Boulder Phil ends remarkable season with a remarkable concert

CU faculty Charles Wetherbee and Nicolò Spera featured in world premiere

By Peter Alexander


Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic

Last night the Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman ended a remarkable season with a remarkable concert, one of the most interesting they have done.

The mostly-Italian program included one of the most brilliant orchestral showpieces of all time, a world premiere, and several pieces that are rarely played. If you love making new discoveries, as I do,  this was a fun program.

First the world premiere—and the one non-Italian piece on the program: Invisible Cities, Double Concerto for violin, guitar strings and percussion by Stephen Goss. The composer is Welsh, although the concerto is based on the fascinating novel of the same title by the 20th-century Italian writer Italo Calvino. Soloists were Charles Wetherbee, violin and Nicolò Spera, guitar.

The novel imagines a series of conversations between Marco Polo and the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan. In an intricate design, the novel has Polo describe 55 cities to the Emperor, all of which turn out to be facets of Venice, his home. Dispersed among the cities are a series of conversations, in which Polo and Kublai Khan are gradually able to communicate more clearly across their linguistic and cultural barriers.


Stephen Goss

In a similarly intricate design, the concerto alternates between orchestrally accompanied movements representing cities and duos without orchestra representing the conversations. Particularly ingenious are the duos, which represent musically the growing accord between Polo and the Emperor through music of growing lyrical beauty.

The musical design is clever but not cryptic, and it is executed without ever seeming forced. The piece as a whole is accessible, expressively convincing and well constructed. This is a work of significance that should be taken up by other guitar-violin duos.


Charles Wetherbee

The style is largely based in conventional gestures of contemporary orchestral music. If not original, the musical elements are used to good effect, as listeners can recognize and enter the expressive realm of each movement. Where the music is more imaginative, as in the interaction between the soloists, the creativity is never originality for originality’s sake; it always serves the expressive goals.


Niccolò Spera

The soloists played with sweet expression together, and with greater intensity when required. Their sounds were well balanced, reflecting prior work together as a duo. At their best they rose to all the demands of Goss’s pleasing new work.

The two works preceding the concerto were undoubtedly new discoveries for most in the audience, and both were 20th-century pieces based on older music. The first was Stravinsky’s Monumentum pro Gesualdo, orchestral arrangements of uniquely strange and adventurous Renaissance madrigals by Carlo Gesualdo.

Stravinsky’s setting is strange in its own way, with discontinuous bits of harmonic and instrumental color shifting about the orchestra and managing to sound like both Gesualdo and Stravinsky. This score, nicely played last night, fits the Boulder Philharmonic and its outstanding individual players well.

That was followed by Luciano Berio’s Four Original Versions of Boccherini’s Return of the Nightwatch from Madrid. Sometimes an enfant terrible of modern music, Berio also wrote highly approachable scores built from older music, of which this is one.

Four different versions of a movement by the 18th-century Italian composer Boccherini are arranged for modern orchestra and layered on top of one another. At times they match perfectly, but at other times they do not, creating delicious and unexpected dissonances that pass quickly.

Depicting the approach and departure of the Nightwatch, the score culminates in a rousing setting of the tune, and then dissipates into silence. It was played with verve, as once again the individual contributions of the players fit well into the orchestral mosaic.

After intermission, Butterman and the orchestra gave an invigorating reading of Verdi’s Overture to Nabucco, with all the turns of mood well traversed and quite a bit of excitement for the explosive ending. Puccini’s Chrysanthemums, an ingratiating minor work, was played with expression, if not the plush, ermine-fringed sound one would like to hear.


Ottorino Respighi

The concert ended with a sure bet, Respighi’s Pines of Rome, a piece guaranteed to rouse the audience from their seats. In the hands of the Boulder Phil, Respighi’s orchestra worked its magic: it shone when it should shine and sparkled when it should sparkle, the sudden contrasts were contrasting and the abrupt changes of scene were well delineated.

The winds deserve special recognition, from the brass flourishes in “The Pines of the Villa Borghese,” to the delicate woodwind solos of “The Pines of the Janiculum,” to the massive fanfares of “The Pines of the Appian Way.” Once again the Roman Legions advanced, a brass choir sounded from the balcony—although how effectively depended on where you were sitting—and Respighi brought the crowd to its feet.

You could not have a more rousing ending for a season.


Dairy Center asks “Who is Missy Mazzoli?”

Wednesday’s Soundscape concert poses questions and offers answers

By Peter Alexander

Missy Mazzoli

Missy Mazzoli

“Who is Missy Mazzoli?”

That’s the question being asked—and at least partly answered—by the Dairy Center for the Arts and music curator James Bailey on their Soundscape program at 2 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 10).

The short answer is that Mazzoli is an adventurous composer from New York who writes in diverse genres, from opera to chamber music. She is in Boulder for a week for a Music Alive Composer Residency with the Boulder Philharmonic. The premiere of a new orchestral version of her Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) by the orchestra and conductor Michael Butterman Friday evening (7:30 p.m. Feb. 12, Macky Auditorium) is only one part of her week-long residency. (More information in Boulder Weekly; tickets for the Boulder Phil concert here.)


Mazzoli with New York skyline

But it’s a deeper answer that Bailey is after—one that showcases many facets of a complex and label-defying artist. To give that fuller picture, Mazzoli and Bailey have put together a program that seems to live up to the New York Times’s description of her as “among the more consistently inventive and surprising composers now working in New York.” There will be pieces for solo violin, for viola with electronics, for string quartet, and two pieces for piano and electronics performed by Mazzoli herself. (Click here for tickets.)


Charles Wetherbee

It is the pieces themselves that justify the adjective “inventive.” What is most surprising, however, is the fact that Mazzoli’s works will be presented in alternation with—of all things—the movements of Bach’s monumental Partita in D minor for solo violin, performed by Boulder Phil concertmaster and CU faculty member Charles Wetherbee.

“The motivation to include the Bach was because I have a solo violin piece called ‘Dissolve, O My Heart,’” Mazzoli explains. “It was a commission from the violinist Jennifer Koh, who did a project called ‘Bach and Beyond.’ She commissioned pieces based on existing works by Bach, and my piece (is based on) the famous solo violin Chaconne from the D-minor Partita.

“When (the Dairy Center) came to me for a program, I said why don’t we play the whole Partita and we could intersperse (my pieces). My other music doesn’t come directly out of that, but it has inspiration from Baroque material and ornamentation. There’s a lot of string pieces on this program, a string quartet, solo viola piece, electronic solo violin piece, and I’m also playing two piano pieces some with electronics.”


Altius String Quartet

The complete list of Mazzoli’s pieces on the program will be: Tooth and Nail for viola and electronics, performed by Wetherbee; Orizzonte for piano and electronics, performed by Mazzoli; A Thousand Tongues for piano and electronics, performed by Mazzoli; Dissolve, O My Heart for solo violin—the piece based on the Bach Chaconne—performed by Wetherbee; and Quartet for Queen Mab performed by the Altius String Quartet, the award-winning Fellowship String Quartet in Residence at CU, Boulder.

Reading about Mazzoli, one quickly becomes aware of how eclectic her work is. She has had commissions from individual artists, including Koh; from orchestras around the country; from the Kronos Quartet; and from the Grammy-nominated adventurous vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth. Her works sometimes include electronics, sometime not, and she also performs with Victoire, an all-female band described by critic Alan Kozinn as “an art-rock band, a live electronic music group, or both.”


Mazzoli and Kotche. Photo by Michael Woody.

She and Victoire collaborated with Wilco percussionist Glenn Kotche and experimental keyboardist Lorna Dune for her recently recorded Vespers for a New Dark Age. National Public Radio’s “First Listen” asked, “Is Victoire’s music post-rock, post-minimalist or pseudo-post-pre-modernist indie-chamber-electronica? It doesn’t particularly matter. It’s just good music.”

Clearly, Mazzoli is an enthusiastic participant in many of the musical trends of our times. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Mark Swed said that her “musical influences are John Adams, the Minimalists and the moody vocal sonorities of early sacred music, with a hint of rock.”


Victoire. Photo by Stephen Taylor.

Mazzoli does not deny these varied sources. “Studying classical music you would be surrounded by all of that, so yeah, I claim all of them proudly,” she says. “It’s become kind of a cliché to say, oh I have so many diverse interests, I’m interested in pop music as well as classical music, but I think it’s kind of a natural state growing up in the ‘80s.

“I wouldn’t even call it a trend. It’s as if the whole palette of sound is available for composers now from throughout history. It’s not as much a self-conscious choice as just sort of pulling from everything you’ve encountered in your life.”

But Mazzoli doesn’t want listeners to get hung up on labels or influences. “I want people to just hear music for what it is,” she says, “and to maybe be intrigued by one of those phrases, because it can sound like any one of those things.

“There’s bits and pieces of all of that in there.”

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The Feb. 10 Soundscape concert is only one of many events exploring the world of contemporary musical performance to be presented by the Dairy Center this spring. The full schedule is listed below; visit the Dairy Center Webpage for updates.


2 p.m. Wednesday, March 9: The Austin Piazzolla Quintet and the Boulder Chamber Chorale
After a sold out concert last season, the tango band from Texas returns to perform with the Boulder Chorale Chamber Singers.

Thow Down:Shot Up

CU’s Throw Down or Shut Up

2 p.m. Wednesday, April 13: Classical Music Unbuttoned
One of Boulder’s most innovative groups, Throw Down or Shut Up is a faculty quartet from the University of Colorado, Boulder. They will share the concert with Trio Cordillera another CU faculty trio, performing Argentine and Spanish music.

2 p.m. Wednesday, May 25: The Altius Quartet:  The Passion of the String Quartet
Winners of the silver medal at the 2014 Bischoff Chamber Music Competition, the Altius Quartet was selected to perform at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. At the Dairy they will perform selected movements from quartets by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, Bolcom—and Led Zepplin!

2 p.m. Wednesday, June 8: Youth be Served
A concert of music featuring some of Colorado’s most talented high school performers and ensembles.


 7:30 p.m. Monday, February 22: Voxare Meets the Man with the Movie Camera
The Voxare String Quartet from New York City the soundtrack to Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s remarkable 1929 silent masterpiece The Man with the Movie Camera.


Wendy Woo

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 4: Wendy Woo—A 25 Year Retrospective
An evening with the guitarist and singer/songwriter Wendy Woo, together with musical artists from her 25 years on the Colorado music scene. The concert will be preceded by a First Friday reception in the new Dairy lobby.

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 30: Conversations
For Boulder Arts Week, the Dairy will present an evening of duets, including Irish, Indian and Turkish duos. Two performances will also feature Boulder’s Frequent Flyers aerial ballet group.

4 p.m. Sunday, June 26th: The Miami String Quartet
The internationally renowned string quartet returns to the Dairy with a new program.


 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 27: Jazz and Vonnegut

brad goode

Brad Goode


A concert with the David Fulker Quartet and jazz singer Robert Johnson in a program of jazz standards thematically wrapped around an unusual short story by Kurt Vonnegut.

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 4: The Brad Goode Quartet with Sheila Jordan
Brad Goode, Boulder’s jazz trumpet virtuoso, will appear with his traveling quartet and jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan.


 4 p.m. Sunday, April 17: Never to Be Forgotten
This Dairy collaboration with the Boulder Jewish Community Center and the University of Colorado School of Religious Studies will focus on chamber music by composers who were lost in the Holocaust.

(Edited to correct typos 2/8/16)



Telling Stories in music

Boulder Philharmonic opens 2015–16 season with two soloists

By Peter Alexander

Pianist Gabriela Montero. Photo by Shelley Mosman

Pianist Gabriela Montero. Photo by Shelley Mosman

The Boulder Philharmonic’s 2015–16 season is titled “Reflections: The Spirit of Boulder,” but the orchestra will open the season by telling stories.

The season’s opening concert under music director Michael Butterman will be at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13, in Macky Auditorium — a departure from the orchestra’s standard 7:30 p.m. Saturday concert dates.

The program will feature music that tells stories, two soloists with their own stories, and one great concerto that is a story in itself. Butterman will conduct Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite; The Storyteller for violin and orchestra, inspired by Japanese folk tales and written by Korine Fujiwara for the orchestra’s concertmaster, Charles Wetherbee; and Rachmaninoff ’s Piano Concerto No. 2, the piece that salvaged the composer’s career, performed with pianist Gabriela Montero, who has been acclaimed both as “an exciting pianist” (The New York Times) and for her “spectacular improvisation” (Cincinnati Enquirer).

That’s a lot of stories for one concert.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Concertmaster Charles Wetherbee

Concertmaster Charles Wetherbee

Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra: Opening Night
Michael Butterman, director, with
Charles Wetherbee, violin, and Gabriela Montero, piano

Ravel: Mother Goose Suite
Korine Fujiwara: The Storyteller for violin and orchestra
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2

7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13 (Note the time and day)
CU Macky Auditorium