From ‘Bachtoberfest’ to Carnival in Brazil, Boulder’s musicians plan celebrations

Boulder Bach Festival, Boulder Chorale announce 2017–18 seasons

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Bach Festival and Boulder Chorale have announced their 2017–18 seasons, with globe-trotting celebrations from “Bachtoberfest” to Brazil to Venice.

imageOf the two, the Boulder Bach Festival (BBF) gets underway first with the “Bachtoberfest” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday , Oct. 12 in Boulder’s Seventh Day Adventist Church. The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, in Longmont’s Stewart Auditorium.

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Soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg

The concert—which actually has nothing to do with beer—will feature four guest soloists: violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock from the faculty of the Juilliard School; Guy Fishman, principal cellist of the Handel-Haydn Society of Boston; Chris Holman, historical keyboardist of the Bach Society in Houston; and Dutch soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, who has appeared with the BBF several times in the past.

Violinist Zachary Carrettin, artistic director of the BBF will also play on the concert of 18th-century chamber music. The program includes trio sonatas and arias by Handel, Vivaldi, J.S. Bach and Telemann.

A particularly interesting item on the program that continues the BBF’s exploration of historical rarities is listed as a “Keyboard Concerto in G major” by Johann Christian Bach, arranged by Mozart. Known as “The London Bach” for having had a very successful musical career in that city, Johann Christian was the youngest of J.S. Bach’s sons. Mozart visited London while on tour with his family during the years 1763–66, when he was seven to 10 years old. He became friends with Bach, around 30 at the time.

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Johann Christian Bach, portrait by Thomas Gainsborough

In order to learn how to write concertos, the young Mozart arranged three of Bach’s solo sonatas as concertos by adding passages for orchestra. These arrangements were originally included in Mozart’s works under the listing K107 nos. 1–3; the Concerto in G major is the second of the three. Rarely performed, because they are not strictly “by” either J.C. Bach or Mozart, they are nonetheless fascinating historical documents, revealing the young composer’s learning process.

There are two new scheduling features for BBF’s 2017–18 season: Boulder performances will all be on Thursdays, to avoid conflicts with other performing organizations; and the performances will be split between Boulder’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church and Longmont’s Stewart Auditorium. Some concerts will be presented in both venues, and others only in one or the other.

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1895 Érard piano

For example, the second event on the season, a concert titled “A World Transformed,” will only be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, in the Stewart Auditorium in Longmont. The performance will feature Mina Gajić performing on her 1895 Érard grand piano together with Richie Hawley performing on a 1919 Parisian clarinet and Carrettin playing a  gut-string violin. They will play music of the early 20th century by Bartók, Ives, Berg and Antheil.

Likewise, the major Bach performance of the year will only be presented once, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15, in Boulder’s Seventh Day Adventist Church. Titled “The Eternal Spirit,” the program comprises four of Bach’s great sacred cantatas. Zachary Carrettin will lead the BBF Chorus and Orchestra with vocal soloists Josefien Stoppelenburg, soprano; Abigail Nims, mezzo-soprano; Derek Chester, tenor; and Ashraf Sewailam, bass-baritone.

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Flutist Ismael Reyes

The final concert of the season will honor the musical heritage of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, with music by  prominent Venetian Baroque composers: Antonio Lotti, Giovanni Gabrieli, Tarquino Merulo and Antonio Vivaldi. The concert will end the season with one more piece by J.S. Bach, the Orchestral Suite in B minor with Ysmael Reyes playing the flute solos.

You can see the full Boulder Bach Festival season here.

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Dec-2014-BC-adults

The Boulder Chorale (BC) opens its 52nd season with “Carnival Brazil,” at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, in Boulder’s First United Methodist Church. Titled “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” this will be BC’s ninth season combined with the Boulder Children’s Chorale and the third with artistic director Vicki Burrichter.

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Ginga

Carnival Brazil (Oct. 28) will see the BC sharing the stage with the Brazilian-music band Ginga and the Bateria Alegria, the percussion ensemble of the Boulder Samba School. That is only the beginning of the collaborative performances in a season that the BC is describing as “an adventurous exploration of different genres.”

The BC will be joined by JAMkeyJAM, a duo of Nepalese musicians who aim to combine ancient traditional music with contemporary sounds, March 10 and 11. The joint program, “Between Heaven and Earth,” will include a performance of Eliza’s Gilkyson’s Requiem, written in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

© Glenn Ross | www.glennrossphoto.com

Vicki Burrichter

Later the same month, the chorale will appear with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem (March 30 in Broomfield and 31 in Boulder), and they will close out the season May 19 and 20 with Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts, performed with a jazz combo.

 

The full Boulder Chorale season, including ticket information and performances by the Boulder Children’s Chorale not mentioned in this article, can be found here.

NOTE: Typos corrected 9.8.17

 

 

 

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Bach Festival 2017–18 Season will avoid busy Fridays and Saturdays in Boulder

Long-range plan: an historical-instrument ensemble for Boulder

By Peter Alexander

newBBFLogoSquareWebsiteThe Boulder Bach Festival has announced its 2017–18 season of five concerts, three to be presented in both Boulder and Longmont.

Of the other two, one will be presented only at the festival’s Boulder home, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and the other in Longmont’s Stewart Auditorium. In a significant change, the concerts have been scheduled to avoid the busy weekends in Boulder.

“Boulder is saturated,” Bach Festival director Zachary Carrettin says. “We have so many wonderful music presenters and organizations for such a small community, so I’ve put us on Thursday nights in Boulder and Saturday nights in Longmont. That’s my contribution to the scheduling madness we’re experiencing in Boulder.” (See the full schedule below.)

Carrettin is confident that having performances on Thursday nights will not limit the audience as much as the scheduling conflicts might. “We have a very specific audience,” he says. “They want to hear the particular, distinct programs and artists that we offer. And I think by and large, it doesn’t matter to them which night of the week (the concerts are presented).”

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Zachary Carrettin

Rather than build a season around a single theme, Carrettin looks for connections across seasons, from year to year. ”Each time we finish one season, I ask, where did we start to go?” he says. “What doors did we open? What happens next?”

 

One example is that the festival has programmed music from Venice, one of the musical centers that influenced Bach and others of his generation. In 2016, it was a program titled “Venice on Fire,” featuring chamber music that Carrettin called “the rock ‘n’ roll of the Baroque.” And the 2017–­18 season will close with “La Venexiana,” a concert of music from Venice for orchestra, soloists and chorus (May 24 & 26, 2018).

That concert also represents the beginning of a new long-range project of the Bach Festival: the establishment of a standing Baroque orchestra. Carrettin’s goal is to establish in Boulder a center for historical instrument performance, much as exists in New York, Boston, Amsterdam, and other cities around the world.

“We are introducing concert by concert, season by season, our own in-house Baroque orchestra, on historical instruments,” he says. “Due to the generosity of some donors, we have decided to fill in some of the gaps on the front range by purchasing instruments, three instruments a year for the next three years. You’ll see more (orchestral) concerts each season, and a larger and larger Baroque orchestra.”

The Boulder Bach Festival is partnering with CU Boulder and other musical organizations for this project. “We are working with doctoral students and recent graduates of CU who want to have a world-class international experience with historical instruments here on the front range,” Carrettin explains. “We are offering them access to luminaries in the field—our guest artists—access to the instruments, access to master classes, lessons and reading sessions, so that they can explore the world of early music.”

That project reflects a major thread that connects one season of the Bach Festival with another: the exploration of the many aspects of historical performance practice. “Next year we are engaging even more in the dialog of original instruments, or historical instruments,” Carrettin says. “That dialog is one that I hope results in some unexpected delights.”

In the festival’s recent seasons, the dialog around historical instruments has expanded from Bach and the Baroque era to the late 19th century, where questions of historical performance are not as obvious, but are still significant. “We play Bach with harpsichord and with chamber organ, then why would we not pay Brahms with the straight-strung 19th-century piano?” Carrettin asks. “When the Boulder Bach festival started doing that two seasons ago, our artists were able to work with a piano that has very different properties than today’s concert grand.”

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Mina Gajic’s historic 1895 Érard piano.

That piano was manufactured in Paris in 1895 by Érard and belongs to pianist Mina Gajic, the festival’s director of education and outreach. (Further information on the straight-strung Érard is here.) It was used in a concert of music by Bach and Brahms presented in 2016 that included the Brahms Horn Trio played on a 19th-century-style natural horn (without valves) and a violin with natural gut strings.

The Érard will return in the coming season for “A World Transformed,” a program the encompasses the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Dec. 9, Longmont). “We are opening a new door in the 36-year history of the Bach Festival,” Carrettin says of the program. Opening with some late Romantic music by Brahms the program will move on to works by Bartók, Ives, Enescu and Berg. Gajic and her historic Érard piano will be joined for the program by Carrettin, on violin and clarinetist Richie Hawley, playing a clarinet manufactured in 1919.

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Zachary Carrettin

“What we’re looking at is an early 20th-century clarinet, a violin set up in the manner of the time with silk and gut strings and the piano from the period as well,” Carrettin says. “We are performing (the pieces on the program) as they would have been heard at that time.”

Historical instruments will also be featured on the seasons opening concert, “BachtoberFest,” a concert of chamber music by Bach, Handel, and their contemporaries (Oct. 12 Boulder, Oct. 14 Longmont); and Baroque orchestra concert that closes the season, “La Venexiana” (May 24, 2018 in Boulder, May 26 in Longmont).

For the Bach devotees in the festival audience, the culminating concert of the year may well be on March 15, in Boulder only. Titled “Eternal Spirit,” the program features four of Bach’s best known cantatas: No. 4, Christ lag in Todesbanden; No. 50, Nun is das Heil und die Kraft; No. 61, Nun kumm, der Heiden Heiland; and No. 63, Christen, ätzet diesen Tag.

“These works are chosen because of their musical content,” Carrettin says. “The four masterworks represent different periods of Bach’s life, from 1707 to the 1720s. Liturgically they come from different parts of the church year. One special work on the program is Cantata 50, which is a single movement double chorus, based on the chorale Nun kumm, der Heiden Heiland.

 “This work has trumpets and timpani and orchestra, and where we connect season to season is that last October we did three different settings of that chorale, for organ and choir and strings. And now we bring back that chorale in a rarely performed masterwork of Bach.”

 

Boulder Bach Festival
Zachary Carrettin, artistic director
2017–18 Season

Bachtoberfest
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, Seventh Day Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum, Longmont
—Program of chamber music by Bach, Händel and other Baroque composers performed on historical instruments

A World Transformed
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont
—Music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries performed on historical instruments

Schwartz-Bournaki in Recital
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, Seventh Day Adventist Church, Boulder
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont
—A recital by the New York- based duo of Julian Schwartz, cello, and Marika Bournaki, piano, winners of the 2016 first Boulder International Chamber Music Competition.

Eternal Spirit
7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15, Seventh Day Adventist Church, Boulder
—Four Bach cantatas performed buy the Boulder Bach Festival Chorus, orchestra and soloists.

La Venexiana
7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 24, Seventh Day Adventist Church, Boulder
7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 26, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont
—Vocal and instrumental music from Venice, including works of Giovanni Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Merulo and Vivaldi, plus the Bach Orchestral Suite in B minor.

All-access passes available at (720) 507-5052.

Priests, thugs and pickpockets all part of the program for Boulder Bach Festival

Concerts in Boulder, Denver and Longmont explore music from Spain and the Americas

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Bach Festival has become an explorer through the history of music.

That is the work of artistic director Zachary Carrettin, who has led the festival since the fall of 2013. A Baroque violinist, electric violinist and conductor of broad tastes, he has played early music and various styles of chamber music around the world, but also shared the stage with Yanni, Ray Charles and Cake. And as director of the Boulder Bach Festival (BBF), he wants to broaden audiences’ knowledge of the music of the past and all the ways it can be experienced.

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Zachary Carrettin. Photo by Courtney Lee.

The festival’s next program, to be presented Thursday through Saturday in Boulder, Denver and Longmont (see below) is a case in point. Titled “Spain and the Americas,” it will not include a single piece by Bach. It will, however, bring to light a repertoire from just before and during Bach’s lifetime that is little known today. And like most performances Carrettin has presented with the BBF, it will explore ways the music can be presented, using both guitar and lute with the bass part and different combinations of instruments with solo voice.

“It is part of my personal mission that we examine performance practices, but not only with the mission of authenticity, or bringing back to life old practices,” Carrettin says. “Also I’m engaging in a dialog about the various instruments then and now, and how they influence our approach to the various musics we play and sing.”

This particular program is a collaboration between Carrettin and Richard Savino, a lutenist and guitarist who also directs El Mundo, a Renaissance and Baroque performance ensemble. Carrettin has played on concerts and recordings with Savino and El Mundo, and he invited Savino to appear with the BBF for this concert.

“I always enjoyed playing with (Savino and El Mundo),” Carrettin says. “His style of playing is so full of life and imagination that it influences everybody else in the band.”

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Richard Savino

Savino will play both Spanish guitar and lute on the concert, and Carrettin will be one of two Baroque violinists. A second violinist will be Adam LaMotte, concertmaster of the Portland Baroque Orchestra who has known Carrettin since they were both high school freshmen. The cello/continuo will be played by Guy Fishman, principal cellist of the Boston Handel and Haydn Society and a member of the Colorado Music Festival orchestra in the summers.

Vocal soloist for the concert will be mezzo-soprano Clea Huston, an artist-in-residence for the BBF this season. A native of Denver, Huston has sung a diverse repertoire, including music by Wagner, Verdi, Mozart, Handel and Bach.

The music for the BBF concert comes partly from one of Savino’s recordings with El Mundo, The Kingdoms of Castile, but it also reflects Savino’s long-time interest in the music of Spain and the Spanish colonies in the New World. “It’s an area of work that I’ve been researching since the mid-‘90s,” he says.

“Growing up a guitar player you’re always fascinated with Spanish music. Somewhere in the 1990s I became more and more interested in the colonial repertory of the 16th through the 19th centuries, and the music that emanated from the different missions, cathedrals, convents and court environments in Latin America.”

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Mezzo-soprano Clea Huston

The program includes music by composers from Mexico, Guatemala and Spain, as well as composers from southern Italy, which was under Spanish rule in the Baroque era. Surprisingly, there is also a piece by Handel. Although he was certainly not a Spanish composer, Handel lived for a while in Naples, the seat of the Spanish Viceroy, where he wrote a song in Spanish.

“It’s his only work in Spanish, and it says specifically on the title page ‘con chitarra Espagnola’ (with Spanish guitar),” Savino says. “He basically adopts every Spanish characteristic for it. He’s the great chameleon—he can do it all.”

Savino singles out one of the composers on the program as a favorite. “Jose Marin is a fascinating character,” he says. “He was a Catholic priest, and he was also a thug—I mean like a Tony Soprano thug. He was convicted in some kind of extortion scheme, was defrocked and run out of Madrid. He was caught trying to sneak back in, and then was implicated in a murder scheme.

“But his songs are stunningly beautiful.”

Carrettin shares Savino’s regard for Marin’s music. “We’re ending the first half with a duo by Marin, and it is just sublime,” he says. “It’s so special and intimate, it’s probably my favorite piece on the program.”

A contrasting piece is a Xacara (or Jácara), a type of lively Spanish dance song that was somehow associated with pickpockets. Oygan una Xacarilla was composed by Rafael Castellano, the chapel master at the cathedral in Guatemala City. “It’s a funky pop tune,” Savino says. “It’s great!”

Other works on the program include a set of pieces for guitar alone, by Spanish composer Gaspar Sanz; a two-part piece that opens with a slow, reserved chorale section celebrating the birth of Jesus, followed by a guaracha, a style of Cuban dance that Savino again describes as a “pop tune”; and several instrumental pieces for two violins with cello and guitar continuo.

Savino believes that the most important thing to listen for on the program is an unmistakable Hispanic, or Latino, element to the music. “There is a discernible lineage to Hispanic music that you can hear from the 16th through the 20th century,” he says.

“When you hear Tito Puente, for example, and then you hear a 17th-century guaracha, there’s a connection, and you know that they both are derived from Hispanic musical practices. You can put it together right away.

“And it’s a vibrant repertory.”

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newBBFLogoSquareWebsiteSpain and the Americas
Boulder Bach Festival, Zachary Carrettin, director
With Richard Savino, guitar and lutes
Clea Huston, mezzo-soprano
Adam LaMotte and Zachary Carrettin, Baroque violins
Guy Fishman, cello

7 p.m. Thursday, March 16, Grace Lutheran Church, 1001 13th St., Boulder
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 17, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church,2015 Glenarm St., Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18, Stewart Auditorium, 400 Quail Road Longmont

Tickets

The Boulder Bach Festival presents a journey of exploration in Longmont

By Peter Alexander

Last night’s concert presented by the Boulder Bach Festival at Longmont’s Stewart Auditorium (Dec. 10, “Journey to Vienna with Mario Aschauer and Friends”) represented an ideal combination of repertoire, instruments and performance space.

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Mario Aschauer

The concert featured Aschauer, a musicologist and performer on the faculty of Sam Houston State University in Texas, on harpsichord; Zachary Carrettin, the artistic director of the Boulder Bach Festival, playing Baroque violin and the cello da spalla (“shoulder cello,” a small cello played on the shoulder, like a cross between violin and guitar); and the bright, clear voice of soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson. The program comprised music from the late 17th and early 18th Imperial Court in Vienna, including pieces for harpsichord alone, a sonata for violin and harpsichord, and arias from operas written for court occasions,

Most of the music was discovered by Aschauer in Viennese archives. It had been performed at the court and then set aside, making last night’s concert the modern and U.S. premieres of several pieces. The composers included the Hapsburg Emperor Leopold I as well as court composers George Muffat and his son Gottlieb, Attilio Ariosti, Antonio Caldara and Johann Joseph Fux.

The light and transparent sounds of the harpsichord and Baroque strings fit the repertoire perfectly, as did the lively, intimate space of Stewart Auditorium. Textures were clear and the audience was close enough to hear nuances that easily could be lost in larger halls. The program was presented with passion and an almost sensuous care for the sound. In short: this was as good an argument as you will hear for historical performance practice as a gateway to the sound world of the past.

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Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson

The entire program was both unfamiliar and fascinating. The arias were sung by Bird-Arvidsson with a seamless flow and elegant phrasing that was nicely matched by Aschauer and Carrettin in their obbligato accompaniments. Their committed advocacy for the music suggests that this unknown vocal repertoire is worthy of further exploration.

Of the instrumental works, Georg Muffat’s Sonata for Violin was strikingly strange, with passages of more or less normal Baroque phrases interrupted by sudden and unexpected  harmonic deviations. With the weirdness clearly brought out by the scoring, one wonders: was Muffat showing off for his imperial employer? It is certainly a piece that keeps both performers and listeners engaged.

Aschauer played a Plainte by Gottlieb Muffat in memory of the scholar Allison Dunlop, who tragically died just after completing a groundbreaking study of the composer. He performed this strange little lament with great feeling.

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Zachary Carrettin with his cello da spalla

Carrettin introduced his cello da spalla to the audience, explaining how it might have been used in Baroque times, and why the instrument disappeared in the later 18th century. Built to order and based on historical models, his is a one-of-a-kind instrument that Carrettin admitted he is still learning. When played with vigor, it produces a gruff, dark sound, but Carrettin showed that it is also capable of more lyrical expression.

With this program, the Boulder Bach Festival has continued its theme using Bach “as a compass,” as Carrettin says, while exploring the musical past with fresh eyes and ears. Aschauer, Carrettin and Bird-Arvidsson made the “Journey to Vienna” one to be relished.

Boulder Bach Festival goes exploring in an intriguing concert

Unfamiliar works and an unfamiliar instrument are unexpected treasures

By Peter Alexander

compass-logo-plusThere is a reason that the Boulder Bach Festival (BBF) uses a compass in its logo.

As demonstrated in their 2016–­17 season-opening concert yesterday (Oct. 15), the BBF under music director Zachary Carrettin goes sailing out into Bach’s musical world, looking for new discoveries for players and audiences alike. And usually, like yesterday’s concert, they bring back unexpected treasures.

The performance, given in Boulder’s Adventist Church, was a repetition of a program given Friday evening in St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Denver. Titled “Concertos and Chorales Contextualized,” the program explored the many different ways Lutheran chorale tunes were arranged and used as the basis of larger works in the Baroque period (late 1500s to roughly 1750), and also how Bach’s concertos reflected compositional techniques that had been refined through settings of chorale tunes.

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

Boulder Bach Festival Chorus and players. Photography by Glenn Ross.

There was music on the program from the early Baroque, starting with a work by the truly obscure Bartholomeus Gesius (1562–1613), through the slightly better known Michael Praetorius (1571–1621), Johann Hermann Schein (1586–1630), and Samuel Scheidt (1587–1654), and culminating with J.S. Bach (1685–1750). (See my preview of the concert here.)

Unfortunately, the space at the Boulder Adventist Church does not lend itself to clarity of the complex counterpoint you find in much Baroque music. This was evident with both the small orchestra assembled for two of J.S. Bach’s concertos, and the Boulder Bach Festival Chorus, which sang several works on the program.

The fault is not with the performers, who sang and played confidently. Carrettin led the program decisively, with a fine sense of style. Nevertheless, works performed from the front of the church were not always as clean as one would wish. Mid- to low-range sounds tended to get murky, and the bass lines were not always clear.

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Organist Christopher Holman

The sound is better when the music originates from the choir loft, at the back of the sanctuary. The choir sounded cleaner and clearer from the loft, and the organ, played splendidly by Christopher Holman, was transparent and at times sparkling.

In spite of any acoustic limitations, it was a thoroughly worthwhile and intriguing program, and may well have been more fully satisfying in the Denver venue.

Before the second half of the concert, Carrettin gave a brief talk on how the word Ach (the German equivalent of “Ahh!”) in Bach’s motet Jesu Meine Freude corresponds to similar exhalations in other cultures and spiritual traditions around the world. This both served to make the music, firmly grounded in north German Lutheran religious practice, more universal, and personified the festival’s motto “Across Time, Across Cultures”—the spirit that underlies the adventurous direction of today’s Boulder Bach Festival.

Three parts of the program were particularly pleasing. The anonymous setting of Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein (Oh God, look down from heaven) for organ was a delightful discovery, with rippling runs and a growing sense of pace. As throughout the concert, Holman’s playing brought the music energetically to life.

Of the two concertos, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 was the best instrumental selection on the concert. A string ensemble with violas at the top of the texture runs the risk of being murky throughout, but the smaller ensemble and careful work by the players mostly overcame the danger. The texture was generally transparent.

The playing by viola soloists Aniel Cabán and Tal McGee was particularly lovely in the slow movement, and the finale romped along with great energy.

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BBF artistic director Zachary Carrettin with his cello de spalla

A word about the cello da spalla (shoulder cello) that Carrettin introduced in this work. He and Renee Hemsing Patten played two interior parts (originally written for viola de gamba) on this unusual and somewhat awkward looking instrument. When heard individually, they projected a solid, clean string tone, and they obviously filled their parts well. To really judge the instruments, it would be necessary to hear one in a solo role—which Carrettin has planned for the BBF concert Dec. 8 in Boulder and Dec. 9 in Longmont.

The final set of the concert comprised three works for the Christmas season, by Michael Praetorius, J.S. Bach, and Gesius. Each work was pleasing, starting with music sung by a chamber choir, and ending with the Gesius sung in surround sound with a rank of singers in each aisle. This was good program planning: ending with the fullest and clearest choral sound of the concert, and yet another fine discovery brought back from the larger musical world.

Boulder Bach Festival begins their season with a Baroque adventure

Carrettin will explore the context of chorales and concertos

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Bach Festival (BBF) doesn’t just give concerts. They offer musical adventures.

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Zachary Carrettin

Zachary Carrettin, who has been artistic director of the festival for the past three years, loves to explore the musical world around Bach: the ways he heard music performed, the musicians who influenced him, and those who were influenced in their turn by him. Which is pretty much everybody in Europe before and after Bach.

This weekend, Carrettin and the festival will explore one of the most basic elements of Bach’s musical world: the Lutheran chorale tunes that gave rise to, and were part of, so many other types of music. The program, “Concertos and Chorales Contextualized,” includes chorales, chorale preludes, motets, and—as the title suggests—two concertos.

The music is by a parade of great German Lutheran composers of the 17th and 18th centuries—not only J.S. Bach, but also Samuel Scheidt, Johann Hermann Schein, Dietrich Buxtehude, Michael Praetorius and Batholomaeus Gesius. If you don’t recognize those names, don’t be alarmed: they are all predecessors who paved the way for Bach, and their music is well worth hearing and getting to know.

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

Carrettin with the BBF Chorus and players. Photography by Glenn Ross.

The Lutheran chorales were the predecessors of all the hymns that are known and loved in the various Protestant denominations. They were not only used for congregational singing, they became the basis of elaborate pieces for organ, known as chorale preludes; they appeared in many diverse forms in cantatas and motets, such as were written by Bach and other composers of the Baroque period; and as familiar tunes and emotional anchors, they appear all through Bach’s settings of the passion story.

“The Lutheran chorale tradition that preceded Bach included so many imaginative and meaningful harmonic settings of the same chorale melody,” Carrettin says. “Composers such as Scheidt and Schein that you will hear on this program, really show their individuality in these simple 12- and 16-measure, four-voice chorales.

“The contrapuntal treatment has such potential for variety, and they’re also extraordinary pieces to hear on an emotional level, both from the message behind the text and also the message within the harmonic realization. These works are among the most simple and yet powerful pieces in our European music tradition.”

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Organist/harpsichordist Christopher Holman

Illustrating the power of the chorale tunes, the concert opens with three different settings of a melody well known to Lutherans of Bach’s time, Durch Adams Fall is ganz verderbt. It will be performed first as an organ chorale prelude—an elaborated setting of the tune that often showed the organist’s skill as composer or improviser. Then the BBF instrumentalists will perform an arrangement of a chorale prelude by J.S. Bach, and singers will perform Schein’s four-voice setting of the tune.

Other manifestations of chorales will include eight-voice settings in Renaissance style by Scheidt, chorale settings by Praetorius, and two motets by J.S. Bach.

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Samuel Scheidt

Nestled among some relatively unfamiliar works will be two very familiar ones: Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D minor and Sixth Brandenburg Concerto. Acknowledging that these popular pieces would be a good audience draw, Carrettin says “if programming the Bach two-violin concerto brings people to a concert where they can hear a double chorus motet by Samuel Scheidt, then I’m certainly happy!”

But he has more in mind than adding popular pieces to an unfamiliar program. “The concertos are complex and at times dense in the writing, energetic, and highly contrapuntal. The affect is completely different than sacred choral music, and yet the journey through the sonorities and through the harmonic progressions has a lot of similarity with the chorales.

“In juxtaposing sacred and secular music, I’m hoping to whet the palette of all our listeners to really internalize what’s special about the harmony and the counterpoint in this music.”

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Carrettin with his cello da spalla

One special feature of the concertos will be that Carrettin will introduce Boulder audiences to a new instrument he has revived from the Baroque period: the cello da spalla. Literally a “shoulder cello,” it is in effect a small cello fitted with a neck strap, like a guitar, and played more like a violin or viola. For the Brandenburg Concerto, he and co-soloist Renee Hemsing Patten will play two parts of the concerto on these unusual instruments.

Carrettin knew of this instrument from reading descriptions of Baroque music performances. “I commissioned this cello da spalla, made by the luthiers at Cavallo Violins in Omaha last spring, working from a variety of primary sources from the Baroque,” he says. “In the Brandenburg Concerto we will play Bach’s original viola da gamba parts. We will use baroque bows as they help to create a sound similar to the viola da gamba.”

These instruments are so rare that harpsichordist Christopher Holman remarked at one rehearsal that he was probably “the first keyboardist in the history of the United States to play with a cellist da spalla to his left and right!”

But whether talking about motets or the concertos, Carrettin’s discussion of the program always circles back to the chorales. Sung hymn-like in simple four parts, or as part of a larger work, they have deep meaning for him—and potentially for everyone in the audience, regardless of spiritual background.

“These works have a certain meaning to Lutherans, they have a certain meaning to all Protestants, they have a meaning to all Christians,” Carrettin says. “But they also have an incredible, powerful, transcendental poetic effect on those who are not believers in the Christian faith.

“I’m hoping that our audiences will embrace the music and the texts on their own terms.”

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Boulder Bach Festival
Zachary Carrettin, artistic director

“Concertos and Chorales Contextualized”
Boulder Bach Festival Chorus and Chamber Choir with soloists
Zachary Carrettin, conductor and violinist, with
Christopher Holman, organ and harpsichord
Keith Barnhart, Baroque guitar continuo

Lutheran chorale settings and works by J.S. Bach, Samuel Scheidt, Johann Hermann Schein, Dietrich Buxtehude, Michael Praetorius and Batholomaeus Gesius

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14
St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1350 Washington St., Denver
Tickets 

4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16
Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder
Tickets

“Stunningly brilliant” Brahms captivates Stewart Auditorium audience

Boulder Bach Festival unveils the sound of Romanticism

By Peter Alexander

Technical perfection is what musicians strive for in all those hours of practice, but never achieve. In classical music, that perfection would include uncompromised accuracy and control of pitch, and consistency of sound in all registers.

Interestingly, musical instrument makers have aimed for the same qualities, especially the consistency of sound, and they have made great progress over the past 200 years. Much has been gained in the technical capacities and consistency of sound in modern pianos, for example, as well as wind instruments. But much has been lost as well.

What has been lost was demonstrated yesterday (May 15) in a stunningly brilliant performance of the Brahms Horn Trio in E-flat major, op. 40, presented by the Boulder Bach Festival in the Stewart Auditorium in Longmont.

The performance brought together three players: violinist and artistic director of the Bach Festival Zachary Carrettin; pianist Mina Gajic, the festival’s director of education and outreach; and guest artist Thomas Jöstlein playing horn. More crucially, it brought together three instruments that were perfect partners: A violin strung with 19th-century style strings, including pure gut; an 1895 Érard piano; and a natural horn (without valves), made in about 1815. I have never heard a better balanced performance with such disparate instruments.

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1895 Érard piano onstage at Stewart Auditorium

The Érard, a beautiful example of the piano maker’s craft in the 19th century, was a critical ingredient. With its remarkably transparent, clear and nuanced sound, it paired with the other instrument as no modern piano could. Gajic could play with full commitment and never overwhelm the other players.

Jöstlein’s natural horn was equally critical to the success of the performance. Its smaller bore and restrained sound never overwhelmed the violin, its closest partner throughout the piece, as a modern large-bore horn, built for a big sound and the ability to cut through a modern orchestra, would do.

Both the piano and the horn brought another quality that we have lost: a sound that varies from register to register, or, in the case of the horn, from note to note. Brahms made expressive use of these differences. As Jöstlein demonstrated before the performance, the sound of the horn could be bright and clear in one phrase, muted and distant in another. And one thing you almost never hear today: the natural horn, which changes pitch by the player moving his hand inside the bell, added a snarling quality to some of the crashing chords that could be suddenly resolved into a clear and pure sound.

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Zachary Carrettin

The differences in sound for Carrettin’s violin were less dramatic, but his choice of natural gut for some strings, steel for the highest string, and wound gut for the lowest, gave the instrument a sound that matched the others.

A fourth partner was the space where the music was performed, the intimate Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum. In an interview before the concert, Carrettin had stressed the importance of the hall: “Stewart Auditorium . . . is a 250-seat hall. It’s very much a salon setting, so we don’t have to worry about projecting to a 3,000 seat house. That has in it an authenticity in the way that we can craft the interpretation.”

Gajic

Mina Gajić

The combination of a space where everyone felt in close contact with the performers, and instruments that were perfectly matched freed the performers to play with complete commitment. No punches needed to be pulled, no climaxes pushed too hard, no passages held back in the name of balance. I have rarely heard such excitement as Gajic, Carrettin and Jöstlein generated in the last movement.

The Stewart Auditorium crowd—totally sold out with seats added onstage—gave a standing ovation that went well beyond the expected, dutiful “standing o” we get with too much regularity. They knew they had heard something special, and they reacted in a way we do not usually associate with “original instruments” or “historically accurate” performances. They had heard the door opened into an unfamiliar sound world, and they were captivated.

The short program, played without intermission, had opened with Carrettin and Gajic playing a 19th-century arrangement of Bach’s much-loved “Air on the G String.” As Carrettin explained beforehand, violinists at the time were starting to play with continuous vibrato and used far more portamento, or sliding glissandos, than we are accustomed to hearing.

The performance was fascinating, although not to the taste I developed through mid-20th-century training and listening. As the great violinist Fritz Kreisler said appreciatively of that style of playing, it gave melancholy to the music. That’s not the spirit of the original Bach, but it is the spirit of the late 19th century and Carrettin played with passion. I would not have missed the experience.

Amanda Balestrieri

Amanda Balestrieri

The remainder of the concert was filled with one Bach aria and three Brahms songs, eloquently rendered by soprano Amanda Balestrieri and Gajic (plus Carrettin on the Bach). Balestrieri’s bright, clear sound was ideal for the well controlled filigree of the Bach aria. The Brahms was sung with exemplary expression of the text, and only the slightest push to the highest notes. The lyrical songs formed a lovely companion to the more intense Horn Trio.

As this concert shows, Boulder County now has such musical riches that revelation can strike in almost any concert. This may be a golden age. If you have any interest in classical music, don’t let it pass you by.