recording that will quicken your pulse, but in these days it is a welcome break from the tensions and stresses of our daily lives, a musical environment that you can sink comfortably into.
Pianist Jeni Slotchiver is catching the wave of interest in music by African-American composers with the well chosen and intriguing program for her disc titled “American Heritage” (Zoho clasix ZM202008).
The disc includes works by virtually all of the most important Black composers from the 19th and early 20thcenturies, starting with the American Jewish/Creole virtuoso pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829–69); Harry T. Burleigh (1866–1949), who sang spirituals for Dvořák; The English Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912), who toured the U.S. three times; R. Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943); the remarkable African-American women composers Florence Price (1887–1953) and Margaret Bonds (1913–1972); and William Grant Still (1895–1978).
Many of these composers have undergone a rediscovery during the past year, as political winds and the time to explore new repertoire have liberated performers from the tyranny of expected repertoire. (Note recent CU faculty Tuesday recitals by David Korevaar and Andrew Cooperstock.) The advantage of Slotchiver’s disc is that it brings so many disparate voices together in one place, giving both listeners and performers an entrée into an important and underrepresented part of our musical history.
The pieces that stood out for me were Burleigh’s suite of six small pieces From the Southland and Price’s three Dances in the Canebrakes, two sets of Romantic character pieces transported to the American south. They are marked with gentle syncopations, just enough to be a little “raggy” but not too much for the genteel listeners of their era.
Gottschalk contributes two showpieces to the collection: “Union,” a collection of Civil-War-era patriotic songs, including “The Star Spangled Banner” (not yet the National Anthem): and “Banjo,” a captivating pianistic evocation of the ultimate southern folk instrument. Dett’s “Juba,” his most frequently performed piece, sparkles along energetically, and Still’s “Blues from Lenox Avenue” enters a different expressive realm altogether.
One piece stands apart, as it is by a living composer and therefore stylistically removed from the others. Although it is by white composer, Frederic Rzewski’s “Down by the Riverside” is based on an African-American spiritual and thus dips into similar source material as other works on the disc.
One of the most interesting composers writing today, Rzewski is well worth knowing. If you have not heard his great set of variations “The People United will never be Defeated,” listen to it now. At just under seven minutes, “Down by the Riverside” cannot rival “The People United” for impact, but it is a good example of Rzewski’s virtuosic and dazzlingly modern style.
Slotchiver’s performances are precise and detailed throughout, with individual lines and syncopations carefully delineated. Her performances reflect the salon more than the concert stage. The syncopations are all gentle, the style refined, when a little more raw energy would bring the music more vividly to life and cast the profile of each piece into greater relief.
This is a worthwhile collection, perfect for our times. Here you can venture off the beaten path with music that sounds reassuringly familiar in its American-ness. It is an important part of our musical heritage that is way overdue for discovery.
The great Romantic violin concertos—Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and others—are standard parts of the concert repertoire. You may be familiar with the normal outline of those concertos. Meanwhile, violinist Andrew Wan will rewire your conception of music for violin and orchestra with his CD Ginastera – Bernstein – Moussa recorded with conductor Kent Nagano and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (Analekta AN 2 8920).
Two of the three works on the CD are called concertos, but neither quite conforms to the standard mold. And the third piece may sound like a concerto, but it is actually a hybrid of the concerto and the descriptive tone poem.
First on the CD is the Violin Concerto of Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983). A late work in the composer’s output, the concerto does not have the colorful folkloric elements of his earlier music. Instead, it is a more thorny work based on 12-tone serial techniques.
Nor does it present a familiar concerto structure. Its barely discernible three movements unfold in five sections. The first movement starts with a wandering, introspective cadenza for solo violin. The second half of the movement comprises six studies, each a variation on the work’s tone row, each exploiting a different violin technique and a different orchestral sound quality.
The slow movement is a lyrical interlude that comes closest to a normal concerto movement. The finale is again in two parts: a pianissimo scherzo that leaps from one virtuosic flourish to another, interrupted by fleeting fragments, including hints of Paganini; and a fiery, whiplash Perpetuum mobile.
Wan plays with extreme delicacy when needed, but no shortage of flair. You won’t come away humming the themes of Ginastera’s score, but you might have a broader view of what a concerto can be.
The disc’s other concerto, by young Canadian composer Samy Moussa (b. 1984), stretches the frame in different ways. Three movements—an ethereal prelude, another written-out cadenza, and an ominous, driven movement that surges to a powerful close bound to elicit applause—are played without pause. Than, after the apparent ending, the beginning returns, a sweetly ascending line that takes the soloist into the heights of the violin’s range.
This is music that seduces the listener from the outset. Through the first two movements, there is a hint of menace beneath the soaring violin part. That menace is realized with a sudden outburst of ominous chords after the cadenza. These movements create a dramatic arc culminating with the final chords of the third movement, while the unexpected return to the opening idea provides relief and a surprise. I look forward to hearing more of the inventive composer’s music.
Between the two concertos is Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade, after Plato’s “Symposium.” This work is hardly unknown—it was played at the Colorado Music Festival’s opening concert in 2018—but it has not quite entered the standard solo repertoire.
Plato’s Symposium presents a series of seven discourses on love, placed in the context of an evening of eating, drinking and carousing. Bernstein portrays Plato’s discourses in music, making the score half concerto, half program music. The seven parts are compressed into five movements, each in a separate and distinct style reflecting the content the speeches.
You need not read Plato to enjoy the Serenade. The score in unified by Bernstein’s genial, accessible style. The violin is shown to good advantage, particularly its lyrical qualities. Most memorable is the last movement, in which a sober, serious speech by Socrates is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of the drunken Alcibiades. As the party descends into raucous chaos, Bernstein’s jazzy side emerges, for a flashy and virtuosic ending.
Wan performs with aplomb in these three very different works. He charges fearlessly through Ginastera’s atonal fireworks, and soars sweetly through the first two movements of Sousa. Nagano and the Montréal players provide expressive support. This is a fascinating disc, a musical adventure to be relished.
The disc titled Journey to Geneva (Solo Musica SM 345) with cellist Estelle Revaz and conductor Arie van Beek with the L’Orchestre de Chambre de Genève is more a celebration of Geneva than just a journey. The composers represented on the disc, Frank Martin (1890–1974) and Xavier Dayer (b. 1972) , are natives of Geneva, as is Revaz, while the orchestra and conductor are based there.
Martin is a highly individual composer who nonetheless observes the outer conventions of the form in his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1956-66). The son of a Calvinist minister, Martin wrote music of a seriousness derived from his Christian faith, which he described as “certainly broader than Calvinism.” His personal use of a more or less tonal variant of the 12-tone technique gives his music a searching, unsettled quality that is enriched by pulsing rhythms.
The Cello Concerto opens with a singing solo passage, played by Revaz with beautiful tone and great expression. The first movement continues with a faster section marked by motor rhythms that propel the music forward until the return of the opening soliloquy. The second movement presents a bleak landscape, with a melancholy, searching quality in the solo part. The finale has a driving, angst-ey feeling. Reflective, slower passages in the solo are interrupted by Martin’s characteristic rhythmic bursts in the orchestra. An uneasy cadenza leads to a rather sudden close.
The Concerto is followed by Martin’s Ballade for Cello, which the composer aptly described as “lyrical and epic.” A highly chromatic opening from the cello leads to a series of contrasting episodes in a free, fantasy-like form that is anchored at the end with a definitive, tonal-sounding ending. With its free-flowing form, this is an even more characteristic expression of Martin’s semi-tonal style: largely untethered from key, often slightly uneasy, always moving toward an uncertain resolution.
Martin’s music is highly individual and represents an eloquent musical expression of mid-twentieth-century anxiety. Not particularly comforting, not necessarily pleasurable on the surface, it is deeply human and powerfully communicative.
Dayer was born in Geneva and studied guitar and composition in his home country; today he teaches composition in Bern. An eclectic composer of many varied works, he finds inspiration in Renaissance polyphony, in contemporary visual arts and poetry, and the works of modernist composers including Webern, Elliott Carter and Iannis Xenakis.
His Lignes d’Est (Vanishing Lines to the East; 2020) opens with another solo cello statement, but in a very diferent world than in Martin’s works. Here the soloist is heard against a vibrating background of orchestra trills and emphatic, punctuating chords. Like Martin’s Ballade, the solo opening is followed by a series of loosely connected episodes, each marked by a distinctive sound from the orchestra.
I cannot hear what Dayer descries as “vanishing lines in a vast landscape.” The music moves through its various episodes, with the cello providing commentary to the orchestra’s varying landscapes. The solo part presents fragments of repeated pattens with no evident destination, until, with a sudden plucked, consonant chord, the piece comes to and end.
All of these pieces are performed with dedication and commitment by Revaz and the orchestra. Her tone is gorgeous throughout, and she extracts deep feeling from every gesture.
For me, their performances of the Martin works, fascinating artifacts from the mid-20th century, are the highlights of the disc. Dayer provides a glimpse of current musical work from Switzerland, something we do not often hear. As such it is an illuminating piece of the many-colored musical world that we live in.
“Mozart and Mendelssohn” program includes “a perfect piece of music”
By Peter Alexander Feb. 11 at 9:10 p.m.
Pianist Simone Dinnerstein was in Boulder last September, but since then she has hardly left her home in Brooklyn. A prisoner of COVID, she has had to cancel planned trips for concerts and recordings.
“I’ve gone to New Jersey,” she says. “That’s about as far as I’ve gone, and that was a big trip!”
Fortunately for us, she recorded two concerts with members of the Boulder Philharmonic when she was here. The first was streamed in November, and the second will be streamed starting Saturday (Feb. 13) at 7:30 p.m., remaining available through Saturday, Feb. 27. Titled “Mozart and Mendelssohn,” the program features the former’s Piano Concerto in C major, K467, in a COVID-friendly arrangement for strings and piano, as supplemented by Dinnerstein and members of the orchestra; and the latter’s joyous Octet for Strings.
The concert also features Dinnerstein playing two works by Scott Joplin. The Boulder Phil asked her if she would play something for solo piano to complete the program. She picked two of her favorite pieces by Joplin, both in order to include a composer from an under-represented group, and as an opportunity to add some Joplin to her repertoire.
“Scott Joplin was one of the great 20th-century American composers,” she says. “I’ve read it for myself but I’ve never performed it.”
The pieces she picked are not the usual rags that Joplin is best known for. “Solace, a Mexican Serenade” has been part of the Joplin revival that began with the 1973 film The Sting, but “Bethena, a Concert Waltz” remains less known. Both pieces are tinged with melancholy, which seems to be fine with Dinnerstein.
“I’ve always loved these two pieces,” she says. “I do tend to like things that are a little bit gloomy.”
In spite of the chronological, geographic and cultural distances involved, she sees a connection between Joplin and the other two composers on the program. “There is a kind of freshness to [Joplin’s] music,” she says. “The music has more layers to it than you first hear, and I think that’s true of Mozart and Mendelssohn. In that way these three composers do relate to each other.”
Neither the Mozart nor Mendelssohn pieces could remotely be considered gloomy. Mozart’s Piano Concerto K467 is in the sunny key of C major, and sunny it remains. “It’s been one of my favorite concertos since I was a teenager,” Dinnerstein says, adding thoughtfully, “I don’t normally relate much to music that is straightforwardly joyful.”
The version she and members of the Phil will perform was arranged for sting quintet by German composer Franz Lachner, probably to make the music available for home music making. But Dinnerstein discovered in rehearsal that Lachner’s arrangement was incomplete.
“There was no score , only the individual parts, which was slightly confusing,” she says. “When we started rehearsing I realized that certain lines were missing, and [the orchestra players] were very accommodating and wrote in some extra parts for themselves.”
The Concerto opens with a jolly march that has the usual proliferation of Mozartian themes from the very beginning. There are march rhythms, fanfares, lyrical moments, and a pervading sense of delight.
The concerto is best known for its dreamy slow movement, which was used in the 1967 Swedish film Elvira Madigan. The movement, Dinnerstein says, “has the sense of romance to it, which may be colored by having seen the film when I was a teenager.
“Basically, the concerto is just effervescent and yet it has a weight to it as well. It’s just a perfect piece of music.”
The final piece on the program, Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings was chosen by Boulder Philharmonic music director Michael Butterman. As Butterman has pointed out in the orchestra’s promotional materials, Mendelssohn is one of the few composers who ranked with Mozart as a youthful musical prodigy.
The Octet was written when he was 16, as a birthday present for his violin teacher. Today it is one of the composer’s most loved pieces.
Its sheer exuberance is enjoyed by players and audiences alike. It is filled with the kind of sprightly music that Mendelssohn used to characterize the Shakespearian fairies in his music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Beneath the dazzling surface, however, Mendelssohn demonstrates his precocious mastery of counterpoint, especially in the eight-part fugue that opens the finale.
Paralleling Dinnerstein’s characterization of the Mozart Concerto, Scottish music critic Conrad Wilson wrote that the Octet’s “youthful verve, brilliance and perfection make it one of the miracles of 19th-century music.”
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“Mozart and Mendelssohn” Members of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra with Simone Dinnerstein, piano
Scott Joplin: Solace, a Mexican Serenade and Bethena, Concert Waltz Mozart, arr. Franz Lachner: Piano Concerto in C major, K467 Mendelssohn: Octet for Strings, op. 20
Streamed starting at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, through Saturday, Feb. 27 Tickets available HERE
B-minor mass, performed with St. Martin’s Chamber Choir and soloists
By Peter Alexander Feb. 4 at 7:15 p.m.
The COVID pandemic has left huge gaps in the classical musical calendar
Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and the Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, unable to gather for the concerts they had hoped to present this month, decided to fill the gap with a streamed performance from their archives: a performance of J.S. Bach’s monumental Mass in B minor originally presented live in October, 2019.
The performance features Katsarelis with the Pro Musica orchestra, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, and a quartet of soloists: soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, mezzo Julie Simson, tenor Derek Chester and bass-baritone Jeffrey Seppala.
A release announcing the broadcast explains, “The audio engineering is radio broadcast quality, however, the video is pre-pandemic archival. The video from the first half offers a view from the chorus and the second half offers a view from the balcony in audience.”
In a separate written announcement, Katsarelis stated that “Sharing the Bach seemed like a nice thing to do for a number of reasons, but most of all because of its capacity to bring healing. In addition to the terrible losses of people to COViD-19, I felt deeply traumatized by the event of January 6. For a week afterwards, about all I could do was play Bach on violin. Given that the February concert couldn’t proceed as planned, the Bach B-Minor Mass is our offering to healing and peace in this world.”
The streamed performance will be preceded by a pre-concert talk by Rebecca Maloy, a professor of musicology at CU, Boulder.
Anyone who purchased a ticket to the cancelled Feb. concert will have access to this performance from 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12, through Sunday, Feb. 14. Tickets may be purchased HERE.
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Special Online Broadcast Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor St. Martin’s Chamber Choir Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano; Julie Simson, mezzo-soprano; Derek Chester, tenor; and Jeffrey Seppala, bass-baritone
Pre-concert talk by CU Professor of Music Rebecca Malloy
J.S. Bach: Mass in B Minor
Original performance from Oct., 2019 Streamed performance available from 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12, through Sunday, Feb. 14 Tickets HERE.
Pianist Andrew Cooperstock will feature music by George Walker
By Peter Alexander Feb. 1 at 5:05 p.m.
Pianist Andrew Cooperstock is drawn to American music.
“I have enjoyed exploring 20th-century American music that speaks to me as an American and somebody born in the 20th century,” he says. “I’m interested in how composers express themselves. For Americans it’s especially interesting because there’s such a diversity of backgrounds.”
The CU music faculty member will explore some of the diverse voices in American music in this week’s online Faculty Tuesday recital (streamed starting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2). Anchoring the program is music by George Walker (1922-2018), the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for classical music, who taught at CU in the 1960s.
Cooperstock became interested in Walker through his own piano teacher, who was a close friend and classmate of the composer. Walker taught at CU 1968–69, and his son, violinist/composer Gregory Walker, still lives and teaches violin in Boulder.
But Cooperstock had in mind more than a recital of Walker’s works. “I thought it might be nice to put his music into context with some other American composers who were writing around the [middle of the century],” he says. In addition to the three sets by Walker, Cooperstock’s program will include pieces of pure Americana by his contemporaries Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber.
And just because he likes to play them there will be two pierces written in 2003, two Improvisations on Hassidic Melodies by Paul Schoenfield.
Cooperstock made it a point to play Walker’s most approachable works. “I choose his early music,” he says. “His music from that period is beautiful and lyrical and lush, but still with some modern twists.”
The program opens with Walker’s “Variations on a Kentucky Folk Song,” a movement from his First Piano Sonata that has been published and played separately. The original song, “O Bury Me Beneath the Old Willow Tree,” has a long history in American folk music.
“I love what George Walker does with this piece,” Cooperstock says. “The theme’s a beautiful arrangement, and then he writes six short variations that are imaginative and exuberant. I really enjoy playing them.”
The centerpiece of the recital will be Walker’s Second Piano Sonata, written in 1956. “It’s virtuosic and it’s difficult, but it’s also lyrical and attractive at the same time,” Cooperstock says. He also notes that the music is especially virtuosic in recordings by the composer. “He does play his music so fast!”
Closing the program will be two short, contrasting pieces by Walker, a lyrical Prelude that he wrote for his own New York debut recital in 1945, and a more energetic Caprice that was one of his first efforts as a composition student in 1941. ”They’re short pieces,” Cooperstock says. “I thought that would be a nice ending.”
Barber‘s four-movement Excursions for piano is a kind of musical Cook’s Tour through various American musical idioms. “The first movement is a boogie-woogie with a walking bass, and the second movement is a blues,” Cooperstock explains.
The third movement, which starts with a dreamy recall of the cowboy song “The Streets of Laredo,” is the hardest of the set. “It’s got very complicated rhythms, but you won’t hear that in the performance because it sounds improvised,” Cooperstock says. ”And then the whole piece ends with a square dance. Those are a lot of fun!”
Copland is represented on the program by two pieces. The first is a piano arrangement of music he wrote for the film Our Town. “I just love these pieces,” Cooperstock says. “They’re beautiful and calming. There’s this sense of old-fashioned simplicity and security. One of my students is playing the piece, and I thought, ‘I want to play this, too.’”
Cooperstock admits that the other Copland piece is less cozy. “I paired [Our Town]with a thorny work, because I thought we needed the other side of Copland,” he says. “[Night Thoughts] has some dissonances, but Copland was a very lyrical composer. Even in the middle of all this, some beautiful melody comes through.”
The final pieces added to the program came out of an experience Cooperstock had during the pandemic of playing for the daily meditation at the Jewish Community Center. For that, he picked two from a set of Six Improvisations on Hasidic Melodies by Paul Schoenfield. “I thought these Hasidic melodies would be perfect, and I picked two that were slower and lyrical and dreamy,” he says.
Cooperstock embraces the fact that he has programmed music that will not be familiar to his audience. “What it comes down to,” he says, “if somebody will be attracted to tune in to the program, that the music is good and it speaks to the audience, maybe they’ll try something new.”
He sees 2020 as a turning point, with the attention that has been directed to Walker and other composers of color. “I’m glad that composers who we didn’t know before are coming to light. This is a good time to be exploring different kinds of literature, and I hope that the trend will stay with us.”
Above all, he hopes his playing will reach people who have been dealing with so much in the past year. “I’ve thought a lot about the purpose of music, especially this year, and how music can bring us comfort,” he says.
“Maybe this program can do that in some way.”
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Faculty Tuesday: “George Walker, Underneath the Willow Tree” Andrew Cooperstock, piano
George Walker: Variations on a Kentucky Folk Song (“O Bury Me Beneath the Willow Tree”), from Piano Sonata No. 1 Samuel Barber: Excursions Paul Schoenfield: “Achat Sha’alti” “and “Nigun” from Six Improvisations on Hassidic Melodies George Walker: Piano Sonata No. 2 Aaron Copland: Three Excerpts from Our Town Aaron Copland: Night Thoughts (Homage to Ives) George Walker: Prelude and Caprice
Streamed HERE and HERE at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2 Free or pay what you can
Jan. 26 recital includes works by Frescobaldi, CPE Bach and Margaret Bonds
By Peter Alexander Jan. 25 at 4:25 p.m
David Korevaar is an adventurous pianist.
“I’ve always been interested in music that’s off the beaten track,” he says. And the shutdown from the COVID pandemic has given him an opportunity to do more music off the beaten track than ever. “This has been an amazing experience, quickly learning a lot of repertoire,” he says.
His latest explorations will be revealed Tuesday on Korevaar’s latest online CU Faculty Tuesday recital (Jan. 26, livestream at 7:30 p.m.). Titled “Variations Fantastiques,” the program brings together composers that are not on the well worn path: 17th-century Italian composer Girolamo Frescobaldi; J.S. Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel; Clara Schumann, the wife or Robert; and African-American composer Margaret Bonds.
Two other works are from more familiar composers: a Rondo by Mozart, and the Symphonic Etudes by Robert Schumann. “The Schumann Symphonic Etudes is the only thing on this program I had played before, and it’s been a long, long time,” Korevaar says. “That was a major act of resuscitation of a very difficult piece.”
Translation: Korevaar put a lot of work into this recital.
The opening piece gets right to the variations idea, Frescobaldi’s Partite sopra l’Aria della Romanesca—a set of variations over a standard Renaissance bass line known as Romanesca. Many composers wrote pieces based on the Romanesca bass, but don’t be embarrassed if you have not heard them before, unless you pay unusually close attention to the music played in church.
“Frescobaldi is not often played, period,” Korevaar says. “Organists play his music, and harpsichordists do. Frescobaldi was a native of the keyboard, he understood how to put notes together on a keyboard with hands.”
Frescobaldi’s music comes out of his experience improvising. “All of his toccatas and the variation sets represent a kind of frozen improvisation,” Korevaar says. “It’s fascinating— he manages to combine the traditions of renaissance vocal writing with keyboard improvisation. He transfers the kind of affective language of the Renaissance madrigal to this keyboard medium.”
The next work on the program, C.P.E. Bach’s Rondo in G Major, grows from the same soil as Frescobaldi’s Partite. “When C.P.E. Bach writes for keyboard, he’s writing again as an improvisor,” Korevaar says. “These rondos are particularly peculiar. This one has always fascinated me, because while there is a larger-scale structure, it works in four-bar bits that keep repeating the same material in various embellishments and modulations. And it’s like early Beethoven in the use of silence.”
Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes does not resemble traditional variation sets. “[Schumann] does say it’s etudes in the form of variations, but you’ve got to search a little bit,” Korevaar says. “Every now and then he’ll throw in the head motive to remind you where he started, but several have little to do with the theme. This is typical of Schumann’s transformative techniques.”
The piece actually began as an explicit set of variations on a theme by a friend of the Schumann family, plus a Finale that may be based on an entirely different theme from an opera by Heinrich Marschner. It is this original version of a later much-revised work that Korevaar will perform.
Even in that form, not all the etudes are related to the theme. Schuman’s approach is more one of transformation, as Korevaar says, than variation. At least three do not include the theme at all. “Thinking about it as variations, you realize how loose [Schumann] is with that term,” Korevaar says.
Both Clara Schumann and Brahms wrote a set of variations on the same theme by Robert Schumann. Both sets were published together in 1854, after Robert had been confined to a mental asylum. In both sets, Clara’s and Brahms’s, the variations on the theme are clearly delineated.
“It’s a remarkable piece because it’s a fully mature composition by a fully mature composer, with her own voice,” Korevaar says. “We forget that. We say, ‘Oh, she’s a woman who clearly did not get the opportunities.’ She played this piece throughout her career.
“It’s pianistically not friendly—she must have had a phenomenal technique! It’s a remarkable piece. This is a composer who was very much influenced by Robert Schumann, influenced by Chopin, influenced by Mendelssohn, and she has her own brand of virtuosity.”
Bonds’s Spiritual Suite comprises three movements, each derived from a spiritual or traditional African-American song, each a set of variations or embellishments of the theme. Korevaar compares the middle movement, based on “Peter Go Ring them Bells,” to a Bach chorale prelude. “She introduces this descant first before we get the tune. It’s quite fun what she does: nesting in the middle of it is this wonderful waltz. It’s a wonderful piece.
The third movement, “Troubled Water,” has been published separately and is performed more often that the other two. The recent interest in African-American composers this year has resulted in the whole suite being played more, Korevaar says. “A lot of people have started taking it on, which is nice. It’s a good piece. It deserves to be played and heard.”
Korevaar enjoyed building a program with so many pieces that are new to him and likely to his audience. “I had more fun putting this program together than I’ve had in a long time,” he says.
“It’s liberating to do stuff that I don’t know!”
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“Variations Fantastiques” David Korevaar, piano
Girolamo Frescobaldi: Partite sopra l’Aria della Romanesca Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Rondo in G Major Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Rondo in A minor, K511 Robert Schumann: Symphonic Etudes Clara Schumann: Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann Margaret Bonds: Spiritual Suite
Streamed here or here at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26
Free or pay what you can
CORRECTION: One quote by David Korevaar corrected 1.25 to state that we think of Clara Schumann as “a woman who clearly did not get the opportunities.” The original post omitted the word “not.”
A Grammy nominee and a new disc from the Takacs Quartet
By Peter Alexander Jan. 19 at 11:15 p.m.
I am someone who enjoys adventures, in music as in other ways.
I’m not as interested in new Beethoven recordings, although I got notices about plenty of them last year. (In case you were completely isolated last year: 2020 was the 250th anniversary of his birth.) But give me a recording with composers I have never heard before, and I will go straight to the CD player.
Since we are likely to be isolated for a while longer, now is a good time for you to have your own musical adventures. Committed performances of music we don’t know, even music we don’t like, helps clean out the ears and open the mind to new experiences. If you don’t like it, don’t listen again; but at least you know what’s out there.
In that spirit, this is the first of several articles I plan to write about recordings that offer musical adventures, small steps into new territory. And if one of these is not new territory for you, congratulations. I will have other suggestions.
There is no better place to start than a stunning recent recording by violist Richard O’Neill, the newest member of the Takács quartet. His performance of the Concerto for viola and chamber orchestra by Christopher Theofanidis with the Albany Symphony Orchestra and conductor David Alan Miller (Albany Records TROY1816, released August 2020) has been nominated for a classical music Grammy. Since the Grammy awards have been postponed until March 14, you can hear the recording before the winners are announced.
Theofanidis teaches composition at Yale and is co-director of the composition program at the Aspen Music Festival. His orchestral work Rainbow Body has been performed by more than 150 orchestras worldwide. He is a composer of remarkably wide imagination and creativity, as his Viola Concerto shows.
The concerto was written for the violist Kim Kashkashian in 2002 and revised for O’Neill in preparation of his performances and recording. Partly inspired by Navajo texts, it is by design a work of great emotional intensity. “It is written as a response to [Kashkashian’s] incredible intensity and focus as a performing artist,” Theofanidis wrote.
O’Neill provides all the intensity Theofanidis calls for. As soloist he creates a wide palette of sounds that match the kaleidoscopic moods and sounds of the score. The are passages of dark, brooding gloom and fleet passages of sheer virtuosity, with O’Neill flying through these changes without a hitch or a stumble.
Each movement has its own individual rewards. The first is dominated by pulsing sounds in the orchestra, an extension of drum patterns that open the movement, interrupted by fleet passages for the soloist. The second enters a totally different sound world, with a static orchestral haze overlaid with barely-musical fragments for the soloist that gradually coalesce to reach a moment of passionate intensity.
The emotional high point is the third movement, written in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and using a Sikh melody that was sung at a memorial held at Yankee Stadium. Here O’Neill’s expressive playing creates a deep sense of mourning. This is eloquent music of loss, a barren emotional landscape that accepts the light of consolation only at the end. After this catharsis, the scurrying finale closes the concerto with an explosion of energy.
So varied are the movements and their internal sections that it is easy to see why this recording stood out to the Grammy committee. O’Neill’s interpretation and integration of the disparate elements seems flawless as he flies confidently through this emotionally virtuosic work. “No matter what happens with this nomination,” O’Neill says, “ I think this piece deserves to be in the repertoire.”
The Viola Concerto is paired on Albany’s disc with Theofanidis’s Violin Concerto, played by Miller and the Albany Symphony with violinist Chee-Yun. Another dramatic and varied work, it is dominated by a movement based on a theme the composer wrote for his new-born daughter. That moment of lyrical blossoming is framed by a dramatic movement where the soloist seems pitted in a struggle with forces of nature, and another whirlwind finale.
# # # # #
The full Takacs Quartet, recorded before O’Neill replaced Geraldine Walther in the viola chair, offers a comfortable adventure with their recording of the piano quintets of Amy Beach and Edward Elgar. Released in June, the recording was made with pianist Garrick Ohlsson (Hyperion CDA68295).
The first American woman to achieve success as a composer, Beach was a teenaged piano prodigy in the 1880s but had to give up her public career when she married. She published first under the name Mrs. H.H.A. Beach until her husband’s death in 1910, and then as Amy Beach. Her Quintet in F-sharp minor for piano and strings of 1905 was widely performed in her lifteime, often with the composer playing the piano part.
The Quintet was heavily influenced by Brahms’s popular Quintet in F minor, which she had played. An echo of Brahms is heard in the first movement, but Beach announcers her own imagination at the very opening, sustained notes that overlay dramatic flourishes in the piano. Here the atmospheric performance by Ohlsson and the Takacs pulls the listener in from the first notes. They follow Beach’s expressive turns, through sudden changes of mood from warmth to spookiness and a gentle sigh at the ending.
The sigh is followed by a realm of sweetness and gentle repose through a second movement marked by long, lyrical lines that build to a strong climax, subsiding to a quiet close. The finale seems less integrated, as passage follows passage. This is no fault of the performers, who follow Beach in her rambling walk. Every section is well crafted, creating just the sound that the composer wants, but it fails to hang together as an organic whole. It is none the less pleasant for that, especially as played by Ohlsson and the Takacs.
Elgar is closer to the beaten path than Beach, although the Quintet is less familiar than his “Pomp and Circumstance” or “Enigma” Variations. Like his other works, the Quintet is marked by a cheerful mixture of drama and playfulness that seems thoroughly Victorian in style. It is a musically challenging work that lacks conspicuous flamboyance; even the most energetic passages remain genial in mood.
The first movement is a moderate allegro that anecdotally may be based on supernatural tales about a wooded copse near Elgar’s home. The exact source of inspiration remains mysterious, and any sense of menace the woods may have suggested is lessened by sudden bursts of song.
The second movement begins in a state of serenity, in Elgar’s best warm if slightly fuzzy Romantic manner. One is easily carried along by the flow of the Takacs Quartet’s performance, which conveys a feeling of enveloping comfort, with no danger in sight.
One idea succeeds another succeeds another in the long, fantasy-like Finale. In the hands of Ohlsson and the Takacs Quartet, the changing tempos seem organic across a wide and shifting range. Each idea and section emerges seamlessly from the material before, even as Elgar extends and extends his material toward a final firm ending. The performance is well balanced among the instruments, with the performers achieving a notable clarity of texture in spite of Elgar’s luxuriant harmonic language.
Both performances are exemplary. There is no better place to begin your musical adventures than with these congenial and thoroughly enjoyable works. And if these works are not new to you, stand by for further suggestions.
Performances include guest artists, small orchestra and full symphony
By Peter Alexander Jan. 8, 2021, at 10:10 p.m.
The Longmont Symphony has announced a spring and summer season of six virtual concerts, featuring solo guest artists, small orchestra ensembles, and the full orchestra.
Tickets for the spring–summer season, Jan. 16–Aug. 7, are on sale, both individually and a discounted package for the full season. All performances will be streamed starting at 7 p.m. Saturdays.
Guest artists will be percussionist Cameron Leach, who was engaged for a concert last spring that was cancelled, Jan. 16; duo pianists Yuki and Tomoko Mack, March 20; and cellist Clancy Newman, Aug. 7. Performances by the LSO will a program of music for strings, including Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Feb. 27; an all Mozart program for small orchestra, including the Clarinet Concerto performed by Colorado Symphony principal clarinetist Jason Shafer, April 17; and a full orchestra program June 19.
For the audience, it will be good to see a varied series of programs, but you might miss the most significant feature of the season. “There’s something that’s noteworthy [about the season] and it’s not really about the music at all,” LSO music director Elliot Moore says. “It’s this pivot that the LSO had made during the time of COVID, from presenting an orchestra to becoming a presenting organization.”
Moore is referring to the solo guest artists that the orchestra has presented during the fall and will present during the coming spring and summer. “That is a way that we can keep the level the audience has expected from the Longmont Symphony organization,” he says. “We’ve been able to have unbelievable guest artists that are so engaging that people buy tickets.
“The thing that has been amazing is keeping our commitment to excellence during this time. We’ve done it and I’m proud of it.”
Moore admits that he wasn’t sure what the audience response would be to essentially a hybrid season, including both small orchestra performances and solo artists, all of it online. Today, he is thrilled that the response was so enthusiastic. “Our audience gave us way more than we expected,” he says. “We have a following now for these guest artists.”
Each of the three guest performances during the spring and summer offers something unique, Moore says. Percussionist Cameron Leach “is phenomenal,” he says. “He commissions pieces from all kinds of composers. And one of the things he’s been investigating during the pandemic has been technology—how can he purchase equipment, making a space in his home where can record and have a product to market.”
Concerning duo pianists Yuki and Tomoko Mack, “my thought was it’s really hard to have two pianos here, onstage with the LSO,” Moore says. “There’s not a venue I know of where we could do that. I was thinking, how do I create a season that we wouldn’t always be able to have?”
Himself a cellist, Moore is especially excited to have Clancy Newman as a guest artist “When he was a freshman at Juilliard he beat out undergrads, graduate, doctoral cellists to win the Juilliard Cello Competition— when he was getting a double degree in cello performance and in English at Columbia,” he says.
One thing Newman is known for is writing cello pieces based popular music. “He would every month look at the number-one pop song and create a solo cello caprice that’s like wickedly impossible to perform,” Moore explains. “So he’s going to play a couple of his own cello caprices, based on pop songs.”
The three programs played by the LSO were planned to gradually increase the numbers of performers, in the hopes that recovery from the pandemic will parallel the planed programming. “The idea is, let’s stay safe, in terms of where we are currently,” Moore says.
That meant starting with a program where everyone could be masked, which meant an orchestra of only strings [see full programs below]. Following that is a concert with small orchestra, which in this case is all music by Mozart.
“I have had different ideas about how can I focus on a single composer,” Moore says. “This portrait of Mozart is a good way to pave the path, whether it would be a festival where our community can delve deeper into the works of a specific composer, really get into what was going on in the composer’s lifetime. That’s been on my mind for several years.”
The last of the LSO’s performances will be a program for full orchestra, to be recorded outside and presented in June. “This is the first time we’ve had a summer season, so that’s a new aspect for the Longmont Symphony,” Moore says.
“That will be our first time as an orchestra to get back into rehearsing and performing together. So that really is one of the big points of this season.”
Here is my annual remembrance of musicians that we the living lost in the past year. Rather than grief that they have left us, I invite you to experience gratitude that they were here in the first place. We should reflect upon the blessings that each and every one of them bestowed on the rest of us.
As always, my list is often quite personal. I may not include those that you will miss the most, and you are always welcome to add your own memories in the comments.
Jan. 1: Jaap Schröder, Dutch violinist and conductor who was a historical performance pioneer, first as a member of Concerto Amsterdam with Gustav Leonhardt and Frans Brüggen, later as director and concertmaster of the Academy of Ancient Music, 94
Jan. 2: Joan Benson, clavichordist who once studied at Interlochen with Percy Grainger, and later in Europe with Olivier Messiaen, taught at Stanford and Oregon, and as an early advocate of the music of CPE Bach was one of the first artists to record on the clavichord, 94
Jan. 15: Bruno Nettl, distinguished ethnomusicologist and one of the original members of the Society for Ethnomusicology, professor and later professor emeritus at the University of Illinois from 1964 until his death and the recipient of many honors and honorary degrees, 89
Jan. 16: Barry Tuckwell, Australian horn player who spent most of his professional life in England, including 13 years as first horn of the London Symphony Orchestra, which he left in 1968 to pursue a career as soloist and conductor, 88
Feb. 1: Peter Serkin, pianist descended from the eminent pianist Rudolf Serkin and the legendary violinist Adolf Busch, who early found the heritage a burden but later founded the chamber group Tashi and was known for his thoughtful performances of contemporary music, 72
Feb. 9: Mirella Freni, beloved Italian prima donna who sang mostly lyric soprano roles around the world for nearly 50 years, won her first vocal competition at the age of 12, started with the lighter roles, made Mimì in La Bohème her signature part in which she made her 1963 Metropolitan Opera debut, and was most recently active as a teacher, 84
Feb. 10: Lyle Mays, jazz keyboard player who was the driving force and principle composer of the Pat Metheny Group, and a winner of 11 Grammy Awards, 66
Feb. 11: Joseph Shabalala, founder and director of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who brought Zulu music to world prominence, especially through their collaboration with Paul Simon on his album “Graceland” and their own Grammy-winning album “Shaka Zulu,” 78
Feb. 29: Bill/William O. Smith, clarinetist and composer who (as Bill) had a career as a jazz player who collaborated extensively with Dave Brubeck, and (as William O.) performed and composed ground-breaking, virtuosic new music for clarinet and developed advanced techniques for the instrument, 93
March 6: McCoy Tyner, jazz pianist who was one of the leading figures of modern jazz in the 1960s and played in John Coltrane’s groundbreaking quartet, 81
March 6: Elinor Ross, a soprano remembered for a spectacular debut at the Metropolitan Opera, stepping in for Birgit Nilsson in Turandot in 1970, and a career cut short nine years later by Bell’s palsy, having sung many other roles at the Met, 93
March 9: Anton Coppola, an opera conductor who sang in the US premiere of Turandot and later wrote an ending for Puccini’s last opera, wrote his own opera Sacco and Vanzetti at the suggestion of his son, the filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, and conducted with opera companies in New York, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Seattle and Tampa, 102
March 11: Charles Wuorinen, fiercely 12-tone composer of works for major orchestras and operas on Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Seas of Stories and Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 at the age of 31, and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, 81
March 14: Doriot Anthony Dwyer, who became only the second woman to hold a principal chair in a major U.S Orchestra in 1952 when she was appointed principal flutist of the Boston Symphony, a position she held for nearly 40 years, 98
March 20: Kenny Rogers, the legendary genre-spanning country/pop singer who, over a career spanning six decades, sold more than 100 million records, including 21 no. 1 country hits, two of which were also no. 1 pop hits, and numerous songs on the pop top-40 chart, 81
March 22: Eric Weissberg, multi-instrumental bluegrass musician best known for his 1973 recording “Dueling Banjos,” which made it to No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart, and who was also a highly successful session musician who worked with John Denver, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Herbie Mann and others, 80
March 24, Edward Tarr, musicologist and trumpet player who discovered and edited for performance many unknown works, and whose research and elegant performances helped lead the revival of the natural trumpet in Baroque music, 83
March 29: Krzysztof Penderecki, Polish composer and conductor whose music defied categorization, first known for his Threnody ‘For the Victims of Hiroshima’, also the composer of eight symphonies, four operas, the Polish Requiem, St. Luke Passion and other choral works, and whose music appeared in films including The Exorcist and The Shining, 86
April 1: Ellis Marsalis, supremely influential jazz musician from New Orleans who helped bring about the late 20th-century jazz revival, both through his own work and through the impact and artistry of his four sons, Wynton (trumpet), Branford (sax), Delfeayo (trombone) and Jason (drums); from the complications of the coronavirus, 85
April 7: John Prine, country/folk singer discovered by Kris Kristofferson in 1970, known for hard-hitting songs of desperation and loneliness, like “Sam Stone” about a drug-addicted Vietnam War veteran, and “Angel from Montgomery”; from the complications of the coronavirus, 73
April 8: Nicholas Temperley, English-American musical scholar and long-time professor of musicology at the University of Illinois, known for his research in British music, especially of the Victorian age, 87
April 22: Peter Jonas, impresario who led the English National Opera in London 1985–93 and the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich 1993–2006, known for encouraging directors and designers to create productions that were surprising and innovative, 73
April 27: Lynn Harrell, Texas-born cellist who joined the Cleveland Orchestra at 18 and served as principal cellist for seven years prior to launching a major international solo career in 1971, winner of the Avery Fisher Prize and a Grammy Award, and an influential teacher at several institutions including Juilliard and the Royal Academy of Music, 76
April 29: Martin Lovett, cellist and last living member of the legendary Amadeus Quartet, which remarkably retained its four founding members throughout a 40-year career (1947–87), due to complications fromCOVID-19, 93
May 3: Rosalind Elias, the youngest of 13 children who was able to pursue her dream of singing opera, including more than 50 roles and 687 performances with the Metropolitan Opera between 1965 and 1996, and made her Broadway debut in 2011 at the age of 81, in a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, 81
May 7: John Macurdy, bass whose career of 38 years and 1001 performances at the Metropolitan opera encompassed 62 roles, from Sarastro in The Magic Flute to world premieres, singing at the farewell concert at the Old Met in 1966 and the opening of the New Met in Lincoln Center later the same year, 91
May 9: Richard Penniman, aka Little Richard, the flamboyant, supercharged rock star whose whoops and wild energy transformed rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s with “Tutti Frutti” and other hits, and who continued to perform, with interruptions, until 2012, and influenced almost everyone who came after him, from the Beatles to Freddie Mercury to Prince, 87
May 13: Gabriel Bacquier, French baritone, known for his performances of French opera and song as well as major Italian-language roles from Mozart to Puccini, who had performed world wide, 95
May 19: Bert Bial, long-time contrabassoonist and de facto official photographer of the New York Philharmonic, whose countless unstaged photos, many taken from his chair in the orchestra, among other memorable subjects showed members of the orchestra, Leonard Bernstein with Dmitry Shostakovich and Michael Jackson, Zubin Mehta with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, and many guest soloists, 93
May 25: Joel Revzen, a staff conductor at the Metropolitan Opera and former conductor of the Minnesota Chorale and the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, and assistant conductor of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, due to complications from COIVD-19, 74
June 18: Vera Lynn, English singer known during World War II as the “Forces’ Sweetheart,” beloved of British troops and Britons at home and known particularly for “We’ll Meet Again” and “(There’s Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover,” 103
July 6: Ennio Morricone, Italian composer of film scores for spaghetti westerns, most notably Sergio Leone’s so-called “Dollars Trilogy” that featured the universally recognized ocarina-colored theme song, but also hundreds of other films by a long list of directors, winner of an Oscar for lifetime achievement and numerous other international awards, 91
July 6: Charlie Daniels, country/rock fiddler, singer, songwriter and leader of the Charlie Daniels Band, known for hits including No. 1 country single “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and for politics that swung from an early hippie outlook (“Long-Haired Country Boy”) to a later avidly right-wing stance (“A Few More Rednecks”), 83
July 9: Gabriella Tucci, Italian soprano who was a mainstay at major opera houses around the world, including 13 seasons at the Metropolitan opera, who sang dramatic roles including Aida and Tosca, as well as coloratura roles, 90
July 28: Bent Fabricius-Bjerre, known as Bent Fabric, Danish composer of the instrumental hit “Alley Cat,” better known at home as the composer of music for more than 70 films and TV shows, as well as music for ballet and theater, 95
Aug. 2: Leon Fleisher, the remarkable American pianist who rose to fame as a highly acclaimed artist until focal dystonia in his right hand —potentially caused by over practicing—forced him to play with the left hand alone, until he regained the use of his right hand 30 years later, and who taught masterclasses until his very final days, 92
Aug. 11: Trini Lopez, American singer/guitarist who combined Latin, American folk and rockabilly styles in a number of top hits in the 1960s, and who continued to record albums until 2011, from complications of Covid-19, 83
Aug. 14: Julian Bream, widely heralded English guitar and lute player who expanded the guitar repertoire backward in time by taking up the lute, and forward in time by commissioning new works from major composers, and out into the classical era with his transcriptions of Bach, Schubert and other composers, 87
Aug. 7: Constance Weldon, who became the first woman tuba player in a major orchestra when she joined the Boston Pops in 1955, served as acting principal of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra while studying in the Netherlands, and later played with the Kansas City Philharmonic and taught at the University of Miami, 88
Sept. 16: Stanley Crouch, jazz and social critic who linked jazz and democracy, and whose life encompassed the 1965 Watts race riots, several years as a Black nationalist, work as a newspaper columnist and a novelist, helping to launch Jazz at Lincoln Center, and ultimately winning a MacArthur Foundation award, 74
Sept. 28: Maynard Solomon, musicologist and record producer, founder in 1950 of pioneering Vanguard Records, known for signing blacklisted performers including Paul Robeson and The Weavers during the McCarthy era, and the author of influential if controversial biographies of Beethoven and Mozart that were both admired and criticized for their Freudian analyses of their subjects, 90
Oct. 6: Eddie Van Halen, lead guitarist and co-founder of the self-titled rock band Van Halen, who was known for his exuberant and dazzling guitar style that made him one of the most influential guitarists of his generation, and who was No. 1 on the Guitar World Magazine’s 2012 list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” 65
Oct. 19: Spencer Davis, leader and rhythm guitarist of the Spencer Davis Group, author of several big hits of the ‘60s including “Gimme some Lovin,’” who discovered and introduced Steve Winwood, and whose music was most popular in England, 81
Oct. 21: Viola Smith, who went from drummer with the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra of Wisconsin to the “hep girl” of the swing era, overcoming considerable prejudice against women drummers in the jazz world of the 1930s and ‘40s, later performing in the “Kit Kat Band” jazz quartet in Cabaret on Broadway, 107
Nov. 25: Camilla Wicks, a child violin prodigy in the 1940s who successfully became a major virtuoso at a time when most serious violinists were men, she became a recognized soloist, took a break in the late ‘50s to raise five children, and later became a respected teacher, 92
Dec. 12: Charley Pride, the first great Black star of Country Music, winner of the CMA entertainer of the year award in 1971, with 51 records in the country Top 10, of Covid-19, 86
NB: Edited to add links to performances by some of the named musicians Dec. 30 and 31.
CU graduate had to postpone Metropolitan Opera debut
By Peter Alexander Dec. 23 at 12:45 p.m.
It is the best of resumes, it is the worst of resumes.
Reflecting on his situation during the pandemic, bass Ashraf Sewailam muses, “I was one of the quote unquote lucky artists who never had to do anything but perform. But I discovered how unlucky that was, not to have anything to fall back upon.”
Sewailam, a CU graduate who has sung extensively in the area, at the Central City Opera, with the Boulder Bach Festival and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, as well as CU operas, found himself without work when the pandemic occurred. Even a planned December online program of Messiah arias with the Longmont Symphony had to be cancelled. He ended up doing deliveries for Amazon, until a broken foot put an end to that, too.
“Lots of my colleagues, when they first went to New York had to do other jobs to keep body and soul together—secretarial jobs or finance, banks, or even waiting tables,” he says. “All of this is actually good experience to have to fall back on. I have this super-impressive resume, in academia and performance, but I couldn’t get myself hired in anything that needed previous experience, so this was big wake-up call.”
It was an especially tough time for Sewailam to call a halt in his opera career because he had contracts and roles upcoming that would be impressive additions to that resume, and likely have led to more work. He was in rehearsal for a production of Aida at Virginia Opera when things suddenly were shut down.
“We had just made a promotional TV appearance about the show, and then we got back to the hotel to change into rehearsal garb, and we got the call that it was cancelled,” he says. “It was sad because it’s an excellent production.”
And that’s only the beginning of what Sewailam had planned for 2020 and ’21. “Right after that I had a Bohème in Seattle, and then I was directing [Donizetti’s] Anna Bolena in New York in the summer,” he says. “And then I had [Rossini’s] Cenerentola (Cinderella) with Minnesota opera in the spring of 2021, [and Donizetti’s] Elixir of Love in Amsterdam.”
The biggest disappointment of all, however, was that he had a contract at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for three roles during the fall—the kind of breakthrough contract that all opera singers dream about. “The Met is the pinnacle of the mountain that we’re climbing,” he says. “And who knows what would have materialized in early 2021 before the Cenerentola because stuff just jumps into my lap.”
Like most of us, Sewailam also had personal affairs to take care of during the pandemic. In his case, family issues took a lot of time and travel back and forth to his home country of Egypt.
“The situation is that I provide for mom there, while my sister manages the situation on the ground,” he says. “My mom has Alzheimer’s, and my sister had a cancer scare. I basically jumped on a plane and went to Egypt and stayed there for two months, mid-May to mid-July, and then early September to early October.
“Logistically [travel] was difficult. Security provisions [in Egypt] are much tighter and it was a little rattling to go through it. Then when I came home I took care of a couple of elderly friends, so I travelled to Seattle and up and down the California coast. I had to keep getting tested [for Covid] just to be able to look after my friends. And I’ve been fine so far.”
When he came back to Boulder, Sewailam took the job delivering packages, so he could continue supporting his mother and sister in Egypt. But with all the travel he has hardly done any singing since the pandemic began—just one streamed performance of “Some Enchanted Evening,” done remotely from Cairo with pianist Mohamed Shams in New York.
The lack of singing and being cut off from the field for so long concerns Sewailam. “Singers are professional athletes,” he says “You’ve got to keep stretching yourself, keep practicing,. You’ve got to keep seeking the right advice, because this is one of the most opinionated careers. Everybody has an opinion about the art form, about the singers in it, definitely about you and your voice, and everybody loves to opine.”
As for the future, “there were irons in the fire well into late 2022,” Sewailam says. But even if those and the prior contracts that were cancelled turn into firm offers later, there’s no guarantee that he would be able to accept all of them.
“Once things open up and companies start re-scheduling themselves, a lot of us might end up having to choose between gigs that we were already contracted for, that they would get rescheduled at the same time,” he says.
“That would be sad, because not only did we loose all the money from all those gigs, as well as the artistic gratification, but also you end up losing all of that money all over again, and then we would end up suffering for that.”
In other words, the return to live performing could be the best of times, but it could bring serious dilemmas, too.