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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Tickets

Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra celebrate all the holidays

Music from a Mexican beach and a crazy Brazilian conductor

By Peter Alexander

Conductor Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) have a couple of holiday traditions.

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Guitarist Chaconne Klaverenga will be featured soloist with the BCO

Every year they honor the December holidays as ecumenically as possible with a concert titled “A Gift of Music,” performed mid-month in Broomfield and Boulder. After that they present a New Year’s Eve concert in Lakewood featuring Viennese and other light classical selections.

This year’s “Gift of Music” doesn’t have any traditional holiday music on the program, “because we want it to be multi-denominational,” Saless says. Instead, the program reflects the holidays through music of lighthearted beauty and good cheer.

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Flutist Cobus du Toit is a member of the BCO

Saless selected three works for the program: the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo, featuring young guitar virtuoso Chaconne Klaverenga as soloist; Pastorale Suite for flute and strings by Gunnar de Frumerie, with the BCO’s Cobus du Toit as soloist; and Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 5.

With all the Nutcrackers, Messiahs and other traditional musical performances in December, New Year’s almost gets overlooked by classical musicians in this country. But in Europe, it is the focus of many performances, particularly the annual New Year’s Day concert of the Vienna Philharmonic.

It is that tradition that the BCO channels every year with its New Year’s Eve concert.

This year, Saless steps aside for guest conductor Claudio Cohen, director of the National Orchestra of Brasilia in Brazil. He and Saless are doing a “podium exchange,” with Cohen conducting here New Year’s Eve, and Saless traveling to Brazil in October.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Boulder Chamber Orchestra

The Gift of Music
Bahman Saless, conductor, with
Chaconne Klaverenga, guitar, and Cobus du Toit, flute
7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, Boulder Adventist Church, Boulder

A New Year’s Eve Celebration
Claudio Cohen, guest conductor
6:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 31, Lakewood Cultural Center, Lakewood

Information and tickets

 

Boulder Chamber Orchestra and soloists delight with rare, youthful works

Performances of music by Mendelssohn and Janáček were ‘charming and expressive’

By Peter Alexander

Last night (Nov. 10), Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra gave charming and expressive performances of two little known works: Mendelssohn’s Concerto for piano, violin and strings, written when the composer was 14; and Janáček’s Idyll for Strings, written when the composer was 24.

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

Both scores have been eclipsed by greater works that came later in the composers’ careers. But last night’s performances were refined and stylish, making a case for the Concerto and the Idyll.

The program and others this year mark a return to genuine chamber orchestra repertoire for the BCO, after an excursion into the large-symphony realm last year. This is a good decision: the BCO sounded better and more comfortably at home with these two works than ever. It is one the best concerts I have heard them give.

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Zachary Carrettin and Mina Gajic

The soloists for the Mendelssohn, pianist Mina Gajić and violinist Zachary Carrettin, ripped through their often-virtuosic parts, tossing off Mendelssohn’s adolescent show-off riffs with aplomb. The young Mendelssohn was clearly drawing on classical models for structure and syntax, but he did not hesitate to use more dramatic Romantic gestures for the solo parts.

For example, the Concerto opens with a Mozartian introduction that would not be out of place in the catalog of any Classical composer. The piano then seems to drop in from another planet—call it the world of heroic soloists—entering with stentorian chords and flamboyant arpeggios. Gajić played with complete command, and was matched by Carrettin’s flourishes on the violin.

The mixture of styles is especially evident when Mendelssohn begins to develop his carefully balanced melodies, spinning off into unexpected keys and sudden changes of mood. Writing for himself to perform on piano with his violin teacher, he seems unable to resist showing everything he can do with the material.

Much of the slow movement is a Romanza for the two soloists, which provided some of the best moments. The Finale bounces between light-hearted jollity and stormy outbursts of passion, much as we can imagine the 14-year-old Mendelssohn doing with his own playing. Gajić and Carrettin followed Mendelssohn through every twist and turn, matching one another note-for-note through all the movement’s many scampering scales and runs.

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Bahman Saless: Czech in a former life?

Saless and the BCO came into their own with the Janáček Idyll, a suite of seven movements marked with the sweet melancholy and dance rhythms of Czech folk music. Saless spends part of every year in Prague and has said that he must have been Czech in a previous life.

If so, his performance of the Idyll was clear evidence of his identification with Czech culture. His interpretation was sensitive and deeply expressive throughout. Apart from an occasional muddiness in the lowest parts—likely due more to the venue than the players—the performance was exemplary. Though little known, the Idyll contains music of unexpected beauty.

The performance will be repeated, tonight at 7:30 in Boulder’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Both pieces are well worth hearing: the Mendelssohn is a delightful glimpse of a young genius at play, brought delightfully to life, and the Janáček is filled with wistful beauty, played with deep expression.

You can order your tickets here. You won’t be sorry.

Youthful works form the Boulder Chamber Orchestra’s program Nov. 10 & 11

Music by Mendelssohn and Janáček with soloists Mina Gajić and Zachary Carrettin

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) calls its current season “Fourteeners,” in honor of the their 14th season and their goal of “reaching new heights.”

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BCO and Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bobo.

It may or may not be a coincidence, then, that conductor Bahman Saless chose a piece by the 14-year-old Mendelssohn for the next concert, to be performed Friday in Broomfield and Saturday in Boulder (Nov. 10 and 11). The program features pianist Mina Gajić and violinist Zachary Carrettin playing Mendelssohn’s Concerto for piano, violin, and strings from 1823.

Joining the Mendelssohn on the program is another youthful piece, the Idyll for Strings by Leoš Janáček, written when the composer was 24—a relatively young age for someone who lived and worked into his 70s.

Mendelssohn’s concerto is a youthful work, but it should not, Saless maintains, be considered an immature piece. “It gives the audience the chance to see the charm that you find in early Mendelssohn, and quite frankly his genius at that age,” he says. “It’s a pretty fascinating snapshot of what he was able to do at the time, and what he will be doing later.”

Carrettin agrees. “It’s an early work, but not that early,” he says. “He wrote it at 14, but at 16 he wrote the String Octet, which is considered by all to be a complete, mature masterpiece. In these two years, Mendelssohn becomes a fully formed master composer.”

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Zachary Carrettin and Mina Gajic

Gajić and Carrettin are known for their historically informed performances with the Boulder Bach festival, of which he is the artistic director. The performance with Saless and the BCO will be entirely on modern instruments, including the piano, but Gajić and Carrettin, who are married to one another, have been practicing the concerto at home with their own historical pianos and violin bows. Using instruments from Mendelssohn’s time, they have found, gives insights into the music.

One of the pianos that they rehearsed with dates from 1845, during Mendelssohn’s lifetime. “It’s just a whole world of colors and possibilities for phrasing that come naturally on an instrument like this,” Gajić explains. “Because they’re so related to the instrument’s nature, it’s revealing to look into special colors, timings, pedaling. It’s wonderful to see how certain pieces unlock themselves on a piano like this.”

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The 1845 piano that Gajic and Carrettin have used for rehearsals (photo by Peter Alexander)

“Every time we go back to the 1845 (piano) in rehearsal, it reveals something that the other pianos didn’t reveal,” Carrettin adds.

One difference using earlier pianos and bows is tempo. To Carrettin and Gajić it feels right to play faster on the older, lighter instruments. “For us, the later the instrument, the more resonance, the thicker the sound, the more we find that if we go just a couple of clicks slower, the sonorities make more sense with the character of the music,” he says.

That character, Carrettin explains, falls between the Classic and Romantic styles. “It has a little bit of tension between classical rhetoric and Romantic expression,” he says. “There’s a sense of walking between two worlds at a particular time in history, which I love.”

The score combines expressive melodies with virtuosic flourishes, all in a chamber music texture of exchange between soloists and orchestra. “It’s really exciting to bring the chamber music aspect into a concerto,” Gajić says. “We’ll have a great time performing with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra.”

Saless is equally excited. “It’s always a pleasure and an honor to work with Zachary and Mina,” he says. “It’s a charming piece, and performing with a husband and wife couple also makes it intriguing, because it’s like the violin and piano could be one instrument.”

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Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bobo

Saless and the BCO played the Janáček Idyll before, and it’s a piece that he feels a special connection with. “The first time I conducted it was in the Czech Republic and I fell in love with it,” he says. “It’s such a [cultural] identity piece, especially the last movement that brings this absolute joy of Czech culture. I think if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I was Czech in my last life!”

We think of Janáček as a 20th-century composer, because his best known works were composed after 1900, but the Idyll was written in 1878, more than 20 years before the new century. The first performance was heard by Dvořák, a friend of the younger composer who is often cited as an influence on the Idyll. But Saless isn’t sure about the influence.

“It’s hard to say if it’s Dvořák’s influence or just Czech influence,” he says. “Because it’s so Czech, it sounds like Dvořák.”

Some of Janáček’s later and better known pieces are fairly complex and spiky, but the Idyll is very straightforward. “It’s much more approachable,” Saless says. “It’s a suite of seven movements like folk songs, and that’s really all it is. It’s pretty simple.”

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to play, however. “There are some parts that are just impossibly hard,” Saless says. “There are some really hard cello parts. I’ve done quite a few Janáček pieces in the Czech Republic, and every orchestra complains how hard it is.”

The difficulty of the string writing probably reflects Janáček’s training as a pianist and organist and not a string player. “My guess is that he was so young that he was writing more as a composer that was not so familiar with the limitations (of the instruments),” Saless says.

“Having said that, it’s just gorgeous. Don’t miss it!”

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Idyllic Mendelssohn
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Mina Gajić, piano, and Zachary Carrettin, violin

 

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10
Broomfield Auditorium, 3 Community Park Rd., Broomfield

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11
Boulder Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder

PROGRAM

Mendelssohn: Concerto for piano, violin, and strings
Leoš Janáček: Idyll for Strings

Tickets

Boulder Chamber Orchestra offers a journey from darkness to joy

Beethoven Ninth Symphony is the culmination of BCO’s 13th season

By Peter Alexander

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

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has become the ultimate summit for many in the musical world: conductors, orchestras, singers and audiences.

The symphony, and especially the last movement with its text proclaiming that “all men become brothers,” has become equal parts an artistic, spiritual and political icon of Western culture. It the first choice for orchestras celebrating everything from an important anniversary up to the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, when Leonard Bernstein conducted a multi-national performance in the city where the wall had once stood.

As the culmination of their 13th season, the Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra reach that summit Friday at Macky Auditorium, with additional performances in Lakewood Saturday and Lone Tree Sunday. Performing with the BCO will be the Boulder Chorale and soloists Szilvia Schranz, soprano, Rebecca Robinson, mezzo-soprano, Jason Baldwin, tenor, and Malcolm Ulbrick, bass.

As it has for many orchestras, the Ninth closes the cycle of the Beethoven symphonies for the BCO. It’s a large undertaking for a small orchestra, but it was a goal that Saless and the BCO could not pass up.

“It’s the last Beethoven symphony we haven’t done yet,” Saless says. ”We sat together with the board and said ‘Well, we’ve done all the eight, what are we going to do next?’ So it just kind of made sense from a historic point of view.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony/Ode to Joy
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
Boulder Chorale
Szilvia Schranz, soprano, Rebecca Robinson, mezzo-soprano, Jason Baldwin, tenor, and Malcolm Ulbrick, bass

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 5, Macky Auditorium, Boulder (Unity Concert)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6, Lakewood Cultural Center, Lakewood

2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Lone Tree Arts Center, Lone Tree

Tickets

 

 

Boulder Chamber Orchestra returns to basics for 14th season

Concertos familiar and unfamiliar will decorate the 2017–18 season

By Peter Alexander

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Boulder Chamber Orchestra: Fourteeners all year for 2017–18

Conductor Bahman Saless is calling next year’s season of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) “Fourteeners,” because it is their 14th season, but there are no massive summits on the horizon.

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Bahman Saless returns to basics

“If there were going to be a theme it would be going back to our basics,” he says of the season’s program. “We have kind of stretched ourselves for a year or two, to get us to some benchmarks, and now we can go back to our more intimate chamber orchestra concerts.”

The search for benchmarks has led Saless and the BCO into Romantic territory, with concertos and symphonies by Brahms, and this season’s performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (coming May 5, 6 and 7). But the 2017–18 season stays mostly in the classical period, which is the core repertoire for smaller orchestras, including two symphonies by Mozart and one each by Haydn and Schubert.

Along with chamber orchestra basics, the season will be decorated by concertos, some of them familiar and some virtually unknown. Undoubtedly the least familiar will be on the December concert, when the orchestra’s principal flutist, Cobus du Toit, will be featured in the Pastorale Suite for flute and strings by Swedish composer Gunnar de Frumerie.

It’s a piece that Saless literally found on a beach in Mexico.

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Cobus du Toit: Playing music from a Mexican beach

“Cobus has been bugging me for a concerto to do with him for a while, and I love showing him off,” he says. “I was in Mexico by the beach and I heard this on my phone, and I’m like, ‘I’ve never heard this before! I’ve got to do this!’

“I really don’t know anything about the composer. The piece is unknown enough that even Cobus had to look it up!”

Another unfamiliar solo work will be the Concerto for piano, violin and strings by Mendelssohn, written when the composer was 14 years old, and unpublished in his lifetime. It will be performed in November by pianist Mina Gajic and violinist Zachary Carrettin.

Filling out the roster of little known concertos will be the Piano Concerto No. 3 in B minor by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, a contemporary of Beethoven who succeeded Haydn as Kapellmeister to the Hungarian Prince Esterhazy. Known principally as a piano virtuoso, Hummel wrote eight concertos for his own use of which, Sales says, the Third is “really hard to do.” It will be performed in February by Andrew Staupe.

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Soprano Christie Conover

Beethoven will provide another rarity for the February concert, the complete incidental music for the play Egmont by Goethe. The Overture is a common concert opener, but the full incidental music, including songs that will be sung by soprano Christie Conover, is not often heard.

Well known solo works on the season schedule are Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, played by Sharon Park and Andrew Krimm; and the Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra by Joaquín Rodrigo, performed by Chaconne Klaverenga. The season wraps up in May with a concert that will feature four members of the BCO in Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, bassoon, violin and cello.

Tickets for the 2017–18 season will go on sale through the BCO Web page May 5. The full season schedule and programs are listed below.

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October 20, 21
Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major, K364 for violin and viola
—Sharon Park, violin, and Andrew Krimm, viola
Mozart: Symphony No 29 in A major, K201
Elgar: String Serenade

November  10, 11
Mendelssohn: Concerto for piano, violin and strings
—Mina Gajic, piano, and Zachary Carrettin, violin
Janacek: Idyll for strings

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Chaconne Klaverenga

December 15, 16
Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra
—Chaconne Klaverenga, guitar
Gunnar de Frumerie: Pastorale Suite For Flute and Strings, op. 13
—Cobus du Toit, flute
Schubert Symphony No. 5 in D major, D485

February 23, 24
Hummel: Piano Concerto No. 3 in B minor
—Andrew Staupe, piano
Beethoven: Overture and Incidental Music to Egmont
—Christie Conover, soprano

March 30, 31
Mozart: Requiem in D minor, K626
—Boulder Chorale
—Soloists TBD

May  11,12
Haydn: Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat major for oboe, bassoon, violin and cello
—Soloists from the orchestra
Haydn: Symphony No. 95 in C minor
Mozart: Symphony No. 36 in C major, K 425 (Linz)

 

 

With BCO, comfortably familiar Americana takes many forms

By Peter Alexander

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Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

“The Americans,” the current program of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO), offers comfortably familiar Americana in several different guises.

The program, led by conductor Bahman Saless and featuring violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, was performed last night (Nov. 11) in the Broomfield Auditorium. It will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave. (tickets).

The program opens with genteel music from America’s “Gilded Age” of the late 19th century, the Air and Gavotte from Bostonian Arthur Foote’s Serenade for Strings. Here, the American-ness resides mostly in Foote’s careful homage to the music of Europe and avoidance of anything overtly American—characteristic of American high culture at the time, especially in New England.

Tenderly played by the BCO, the Air made a gentle start to the program. The following Gavotte is a Romanticized, drawing-room version of the Baroque dance, but none the less pleasant for that. Both were played with care.

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Composer David Jaffe

Leaping more than 120 years, the BCO followed with the American premiere of David Jaffe’s Violin Concerto, How Did it Get so Late so Soon? This highly personal but unmistakably American work received a vigorous performance from the orchestra and Pollick, for whom the concerto was written, and by whom it was premiered in Lithuania Aug. 27.

A former bluegrass musician, Jaffe has filled the score with quotes and references to American music from the blues to the protest music of the 1930s. You may not hear the Woody Guthrie song he quotes, but the overall tone will be familiar to American audiences. The blues inflections, the outbreaks of Appalachian fiddling, the folk-tune-like melodies all come from a world we recognize.

There are portions of the concerto that sound as American as anything by Copland. But these ideas are always refracted thought a Charles Ives-ian sensibility, so that the music never settles into an extensive folkish groove. To my ears, that makes it all the more interesting: you never know what will happen next, but it all hangs together in a fascinating mélange. Bravo to Saless and the BCO for programming a work that deserves to be heard widely.

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Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick

The orchestra played with a natural and relaxed understanding of Jaffe’s style. The small string section was always solid, and the second movement in particular featured some outstanding wind playing.

An enthusiastic advocate of the music she performs, Pollick played with great energy and conviction. Disclosure: I have known her since we were both music students in the 1980s, but to my entirely non-objective ear, she handled the concerto with virtuosic ease.

The rest of the program is too familiar to require extensive comment. In these fractious times, the Barber Adagio for Strings could be heard as an expression of sorrow for our broken country, and Copland’s Appalachian Spring as the hope that if we follow our hearts, things can be mended. But I doubt that anyone really wants to hear music as political metaphor.

The Barber was played with warmth and careful dynamic control. When played by a chamber orchestra, Appalachian Spring becomes less rugged, more delicate. There were a few bobbles, but Copland’s tender lyricism and robust energy were well conveyed. When everyone was having as much fun as Saless broadcast from the podium, further criticism seems irrelevant.