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.

Boulder Chamber Orchestra opens 13th season, titled “Jinx”

Highly polished violin soloist and rocky Brahms First fill the program

By Peter Alexander

Last night Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra opened “Jinx,” their 13th season, with a program that challenged the orchestra and the soloist, violinist Yabing Tan.

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John Tayer in his natural environment as CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce

The concert in the Boulder Adventist Church on Mapleton opened with an appearance by Boulder Chamber of Commerce CEO John Tayer as guest conductor. The orchestra played Johan Strauss, Jr.’s spirited Tritsch Tratsch Polka with appropriate vigor, while Tayer provided choreography on the podium—posing on one foot, making pantomime gestures and leading the audience in clapping. There was no sign of a jinx in this cheerful start to the season.

The rest of the concert’s first half was given over to Tan’s performance of two staples of the violin repertoire, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saëns and Henryk Wieniawski’s Second Concerto. The order—Strauss, Saint-Saëns, Wieniawski—was like going from desert to main course, but all the dishes were well prepared.

Tan earned her appearance with the BCO as winner of the Classic Alive Artist Competition. She has a silky sound that was well displayed throughout. She has said of the Saint-Saëns “if you practice for years and hours, then it’s not so hard.” Clearly she has put in the practice, because the music was completely under control. If anything, it seemed too easy, so comfortable that the music’s innate drama was understated.

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Yabing Tan

The same was true to some extent of her polished performance of the Wieniawski Concerto. She flashed through all the technical passages easily, while floating beautifully through the lyrical passages. The only thing missing was a fiery spark of excitement.

The Romance emerged as a lovely interlude between the outer movements, as Tan carried Wieniawski’s lyrical lines with great tenderness. She was aided by outstanding playing from the solo clarinet. The performance caught fire in the à la Zingara (gypsy style) finale, providing a bit of flash and dash for the ending. Saless and the BCO provided sympathetic support throughout.

Brahms’s First Symphony is a serious and complex work, Brahms’s studied answer to expectations that he would follow Beethoven as the great German symphonist. This large-scale symphony was a severe test for the small forces of the BCO, pushing them to and sometimes beyond their limit. All the notes were in place, the dynamic contours generally clear, but Brahms needs more than that.

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BCO conductor Bahman Saless

To begin with, the orchestra failed to retune before beginning the symphony. The pitch never really settled comfortably until the players finally tuned again before the last movement. The lack of precise pitch agreement created a muddied and raw sound, especially when the full ensemble was playing. This compounded the natural problems that result when a small orchestra undertakes a piece that requires weight and strength.

Problems were evident in the very first notes of the introduction, when the timpani, positioned in a corner of the resonant church sanctuary, overwhelmed the rest of the orchestra. In the rest of the introduction one heard mostly a wall of wind sound, with moving lines within the small-ish string section rendered almost inaudible.

Once the Allegro portion of the movement got underway, the more lightly scored passages were much more satisfactory. Tutti climaxes, however, always tended to sound heavy and unclear. Full chords from the winds and rhythmic impulses from the brass often covered the strings. Since the strings carry much of the musical argument, a lot of what was happening in the score was not available to the listeners.

Another problem, at least in the space of the Adventist Church, is that the limited range of dynamics and weight available to a smaller orchestra did not allow for powerful contours over longer stretches of music. In other words, local contours were well shaped, but across longer spans everything fell within the same range. Extremes were lost, at both the delicate and weighty ends of the spectrum.

With intonation improved, the beginning of the finale was the best part of the symphony. The buildup to the big theme, which Saless had pointed out before the performance, was effective, and the ending achieved a satisfying level of excitement and impact.

There were outstanding performances by the individual players in the orchestra—the principal clarinet, flute and oboe were notable. Concertmaster Annamaria Karacson’s solos were beautifully played. The horn had some lovely moments, although always at the risk of overwhelming the string sound.

In short, the individual players fully met the challenges of Brahms’s First. Alas, the BCO collectively did not. The strengths and weaknesses of the performance should stand as a cautionary note for chamber orchestras venturing into large-orchestra territory.

BCO Opens Risky 13th Season

Season opens with Brahms’ First, ends with Beethoven’s Ninth

By Peter Alexander

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BCO Music Directo Bahman Saless. Photo courtesy of Boulder Chamber Orchestra.

Unlike high-end hotels, Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) do not shy away from the bad luck associated with the number 13.

In fact they are embracing the risk, calling their upcoming 13th season “Jinx” and boldly ending the season with a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a work that has its own implied curse. In a concert titled “Ode to Joy,” the BCO will join forces with the Boulder Chorale to perform the Ninth May 5 in Macky Auditorium, with additional performances in Lakewood May 6 and Lone Tree May 7.

The rest of the season, subtitled “The Curse of the Ninth,” includes violinist Karen Bentley Pollick playing the American premiere of a new concerto by David Jaffee (Nov. 11 and 12); a guest appearance by CU opera music director Nicholas Carthy, conducting and playing Mendelssohn and Mozart (Dec. 10 and 11); BCO’s annual New Year’s eve concert; the return of violinist Lindsay Deutsch (Feb. 10 and 11); another returning soloist, percussionist Rony Barrak (April 7, 8 and 9); and several smaller concerts through the season (details at boulderchamberorchestra.com).

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Violinist Yabing Tan will be the BCO soloist Sept. 23–24

The so-called “Curse of the Ninth” has been a danger mostly for composers. The real risk for the BCO may be the fact that Beethoven’s Ninth demands a certain weight from the orchestra, and Macky Auditorium is a big space for a small orchestra.

Stretching the chamber orchestra repertoire is nothing new for Saless and the BCO: recent seasons have included large Romantic concertos by Brahms and Tchaikovsky. And this weekend’s opening concert of the 2016–17 season (Friday in Broomfield, Saturday in Boulder) includes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, a staple for full-sized symphonies.

In addition to Brahms, the program features violinist Yabing Tan playing two virtuoso pieces from the Romantic era, the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saëns and Henryk Wieniawski’s Second Concerto.

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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Boulder Chamber Orchestra
Bahman Saless, music director

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13th season: “Jinx—The Curse of the Ninth”
Full season schedule

Opening concert: “The Elephant in the Room”
Bahman Saless, conductor, with Yabing Tan, violin
Saint-Saëns: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso op. 28
Wieniawski: Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor

7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23
Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield

8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24
Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder

Tickets

Force of Nature

Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Boulder Symphony offer similar themes for Mother’s Day

By Peter Alexander

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Chloe Trevor. Kate L.Photography

This Mother’s Day weekend it’s all about nature for Boulder’s classical musicians.

The weekend kicks off Friday night with conductor Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra performing a concert titled “Mother Nature” in Broomfield (7:30 p.m., Broomfield Auditorium). The concert, which also features violinist Chloe Trevor, will be repeated Sunday evening in Boulder (7:30 p.m., Seventh-Day Adventist Church).

Between those performances, conductor Devin Patrick Hughes and the Boulder Symphony will offer “Nature’s Voice” on Saturday evening (7 p.m., First Presbyterian Church), with guest soloist Gal Faganel, cello.

Friday and Sunday the Boulder Chamber Orchestra will present, somewhat curiously, the only piece overtly about nature: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastoral Symphony,” depicting an afternoon’s walk through the countryside. The other works on the program—the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, with Trevor playing the virtuoso solo part, and the Pavane by Gabriel Fauré—don’t have any apparent connection to nature.

For the Boulder Symphony Saturday evening, it is the composers rather than the pieces that suggested the title “Nature’s Voice.” The major works will be Sibelius’s Third Symphony and Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Faganel as soloist. Opening the concert will be the world premiere of Everything All at Once by Jonathan Sokol.

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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“Mother Nature”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, music director
Chloe Trevor, violin

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 6, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield
7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 8, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Boulder

Tickets

“Nature’s Voice”
Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, music director
Gal, Faganel, cello

7 p.m. Saturday, May 7, First Presbyterian Church, Boulder

Tickets

 

Boulder Chamber Orchestra risks “The Curse of the Ninth”

2016–17 season will explore jinxes of a 13th year, and Beethoven’s greatest work

By Peter Alexander

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Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bobo.

Bahman Saless likes to live dangerously.

The conductor of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) just released the group’s 2016–17 season, and they are meeting two great jinxes head-on. Titled in part “The Curse of the Ninth,” the season will feature a season-ending performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Boulder Chorale and soloists, as well as several other works that were created under the shadow of that work—considered one of the greatest creative achievements of Western music.

It is the orchestra’s 13th season, which also leads to the full title of the season: “JINX and the Curse of the 9th.”

Saless says that it was almost inevitable that the next season would include Beethoven’s Ninth. It will be the only Beethoven Symphony he has not conducted, and it is of course a work that can prove the standing of any orchestra and conductor.

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Beethoven: Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

To fill out the season around such a bold choice for a chamber orchestra, Saless picked several works that illustrate the curse that supposedly came from Beethoven’s Ninth. It was such an overwhelming work that many composers were intimidated at the very prospect of attempting another symphony after it was completed in 1823.

For example Brahms, who was hailed by many as Beethoven’s successor, was not willing to present a symphony to the public until 1876—after 21 years of work on the piece, when the composer was 43 years of age, and all of 53 years after Beethoven’s Ninth was completed. Brahms First even features a melody that resembles Beethoven’s famous “Ode to Joy” from the Ninth—a similarity that, Brahms said, “any ass can see.”

The symphony was immediately greeted as the true successor to Beethoven’s symphonic legacy, and was referred to by some as “Beethoven’s Tenth.”

Another aspect to the “curse of the Ninth” was the notion that subsequent composers could not complete more than nine symphonies. Mahler famously tried to dodge the curse, finally finishing a Ninth Symphony but dying before he could finish his 10th. Tchaikovsky finished six, started a seventh and reached nine only if you count a couple of tone poems. Others, such as Dvořák and Bruckner, only just managed to finish nine.

Schubert is another composer with a famous final Ninth Symphony, but he also left three unfinished symphonies from the last years of his life. One of these—the most famous “Unfinished” Symphony of all, his Symphony No. 8 in B minor—will also be on the season schedule next year.

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Nicholas Carthy

The season will offer another final symphony, though not a ninth: Mendelssohn’s rarely performed Symphony No. 5 (“Reformation”), on a concert to be led by guest conductor Nicholas Carthy from the CU Eklund Opera Program. Carthy will also be a soloist on the same concert, playing and conducting Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor, K491.

Other soloists during the season will be the young Chinese violinist Yabing Tan, playing Henryk Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 2. Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick will play the U.S. premiere of a Violin Concerto titled How Did it Get so Late so Soon! by David A. Jaffe, a composer best known for his work in computer music and the development of the NeXT Music Kit software. The concerto has been written for Pollick, and will be premiered by her at the Tytuvenai Festival in Lithuania in August.

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Lindsay Deutsch

Yet another violin soloist on the season will be Lindsay Deutsch returning to the BCO to perform two pieces written for her. The brand new Beatles Fantasy by video-game composer Maxime Goulet will be premiered with the Bartlesville Symphony in Oklahoma; and Deutsch will also play Saless’s own Tango Variations, based on the popular song “Nature Boy.” It was written for her by the BCO’s conductor and premiered with the BCO in 2010.

Another feature of the season will be the inclusion of works usually thought of as full symphonic repertoire, including the Brahms and Mendelssohn symphonies. Certainly the Beethoven Ninth is not generally considered a chamber orchestra piece. Originally performed in Beethoven’s lifetime with an orchestra of about 78 players, it requires an orchestra large enough to support a full chorus.

Asked about this, Saless says that Beethoven performed by a small orchestra is “much more dramatic” and “more muscular.” Not to get too far into the weeds on a complex historical issue, it is true that in Beethoven’s lifetime, and for much of the 19th century, there were not many large standing orchestras like those we are accustomed to in the 21st century.

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Manuscript page of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Small orchestras were common at the smaller courts and regional opera houses around Europe; larger orchestras were only found in the largest cities such as London and Paris, or for festive occasions, as sometimes happened in Vienna. Thus any of the Romantic works that Saless has performed recently—concertos by Brahms and Tchaikovsky, other works from the 19th century—could have been performed by smaller as well as larger orchestras.

And Saless is surely right that hearing music that is most familiar to us with the lush sound of large string sections performed by the BCO does reveal aspects of the music that we may not have heard before. By programming Beethoven’s Ninth, Saless will be giving us another opportunity to hear a familiar work in a new guise.

In addition to the orchestra concerts that have been announced, there will be a concert by the Lebanese darbuka (goblet drum) virtuoso Rony Barrak, and at least two chamber music concerts that will be announced later.

 

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Boulder Chamber Orchestra
Bahman Saless, music director and conductor
2016–17 Season: “JINX and The Curse of the 9th”bconew_1

September 23 & 24
With Yabing Tan, violin
Rossini: Overture to La Gazza Ladra (The thieving magpie)
Henryk Wieniawski: Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Yabing Tan, violin
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor

Karen B P

Karen Bentley Pollick

November 11 &12
With Karen Bentley Pollick, violin
Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings
Copland: Appalachian Spring
David A. Jaffe: Violin Concerto How Did it Get So Late So Soon? (U.S. Premiere)

December 10 &11
Nicholas Carthy conductor and pianist
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 in D major (“Reformation”)
Mozart: Piano Concerto in C Minor, K 491
Dvorak: Nocturne in B major for String Orchestra, op. 40

February 10 & 11
With Lindsay Deutsch, violin
Maxime Goulet: Beatles Fantasy
Bahman Saless: Tango Variations (Variations on “Nature Boy”)
Schubert: Symphony No.  8 in B minor (“Unfinished”)

Barrak

Rony Barrak

April 7,8, 9
An Evening with Rony Barrak and Friends.

May 5, 6 & 7
With the Boulder Chorale & soloists TBA
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D minor

 

 

Boulder Chamber Orchestra mixes very different ingredients

“Virtuosity & Grace” pairs Brahms and Mozart

By Peter Alexander

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Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bob.

Bahman Saless wants to give you an earworm.

The conductor of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra is preparing to perform Brahms’s massive Second Piano Concerto this weekend with pianist Soheil Nasseri (Friday and Saturday, April 15 and 16, in Broomfield and Boulder), and he says, “The second melody of the first movement is, to me, probably the most gorgeous melody ever written.

“Ever! I cannot think of any other melody that just makes me want to sing it as much as this one. So if you want an earworm, come to the concert!”

Earworms or not, there is no question that the Brahms Second Piano Concert is a serious undertaking for any pianist. At 50 minutes in length and four movements, just the sheer volume of music to be learned is daunting. And it is a powerful, energy-sapping work as well.

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Soheil Nasseri in der Berliner Philharmonie

But Nasseri really wants to perform this concerto.

“It has been his lifetime dream,” Saless says. “He asked me if I would do it and I said, ‘Sure! Let’s give it a shot!’ If he’s got that much passion for it, it’s got to be great.”

That created a problem for Saless, though. The Brahms Second Piano Concerto is a difficult piece to put into a program. “If you want to perform Brahms Two, what do you put it with?” he asks. “There are certain pieces that are just hard to program. And when you’ve got a concerto that’s 50 minutes long, you run the risk of going over an hour and a half.

“It’s just a really hard piece to balance with.”

Saless talked to several other conductors, but he didn’t like any of their ideas. “You need something lighter, something more accessible, something that doesn’t demand so many intellectual calories” from the listeners, he says.

He wanted a piece that’s strong enough on its own to stand up to the Brahms. And he also needed something that used a classical rather than a large Romantic orchestra, because that’s what the Brahms concerto—for all of its imposing impact—calls for. “It’s more massive in length and structure than in orchestration,” he says.

The piece he settled on is Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, which he had conducted before and wanted another shot at. “I’ve done it before, and I failed,” he confesses. And citing a Samuel Beckett quote, he added, “I’m going to fail better this time.”

The two pieces—Brahms and Mozart—“in many ways are the antithesis of each other,” he says. “You’ve got this beautiful, compact, very transparent Mozart symphony, versus this gigantic cruise chip of a concerto which is really a symphony for piano and orchestra. In so many ways they’re extremely different, but at the same time, they’re both appealing.”

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

Is the “gigantic cruise ship of a concerto” well suited for a small orchestra like the BCO? Saless thinks so. “With Brahms it’s always chamber music,” he says. “You can literally do any Brahms big piece with a chamber orchestra. That just brings out all the inner weavings that you don’t generally hear.”

The Mozart Symphony, which opens the program, is a very direct and accessible piece, Saless believes. “It’s right there, it’s all there in all its beauty and glory,” he says. “But it’s a huge challenge for the orchestra. In many ways it’s much harder than the Brahms for us, because it’s so transparent, because it’s Mozart.

“It’s just so tricky with a piece like this, especially because everybody knows it. We need to perfect every bar.”

Just as with the Brahms, Saless thinks the Mozart gains from having a smaller orchestra. “The orchestra needs to suddenly become this completely different animal, because most of the musicians are used to playing with big orchestras,” he says.

“You have to change the range of the entire orchestra. And what’s great about doing it with a chamber orchestra, with smaller string sections, is that the winds come out so much more. And so much of this symphony is all about the writing for the winds, which is outstanding.”

Mozart and Brahms, the two pieces on the program, offer a many contrasts. The title suggests one: Virtuosity and grace. Compact and transparent versus a gigantic cruise ship. Classical versus Romantic. The Mozart symphony is very familiar to classical audiences, while the Brahms concerto is, Saless believes, “not performed often enough.

“You really can’t miss this (opportunity), to hear the Brahms,” he says. And you just might come away with the most beautiful ear worm ever.

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newbanner3“Virtuosity and Grace”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra
Bahman Saless, music director, with Soheil Nasseri, piano

Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, op. 83

7:30 p.m. Friday, April 15
Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield
Tickets

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16
Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave, Boulder
Tickets