Clean and businesslike, Danzmayr leads CMF orchestra

Pianist Gabriella Montero plays Grieg Concerto and spectacular improvisation

By Peter Alexander July 19 at 12:30 a.m.

Guest conductor David Danzmayr teamed with an impressive Gabriela Montero last night (July 18) at the Colorado Music Festival for an utterly enjoyable Grieg Piano Concerto. Also on the program were Sideriusby Osvaldo Golijov and the Sixth Symphony (Pathétique) of Tchaikovsky.

DAVID-DANZMAYR-

David Danzmayr

Danzmayr is a very clear, very business-like conductor. He does not emote on the podium, leaving the emotion largely to the players, which the CMF Festival Orchestra for the most part provided. Like his manner, his performances were distinctly business like—professional, very direct in their interpretation, but not always refined or carefully balanced. At times, he allowed the middle of the texture to become muddy, to the detriment of his interpretations.

The concert opened with Siderius, an eight-minute “Overture for Small Orchestra,” as the composer’s subtitle calls it. Starkly contrasting material—dark menacing chords from the brass and fluttering, repetitive passages in strings and woodwinds—were well delineated. The performance was clean and solid, if cut and dried in effect.

For Grieg, Danzmayr was an attentive accompanist, taking cues from Montero’s Romantic approach to the score. Throughout the first movement, she was at her best in the lyrical, more gentle passages. I heard lovely parts and pieces, but not a whole.

The slow movement opened with gorgeous string sounds and a lovely horn solo, preparing Montero’s delicate, sparkling piano entrance. Long passages of distilled Romantic dreaminess, effectively evoked by the soloist, dominated the movement, with a lively middle interruption.

Montero.920x920.Colin Bell

Gabriela Montero

In the dance-like finale, Danzmayr found the drama to support Montero’s energetic performance. Except for another lovely, dreamy interlude at the center of the movement, her playing was infectiously buoyant and bouncy, full of contained energy. Here it all added up, making for a delightful performance.

But for Montero, one suspects that the concerts are merely an excuse for what she most likes to do, which is to play improvised encores. Entirely on her own ground, she was spectacular, taking a suggestion from the audience to improvise on “Blue Moon.” After a delicate opening, where she was finding her footing and no doubt thinking of possibilities, she gave first an impressively contrapuntal Bach/Liszt version, followed by a raggy Scott Joplin variation that was breathtaking.

The second half of the concert was taken with the Tchaikovsky symphony. In the first movement, Danzmayr led the orchestra through the shifting sands of Tchaikovsky’s many contrasting musical episodes with a clear sense of the road map. From the beginning the orchestra pulsed with a nervous energy that paid off as the movement continued; many delicate moments were beautifully shaped. But once again a murky texture marred many passages.

The five-beat “waltz” of the second movement was workmanlike, elevated by moments of great grace and flow. The third movement march was brisk, with a lot of compelling forward motion but an absence of careful balance among sections. The movement built impressively to the climactic ending, with the usual result—a burst of applause from the audience.

The finale was rough-hewn but passionate. Danzmayr was attuned to the tragic impulses and suggestions in the music. With careful attention to the destination, Danzmayr let symphony end, as it must, fading mysteriously and fatally into silence.

The program will be repeated tonight (July 19) at 7:30 p.m. at the Chautauqua Auditorium—most likely with an all new, unique, one-time-only improvisation by Montero. Tickets are available though the Chautauqua Box Office.

Jean-Marie Zeitouni, David Danzmayr return to CMF

Guest conductors will lead orchestra concerts for the next two weeks

By Peter Alexander July 11 at 4 p.m.

The Colorado Music Festival hosts the return of two guest conductors for the central portion of the six-week festival, July 11–23.

For orchestral concerts July 11-12 and July 14, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, principal guest conductor of the festival, returns to lead the Festival Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra. David Danzmeyer, who appeared as guest conductor in 2015 and 2018, will lead the CMF orchestra July 18-19 and 21.

JMZBowtie

Jean-Marie Zeitouni. Photo by David Curleigh

“I’m excited about coming back” says Zeitouni, who was the festival music director 2015–17. “I share so much beautiful music making with the CMF orchestra, that it’s really heartwarming for me. And I have my favorite spot for good coffee, a good meal, a good hike, a good sunset, so this is fun.”

Zeitouni opens his CMF visit with a pair of concerts titled “Romantic Duos,” Thursday and Friday (July 11–12. Three of the pieces have romantic couples in their titles: Pelleas et Mélisande by Gabriel Fauré,Romeo and Julietby Tchaikovsky, and Bacchus et Arianeby Albert Roussel. Also on the program is Brahms’s Double Concerto for violin and cello, played by the real-life romantic duo of Mira Wang and Jan Vogler, who are married.

Zeitouni’s second CMF concert is part of the summer series tracing Beethoven’s reach into the future. Titled “Beethoven’s Path to Neoclassicism,” it will feature Beethoven’s First Symphony and Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements played with alternating movements. Completing the program is Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto played by pianist Lilya Zilberstein.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Colorado Music Festival
July 11–23
All performances at 7:30 p.m. in the Chautauqua Auditorium

Thursday & Friday July 11 & 12, 7:30 PM
ROMANTIC DUOS
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor, with Mira Wang, violin, and Jan Vogler, cello

Fauré: Pelleas et Mélisande Suite
Brahms: Concerto for Violin and Violoncello
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet Overture
Roussel: Bacchus et Ariane, Suite No. 2

ZIlberstein

Lilya Zilberstein

Sunday, July 14
BEETHOVEN’S PATH TO NEOCLASSICISM
Conductor: Jean-Marie Zeitouni, with Lilya Zilberstein, piano

Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 and Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements (movements played alternately)
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3

Tuesday, July 16
QUINTESSENTIAL HARP
CMF Chamber Players

Arnold Bax: Quintet for Harp and String Quartet
Ravel: Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet
Ravel: String Quartet
Brahms: String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major

Montero.920x920.Colin Bell

Gabriela Montero. Photo by Colin Bell

Thursday & Friday, July 18 & 19
TCHAIKOVSKY’S SYMPHONY NO. 6 “PATHETIQUE”
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Gabriela Montero, piano

Golijov: Sidereus
Grieg: Piano Concerto
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”)

Sunday, July 21
MAGNIFICENT MOZART MINI-FESTIVAL I
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Stefan Jackiw, violin

Mozart: Symphony No. 32
Violin Concerto No. 5 (“Turkish”)
Overture from Don Giovanni
Symphony No. 38 (“Prague”)

Tuesday, July 23
RUSSIAN MASTERS
CMF Chamber Players

Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor
Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio in A Minor

Tickets from the Chautauqua Box office.

 

Guest conductor Danzmayr leads an energetic concert at CMF

Music by Bartók, Piazzolla and Schubert—all drawn from folk sources

By Peter Alexander July 9 at 12:35 a.m.

DAVID-DANZMAYR-

David Danzmayr, guest conductor at CMF

David Danzmayr, the summer’s second guest conductor at the Colorado Music Festival (CMF), selected three pieces for last night’s chamber orchestra concert (July 8), all with roots in folk music.

In comments before the concert began, he noted that the three composers—Bartók, Piazzolla and Schubert—seem to have little in common, but the common thread is music reflecting their individual national cultures—from Hungary, Argentina and Austria, respectively.

The specific pieces he selected were Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances, based on dances that the composer recorded in Hungarian villages as part of his folk music research; Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, drawn from the native tango music of Argentina; and Schubert’s Symphony No. 3, incorporating music of the Austrian countryside.

All are pieces that benefit from high energy, and that Danzmayr provided. Not that the performance was unblemished, but the energy comfortably overcame any imperfections.

Originally composed for piano, Bartók’s seven Romanian Folk Dances were performed in the composer’s own setting for small orchestra. The challenge is to create the rhythmic freedom of eastern European folk dances within orchestral sections. This is well accomplished in three movements, where Bartók hands the melody to solo players—clarinet in the second dance, piccolo in the third, and solo violin in the fourth. The soloists played with appropriate verve, with firm orchestral support.

Danzmayr gave the full ensemble portions of the score all the rhythmic impulse that a folk dance needs, driving right past a few moments when the texture became thick and murky.

Quint by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Philippe Quint. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

The hit of the evening was the Piazzolla Seasons of Buenos Aires, a response to Vivaldi’s famous set of concertos, performed by the CMF strings with soloist Philippe Quint. A player who has his own ties to the style of Piazzolla’s music, Quint delivered a passionate performance. This is music that should be enjoyed, and everyone on stage seemed to be having fun. The audience’s enjoyment was evident by the applause, hesitantly between movements and raucously at the end.

The program had the seasons listed out of order—Summer, Winter, Fall, Spring—but in the event Quint played them in the usual order: Summer, Fall, Winter Spring. This is music of rapidly shifting moods, sometimes capturing the rough tango of Buenos Aires dance halls, sometimes more sultry, sometimes fiery. Quint seems to have them all in his hip pocket, moving from one mood to the next with no visible strain, and then filling the hall with a beautiful tone in the last movement’s lyrical moments. Conductor, orchestra and soloist danced together without a stumble.

To close the concert, Danzmayr and the orchestra gave a sparkling performance of Schubert’s Third Symphony. A native of Salzburg, Danzmayr said in an earlier interview that when you grow up playing the music of the Austrian countryside, as he did, “you have [the style] in your bones and in your feelings.”

He also said that this symphony is one of his favorites, and that was reflected in the performance. His enthusiasm for the music was evident, while his attention to detail, in the selection of tempos, in the phrasing, in the application of dynamics, made every gesture and phrase effective. The solemn slow introduction was followed by a cheerful romp and the sprightly, folkish “slow” movement positively danced along.

The minuet’s bumptious beginning suggests that Schubert had heard some Beethoven, but it then settled into a pleasingly pastoral second theme and trio. The bustling finale suffered only the occasional smudge in the strings, showing how close to the edge Danzmayr’s tempo really was. As so often in Schubert the composer’s delight in his own music made it hard for him to let go, as the movement rushed to a rousing finish.

The good cheer, the light orchestra texture, the sheer joy of the music makes the symphony seem less impressive than it really is, but careful attention to last night’s performance revealed its beauty.

Pianist Terrence Wilson and CMF Orchestra dazzle in Daugherty’s Deus ex Machina

Guest conductor David Danzmayr leads the Festival Orchestra in a satisfying program

By Peter Alexander

Composer Michael Daugherty

Composer Michael Daugherty

Composer Michael Daugherty says that he has to have an idea about each piece before he can start writing. The question is, does the audience need to know that idea, or can they appreciate his compositions as “just music?”

In the case of his Grammy-Award winning piano concerto, Deus ex Machina, dazzlingly performed last night (July 9) by pianist Terrence Wilson and the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra under guest conductor David Danzmayr, the answer is that it definitely helps to know what Daugherty was thinking. So it was good that the composer spoke before the performance. Audience members would have been well advised to read the program notes as well, since they gave even more insight into the ideas behind the music.

Conductor David Danzmayr

Conductor David Danzmayr

As Daugherty explained, Deus ex Machina—translated “God from the machine”—is about one of the most powerful machines of our landscape, the train. The connection between the mechanics of a locomotive and the mechanics of a piano is even more clear when you know that Daugherty grew up with a player piano in his home, which gives a musical meaning to the notion of God from a machine.

(To be historically accurate, it should be pointed out that the phrase Deus ex machina originally referred to a classical god who resolved the tangled plots of Baroque operas and theater pieces by descending from the clouds—in other words, from a theatrical machine. But Daugherty did not have this theatrical reference in mind.)

Each movement has its own specific train reference: the first movement, “Fast Forward,” is about the Italian futurists’ early-20th-century conception of the train as an engine of progress, represented in abstract or cubist forms. This is the most obviously trainlike movement, and it indeed rushes forward with furious, abstract energy.

linfuneral_train_t580The second movement, “Train of Tears,” is a haunting evocation of the train that slowly carried the body of Abraham Lincoln from Washington to the slain president’s funeral in Springfield, Ill. Here the strains of taps overlay the steady movement of the piano and orchestra, expressing the slow progress of the train, or the slow spread of grief across the continent, or both.

The finale, “Night Steam,” refers to gorgeous nighttime photos of steam locomotives taken by O. Winston Link in the 1950s, but it only makes musical sense when Daugherty explains that he grew up playing jazz and boogie-woogie piano and hearing the late-night calls of the locomotives that passed through his home town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“That movement’s me,” Daugherty said about “Night Steam” yesterday before the performance. And once you make the connection between the disappearing steam locomotives and the long gone style of boogie-woogie piano from Daugherty’s youth, the music takes on an elevated meaning that is otherwise unavailable to the listener.

Pianist Terrence Wilson

Pianist Terrence Wilson

Only with at least this overview of the piece can one grasp the accomplishment of Wilson, for whom the concerto was written, as well as Danzmayr and the Festival Orchestra. They provided a thoroughly invigorating performance, one that captured the essence of each movement in turn while overcoming the concerto’s considerable difficulties. For Wilson, the challenge is not so much expressive as it is technical, since much of the emotional depth comes from the orchestra—especially in the dirge-like slow movement.

What Wilson provided was the energy, the technical polish, and just the sheer sound from the piano that it takes to conjure Daugherty’s trains. In each movement he was exceptional, providing the bravura, mechanistic drive of the first movement, the mourning chords of the second, and the frenetic boogie-woogie of the finale. This is a concerto that you definitely want to see as well as hear: Wilson’s sheer output of energy is visible at the keyboard, even when you don’t know just how many notes he is actually playing.

The Colorado premiere of Deus ex Machina was the major event of the first half of the program. The concert opened with another Colorado premiere, Lee Actor’s Opening Remarks. This is a brisk, bracing curtain-raiser that has more than a little bit of Shostakovich in its palette of sounds. Danzmayr and the players of the Festival Orchestra were more than equal to the challenge of Actor’s light, enjoyable score.

Conductor David Danzmayr

Conductor David Danzmayr

For the second half of the program, Danzmayr was not afraid to embrace the Romantic nature of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, with its shifting tempos and surging climaxes. It was of course beautifully played by the Festival Orchestra, but at times the emphasis on local effect and the building of one high point after another led to raw, somewhat unbalanced climaxes. Tchaikovsky encourages this with his piling up of double, triple and even quadruple forte markings (not to mention the multiple-piano soft passages), but sometimes his music would benefit from a more restrained hand.

The overall sound was definitely that of a polished American orchestra: accurate in pitch and ensemble, with a bright forward tone that contrasts with the darker, heavier and intrinsically mournful sound of Russian orchestras. Be that as it may, the precision of the scurrying strings, the accuracy of the woodwind playing, the bright fullness of the brass sound are bracing, and they provide a satisfying, if not entirely Russian, interpretation of the symphony.

It is risky to single out individual orchestra players on such a program, since it would be difficult not to leave out some truly fine performances, so I will only say that the solos I heard—orchestra members know who they are!—were all played with great beauty of tone and technical finesse. This was a performance that deserved a larger audience, but at least no one disturbed the music with a cell phone this week.

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If you missed the chance to purchase the Grammy-winning recording of Deus ex Machina performed by Terrence Wilson and the Nashville Symphony, Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor, at the concert, you can purchase it and other recordings of Daugherty’s music here or here.

NOTE: The time period of Link’s photos was added and the article was revised for grammar and typos on July 10.