‘A space of awe and wonder’

Pro Musica brings musical and spiritual insights to Bach’s Mass in B Minor

By Peter Alexander Oct. 24 at 4:10 p.m.

J.S. Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor is one of the great works in the European musical tradition.

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Photo courtesy of Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra

Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor of the Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra describes it as “a cathedral in both sound and spirit.” She will conduct the Mass in B Minor Friday and Saturday (Oct. 25 and 26) in Denver and Boulder. In addition to Pro Musica, the performances will feature St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, directed by Tim Kreuger, and four soloists: soprano Jennifer Bird, tenor Derek Chester, mezzo-soprano Julie Simson, and baritone Jeffery Seppala.

“It’s certainly a bucket-list piece, for both me and Tim Kreuger,” Katsarelis says. “We’ve talked about this for years, and it was time. There’s something about Bach and particularly the choral masterpieces and the B-minor Mass in particular that is so universal and so touches the spirit and the soul, and connects us to our humanity.”

Katsarelis relates that perception of the Mass to an underlying theme for the current season of three concerts: Social conscience and the human condition. The second concert (Feb. 1 and 2) is titled “Diverse Voices” and will feature music by African-American composers William Grant Still and Gabriela Frank. In March they will present “Composing Climate,” featuring Gwyneth Walker’s Earth and Sky, which has texts from Native American leaders Chief Joseph and Chief Seattle, alongside words by Henry David Thoreau.

See more in Boulder Weekly.

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Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, Tim Kreuger, director
Jennifer Bird, soprano; Derek Chester, tenor; Julie Simson, mezzo-soprano; Jeffery Seppala, baritone

J.S. Bach: Mass in B minor

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, Mountview Presbyterian Church, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, Mountain View United Methodist, Boulder

Tickets

 

Pro Musica Colorado looks backward, forward and outward

Music by J.S. Bach, Haydn, and world premiere by Max Wolpert

By Peter Alexander Feb. 21 at 4:45 p.m.

The next concert by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra will look backward, and forward, and outward.

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Jory Vinikour. Photo by Peter Nuccio DiNuzzo.

The program, titled “Classical Evolution,” will be presented in Denver Friday (Feb. 22) and Boulder Saturday (Feb. 23) and, in a new venture for Pro Musica, in Longmont Sunday (Feb. 24).

The concert will feature works by J.S. Bach and Joseph Haydn, and the world premiere of a new work by Boulder-based fiddler/composer Max Wolpert. Music director Cynthia Katsarelis will conduct the concert, which will feature harpsichordist Jory Vinikour as soloist.

Bach’s piece on the program, the D minor Harpsichord Concerto, looks back in the sense that it probably derived from an earlier, but now lost, concerto for violin. Haydn’s Classical-era Symphony No 22 (“The Philosopher)”) looks back by starting with a movement in an earlier style from the Baroque period, and forward in the later movements by anticipating styles of the composer’s later symphonies.

And Wolpert’s Baroque in Mirror, a concerto for harpsichord and small orchestra, looks back to some revered folk performers and composers from Baroque times, outward to music of different traditions, and forward by bringing them into a contemporary setting.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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“Classical Evolution”
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis Music Director
With Jory Vinikour, harpsichord

Max Wolpert: Baroque in Mirror (World Premiere)
J.S. Bach: Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV1052
Haydn: Symphony No. 22 in E-flat major (“The Philosopher”)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, First Baptist Church of Denver, 1373 Grant St.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, Mountain View Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Pl., Boulder
2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum, Longmont

Tickets

Handel’s ‘Messiah,’ tailored for the Christmas season

Pro Musica Colorado and Boulder Chamber Chorale combine for performances

By Peter Alexander Nov. 29 at 3 p.m .

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Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, with conductor Cynthia Katsarelis

It’s been 276 years, and people are still talking about Handel’s Messiah.

Of course, it’s one of the best known and best loved pieces ever written, but that does not make it immune to controversy. One thorny subject is that it has become the quintessential Christmas piece.

But Messiah was not written for Christmas, and only about a third of it has anything to do with Christmas. The rest takes the story through Easter and the Resurrection. The first performances were given in April, 1742, during Lent, and most performances in Handel’s lifetime followed that pattern.

Many people consider performances of the entire piece during the Christmas season inappropriate. Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis is one of those people, but she has found a way to reconcile Messiah’s popularity at Christmas with its content. With the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra, the Boulder Chamber Chorale and soloists, she will lead performances Dec. 1 and 2 of what she calls “a Christmas version.”

“We’re doing the Christmas section, plus,” she explains. In addition to the full Part One, which is the Christmas portion of the oratorio, “we use elements from Part Two and Part Three that illuminate why this birth is so important.”

The Boulder performances will include a food drive for Community Food Share. Audience members are encouraged to bring non-perishable, packaged food items, such as canned goods, cereal and pasta to be collected at the performances.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Handel’s Messiah
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With the Boulder Chamber Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, artistic director
Jennifer Bird, soprano; Leah Creek Biesterfeld, alto; Stephen Soph, tenor; Adam Ewing, baritone

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1
3 p.m. Sunday, Dec 2
Mountain View Methodist, 355 Ponca Pl., Boulder

Tickets

 

 

 

 

“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 

 

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