Bernstein at 100 is celebrated by Boulder Phil and colleagues

West Side Story in Concert is sold out, but Monday’s tribute concert is not

By Peter Alexander April 20 at 4:30 p.m.

Leonard Bernstein has become the singular enduring icon of American concert music.

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Leonard Bernstein

His Broadway hit West Side Story, his leadership of the New York Philharmonic, his televised music education programs, his membership in the jet-set glitterati of the arts world, his famous performance of Beethoven’s Ninth on the site of the fallen Berlin wall—these made him the most recognizable classical musician in the world. As such, he was one of the most influential cultural figures of his time.

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Michael Butterman

“Composer, conductor, pianist, educator, advocate, communicator: he could do it all,” says Michael Butterman, music director of the Boulder Philharmonic. “I would say he was one of the most significant figures in 20th-century music, period.”

The 100thanniversary of Bernstein’s birth arrives in August of this year, and his centennial is being celebrated by virtually every orchestra in the country. That includes the Boulder Phil, whose sold-out concert performance of West Side Story leads local celebrations.

While that performance has gotten the most attention, another, more intimate concert will take place Monday evening that explores some lesser known corners of Bernstein’s creativity (7 p.m. April 23 in Boulder’s Jewish Community Center).

“Bernstein at 100: Leonard Bernstein in Concert” was put together by Eve Orenstein, the Phil’s director of development. Wanting to bring the larger community into the celebration, she contacted local musical organizations and musicians, assembling a program of solo and duo performances that will also include spoken tributes to Bernstein by Butterman, pianist Andrew Cooperstock from the CU College of Music, and Kathryn Bernheim, cultural arts director of the JCC.

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Charles Wetherbee

Two of the Phil’s musicians will perform: concertmaster Charles Wetherbee will play an arrangement of “Somewhere” from West Side Story and clarinetist Stephanie Zelnick will perform Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. Both will collaborate with Cooperstock, who has recorded Bernstein’s complete solo piano music. Cooperstock will also play two shorter solo pieces.

Tenor Eapen Leubner will perform “Maria” from West Side Story and “Two Love Songs on Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke” with pianist Mac Merchant. Also performing with Merchant, vocalist Faye Nepon will sing “So Pretty,” and “Lucky to be Me” from On the Town; and soprano Rose Sawvel will sing the “Simple Song” from Bernstein’s Mass, “La Bonne Cuisine,” and the showpiece “Glitter and be Gay” from Candide.

This diverse program ranges from the serious (Clarinet Sonata) to the more humorous (“La Bonne Cuisine”) to pure entertainment (“Glitter and be Gay”). As such, it complements the familiar West Side Story and gives audiences a chance to expand their musical horizons—which was the constant goal of Bernstein’s own teaching.

The performance of West Side Story itself is noteworthy. For one thing, the fact that it sold out ten days in advance shows both the draw of Bernstein’s show, some 61 years after its premiere in 1957, and the success of the Phil’s programming for the Boulder community. There have been a few sellouts in recent years, but none as far as 10 days in advance.

It is also noteworthy that the Boulder Phil is one of the first, if not the first regional orchestra to present West Side Story in concert. The Bernstein estate had not permitted concert performances until 2014, when conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony received their consent. Since then several orchestras have done the concert version, although it remains more popular to perform the music live with the 1961 film.

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Robert Neu

For Saturday’s performance, the orchestra will be seated on stage and the actors will be limited to the front apron and a single raised platform behind the players. In a score as complex as West Side Story, this could create challenges keeping orchestra and singers together, but stage director Robert Neu is not particularly worried.

“I’ve done a ton of concert performances of operas,” he says. “I’ve found two things. One is that there are plenty of easy ways to have it staged that somebody’s near the conductor and out of the corner of the eye catch a beat. And I’ve found that the force of that many musicians, the energy on stage, you can tell what’s happening behind you.”

A larger issue for Neu is that dancing, which creates so much energy, is only allowed in fully-staged productions. For concert performances the use of any choreography is forbidden.

“The hardest thing about semi-staging this piece is that the dancing is so iconic and we’re not doing any dancing at all,” Neu says. “The dance music is so descriptive that if you set up the action before and after satisfactorily, the music helps to tell the story. (The action) is told by the music in such a specific way that you can still follow the story.”

West Side Story has become so familiar that it is easy to overlook how revolutionary it was in 1957. “I’m reminded of how tightly constructed it is, the way that themes are introduced at various times in a very subtle and foreshadowing, or backward looking, way,” Butterman says. “This is the sort of thing that opera composers do all the time, but not as often encountered in Broadway musicals.”

The complexity of the music was particularly startling in 1957, when most musicals did not have complicated ensembles like “Tonight,” or quite such virtuosic orchestral lead parts. “It was a genre-changing piece,” Neu says. “I would love to have been there in 1957 at that first orchestra read, when the principal trumpet and the percussionist were first seeing the parts, going, ‘say what?’”

The complexity and difficulty of the music is still a challenge, 61 years later. The Boulder Phil will bring in a few brass players who are specialists in the jazz-inflected style of the score. “Some of the brass playing is incredibly virtuosic and very, very, much like a big band,” Butterman says. “In spite of the fact that the tunes are familiar, it’s complex. It’s difficult, it’s relentless.”

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Leonard Bernstein

Amidst all the celebration, we should remember that Bernstein’s impact continues today, present in much of the musical activity around us. Butterman talks about having conducted the Rochester Philharmonic, an orchestra that Bernstein once led, and having found a lingering “ethos that Bernstein then displayed when he was music director of the New York Philharmonic.”

I shook Bernstein’s hand and collected his autograph once when I was in high school. Many of us in the musical world had such brief or tangential contacts with him. But his influence on our national musical life is far greater than any individual’s near or remote degree of separation. “Because of the breadth of what he did, he became larger than life,” Butterman says.

“He left an amazing legacy for anyone involved in orchestral music. It’s important to celebrate his music, which is the most long-lasting legacy he left to the world, at the same time remembering the work he did to bring classical music to as many people as possible. I see him as an inspiration.”

# # # # #

Bernstein at 100: Leonard Bernstein Tribute Concert
Presented by the Boulder Philharmonic with musicians from CU College of Music, Central City Opera, Colorado Music Festival, and Opera Fort Collins

7 p.m. Monday, April 23
Levin Hall of the Boulder Jewish Community Center, 6007 Oreg Ave, Boulder

Tickets

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West Side Story in Concert: SOLD OUT
Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman conductor, and Robert Neu, stage director
In collaboration with Central City Opera

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28
Macky Auditorium

NOTE: Corrected for typos 4/20/18

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Boulder Phil ends remarkable season with a remarkable concert

CU faculty Charles Wetherbee and Nicolò Spera featured in world premiere

By Peter Alexander

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.)

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

 SOUNDSCAPE MATINEE SERIES

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.

ONE NIGHT ONLY SERIES

 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.

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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.

JAZZ AT THE DAIRY SERIES

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

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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.

SPECIAL PERFORMANCE

 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

Tickets.

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