Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and Pro Musica choose ‘Joy’

Music of Tchaikovsky, Bach and Dvořák for Sunday’s concert

By Peter Alexander April 29 at 1:10 p.m.

Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis found inspiration for her next concert in poetry.

In the midst of dire events in Boulder and around the world—the pandemic, the Marshall Fire, and the war in Ukraine—“I was thinking, how are we going to find joy?” she asks. “There’s a wonderful quote by an African-American poet, Toi Derricotte, ‘Joy is an act of resistance.’ It’s really been a source of inspiration.”

The renovated sanctuary of Mountain View Methodist Church

With that in mind, she decided to put together a concert program for the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra titled “Joy” that would offer joy through music. The concert will be at 3 p.m. Sunday (May 1) in the newly remodeled Mountain View Methodist Church (see details below). 

The program comprises three pieces: Andante cantabile by Tchaikovsky, the Orchestral Suite in B minor by J.S. Bach, and the Serenade for Winds by Dvořák.

Katsarelis found another source of inspiration in the history of her own family, which has ancestral ties to Greece. “I thought a lot about my family in World War I and in World War II,” she says. “They found joy in their lives in the middle of all this, so I was thinking, how are we going to find joy?

Cynthia Katsarelis

“You can find joy going to a concert and hearing great music, connecting to your own humanity but also connecting to the humanity around you—people in the audience, the musicians (and) the artists. So it was really out of the depths that I decided to put on a concert called ‘Joy.’”

Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile is a string orchestra version of the slow movements from the composer’s First String Quartet. “It’s just this really beautiful work,” Katsarelis says. “It opens the concert with a lovely wash of the soul and a little tug at the heartstrings.”

It’s inclusion on this program is also a subtle political statement about the war in Ukraine. Katsarelis explains: “You have to remember that Tchaikovsky was a gay man who had to hide it, and was oppressed because of it. Putin has been brutal on the LGBTQ+ community, and when the Russians invaded Ukraine they had a list of people to target (including) LGBTQ+ activists. Tchaikovsky suffered in the society that he was in, and that element’s still there.”

Michelle Stanley

The Orchestral Suite in B minor for flute and strings is one of Bach’s best known works. The featured performer will be Michelle Stanley, Pro Musica’s flutist and a flute professor at Colorado State University.

Katsarelis says that Pro Musica’s approach to Bach’s work would be “historically informed on modern instruments,” meaning that all of the orchestral players will have modern instruments, with their large dynamic range and fuller sound, but they will also make use of Baroque-era conventions in the treatment of rhythms and other details of articulation and interpretation.

“There are some conventions that we follow that are part of the Baroque dance,” Katsarelis says. “There’s a lot about Baroque music that’s suggestions, but you don’t play exactly what’s on the page. We add dynamics, we add articulations, we do the rhythms and in a way that represents the movements (of the different dances).”

The final piece of the “Joy” program is Dvořák’s Serenade for Winds, a piece that Katsarelis has programmed before. She turned to music for winds because she had been able to present music for strings over the past two years, since they can play while wearing masks, but “the winds were out of work for a year and a half during the pandemic,” she says. “And so I thought it was time to do the Dvořák again.”

Dvořák wrote the Serenade in 1878 when he was 37, and included it in an application for an Austrian state award for musicians, which he won. “Brahms was on the jury of that competition and specifically mentioned that he enjoyed that piece,” Katsarelis points out. “It’s a beautiful gem of a piece.

“It’s just lovely to listen to and really nice in character and sophisticated in a way where you don’t have to work at it. It’s very satisfying emotionally and it’s almost like therapy to play and listen to this beautiful piece. And to give the wind players an opportunity to really shine for 25 minutes in a major work is really special for us.”

In fact, Katsarelis hopes that the entire program becomes “almost like therapy” for the audience. “In the depths of everything going on in the world, reaching for joy and happiness felt like the medicine we all need,” she says.

# # # # #

“Joy!”
Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Michelle Stanley, flute

  • Tchaikovsky: Andante cantabile, op. 11
  • J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor
  • Antonín Dvořák: Serenade for Winds in D minor, op. 44

3 p.m. Sunday, May 1
Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder

TICKETS

CORRECTION 4/29: The spelling of poet Toi Derricotte’s name was corrected. It is Derricotte, not Deracotte.

Pro Musica responds to past year’s events in Boulder with music

“A Concert for Healing” in Longmont Friday, Boulder Saturday

By Peter Alexander Jan. 31 at 5 p.m.

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

Cynthia Katsarelis planned the next concert for Pro Musica Colorado (PMC) Chamber Orchestra as an opportunity for healing for the Boulder community—from the March 2021 King Sooper’s Shooting and from the pandemic.

In planning the 2021-22 season over the summer, she says, “I’m thinking about our response to the pandemic and all our losses there, and the King Soopers shooting.” In that context, she decided that the first concert program of 2022 would be devoted to healing, with music that seemed suited for that purpose. 

“Mozart: A Concert for Healing” will be performed in Longmont at 7:30 Friday (Feb. 4) at the Stewart Auditorium and in Boulder at 7:30 Saturday (Feb. 5) at the First United Methodist Church (see concert details below).

“Something I think always works medicinal magic in the hearts of human beings is Mozart,” Katsarelis says. And so two of Mozart’s symphonies became the bookends of the program: Symphony No. 15, chosen in honor of the orchestra’s 15th season to open the program, and the “Jupiter” Symphony to round it off with a masterpiece.

Flutist Christian Jennings

The rest of the program fell into place through a collaboration with flutist Christina Jennings from the CU Music faculty. Last summer Katsarelis and Jennings were talking about what they could do together, and Jennings said, “Maybe Carter (Pann, a CU composition professor) will write something for me.”

“She must have texted him,” Katsarelis says, because in less than half an hour, Jennings had Pann’s agreement. “Of course we’ll do a world premiere,” Katsarelis says. “The idea was born via text in about 30 minutes!” And completing the program Jennings will play one of the flute’s most lively pieces, Vivaldi’s Concerto for Flute known as “The Goldfinch.”

Carter Pann

It should be remembered that at the time she planned this program, Katsarelis had no idea that a third disaster would strike in the middle of the orchestra’s season. “Of course we didn’t know the Marshall Fire was going to happen,” she says. “I’m glad that we planned this concert as we had.”

Katsarelis was looking around for pieces numbered 15 to fit the PMC’s anniversary, and since Mozart is always a good programming choice she decided to look at his 15th Symphony. Written when Mozart was 16, it is not a well known work, but Katsarelis says “he’s pretty mature actually by that point.

“The symphony has a lot of witty details. In the recapitulation, when you expect the scale to go up as it had before, it goes down—things like that. It’s four movements, but they’re really short. It makes a good opener—it has wonderful energy, and these wonderful ideas. It’s a dynamite piece.”

At the opposite end of the program and of Mozart’s career is his last symphony, the “Jupiter.” “It marks Mozart’s progression as a composer,” Katsarelis says. “It marks [the transition] of the early classical to the high classical style, and Mozart is in dialog with Bach with contrapuntal and fugal writing.

“Mozart’s always loaded with ideas, and they’re always beautiful and balanced and have incredible variety and different kinds of energies and characters. But this [symphony] goes beyond. This is just astonishing.”

As familiar as the “Jupiter” Symphony has become, the key for performers and listeners, Katsarelis says, is to approach it like a new piece, “like it’s the freshest idea ever. That’s how you have to present it. That’s (PMC’s) approach to Mozart—doing it like we’re composing it ourselves. That’s what we bring to it, and I think that the aspect of familiarity done really beautifully in this way is part of healing.”

European Goldfinch

Of the two pieces that Jennings will play, the Vivaldi concerto is bright, cheerful and showy. It was written for girls at a famous orphanage in Venice, the Ospedale della Pietà, where Vivaldi taught. The girls’ orchestra was internationally famous, with people coming from all across Europe to hear their performances. With music as their main activity, the girls were renowned for their virtuosity.

Carter Pann’s piece creates a strong contrast with Vivaldi, and it fits the concert theme very well. “It’s beautiful and evocative,” Katsarelis says. “Christina (Jennings) was really into the theme about healing, and wanting a beautiful , cantabile kind of work—something that was more soulful and more cantabile. That’s what we thought would be really nice in this program, and I think it works out really well. 

As she talks about the concert, Katsarelis keeps reflecting on subject of healing and the triple challenge Boulder has had to face in the past year, with a pandemic, a shooting and then a fire. “I just never thought I would see that level of devastation,” she says. “It seems to me that the arts have to respond. All of us in the arts need to think deeply and ponder our role, what do we need to say, who do we need to be for the community.

“That’s been on my heart a great deal.“

# # # # #

“Mozart: A Concert of Healing”
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With Christina Jennings, flute

  • Mozart: Symphony No. 15 in G major, K. 124
  • Vivaldi: Concerto for Flute in D major, op. 10 no. 3, “The Goldfinch”
  • Carter Pann: My Cross for solo flute and chamber orchestra (world premiere)
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551 (“Jupiter”)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4
Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5 
First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder

TICKETS

NOTE: All Pro Musica musicians have been vaccinated. Audience members must show proof of vaccination at the door. Audience members age 2 and up will be required to wear a mask. Audience capacity will be limited to allow for approhripriate distancing, and patrons are asked to observe social distancing in the hall and the lobby. If you cannot receive the vaccine for medical or religious reasons, you will be asked to show a negative COVID test taken 72 hours before the performance.

Pro Musica Colorado opens 2021–22 season

Both in-person and streaming options are available for the 2021-22 season

By Peter Alexander Oct. 6 at 12 noon

The Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra returns to the stage with “Rainbow Strings! A Concert of Hope,” Thursday, Oct. 7, in Longmont and Saturday, Oct. 9, in Boulder.

For their first in-person concert post-pandemic, music director Cynthia Katsarelis and the orchestra will be joined by violinist Harumi Rhodes for the Violin Concerto in G major of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint Georges, the 18th-century mixed-race French-Caribbean violinist and fencing master sometimes referred to as “the Black Mozart.” Also on the program will be Dance Card by American composer Jennifer Higdon, and the much loved Serenade for Strings by Tchaikovsky.

Cynthia Katsarelis with the Pro Music Colorado Chamber Orchestra

Thursday’s performance will be at 7:15 p.m. in Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum, with tickets available from the museum. Saturday’s performance will be at 7:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Boulder. Tickets for the concert are available through the Pro Musica Web page. Proof of vaccination and masks will be required for both in-person performances. Like other concerts in Boulder this fall, the program will be about an hour in length, with no intermission.

Digital access will also be available for anyone who prefers not to attend in person. Thursday’s performance in Stewart Auditorium will be recorded and streamed for digital access at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, at the time of the Boulder performance. Access to digital streams of this and other Pro Musica concerts in the coming year is available here.

Like other conductors this fall, Katsarelis thought seriously about how she wanted to begin live performances after such a long layoff. One consideration is that she wanted music that connected to Pro Musica’s mission. “We really believe in celebrating great music, and bringing forth voices that deserve to be heard,” Katsarelis says. That specifically means lifting up composers and music from under-represented groups, she says, listing BIPOC (Saint Georges), women (Higdon), and members of the LGBTQ+ community (Higdon and Tchaikovsky) for this program.

Jennifer Higdon. Photo by J.D. Scott

“Maybe you can’t hear [the color or sexual identity of the composer], but we can celebrate it,” she says. “I think that diversity, inclusion is about the tapestry of humanity. We want to experience all the parts of this tapestry and celebrate the difference, celebrate the identity, and celebrate the great music.”

Higdon’s Dance Card is particularly effective as a place to start because it is a fun and energetic piece. “It’s about the joy of being a string player,” Katsarelis says. “It has that rhythmic vitality that we associate with American music. Her music is very colorful in general, but her slow movements are impressionistic in an American way.

“It’s a fun piece to play. It’s a difficult piece, it’s a very tricky piece, but I think our players will sink their teeth deeply into it.”

Saint Georges is one of the most interesting composers of the 18th century. He was born in the French colony of Guadeloupe, the child of a wealthy planter and a slave. He was educated in France, becoming both a virtuoso violinist and an accomplished swordsman. He played in and conducted an orchestra in Paris that commissioned and premiered the six “Paris” Symphonies of Joseph Haydn. After the revolution he fought for the French Republic as a colonel in the first all-Black regiment in Europe.

Chevalier de Saint Georges. Painting by Auguste Robineau.

Katsarelis and Rhodes had first planned to perform the concerto more than a year ago, but that performance was postponed due to COVID. “We didn’t want to cancel it, we really loved the piece,” Katsarelis says. “It’s got a lot of that style that you kind of expect around Mozart. It’s definitely that classical style, with a sort of French twist. And the virtuosity of string writing! I mean, it goes way up into the stratosphere. You can tell he was quite the virtuoso.

“When I hear his music, you can really see the Chevalier de Saint Georges with his sword. There’s a whole series of gestures that come with that. I can not hear that he’s black, but I believe that I can hear that he’s a champion fencer.”

The final work on the program was also chosen for this particular time, because it is a well loved and comforting piece for many listeners. The Serenade for strings is “a really heartfelt piece, one of Tchaikovsky’s favorites himself,” Katsarelis says. “He wrote it in the style of Mozart in terms of the form, but the emotional content is his. And the deeper I look into it [I find] how he goes from one place to another is not only genius and not only beautiful, but he’s found the way to be beautiful and at the same time his harmonies pull at the heart strings. 

“We call the concert ’Rainbow Strings,’ but it really could be ‘Heart Strings.’ The emotional content is really rich, deeply heartfelt, and I think very authentic. I thought it would be a great piece to hear, to experience, and for the players to play after the last year and a half of loss. 

“I think it’s going to be cathartic for us all.”

# # # # #

“Rainbow Strings! A Concert of Hope”
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra
Cynthia Katsarelis, Music Director and Conductor
Harumi Rhodes, violin 

  • Jennifer Higdon: Dance Card
  • Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint Georges: Violin Concerto in G Major
    Harumi Rhodes, violin
  • Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings 

7:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7
Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum
(Tickets available from the Longmont Museum)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9
First United Methodist Church, Boulder
In person and digital access tickets

Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra brings “a tsunami of happiness” May 1

Concert will be streamed, and performed live to invited supporters

By Peter Alexander April 29 at 7 a.m.

Cynthia Katsaarelis. Photography by Glenn Ross.

“We are so excited to be playing music—and in front of an audience of our [invited] supporters!” Cynthia Katsarelis, music director of the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra, says.

“Those 30 or 35 people are going to get a tsunami of happiness to actually hear [live] music.”

Violin soloist Yumi Hwang-Williams will appear with Katsarelis and the orchestra to perform “Spring” and “Summer” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Other works will be the Suite from Copland’s Appalachian Spring in the original version for 13 instruments, and the premiere of a piece by CU College of Music graduate student Jordan M. Holloway. This performance will also be available in a live stream at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May. 1. 

Members of the public who want to share in the “tsunami of happiness” may purchase tickets for the stream here

The program opens with the premiere of Holloway’s Three Coloradan Snowscapes, winner of Pro Musica’s annual Composition Competition. The three movements are musical depictions of scenes Holloway has experienced. They are also likely familiar to many Coloradans: “”Flurries (The Loch, June 2020),” “White Abyss (Independence Pass, October, 2020)” and “Downhill (Vail, February 2019).”

The first movement “is really cool,” Katsarelis says. “He’s got these blips and blops that are definitely like the snow hitting you in the nose—something like that. And lovely soaring themes that are fitting for the mountains.”

View from Independence Pass without clouds

For the second movement Holloway describes a drive over 12,000-foot Independence Pass with clouds filling the valleys below. “The typically clear valleys were filled with a great fog, which created this amazing and visually impenetrable wall of snow and vapor,” Holloway wrote in program notes.

“The second movement is particularly interesting” is Katsarelis’s response. “It’s aleatoric [using elements of chance] and unmeasured.” As conductor, she will mark points that are spaced 5 or more seconds apart—“just telling [the players] when to change texture and pitch.

“You’re creating the soundscape but it’s not technically challenging—it’s just fun.”

The third movement, “Downhill,” is “a tight-knit image of an alpine skier, very fast-paced with angular melodies that make for a turbulent two minutes,” the composer wrote. After looking at the score, Katsarelis decided he’s a pretty good skier. 

“I think it’s a double or triple diamond that he must be on,” she says. “The reason I think this is the underlying rhythm is the ‘Mission Impossible’ rhythm!”

Yumi Hwang-Williams

For a concert during the pandemic, portions of Vivaldi’s Seasons are an obvious choice. It only calls for string players, who can wear masks while performing; just about every string player knows The Seasons; and it’s always popular with audiences.

“Pretty much every violinist in the orchestra” knows the solo part, Katsarelis says. “Even I can play it!” But she wanted to ask Hwang-Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony, because Katsarelis knows that she’s up for most anything. “I really know I can rely on Yumi,” she says.

The final part of the program is a piece that Katsarelis believes is practically tailor made for our current time. “I find [Copland’s Appalachian Spring] a fascinating piece,” Katsarelis says. “It’s so easy to just take it as this wonderful, optimistic, joyful American work, but there’s something deeper there, if you’re inclined to look for it.”

Katsarelis believes that is particularly true of the original version, which was written for the 13 instruments that would fit in the pit of the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress where the first performance of Martha Graham’s ballet took place. “The intimacy makes the emotion of it more powerful,” she says. “It will be a very, very personal expression from all of the players.”

The score is noted for it’s spare texture and open chords, which were aspects of American modernism of the 1940s when it was written. That aesthetic is reflected in the music, but was also evident in the dance and the very limited sets designed for the premiere by Isamu Noguchi.

“The open chords, like the open set of Noguchi, leaves  a lot of space for our projections of our hopes, dreams,” Katsarelis says. “And inside is this space that you can inhabit in a really intimate and reflective way.”

The intimacy of the chamber version and the open, welcoming aesthetic of Appalachian Spring  fit the current moment, she believes. “I think we all are just dying for a human connection that music is so uniquely capable of bringing,” she says. “And that Copland can do more powerfully than almost any other piece I can think of.” 

The excitement that Katsarelis and the players feel about playing together again and sharing their music-making with an audience also carries a lesson, Katsarelis says. “It’s been a really rough year. I’m ecstatic about the fact that we’re about to make music, but there’s a lot of things I hope never to take for granted again, ever.”

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Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With Yumi Hwang-Williams, violin

  • Jordan M. Holloway: Three Coloradan Snowscapes (World Premiere)
    —I. “Flurries (The Loch, June 2020)”
    —II. “White Abyss (Independence Pass, October, 2020)”
    —III. “Downhill (Vail, February 2019)”
  • Vivaldi: “Spring” and “Summer” from The Four Seasons
  • Copland: Appalachian Spring, Ballet for Martha, Suite for 13 players

Stream available from 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1

Tickets available here.

Pro Musica Colorado to stream 2019 Bach performance with conductor Katsarelis

B-minor mass, performed with St. Martin’s Chamber Choir and soloists

By Peter Alexander Feb. 4 at 7:15 p.m.

The COVID pandemic has left huge gaps in the classical musical calendar

Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and the Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, unable to gather for the concerts they had hoped to present this month, decided to fill the gap with a streamed performance from their archives: a performance of J.S. Bach’s monumental Mass in B minor originally presented live in October, 2019. 

Pro Musica and St. Martins’ Chamber Choir performing Bach’s B-minor Mass

The performance features Katsarelis with the Pro Musica orchestra, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, and a quartet of soloists: soprano  Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, mezzo Julie Simson, tenor Derek Chester and bass-baritone Jeffrey Seppala.

A release announcing the broadcast explains, “The audio engineering is radio broadcast quality, however, the video is pre-pandemic archival. The video from the first half offers a view from the chorus and the second half offers a view from the balcony in audience.”

In a separate written announcement, Katsarelis stated that “Sharing the Bach seemed like a nice thing to do for a number of reasons, but most of all because of its capacity to bring healing. In addition to the terrible losses of people to COViD-19, I felt deeply traumatized by the event of January 6. For a week afterwards, about all I could do was play Bach on violin. Given that the February concert couldn’t proceed as planned, the Bach B-Minor Mass is our offering to healing and peace in this world.”

The streamed performance will be preceded by a pre-concert talk by Rebecca Maloy, a professor of musicology at CU, Boulder.

Anyone who purchased a ticket to the cancelled Feb. concert will have access to this performance from 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12, through Sunday, Feb. 14. Tickets may be purchased HERE.

# # # # #

Special Online Broadcast
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
St. Martin’s Chamber Choir
Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano; Julie Simson, mezzo-soprano; Derek Chester, tenor; and Jeffrey Seppala, bass-baritone

Pre-concert talk by CU Professor of Music Rebecca Malloy

J.S. Bach: Mass in B Minor

Original performance from Oct., 2019
Streamed performance available from 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12, through Sunday, Feb. 14
Tickets HERE.

PRO MUSICA COLORADO’S 2020-2021 SEASON FOCUSES ON HEALING, DIVERSITY

The hybrid season will offer livestream and limited in-person tickets.

By Izzy Fincher Oct. 7 at 4:50 p.m.

Amidst the turmoil of 2020, we can turn to music for comfort.

“Music has such a capacity to heal,” Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor of Pro Musica Colorado, says. “It has the capacity to comfort. It has the capacity to connect us, to remind us of our humanity, and to remind us of who we are.”

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra with conductor Cynthia Katasarelis

Katsarelis planned Pro Musica’s 2020-2021 season in response to the grief and suffering of 2020, hoping to offer comfort and healing to the audience through music.

“Usually we program a year or more in advance,” Katsarelis says. “But now with this season we can respond to what is going on in the world. We decided this season needed works that were healing, comforting and joyful discoveries.”

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross

Katsarelis’ original plans for the season dissolved mid-summer. To comply with COVID-19 social distancing requirements, she had to find repertoire for strings without winds or vocalists. This reduced her options and forced her to look for local soloists on short notice. At that time, she also decided to offer the season as both a virtual and limited in-person experience.

The December program, originally planned to be Handel’s Messiah with the Boulder Chorale, was scrapped in favor of an all-strings program and a new soloist—Yumi Hwang-Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony. Katsarelis decided to open the concert with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Novellette No. 1 for string orchestra, a lesser-known work for musical discovery, before moving to familiar works by Vivaldi, Corelli and Dvořák to heal.

For February’s concert, “Rainbow Valentine,” Katsarelis also wanted to begin the program with new discoveries. First, Pro Musica will premiere a new work by Jordan Holloway, the winner of CU-Boulder’s Composition Competition. Then they will play Joseph Bologne’s Violin Concerto No. 9 with soloist Harumi Rhodes, the second violinist of the Takács Quartet, and finish with the comforting Serenade for String Orchestra by Tchaikovsky.

Katsarelis is most excited for the Bologne violin concerto and feels grateful that Rhodes agreed to perform it on short notice. “This violin concerto is swashbuckling,” she says. 

Harumi Rhodes. Photo by
Michael Barnes

“Harumi sets the room on fire when she opens her violin case, let alone when the bow comes to the string. The combination of this swashbuckling concerto and Harumi will be electric. It will pass through the internet to all those tuned in.”

For the final concert in May, aptly named “Springtime,” Pro Musica will collaborate with Nicolò Spera, director of CU’s classical guitar program, on a concerto (currently TBA). The program will also include Carter Pann’s Three Secrets in Maine and  the chamber version of Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Katsarelis feels the works by Pann and Copland are distinctly American and will offer familiar sounds as the season’s final comforting gesture. 

Appalachian Spring is such a quintessential American piece,” she says. “It’s a good piece to play at this time. It’s a piece that reminds us who we are. It is an American work that speaks to the best of American culture.”

For those listening to concerts virtually, Katsarelis recommends working on a high-quality audio setup.

“People might want to get in touch with their inner audiophile,” Katsarelis says. “If they haven’t experimented with connecting their computer to decent speakers, now is the time. It would really enhance the listening experience.”

Beyond the three concerts, Pro Musica will also stay engaged with the Boulder community, particularly in local elementary schools, during the season. They will collaborate with Boulder MUSE, a non-profit organization that provides free music lessons for underprivileged children. Pro Musica’s string quartet will perform music by diverse composers, especially composers of color, from their previous season for young musicians at Columbine Elementary School and University Hill Elementary School. 

For Pro Musica, issues of diversity and representation have always been important. Since their conception in 2007, Pro Musica has aimed to share “new voices from ethnically and racially diverse cultures,” according to their mission statement. This perspective is important with 2020’s focus on diversity. This season includes works by two black composers, Coleridge-Taylor and Bologne.

For Katsarelis, diversity in classical music is personally important. She is currently the only female conductor of a professional orchestra in Colorado.

“This is something I have done my entire career, going back to the mid-1990s,” she says. “It’s not new for me or for Pro Musica. We have been presenting music by female composers, composers of color and underrepresented voices. We have a mission of bringing forward voices that have been silenced unjustly. 

“Artistic grounds alone are enough to bring this music forward. This is great music that has a lot to say to us and can really speak to our hearts.”

# # # # #

Pro Musica Colorado
2020-2021 Season
Limited tickets available for live performances
Live-stream tickets available for Saturday night of each program

Holiday Moods
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Yumi Hwang-Williams, violin

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Novellette No. 1
Corelli: Christmas Concerto
Vivaldi: “Fall” and “Winter” from The Four Seasons
Dvořák: Serenade for Strings

*7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield 
3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, First United Methodist Church, Boulder

Rainbow Valentine
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Harumi Rhodes, violin

Jordan Holloway (CU Composition Competition winner): World Premiere
Joseph Bologne: Violin Concerto No. 9
Tchaikovsky: Serenade for String Orchestra

*7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield
2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14,Mountain View United Methodist Church, Boulder

Springtime
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Nicolò Spera, classical guitar

Carter Pann: Three Secrets in Maine
Concerto TBA
Copland: Appalachian Spring (chamber version)

*7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield
2 p.m. Sunday, May 2, Mountain View United Methodist Church, Boulder.

*Livestreamed concerts

Purchase individual in-person or livestream tickets or 2020-21 season subscriptions for Pro Musica Colorado here.

Pro Musica Colorado looks to 2020–21 season

Messiah among “classics for small chamber orchestra” on the bill

By Peter Alexander June 10 at 9:10 p.m.

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra today addressed their plans for the 2020–21 season.

Cynthia Katsarelis and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra

There is of course much that is not known about the conditions under which any performing arts organizations will be able or allowed to present performances in the coming year. The uncertainty is great enough that organizations local and world wide, from the Boulder Chorale to the New York Philharmonic, have announced that they do not plan to perform before January, 2021.

In that context, Pro Musica Colorado has said that they are planning a season that will be “flexible, resilient, and exercises good Colorado grit.” That statement comes from a letter sent out today over the signature of the group’s music director, Cynthia Katsarelis.

“We will observe the guidelines published by the CDC, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, the Boulder County Health Department, and the Musician’s Union work rules,” the letter says. In that spirit, performances may or may not be open to a limited public audience, but in either case they will be live streamed.

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

“We will work out ticketing, and perhaps offer a digital subscription. Some of this is still under construction, but Pro Musica Colorado will be present, making music and doing educational outreach in Boulder,” the letter promises.

Dates and details of repertoire will be announced at a later date. For now, the orchestra is planning to perform “classics for small chamber orchestra,” including Handel’s Messiah, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

Katsarelis concludes her letter with a statement of aspirations and hopes. “Our souls long for sharing live music,” she wrote. “And frankly, I believe we have a collective yearning for inclusivity and equity as well.

“In a time of broken hearts, there is music that can help heal some of our collective heartache.”

Musicians in their Lairs II: Cynthia Katsarelis

Online teaching leads to at-home learning for the teacher

By Peter Alexander April 26 at 5:40 p.m.

Cynthia Katsarelis is in her happy place.

The music director of the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra is speaking by Facetime from the basement of the home she shares with her wife, musicologist Rebecca Maloy. This is her office, where she is surrounded by her violin and her music and her books and her Roland digital piano.

“It’s really true, that saying that musicians either are practicing or should be practicing,” Katsarelis says. “I reflect on that almost daily. I’ve been practicing a great deal and making some terrific discoveries on the violin.”

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Cynthia Katsarelis in her “happy place”

But she’s been doing much more than practicing her violin. She has been able to accelerate her work on a Doctor of Musica Arts degree, which she had expected to finish next December. “Perhaps I’ll finish in August or even July,” she says.

She is also “doing a lot of professional development stuff”—playing Bach chorales from open score, with each voice part in a different clef, and playing “figured bass,” Baroque-era keyboard parts where only the bass line is given with numbers to indicate the chords above the bass. “It’s like floss for the brain,” she says. “I figure if I’m not out and about and interacting with people, it keeps the brain lively, so that’s a good thing to do.”

Like a lot of musicians during the crisis, Katsarelis is teaching online. Since 2004 she has had a relationship with students in Haiti, through the Holy Trinity School of Music in Port-au-Prince, where she has regularly taught violin and guest conducted the Orchestre Philharmonique Sainte Trinité.

“One of the things that I took up was asking Haitian students if they wanted [online] lessons,” she says. “The next thing I know I’ve got 45 Haitians who want lessons! That became huge really fast.”

It also took on a new dimension when a Haitian violinist that Katsarelis knows, Victoria Joseph, launched an etude challenge. “In addition to the online lessons, I’ve been making videos of how to practice certain etudes,” she explains. (You may see one of her etudes—with her apologies for her halting Haitian French—here.)

“I’ve tried to pick the etudes very, very strategically, to pick the kind of things that will really further their technique,” she says. “I pick etudes that work on a particular aspect of technique so they can explore it in greater depth and ideally things that they can do mostly on their own, with a little guidance.”

Katsarelis says that this project has been a learning experience for her as well as the Haitian students. As she has gone through her extensive collection of violin etudes, including ones she played as far back as middle school, she is looking at her own training with new eyes.

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Katsarelis teaching online from her basement

“There’s something about revisiting that old stuff,” she says. “I went through all of my etudes from whenever, and I just see gobs of wisdom from these early etudes. I think, ‘Oh, that’s what my teacher was trying to teach me! I wish I had really absorbed the lesson,’ but also ‘How can I teach it to [my students]?’ That’s been really beneficial.

“And when I practice the advanced stuff, it reminds me how to teach the intermediate students so they can get to that advanced place. Sometimes you forget how you got there. So now I’ve been tracing the steps to success. So the next stage will be for me to work through how to get [my students] into the advanced stage.”

The result of going back through the etudes she has studied over so many years: “I’ll be a much better teacher. This could actually be helpful in [getting a job], but I’m doing it because it’s really beneficial right here and now, for the Haitian musicians and for my own playing.”

Katsarelis and Malloy have gotten their old turntable out and have been listening to some of the old vinyl recordings in their collection. This includes old Classical recordings, by artists including Zino Francescatti, Leon Fleischer and the Philadelphia Orchestra, but also 1960s and early ‘70s rock. Katsarelis says she favors the Beatles, while Maloy also has a collection of the Grateful Dead.

Even though there are no concerts, Katsarelis still has work to do as conductor of Pro Musica. She and the board have been hard at work already for the 2020-21 season. In addition to deciding the programs for next year, they have decided to drop the performances they have been giving in Denver, and to look into options for streaming their concerts.

“We worked things through and decided to focus our efforts in Boulder, and to put  more energy into outreach,” she says. “And once the virus hit, I’ve been working on creating a season that has a smaller budget. I’m having a lot of fun, but I’m busy on pretty fulfilling stuff.”

“I keep really busy, but when I’m not busy I tend to worry about people. I want people to be healthy and happy—and listen to lots of music, because it really does help the time pass beautifully.

“I just hope everybody’s doing well.”

BREAKING: FURTHER CANCELLATIONS

Colorado Pro Musica joins list of groups who have canceled performances

By Peter Alexander March 20 at 6:05 p.m.

Colorado Pro Music Chamber Orchestra has joined a growing list of music organizations in the bOulder area who have canceled planned performances due to the coronavirus/COVD-19.

A program titled “Composing Climate” was scheduled for March 20, 21 and 22 in Longmont, Denver and Boulder, respectively. However, in light of other cancelations occurring in the area—including  all performances on the CU campus (see previous posts)—the decision has been made to cancel those concerts as well.

I will keep an ongoing list of known cancellations on the blog, as they come in. People who are holding tickets to canceled events are advised to check the Web pages of the presenting organizations to find out about their policies in this situation.

Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra presents “Diverse Voices”

Program features three living composers, one African-American pioneer

By Peter Alexander Jan. 26 at 11:10 a.m.

Searching for diverse repertoire for the Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, conductor Cynthia Katsarelis found works by three living composers and a pioneering African-American composer of the 20th century.

Their concert featuring those composers, titled “Diverse Voices,” will be Saturday in Denver and Sunday in Boulder (Feb 1 and 2). The three living composers are Jessie Montgomery, a New York violinist and composer who has been affiliated with the Sphinx Organization, which supports young African-American and Latinx string players; Rudy Perrault, a Haitian native who is director of orchestras at the University of Minnesota, Duluth; and Gabriela Lena Frank, a California-born composer who has mixed Peruvian, Chinese, and Lithuanian-Jewish heritage.

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William Grant Still

William Grant Still, the fourth composer on the program, was associated with the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, and later had a successful career arranging popular music as well as music for television and films. His Symphony No. 1 (“African-American Symphony”) was the first symphony by an African-American composer to be performed by a major orchestra.

On the all-string orchestra program, Pro Musica will perform his Danzas de Panama, Montgomery’s Starburst, Perrault’s Exodus and Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout. This program reflects Katsarelis’s personal commitment to diversity, meaning not only composers of color, which describes all four composer on the program, but also female as well as male composers (two of the four), and new music as well as recognized classics (three of the four).

“I think we come to a more healthy place if we’re inclusive of the different talent and the different voices that we have in the 21st century,” Katsarelis says. “Pro Musica has a mission of [performing] classic to cutting edge [music], and we also present works that were under-represented.”

Katsarelis includes new works among the “under-represented.” “Where the classics touch something universal in us, new music speaks to right now,” she says. “It may or may not last, but it has something to say to us today.”

The entire program is for string orchestra, which is where Katsarelis had to do some searching. “When I encounter a musician that I really respect and am really intrigued by, I go on a Sherlock Holmes-like hunt for music that is appropriate for Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra,” she says.

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Jessie Montgomery. Photo by Jiang Chen

Needing music for strings alone, she found several pieces that are written for string quartet or string orchestra. The one exception is the opening work on the program, Montgomery’s Starburst, which was written for the Sphinx Virtuosi chamber orchestra. “It’s a great piece, really energetic, as you would expect a starburst to be,” Katsarelis says.

“It’s inspired by a cosmic phenomenon, and for her that involves rapidly changing musical colors. It’s only a three-minute piece, but you’re getting all these different colors that a string orchestra can produce. They’re playing on the bridge to get this eerie sound, they play harmonics, they have various kinds of pizzicato, and [Montgomery] combines them in various ways. It’s a musical burst as well as a starburst.”

Katsarelis met Perrault through her own work in Haiti. Since 2004 she has gone to Haiti every summer to teach at a music camp, and sometimes during the year as well. “It’s a very musical culture, and they’re always hungry for more,” she says. “It’s really rewarding to work there.”

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Rudy Perrault

Perrault’s Exodus was originally part of a piece for string quartet. It was inspired by and dedicated to people who have been forced to leave their homelands as refugees. “I hear a very strong musical personality,” Katsarelis says of the score.

“He knows what he’s doing, and he knows how to use a wide range of musical language for the wrenching emotion that is part of the piece. I hear little hints of Bernstein and Shostakovich with a little bit of an island rhythm.”

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Gabriela Elena Frank

Frank’s mixed heritage plays a very large role in her work. “Her mother was Peruvian-Japanese, and her father was Lithuanian Jewish,” Katsarelis explains. “She became a kind of musical anthropologist and explored her roots, and she was really captivated by Peru and the Andean music, the Andean instruments and genres and character—they’re all reflected in her piece.”

For example, she imitates the sound of Andean instruments—the panpipes, a heavy wooden flute called the tarka, guitars—in her writing for strings. Other movements depict the chaqui, a legendary runner who covered large distance to deliver messages from town to town, and the llorona, a professional crier hired to mourn at funerals.

Katsarelis often describes pieces of music as a journey, with a return to home providing closure. But in this case, she says, “Peru is part of Frank’s background, and in her exploration she finds another version of home. So we have a journey; home is just a little bit different.”

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

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross

Thinking of her musical mission  beyond the individual pieces she selected to illustrate diversity, Katsarelis says “I always thought that classical music could help bring world peace, so this is just one more step.” In addition to that lofty goal, she adds, “What I’m presenting is terrific music. It’s beautiful, it’s inspiring, it’s entertaining, it’s thought provoking and it engages the world today.

“I hope young people will come to the concert, because it’s part of what they’re growing into: a world that’s just so global, and so diverse.”

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“Diverse Voices”
Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra of Colorado, Cynthia Katsarelis, music director

Jessie Montgomery: Starburst
Rudy Perrault: Exodus
William Grant Still: Danzas de Panama
Gabriela Lena Frank: Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout

7:30 p.m. Saturday Feb. 1, First Baptist Church of Denver
2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2, Mountain View United Methodist Church, Boulder
Tickets