Tafelmusik will turn Macky Auditorium into a musical coffee house

“Tales of Two Cities” explores the coffee houses of Damascus and Leipzig

By Peter Alexander March 1 at 6:15 p.m.

It takes a person with a very creative imagination to turn the history of coffee into a concert combining Baroque and middle-eastern music.

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“Tales of Two Cities.” Photo by Bruce Zinger

The Toronto-based Baroque orchestra Tafelmusik has such a person in bass player Alison Mackay, and the multi-media, cross-cultural program she created, “Tales of Two Cities: the Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House,” comes to Boulder Monday (7:30 p.m. March 4 in Macky Auditorium). The program includes music by Bach and Telemann, both of whom led coffee-house ensembles in Leipzig, as well as Handel, Torelli and a few other composers of the Baroque era; and performances by Trio Arabica, performing music from Syria.

The concert is performed inside a set inspired by a room from 18th-century Damascus. The performance also features projections of images, maps and film, and a narrator who will present Mackay’s script To facilitate the movement of the players onstage, the entire program is performed from memory.

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Alison Mackay on the set for “Tales of Two Cities.” Photo by Bruce Zinger

This is the fourth multi-media program that Mackay has created for Tafelmusik. Each of them has included projections and stage sets, and the music has all been memorized. “That’s a tall order,” Mackay says, in what may be a significant understatement.

“We all learn to memorize pieces when we’re young, but memorizing the inner part of a Handel concerto grosso is a verytall order. It’s an orchestra full of passionate people, so it was a large conversation [the first time], but in the end people decided to take it on and everyone has been thrilled at the way it’s worked out.”

While the multi-media productions get a lot of attention, most of what Tafelmusik does is traditional concerts. “It’s not as if we think that the audience needs the bells and whistles, but from time to time we do put our repertoire in a historical or a cultural context,” Mackay says. “It’s exciting for us to be able to explore the music in a different way.”

“Tales of Two Cities” grew from research Mackay was doing for another multi-media program featuring the music of J.S. Bach. In the course of doing research in Leipzig, she discovered that there was a large collection of manuscripts from Damascus at the University of Leipzig.

“I read an article about an amazing private collection of manuscripts, copied in the 17th and 18th centuries, that belonged to a family in Damascus,” Mackay says. ”There was a department of Arabic studies at the University of Leipzig. The university bought this collection, and within that collection [were] of dozens of leather-bound performer’s books that had belonged to a storyteller in the coffee houses in Syria.”

As Mackay looked into this fascinating bit of historical evidence, she started to discover how much Leipzig and Damascus had in common. Both were important cities at crossroads of commercial routes, and became centers for international trade fairs. Both were also centers of scholarship and learning.

And they had thriving coffee-house cultures at the same time.

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Zimmermann’s Coffee House. Detail from an engraving by Johann Georg Schreiber, 1732.

It was well known that both Telemann and J.S. Bach had conducted Leipzig’s Collegium Musicum, a club for students musicians that performed weekly concerts at Zimmermann’s Coffeehouse. This happened at exactly the time that coffee houses became centers of social and intellectual activity across Europe.

The first coffee houses opened around 1700, at the same time the development of public street lighting made it possible for respectable people to be out after dark. At that time “there starts to be this rise of places where you can go for entertainment,” Mackay explains. “It goes hand in hand with political conversation and performances of music.”

The unexpected parallels between the two cities inspired Mackay to put together the program for “Tales of Two Cities.” For the Leipzig end, she used music that could be tied to the city in some way. “Not that is much known about specific pieces that were played in Zimmerman’s Cafe, but I deliberately picked the kind of small orchestral and chamber music that would have been played by Bach’s Collegium Musicum,” Mackay says.

Telemann and J.S. Bach were shoe-ins for the program, and Mackay looked for other connections as well. “It’s known that Handel visited Telemann in Leipzig when they were both young law students interested in music, so I’ve included music by Handel,” she says.

“There’s an anecdote written by someone who was in a coffee-house ensemble in Leipzig, about the violinist (Johann Georg) Pisendel coming to play. It’s a very humorous account, and it says that he played a concerto by his teacher, Torelli. So I’ve included a movement from a concerto by Torelli.”

Other music—for example, a piece by the Venetian composer Monteverdi—illustrates the history of coffee as it moved from Syria and Turkey through Venice and then to Paris London, and Leipzig.

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Trio Arabica with Tafelmusik. Photo by Bruce Zinger

For the music from Damascus, Mackay invited the Trio Arabica to join with Tafelmusik. In the concert program notes, she has written that “The public coffee houses of Syria were venues for musicians who performed settings of strophic poems called muwashshahs, instrumental doulabs and improvised taqsims—forms of classical Arabic music that are the specialty of Trio Arabica.”

After engaging the trio, she says, “we would meet together. I had a few ideas of places where the music could intersect, and so we spent a long time thinking about suitable pieces. There are several places where a piece of theirs is juxtaposed with pieces of ours, or a couple of places in the program where we play together.“

The one thing Mackay wants the audience to notice is that everyone is playing from memory. “It’s terrifying,” she admits. “Sometimes when you’ve done all that work, people don’t notice.

“Musicians always notice!”

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Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House
20160517TafelMusik_Tale-of-two-CitiesTafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Elisa Citterio, music director
With Trio Arabica and Alon Nashman, narrator
Conceived, programmed and scripted by Alison Mackay

Music by Telemann, J.S. Bach, Handel, Monteverdi, Torelli, Lully, Omar Al-Batsh Mohamed Al-Qasabji, and Sheikh Abul Ela Mohamed

7:30 p.m. Monday, March 4
Macky Auditorium

Tickets

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CU Theatre and Dance Department presents Sondheim’s ‘Into the Woods’

A modern perspective on what happens after ‘happily ever after’

By Peter Alexander Feb. 14 at 3:15 p.m.

“Anything can happen in the woods,” Stephen Sondheim wrote.

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That lyric tells one premise of Sondheim’s modern fairy-tale musical Into the Woods, which will be performed by the University of Colorado Department of Theatre and Dance over two weekends, Feb. 22–March 3. Theatre professor Bud Coleman directs the production, and CU alumnus Adam Ewing conducts the freelance orchestra.

In addition to all the magical things that can happen in the woods, another premise of the show is the question, just what happens after “happily ever after”? To answer that question, Sondheim and book author James Lapine imagine some very familiar fairy-tale characters all together in a single story. Each of the characters has a backstory before the fairy tale begins, and each one faces the unintended consequences of their wishes.

“You’re going to see Cinderella and her step-sisters, Jack [from] Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, but Sondheim and Lapine take their story past the traditional Grimm fairy tale,” Coleman says. “We’ll actually find out one version of what might have happened to them after they get their wish.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Into the Woods
By Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine
CU Department of Theatre and Dance

7:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday, Feb. 22 & 23
2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24
7:30 p.m. Wednesday–Saturday, Feb. 27–March 2
2 p.m. Sunday, March 3
University Theatre

Tickets

Based on classic fairy tales, Into the Woods contains multiple acts of thievery, murder, accidental death, amputation, infidelity, kidnapping, family arguments, and child neglect.

 

 

Takács Quartet will play “Three Bs” plus one

Beethoven, Bartok, Beach and Barber part of the varied spring concert series

By Peter Alexander Jan. 10 at 11:30 a.m.

The Takács String Quartet is offering music by “Three Bs” for their spring concert series in Boulder — in fact, “Three Bs” plus one.

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Takács Quartet. Photo by Amanda Tipton.

These are not the traditional “Three Bs” of music history, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Beethoven is there, but alongside him will be the Hungarian Béla Bartók, the remarkable American composer Amy Beach, and another American, Samuel Barber.

These composers and others will be featured across three different concert programs, performed on Sunday afternoon and Monday evening pairs: Jan. 13–14, Feb. 10–11 and April 28–29. As they often do, the quartet has invited colleagues from the CU College of Music to join them on two of the programs; pianist Jennifer Hayghe in January and baritone Andrew Garland in February.

The guests bring with them pieces from outside the quartet repertoire. With Hayghe the quartet will play the Quintet for piano and strings by Beach in January. With Garland, the February program will feature songs with string quartet by Barber (Dover Beach) and Ned Rorem (Mourning Scene).

Beyond those pieces, the bulk of the music on the three programs will comprise six works from the quartet repertoire, two each by Haydn, Beethoven and Bartók, and the less known Edvard Grieg String Quartet.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Takács String Quartet
All performances in Grusin Music Hall, Imig Music Building

4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13 and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14

Haydn: String Quartet in G major, op. 76 no. 1
Beethoven: String Quartet in F major, op. 135
Amy Beach: Piano Quintet in F-sharp minor, op. 67
With Jennifer Hayghe, piano

Sold out

4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10 and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11

Samuel Barber: Dover Beach, op. 3
Ned Rorem: Mourning Scene
With Andrew Garland, baritone
Bartók: String Quartet No. 6
Grieg: String Quartet in G minor, op. 27

Limited seats available

4 p.m. Sunday, April 28 and 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 29

Haydn: String Quartet in C major, op. 33 no. 3
Bartók: String Quartet No. 5
Beethoven: String Quartet in C major, op. 59 no. 3

Limited seats available

Tickets 

Violinist Sarah Chang visits Boulder on a rare solo recital tour

Program includes music she loves, but she’d still like to talk about her dog

By Peter Alexander Nov. 14 at 10:40 p.m.

Violinist Sarah Chang, a celebrated concerto soloist, comes to Boulder on Friday, Nov. 16, for a rare solo recital, but she would rather talk about her dog.

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Sarah Chang. Photo by Colin Bell, under license to EI Classics

“I wish people would ask me more about my dog,” she says. “He’s the number one thing in my life, and everybody always asks me about music.”

Of course it is the music that brings her to Boulder, and she agrees to talk about that, too. Her program features three works from the late 19th-, early-20th-century era of great violin playing: Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances, Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in D minor and the imposing Franck Sonata in A Major.

“What I love about this program is that you have the exotic Bartók, which is so unique in its own way,” she says. “And then you have the Brahms which is so noble and so beautiful, and then you have the Franck which is just a masterpiece and probably one of the most well known sonatas for any instrument.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Sarah Chang, violin, and Julio Elizalde, piano
7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, Macky Auditorium

Bartók: Romanian Folk Dances
Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in D minor
Franck: Sonata in A Major

Tickets

From Venice to Boulder: Music of “The Red Priest”

Vivaldi dominates program by Venice Baroque Orchestra

By Peter Alexander Oct. 31 at 10 p.m.

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Venice Baroque Orchestra with recorder soloist Anna Fusek. Photo courtesy of CU Presents.

No composer represents the Baroque era in music better than “Il Prete Rosso” (The red priest), Antonio Vivaldi.

Known for his fiery red hair, he wrote almost countless concertos—more than 500—for just about every possible instrument of his day, including Le quattro stagioni (The four seasons) for violin, four of the most popular and famous of all Baroque concertos. Covering wide realms of genres, he wrote sacred music, still performed, and more than 40 operas, hugely successful in his lifetime but not often performed today.

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Antonio Vivaldi

His music was known and studied by Bach, who wrote pieces based on some of Vivaldi’s concertos, which still stand as examples of Baroque form, technique and style.

Vivaldi was born and lived most of his life in Venice, so it is no surprise that the Venice Baroque Orchestra (VBO), playing Friday evening (Nov. 2) in Macky Auditorium, brings a lot of Vivaldi’s music with them. In fact, their program is almost entirely music by Vivaldi—concertos and opera overtures, or “sinfonias”—except for a single concerto grosso by Francesco Geminiani, who was a native of Lucca, on the opposite side of Italy from Venice.

Alessandra DiVicenzo, a violist and member of the VBO since it was founded 21 years ago, wrote about the concert from Santa Fe, where the orchestra was on tour earlier this week. “For us Vivaldi has always a place in our programs, since the freshness of his style makes his music very natural and easy to play for us,” she writes.

“Living, or just spending most of the time in Venice could have helped us develop a sensibility about how Venetian and Vivaldi’s music could sound. When you are in Venice you realize that light and water are two elements that give Venice a special touch, so it is easy to think that Vivaldi is like water, light and clear, always changeable and never still.”

The Venice Baroque Orchestra is known for their energetic and brilliant style in playing Vivaldi’s music. This has distinguished them from some of their more staid predecessors in the Baroque performance world, and in particular providees an individual sense of personality to each work they perform.

“To us it seems natural to bring excitement to the playing of Vivaldi’s music,” DiVicenzo writes. “Everything of this can be found in his scores, which are spontaneous, rich of vitality, rhythmic, sometimes nervous, and offering sudden changes of mood—like he surely was!”

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Francesco Geminiani

As for the non-Venetian on the program, DiVicenzo writes: “Geminiani is a very interesting composer. Maybe today his name is not so famous to a wide audience, but during the 18thcentury he was a VIP, one of the most acclaimed composers and violin virtuosos.

“He has an energy and vitality very similar to Vivaldi. All audiences appreciate it, so I’m sure Boulder’s audience will like it.”

DiVicenzo wants to call the audience’s attention to some specific aspects of the program, and of Vivaldi’s legacy. “One thing the audience could realize is that Vivaldi played a very important role in the development of the technique of many instruments, including violin, cello and flute. His solo concertos are very demanding for any performer.

“One example is the Violin Concerto in E minor, in which the soloist has very difficult passages for both right and left hand. Also the double concerto for violin and cello requires two soloists with outstanding technique. The breathtaking third movement lets the soloists show all their skill! And the program ends with the recorder concerto “Il Gardellino” (The goldfinch), one of many examples of Vivaldi’s skill in imitating nature by music.”

The concert is the second visit to Macky Auditorium by the VBO. Their previous performance here was in 2014, at which time DiVicenzo commented that the orchestra members travelled with some of the food from home. I asked her if Italians still balked at drinking American coffee.

“American espresso improved enough that Italians drink it,” she wrote. “At the San Francisco airport I heard some of us appreciating the one-shot espresso they were sipping. But nothing has changed in VBO’s equipment.

”The coffee machine continues to travel with us all over the world.”

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Venice-1Venice Baroque Orchestra

Program of Baroque Concertos by Vivaldi and Geminiani
With Anna Fusek, recorder; Gianpiero Zanocco, violin;
Massimo Raccanelli and Federico Tiffany, cellos
7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2
Macky Auditorium

Full Program

Tickets

 

CU Presents Update: Eklund Opera will present ‘West Side Story’ Oct. 26–28

By Peter Alexander May 1 at 5:40 p.m.

When first announced as part of the coming 2018–19 CU Presents season, Eklund Opera’s major fall production was listed somewhat mysteriously as Title TBA, music by Leonard Bernstein.

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Art by Janalee Robison for CU Presents

In case you haven’t guessed, the title, which can NBA (now be announced), is West Side Story. As noted previously, contractual arrangements did not allow for the title to be revealed until May 1.

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Leonard Bernstein

The production will be part of the year-long, globe-spanning celebration of of the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth. Boulder has already seen a sold-out concert performance of West Side Story presented by the Boulder Philharmonic and Central City Opera (April 28).

Later this month the Colorado Symphony will present music by Bernstein paired with one of his favorite composers, Gustav Mahler (May 25–27),  and several Bernstein works will be featured as part of this summer’s Colorado Music Festival. It is not difficult to find other Bernstein tributes at summer festivals around the country, including Bravo! Vail and the Aspen Music Festival.

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Scene from the original 1957 production of ‘West Side Story’ with Jerome Robbins’ landmark choreography

When it first appeared in 1957, West Side Story was truly genre-changing for Broadway. A New York-based updating of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the show did not shy away from  serious social issues or a tragic ending. Its book, lyrics, music and dance were conceived not as separate pieces but as a unified work of art, which therefore required a cast equally skilled as actors, dancers and singers. Bernstein’s music was unusually complex and difficult for both players and singers, and Jerome Robbins’ choreography set a new standard for singer-dancers.

With the combined team of Bernstein, Robbins and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story is certainly one of the most influential musicals in the history of Broadway. It has also become one of the most loved Broadway shows in history, revived by theaters and opera companies world wide. And be warned: it often sells out.

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West Side Story
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Book by Arthur Laurents; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Based on a concept by Jerome Robbins
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26, and Saturday, Oct. 27
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28
Macky Auditorium

Subscription tickets 2018–19 CU Presents performances, including West Side Story and other Eklund Opera performances, are available here.

Tickets to individual performances will be available starting Aug. 20.
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Edited 5/1 to replace generic West Side Story poster image with art created for CU Presents by Janalee Robison.

Quicksilver Baroque brings ‘Strange and Wonderful Music’ to Macky

‘Rock stars’ of the early music scene explore the music of the 17th century

By Peter Alexander April 19 at 4:45 p.m.

How many pieces of chamber music for two violins, trombone, bassoon and lute can you name?

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Quicksilver Baroque. Photo by Jan Gates.

None? Meet Quicksilver, a Baroque ensemble specializing in the music of the 17th century: They can not only name them, they play them.

Quicksilver brings that combination, plus pieces that call for viola da gamba, harpsichord, organ and lute to Macky Auditorium on Friday, April 20 for the CU Presents Artists Series. Their program, titled “Strange and Wonderful Music of the 17th Century,” includes pieces by composers you have probably never heard of, including Dario Castello, Antonio Bertali, Massimiliano Neri, Johann Schmeltzer, Matthias Weckmann and Johan Rosenmüller.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Stile Moderno: Strange and Wonderful Music from the 17thCentury”
Quicksilver Baroque Ensemble

7:30 p.m. Friday, April 20
Macky Auditorium

Tickets