“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.

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Finding Lessons in a Fiasco

What can we learn from the collapse of the Colorado Masterworks Chorus?

By Peter Alexander

The collapse of the Colorado Masterworks Chorus (CMC) last month, and the story of the unpaid musicians the organization left behind, were reported in several media at the time (see the Boulder Daily Camera and Denver CBS 4).

The CMC was formed in 2016 and gave its first performance during the summer, presenting the Brahms Requiem under conductor Evanne Browne. In October 2016, the CMC appeared with the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and conductor Cynthia Katsarelis in two performances of Haydn’s Creation.

Their next performances were March 3, 2017, in Denver and March 4 in Boulder, when they presented Handel’s large-scale oratorio Israel in Egypt. For those performances, the CMC engaged a chorus, some of whose members had written contracts and were paid for their performances, as well as soloists and an orchestra. The performances were led by conductor Vicki Burrichter, who also had a written contract as artistic director and was paid.

However, the orchestral musicians, including Katsarelis as concertmaster, and others who were involved in the preparation and performance of the oratorio did not have written contracts, and were not paid.

Michael Madsen, the organizer and board chairman of the CMC had expected ticket sales and a silent auction to cover most of the costs of the performance, but they fell far short of expectations. With somewhere between $12,000 and $16,500 in unpaid bills, Madsen filed dissolution papers with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office to abolish the organization, and ambitious plans for several future performances were cancelled.

That was the situation at the end of March, when the news stories appeared about CMC’s collapse. Today little has changed, and many of the musicians remain unpaid. Musician Relief, a campaign through Colorado Gives that aims to solicit private gifts to pay the musicians, has so far raised about half of its $16,500 goal.

From the money that has been raised, some of the musicians who performed with the CMC have received funds to make up for their loss. As freelance musicians, many of them depend on income from performances to pay their basic expenses, and some of the players had incurred expenses for travel and/or babysitting.

People involved in the performances have expressed differing opinions on how the CMC handled its business and why it broke down. I do not wish to throw fuel on dying embers by going over those disagreements. Nor do I wish to give a forum for accusations against any individuals. More important is a larger question: What does this mean for musicians and musical organizations in the Boulder area? What can we learn from what happened?

From talking with people directly involved in the CMC and its collapse, I found five major lessons for other arts organizations, for their board members, and above all for musicians.

It is very difficult, and takes time, to establish a new arts organization. Anyone who wants to do so needs to have a solid financial plan extending for two or more years, until the organization can qualify for grants. Most arts organizations make no more than 1/3 of their costs from tickets and other sales, with the other two thirds coming from supporters’ contributions and grants. Without one of those three legs, organizers need to be prepared for initial deficits.

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Michael Allen, president of Local 2623, Denver Musicians’ Association

Few new arts organizations survive. Michael Allen, the president of Local 2623 of the Denver Musicians Association, has seen this firsthand. “Any time I see a new group, I’m thinking, ‘Why?’” he says. “It really doesn’t make any sense, unless there is a unique point of view. There are a couple of groups that have cropped up in the last decade that have that unique point of view, but they’re in the minority.”

Among the issues making survival difficult is the fact that Boulder is already saturated with musical organizations. There is a great deal of competition for dates, and many weekends see multiple events competing for the same audience. For just one example, early in April there were events in Boulder and Longmont by Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra chamber series, the Boulder Symphony, the Boulder Opera and the Longmont Symphony, all on the same Saturday evening.

Madsen seems to have underestimated the competition for the group. He complains about the Boulder Film Festival that was the same night as the Handel performance in Boulder, although those may not have been the same people that would have attended a Handel oratorio. But even more challenging than direct conflicts with performance dates is the competition for audience interest and financial support. There are many organizations to support in Boulder, and established patterns of support are very hard to change.

Madsen expected that the quality of the group would be enough to capture support. “I thought we could get by [the competition] by getting the best singers in the front range,” he says. “The chorus was superb, but I was wrong about that, because very good, extremely prepared doesn’t bring the (audience) in here.”

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Vicki Burrichter conducted performances of handle’s Israel in Egypt in March

Most people seem to agree with Madsen that the chorus was superb. “It was an excellent chorus, “ Burrichter says. “When you get professional level voices, it automatically raises the level of the chorus. We had a great time and the Handel was spectacular.”

That level of quality may attract attention, but one spectacular performance is not enough to change people’s patterns of support overnight, which is what Madsen was counting on. When that failed to materialize, the organization was left with bills it could not pay. Or as Burrichter says, “It was very, very beautiful and moving, but unfortunately it was on the backs of the instrumental musicians.”

Consult with people who know the business. Several of Madsen’s expectations were unrealistic, as he himself now admits. “Always before when we had done this, we were doing it for larger organizations,” he says. That experience led him to overestimate how much money the CMC would bring in during its first years. For example, Madsen hoped the silent auction would bring in a significant amount of money toward the cost of the performances.

“We were hoping for a $15,000 auction,” he says. That estimate was based on his experience with a refugee ministry, but that is very different than raising money for an arts organization. For her part, Burrichter recognized the problem. “As somebody who’s been artistic director with boards that have done silent auctions, I could tell pretty early on that the silent auction was not going to be successful,” she says. “There were just a lot of errors.”

The $10,000 that Madsen budgeted for ticket sales was also unrealistic. By reports, the Handel performance in Denver had an especially small audience. “I could have told him, having been a musician in Denver for 10 years, that you’re not going to build an audience in Denver overnight,” Burrichter says.

Once again, more caution and better advice would have prevented unrealistic budgeting. “No musical event is paid for by ticket sales and one very humble fundraising attempt,” Katsarelis says. “A little bit of research and planning would have exposed the flawed nature of the plan. They just didn’t know what to expect because they hadn’t asked people who know.”

Everyone involved must understand and follow non-profit laws and best practices. This may be the most contentious area of disagreement among the people involved in the CMC: whether it was run with appropriate board oversight, or Madsen made decisions on his own. For his part, he says only “my wife and I were simply on the board.”

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Kathy Kucsan spoke with people affected by the CMC’s collapse

Kathy Kucsan, a consultant who works with arts organizations in Colorado, has spoken with some of the people affected by the CMC’s dissolution. “It sounds like the board of directors wasn’t really a functioning board,” she says. “The board has legal and fiduciary responsibility for the organization.

“From my point of view I would say set up your organization properly” is the most important lesson to be learned.

An attorney would have to clarify the legality of actions that were taken, and no one has claimed that laws were broken. However, several issues have cropped up in background conversations about the CMC that, if true, would be violations of good nonprofit governance. Three are particularly troubling.

The first is that board members were not given enough information on the finances and business practices of the organization. Burrichter says that Madsen “didn’t tell the board what was going on in terms of finances beyond certain very basic things. I’m sure the board didn’t know that (the instrumental musicians) didn’t have contracts.” That information is well within the board’s area of responsibility and if they were not kept informed, they should have been.

Second, Burrichter says that she was excluded from most board meetings, where she could have offered advice that would have prevented some of the miscalculations leading to the CMC’s failure. “I requested to go to a board meeting at one point, but (Madsen) said no, I just want to you to come once a year to talk about the artistic vision.”

It is extremely unusual that an artistic director, who is asked to carry out the objectives of the organization, would not be present and offer advice at meetings where the decisions are made. In hindsight, Burrichter says, “I should have insisted that if I were not going to be on the board, I would not take the job.”

The final question that has been raised is whether the dissolution of the CMC was done properly. This requires action by the board and should not be done by any one individual. Madsen says that he carefully followed a “20-point checklist” from the Secretary of State’s office for dissolving the organization, but has offered no more details.

None of the board members was willing to speak on the record, but I have heard from numerous people close to the organization and the board that, as one person who asked not to be named wrote to me, “The board was just as shocked as everyone else that the Madsens dissolved the chorus.”

These questions show how important it is for anyone who is thinking of starting a nonprofit group, or for anyone who is asked to serve on a nonprofit board, to do their homework. “There are so many resources for brand new nonprofits,” Kucsan points out.

For example, the Colorado Nonprofit Statutes are easily available online. There are simplified guides to the statutes here and here, and the Colorado Nonprofit Association has posted Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence.  Other resources are easy to find through online searches.

Too often, supporters are asked to serve on a board without adequate understanding of the responsibilities of board members. In the case of the CMC, it is possible that better preparation and understanding by all the board members, including Madsen, would have prevented some of the problems that occurred.

Freelance musicians need to protect themselves from being exploited. This may mean that they may no longer be willing to play without a written contract. One way to accomplish this of course is to go through the musicians’ union for all engagements.

That is clearly the preference of Allen and the union local in Denver. “We sent a fairly strong message to the union musicians that participated in that production that if they want their union to step in for them, they need to do things under union rules,” he says. “That includes both playing for scale and only working under a contract.

“If a contract had been filed, the union would have paid the musicians and then we would have used our resources to go after the Colorado Masterworks Chorus to seek reimbursement. That was sort of an expensive lesson for (the musicians) to learn.”

In the past, union musicians who took jobs below union scale would have been punished by the local, but Allen says that is not the approach today. “What we try to do is treat this as a teachable moment,” he says. “This is an opportunity to inform a larger group of people about not only what the union could have done, but also why we have the rules that we have.”

With or without the union, it is likely that musicians in Boulder will be more reluctant to take jobs without written contracts. “This is where I think things in Boulder are going to change,” Katsarelis says.

“We’ve always gone on trust, and it’s been reasonable to do that. But (after this) I think that organizations and musicians are going to tighten up and require contracts, instead of the trust method. I don’t think I’m going to play a gig like this again, that isn’t contracted through the union.

“That means they’ll have to pay union scale, which is higher than the kind of prevailing rate, and this is going to stretch the budgets of organizations that hire professional musicians.”

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Cynthia Katsarelis, artistic director Pro Musica Colorado and concertmaster of the Handel performances.

Katsarelis says that one final lesson is for everyone who is interested in, attends, or supports musical performances to understanding the real cost of musical performances. “Professional music making in our region is underfunded,” she says. “I wish we could make a stronger case for what high quality professional music making brings to a community.

“This awful debacle that robbed some of the region’s most compelling musicians asks the community to respond in several ways. We have a fundraiser to right that injustice, but there also has to be a response to what high quality professional music making really costs and the value it brings.”

At the end of the day, Kucsan says, “It’s just unfortunate, and it’s a learning experience for everybody involved. You actually have to try, and ask, and sweat the first couple of years, and if you’re still here, there’s a place for you. But to pack it up and leave people in the lurch is not the way to do it.”

You may make a contribution to help the musicians who were not paid by Colorado Masterworks Chorus at the Colorado Gives Musician Relief page, sponsored by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra.

NOTE: Edited for clarity and correction of typos 4/26.

NOTE: Upon reflection, I have now blocked further comments on this article and removed all comments naming or blaming others in the dispute between the musicians and the organizers of the Colorado Masterworks Chorus. No purpose is being served by finger pointing on this site.

I believe there are two important issues for readers, and I will remain focused on those:

  1. Lessons can be learned from this fiasco. That was the focus of my article, and I believe it remains the main subject of interest for anyone who was not directly involved.
  2. Musicians who gave their time and talent, and whose livelihoods depend on their professional activities, remain unpaid. I urge anyone who is concerned with the health of Boulder’s musical scene to make a contribution through the page listed above.

 

Pro Musica concerts, and season, culminate with Beethoven’s “Eroica”

From Creation to love and death to triumph in just three concerts

By Peter Alexander

Pro Musica

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra

Cynthia Katsarelis first played Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony when she was 16. Since then she has played it, and conducted it, dozens of times, but she still feels she has more to learn.

“That’s what’s so great about great music,” she says. “Every time I look at it there’s something new that I discover.”

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

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

Katsarelis’ latest opportunity to look at the “Eroica” comes this weekend, when it will be the culmination of not just a pair of concerts in Denver and Boulder (details below), but in fact the whole 2016–17 season of the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra.

The Pro Musica’s season opened in October with a performance of Joseph Haydn’s Creation. A second concert in January paired a joyful symphony by Schubert with Shostakovich’s dark meditation on death in his 14th Symphony. And now Beethoven: in Katsarelis’s description of the season, “We started with creation, we went into love and death, and we come out in triumph.”

The concerts Friday and Saturday will open with the world premiere of a new piece by CU composition student Egemen Kesikli, Weltschmerz (world-weariness or world’s pain). Also on the program is Carl Nielsen’s neo-classical Flute Concert, performed by CU flute professor Christina Jennings. The concerts will end, after intermission, with Beethoven’s Symphony.

A piece about world weariness and resignation seems like a strange place to begin a concert titled “Triumph,” but Katsarelis thinks it fits right in. “It’s great because we get to kind of replay the arc of the season within the concert,” she says. “We are starting from pain, finding joy in the Nielsen, and overcoming in the Beethoven. It’s a microcosm of the season.”

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Egemen Kesliki

Weltschmerz was commission by Pro Musica Colorado. The CU composition faculty selected scores by several students, which they presented to Katsarelis. Based on the scores she saw, she selected Kesikli to write a new piece for the 2016–17 season.

“It’s a really beautiful piece,” she says. “It has some interesting effects—playing with the wooden part of the bow, raindrop effects that some players do with their left hand, violin parts that are written in eight different parts. It will have an interesting sound to it, and the piece has a nice arc to it.”

Nielsen is best known for his expansive, lushly Romantic symphonies, but Katsarelis stresses that the Flute Concerto is not like those works at all. “It’s really a charming, neo-classical piece,” she says.

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Christina Jennings

“I guess mercurial is the word for it. You think it might be a majestic piece, but then it has these charming 1/16-notes with off-beats in the accompaniment, and then it goes on to a really sweet melody. It covers a range of emotions, and does it rather quickly. So it’s very mercurial, but it’s fun.”

Beethoven’s Third Symphony is one of the best known works in the classical canon, and Katsarelis says it is one of the greatest symphonies ever written. It was longer and more powerful than any symphony written before. But what makes it great, Katsarelis says, is the way Beethoven’s personal struggles turned the symphony into a universal statement of triumph.

It was written soon after Beethoven discovered that he was going deaf, and that his deafness would only get worse. Rather than give in to thoughts of suicide, he turned his suffering into music that speaks of overcoming pain and hardship.

“He says it’s his art that keeps him alive,” Katsarelis explains. “He makes peace with the deafness, and out of that despair he enters his ‘Heroic’ period. The sense of Beethoven bringing the inspiration of heaven starts with the opening chords of the ‘Eroica’.”

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Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Mähler, painted around the time of the Eroica Symphony

It is also well known that Beethoven originally intended to dedicate the symphony to Napoleon, until he crowned himself emperor. Out of disillusionment, Beethoven violently removed the emperor’s name from the cover page. “When Beethoven scratched out the dedication to Napoleon and made it to ‘a great person,’ he turned it into something universal,” Katsarelis says.

The universality of the symphony’s message can also generate personal impact. “It gets personal, as certain pieces do,” Katsarelis says. “I was playing in an orchestra when my grandmother died. I missed one rehearsal, and when I got back we were doing the Eroica and the first thing we rehearsed was the funeral march.

“I see it personally, but I also see it universally. I think the personal connection helps me to see the universal.”

Katsarelis says that “everybody should come” to the concert, because the message of Beethoven’s music is still relevant today. “The triumph in Beethoven’s Eroica was more aspirational than accomplished, even when Beethoven wrote it,” she says.

“I think that taps into our aspirations today, and can really ignite our inspiration to strive for a better world, in just being the best that we can be.”

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“Triumph”
Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra of Colorado
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Christina Jennings, flute

Egemen Kesikli: Weltschmerz (world premiere)
Carl Nielsen: Concerto for Flute
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op. 55 (“Eroica”)

7:30 p.m. Friday, April 7, First Baptist Church, 1371 Grant St., Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8, First United Methodist Church, 1412 Spruce St., Boulder
Pre-concert talk, 6:30 p.m. both evenings.

Tickets

 

From opposite ends of the spectrtum

Pro Music Colorado offers “Love and Death” through Schubert and Shostakovich

By Peter Alexander

The next concert from the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and conductor Cynthia Katsarelis will bring together two opposing worlds.

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Dmitri Shostakovich

The concert, titled “Love and Death,” will be presented Friday in Denver and Saturday in Boulder. There are only two works on the program: the Symphony No. 14 by Shostakovich, a vocal-orchestral meditation on death; and Schubert’s frolicsome Symphony No. 5. Soloists for the Shostakovich, singing poetic texts by Federico García Lorca, Guillaume Apollinaire, Wilhelm Kuchelbecker and Rainer Maria Rilke, will be soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and bass Ashraf Sewailam.

The two works come from the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. “Right, and that’s by design,” Katsarelis says. “The Shostakovich is really intense, and you don’t want to leave people on their own at the end of this piece. The Schubert is a sublimely beautiful feel-good piece, and it will be a good antidote to the emotional intensity of the Shostakovich.”

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson

“Love and Death”
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano, and Ashraf Sewailam, bass

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 14
Schubert: Symphony No. 5

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Ashraf Sewailam

7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, First Baptist Church, 1373 Grant St, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce, Boulder

Tickets

Pro Musica and Masterworks Chorus deliver a joyful “Creation”

By Peter Alexander

Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and her musical colleagues—the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, the Colorado Masterworks Chorus and three outstanding soloists—presented a joyful and enjoyable performance of The Creation by Joseph Haydn last night (Oct. 29).

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Amanda Balestrieri

This was the first performance of the 2016–­17 season for Pro Musica, and the only the second outing for the Masterworks Chorus, a new entry into Boulder’s crowded classical music scene. The well matched soloists appearing with them were soprano Amanda Balestrieri, tenor Steven Soph and bass-baritone Jeffrey Seppala. Following a performance Friday in Denver, last night’s performance was in Boulder’s First United Methodist Church.

With the chorus on the broad but shallow sanctuary “stage,” the orchestra had to adopt an unusual seating arrangement, with woodwinds behind the strings on one side, brass behind the strings on the other. In a more complex work with tricky coordination among the winds this might have been a problem, but in this case it seemed to work quite well. The woodwinds in particular sounded bright and clear. In the church’s shoebox space the brass had to be restrained to avoid thickening the texture, but for the most part they succeeded.

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Jeffrey Seppala

The long, deep space of the church favors the lower frequencies. The timpani, for example, had to be discreet to avoid muddying the sound, and usually succeeded. Katsarelis visually restrained the players throughout, generally keeping the orchestra and singers well balanced and the texture transparent.

The choral sound was solid and clear, even with all forces combined, as in the final fugue to the words “The Lord is great, his praise shall last for aye.” While the words from the chorus were not always understandable, the audience had the full text and the lights were, appropriately, left on.

This also benefitted the soloists, who were not always understandable, either. This is not entirely the singers fault, however: it is hard to be clearly understood when singing lines like “Softly purling glides on thro’ silent vales the limpid brook,” or “Most beautiful appear, with verdure young adorn’d, the gently sloping hills.” For this you can blame the Austrian Imperial Court Librarian, Baron Gottfried van Swieten, who wrote Haydn’s English text. Alas, his command of the language was not as fine as he thought.

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Steven Soph

All three soloists should be commended for their performances. They have fine oratorio voices and sang their solo recitatives and arias with careful attention to expression. One of the highlights was surely the duet between Adam and Eve—Balestrieri and Seppala—with chorus, “By thee with bliss.” Likewise, their lengthy closing duet “Graceful consort!” drew a spontaneous “Bravo!” from the audience. And I could not suppress a chuckle at Seppala’s solemn delivery of the text “In long dimension creeps with sinuous trace the worm,” one of many delightful moments of text painting in Haydn’s score.

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Joseph Haydn

One of the hallmarks of Katsarelis’s performances with the Pro Musica has been her careful control of dynamics. From the pianissimo whispers in the “Representation of chaos” and the fourth-day sunrise, to the full climaxes, the large-dimension contours were highly effective, with something held in reserve for the major climaxes. This was particularly evident at the end of the oratorio’s Part I, the much-sung chorus “The heavens are telling,” and the final “Amen.”

Finally, I have to return to Haydn, the genial genius whose lifelong humility and ability to learn paved the way for this great work. Inspired by the London Handel Festival performances of the 1790s, he wrote in his 60s a work unlike anything he had done before—to our eternal benefit. To quote the oratorio’s final chorus, “Let his name resound on high!”

Haydn’s happy creation

By Peter Alexander

There are lightning and thunder, leaping tigers and creeping serpents.

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Cynthia Katsarelis

All of that and more are portrayed musically in The Creation by Joseph Haydn, but conductor Cynthia Katsarelis wants you to know that they are happy tigers. “It’s almost two hours of ecstatic happiness,” she says of Haydn’s oratorio, which she will conduct this weekend in Denver and Boulder with the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and the Colorado Masterworks Chorus.

Soloists will be soprano Amanda Balestrieri, tenor Steven Soph and bass Jeffrey Seppala.

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Joseph Haydn

Katsarellis particularly appreciates the cheerfulness of Haydn’s score right now, as an antidote to the tense and threatening times we live in. “I was studying the piece this summer after Orlando and Istanbul and Pakistan and all of these terrible things happening,” she says. “So it was kind of a vacation from all of that.”

And maybe, she says, The Creation offers us more than an escape from what we hear on the news. “The happiness and gratitude expressed in the choruses — this is also who we are,” she says.

“So to some extent The Creation can call to us and remind us that we’re more than what’s happening in the news. We are much more than that.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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The Creation by Joseph Haydn

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Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and the Colorado Masterworks Chorus
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With soprano Amanda Balestrieri, tenor Steven Soph, and bass Jeffrey Seppala
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St., Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, First United Methodist Church, 2412 Spruce, Boulder

Tickets

Mozart’s Requiem: “A Musical Miracle and a Mystery Story”

Performances Friday and Saturday by Pro Musica Colorado and St. Martin’s Chamber Choir

By Peter Alexander

It is one of the most famous stories in music history.

Lange_PortraitOfMozart,Unfinished

Unfinished portrait of Mozart by Joseph Lange

It was December, 1791. Mozart lay on his deathbed, with his family and friends gathered around. They sang for the dying composer, music from the Requiem that he might as well have been writing for himself and that he was never to complete. After his death, Mozart’s friends and students gathered up all the bits and pieces of music that lay scattered around the room and worked feverishly to finish the manuscript, so that Mozart’s widow could deliver a completed score to the eccentric count who had paid for it.

Out of all of the confusion there emerged a work that has captivated listeners ever since, in spite of the uncertain authorship of its various parts. “It’s a musical miracle and a mystery story wrapped into one,” says Cynthia Katsarelis, who will conduct performances of the Requiem Friday in Denver and Saturday in Boulder (7:30 p.m. April 8 at First Baptist Church in Denver, and April 9 at First United Methodist Church in Boulder).

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

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photography by Glenn Ross.

Katsarelis, director of the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, has put together what she considers just about an ideal group of performers for the Requiem. “Pro Musica and (Denver’s) St. Martin’s Chamber Choir are practically a dream team for the Mozart Requiem,” she says. “And our soloists are all people who are just wonderful artists.

“It’s going to be different from a Mozart Requiem with a large orchestra and choir. Our size is more like the size that Mozart would have had, and there’s a kind of immediacy and a visceral quality to doing it with a chamber orchestra and a chamber choir. I think it’s a special team, and there’s incredible potential of being a worthy Requiem.”

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Manuscript page of Mozart’s Requiem

Like all conductors who approach the Requiem, Katsarelis had to decide exactly what to perform. Mozart left different movements in differing degrees of incompletion: some merely had to be filled in according to a partial score, some had to be completed, and some had to be composed more or less from scratch.

Adding to the confusion, Mozart left behind what his widow called “scraps of paper” that may have held music, or instructions, or both. At least two different pupils undertook a completion. And all of their contributions were mixed together, and it was years before scholars were able to separate, more or less, who did what.

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Franz Xaver Süssmahr

Today there are numerous performing versions to choose from. The score that was turned over to the count three months after Mozart’s death was essentially completed by Mozart’s pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr. But Süssmayr was not a very good composer: Mozart didn’t think much of him, calling him “a duck in a thunderstorm,” and he made numerous mistakes in the score that he hurriedly finished.

And so there have been many subsequent versions that aim to correct and improve on Süssmayr. Some editors have gone so far as to write whole new movements to stand alongside Mozart. Katsarelis has chosen a version created by Franz Beyer in 1971 that sticks largely to Süssmayr’s version, but polishes some of his work.

There are three movements that Mozart never started, but Katsarelis thinks that Süssmayr had some help with those. “He claimed to have composed the Sanctus, the Benedictus and the Agnus Dei, but I’m not convinced of that, for reasons right out of the music,” she says. “I had my doubts to begin with. Süssmayr never, ever composed anything of the caliber of (those movements).”

She has a “sneaking suspicion,” she says, that the scraps of paper that Mozart left had music on them that Süssmayr was able to use. And, she adds conspiratorially, “I have a theory that I actually don’t have an ounce of historical evidence for, but during the time that Süssmayr was completing the Requiem, he was studying with Salieri.”

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Antonio Salieri

That Salieri? The one who definitely didn’t poison Mozart but was still the villain of the play and movie Amadeus?

Yes, that one. “I just have this sneaking suspicion that Salieri might have helped,” she says. And it’s definitely not the craziest theory about the Requiem, which has attracted conspiracy stories from the date its very first performance.

Regardless of who wrote those movements, and whose help they might have had, “the meat of the Requiem is what Mozart wrote,” Katsarelis affirms. And after the disputed movements, the Requiem ends with two more movements that re-use Mozart’s music from the beginning.

Following the Requiem, the concert will include one more short piece, Mozart’s beautiful and elegiac Ave verum corpus, composed only months before the Requiem. “By doing the Ave verum corpus, we’re absolutely sure that we’ll be ending with Mozart, no question,” Katsarelis explains. “It’s a piece that everybody knows and loves, and it’s a very comforting and beautiful piece.”

In spite of the mystery and confusion, the different hands that touched the Requiem, and all of the controversy that has swirled around the piece over the centuries, “the fact the sublime music comes through is pretty miraculous,” Katsarelis says. “It is deeply moving to do the piece that was the last thing Mozart composed.

“He made it the most beautiful music that he could possibly write. That’s his final gift to us, and it’s one that I receive very gratefully, and that we’ll share on Friday and Saturday.”

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Mozart’s Requiem

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra
Cynthia Katsarelis, music director
St. Martin’s Chamber Choir
Timothy J. Krueger, artistic director
Amanda Balestrieri, soprano
Leah Biesterfeld, alto
Joseph Gaines, tenor:
David Farwig, bass

W.A. Mozart: Requiem, K626
W.A. Mozart: Ave Verum Corpus, K618

Friday, April 8, First Baptist Church, 1373 Grant St., Denver
Saturday, April 9, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder
Both concerts at 7:30 p.m.
Pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. both evenings

TICKETS

NB: Edited to correct typos 4.7.16.