How to fill the hours of isolation? Music by unfamiliar composers

New CDs from local performers offer rare pleasures

By Peter Alexander April 11 at 3:30 p.m.

The hours stretch empty before you, and you’ve already re-watched all 202 episodes of The X-files. Or was it Game of Thrones?

Now is the time to expand you horizons and discover music you don’t know, by composers whose names are not familiar. And happily, Boulder-area musicians have new offerings that you can order by internet and have delivered directly to your front porch without violating social distancing.

Here are four that are worth attention.

81OtBx57QHL._SL1200_Ernst Dohnányi: Piano Quintets Nos. 1 & 2, String Quartet No. 2. Takács Quartet and Marc-André Hamelin, piano. Hyperion CDA68238

Hungarian composer Ernst Dohnányi is best known for his set of orchestral variations on the French nursery tune Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman, which you probably know as “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” A highly skilled and original composer, he also wrote chamber music and pieces for piano that provide a more complete perspective of his output.

The Takács Quartet teamed up with pianist Marc-André Hamelin to record Dohnányi’s two piano quintets and the String Quartet No. 2. Presented in chronological order on the disc, the quartet falls neatly between the two quintets.

The First Piano Quintet, composed in 1895 when Dohnányi was 17, is a remarkably assured student work, and a perfect representation of post-Brahms late Romanticism. The movements are carefully plotted out and filled with attractive themes. This is music to let wash over you and enjoy the warm blanket of sound. There are moments of excess, when the layering of figuration and overripe harmonies threaten to over-thicken the soup, but Hamelin and the Takács players do a remarkable job of maintaining transparency.

Dohnányi’s style matures and shifts over the course of the three works, but it is always marked by the late Romantic ethos. The String Quartet, composed in 1906, 11 years after the First Quintet, is at times lighter in tone, with notable playful touches in the first movement. The second movement (marked “presto acciacato,” or “crushed presto”) is a propulsive, driven scherzo-like movement, which the Takács plays with perfect precision, with a thoroughly contrasting, gentle chorale in the center.

The Second Quintet, written on the precipice of the First World War in 1914, is the most original and striking piece on the disc. Too early to have been influenced by better known works by Stravinsky and Prokofiev, it almost seems to foreshadow the neo-classical style that would emerge after the war. It is marked by sudden, quirky changes of direction and mood. Here Hamelin and the Takács are at their best, bringing out every swerve of mood without losing the forward movement of the music.

This is a disc filled with remarkable pleasures: engaging, interesting music given exemplary performances. Whether you listen with attention to details or prefer to sit back and simply enjoy, you will find much to appreciate on the disc. Available here and here.

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TOCC0528_webcoverHermann Grädener: Orchestral Music, Vol. One. Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, op. 22; Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, op. 41. National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Gottfried Rabl, conductor, with Karen Bentley Pollick, violin. Toccata Classics TOCC 0528.

The German/Austrian composer Hermann Grädener taught at the Vienna Conservatory for 35 years (1877-1913). His works were often found on concert programs in Vienna and elsewhere, if not warmly embraced by the stern critics of the time. After his death, however, he disappeared, and in recent years his music has gone unrecorded and is nearly impossible to find.

Or it was until Viennese conductor Gottfried Rabl and his Indiana University grad-schoolmate violinist Karen Bentley Pollick began investigating his music. (Pollick is a Colorado Mahlerfest festival artist who has performed in Boulder and served as principal second violinist in last year’s Mahlerfest orchestra. Disclosure: I also knew her when we were both students at Indiana University, and we have stayed in touch over the years.)

Pollick and Rabl have teamed up for the first volume of a planned series of recordings of Grädener’s orchestral works, a CD of his two violin concertos with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. This is a well played and well engineered recording of music that is available nowhere else. As such it is a worthy addition to any collection.

Grädener was born before Dohnányi, and is consequently more in the Romantic mainstream than post-Romantic—or as the liner notes laconically state, he was firmly “downstream from Brahms.” His music is lush, sometimes overripe, always attractive to the ear. It is filled with striking Romantic moments, from the very first opening solo by the horn in the First Concerto.

The first movements of both concertos are on the longwinded side, with discursive passages that tend to wander. It’s all pleasant music, if occasionally overripe, that sometimes gives the impression of having lost the plot. The shorter movements are more successful, particularly the second movement of the second concerto, where a lyrical opening section with long, flowing melodic lines is followed by a more energetic middle section and a return of the opening mood.

Both finales are buoyant rondos. That of the First Concerto has plenty of fireworks which Pollick handles gracefully. The finale of the Second Concerto opens dramatically, but soon turns to a more cheerful character, again played with assurance.

Pollick plays with an alluring sound and great confidence. Rabl and the Ukrainian orchestra provide a solid background. They never threaten to overwhelm the soloist; indeed, either the performance or the engineering so favor the soloist that the orchestra seems understated.

These is no question that this is attractive music, skillfully woven together. The recording helps fill in a blank spot in the history of 19th-century music and is certainly worth enjoying, but whether either concerto adds up to more than a lovely 35–40 minutes in the concert hall—or sitting in front of your speakers—is something each listener will have to decide. Available here and here.

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91+vB0jSWxL._SL1396_Paul Juon: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1–3. Charles Wetherbee, violin, and David Korevaar, piano. Naxos 8.574091.

Paul Juon, much like Hermann Grädener, had a successful career as a teacher and composer before falling into obscurity. Born in Russia to Swiss parents, he was educated in Moscow and Berlin, and spent most of his professional life in the latter city. He is another conservative late-Romantic composer who music is associated with an earlier generation; during his lifetime, he was called “the Russian Brahms.”

Over the years there have been a few recordings of his music, most recently a disc from Naxos featuring CU faulty Charles Wetherbee, violin (known to many as concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic) and David Korevaar, piano, performing Juon’s three sonatas for violin and piano.

Although his style is comfortably Romantic, Juon is on some ways a strange composer who avoids the expected. Korevaar’s notes for the album says the his music “suggests a narrative,” which may be another way of saying that it is episodic. Juon often writes wonderful, striking fragments that never quite coalesce into whole themes.

This is especially evident in the first work on the disc, the Sonata No. 2 in F major of 1920. Playing different material, the violin and piano respond to one another in an interesting musical dialog throughout the first movement. Their disparate themes and motives are like pieces of a mosaic that create an image that is always colorful, never quite distinct.

The slow movement features mysterious meanderings full of odd twists and turns. Once again the violin and piano take turns commenting on each other’s different themes and motives. The finale moves from a light, airy opening that suggests a traditional finale, but transforms unexpectedly to a more spooky feeling.

The one-movement Sonata No. 3 in B minor from 1920 features a lovely central section in slower tempo. This leads to a jolly conclusion that is the closest Juon comes to providing the expected, but still with his own surprise twists.

The First Sonata in A major (1898) offers the most conventional music on the disc. All three movements have clear structures and identifiable, if highly individual themes. In spite of being the longest individual movement of the three sonatas, the first movement is the easiest to follow. Its attractive themes are laid out in a clear ex[position, and can be discerned though the extensive development section. The second movement is an uncomplicated set of variations of contrasting moods and styles, and the finale is a lively rondo.

The sensitive partnership between Korevaar and Wetherbee make this disc a pleasure to listen to. They match each other well through all the thematic give and take, maintaining a comfortable balance between the two voices. Wetherbee plays warmly and with great expression, especially in the slower, reflective passages. The performance is marked by a careful sensitivity to the shifts of mood and expressive swerves that characterize Juon’s style.

If you enjoy exploring unfamiliar byways of the Romantic style, this disc will be most rewarding. Available here and here.

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71GxFdVIH2L._SL1426_Longing: Chamber Music of Reza Vali. Charles Wetherbee violin; David Korevaar, piano; Dariush Saghafi, santoor; Carpe Diem String Quartet. MSR Classics 1738.

More adventurous than the CDs of music by Dohnányi, Grädener and Juon is Longing, a new disc from the Carpe Diem String Quartet that features the music of Iranian-American composer Reza Vali. Several disparate works of chamber music are performed by the quartet, and by their first violinist Charles Wetherbee, again with pianist David Korevaar. Dariush Saghafi joins them playing the Santoor, an Iranian and Indian hammered dulcimer, for one track.

Vali was born in Iran, educated in Tehran, Vienna and the United States, and now teaches composition at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. His music embraces both his Iranian/Persian cultural heritage and his education in Western styles and genres. It is an intriguing mix, though the two are more comfortably paired in some works than in others.

The album includes two sets of pieces for violin and piano, “Three Romantic Songs” and “Love Drunk,” five folk song settings. All eight movements are essentially very conservative, Romantic character pieces, relatively short (1”32” to 3’31”) and expressing a single mood. They are varied, from wistful fragments to strongly characterized dance pieces to a forceful memory of a lost beloved.

For the most part the music of these duets flows on the surface of romantic yearnings, with a heavy sense of nostalgia deriving from the conservative 19th-century idiom. Wetherbee and Korevaar’s expressive performances bring out the varied qualities of the movements, while revealing glimpses of deeper feelings.

The remaining other works on the disc—all for string quartet—draw heavily on Vali’s Iranian/Persian musical heritage. Some are based on folk songs, others make us of Persian modes, which are significantly different from Western keys and scales

Listening to these works I often had the sense of a meaning, a structure and a musical sense that remains just beyond my Western-trained comprehension. This music provides a great adventure for the adventurous listener, even when it seems partly hidden behind a veil of unfamiliarity.

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Santoor

The most interesting work is Calligraphy No. 14, part of an ongoing series of works, also titled Âshoob. This work exists in two versions, both a little over 6 minutes in length, one for string quartet alone and one for string quartet and santoor, a type of hammered dulcimer found in Iran and India. For the recording, the santoor is played by Darius Saghafi, a medical doctor and master santoor player.

The version with santoor has an exoticism that is enchanting. The santoor gives the music a stronger profile than in the version for strings alone. For me this is the best track on the album, an engaging mix of Western and Eastern elements that fit comfortably together with no sense of unease.

I do not have the expertise to know how well the Carpe Diem Quartet handles the Persian elements in Vali’s scores, although it is clear that they play with confidence and commitment. They are a solid quartet, and in this unusual and challenging repertoire they have their parts well under control. Most likely a native Iranian will hear their playing differently than I do, but I find the result intriguing and engaging. At its best, this an adventurous and enjoyable album. Available here and here.

 

 

 

 

Soprano Mary Wilson sings songs about childhood with Boulder Phil

Samuel Barber’s Knoxville, Summer of 1915 and Maher’s Symphony No 4

By Peter Alexander Feb. 7 at 4:15 p.m.

Soprano Mary Wilson is looking forward to her appearance with the Boulder Philharmonic Saturday (7:30 pm. Feb. 9 in Macky Auditorium). “It’s a real dream program for soprano,” she says.

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Soprano Mary Wilson

Under the title “The Heavenly Life,” the program includes two pieces with soprano solo that reflect the voice of a child, but with deeper currents: Samuel Barber’s nostalgic Knoxville, Summer of 1915 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. The program also features portions of Mark O’Connor’s Strings and Threads with the Phil’s concertmaster Charles Wetherbee as soloist.

“It is a good concert for those of us who just take in the beautiful sonorities,” says Boulder Philharmonic music director Michael Butterman. “I’m looking forward to it.”

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Michael Butterman Photo by Jiah Kyun.

Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is the most familiar of the three works on the program. It is the shortest of Mahler’s ten symphonies, and has the smallest orchestra. Lacking the emotional stress and angst of some of Mahler’s larger symphonies, the Fourth is “audience-friendly,” Butterman says. “It’s a lighter, more transparent work and one you can hear without pre-concert study. It’s rejuvenating to listen to.”

The Fourth marks the end of Mahler’s first group of symphonies that share the common feature of being related to the composer’s songs written on texts from a single collection of poetry, Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The boy’s magic horn). The finale is a setting of one of the Wunderhorn texts, a song that Mahler called “Das himmlische Leben” (The heavenly life), from which the concert takes its title.

Originally conceived as a possible finale to his previous symphony, the movement was written before the rest of the Fourth. As he worked his way toward the already completed finale, Mahler anticipated its themes and mood of gentle lyricism in the earlier movements.

The entire symphony has a cheerful cast, from the very opening with flutes and sleigh bells through to the end. Even the second movement’s macabre fiddle solo that represents “Freund Hein,” a medieval German symbol of death, is mostly lighthearted in nature.

The finale, with its lovely melodies and its text describing a child’s view of a heavenly feast in which “the angels bake the bread” is the shortest. “It is not an apotheosis,” Butterman says. “It’s a benediction.”

There are darker moments. The text describes how “we lead an innocent, dear little lamb to its death” for the meal, and “St. Luke slaughters an ox.” But in this childlike heaven, even the animals seem happy to become meals.

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Mary Wilson

“What this piece has so beautifully [is] a sense of wonder, but there’s a definite pensiveness to it,” Wilson says. “In that respect it’s very honest. Not everything is wonderful, and I think the way that Mahler gives it balance is really beautiful.”

Knoxville, Summer of 1915 is a setting for soprano and small orchestra of a prose piece by James Agee, published as a preamble to his Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Death in the Family. As such, it is both a nostalgic remembrance of an idyllic moment in Agee’s childhood and a poignant prelude to a family tragedy.

The text describes a lingering summer evening on the porch and in the backyard of Agee’s family home, where the child is surrounded by a loving family. It is presented from the perspective of both a five-year-old child and an adult looking back on his lost innocence.

In her performance, Wilson aims to capture both the child and the adult. “My goal is to get the background in the way I can shape a word, to give the idea that it’s not one dimension,” she says. “I don’t want to be histrionic and melodramatic. Agee does such a good job of spinning the poetry that my job is just to add color and zero in on the important words at the important times.”

She finds that living in Tennessee the past 11 years has given her an extra appreciation for Agee’s description of summer nights. “I live in Tennessee now and I hear the cicadas, which I didn’t have growing up in Minnesota,” she says.

“That first-person relationship to sitting on your front porch on a summer evening, I really do feel that. I find it so comforting and so homey anymore, the sound of the cicadas on a hot summer night.”

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Chalres Wetherbee

O’Connor’s Strings and Threads is a set of 13 short movements written to trace a thread of American folk music, and reflecting the history of his own family, moving from Ireland to Appalachia and westward across the continent. “The work is for string orchestra and violin solo, you might call it fiddle solo, because the pieces are written in this kind of folk idiom,” Butterman says.

Wetherbee will only play a selection of O’Connor’s complete work. “We’ve chosen a few movements that are appealing and ordered them in a way that contrasts slow and fast,” Butterman explains. “We’re treating them more as stylistic references to other parts of the program, the Appalachian locale of Knoxville, and also the reference to fiddling in the second movement of the Mahler, rather than a travelogue as a chronological presentation.”

The combination of O’Connor, Barber and Mahler is an unusual variation on the usual orchestral program of overture, concerto and symphony, but Wilson has no doubts. “It’s brilliant programming!” she says.

“It’s really stunningly beautiful.”

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The Heavenly Life

Boulder Philharmonic in Macky

Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Mary Wilson, soprano, and Charles Wetherbee, violin
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, Macky Auditorium

Mark O’Connor: Strings and Threads
Samuel Barber: Knoxville, Summer of 1915
Mahler: Symphony No. 4

Tickets

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.

Charles Wetherbee.2

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.”

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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

westsidestory

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

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.”

Glenn+and+Mizz

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.

Wendy_Woo

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

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.

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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