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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balestrieri, Zooming in from her kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seicento Baroque Ensemble cancels 2020–21 season

Boulder’s latest COVID-19 casualty

By Peter Alexander

Boulder’s Seicento Baroque Ensemble, a choral performance group specializing in the music of the 17th century (“Seicento” in Italian) has announced that they will suspend all performances for the coming year.

The release from the organization states:

Because of the risk to our audience, singers, and guest artists, the Board has unanimously voted not to perform our normal fall concert this year, nor our normal spring concert in 2021. Members of the choir who are on the Board of Directors have expressed relief that they won’t be asked to rehearse and perform at a time that their health could be at risk, disappointment that they won’t be able to perform the music that they love, support for prudent planning, and hope for being able to resume singing when the pandemic passes.

Locally, Seicento is the first performing organization to definitely suspend all of next year’s concerts. Most other groups have delayed announcing their 20–21 season, anticipating the possibility of late starts in the fall. There is also widespread uncertainty about when and under what conditions groups will be allowed to bring audiences together, and to what extent audiences will be willing to gather.

Nationally, Broadway theaters in New York have suspended all performances until the start of 2021 at the earliest, and there is widespread uncertainty among performing groups about what will be possible.

Seicento Baroque ensemble

Coming later: a follow-up interview with Seicento artistic director Amanda Balestrieri about the group’s plan for restarting in the fall of 2021, and also life under quarantine.

Seicento presents music and dance of the French Baroque NOW CANCELED

This performance has now been canceled

By Peter Alexander March 11 at 12 noon

Would you want to see West Side Story without the dancing?

Amanda Balestrieri, director of the Seicento Baroque Ensemble in Boulder, says that’s the effect of hearing French Baroque music without dance. “If you have the music without the dance, it’s not complete,” she says. “It would be like going to see musical theater without the dance and chorus numbers.”

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble

To illustrate that point, Seicento has brought in a French Baroque singer/dancer, Elena Mullins, for their next concert. “Airs and Graces” will be performed in Denver Friday and in Longmont Sunday (March 13 and 15). The program will include numbers for Mullins as well as solo vocal pieces and full choral numbers with orchestra.

Several local singers will perform as soloists. Tenor Alex King and bass Allen Adair will take roles in scenes from French opera and a cantata. Soprano Kendall Baldwin, a senior at Fairview High School in Boulder, will perform alongside 5th-grade students from Escuale Bilingüe Pioneer in Lafayette.

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Costume design for King Louis XIV as the Sun

Dance and music were closely related throughout the Baroque era, but especially so in France. Entertainment at the French court, including opera, featured extensive dance as well as singing, performed by professionals as well as members of the court, including the king. The dances were highly refined, with many moves and gestures that conveyed coded meanings to the audiences, and eventually led to the development of classical ballet.

Today Baroque music from Germany and Italy has eclipsed French music of the period, which has become more and more of a specialized field. Even less well known than French Baroque music is the dance that went with it.. “This is an esoteric corner of an esoteric art,” Balestrieri says.

As far as Balestrieri knows, this will be first time in the Boulder area that French Baroque music has been performed together with authentic dances. She wanted to showcase the two together, for both Seicento members and the audience. “I wanted this to be an encompassing concert,” she says.

“I wanted the choir to have the experience of the music. I wanted the dancer to give that element for people to understand the visual side, and also the fact that it was combined with singing and music.”

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Elena Mullins

Like performers at the French court, Mullins is both a singer and a dancer. She will appear in the first piece on the program, singing La Musique (the allegorical character of music) in an excerpt from Les arts flourissants (The flourishing arts), a chamber opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

She will then appear as a dancer, performing a series of standardized Baroque dances, in Les caractères de la dance by Jean-Féry Rebel. “‘The Characters of the dance’ was a famous piece from the time that was supposed to show you all the different dance styles,” Balestrieri says. It includes a courante, menuet, bourrée, sarabande and gavotte, among other courtly dances that also found their way into the instrumental music of the period.

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Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Lully by Paul Mignard

The rest of the program will feature examples of French Baroque music, performed without choreography. There will be several excerpts from the opera Bellérophon by Jean-Baptiste Lully, who was composer and music director to the court of King Louis XIV, as we’ll as a dancer. One particularly entertaining scene features a trio of sorcerers with a chorus of sorcerers and sorceresses. “It’s really clever, very hard for the chorus,” Balestrieri says.

To open the second half of the program, Balestrieri will sing two airs de cours (courtly airs) about the pain and pleasure of love. Baldwin and the 5th-grade students will sing Plaisir d’amour by Jean-Paul Égide Martini, a song that has been popular for more than two centuries, and that became the basis of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t help falling in love with you.”

“The other piece I’m excited about is the cantata by Montéclair called The Triumph of Love,” Balestrieri says. The cantata features three singers—a narrator with Bacchus and Cupid, the gods of wine and of love.

“The scene is a hillside where Bacchus commands his grape pickers,” Balestrieri explains. “He’s in control, and then Cupid flies in and interferes by making everybody fall in love and languish. He has a fight with Bacchus, [until] Bacchus falls in love and accepts love in his court. They agree to cooperate, and then we sing, ‘Just grab a bottle of wine and rekindle the fires of love.’ I love it—it’s so fantastically French!”

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Amanda Balestrieri

Balestrieri wanted to include the children in the performance as a way of spreading knowledge of the French Baroque as well as enriching their education. “The kids who do this don’t yet know how fabulous this is,” she says. “But when they come in and they see this dancer in costume and they hear this music, they will never, ever forget it. And that is important, because you never know who is going to be smitten with this art.”

But the combination of music and dance is not an easy thing pull off. It requires not only specialists in the French Baroque style, it requires dedicated performers who can learn complex music, and it requires a specialist in both the singing and the dance of the French court. Even in major cities, opportunities to see and hear an authentic music and dance performance of this repertoire are rare.

“We have something that will not appear here again anytime soon,” Balestrieri says. “If people want to see it, now’s the time to come!”

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Airs and Graces: Song & Dance in the French Baroque
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri conductor
With guest artists Elena Mullins, Baroque dancer and soprano; Alex King, tenor; Allen Adair, bass; Kendall Baldwin, soprano; students from Escuela Bilingüe Pioneer; and instrumental ensemble

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 13, Claver Recital Hall, Regis University, Denver
3 p.m. Sunday, March 15, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum, Longmont

Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Excerpts from Les arts florissants
Jean-Féry Rebel: Lex caractères de la danse: Fantasie
Jean-Baptiste Lully: Excerpts from Bellérophon
Jean-Paul Égide Martini: Plaisir d’amous
Michel Pignolet de Montéclair: Le triomphe de l’Amour

Tickets

Seicento Baroque Ensemble presents “Praise and Lamentations” Nov. 8 & 10

‘Beautiful, inspired’ choral music from the 17th century

By Peter Alexander Nov. 6 at 11:15 p.m.

Amanda Balestrieri’s family just got a lot larger.

The conductor of the Seicento Baroque Ensemble thinks of the choir as family, and they just added 20 new members for their 2019–20 season. “We had just over 20 [singers] last time, and we’ve got over 30 this time,” she says.

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Amanda Balestrieri with Seicento from a past season

“It’s like having a third of your family new family members. It’s been really exciting to greet this new group of people and the atmosphere is great and everyone is very devoted and I think it’s wonderful!”

The expanded “family” will have its debut with a concert titled “Praise & Lamentation: Sacred Music of the Early Baroque,” to be performed in Boulder Friday and Denver Sunday (Nov. 8 and 10). Seicento will be accompanied on the concert by an ensemble of two violins, two violas da gamba and organ. Members of Seicento will play recorder to supplement the ensemble for some pieces.

The program is divided into two sections: “The Croatians,” featuring music by little known composers Vinko Jelić and Ivan Lukačić; and after intermission, music by Franz Tunder, Heinrich Biber and Salamone Rossi, all of whom are well known to scholars of the Baroque, if not to general audiences.

All of the composers on the program were active in the 17th century, the early years of the Baroque style, which is Balestrieri’s performance specialty and the focus of Seicento (the name means 17th-century).

Musical programs get created in many ways. Sometimes, as in the case of some selections on “Praise & Lamentation,” the conductor selects some favorite pieces and arranges compatible pieces around them.

And sometimes the conductor gets a random email from a distant country.

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Amanda Balestrieri

That is exactly what happened with Balestrieri while she was planning the concert. “I received an email from someone in Croatia,” she explains. “It just said, ‘would your ensemble be interested in performing these works by Croatian Baroque composers?’ So I wrote, ‘Tell me more!’”

It turned out that the email came from a retired Croatian architect who has copies of music that is known in Croatia, but largely unknown elsewhere. “Radio choirs in Croatia have done recordings [of their works] that you can find on YouTube, but there’s not a lot of information about these composers,” Balestrieri says

Both composers travelled around Europe, and particularly to Italy, which was a center for the development of the Baroque musical style. “They heard this music and a lot of what was happening in Italy was also happening elsewhere,” Balestrieri says. “So when you listen to this music you would think you were listening to Monteverdi”—the leading Italian composer of the time. “It’s that style of writing.”

The main difference from Monteverdi and others of the time, she says, is that “there are a few unusual harmonies in there. And the other thing you should listen for is the use of female voices” for the phrases of chant that are included in some of the pieces. It was more common for phrases of chant to be assigned to the men’s voices.

The second half of the program came from Balestrieri’s interest in separate settings of Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon.” She knew of the two settings, one in German by Tunder (An Wasserflüssen Babylon) and one in Hebrew by Rossi (Al naharot bavel), and thought it would be fascinating to juxtapose the two on the same program.

“I wanted to do the two settings that contrast so beautifully, one very guttural setting and one beautiful setting,” she said.

But the two settings contrast in other ways than their language and musical style. Tunder sets the first part of the Psalm, which is entirely a lamentation: “We sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. . . How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Rossi’s setting adds the final lines of the Psalm, which are a violent call for revenge: “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed. . . Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

The inclusion of those texts then led Balestrieri to add the “praise” part of the program, to provide balance for the audience. “I always try to make sure that there’s some kind of flow in the emotions,” she says. “If you’re going to go into the depths, you also want to have something uplifting, so that people have a more balanced experience.”

The rest of the program then consists of music by Tunder, by Heinrich Biber, and by Rossi. “It’s almost like a catharsis in the middle of the program,” Balestrieri says.

Salamone Rossi

Salamone Rossi

All three composers have attracted Balestrieri’s attention in the past. Of the three, Rossi is a particularly interesting figure in the history of Baroque music. An Italian Jewish musician, he was employed by the Catholic court of Mantua as concertmaster of the court orchestra, where he heard and played the music of the leading composers of the time.

Rossi’s own works include instrumental pieces and choral settings of Jewish liturgical music in the original Hebrew language—an entirely novel development in his time, and one for which he had to have the permission of the Rabbi. Seicento has sung his music before, and Balestrieri loved it. “The music itself is so beautiful, I wanted to program more of it,” she says.

The concert as a whole mostly comprises music that will be unfamiliar to anyone who has not studied the music of the 17th century, but Balestrieri wants you to know that she doesn’t chose pieces just because the are unknown. “My main criterion is the music has to be really good,” she says. “It’s not a question of just finding any old music that people haven’t heard.”

On this concert, she says, the music she found “is really solid and beautiful and inspired.”

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble

“Praise & Lamentation: Sacred Music of the Early Baroque”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri, conductor
Music by Vinko Jelić, Ivan Lukačić, Franz Tunder, Heinrich Biber and Salamone Rossi

7:30 p.m. Friday, Mov 8, First United Methodic Church, Boulder
3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, Our Merciful Savior Episcopal Church, Denver

Tickets

Amanda Balestrieri wants to ‘see you in court’

Seicento Baroque Ensemble will present ‘A Royal Tour’ of music from the courts of Europe

By Peter Alexander March 21 at 11:30 a.m.

When Amanda Balestrieri says “see you in court,” it’s an offer, not a threat.

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble

As director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble, she knows just how much music originated in the royal courts of the 17th and 18th centuries. And for the group’s final concert of the 2018–19 season, she is pulling music from the courts of England, France and other European countries into a single program. “In Your Court: A Royal Tour” will be performed March 22-24 in Boulder, Denver and Longmont.

In addition to the singers of Seicento, the concert features guest vocal soloists and local freelance instrumentalists who make up a small orchestra. The vocalists are students or recent graduates who wanted more experience with the Baroque style.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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“In Your Court: A Royal Tour”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri, conductor
With guest soloists and instrumentalists

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 22, First United Methodist Church, Boulder
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23, Julian Pavilion, Highland Center, 2945 Julian St., Denver
2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 24, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont

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Seicento focuses on the texts of music for voices and violins

“Baroque Pairings” will be performed in Longmont, Boulder and Denver

By Peter Alexander Nov. 7 at 2:30 p.m.

Amanda Balestrieri, artistic director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble, hopes you will pay attention to the words.

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Amanda Balestrieri, artistic director, and Gerald W. Holbrook, associate conductor and accompanist, with members of Seicento Baroque Ensemble

Seicento’s next concert program, titled “Baroque Pairings: Violins and Voice,” includes several different types of texts, sacred and secular, all set with care and expression. The music comes mostly from the 17thcentury—“Seicento” means 1600s—divided among pieces by German composers and pieces by Venetian and northern Italian composers, including two works from convents in Milan and Novara, Italy.

Performances will be Friday in Longmont, Saturday in Boulder, and in a particularly informal setting Sunday in Denver. The Denver performance will be preceded by a social event with wine available for sale (see details below).

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Amanda Balestrieri

As a singer with a degree in languages, Balestrieri always takes deep interest in the words she sings or directs. For her, what she calls “the marriage of the text” with the music is paramount. “The poet wrote the text, then a composer chooses a text. How do they set this text, and what does this text mean?

“I feel that the text is integral. I’m always involved in the translations, and I am completely on the choir’s case constantly, not only about what the words are, but (the context)—are we in religious fervor, are we in the throes of passion?”

To help direct the listener’s attention to the text, Balestrieri and Seicento came up with an unusual way of laying out the program. The cover lists all the pieces in order—titles and composers—but not the performers. That makes it easy to get an overview of the concert.

Inside the program, every piece is listed again in order, with all the details, including soloists, the text and translation for each piece. “I felt that if we could incorporate the text within the program it would make a lot more sense to people rather than flipping backward and forward all the time through the performance,” she says.

The concert’s theme was suggested by the standard Baroque-era texture of two treble parts and bass. “Around (the 1600s) the violin was becoming a very prominent instrument, and two violins with continuo (bass) was becoming more popular,” Balestrieri says. “It seemed to make sense that first we have the pairing of two violins, and then we have the violins with voices.”

Balestrieri started with music that she knew, and expanded to some new pieces that she found to fit the program. To provide variety, there will be pieces that are instrumental, vocal solos, and choral pieces. Guest performers will be Stacey Brady and Brune Macary, on Baroque violin; Sandra Miller on Baroque cello; and Gerald Holbrook on harpsichord and organ. Vocal soloists will be guests and members of Seicento.

Heinrich Schütz

Heinrich Schütz

The program will be presented in three parts,: “The Germans,” featuring music by Heinrich Schütz, Franz Tunder and Dietrich Buxtehude; “The Nuns of Milan and Novara,” with one piece each by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani and Isabella Leonarda; and “The Venetian School,” with music by Biagio Marini, Claudio Monteverdi, Salamone Rossi and Tarquinio Rossi.

“In the German set, what you hear is the solid faith of the Lutheran church set to music, along with a much more human style,” Balestrieri says. “For example, the Tunder is a solo piece (for voice), ‘Awake Wise Virgins,’ and it’s got the giddy excitement of the bride. You really hear this in the music.

Cozzolani“For the nuns, what’s interesting to listen for is how it might have been sung by all women. This music is quite theatrical, but it’s also very much close harmony. It’s very beautiful in that way.”

In the 17thcentury Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe and was known for its brilliant art and music. It was a center for great experimentation in secular musical styles including the madrigal, as well as brilliant sacred music.

“It’s the sacred and secular cross-over,” Balestrieri says. “You have this beautiful writing, going from violin solo (at the beginning of the set) that’s very experimental and fluid, into the madrigals by Monteverdi—he’s going to be a little more out there.”

Salamone Rossi

Salmon Rossi

The set includes music by Rossi, one of the most remarkable figures of the era. A Jewish violinist/composer who served as concertmaster at the Catholic court in Mantua, Rossi wrote in the style of the period, very much like Monteverdi. “One of the things that is really interesting is that (Rossi) was writing music on a par with all of these other composers,” Balestrieri says.

“He lived through a period of cultural exchange where you have someone who’s forced to live in a ghetto who’s also out doing music and was inducted into court society.”

One of Rossi’s great accomplishments was an extensive set of Jewish liturgical music, Ha-shirim asher li-Shlomo (The Songs of Solomon, after his name and not based on the Biblical Song of Solomon), published in 1623. Three pieces of that collection will close the concert.

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Baroque Pairings: Voices and Violins
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Amanda Balestrieri, artistic director
Music of The Germans, The Nuns of Milan and Novara, and The Venetian School

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, First Evangelical Church, 805 Third Ave., Longmont
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruces St., Boulder
3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, The Studios at Overland Crossing, 2201 Delaware St., Denver (preceded by 2 p.m. pre-concert mixer and wine bar)

Information and tickets

 

“Women Among Men” featured by Pro Musica Colorado Sept. 22-23

Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz is ”a great discovery”

By Peter Alexander Sept. 20 at 8 p.m.

“Women Among Men,” a concert by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, will feature a woman conductor, two women soloists, and a woman composer—and some male composers as well.

Photography by Glenn Ross. http://on.fb.me/16KNsgK

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photography by Glenn Ross.

The conductor is Cynthia Katsarelis, Pro Musica’s music director. The soloists are violinist Yumi Hwang-Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony, and soprano Amanda Balestrieri, artistic director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble. And the composer is Grazyna Bacewicz, who Katsarelis describes as “a great discovery.”

Other composers on the program are J.S. Bach, Joseph Haydn and Mozart. Performances will be Saturday in Denver and Sunday afternoon in Boulder (Sept.  22–23).

Katsarelis points out that the program is filled cheerful pieces. Recent seasons have seen Pro Musica playing some pretty dark, serious works—musical reflections on death, the martyrdom of Joan of Arc, and a tragic shipwreck, for example. “I decided we should do a happy concert for once,” she says.

Grazyna Bacewicz

Grazyna Bacewicz

Bacewicz, Katsarelis’s “great discovery,” is likely better known to violinists than to the audience. She was a virtuoso violinist as well as composer, and she wrote a lot of music for the violin. “I’m going to get her violin sonatas and play those,” Katsarelis says. “I’m really enjoying her music!”

Born in Poland in 1909, Bacewicz lived and worked through the middle of the 20thcentury. The Concerto for String Orchestra was written in 1948, and reflects the clean and bracing neo-classical style of the era between the wars.

“Her aesthetic likes clarity and orchestration that has space,” Katsarelis says. “She didn’t like the giant, dense sound blocks, and in that respect she reminds me of Ravel.

“There are areas that have an impressionistic sound, there are areas that have a Stravinsky-like sound, and sometimes we get eastern European rhythms that are reminiscent of Shostakovich. She’s obviously aware of Bach, and the coloristic effects of Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, and Shostakovich. Without anything sounding derivative, it just sounds like she’s got a really wonderful broad palette.”

A word that Katsarelis uses to describe Bacewicz’s music is “lively,” but she also points out that it is not music that is difficult or unfriendly to audiences. “She knows how to drive a line, but it’s nothing intimidating or scary,” she says. “You can really take it in and enjoy it deeply.”

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Yumi Hwang-Williams

Katsarelis knew Hwang Williams before either moved to Colorado, when Hwang-Williams was principal second violin in the Cincinnati Symphony and Katsarelis was an apprentice conductor with the orchestra. Since they both settled in Colorado, Hwang-Williams has been a soloist with Pro Musica several times.

On this occasion, she is playing one of her favorite pieces, Haydn’s Violin Concerto in C major. “It’s a wonderful, beautiful, ebullient, joyful work,” she says. “I have loved this concerto for a long time, and I’ve always wanted to play it.”

Although it is not a big Romantic showpiece, Hwang-Williams says that the concerto has its own challenges. “There’s a lot of virtuosity,” she says. “It’s just a different kind of virtuosity. The challenge of playing classical repertoire well is that you have to have a lot of refinement in your playing. You need crystal clear intonation and articulation, so what you hear is the purity of the violin, in the tone and phrasing.”

Katsarelis says “It’s just a really wonderful piece, written around the time of his early to middle symphonies. It’s a mature work, from the beginning of his peak—which then lasted for 50 more years!”

The concerto will be followed by a piece that Katsarelis calls “a bonbon”: Die Schätzbarkeit der weiten Erde (The riches of the world), an aria for soprano and violin with strings from Bach’s Cantata No. 204. “Yumi has been talking to me about the wonderful Bach arias that have violin solos,” she explains.

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Amanda Balestrieri

“The concert was a little bit short, so there would be room to do a wonderful bon-bon. The music is charming—and of course, Amanda Balestrieri is the perfect person for this, both because of her voice quality and her musical intelligence.”

The fourth piece on the program is Mozart’s Serenade in D major, K239, known as the “Serenata Notturna” (Nocturnal serenade). “When I was putting together the program, I was shuffling through pieces for string orchestra,” Katsarelis says. “I’d forgotten about this, except that it has two orchestras, the quartet of principals and the string orchestra with also timpani. I looked into it, and I was delighted by the piece right away!”

As Mozart would have done, Pro Musica will separate the two performing groups—”so that we get that aural, spatial surround sound,” Katsarelis says.

Mozart’s serenades, were usually written for celebrations of some kind. The occasion for the “Serenata Notturna” is not known, but was most likely a masked ball during Carnival season. Katsarelis happily suggests that “it’s not difficult to imagine intrigue going on while they were playing this at a masked ball—where you can get away with more than at a non-masked ball!”

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Viennese masked ball

To add to the enjoyment of his Viennese audiences, Mozart incorporated some melodies hat would have been recognized at the time. “That would have added to their delight,” Katsarelis says.  “But the music still carries that delight, even if we don’t know the songs.”

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Women Among Men
with Violinist Yumi Hwang-Williams
Amanda Balestrieri, soprano
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor

7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 22 
Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St., Denver

2 p.m. Sunday, September 23
Mountain View United Methodist, 355 Ponca Pl., Boulder

Mozart: Serenade in D major K. 239, Serenata notturna
Grazyna Bacewicz: Concerto for String Orchestra
Haydn: Violin Concerto in C Major
J.S. Bach: Die Schätzbarkeit der weiten Erde

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Seicento appoints Amanda Balestrieri artistic director

A frequent soloist with Seicento, Balestrieri served as assistant director for the past year

By Peter Alexander May 7 at 1:40 p.m.

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Amanda Balestrieri. Photo courtesy of Seicento Baroque Ensemble

Seicento Baroque Ensemble has appointed Amanda Balestrieri as artistic director for the coming season.

No official announcement has been released, but the news appeared in the form of “A Note from our Artistic Director” on Seicento’s Web page that was signed by Balestrieri.

A soprano who is known for her skill performing early music, Balestrieri succeeds Kevin T. Padworksi, who was appointed director one year ago. Balestrieri has been a frequent soloist with Seicento, and has served as the group’s assistant director for the past year. She will be the group’s third artistic director.

Nancy Lillie, president of Seicento’s Board of Directors, said via email that Padworksi “resigned because unforeseen personal obligations arose and he needed to free up time to attend to them. The Seicento board understood his dilemma and we had an amicable parting.”

Balestrieri is currently out of the country and unavailable for comment. She wrote on the Seicento Web page, “I am delighted to accept the role of artistic director for Seicento Baroque Ensemble and an looking forward to a fabulous eighth season.”

In the same message, Balestrieri announced the topics for two concerts next season: “Baroque Pairings: Voices and Violins” in November and “In Your Court: A Royal Tour” in March. Both programs will be performed in Denver, Boulder and Longmont.

A native of England, Balestrieri received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in modern languages from Oxford University and studied voice in London and Milan. She sang with the Academy Chorus of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner and was a soloist in contemporary music with James Wood’s New London Chamber Choir. After moving to the U.S., Balestrieri appeared with the National Symphony under Leonard Slatkin and Sir Christopher Hogwood. She has also performed with the American Bach Soloists, Smithsonian Chamber Players, Washington Bach Consort, and the New York Collegium.

She has appeared with the Colorado Symphony and most of the early music organizations in Colorado. She is currently affiliate professor of voice at Regis University in Denver, where she has directed the Regis University Collegium Musicum.

Seicento was founded by Evanne Browne, who remains with the organization as artistic director emeritus. She returned to Boulder in March to conduct a program titled “Mad Madrigals.”

Seicento Baroque Ensemble appoints new artistic director

Kevin T. Padworski will succeed founding director Evanne Browne

By Peter Alexander

Seicento Baroque Ensemble, a Boulder-based choral organization specializing in the music of the early Baroque period, has appointed composer/conductor/organist Kevin T. Padworski to succeed Evanne Browne as artistic director.

At the same time Amanda Balestrieri, a soprano who is well known for her early music performances, has been selected as assistant conductor of the group.

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Kevin T. Padworski has been appointed artistic director of Seicento

Browne founded Seicento in 2011 with the goal of “performing worthy but rarely heard music of the early Baroque musical period,” their Web page states. Under Browne’s leadership the auditioned choir has employed historically informed performance practice and period instruments in their performances.

In a statement released by Seicento, Browne praised the choice of Padworski as artistic director, saying, “Seicento is honored to have a musician of this caliber lead our group into the future.”

“Evanne clearly has kind of established a little bit of a legacy here in Colorado,” Padworski says. “I’m following an incredible woman in her field, and I’m excited to work on the repertoire. I’m excited about being able to perform Baroque repertoire up to historically informed performance practice.”

The transition has been made easier by planning that already taken place for the 2017­–18 season. Themes have been selected for two concerts during the year. “The fall theme will be ‘Luther to Bach,’ and that can mean a whole bunch of things,” Padworski says. “That’s really exciting because Luther’s influence was widespread in Europe, so that leaves a lot of composers available to explore.

“Then in the spring they had established a theme called ‘Mad Madrigals.’ It gives us a breadth of madrigal repertoire from a couple of centuries. As I look at that, my initial reaction would be to try to make that as broad as possible.

“I see it as a privilege to work with and collaborate with the people in the ensemble, and to offer music to greater Boulder.”

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Amanda Balestrieri will be assistant conductor of Seicento

Balestrieri has been a frequent soloist with Seicento, most recently for Browne’s last performances with the group March 24–26. She worked closely with Browne and the ensemble over the past six years, and has also appeared with the Boulder Bach Festival, Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, and other performing organizations in Colorado.

“I think it’s going to be a really good collaboration,” she says of her role working with Padworski as assistant conductor. “Kevin’s skills are huge. He’s a singer and a conductor and a keyboard player, and he has energy and wonderful musicianship. What I bring is how to technically execute some of the more difficult parts of the early music style, and a much longer experience in the early music movement.”

Padworski is a doctoral student in choral conducting at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is artistic director of the Colorado Chorale and director of music and organist at Calvary Baptist Church in Denver. He is the composer of both choral and instrumental works, available through MusicSpoke and Santa Barbara Music Publishing.

He performs as an organist, singer, pianist and harpsichordist with an interest in early music. He has appeared professionally with the Jubilate Deo Chorale and Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, Colorado Choral Arts Society, Colorado Symphony, Colorado Symphony Chorus, Colorado Children’s Chorale, Opera Colorado and American Baptist Churches USA, among other organizations.

Padworski holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from Eastern University, a certificate in leadership from the Foundations program at Duke Divinity School, and a master’s degree in conducting from the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music.  He has been a conducting fellow with the Sarteano Chamber Choral Workshop and with Chorus America.

Evanne Browne says farewell with Handel

Seicento performs two early psalm settings composed in Italy

By Peter Alexander

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble

Over the weekend—Friday to Sunday, March 24–26—Evanne Browne will conduct her farewell concerts with Seicento, the Baroque performing group that she founded only six years ago.

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Evanne Browne

The program comprises entirely music by Handel, including settings of Psalm 110, Dixit Dominus, and Psalm 117, Laudate Pueri. Both are set for choir and soloists with strings and will be accompanied by a small orchestra of period instruments, including harpsichord and small organ. There will also be sections of secular cantatas to fill out the program. Performances will be in Denver, Boulder and Estes Park (see below for details).

“It’s my last concert, but it’s the beginning of a new energy with Seicento,” Browne says. “We’re financially sound, we’re finishing the sixth year, and we’ve been well received. People say, ‘oh, that’s your baby,’ but the baby has grown up and is ready for a new influence.”

Interviews have already been held for a new director and auditions will be conducted next week. Browne said the board hopes to announce the new director in April.

Browne moved to the Washington, D.C., area, where she had lived and worked before coming to Boulder, in September and has travelled back to Colorado for all the Seicento’s concerts this year. In the meantime, she has been singing professionally and teaching in the D.C. area since her move.

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Amanda Balestrieri

She picked the program for the concert before she knew it would be her last with Seicento, but the choice is appropriate. “I have known Dixit for along time and wanted to do it,” she says. “Dixit is one of his most incredible choral pieces, and both pieces are chorally flamboyant, and difficult choral singing. If you think Messiah has lots of runs, Dixit is that times two or three.”

The second Psalm setting, Laudate Pueri, was pointed out to Browne by Mark Alan Filbert, who has served as musical director in Browne’s absence this year. Both pieces were written in 1707, when Handel was 22. He was living in Rome, where the Pope had banned opera but sacred music filled the void. Roman choirs of the time seem to have been particularly capable, which explains the difficulty of the music in both Psalm settings.

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Kathryn Radakovitch

While living in Italy, Handel “was influenced by Corelli and other Italians,” Browne says. “He was into an Italian expressiveness, which is so much about word painting and florid vocal lines. And the crunchiness of the dissonances is very Corelli-like. He took that style into his later works, his operas and his oratorios, but I think he’s really exploring the craft here.”

The two Psalm settings do not quite make an hour of music, so Browne selected movements from three of Handel’s cantatas to fill out the program. She chose them, she says, because they contain music that the audience will recognize—the original versions of melodies that appeared later in Messiah.

“People will recognize [the tunes],” she says. “One is ‘For Unto Us a Child is Born,’ and the other is ‘And He shall Purify.’ It’s great fun to hear these Italian texts and especially the Messiah melodies that we know so well in their original form. It’s so familiar but it’s so different.”

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Barbara Hollinshead

Soloists for the performances will be sopranos Amanda Balestrieri and Kathryn Radakovitch and tenor Todd Teske, all from the Boulder area, and mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead who performs in Washington, D.C. There will also be short bass solos from members of Seicento.

“We have fabulous soloists,” Browne says. “There are two duets and one solo cantata, and the women who are doing the cantatas—oh my gosh, they can sing runs, and beautifully! It’s going to be a lot of fun to hear that.”

Just six years ago, Seicento became one of the first historical performance groups in the Boulder area. “When I first came to Boulder, there was very little Baroque vocal music going on, and a little bit of Baroque stringed period-instrument music,” Browne says, pointing out how much more there is now. “I am very, very proud of this organization and the way it has been managed,” she says.

“I’m grateful and I’m excited for the future of Seicento.”

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Seicento Baroque Ensemble
Evanne Browne, artistic director and conductor
Sopranos Amanda Balestrieri and Kathryn Radakovitch, mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead and tenor Todd Teske

Handel: Dixit Dominus and Laudate Pueri
Selections from Italian secular catnatas

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24
St. Paul Lutheran Church & Catholic Church, 1600 Grant. St. Denver

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25
First United Methodist Church, 2412 Spruce St., Boulder

2 p.m. Sunday, March 26
Stanley Hotel Concert Hall, 333 east Wonder View, Estes Park

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