“Women Among Men” featured by Pro Musica Colorado Sept. 22-23

Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz is ”a great discovery”

By Peter Alexander Sept. 20 at 8 p.m.

“Women Among Men,” a concert by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, will feature a woman conductor, two women soloists, and a woman composer—and some male composers as well.

Photography by Glenn Ross. http://on.fb.me/16KNsgK

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photography by Glenn Ross.

The conductor is Cynthia Katsarelis, Pro Musica’s music director. The soloists are violinist Yumi Hwang-Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony, and soprano Amanda Balestrieri, artistic director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble. And the composer is Grazyna Bacewicz, who Katsarelis describes as “a great discovery.”

Other composers on the program are J.S. Bach, Joseph Haydn and Mozart. Performances will be Saturday in Denver and Sunday afternoon in Boulder (Sept.  22–23).

Katsarelis points out that the program is filled cheerful pieces. Recent seasons have seen Pro Musica playing some pretty dark, serious works—musical reflections on death, the martyrdom of Joan of Arc, and a tragic shipwreck, for example. “I decided we should do a happy concert for once,” she says.

Grazyna Bacewicz

Grazyna Bacewicz

Bacewicz, Katsarelis’s “great discovery,” is likely better known to violinists than to the audience. She was a virtuoso violinist as well as composer, and she wrote a lot of music for the violin. “I’m going to get her violin sonatas and play those,” Katsarelis says. “I’m really enjoying her music!”

Born in Poland in 1909, Bacewicz lived and worked through the middle of the 20thcentury. The Concerto for String Orchestra was written in 1948, and reflects the clean and bracing neo-classical style of the era between the wars.

“Her aesthetic likes clarity and orchestration that has space,” Katsarelis says. “She didn’t like the giant, dense sound blocks, and in that respect she reminds me of Ravel.

“There are areas that have an impressionistic sound, there are areas that have a Stravinsky-like sound, and sometimes we get eastern European rhythms that are reminiscent of Shostakovich. She’s obviously aware of Bach, and the coloristic effects of Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, and Shostakovich. Without anything sounding derivative, it just sounds like she’s got a really wonderful broad palette.”

A word that Katsarelis uses to describe Bacewicz’s music is “lively,” but she also points out that it is not music that is difficult or unfriendly to audiences. “She knows how to drive a line, but it’s nothing intimidating or scary,” she says. “You can really take it in and enjoy it deeply.”

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Yumi Hwang-Williams

Katsarelis knew Hwang Williams before either moved to Colorado, when Hwang-Williams was principal second violin in the Cincinnati Symphony and Katsarelis was an apprentice conductor with the orchestra. Since they both settled in Colorado, Hwang-Williams has been a soloist with Pro Musica several times.

On this occasion, she is playing one of her favorite pieces, Haydn’s Violin Concerto in C major. “It’s a wonderful, beautiful, ebullient, joyful work,” she says. “I have loved this concerto for a long time, and I’ve always wanted to play it.”

Although it is not a big Romantic showpiece, Hwang-Williams says that the concerto has its own challenges. “There’s a lot of virtuosity,” she says. “It’s just a different kind of virtuosity. The challenge of playing classical repertoire well is that you have to have a lot of refinement in your playing. You need crystal clear intonation and articulation, so what you hear is the purity of the violin, in the tone and phrasing.”

Katsarelis says “It’s just a really wonderful piece, written around the time of his early to middle symphonies. It’s a mature work, from the beginning of his peak—which then lasted for 50 more years!”

The concerto will be followed by a piece that Katsarelis calls “a bonbon”: Die Schätzbarkeit der weiten Erde (The riches of the world), an aria for soprano and violin with strings from Bach’s Cantata No. 204. “Yumi has been talking to me about the wonderful Bach arias that have violin solos,” she explains.

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Amanda Balestrieri

“The concert was a little bit short, so there would be room to do a wonderful bon-bon. The music is charming—and of course, Amanda Balestrieri is the perfect person for this, both because of her voice quality and her musical intelligence.”

The fourth piece on the program is Mozart’s Serenade in D major, K239, known as the “Serenata Notturna” (Nocturnal serenade). “When I was putting together the program, I was shuffling through pieces for string orchestra,” Katsarelis says. “I’d forgotten about this, except that it has two orchestras, the quartet of principals and the string orchestra with also timpani. I looked into it, and I was delighted by the piece right away!”

As Mozart would have done, Pro Musica will separate the two performing groups—”so that we get that aural, spatial surround sound,” Katsarelis says.

Mozart’s serenades, were usually written for celebrations of some kind. The occasion for the “Serenata Notturna” is not known, but was most likely a masked ball during Carnival season. Katsarelis happily suggests that “it’s not difficult to imagine intrigue going on while they were playing this at a masked ball—where you can get away with more than at a non-masked ball!”

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Viennese masked ball

To add to the enjoyment of his Viennese audiences, Mozart incorporated some melodies hat would have been recognized at the time. “That would have added to their delight,” Katsarelis says.  “But the music still carries that delight, even if we don’t know the songs.”

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Women Among Men
with Violinist Yumi Hwang-Williams
Amanda Balestrieri, soprano
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor

7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 22 
Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St., Denver

2 p.m. Sunday, September 23
Mountain View United Methodist, 355 Ponca Pl., Boulder

Mozart: Serenade in D major K. 239, Serenata notturna
Grazyna Bacewicz: Concerto for String Orchestra
Haydn: Violin Concerto in C Major
J.S. Bach: Die Schätzbarkeit der weiten Erde

Tickets 

 

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Grace Notes: Brief news items from the classical music scene in Boulder

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By Peter Alexander Aug. 20 at 9:45 p.m.

Boulder Chamber Orchestra hires executive director—The Board of Directors of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra announced earlier this summer that Courtney Huffman has been appointed as the organization’s executive director.

The executive director’s responsibilities had been handled by Bahman Saless, founder and artistic director of the BCO. After 14 years, he is now ready to leave administrative duties to Huffman in order to focus on the music.

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Courtney Huffman

“I have loved and cherished very moment and I am ready to take a step back and lighten the administrative load knowing that the orchestra is in good hands,” he said in a news release.

Huffman first joined the BCO organization three years ago as managing director. She had left in 2017 to work for an educational non-profit organization in Denver, but returned to Boulder when offered the position with the BCO.

“I am beyond excited to be returning to Boulder to lead the orchestra,” she said in the BCO’s news release. “I have loved classical music since I was a little girl, and this organization feels like home to me. I am honored to be able to ring in the orchestra’s 15thseason.”

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MahlerFest also hires an executive director—Colorado MahlerFest recently hired its first executive director.

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Ethan Hecht

In a decision announced in July, MahlerFest hired Ethan Hecht as executive director after 31 seasons of performances. MahlerFest’s announcement notes that the festival has grown since the 2015 hiring of Kenneth Woods as the its second artistic director. The festival has added both workshops and a masterclass for young conductors, and introduced “festival artists” who are featured both in the MahlerFest orchestra and in chamber music performances during the festival.

According to the announcement from the festival, “the board looked to expand the administrative operations of the festival.” Hecht has performed at MahlerFest as the orchestra’s principal violist, and he has extensive administrative experience with Colorado Music Festival and Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra. He is currently executive director of the Boulder Chorale.

MahlerFest board president David Auerbach was quoted in the announcement of Hecht’s appointment: “This is a major investment in the future of the festival . . .We are very excited [Hecht] has joined the team.”

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Pro Music Colorado announces 2018–19 season—The Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra has announced their 2018–19 season, titled “Classical Evolution!”

Photography by Glenn Ross. http://on.fb.me/16KNsgK

Cynthia Katsarelis

The central performance and likely audience favorite of the season will be Handel’s Messiah, to be presented Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 1 and 2, at Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place in Boulder. The performance under conductor Cynthia Katsarelis will feature guests soloists to be announced later and the Boulder Chamber Chorale with artistic director Vicki Burrichter.

Mountain View Methodist, which has ample on-site parking, has become the orchestra’s home base in Boulder. All three of the season’s programs will be presented there. In addition, their September concert will be performed in Denver at Central Presbyterian Church, and the season-closing concert in February will be performed at the First Baptist Church of Denver and at the Stewart Auditorium in Longmont.

Here is the full 2018-19 season of Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra:

“Women Among Men”
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, Central Presbyterian Church, Denver
2 pm. Sunday, Sept. 23, Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Yumi Hwang-Williams, violin, and Amanda Balestrieri, soprano

Wolfgang A. Mozart: Serenade No. 6 for Orchestra in D major K. 239, Serenata notturna
Grazyna Bacewicz: Concerto for String Orchestra
Franz Joseph Haydn: Violin Concerto in C Major
Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Schätzbarkeit der weiten Erde (The treasure of the world), aria from Cantata 204

Handel’s Messiah
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with the Boulder Chamber Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, conductor, and soloists tba.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, Mountain View Presbyterian Church, Boulder
3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, Mountain View Presbyterian Church, Boulder

“21st-Century Style”
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Jory Vinikour, harpsichord
7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, First Baptist Church of Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder
2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont

Max Wolpert: Harpsichord Concerto No. 1, “Baroque in Mirror” (World Premiere)
Philip Glass: Concerto for Harpsichord and Chamber Orchestra
Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 22 (“The Philosopher”)

More information and tickets here.

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CU Faculty Tuesdays start Aug. 28—The CU College of Music’s “Faculty Tuesdays” series starts next week, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28, in Grusin Hall of the Imig Music Building.

The first of the fall series of faculty recitals at CU will feature violinist Charles Wetherbee and pianist David Korevaar, performing three works: the Sonata for Violin and Piano in B minor of Ottorino Respighi; the Poeme op. 25 by Ernest Chausson; and one of the great masterpieces of violin repertoire, Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in A major op. 47, known as the “Kreutzer” Sonata.

You may check the full fall schedule for “Faculty Tuesdays” on the College of Music Web page. Note also that if you cannot make the trip to the CU campus for any of the performances, they are live-streamed every week through this Web page.

 

 

Dusinberre, Katsarelis and Pro Musica premiere concerto by Jeffrey Nytch

Powerfully expressive work, written from the heart, reaching out to hearts

By Peter Alexander April 15 at 12:15 a.m.

A remarkable new work by Jeffrey Nytch, the Violin Concerto: Costa Concordia, has been brought to Colorado audiences by the Colorado Pro Music Chamber Orchestra, conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and violinist Edward Dusinberre.

The official premiere was Friday (April 13) in Denver, with a second performance, which I attended, last night in Boulder (April 14). Both performance and work were assured, polished, and deeply moving.

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Composer Jeffrey Nytch. Courtesy CU photo archive.

Nytch is an associate professor of composition and director of the Entrepreneurship Center for Music at the CU College of Music. He was inspired to write the concerto by the fate of the Hungarian violinist Sandor Feher, who died when the cruise ship Costa Concordia sank in 2012. When the ship collided with the rocky shore, Feher first assisted other passengers, including children, and then went to retrieve his violin. He never came back.

“I heard this story and felt that I had to respond to it in a musical way,” Nytch has said. What he chose to do was to tell the story of the violin, not the violinist. This is a highly original creative decision, one that led Nytch away from the events of Feher’s story, toward the moods the story passes through. The concerto is thus more universal, and more deeply moving.

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Sandor Feher

Looked at in another way, the concerto is programmatic, but not in the usual sense. That is, it does not have a program of events, with music representing the collision or Feher’s descent back into the ship. Instead it has an emotional program, portraying in turn the jollity of the fiddle and its player in good times, the loneliness of their separation, and finally a vision of their reunion in another realm.

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The Costa Concordia sinking (2012)

The result is a powerfully expressive work, because Nytch found effective musical means to convey each step of this emotional journey. And that emotional program, written from the composer’s heart, pulls the listeners in and reaches out to their hearts.

The concerto starts with a deep and foreboding prologue, with a ”churning,” the section title tells us, that could be the ship’s propellers swirling beneath the waves. This is followed by an impassioned cadenza that dramatically invokes the unity of player and instrument. Here Dusinberre became the ideal interpreter, playing with intensity and technical brilliance.

The next section of the work, titled “Dancing, lighthearted,” has hints of Eastern European rhythms and dances that Feher might have played, but without sounding like quotes of folk music or specific Gypsy tunes. The lighter mood gives away to ever more frantic fiddling until a furious climax is reached.

Ed Dusinberre Takacs Quartet Publicity Photo

Edward Dusinberre. Courtesy CU photo archive.

The remainder of the concerto contains the most arresting and original music of the piece. First there is a lengthy passage of utter emptiness, suggesting loneliness yet without despair. Borrowing from Dusinberre’s description, “there’s an extraordinary disembodied quality to it, (as if) the violinist ceases to be there, (leaving only) the sound of the instrument.”

Slow moving, tonal chords used to represent a sweet, consoling ending is one of the most obvious clichés of Western music, and yet Nytch makes them fresh and effective. The sheer beauty of the final section feels like the inevitable outcome of the concerto’s emotional journey. This, I thought, is the story that Nytch had to tell: not the specifics of Feher’s heroism and sacrifice, but a universal yearning for transcendence.

Dusinberre, more often heard as first violinist of the Takacs Quartet, was an inspired interpreter of the concerto. He had mastered the concerto’s many technical demands, playing with a consistency and beauty of tone. He easily soared above the texture, in spite of the sometimes urgent activity of the orchestra. Based on this riveting performance, I would like to hear him more often as a concerto soloist, if only his other far-flung commitments would allow it.

Photography by Glenn Ross. http://on.fb.me/16KNsgK

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

Katsarelis and the players of Pro Musica gave solid and committed support, ideally matching the composer’s moods. Before Costa Concordia, they gave an assured and well prepared performance of Bartók’s Divertimento for String Orchestra. Throughout, the different episodes from which the score is constructed were well characterized, all of the changes of mood clearly delineated.

They did not hold back for the more bumptious sections or the most piercing climaxes, which were well contrasted with moments of near silence. The Divertimento represented a satisfying performance of a piece that Katsarelis and the players obviously enjoy. Sometimes, that’s just what you want.

Pro Musica’s ‘Heart of Hungary’ puts the spotlight on a world premiere

New Violin Concerto by Jeff Nytch will feature Edward Dusinberre as soloist

By Peter Alexander April 13 at 5:20 p.m.

Some stories just have to be told.

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Jeff Nytch. Courtesy of CU Photo Archive.

That is what composer Jeffrey Nytch thought when he heard about Sandor Feher, a violinist on the cruise ship Costa Concordia who died going back to retrieve his violin when the ship sank off the coast of Italy in 2012. “I heard this story and I was just incredibly moved by it,” Nytch says. “I felt that I had to respond to it in a musical way.”

The world premiere Nytch’s musical response, his Violin Concerto: Costa Concordia, will be presented by violinist Edward Dusinberre with the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and conductor Cynthia Katsarelis. Performances will be Friday (April 13) in Cherry Hills Village and Saturday (April 14) in Boulder.

Pro Musica will also perform Bartók’s Divertimento for Strings both nights.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With Edward Dusinberre, violin

Jeffrey Nytch: Violin Concerto:Costa Concordia(World Premiere)
Béla Bartók: Divertimento for String Orchestra

7:30 p.m. Friday, April 13
Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Avenue,Cherry Hills Village
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14
Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder

Tickets

Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra celebrates Reformation, women composers

New concert location in Boulder, Mountain View Methodist, offers convenient parking

By Peter Alexander Feb. 5 at 6:00 p.m.

Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, because it was a major turning point in European history—and because, she says, “there’s not that much for a classical symphony to celebrate 500 years!”

True enough: orchestral music only goes back a little more than 300 years.

Photography by Glenn Ross. http://on.fb.me/16KNsgK

Cynthia Katsarelis, Pro Musica celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

The theme of the program goes beyond the Reformation itself to the idea of “liberation,” by which Katsarelis means freeing the mind from old ways of thinking. “In the big arc of history, the Reformation was a turning point in terms of people being able to follow their conscience,” she says.

The concert celebrates the anniversary of the Reformation through J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 80, based on the Lutheran chorale tune Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (A might fortress is our God), with words by Martin Luther. St. Martin’s Chamber Choir joins Pro Musica for the cantata, one of Bach’s most significant sacred works. Soloists will be soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, alto Leah Creek Biesterfeld, tenor Steven Soph and baritone Adam Ewing.

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St. Martin’s Chamber Choir

Other works on the program will be “Raucous Rumpus: A Fanfare” from Dance Card by Jennifer Higdon; Haydn’s Symphony No. 85, nicknamed “La Reine” (The queen); and the world premiere of “Marantha” by Elena Specht, winner of the CU Composition Competition.

The Boulder performance will take place in a location that Katsarelis has chosen as an ongoing venue for Pro Musica: The Mountain View Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place in Boulder, which has its own parking lot—a welcome convenience in Boulder.

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Jennifer Higdon

Higdon’s complete work Dance Card comprises five dance pieces, of which Pro Musica is doing the first, “Raucous Rumpus,” to open the concert. “It pretty much sounds like the title,” Katsarelis says. “It’s fast and fun and it’s very conversational between the sections of the string orchestra. The movements all make really good concert openers or closers, so I think we will end up doing them all over time.”

Higdon’s music relates to the title of “Liberation” in two ways, she says. “Higdon’s style uses jazz inspired things, and you didn’t do those dances in polite society at one time, and also being a woman composer. I would say that the inclusion of Jennifer Higdon’s piece and Elena Specht’s piece, are part of the liberation.”

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Joseph Haydn

“La Reine” is at least the sixth or seventh Haydn symphony Pro Musica has presented. Haydn’s works are “the core of our repertoire,” Katsarelis says. “Everything came out of this, in terms of symphonic writing. What’s so interesting, is that he wrote so many (symphonies) but they don’t all sound alike. This one is a beautiful, charming piece.”

One of Haydn so-called “Paris Symphonies, No. 85 was written around 1785 for performance in the French capitol. The title comes from the fact that it was supposed to have been a favorite of Marie Antoinette. It includes numerous references to French musical style, including variations on a French folk song, Ma gentille et jeune LisetteI (My lovely young Lisette).

Bach’s Cantata No. 80 calls for a small orchestra with four-part chorus and four vocal soloists. It is not an easy assignment for the singers, as their parts are complex, often chromatic, and highly contrapuntal. But Katsarelis feels she has the ideal partners in St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, a highly selective, professional, vocal group in Denver.

“We love working with St. Martin’s,” she says. “It’s always a very happy collaboration, with really beautiful musical results.”

Although Bach’s cantatas don’t often get performed in concert settings,  Katsarelis would like to do more of them. “The cantatas are just so fabulous,” she says. “These are just gems of the repertoire that should be played.”

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Elena Specht

Specht’s piece was written as a companion piece to the Bach. Katsarelis says that the connection between the two works is conceptual, and does not involve any direct quotes of Bach’s music. “Specht calls Marantha the story of hope and the ultimate victory of goodness,” Katsarelis says. “It’s a short piece, and it does a very good job of exploring darkness and light. The darkness and light motive is also very, very prevalent in the Bach: the victory over Satan and sin.”

The duality is reflected in the title Marantha (sometimes written “Maranatha”), an Aramaic word that can be translated either as “Come, Lord” or more positively, “Our Lord has come.” In her program notes, Specht connects this binary division of meaning to the modern world, as “the destructive forces of natural disasters alongside the astounding beauty of the natural world, and incomprehensible acts of evil side by side with bravery, compassion and kindness.”

Katsarelis applies that theme to the concert as a whole. “It’s a concert that takes us through darkness and light, and what the Higdon does is add American optimism,” she says. “The experience of the concert will be a kind of a liberation of spirit and mind for one evening.”

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Liberation: From the Reformation to Haydn to Higdon
Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With St. Martin’s Chamber Choir
Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano; Leah Creek Biesterfeld, alto; Steven Soph, tenor; and Adam Ewing, baritone

Jennifer Higdon: Dance Card
Elena Specht: Marantha (CU Composition Competition winner, World Premiere)
Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 85 in B-flat major, La Reine
JS Bach: Cantata No. 80, Ein feste Burg is unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress is our God)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9, Bethany Lutheran Church, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder

Tickets

2017: The Year in Classical Music

Some outstanding concerts, and some changes of leadership in Boulder

By Peter Alexander

With the year drawing to a close, it is time to look back at 2017. It has been a tumultuous year in many realms, including some aspects of Classical music. But before that, it is good to remember the outstanding musical experiences of 2017 here in the Boulder area.

Pro Musica

The year began on an expressive high point when Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and soloists Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano, and Ashraf Sewailam, bass, presented Shostakovich’s rarely-heard Symphony No. 14.

I wrote at the time: “This somewhat gloomy meditation on death is not often given live, partly because of the difficult assignments facing the soprano and bass soloists, but mostly because of the difficult subject matter. But it is a major statement from a great composer—what Katsarelis calls ‘a piece that needs to be heard’—and so the rare performances are to be treasured.”

The February visit of Deborah (Call Me Debbie) Voigt to Macky Auditorium will be a cherished memory for fans of the classical voice. Voigt Lessons, the superstar soprano’s candid retelling of her struggles with relationships, substances, and weight that clouded her career not only showed some realities of life at the top of the opera world, it also revealed the very human person beneath the superstar image. For both reasons, this was a meaningful event.

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Takacs Quartet

The Takacs Quartet always provides some of the year’s best performances. It’s hard to chose just one, but for 2017 I would single out their February concert including Beethoven’s Quartet in G major, op. 18 no. 2—performed while the Takacs was in the midst of a full Beethoven cycle at several venues—and CU music faculty Daniel Silver, clarinet, playing the Brahms Quintet in B minor, op. 115. An especially beautiful rendering of this beautiful work had at least one audience member in tears by the end.

March saw the arrival of another superstar in Boulder when Sir James Galway played at Macky Auditorium, and the departure of an important member of Boulder’s classical music community when Evanne Browne gave her farewell concert with Seicento Baroque Ensemble, the organization she founded in 2011.

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Boulder Phil at Kennedy Center

One of the biggest events of the year for Boulder performing arts was the visit in March of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Michael Butterman and Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance Company to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for the first annual Shift Festival of American Orchestras. The Phil repeated a concert they had given in Boulder a few days earlier, including the world premiere of All the Songs that Nature Sings by Stephen Lias and Copland’s Appalachian Spring, performed with Frequent Flyers.

An audience favorite of the festival, the Boulder Phil played to a sold out house. Butterman wrote the next day, “It was a peak experience for me, and, I think, for all of us at the Phil. . . . To be there with our orchestra, with that crowd and with that repertoire—it was something I shall never forget. We had a great sense of pride in representing our hometown.”

Several important changes of personnel were announced for Boulder classical scene in the spring. In April, Jean-Marie Zeitouni announced that he was stepping down as music director of the Colorado Music Festival. He will remain with CMF as principal guest conductor, and conductor/violinist Peter Oundjian will serve as artistic advisor for the 2018 season. Later the same month, James Bailey left his position as music curator of the Dairy Arts Center, to be replaced by Sharon Park.

Elliot Moore at Lake McIntosh - credit - Photography Maestro (1)

Elliott Moore

In May, Seicento Baroque Ensemble announced the appointment of Kevin T. Padworksi as artistic director, succeeding Browne, and the Longmont Symphony announced the appointment of Elliot Moore to succeed long-time music director Robert Olson.

The same month, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra wrapped up its 2016–17 season with its largest performance to date, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony presented in Macky Auditorium. The performance under conductor Bahman Saless was unfortunately the occasion of a protest by the anti-fracking group East Boulder County United. Seven members of EBCU blew whistles, shouted slogans and left flyers before the concert to voice their opposition to the orchestra having accepted a contribution from Extraction Oil & Gas.

Olga Kern

Olga Kern, photographed by Chris Lee at Steinway Hall.

Zeitouni proved to be anything but a lame duck conductor at the Colorado Music Festival. The 2017 season started at the end of June with an all-Russian program featuring exciting performances of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. On the same concert, one of Boulder’s favorite guest artists, pianist Olga Kern, gave scintillating performances of Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Other high points over the summer included the return of CMF’s founding director Giora Bernstein to lead a concert of Mozart, Zeitouni conducting Beethoven’s Ninth as the CMF centerpiece, and the visit of violinist Gil Shaham at the end of the summer season. Up in the mountains, Central City Opera’s Downton-Abbey-inspired Victorian-era production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte was one of the year’s highlights for opera lovers.

Another delight for the opera crowd came in the fall, with the CU Eklund Opera Program’s serio-comic production of Lehar’s Merry Widow. In November, Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra returned to its core repertoire with a lively concert featuring two youthful works for smaller ensemble: the Concerto for piano, violin and strings by the 14-year-old Mendelssohn, with violinist Zachary Carrettin and pianist Mina Gajić, and Janáček’s Idyll for Strings.

Zachary & Mina

Carrettin and Gajic

Carrettin and Gajić were featured performers in December when the Boulder Bach Festival gave one of its most intriguing and adventurous concerts in its increasingly adventurous schedule. With guest artist Richie Hawley, the program offered insight into the instruments and performance practices of the early 20th century, performed on Hawley’s 1919 Buffet clarinet, Gajić’s 1895 Érard piano, and Carrettin’s violin set up with strings typical of the period.

 

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For the classical music world outside of Boulder, the biggest news was certainly the intrusion of a long-overdue reckoning for sexual misconduct that is going on in our society generally. The first bombshell, not unexpected by people in the business but a bombshell nonetheless, landed Dec. 3 with the suspension of conductor James Levine from the Metropolitan Opera and other organizations, including the Boston Symphony and the Ravinia Festival. Accusations against Charles Dutoit, artistic director and principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, surfaced later in the month.

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James Levine

Both conductors are in the twilight of long careers. Rumors about Levine have been widely known in the classical music world; indeed I first heard them in the 1980s. Every music journalist I know has heard the same stories, but so far as I am aware, no one who experienced Levine’s assaults was previously willing to speak publicly. In the case of Dutoit, I had not heard the rumors, but I do know one of the women who spoke publicly about what happened to her, and I believe her unquestioningly.

As the controversy has swirled about the subject of sexual abuse, harassment and assault in classical music, several critics have written powerfully about the subject: Anne Midgette of the Washington Post, Jennifer Johnson of the Guardian, Andrew Riddles of Classical Ottawa to name three. Singer Susanne Mentzer has written about her personal experiences in the opera world for the Huffington Post, as has Dan Kempson for Medium.

There are certain to be more revelations. One major journalist has more first-hand information, with names including some of the of the most famous classical artists, and is preparing an article. I have no doubt that several men are nervously awaiting that story, or some other revelation that reveals past misdeeds.

Will this tidal wave reach Boulder?

It’s hard to say with certainty. I have spoken with many on the classical scene here, and the only rumor I have heard, from several sources, has been of inappropriate comments and behavior by one person, none of which reached the level of abuse or assault. “He might not have been hired today,” one person speculated, but as so often happens, the people who heard the comments preferred not to make an issue of it.

Another person told me he had never heard any rumor from the College of Music, so Boulder may escape the worst of this necessary but unhappy process. In the meantime, it is my wish for 2018 that society in general and the music world specifically create a safe environment, where powerful men do not feel free to behave like adolescent boys.

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Edited for clarity 12.31.17

“Happy Concert” opens Pro Musica Colorado’s 2017–18 season

Music by Ravel, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Stravinsky performed with energy, enjoyment

By Peter Alexander

The Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra opened their 2017–18 season last night (Oct. 21) with a program conductor Cynthia Katsarelis calls “probably the happiest concert we’ve ever done.”

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Cynthia Katsarelis and Pro Music Colorado Chamber Orchestra (photo from a prior season)

The program featured three ebullient neo-classical works written between the First and Second World Wars. This is music that is ideal for a chamber orchestra of Pro-Musica’s size and quality, and it was performed with obvious energy and enjoyment. Pace Katsarelis, it was not happy throughout, since there were moments of melancholy here and there, but on the whole the program was indeed light in texture and mood.

The opening work, Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin (“The tomb of Couperin,” a form of musical homage to a deceased composer), is one of the great works for smaller orchestra. Originally composed for piano, it is a set of Baroque dances stylistically descended from the great keyboard suites of Françoise Couperin. Ravel orchestrated four of the original six dances in the years immediately after World War I.

There is a slight sense of melancholy beneath the surface, since every movement is dedicated to the memory of one or more of Ravel’s friends who had died in that terrible war. But the graceful Baroque-style dances are more reflective of cherished memories than mourning, and the music can be enjoyed without knowing the deeper motivation.

From the first moment, the crucial wind parts were crystal clear and well played. The strings were occasionally less distinct, but the sound was warm and lovely to hear. The players were secure and achieved a sense of ensemble under Katsarelis’ direction. The final movement (Rigaudon) was particularly enjoyable, with nice contrast among the different sections.

Ideally, the orchestra should breathe and move together like the two hands of a single pianist. A certain amount of rhythmic expansion and contraction is an essential part of the style. Instead, I found the interpretation a little rigid and too steady of tempo, but never less than enjoyable.

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Guitarist Nicolò Spera

The Concerto No. 1 for Guitar and Orchestra of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, performed by CU music faculty member Nicolò Spera as soloist, was a real highlight. Spera is clearly a master of his instrument who plays with a palpable love and joy in every note. His easy virtuosity made this piece, one of the great concertos for guitar, look easy. He has the ability to take expressive freedom with the music without every losing a strong sense of beat, of meter, and of phrase.

The second movement, described by Katsarelis as a sort of farewell to the composer’s homeland of Tuscany before he had to flee Mussolini’s Italy, is wistful throughout. Probably the least “happy” music on the program, it was eloquently performed by Spera and the orchestra. The finale, marked Ritmico e cavalleresco (“rhythmic and knightly”), was delightful from beginning to end.

Katsarelis and the orchestra provided stylish support for the soloist. Spera’s joy in playing this music was contagious to all, orchestra and audience alike, making this a performance to relish and remember.

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Cynthia Katsarelis

The final piece on the program, Stravinsky’s Suite from Pulcinella, is a good example of why we “play” music. Here there is nothing but happy music, and when performed as it was by Katsarelis and Pro Musica, it is fun for conductor, for players, and for the audience. The performance had great energy and drive.

The score is filled with solo bits for nearly every instrument in the ensemble, some quite showy, all played with evident virtuosity. Concertmaster Stacy Lesartre gave outstanding technical and expressive leadership for the ensemble, and while I hesitate to list individuals for fear of slighting someone, I have to praise string bassist Paul Erhard, another CU faculty member. I have never heard the bass solos played with greater beauty and purity of sound. The entire wind section—flute, oboe, bassoon, horn, trombone—was outstanding.

The only criticism was that the sound was occasionally a little heavy-footed. This may be due to the venue, which is new for Pro Musica: Boulder’s Mountain View Methodist Church. The very high A-frame ceiling may reinforce the longer wave lengths; certainly the bass was well heard all evening. But it was never muddy and the texture was generally clear, which cannot be said of the sound in their prior home, First United Methodist in downtown Boulder.

Mountain View has another great advantage over any of the downtown venues: its own parking lot. This is not a musical issue, but it is an important one. Boulder lacks a decent concert venue with adequate parking, and in particular the crowding in central Boulder on busy weekends may discourage some people from making the effort to go to live performances. I see no downside to using Mountain View: the entryway makes a suitable lobby, the sanctuary is comfortable, the sound is good, and the parking seems like a luxury after all the nights I have cruised downtown neighborhoods looking for an open space.

I hope Pro Musica will make the move permanent.

Edited to correct minor typos 10/22.