Kronos Quartet returns to Macky with some unfinished business

“Music for Change,” cancelled in 2020, comes back in revised form Jan. 13

By Peter Alexander Jan. 11 at 1:30 p.m.

The Kronos Quartet has some unfinished business in Boulder.

Kronos Quartet: John Sherba, Hank Dutt, David Harrington, Sonny Yang (L-R)

The path-breaking string quartet was scheduled to perform at Macky Auditorium in March of 2020, but like most performances around that time, their concert was cancelled. Now they will return to Macky with a revised version of that same program scheduled for Jan. 13, and—fingers crossed!—so far the visit is still on.

The original 2020 program, titled “Music for Change: The ‘60s, the Years that Changed America,” was organized around protest songs from the 1960s, arranged especially for Kronos. The centerpiece was to have been a celebration of Pete Seeger’s music for his 100th birthday.

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, 1969

Many of the same pieces are on the program for this year, although the Pete Seeger celebration has been replaced. Music that has survived the transition include arrangements of the “Star Spangled Banner” inspired by Jimi Hendrix‘s famous 1969 performance at Woodstock and “Strange Fruit” inspired by Billie Holliday; “Glorious Mahalia” by Stacy Garrop which features the recorded voices of Mahalia Jackson and Studs Terkel, and “Peace Be Till” by Zachary James Watkins, which incorporates the recorded voice of Clarence B. Jones, Martin Luther King Jr.’s speechwriter.

Added to the program for 2022 are another Mahalia Jackson arrangement, “God Shall Wipe All Tears Away”; an arrangement of John Coltrane’s “Alabama”; “Colonizer (Remix)” by Tanya Tagaq arranged for Kronos; and Michael Gordon’s “Campaign Songs #1,” one of a series of short pieces recorded by the Kronos players separately during the height of the pandemic.

“I wanted to play a concert like we’re going to do in Boulder, years ago,” David Harrington, Kronos’s first violinist and guiding spirit says. “It’s taken many, many years to arrive at the kind of work that we’re able to do now.”

Stebe Reich

The program opens without Kronos playing a single note, with Steve Reich’s Pendulum Music featuring four microphones swinging freely above speakers, creating feedback as they cross directly over the speakers. Eventually all four microphones stop above the speakers, creating a bed of constant feedback from which the Hendrix-inspired “Star Spangled Banner” emerges.

“It’s audacious, the idea that we can start a program with microphones,” Harrington says. “I love that! It sounds like fog to begin with, and then slowly it gets more and more together, to the point where there’s a fabric of pulsating feedback. From that is going to be the ‘Star Spangled Banner’.”

Other works on the program stand out for their impactfulness. One of these is certainly the arrangement of Abel Meerepol’s “Strange Fruit.” Famously sung at the height of the Civil Rights struggle in the 1940s and ‘50s by Billie Holliday, the song describing a lynching became a tortured anthem for the anti-lynching movement. Rejected by Columbia Records, Holliday’s recording on the Commodore label was later entered in the National Recording Registry.

“’Strange Fruit’ is at the solar plexus of American music and American culture,” Harrington says. “The quality of (Holliday’s) voice is definitely in my ear. When we play that piece, her voice is singing inside of me.”

Another piece that came from the Civil Rights struggle is an arrangement of John Coltrane’s “Alabama.” Coltrane wrote the piece as a response to the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four African-American girls. “The way certain musicians are able to respond to events, and attempt to create a counterbalance, to me is so inspiring,” Harrington says.

Tanya Tagaq

Reflecting the breadth of Kronos’s interests, both musically and politically, is “Colonizer (Remix)” by Tanya Tagaq. An Inuk throat singer from Iqaluktuuttiaq (Cambridge Bay) in Nunavut, Canada, Tagaq wrote the song as a response to performing in what she characterizes as “symbolically colonial spaces.”

“’Colonizer’ is a statement,” Tagaq has written. “There is guilt in complacency. Accountability means taking action.”

The political implications of the program are not accidental, but come out of Harrington’s thoughts about his family. “In 2003 I had just become a grandfather for the first time, and I was thinking about the world (my granddaughter) was going to grow up into,” he says. Historian Howard Zinn told him that political leaders are actually afraid of artists like Kronos, because they know the artists cannot be controlled.

“I thought to myself, if those types are actually afraid of people like me that use violins to communicate, then I am doing what I can do,” Harrington says. The desire to make the world a better place for the coming generations through Kronos’s programming grew from that thought. 

Another quality that characterizes Kronos’s is adventurousness. Their repertoire has ranged over the world and across many musical styles. “I’m so glad that we’ve had the years that we’ve had to explore,” Harrington says. “The only thing that happens when you explore is you find things, and then you want to find more.”

That adventurousness is fueled by Harrington’s curiosity. “How could anybody not be curious?” he asks. “I want to do the most (I can to) ensure that I keep curiosity alive. Learning new things is humanity at its best.”

Not that he thinks he has found all the answers. “People think I know something about music, but I don’t know how it works,” he admits. “As listeners, we’re all in the same boat. You never know when something in music is going to penetrate to the deepest possible place within yourself.

“It’s almost incalculable.”

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Kronos photographed in San Francisco, CA March 26, 2013©Jay Blakesberg

“Music for Change”
Kronos Quartet 
David Harrington and John Sherba, violins; Hank Dutt, viola; Sunny Yang, cello
Brian H. Scott, lighting designer, and Scott Fraser, sound designer

  • Steve Reich: Pendulum Music
  • “Star Spangled Banner” (inspired by Jimi Hendrix, arr. Stephen Prutsman and Kronos)
  • Michael Gordon: “Campaign Songs #1”
  • Stacy Garrop: Glorious Mahalia, featuring the recorded voices of Mahalia Jackson and Studs Terkel
  • Antonio Haskell, arr. Jacob Garchik: “God Shall Wipe All Tears Away” (inspired by Mahalia Jackson) 
  • Tanya Tagaq (arr. Tanya Tagaq, Kronos Quartet, and Joel Tarman): “Colonizer (Remix)”
  • Abel Meeropol, arr. Jacob Garchik: “Strange Fruit” (inspired by Billie Holiday)
  • John Coltrane (arr. Jacob Garchik): “Alabama”
  • Zachary James Watkins: Peace Be Till featuring the voice of Dr. Clarence B. Jones

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 13
Macky Auditorium 
TICKETS

King’s Singers return to Boulder with music familiar and new

‘Christmas with the King’s Singers’ will be December 8 in Macky Auditorium

By Peter Alexander Dec. 2 at 4:30 p.m.

Pat Dunachie can hardly wait to get back onstage. With an audience. In Boulder.

As a member of the King’s Singers, Dunachie was accustomed to traveling and performing about seven months out of every year. And then COVID hit and—nothing. 

“We ended up with two concerts after the 110 we had expected [in 2020], which was really tough,” he says.

King’s Singers at play. Photo by Frances Marshall.

But once the tours started again in September, Dunachie says, “it felt like life was back to normal. And in December we return to the States for a Christmas tour, which I think is a real sign that life is back to normal, and we can get our woolly hats and scarves on. That will feel like normal!”

Early in the 2021 Christmas tour the King’s Singers will appear at Macky to present “Christmas with the King’s Singers,” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 8.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

The Parker Quartet: Love Letters across the Centuries

Program features works by Adolphus Hailstork, György Kurtág, Alban Berg and Schumann. 

By Izzy Fincher Nov. 22 at 9:15 a.m.

Alan Berg’s Lyric Suite from 1926 has been called “a latent opera.” The sweeping, programmatic, six-movement work, mostly built on a 12-tone row, certainly feels like one. 

Through hidden musical devices and quotations, Berg depicts his passionate, yet doomed love affair with a married woman, Hanna Fuchs-Robettin. He even uses numerology to turn his and Hanna’s initials a motif of paired notes, A-Bb and B-F for H.B. and H.F. It’s the ultimate musical love letter. 

This suite was the centerpiece of the Parker Quartet’s performance in Grusin Hall on Sunday (Nov. 21) as the guest artists for CU Presents’ Takács Quartet series. Despite their eclectic program, which ranged from contemporary works by Adolphus Hailstork, György Kurtág (one of the quartet’s early mentors) and Alban Berg to a string quartet by Schumann, the performance felt cohesive, tied together by themes of love and loss across the centuries.  

Parker Quartet (L-R: Jessica Bodner, Daniel Chong, Ken Hamao, Kee-Hyun Kim). Photo by Luke Ratray.

Founded in 2002 at the New England Conservatory, the Parker Quartet has established itself as one of leading string quartets for traditional and contemporary repertoire in the U.S. Their 2011 album, Ligeti: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2, received a Grammy Award for the Best Chamber Music Performance, and they have premiered works by leading contemporary composers, including Jeremy Gill, Augusta Read Thomas and Zosha di Castri. The quartet members are currently artists-in-residence at Harvard University.

The concert opened with the reflective Adagio from Hailstork’s String Quartet No. 1, based on a choral piece written for his Norfolk Unitarian church that is set to a text about being a generous, loving Christian man. Following this, the quartet’s charismatic violinist Daniel Chong introduced the theme of the program: love in its various forms. This would be continued in Kurtág’s Aus der Ferne V (From afar), a brief, mournful work dedicated to his late friend and publisher Alfred Schlee, who rescued many contemporary scores from the Nazis; Berg’s Lyric Suite; and Schumann’s String Quartet No. 3 in A major, a 23rd birthday present for his beloved wife, Clara. 

In the evocative Aus der Ferne V, cellist Kee-Hyun Kim drove the piece forward with ominous pizzicato, reminiscent of a heartbeat, over the sustained lines on the violins and viola that exploded in short dissonant bursts before gradually fading away. 

This three-minute vignette set the scene for the highlight of the program, Berg’s Lyric Suite, which Chong described as “the most expressive string quartet in the canon” in his introduction. In the suite, the Parker Quartet demonstrated their impressive ability to blend, while bringing different instruments out of the texture as needed, creating a dialogue out of the building and developing motifs. Through their expressive use of colors and dynamics, they also captured the contrasting moods Berg experiences as he falls madly in love and later descends into despair. 

In the first movement, marked Allegretto gioviale, the Parker Quartet burst into joyful motion led by Chong’s lively opening gesture. This energy built through the next four movements, which all have expressive names: Andante amoroso, Allegro misterioso—Trio estatico, Adagio appassionato and Presto delirando—Tenebroso. 

In the third movement, the hidden initials motif appears most frequently, amidst the combination of wandering pizzicato and warbly lines that sound more chaotically improvisatory than mysterious, an instability the Parker Quartet communicated very well before building to the agitated trio and the dynamic presto that ends with a climactic flourish. The final movement, Largo desolato, which includes the iconic Tristan motif associated with eternal love, demanded the most musical versatility from the musicians, as moments from earlier happier movements appear briefly before sinking into despair. 

Following this depressing love story, the Parker Quartet shifted to a light-hearted work for the second half, Schumann’s String Quartet No. 3. After an hour of intense contemporary repertoire, this leap back into an earlier era felt a bit strange. Given the crowd’s excited chatter during intermission, however, a familiar work seemed to be a welcome respite after atonal explorations. 

During his career, Schumann only wrote three quartets. They were written together as Op. 41, a birthday present to his wife that was composed in the span of five weeks in 1842. These quartets incorporate elements of Schumann’s influences from Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and his friend Mendelssohn, while still retaining his own personal, Romantic style and at times expanding it. 

In their animated interpretation of No. 3, the Parker Quartet exhibited their impeccable synchronicity, bow strokes moving as one. With clear, strong downbeats, Kim on cello led this, though perhaps a bit too forcefully in the calmer Adagio molto movement. With the last movement, a showy crowd pleaser marked molto vivace, the quartet ended the performance on an uplifting note, a reminder of the excitement and joy of young love.  

The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Nov. 22, in Grusin Hall. Tickets are available here.

The Parker Quartet from Harvard will perform Sunday and Monday at CU

They will play in Grusin Hall as guests of CU’s Takacs Quartet

By Peter Alexander Nov. 17 at 5:20 p.m.

The Parker Quartet may be the only string quartet named for a hotel.

Formed when the original members were students at the New England Conservatory, they wanted a name that reflected their connection to Boston. “None of us is from Boston, but we call Boston home,” says Ken Hamao, the quartet’s second violinist. “To have a landmark from the city to name ourselves after was appropriate.”

Parker Quartet. Photo by Luke Ratray

Today the Parker Quartet members maintain their ties to Boston, as Blodgett Artists-in-residence and faculty at Harvard University’s department of music. 

The landmark is the Parker House, which you may recognize from dinner rolls but which was an important gathering place for America’s literary figures in the 19th century, including Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau, and later for politicians including presidents U.S. Grant, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.

The Parker Quartet will perform at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21, and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22, in Grusin Hall. They are appearing in the guest slot on the fall concert series of CU’s Takacs Quartet. Their eclectic program features the Lyric Suite by Alban Berg and the Third String Quartet of Robert Schumann, as well as shorter works by Adolphus Hailstork and György Kurtág.

Both in-person and digital tickets can be purchased from CU Presents. Masks are required in all indoor spaces in the CU campus, regardless of vaccination status.

Alban Berg

The central work on the program is Berg’s Lyric Suite, an emotionally and musically challenging work in six intense movements. It has always been seen as a dramatic and passionate piece of music, but more than 50 years after it was written in 1926, a secret “program” was found embedded in the score that explained the intensity of the music.

A combination of musical initials standing for the composer and his lover, multiple other musical symbols, the inclusion of Wagner’s Tristan chord and other musical references, all reflect Berg’s passionate and illicit affair with a married woman, Hanna Fuchs-Robettin. Even the movement titles suggest the subject: amoroso (lovingly), appassionato (passionately) and estatico (ecstatic).

But you don’t need to know the story to appreciate the music, Hamao says. “For us as performers, it helps us to get into the composer’s mindset, but on its own it’s just a very dynamic work, hugely expressive,” he says.

“We’ve been talking about performing it for many years, and after so many years you want to tell each other, ‘Let’s just go for it’. It’s really exciting (because) it has that drama, the very, very highs and the very, very lows of the affair. It did make sense (with) the Schumann as a companion piece. The Lyric Suite is as passionate as it also is desolate, while the Schumann is more uplifting.”

Calra Schumann. Portrait by Franz von Lenbach

Hamao describes the Schumann Third Quartet as representing a different kind of romantic love, that of the composer for his wife, Clara Schumann. “It’s just a love letter to his wife,” he says. “From the very first two notes that you hear, this Clara motive, he’s yearning for his wife. From the first page it’s a declaration of love.”

Hailstork’s Adagio is a piece that the quartet discovered more recently. “It was a piece that we fell in love with immediately and wanted to program it as soon as we can,” Hamao says. “In a program that can be as intense as the Lyric Suite can be, having this beautiful Adagio made a lot of sense to us.

“I think of it as an incredibly beautiful piece that kind of discovers itself throughout the whole piece. It’s definitely tonal but has what you might call notes that don’t quite belong to the scale. For a beautiful piece there’s a lot of surprises, but at the end of the day it’s a really gorgeous movement.”

Kurtág’s Aus der Ferne (From the distance) V is one of a group of pieces for different media. Two of are for string quartet—Aus der Ferne III and V. The Parker Quartet has worked directly with the composer in the past, and recently released a CD recording of his quartets, including those two miniatures. 

“Kurtág has an incredible ability to tap into the idea of drama,” Hamao says. “There is a sense of narrative. I don’t think there is an explicit one, but an abstract narrative. He’s able to pack a story into two minutes of music. [He has] this incredible ability to create a lot of expression through quite minimal means.”

Whatever narrative you discover will have to be “in each listener’s imagination,” Hamao says, but that is part of the reward for both performer and listener.

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Parker Quartet

  • Adolphus Hailstork: Adagio from String Quartet No. 1
  • György Kurtág: Aus der Ferne V (From the distance)
  • Alban Berg: Lyric Suite
  • Schumann: String Quartet No. 3, Op. 41 No. 3

4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21
7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22
Grusin Recital Hall, CU Imig Music Building

In-person and Sunday live stream tickets available from CU Presents

Takács Quartet opens 2021–22 campus concert series Sunday

Performances will be available for in-person attendance and streaming

By Peter Alexander Sept. 10 at 4:30 p.m.

The CU College of Music and the resident Takács Quartet go into the 2021–22 academic year with a full schedule of on-campus concerts.

Naturally, this marks a change from last year, when COVID-19 and construction in the Imig Music Building prevented the usual activities in the college from taking place in person. What effect the emergence of the Delta Variant of COVID-19 will have remains unknown, but for now the live series gets under way at 4 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 12) in Grusin Music Hall with a full concert program. The Takács series also includes guest performances by the Parker Quartet from Harvard University.

Takács Quartet— Amanda Tipton, Photographer

At this time, masks are required in public indoor spaces on the CU Boulder campus regardless of vaccination status. Furthermore, an order from Boulder County Public Health also mandates masks indoors in public spaces throughout Boulder County. This order applies, regardless of vaccination status, to all persons age two and up. Dates in the future remain subject to any changes in university policy. 

As in past years, all Sunday Takács programs are scheduled to be repeated on Monday evenings. Each concert will also be available through a ticketed live stream Sunday afternoon that will remain available up to one week after the Monday performances. Details and tickets to live performances and the streams are available through CU Presents.

In addition to familiar works from the standard repertoire—quartets by Haydn, Mozart and Schubert—the Takács Quartet will play two important works by Czech composers that are heard less often. These are the String Quartet No. 2 by Leoš Janáček, titled “Intimate Letters” by the composer (Sept. 12 & 13); and the String Quartet No. 1 by Smetana, titled ”From My Life” (Oct. 31 & Nov. 1).

Written in 1928, Janáček’s Quartet No. 2 was inspired by the composer’s unrequited love for a married woman nearly 40 years his junior. The title refers to the more than 700 letters between Janáček and the woman, Kamila Stösslová, who remained emotionally distant but was with the composer when he died. Janáček wrote to Stösslová, “You stand behind every note” of the quartet.

One of his last works, the quartet was premiered a month after Janáček’s death.

Smetana’s quartet was also written relatively late in the composer’s life and is also autobiographical. The name “From My Life” was provided by the composer, making the quartet, and along with Janáček’s Quartet No. 2, one of the few deliberately programmatic chamber works. 

The first three movements refer to different stages in Smetana’s life—his youthful romanticism, his love for dancing as a young man, and his love for his wife. The final movement dramatizes the persistent ringing that developed in the composer’s ears in his later years, represented by a sustained high E, and his subsequent loss of hearing.

The quartet was composed in 1876 and given its official public premiere in 1879. For an earlier private performance the viola part, which has a prominent solo at the beginning of the first movement, had been played by the young Dvořák.

Another lesser known work will be performed during the fall, Henri Dutilleux’s Aini la nuit (“Thus the night”) Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. Composed over period of years 1973–76, Dutilleux’s quartet was inspired in part by the quartets of Beethoven, Bartók and the 12-tone works of Anton Webern.

A meticulous composer who has a relatively small output, Dutilleux was not a strict adherent of serialism, although he does make use of pitch series. The quartet, aimed at evoking a sense of the night, is in seven strongly contrasting movements with four very short interludes he called “parentheses” serving as transitions between movements.

Though performed relatively infrequently, Ainsi la nuit is regarded as one of the most important works for string quartet from the late 20th century.

Parker Quartet. Photo by Luke Ratray.

The Parker Quartet, whose members are Blodget Artsists-in-Residence at Harvard University’s College of Music, will complete the fall series with guest performances Nov. 21–22. Their program has not yet been announced.

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Takács Quartet
Fall 2021 concert series

Takács Quartet

  • Haydn: String Quartet in F minor, Op. 20 No. 5 
  • Leoš Janáček: String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters” 
  • Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, “Death and the Maiden”

4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12; 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13
Grusin Music Hall 

Takács Quartet

  • Mozart: String Quartet in D minor, K421
  • Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la Nuit
  • Smetana: String Quartet No. 1 “From My Life”

4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 31; 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 1
Grusin Music Hall 

Parker Quartet

  • Program TBA

4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21; 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22
Grusin Music Hall 

In addition to live performances, each concert will be streamed live on  Sundays, and each stream will remain available until one week following the Monday performances. Details and tickets to both live performances and the streams are available through CU Presents.

Tickets available for Sunday’s concert by Takács Quartet

Music by Haydn, Schubert, Dutilleux: Stream available through May 10

By Peter Alexander April 7 at 12:30 p.m.

The CU-based Takács Quartet has played a series of concerts in Grusin Hall this year, but you can be forgiven if you missed them. They were played without an audience, and most of the live streams were available only to season ticket holders.

The final concert of ’20-21, at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 11, will again be in an empty hall, but tickets for the stream are available to the general public. The performance will be streamed live at 4 p.m., and the stream will remain available through Monday, May 10.

David Requiro

Cellist and CU faculty member David Requiro will join the Takács for Schubert’s much loved Quintet in C major for Strings, D956. Other works on the program will be two quartets by Joseph Haydn—Op. 42 and Op. 103, both in D minor—and the atmospheric Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night) by 20th-century French composer Henri Dutilleux.

András Fejér, the quartet’s cellist, has been with the Takács since it was founded in 1975. He has played everything on the program many times, but he never gets tired of his job. “The literature is so incredibly rich!” he says. “One can argue and counter argue on any page of any of the pieces for lifetime. It’s a joy to listen to (other players’) ideas.”

Take for example the two Haydn quartets that will open the program. “With Haydn, whenever we start learning and studying you are just swept away by his generosity of ideas—surprising key changes, character changes and trickery,” he says.

Fejér believes the “trickery,” for which Haydn is well known, was done for the composer to entertain his audience—and himself. “If you spend 40 years in a palace on the Austro-Hungarian border, however generous your patron is, you need to care about your own entertainment,” he says.

Some of the fun also comes from Haydn’s contact with the local peasants, Fejér believes. “They were full of joy, they were full of rowdiness, probably some dancing, and we can find most of it on those pages. Hopefully you will see the enjoyment in our body language, and you will be transported into the 18th-century. It’s got such spice and an earthy, primal energy. Wonderful!”

Both Haydn quartets are unusual among the composer’s works. For one thing, they are both in D minor, at a time when few works were written in minor keys. Further, both are short works that do not belong to a larger set, as most Haydn quartets do. Op. 42 is in four short movements—less than 20 minutes all together. 

One of the last pieces Haydn wrote, Op. 103 remains a fragment of two movements. Written in B-flat major and D minor, they are assumed to have been the second and third movements of a planned four-movement quartet, but even that is uncertain. Haydn was in poor health as he was writing, and was unable to finish a full quartet.

Like the Haydn Op. 103, Schubert’s Quintet in C major was the composer’s last piece of chamber music. It was completed about two months before Schubert’s death in Nov. 1828 but was not performed until 1850, and published three years after that.

Schubert added a second cello to the standard string quartet, which gives a great resonance and warmth of sound to the ensemble. This is especially true because the piece is in C major, and the two bottom string of the cello are C and G, tonic and dominant of the key. Fejér explains that “the open strings of the cello, C and G, resonate just by lightly touching the instrument. It just rolls out—wonderful!”

Henri Dutilleux

The Takács Quartet has performed the Schubert with Requiro in the past, including a performance at Lincoln Center. “We are just looking forward to (performing with) David Requiro,” Fejér says. “We already played the Quintet many times with him, and it was wonderful.”

Schubert’s String Quintet has become one of the most loved pieces of chamber music from the 19th century. Like many of Schubert’s last works, it has a warmth and benedictive quality that audiences have responded to. It is indicative of that quality, Fejér says, that “the most people I know ask for the Schubert Quintet slow movement for their own funeral.”

That is unlikely to be true for the final piece on the program, which comes from another world. Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night) is a highly atmospheric work from the late 20th century. The composer has been identified with the atonal 12-tone style of composition, although he notably rejected the more radical and intolerant aspects of musical modernism.

“The music is extremely atmospheric,” is how Fejér describes Ainsi la nuit. “Many composers were trying to give meaning for the noises of the night, and Dutilleux certainly tries it his own ways. As performers, we need to (bring out) the colors and character to give the audience some sense of within what cosmos are we moving about.

“There are clashes and supernovas and black matter and God knows what else, but the beauty and atmosphere keep recurring.”

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Takács Quartet

Takács Quartet, with David Requiro, cello

Haydn: String Quartet in D minor, op. 42
Haydn: String Quartet in D minor, op. 103
Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night)
Schubert: String Quintet in C major, D956

Live stream at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 11; available through 11 p.m. Monday, May 10

Tickets

UPDATE: Cancellations of CU Performances; statement from Boulder Phil

Eklund Opera, Takács Quartet are included in the latest round of cancelations

By Peter Alexander March 11 at 3:57 p.m.

CU Presents and the University of Colorado, Boulder. have just announced the cancellation of all Spring 2020 College of Music events. Their statement specifies that:

This includes Eklund Opera, Artist Series, Takacs Quartet, ensemble performances and all other events. We will be in touch with ticketholders soon regarding next steps.

Please note that this includes the Eklund Opera production of  The Marriage of Figaro (scheduled for March 13–15) and the performance by the Kronos Quartet (March 19) previously covered in Boulder Weekly and on this blog.

The following is also posted on the CU Presents Web page:

We are currently working with the university to understand the impact this has on our events and will update patrons with more information as soon as possible. . . . CU Presents is committed to the health, safety and wellbeing of everyone at our events. We are actively monitoring the global coronavirus or COVID-19 situation and would like to point you to updates and resources from the University of Colorado Boulder and Boulder County Health.

The Boulder Philharmonic has sent a statement to its patrons and ticket buyers concerning the cancelation of its upcoming concerts March 21 and 22. This information will be shortly available on the Boulder Phil Web page.  Here is the message that has been sent to patrons:

We regret to report that the Boulder Phil will be unable to proceed with concerts scheduled for March 21 at Macky Auditorium and March 22 at Pinnacle Performing Arts Center. CU announced today the suspension of all campus classes and gatherings, and we are supporting public health and safety by suspending our concerts until the virus threat has passed. We hope these preventative measures will be effective as our community does its part to protect our citizens.
We view this change as a postponement, and we will reschedule the concert if at all possible. We will keep you informed of developments as we have information.
For all ticket holders, your tickets is valid for a rescheduled performance of this program, or for exchange to a future concert. If you prefer you may donate the value of your ticket to the Phil, or request a refund, by calling the box office, 303-449-1343 starting Monday.
___________________
NOTE: As much as possible, I will attempt to keep updates concerning cancellations due to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 current on the Web page. Anyone with further information is encouraged to contact this site at alex.peterm@gmail.com.

CU Presents’ 2019–20 season features Grammy winners and nominees

Kronos Quartet returns, Eklund Opera presents It’s a Wonderful Life

By Peter Alexander April 4 at 4:15 p.m.

macky.jpg.w560h420

CU Macky Auditorium

The coming season of CU Presents at Macky Auditorium will feature the return of the Kronos Quartet, not heard in Boulder since 2014; the first appearance here by A Far Cry string orchestra; and the combination return/first local performance of Jake Heggie’s and Gene Scheer’s opera It’s a Wonderful Life, workshopped at CU in June 2018 and now scheduled for a full production by CU’s Eklund Opera Program.

These and other music, dance and theater events have been announced as part of the 2019-20 season of CU Presents. The full schedule for the season is listed here; see a schedule of the music events below .

In addition to CU’s own Takacs Quartet in their annual series on campus, the Grammy winners on the schedule are Kronos Quartet and the Chick Corea trio. A Far Cry was nominated for Grammys in 2014 and 2018.

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A Far Cry sting orchestra. Photo by Yoon S. Byun.

Founded in Boston in 2007, A Far Cry is an adventurous string orchestra. They are a democratic, self-conducted ensemble in which decisions are made collectively and leadership rotates among the players—or “Criers,” as they like to call themselves. They were recently part of a commissioning project with pianist Simone Dinnerstein for Philp Glass’s Third Piano Concerto, which Dinnerstein played with the Boulder Philharmonic as part of the orchestra’s 2017–18 season.

A Far Cry will perform a new program for the tour that will bring them to Boulder on Feb. 8, 2020. Under the title “Memory,” the program will comprise works by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Elgar and Arvo Pärt.

Kronos

Kronos Quartet. Photo by Jay Blakesberg.

Over 46 years, Kronos Quartet has been known for the innovative programming and presentation of music for string quartet, and especially new works. More than 900 works have been written for Kronos, by composers from all over the world. Their extensive discography, including more than 40 studio albums, has its own Wikipedia entry that also lists compilation albums, video albums, film soundtracks, and Kronos’ contributions with other artists ranging from Linda Ronstadt to Nine Inch Nails.

Kronos has been nominated for a Grammy 11 times, and won twice. In recognition of the 2014 centennial of World War I, in 2014 they presented the film Beyond Zero in Macky. A reconstruction by Bill Morrison of film from World War I, Beyond Zero featured a score by Aleksandra Vrebalov played live by Kronos. For their performance at Macky in March 19, 2020, they will present a new program, “Music for Change: The 60s,” including a celebration of Pete Seeger’s music and a work inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Houston Grand Opera world premiere production of It’s a Wonderful Life

Heggie and Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera, with the San Francisco Opera and the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. The opera is based on the 1946 film of the same name, directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers.

The original production premiered in Houston Dec. 2, 2016, with subsequent performances in San Francisco and Bloomington, Ind. Prior to the premiere, the opera received workshop performances in Boulder in June 2016, through the Eklund Opera’s New Opera Workshop (CU NOW).

The Eklund Opera will present an all-new production of the opera Nov. 15–17, 2019, in Macky Auditorium.

Music events from CU Presents’ 2019–20 season are listed below:

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Artist Series at Macky Auditorium

Music events

Chick Corea Trilogy
with Christian McBride and Brian Blade
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019,
Bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade join Chorea for an evening of Corea classics and jazz standards.

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Nobuntu

Nobuntu
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30
“Nobuntu”—an expression meaning feminine familial love, humility and kindness—is the name of a female a cappella quintet from Zimbabwe that performs traditional Zimbabwean songs, Afro jazz and gospel.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19

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Natalie McMaster and Donnell Leahy

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy
“A Celtic Family Christmas”
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17

A Far Cry string orchestra
“Memory”
Music by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Arvo Pärt and Elgar
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020

Kronos Quartet
“Music for Change: The 60s, The Years That Changed America”
7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 19, 2020

Holiday Festival

Dec. 6-8, 2019
CU Boulder’s Holiday tradition featuring student choirs, bands and orchestras—along with faculty performers—in a concert of holiday favorites

Takács Quartet at Grusin Music Hall

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Takács Quartet

Chamber Series:
4 p.m. Sundays Sept. 8, Oct. 27, Jan. 12, March 8, May 3
Encore Series:
7:30 p.m. Mondays Sept. 9, Oct. 28, Jan. 13, March 9, May 4

4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11: The Takacs Quartet presents the Tesla Quartet

Eklund Opera Program

It’s a Wonderful Life
Music by Jake Heggie; Libretto by Gene Scheer
Nov. 15-17 at Macky Auditorium

The Marriage of Figaro
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte
March 13-15 at Macky Auditorium

Béatrice et Bénédict
Music and libretto by Hector Berlioz, based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing
April 23-26 at the Music Theatre

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Season tickets for these and other events presented by CU Presents are now on sale and my be purchased here. The complete listing of the CU Presents 2019–20 season, including dance performances and productions of the CU Department of Theater and Dance, may be found here.

 

 

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 very tall 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

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.