Concerts by Sphere Ensemble and the Longmont Symphony
By Peter Alexander Nov. 16 at 2:50 p.m.
The Sphere Ensemble, a string ensemble formed by professional string players in the Denver area, will present a kaleidoscope of many American musics at the Mercury Café in Denver Friday (7:30 p.m. Nov. 18) and the Canyon Theater of the Boulder Public Library Saturday (7:30 p.m. Nov. 19; details below).
Under executive director Alex Vittal, a longtime violist and arranger with the group, Sphere has brought educational programming to marginalized audiences, including people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, women’s shelters, children’s hospitals and assisted living facilities.
Sphere characteristically includes both concert music written for string orchestra and arrangements of works drawn from popular and other vernacular genres in their programs. In the case of the “Kaleidoscope” concert, that ranges from music by 20th-century African-American composer Florence Price, to the contemporary Chickasaw composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, to the Pulitzer Prize-winner Carolyn Shaw, to a medley of music by Prince.
Tate’s Pisach has been arranged for Sphere through a special agreement with the composer, and several of the pop pieces were arranged specifically for the ensemble. Vittal’s arrangement of the Prince Medley has been particularly popular in past performances. The concert announcement from Sphere states, “This concert program focuses on the wide range of what ‘American’ music is: with composers from diverse backgrounds, genres from classical to pop, and arrangements written by Sphere musicians.”
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“Kaleidoscope” Sphere ensemble
Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate: Pisach. (adapted with permission of the composer by Alex Vittal and Alejandro G. Gullien)
Caroline Shaw: Entr’acte
Florence Price: “Juba” from Second String Quartet
Tan Dun: Symphony for Strings
Gordon/Warren: “At Last,” arr. Chris Jusell
Prince: Prince Medley, arr. Alex Vittal
Randy Newman: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” arr. Sarah Whitnah
Scott Joplin: “Wall Street Rag,” arr. Alex Vittal
Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Souvenir de Porto Rico, arr. David Short
The Longmont Symphony Orchestra and conductor Elliot Moore will focus on America in two of their subscriptions concerts this year. The first of these, “Trail of Tears: America—Part 1” will be presented Saturday at the Vance Brand Auditorium (7:30 p.m. Nov. 19; details below).
The concert takes it title from composer Michael Daugherty’s “Trail of Tears” Flute Concerto, which will be performed by soloist Brice Smith and the orchestra. Smith teaches flute at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colo.
The concerto is named for the route that Cherokees and other Native Americans were forced to travel from their ancestral homes in Southeastern states to reservations in present-day Oklahoma. In his program notes, the composer has described the piece as “a musical journey into how the human spirit discovers ways to deal with upheaval, adversity and adapting to a new environment.”
Other works on the program are the Overture to The Song of Hiawatha by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and the Symphony No. 8 in G major by Dvořák. Coleridge-Taylor was a mixed-race British composer and conductor who had a significant career in both England and the United States, where he was known as “the African Mahler.”
His trilogy of cantatas The Song of Hiawatha was written 1898–1900. The first part to be performed, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, became popular world-wide and earned praise from leading English musicians including Sir Arthur Sullivan.
Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony is one of the composer’s most popular and joyful pieces. It was composed in 1889, soon before the composer’s famous and fateful trip to the United States in 1892. More than any of the Dvořák’s symphonies, it draws on the music of the composer’s homeland, giving it a uniquely relaxed and folkish quality.
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“Trail of Tears” Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore conductor With Brice Smith, flute
Samuel Coleridge Taylor: Overture to Song of Hiawatha
Longmont Symphony at Stewart Auditorium, Colorado Chamber Players in Broomfield
By Peter Alexander Oct. 21 at 5:15 p.m.
The Longmont Symphony nears the end of its Beethoven symphony cycle this weekend at the intimate Stewart auditorium of the Longmont Museum.
Conductor Elliot Moore leads the orchestra in the next-to-last of the composer’s nine symphonies, in a cycle that was begun in 2018 and continued nearly unabated through the recent pandemic. The Symphony No. 8 in F major, op. 93, will be joined on the program by the Symphony in G major by Beethoven’s contemporary and lifelong friend Anton Reicha.
The concert will be presented twice, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2s2, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23. Tickets are available here.
Beethoven referred to his Eight Symphony, one of his lighter and more cheerful works, as “my little symphony in F.” It is more classical in structure and style than either the Sixth or Seventh symphonies, which were more revolutionary than the 8th. Written while Beethoven was trying to prevent his brother Nikolaus Johann from marrying, the score reveals none of the emotional turmoil that both were undergoing at the time.
Reicha became Beethoven’s friend when both played in the court orchestra in Bonn. Only a few of his wind quintets are known today, and his orchestral works, because they were never adequately catalogued, are almost never played. The Longmont Symphony is calling their performance of the Symphony in G “its premiere performance as a fully restored work after a very long 200 year wait.”
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Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
Anton Reicha: Symphony in G major (premiere of restored version)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 in F major, op. 93
7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23 Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum
The Colorado Chamber Players aim to transport listeners into the “Twilight Zone” for the Halloween season.
The program, subtitled “Strange and Supernatural Music of the Baroque,” will be presented in Denver (Oct. 21), Montclair (Oct. 22) and Broomfield (7:30 p.m. Broomfield Auditorium; details below). The music selected for the program has been incorporated into a musical and poetic hybrid theater work by John Harwell. Music will be performed by members of the Colorado Chamber Players, and narration and poetry recitation by actor Chris Kendall.
The Baroque era is usually defined as music of the 17th and early 18th centuries. Many of the works from this era, particularly music by Vivaldi, Handel and Bach, have become very popular today, but the word “Baroque” was not originally meant as a compliment. Meaning “bizarre” or “oddly shaped,” it was applied to music that broke from the patterns of Renaissance music in various unexpected ways. As such, programming of Baroque music for Halloween makes sense.
Some of the musical pieces portray grotesque subjects, such as Marin Marias’ Tableau de l’Operation de la Taille (A description of the operation of the stone) for bass viola da gamba and narrator. Others, like Henry Purcell’s Fantasia No 4 in E minor for viols, are included for their unusual and unsettling sound content.
Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill” Sonata for solo violin and bass is included for it’s legendary origin in a dream where the composer saw the Devil playing the violin. Other works on the program are by Heinrich Biber and Anthony Holborne.
Now in their 29th season, the Colorado Chamber Players have grown from a string trio in 1993 to a mixed ensemble of 10 players today. The versatile group includes a string quartet, string bass, flute, harp, piano, viola d’amore and voice. Located in Denver, they perform concerts, educational programs and broadcasts of collaborative chamber works throughout the Denver and front-range region.
Ars Nova Singers, Boulder Chorale and Seicento lay out plans for 2022-23
By Peter Alexander Oct. 12 at 2:52 p.m.
The Ars Nova Singers, the Boulder Chorale and Seicento Baroque Ensemble—three of Boulder’s leading choral groups—have distinct qualities, in terms of repertoire and performance style. All three groups have now announced their concert schedules for the 2022–23 season:
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Under director Tom Morgan, Ars Nova generally avoids the historical middle of standard repertoire, preferring music either side of the 18th and 19th centuries—the Renaissance or the 20th and 21st centuries. Their concerts are challenging to the singers, and can be equally so to audiences, but they are always interesting as well.
On Nov. 4 they will be the first of the three to present a concert this season (see time and place below). Their opening program is devoted to one of the most fascinating figures of the late Renaissance. Carlo Gesualdo, the Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza, was the composer of harmonically advanced, highly chromatic madrigals unlike anything else of their time. He was also known for having murdered his first wife and her lover when he found them together in bed, a fact that has not gone unnoticed in appreciation of his extreme music.
Performances of Gesualdo’s music are rare, as is often the case with Ars Nova programming, so this performance is worth noting.
One major event of the Ars Nova season will be the presentation in March of the world-touring British a cappella group Voces 8. Their two performances under Ars Nova’s auspices will be Wednesday March 1, 2023 in Macky Auditorium (7:30 p.m., details below) and Thursday, March 2, at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver (7:30 p.m.; tickets on sale Oct. 15). Please note that these are two separate programs. (details below).
Here is a full listing of the Ars Nova 2022–23 season:
“Wonder” Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director With Sandra Wong, violin and nyckelharpa, and Ann Marie Morgan, viola da gamba Carlo Gesualdo: Madrigals from Books 5 and 6
7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4 St. John Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov5 Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum
4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6 St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver
“Solstice” Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director With John Gunther, woodwinds Music for the Winter Solstice and Christmas
CORRECTION: The two programs by Voices 8 March 1 and March 2 were originally listed incorrectly. The correct information is “Choral Dances” on March 1 and “Lux Aeterna” on March 2, as now shown above.
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The Boulder Chorale is actually three different groups, and serves a role in music education as well as performance—in the words of the Web page, “for singers aged 5 to 85.” The Concert Chorale, the Chamber Chorale and the Children’s Chorale—the last divided by age into four different ensembles—perform separately as well as together. Under director Vicki Burrichter, the repertoire of the adult groups is eclectic, notably including world music, traditional styles from both European and non-European sources, and new works. As in the current season, their repertoire has often included work for chorus and orchestra.
Boulder Chorale opens their season Nov. 5, one day later than Ars Nova. Their opening weekends overlap, but you can easily plan to attend both. The chorale’s program is an example of their pursuit of world music. Titled “Origins: The Fertile Crescent,” the program highlights music from the Middle East and North Africa, including the Chorale’s own arrangements by Adam Waite of music from Israel, Afghanistan, Spain, Morocco and Syria.
Later in the year, the Chorale partners with the Longmont Symphony for performances of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 17) and a Messiah singalong (Dec. 18; details below); and with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra for performances of Beethoven’s Mass in C.
Here is the full listing of the Boulder Chorale 2022–23 season through April 2023:
“Origins: The Fertile Crescent” Boulder Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, conductor, with Catrene Payan, vocalist, and Middle Eastern instrumental ensemble, David Hinojosa,leader
4 pm. Saturday, Nov. 5, and Sunday, Nov. 6 First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce Street, Boulder, CO
“A Celtic Winter” Boulder Chamber Chorale and Concert Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, director, and Boulder Children’s Chorale, Nathan Wubbena, director
4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, and Sunday, Dec. 11 First United Methodist Church, Boulder 1421 Spruce Street, Boulder, CO
Handel’s Messiah Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor With the Boulder Chamber Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, director
CORRECTION: The concert “Story of My life,“ previously listed here, was included by error. That is a performance by the Boulder Children’s Chorales, and has been removed from this listing. Also, clarification has been added as to which of the three chorales is performing in each of the concerts.
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Seicento specializes in Baroque music of the 17th (“Seicento” in Italian) and 18th centuries performed with, to use the currently accepted language, “historically informed” performance practice, including period instruments. Today they are directed by the group’s founder, Evanne Browne.
Founded in 2011, Seicento launches its second decade in December with “Nöel: Christmas in the late Renaissance and Early Baroque” (December 2–4), a program that includes carols still familiar today as well as little known choral works. The major event of the season will take place in May, when Seicento will be joined by an orchestra of historical instrument performers to present Colorado’s first historically informed performance of J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion.
Here is the full listing of Seicento’s season:
“Nöel: Christmas in the late Renaissance and Early Baroque” Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Evanne Browne, conductor
7:30 p.m. Friday Dec. 2 St. Paul Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder
3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4 First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1500 9th Ave., Longmont
J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion (BWV 245) Seicento Baroque Ensemble and historical instrument orchestra, Evanne Browne, conductor
7 p.m. Friday, May 5 Arvada United Methodist Church, 6750 Carr St., Arvada
7 p.m. Saturday, May 6 St. Paul Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver
3 p.m. Sunday, May 7 Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder
The Longmont Symphony will open its 2022–23 season at with a concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 8) in the Vance Brand Civic Auditorium in Longmont.
Music director Elliot Moore will conduct the concert, which features a world premiere and guest artist Clancy Newman, cello. The world premiere, written specifically for the time after the COVID pandemic, will be Symphony for the Great Return by John Hennecken. Newman will play Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, the most popular cello concerto. Other works on the program will be Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and George Walker’s Lyric for Strings.
Hennecken’s Symphony is in three movements. The first, “Dark Spring Horizon,” represents the feeling in early 2020, when there was a sense of foreboding but the pandemic had not yet broken out widely. The second, “Windows,” uses the disparate sounds of solo violin and timpani to represent social distancing and sense of isolation during the pandemic. And the finale, “The Great Return,” was written during the upheaval following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and uses a variation on African-American composer George Walker’s Lyric for Strings, also heard on the program.
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor With Clancy Newman, cello
Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man
George Walker: Lyric For Strings
John Hennecken: Symphony for the Great Return (world premiere)
Season includes Beethoven cycle, Handel’s Messiah, world premieres
By Peter Alexander June 8 at 1:54 p.m.
The Longmont Symphony recently announced their 2022–23 season of concerts. The season features six mainstage concerts, three chamber orchestra concerts, and a Messiah singalong during the Holiday season (Dec. 18; see full season listings below).
The Beethoven symphony cycle will continue with Symphony No. 8 (Oct. 22 and 23), and other familiar orchestral repertoire will be represented by works of Dvořák and Sibelius. There will also be works by less familiar composers, including two world premieres, adding up to a season with intriguing discoveries to be made on most programs.
The first of the two world premieres is Symphony for the Great Return by American composer John Hennecken on the opening night of the new season, Oct. 8. With it on the same program are Dvořák’s familiar Cello Concerto, played by Naumburg Competition winner Clancy Newman, Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, and George Walker’s elegiac Lyric for Strings.
The next installment of the LSO’s Beethoven cycle will feature the Eighth Symphony, possibly the least familiar of the canonical nine symphonies (Oct. 22 and 23 in Stewart Auditorium). Sharing the same chamber orchestral program is a symphony by Anton Reicha, a contemporary and friend of Beethoven. An adventurous and experimental composer for his times, Reicha is little known today, but his work serves to fill in the context in which Beethoven worked.
The major work on the November mainstage concert (Nov. 19) will be Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major, a cheerful and upbeat piece that was written shortly before the composer’s 1892–93 visit to the United States. It will be preceded by three works that reflect the native American experience: Overture to the choral-orchestral Song of Hiawatha by the black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor; American composer Michael Daugherty’s Trail of Tears for flute, strings and harp, inspired by the forced removal of Cherokees from their homeland; and Chokfi’ (Rabbit) for strings and percussion by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, a composer who is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma. Flute soloist for Trail of Tears will be Brice Smith.
The LSO will celebrate the Holidays with a complete performance of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 17), followed by an audience-participation truncated Messiah “singalong.”
The new year begins with a family concert (“Painting the Orchestra,” Jan. 21, 2023), followed by an all-Sibelius program (Feb. 18, 2023). Sibelius is generally under-represented in orchestra repertoire now, so it’s good to have a complete concert of his music, even if the program sticks to his more familiar works—Finlandia, the Violin Concerto with soloist Judith Ingolfsson, and the Symphony No. 2 in D major.
March 18 and 19 will see the second concert of the “Made in America” series, opening with Alcancías (Penny banks) for chamber orchestra by the 20th-century Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas. Jason Shafer, principal clarinet with the Colorado Symphony and a previous soloist with the LSO, returns to play Copland’s Clarinet Concerto. Completing the program are Gershwin’s Lullaby and Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, written for piano as a tribute to the Baroque composer François Couperin and later transcribed for orchestra.
The season’s second world premiere will be the Symphony No. 3 by pianist/composer and CU, Boulder, alumnus Tyler Harrison. It will be paired with Tchaikovsky’s brooding Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique,” in a program titled “Darkness and Light” (April 15).
The 2022–23 concert season wraps up May 6 with a lighter program, “LSO Goes to the Movies,” featuring music by John Williams, Ennio Morricone and Hans Zimmer. Subscriptions are available through the LSO Web page. Tickets to individual concerts will go on sale Friday, July 29.
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2022–23 Concert Season Longmont Symphony Orhestra
“The Great Return” Elliot Moore, conductor, with Clancy Newman, cello
Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man
George Walker: Lyric For Strings
John Hennecken: Symphony for the Great Return (World premiere)
Longmont resident Michael Udow’s Ancient Echoes inspired by archaeological finds
By Peter Alexander April 24 at 12:15 a.m.
NOTE: I usually do not review ensembles that are not fully professional. This performance by the semi-pro Longmont Symphony rates an exception because it includes a world premiere, which always deserve media attention.
Last night (April 23) the Longmont Symphony Orchestra (LSO) gave the first performance of a piece that was inspired by archaeological discoveries in the state of Colorado. Michael Udow’s Ancient Echoes makes use of four stones discovered in Great Sand Dunes National Park and elsewhere in the San Luis Valley that archeologist Marilyn Mortorano discovered to be ancient lithophones, or musical instruments made of stone. (Read the full story here.)
Under conductor Elliot Moore, the LSO gave a careful reading of Udow’s atmospheric score. Soloist Anthony Di Sanza, once Udow’s percussion student at the University of Michigan, was all over the front of the stage, switching among four different percussion setups that included the four ancient stones, a modern mallet instrument with tuned granite bars—Udow’s personal creation for this one piece—a vibraphone, drums from North Africa and Japan, German cowbells and temple gongs, among other instruments.
There can be no doubt that Udow knows the percussion instruments intimately that he writes for. They were all used effectively, and Di Sanza gave a virtuosic performance on all of them. It was clearly as much fun for him running from one setup to another, as it was for the audience watching and listening.
The score opens with a dreamy, evocative passage that made good use of the quiet plinking sounds of the ancient stones. From there the score moves from one set of instruments to another, each representing a different culture or part of the world. The score is highly episodic, as each set of instruments brings forth its own musical style and mood.
Udow used the orchestra well, but did not resist falling into Hollywood-style Orientalist cliches to support some of the instruments, and I am not sure that his series of musical vignettes adds up to more than the sum of its highly individual parts. But the result is certainly a showpiece for the soloist, and one that may prove irresistible to other percussionists in the future.
Udow’s modern granite lithophone is bound for a percussion collection in Indianapolis, where it will be available for Di Sanza and other professional percussionists who wish to perform Udow’s score. With it containing so many fun licks, I would not dare to guess where we will hear it next.
Following a standing ovation, Di Sanza and his former teacher Udow gave an energetic handclapping encore that was great fun, if perhaps a minute too long.
For the rest of the concert, Moore led the LSO in first Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, and later to close the program Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. The Firebird performance had a strong expressive profile, capturing well the essence of each scene. There were some especially nice solos in the woodwinds, if a few issues of balance overall.
The Brahms was the least satisfying of the three pieces, needing better balance—again—and more rhythmic precision, especially within the string sections. In a modern concert hall and with modern winds, Brahms really needs a larger string section than most small-budget orchestras can provide, and that was the case here. But it should be noted that the LSO has grown in quality over Moore’e five years in Longmont, and Moore brought the symphony to an energetic conclusion. It was greeted warmly by the audience.
Michael Udow’s Ancient Echoes on Saturday’s program with Stravinsky and Brahms
By Peter Alexander April 21 at 7:10 p.m.
It’s not often that an orchestra premieres a piece with roots that go back 6,000 years.
Saturday (April 23) the Longmont Symphony and conductor Elliot Moore will do just that when they give the first performance of Ancient Echoes, a score by percussionist/composer and Longmont resident Michael Udow (see concert details below; tickets are available here).
Udow’s concerto for multiple percussion instruments will feature soloist Anthony Di Sanza playing instruments including one designed by Udow, based on ancient artifacts from Colorado that date back thousands of years. As part of the same piece, Di Sanza will play a variety of instruments from cultures around the world, including Indonesia, Japan and Korea. The concert program also includes Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Brahms’s Symphony No. 1.
Udow’s piece has a long backstory—although not quite 6,000 years. In fact it started around 2000, when archaeologist Marilyn Mortorano was doing consulting work at Great Sand Dunes National Park. The museum at the park has a number of ground stone artifacts, shaped roughly like baguettes, up to a two feet long, in their collection.
They had been found at archaeological sites throughout the park, including one that was standing up in the sand, and other sites in the San Luis Valley. In fact, Mortorano says, “Almost all the collectors (in the area) had them and they didn’t know what they were, and we didn’t either.”
They were carefully worked, but way too heavy to be used as grinding tools like the mano and metate sets found throughout the Southwest. But “somebody spent a lot of time making them,” Mortorano says. “It bothered me because I thought, why do we not know what these are?”
Then in 2013 she ran across a YouTube video from the Musée de l’Homme (Museum of man) in Paris, which had similar artifacts that French soldiers had brought back from Africa. At the time she had several of the Colorado stones for research purposes, so she was surprised when she learned that the stones in Paris produced a musical sound when tapped. (You can see and hear them here; narration in French.)
In fact a set of them was used for Paleomusique, written by French composer Philippe Fenelon. Those stones were used for a single series of performances in 2014, and then packed away for storage, never to be played again.
“I thought this is crazy,” Mortorano says, “but I’ll see if (the stones from Colorado) could be musical. My younger daughter is a percussionist, so she had a basket of mallets. I couldn’t believe it—they rang like bells!”
When Mortorano returned the stones to the museum at Great Sand Dunes the next day, she showed her discovery to Fred Bunch, the chief of resources. He was startled, and promised to support any further research that Mortorano could pursue with the stones.
“We don’t know how these were used, because we don’t know the whole context,” Mortorano says. “But we know now from studying lithophones (musical instruments made of rocks), they’re all over the world. They’re in Africa, they’re in Asia, they’re in South America, they’re even in Hawaii.”
In the meantime, Mortorano had talked to Colorado Public Radio’s Ryan Warner several years earlier, before she realized that the stones could be lithophones, who told her to let him know if she figured out what they were used for. She contacted him again after discovering their musical qualities and he did a new interview that was picked up by National Public Radio and noted on other national media.
And this is where Udow enters the story. When he heard about Mortorano’s research and the Colorado stones, he wanted to see and hear them. When he contacted Mortorano, he discovered that she only lived about two blocks from his home in Longmont. He went over for a visit.
“Marilyn and (her husband) Sal had them set up beautifully on a long table with a hemp chord set at the nodes so they get maximum vibration,” Udow says. “I played them and I went home and thought, this is really important. It shows the musical side of the creative human spirit from 6,000 years ago, and wouldn’t it be interesting to compose a work!”
The Longmont Symphony had previously played two pieces by Udow, so his next step was to contact LSO director Elliot Moore and propose a new piece for orchestra using the stones. When he met Mortorano and heard the stones, Moore became interested in the project, and eventually got a commitment from the LSO board to support a new piece from Udow.
“What I really have the privilege of getting to do is putting this all together,” Moore says. “You can have the idea to write a piece of music and you can find these ancient stones, but until there’s an orchestra willing to premiere this, it’s theoretical. I feel lucky that when I presented it to the Longmont Symphony, everybody said, ‘Let’s do it!’”
Udow realized that the more or less random collection of stones that had been found was not really suitable for a piece all by themselves. He decided he needed to create a new instrument that as well as possible duplicated the nature and sound of the ancient ground stones: a modern lithophone that was tuned to play with a modern orchestra.
This turned out to be a lengthy process, but one that paid off in the end. He visited granite quarries in Colorado, but none of them had stone that resonated well enough to be used in a musical instrument. He discovered that the best stone was absolute black granite from India, which fortunately he could get from Colorado manufacturers of granite countertops.
He ended up purchasing two slabs of black granite, only one of which had good acoustical qualities. He was able to have that one cut into bars of varying length, which could be tuned by delicately cutting and grinding the stone, using a circular saw with a diamond blade.
In the end Udow estimates he spent about $5000 of his own money for the granite, the shop time to produce the bars, the frame that holds them and special cases to protect the bars. But he ended up with a playable instrtrument.
The completed score is virtually a concerto for multi percussion with orchestra. Udow’s lithophone will be featured, along with a number of other instruments: a marimba, a vibraphone, gongs from Korea, drums from Japan, a bamboo rattle from Java and German cowbells. For the one performance Saturday, the soloist will also briefly play four of the original ancient stones before they are returned to their museum collection.
Udow decided to use instruments from other cultures because in his travels as a percussionist, he had played instruments all over the world and he wanted to capture not only the timelessness of the original stones, but the universal quality of music.
That also inspired Moore. “One of the main things that have kept me going is remembering that we’re bringing these things to life,” he says. “A fundamental human characteristic that we all share is, we love music. That’s been one of the great things about this whole process.”
The soloist for the performance, Anthony Di Sanza, is a former student of Udow who currently teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In fact, he will bring instruments that used to be Udow’s with him to fill out the solo percussion array.
One issue that Di Sanza will have to deal with is the width of the bars on Udow’s new lithophone. It turns out that the bars have never been standardized by percussion makers. “Michael sent me all of the dimensions of the instrument, including the overall length and height, and also the bar width,” Di Sanza says. “The bar width (of other instruments) can vary to small increments or great increments, so we get used to making that adjustment.”
Di Sanza has had at least some of the music since last summer. Talking by phone from his home last week, he reported “I am at the stage now where I’m playing through the piece, listening to the midi (digital recording). That’s really fun because there are three-and-a half different physical setups on the stage. I start at one place, move to a different place for another part, come back for a different part, move to a third setup.
“A particularly challenging thing is as you move from one place to the next, knowing here’s where I’m going next! So that’s really fun, and fairly common with multiple percussion in the western classical tradition. And we thought a lot about how the instruments are grouped, to make sure the audience could see into the setups, and see what’s happening.”
Moore selected the rest of the program to go with Udow’s piece, with some very specific reasons for both the Stravinsky and the Brahms. “I thought that Stravinsky’s Firebird, with the idea of the rising phoenix, was something that could work well with this concerto,” he says. “It was the idea of matching Michael’s piece with the Stravinsky where I thought we had a winning program.
“And the other thing (is), I haven’t done a Brahms symphony (in Longmont). We have a wonderful cellist that retired pre-pandemic, Carmen Olguin, and as she was walking offstage with me for the retirement, she said, ‘Elliot, if you ever program a Brahms symphony, would you let me come back and play it?’ And I said ‘Sure.’
“I’ve always had in my mind this woman who wanted to play a Brahms symphony so bad, and I never programmed one, and I thought this was a good time to do it. So she joined us again, for her first rehearsal in probably three years.”
Brahms’s First Symphony is very standard orchestral repertoire, but Moore says the audience will hear some new things Saturday. “We are looking at this with fresh eyes and fresh ears, and I think it’s going to feel fresh. We’re taking a direction that is little bit leaner and a little bit closer to what the score indicates, not über Romantic.”
“People are going to be interested to hear it if for no other reason, that reason.”
In case you wonder about the new instrument, Di Sanza will take it back to Wisconsin, and eventually take it to a percussion museum in Indianapolis where he and others can use it for performances. Udow also hopes that some day, someone else might want to write music for it.
“That would be a hope of mine, to share it,” he says.
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“Soundings: Past and Present” Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor With Anthony Di Sanza, percussion
Michael Udow: Ancient Echoes (World Premiere)
Stravinsky: Firebird Suite (1919 version)
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C major
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 23 Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont
NOTE: Effective immediately and until further notice, the Longmont Symphony no longer requires patrons to show proof of COVID vaccination, and masks will remain optional. This decision has been made with guidance from local, state, and federal officials.
Symphonies Five, Six and Seven provide musical “comfort food”
By Peter Alexander Feb. 24 at 10:56 p.m.
The Longmont Symphony Orchestra (LSO) and their conductor Elliot Moore continue their ongoing cycle of the nine Beethoven symphonies with their next two concert programs.
Symphonies Five and Six will be performed Saturday, Feb. 26 (7:30 p.m., Vance Brand Auditorium), and the Seventh Symphony will be performed alongside works by Haydn and Mozart Saturday and Sunday, March 12 and 13 (7 p.m. and 4 p.m. respectively, Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum; full programs below).
While Beethoven is just about the most frequently performed classical composer in the world, Moore points out that his symphonies have not often been performed in Longmont. When he first announced plans for the full cycle of all nine symphonies, he said “particularly the earlier symphonies of Beethoven have been underperformed here in Longmont.
“I think it’s important to understand how the Beethoven symphonies helped bring the symphony into its current form.”
He has always been clear that this is part of the educational mission of the LSO as a community-based orchestra. He has named two groups that will benefit: “One is the orchestra, the other is the audience,” he says. “I want (both groups) to experience the freshness of the classical style.”
First up in this next round of the cycle will be Symphonies Five and Six, performed Saturday, Feb. 26, as part of a program titled “Beethoven: A Portrait.” The Fifth Symphony, with its progression from the ominous opening four-note motive to the triumphant finale, has been taken as a symbolic expression of the composer’s own triumph over his deafness.
Because of the uplifting narrative, it has become one of the most familiar orchestral works for audiences everywhere. It has been recorded countless times, by all the great orchestras and conductors, but Moore has no hesitation in having the LSO bring the symphony to its local audience.
“I think it’s important that we know how to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,” he says of the orchestra. And of his opportunity to conduct a work that so may have led before him, he says “What allows me to feel OK is that I’ve spent so much time studying the score. That’s the only reason I have any right to get up in front of those people (in the orchestra).”
The Sixth Symphony is known as the “Pastoral” because it describes a day in the country, as the composer often experienced in his walks outside Vienna. The movement titles are “Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside,” “Scene by the brook,” “Merry gathering of country folk,” “Thunderstorm,” and “Shepherd’s song: Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm.”
Some literal details are embedded in the music, including the sounds of bird songs and the rumbling of the thunder. But Moore sees more than a series of picturesque scenes in the score. “I think that it’s religious music,” he says.
“Beethoven believed in a higher power, which he found in nature, which the ‘Pastoral Symphony’ reflects. How we are rehearsing, how we are bringing out a sound that matches the intent of the work—that is proving very meaningful for the musicians, and hopefully will be meaningful for the audience.”
The program scheduled for March 12 and 13 is titled ““The First Viennese School,” which refers to the three great composers who lived in Vienna just before and after 1800: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Opening the program is Haydn’s Sinfonia, or Overture, to his opera L’incontro improvviso (The unexpected encounter).
Moore expects this to be a fun piece to perform, because it is an example of a popular musical genre of the late 18th century, “Janissary music.” Based on the music of the Turkish military, Janissary music typically included drums, bells, cymbals, triangles and other percussion, which was not always fully written out.
“The conductor gets to work with the principal percussionist on what instruments are appropriate,” Moore says. “You have some freedom built in, so I think its going to be a lot of fun to come up with what’s in the style.”
Mozart is represented on the program with his Symphony No. 31 in D major, which was written in 1788 for the Concert Spirituel, a prominent concert series in Paris. At the time Mozart was hoping for a job in Paris, and so he made every effort to please the local audience. He incorporated a number of brilliant orchestral gestures that he knew would please the listeners.
“The audience was quite carried away,” he wrote afterwards to his father. “There was a great outburst of applause!”
The program concludes with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, a work filled with driving rhythms that is one of the most energized works of the time. Among other things, Moore says, it includes “the first time a triple fortissimo arrives in the orchestral repertoire—certainly in Beethoven’s symphonies.”
He believes that moment, near the end of the finale, should be the high point of the entire work. “You have to keep something in reserve for that moment,” he says.
Moore talks about another facet of the symphony that is not often described. “Beethoven wrote 179 British Isle folk tunes,” he points out. “I think that the folk songs played a pretty large role, especially for the finale of the Seventh Symphony. It sounds like a Scottish reel! I think that is reason that it has energy. It’s an extension of all the things that he had been doing.”
Moore has one more thought about performing so much music by a composer as familiar as Beethoven at this particular time. “There’s been so much trauma in the world in the past two years that I think there’s something about being comfortable,” he says.
“There’s a thing called comfort food, and I think that Beethoven is comforting.”
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“Beethoven: A Portrait” Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor
Dvořák’s “New World” and Barber’s Knoxville paired for “American Nostalgia”
By Peter Alexander Nov. 12 at 12:03 a.m.
Conductor Elliot Moore and the Longmont Symphony (LSO) will embrace “American Nostalgia” for their Masterworks Concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 13) at Vance Brand Civic Auditorium.
The concert will feature one of the most overtly nostalgic works in the orchestral repertoire, Samuel Barber’s warmly reflective Knoxville: Summer of 1915, paired with Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony. Tickets for LSO concerts are available here.
All LSO musicians, staff and volunteers have been vaccinated. Audience members eligible for COVID vaccinations must show proof of vaccination or medical exemption to attend the performance, and must wear face masks inside the building.
Moore says that he chose the program for Saturday’s concert while reflecting on people’s need to connect to the past in difficult times. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the need for nostalgia,” he says. “There can be feelings that the world is changing so fast, I’ve never seen this before.
“Somebody said to me recently, all that’s keeping me alive right now is looking back. People need a sort of old Americana and that is certainly what I feel through Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915.”
Barber’s score is written for voice and orchestra and will be performed by soprano Leberta Lorál with the LSO. The text is taken from the eloquent prologue to James Agee’s autobiographical novel A Death in the Family. The text is suffused with Agee’s wistful childhood memories of his family, or as Barber wrote, “it expresses a child’s feelings of loneliness, wonder and lack of identity in that marginal world between twilight and sleep.”
But beneath the nostalgic yearning for warm summer nights with the family there is also an undercurrent of foreboding in both text and music. Agee’s prologue takes place shortly before the tragic death of the book’s title, which is briefly referred to in the text and expressed in the music: “God bless my people . . . remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.”
We also know today that World War I was raging in Europe in 1915, and would soon pull Americans into the slaughter. And, Moore reminds us, “one could also say it’s before the Spanish flu”—something we all can relate to today.
Lorál has not sung the Barber before, but says she has loved getting into the score. “I’ve heard it but have never sung it before,” she says. “When I got approached about it, I looked at it and I was hooked on it. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is right up my alley! I love this!’”
She likes the nostalgia and the sweetness of the text and music, but she also has a personal feeling for the final part of the text, in which Agee reflects on his innocence and incomplete identity as a child. “After a while, I am taken in and put to bed,” he writes. “Those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home . . . but will not ever tell me who I am.”
“That line has really stuck with me,” Lorál says. “I know why it stuck with me. At birth I was adopted. I had a great relationship with my biological parents, and last month my birth mother passed, and I was there to see her.
“I was OK with whatever happened—that’s all good. So that last line, wow! It stuck with me. I took that and went back to the beginning to pull through the piece, all the way to the end.”
Moore wanted another work that reflects America’s past to go with Knoxville: Summer of 1915. “To tie that in with Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony, so that we can all feel something good—that’s important for a lot of people in today’s world, where we’re all facing so much,” he says.
The “New World” harkens back to what many Americans think of as a happier time in our history. Composed in the U.S. and premiered in Carnegie Hall in December 1893, the symphony is thematically linked with our culture. For example, scholars have shown that it was partly inspired by Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha,” which Dvořák had read in Czech translation.
While in this country, Dvořák also showed great interest in Negro spirituals, which were sung to him by one of his pupils, Harry T. Burleigh. Burleigh’s singing is likely reflected in the slow movement, with its spiritual-like “Goin’ Home” melody. Dvořák himself believed the symphony expressed something about America, and once said he would never have written it “just so” had he not come here.
Moore finds meaning in both the nostalgia of the program, and in sharing it communally. “People need that,” he says. “That’s an experience not only that we can offer, but that we can offer to people all at the same time.
“People need that kind of shared, uplifting experience that we’ve missed.”
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“American Nostalgia” Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, director With Leberta Lorál, soprano
Samuel Barber: Knoxville: Summer of 1915
Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E minor (“From the New World”)
Reduced orchestra will play works of Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss and Jessie Montgomery
By Peter Alexander Oct. 13 at 4 p.m.
Elliot Moore spent the pandemic listening to music. Many of us did, but Moore’s listening wasn’t just a way to pass the lonely hours. As conductor of the Longmont Symphony Orchestra (LSO), he was listening to symphonies by Joseph Haydn—not quite all 108 of them, but enough that he found the one that spoke to him.
That symphony—No. 96 in D major, known as “The Miracle”—will anchor the LSO’s next program, a concert for smaller orchestra to be presented in the Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17. In addition to Haydn’s symphony, the program will feature cellist Matthew Zalkind playing Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, “Starburst” by Jessie Montgomery, and Richard Strauss’ Serenade for 13 Winds. Tickets for the concert can be purchased here.
Haydn’s Symphony “just grabbed me,” Moore says. “I listened to countless of Haydn’s symphonies, just getting to know them, getting to know his orchestral world. First of all, I love it. What a creative symphonist! His level of creativity for the genre was astronomical. It blew me away.”
The Symphony No. 96 was given the name “Miracle” on the mistaken belief that it was the work by Haydn that was being played when a chandelier collapsed onto the floor during a concert the composer presented in London in 1791. It was actually another symphony, during a performance in 1795, where the audience dodged the chandelier when they all pressed forward to the edge of the stage. The name “Miracle” has stuck, and so Moore plans to celebrate a miracle of another sort with the performance.
“When you’re just getting back to in-person performances—to me, that’s the miracle,” he says.
The other major anchor piece on the program will be Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, usually known as the Rococo Variations, for solo cello and orchestra. A graceful and lyrical piece, the variations are not really Rococo in style. As Moore explains it, Tchaikovsky “takes the Rococo, the gestalt of it, and puts it in a very Romantic, Russian sort of way.” In other words, there are subtle nods to the highly decorated Rococo style of the 18th century in the theme, but the overall feeling of the piece is pure 19th-century Romanticism.
Zalkind teaches cello at the Lamont School of Music in Denver. A graduate of Juilliard and the University of Michigan, he is co-artistic director of the Denver Chamber Music Festival. He was awarded First Prize in the Washington International Competition, as well as top prizes in the Beijing International Cello Competition and Korea’s Isang Yun Gyeongnam International Competition.
The concert will open with Montgomery’s “Starburst.” A violinist and composer, Montgomery has found her compositions for string orchestra featured in numerous performances over the past year. Written for a small ensemble, they proved ideal for streamed performances during the pandemic, and they have been popular with both players and audiences1.
“She’s a string player, and she writes for strings very well,” Moore says. “Starburst is something I’m looking forward to, something that’s got high energy [to] open the performance.”
To balance the program by featuring the SLO’s winds as well as the strings, Moore chose Strauss’ Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments. Written when the composer was just 17, it is one of his earliest works. The score calls for four horns, reflecting the influence of the composer’s father, a noted horn player in the Munich court orchestra. The tuneful and generally lyrical single-movement Serenade also reflects the senior Strauss’ conservative musical tastes, which scarcely went beyond mid-period Beethoven.
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Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, director With Matthew Zalkind, cello
Jessie Montgomery: “Starburst”
Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33
Richard Strauss: Serenade for 13 Winds
Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 96 (“The Miracle”)
7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17 Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum TICKETS