Pianist Andrew Staupe brings two very different concertos to the BCO

Bahman Saless will conduct works by J.C Bach, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky

By Peter Alexander Jan. 26 at 10 p.m.

Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bobo.

Conductor Bahman Saless will join with pianist Andrew Staupe and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra Saturday (7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Boulder Adventist Church) to present “Diversions from History,” a program that balances some diversions from the usual programming with one of the most familiar works from the Romantic era.

“That’s what you do when you do programming,” Saless says. “You go ‘well, we need something that brings the audience in.’”

“Something” in this case is the Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings, a piece that the often self-critical composer wrote “does not lack artistic worth.” It does not lack admirers, either, being one of the most performed of Tchaikovsky’s works. It has been heard in films, TV shows, and, remarkably, as the lead in to commercial breaks for an NFL playoff game.

If the Serenade provided the audience draw, the other two works on the program provided the concert’s title. And they are certainly a diversion from the standard repertoire: the Piano Concerto in E-flat, op 7 no. 5, by Johann Christian Bach, and the Concerto No. 1 for Piano by Shostakovich. 

Andrew Staupe

“Staupe wanted to do two small concertos,” Saless explained. This may have been a reaction to his last performance with Saless and the BCO in 2018, when he played the massive Piano Concerto No 3 of Johann Nepomuk Hummel, a contemporary of Beethoven. “It’s crazy hard!” Saless says of that concerto, suggesting that Staupe wanted something different this time.

When they started looking for shorter concertos, Saless remembered conducting music by J.C. Bach in Europe. “I was fascinated,” he says. “Also, I read that he and another composer, (Carl Friedrich) Abel, wrote the first piano concertos, the way we know them, in terms of writing for piano rather than harpsichord.”

The youngest son of J.S. Bach, Johann Christian is known as “The London Bach” from having lived there for many years. He is important in history as a transitional figure between his father’s Baroque style and the high classic style of Mozart and Haydn, and for having taught the eight-year-old Mozart in London. In fact, the young Mozart’s first concertos were modeled on works by J.C. Bach.

At a distance of more than 150 years, Shostakovich stands at a long remove from J.C. Bach. “We’re basically playing the music by a composer from the beginning of piano concerto as we’re familiar with, to the end of piano concerto as we’re familiar with,” Saless says.

But there is a musical connection, in that Shostakovich ties his concerto to earlier eras in various ways. He uses contrapuntal textures that recall the Baroque era of the elder Bach in the concerto’s fast movements, and quotes themes by Beethoven, including the “Appassionata” Sonata at the very outset, and the so-called “Rage Over a Lost Penny” in the finale.

Derek McDonald

Shostakovich originally set out to write a trumpet concerto, but at some point he decided that the music needed a piano. As he continued to compose, the piano became more prominent, until he decided it was turning into a concerto for piano—with trumpet—although it is effectively a double concerto for the two instruments. The trumpet soloist will be Derek McDonald, the principal trumpet of the BCO.

The two soloists have their work cut out for them, Saless says. “The tempos are so wild! When it’s that fast, it’s a hard piece to put together. We’re going to have to practice a lot.”

Because of the fast tempos, “the pianist makes the decisions because the jumps in the left hand between the very end of the piano and the middle are ridiculous. Most of the tempos came from (Staupe) and (McDonald) is just making sure that he can play at the tempo that Andrew wants.”

In places it goes so fast that “the best thing (for the conductor) is not to get in the way,” Saless says. “You just conduct really small and let them do it. And you pray!”

Tchaikovsky wanted a large, lush string orchestra for the Serenade. The BCO is limited in numbers, due to COVID and the small stage space of the Adventist Church where they perform. “The problem is, how many people can we fit on that stage, and how many people do we WANT on the stage during the pandemic,” Saless says.

“But we’ve got 24 strings, so this is one of our bigger string sections. We have five cellos and two basses, which is pretty big for us. It’s going to be a nice, full sound.”

It’s not obvious, but the Serenade’s rich, Romantic score has a connection to the Classical elements of the other works on the program. Tchaikovsky was an ardent admirer of Mozart, to whom he intended a tribute in the Serenade’s first movement.

Whether you hear a connection with Mozart—and it is subtle—or hear the Beethoven quotations in Shostakovich, the program of three varied works is designed to appeal to varied tastes. And Saless hopes you will want to experience all three. “Come hear,” he says, suggesting a pun. 

“Come see. And listen!”

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“Diversions in History’
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Andrew Staupe, piano, and Derek McDonald, trumpet

  • Johann Christian Bach: Piano Concerto in E-flat major, op. 7 no. 5
  • Shostakovich: Concerto No. 1 for Piano
  • Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29
Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder

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Joining a growing trend, Boulder Chamber Orchestra plans return to the stage

2021-22 season will celebrate heroes and mourn victims of the past year

By Peter Alexander June 25 at 5:24 p.m.

Bahman Saless, music director of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO), can hardly wait to get back in front of a live audience

Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra.

“Oh my god yes, I’m dying!” he says.

The BCO recently announced their 2021–22 season, which will feature a mix of orchestra concerts and mini-chamber concerts through the coming year—very much the pattern of previous seasons. “People want to feel that normalcy is back, and that was the whole plan,” Saless says. “We haven’t gone anywhere, we’re here, and we’re going to have a super season!”

For those who prefer to retain some social distancing in public situations, Saless points out that the current location of most of their concerts, Boulder’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church, had a large space that does not usually sell out. 

“We never filled all the seats, because Seventh Day Adventist is pretty big.” He says. “I think the same number of people will want to come back, in which case they would still be OK. They could occupy the entire place, sitting  every other seat. We’re all crossing our fingers that things will get even better and they will get back to normal by October. I’m pretty confident we should be OK.”

Saless says the programs were chosen to fit the timing, of opening up again after a pandemic. “We’re going to celebrate heroes, the people that were in the front line with COVID,” he says. “That’s the first concert, with the Beethoven “Eroica” (Symphony). And then (we remember) the victims, which is the last concert.”

Howard Goodall

The major piece on that closing concert is Eternal Light by British composer Howard Goodall, a piece that Saless says recalls his years in a British boarding school. “I was homesick for so long about English hymn tunes,” he says. “When I heard this piece I was like ‘Oh my God, this is what I’ve wanted to do!’ I thought it would be very fitting to dedicate that concert to the people who lost their lives to COVID. And it’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Most of the rest of the season is music that Saless had originally planned for the “lost” season of 2020-21.

A discounted season ticket for the 2021–22 season is available here. You may purchase tickets to the individual concerts by clicking through from that page to the listing of each concert.

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Mini-Chamber Concert
Members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra performing string quintets

  • Dvorak: String Quintet, Op. 97
  • Mozart: String Quintet in G Minor, K. 515

8 PM, Sept. 23, 2021, Boulder Seventh-Day Adventist Church

“Celebrating the Heroes”: All-Beethoven Concert
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor, with
Jennifer Hayghe, piano

  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major (“Eroica”)
  • Beethoven: Concerto for Piano No. 4 in G major

7:30 PM, Oct. 23, 2021, Boulder Seventh-Day Adventist Church

Maxime Goulet

“A Gift of Music”: Celebrating the Season with BCO Stars
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor, with
Joey Howe, cello, and Kellan Toohey, clarinet

  • Maxime Goulet:  Symphonic Chocolates
  • Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme
  • Mozart: Clarinet Concerto

7:30 PM, Dec. 11, Boulder Seventh-Day Adventist Church

“Diversions in History”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor, with
Andrew Staupe, piano, and Sam Dusinberre, trumpet

  • Johann Christian Bach: Concerto for Piano in E-flat
  • Dimitri Shostakovich: Concerto for Piano No. 1
  • Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings.

7:30 PM, Jan. 29, 2022, Boulder Seventh-Day Adventist Church

Mini-Chamber concert
Program TBA
Feb. 12, 2022.

“Eternal Light”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor, with
Boulder Chorale, directed by Vicki Burrichter

  • Vladimir Martynov: Come in! (Colorado premiere)
  • Howard Goodall: Requiem Eternal Light (in memory of the lives lost due to the pandemic; Colorado premiere)

8 PM. April 1, 2022, First United Methodist Church

Colored socks lead to Boulder Chamber Orchestra concert

Concerto by Hummel, incidental music by Beethoven on the program Feb. 23–24

By Peter Alexander Feb. 21 at 2:45 p.m.

The program for the next concert by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra began with a pair of socks.

bconew_1

Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. Photo by Keith Bobo.

There are two works on the program, both written in the 1810s and both just outside the central Classical repertoire. The first will be Beethoven’s complete incidental music for Goethe’s drama Egmont, composed in 1810—a less-known work by a major composer. The Third Piano Concerto of Beethoven’s younger contemporary Johann Nepomuk Hummel was written only a little later, in 1819—a major work by a less-known composer.

Joining conductor Bahman Saless and the BCO for the concert will be soprano Christie Conover to sing two arias from the Egmont music, and pianist Andrew Staupe for the Hummel Concerto. Performances will be Friday, Feb. 23, in Lone Tree, and Saturday, Feb 24, in Boulder.

But back to those socks.

Staupe-Slide2

Pianist Andrew Staupe. His socks intrigued conductor Bahman Saless.

Saless first met pianist Andrew Staupe when he played with the Colorado Symphony. “He invited me to his concert, and I think he did Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto,” Saless says. “I met him there, and I was intrigued by his socks.”

His socks? “He wears colored, very obviously different socks on each leg, and he purposely wears shorter pants so you can see the socks. I liked this guy already!”

Thanks to those socks, Saless and Staupe became friends, and one day Staupe asked about playing the Hummel Third Concerto. It’s not performed often, partly because it is so difficult, but it was a piece he really wanted to do. “He knew I’m the kind of person who likes to do things that are not often played,” Saless explains.

Johann-nepomuk-hummel

Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Painting after Möller. Original in the Goethemuseum, Düsseldorf.

Hummel lived in Vienna at the same time as Beethoven, and the two of them studied with the same teachers when they were starting their careers. An informal but mostly respectful rivalry developed between them as pianists, and Hummel wrote his concertos as virtuoso showpieces for his own performances.

As a result the Hummel piano concertos have the reputation of being extremely difficult to learn. Saless recalls talking to another pianist who said he might be able to learn one of them in two or three years.

The Third Concerto in particular is, Saless says, “a crazy piano marathon. I don’t know how anybody performs it. The soloist rarely stops playing, and it is unbelievably hard. It’s inhuman!” In fact, the piece is so rarely performed that there is no full score available; Saless will conduct from a two-piano score.

A link between the classical and Romantic periods, Hummel wrote in a highly decorative piano style that anticipated later composers. “The forecasting of Chopin is ridiculous,” Saless says. “So you hear Chopin, and you hear a little bit of Rossini here and there.”

Beethoven received a commission for music to accompany a performance of Goethe’s play Egmont, to be presented in the summer of 1810. The play, about a nobleman who was executed in the 16th century for resisting Spanish tyranny in the Netherlands, appealed to Beethoven’s own political idealism, and he wrote some of his most powerful music for the performance. The Overture is especially well known, and was associated with the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union.

Christie-Conover-cropped

Soprano Christie Conover will sing two arias from Beethoven’s music for Goethe’s Egmont.

Beethoven wrote 10 pieces for the play, including the Overture, two songs for the character Klärchen, and dramatic entr’actes to be played between the five acts of the play. Because Egmont’s death leads to a victorious uprising, the final piece is titled “Victory Symphony.” Played as Egmont is led offstage to his execution, it repeats the final triumphant section of the Overture.

Saless first heard the complete music to Egmont at the Colorado Music Festival in 2003, and since the two composers knew one another, he thought it would be a good piece to share the program with Hummel. The entr’actes are more than just filler between acts, often being part of the drama as it unfolds. “Some are very theatrical, as you might guess,” Saless says

“A couple of movements are literally oboe concertos, following the theme of the previous aria by the soprano. Other movements are militaristic, with snare drum playing like soldiers marching.

“The arias are absolutely beautiful—very tuneful arias. Some of the movements have the sudden changes of mood that we’re so used to in Beethoven. He does such a good job [of telling the story].”

To make sure that the storytelling is not lost on the audience, Saless will provide projections to explain the drama as it unfolds in the music. Between Beethoven’s explicitly theatrical music and the challenges of Hummel’s “inhuman” concerto, it should be a dramatic concert. And Saless has some cogent advice for the audience:

“Pay attention to his socks!”

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Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Andrew Staupe, piano, and Christie Conover, soprano

Beethoven: Incidental Music to Goethe’s Egmont
Johann Nepomuk Hummel: Piano Concerto No. 3

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, Lone Tree Arts Center, Lone Tree
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, Boulder Adventist Church, Boulder

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