CU Presents’ 2019–20 season features Grammy winners and nominees

Kronos Quartet returns, Eklund Opera presents It’s a Wonderful Life

By Peter Alexander April 4 at 4:15 p.m.

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CU Macky Auditorium

The coming season of CU Presents at Macky Auditorium will feature the return of the Kronos Quartet, not heard in Boulder since 2014; the first appearance here by A Far Cry string orchestra; and the combination return/first local performance of Jake Heggie’s and Gene Scheer’s opera It’s a Wonderful Life, workshopped at CU in June 2018 and now scheduled for a full production by CU’s Eklund Opera Program.

These and other music, dance and theater events have been announced as part of the 2019-20 season of CU Presents. The full schedule for the season is listed here; see a schedule of the music events below .

In addition to CU’s own Takacs Quartet in their annual series on campus, the Grammy winners on the schedule are Kronos Quartet and the Chick Corea trio. A Far Cry was nominated for Grammys in 2014 and 2018.

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A Far Cry sting orchestra. Photo by Yoon S. Byun.

Founded in Boston in 2007, A Far Cry is an adventurous string orchestra. They are a democratic, self-conducted ensemble in which decisions are made collectively and leadership rotates among the players—or “Criers,” as they like to call themselves. They were recently part of a commissioning project with pianist Simone Dinnerstein for Philp Glass’s Third Piano Concerto, which Dinnerstein played with the Boulder Philharmonic as part of the orchestra’s 2017–18 season.

A Far Cry will perform a new program for the tour that will bring them to Boulder on Feb. 8, 2020. Under the title “Memory,” the program will comprise works by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Elgar and Arvo Pärt.

Kronos

Kronos Quartet. Photo by Jay Blakesberg.

Over 46 years, Kronos Quartet has been known for the innovative programming and presentation of music for string quartet, and especially new works. More than 900 works have been written for Kronos, by composers from all over the world. Their extensive discography, including more than 40 studio albums, has its own Wikipedia entry that also lists compilation albums, video albums, film soundtracks, and Kronos’ contributions with other artists ranging from Linda Ronstadt to Nine Inch Nails.

Kronos has been nominated for a Grammy 11 times, and won twice. In recognition of the 2014 centennial of World War I, in 2014 they presented the film Beyond Zero in Macky. A reconstruction by Bill Morrison of film from World War I, Beyond Zero featured a score by Aleksandra Vrebalov played live by Kronos. For their performance at Macky in March 19, 2020, they will present a new program, “Music for Change: The 60s,” including a celebration of Pete Seeger’s music and a work inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Houston Grand Opera world premiere production of It’s a Wonderful Life

Heggie and Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera, with the San Francisco Opera and the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. The opera is based on the 1946 film of the same name, directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers.

The original production premiered in Houston Dec. 2, 2016, with subsequent performances in San Francisco and Bloomington, Ind. Prior to the premiere, the opera received workshop performances in Boulder in June 2016, through the Eklund Opera’s New Opera Workshop (CU NOW).

The Eklund Opera will present an all-new production of the opera Nov. 15–17, 2019, in Macky Auditorium.

Music events from CU Presents’ 2019–20 season are listed below:

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Artist Series at Macky Auditorium

Music events

Chick Corea Trilogy
with Christian McBride and Brian Blade
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019,
Bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade join Chorea for an evening of Corea classics and jazz standards.

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Nobuntu

Nobuntu
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30
“Nobuntu”—an expression meaning feminine familial love, humility and kindness—is the name of a female a cappella quintet from Zimbabwe that performs traditional Zimbabwean songs, Afro jazz and gospel.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19

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Natalie McMaster and Donnell Leahy

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy
“A Celtic Family Christmas”
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17

A Far Cry string orchestra
“Memory”
Music by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Arvo Pärt and Elgar
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020

Kronos Quartet
“Music for Change: The 60s, The Years That Changed America”
7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 19, 2020

Holiday Festival

Dec. 6-8, 2019
CU Boulder’s Holiday tradition featuring student choirs, bands and orchestras—along with faculty performers—in a concert of holiday favorites

Takács Quartet at Grusin Music Hall

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Takács Quartet

Chamber Series:
4 p.m. Sundays Sept. 8, Oct. 27, Jan. 12, March 8, May 3
Encore Series:
7:30 p.m. Mondays Sept. 9, Oct. 28, Jan. 13, March 9, May 4

4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11: The Takacs Quartet presents the Tesla Quartet

Eklund Opera Program

It’s a Wonderful Life
Music by Jake Heggie; Libretto by Gene Scheer
Nov. 15-17 at Macky Auditorium

The Marriage of Figaro
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte
March 13-15 at Macky Auditorium

Béatrice et Bénédict
Music and libretto by Hector Berlioz, based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing
April 23-26 at the Music Theatre

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Season tickets for these and other events presented by CU Presents are now on sale and my be purchased here. The complete listing of the CU Presents 2019–20 season, including dance performances and productions of the CU Department of Theater and Dance, may be found here.

 

 

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Kronos Quartet delivers powerful, disturbing, and inspired performance

By Peter Alexander

Kronos Quartet performing Beyond Zero. Photo courtesy of Kronos Quartet

Kronos Quartet performing Beyond Zero. Photo courtesy of Kronos Quartet

Kronos’ Quartet performance of Aleksandra Vrebalov’s Beyond Zero: 1914–1918, Wednesday night (Oct. 8) at Macky Auditorium, was the one of the most powerful concert experiences I can recall.

Commissioned by Kronos to mark the centennial of the beginning of World War I, Beyond Zero is by turns beautiful, disturbing, haunting and almost unbearably intense—as befits the subject, one of the most brutal and tragic events of human history. Kronos’ performance was an inspired feat of musicianship and athletic endurance: once begun, the music scarcely lets up until the very end, with harsh, rhythmic chords propelling the piece from climax to climax.

There are times that the music becomes almost unendurable in its intensity, but that again is an expression of a war that was literally unendurable for millions. How else can you put into music the suffering of a continent and the agony of the soldiers in the trenches, year after year? Like a visit to the battlefields, it is sometimes disturbing, but it is a vital and deeply moving experience that enlarges the soul.

Included in the performance are recordings that Vrebalov collected from the time of the war, including military commands, air raid sirens, inflammatory speech, the composer Bartók playing his own music, and ending with the chanting of Byzantine monks fading into deep silence. These imported sounds heighten the music’s impact.

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Still image from Bill Morisson’s film accompanying ‘Beyond Zero’

Beyond Zero is performed in front of a screen on which are projected archival films from the time of the war, restored by experimental film maker Bill Morrison. The film, most of it badly deteriorated, was scanned in high definition and includes both the original filmed images and the marks of deterioration—oxidation, discoloration and other forms of physical degradation. The sometimes ghostly images are evocative of a world long past, and in their imperfections are eloquent commentary on the war itself.

There are many images that will long remain with me, but I will mention just two: the opening sequence, in which a flickering blue fog of discolored film gradually reveals an approaching line of early tanks, which seems to symbolize the world’s gradual but inexorable descent into mechanized war; and a large group of uniformed men whose image is consumed by the loss of the crumbling film, much as an entire generation of young European men was consumed by the war.

The whole multi-media experience is far too much to grasp in a single performance. I didn’t know whether to watch the film, listen to the music, attend to the combination of music and captured sound, or simply admire the sheer hard work and technical accomplishment of the players. I for one will eagerly await the release of a DVD of Beyond Zero, so I can come to grips with all that it expresses.

Beyond Zero was the second half of a concert that also included a world premiere and an appearance by David Barsamian of Boulder’s Alternative Radio. The first half opened with Death to Kosmische by Nicole Lizée. Kronos’ first violinist, David Harrington, says that Death to Kosmische is “sonic fun,” but you would not get the whole joke if you didn’t know that “Kosmische” is a form of East German electro-pop music from the 1960s and ‘70s.

Knowing that, you hear the humor as the music sonically eats its own tail and ends in a burst of electronic distortion. Clearly, the composer was no fan of “Kosmische” music, and she revels in its death. Equally, Kronos relishes playing the piece, including a variety of electronic devices; their fun is infectious even if you don’t know what or whom is being threatened with death.

Kronos next played the world premiere of Speak, Time, an accomplished score by Yuri Boguinia, a young composer who grew up in Boulder and now lives in New York. The score is an episodic exploration of sounds from the quartet, all skillfully knitted together by Boguinia into a mostly-balanced whole. I say mostly, because some sections seemed overly long in relation to the rest, but the music, which seems to trace an unspecified narrative arc, is intriguing throughout.

David Barsamian of Boulder's Alternative Radio

David Barsamian of Boulder’s Alternative Radio

David Barsamian was introduced to the audience as one of Harrington’s “favorite persons.” He has worked with Kronos several times in the past, providing spoken texts over their playing. On this occasion Kronos played four songs from Turkey, Greece, Poland and Armenia—cultures deeply impacted by World War I—as an informal prelude to the second half of the concert. Barsamian gave thoughts relevant to the first three countries, and played a recording of his mother, a survivor of the First World War’s Armenian genocide, for the last.

Everything Barsamian had to say was articulate and appropriate for the occasion—although even in Boulder I don’t suppose everyone agrees with his left-wing point of view. Nonetheless, Harrington’s decision to bring him in for the performance strikes me as both meaningful and confounding. His words would have more impact if they were heard apart, without music that divided the attention and occasionally covered Barsamian’s voice. I for one would rather have heard the music—beautiful and touching folk songs that represent the kind of cross-cultural performance that Kronos does so well—and had time later to reflect on Barsamian’s literary contribution.

Kronos Quartet: David Harington, John Sherba, Sunny Yang and Hank Dutt. Photo courtesy of Kronos Quartet.

Kronos Quartet: David Harrington, John Sherba, Sunny Yang and Hank Dutt. Photo courtesy of Kronos Quartet.

One reason for Kronos’ commissioning of Beyond Zero is the fact that as a country, we have largely forgotten World War I. In comparison to World War II, the “good war” of the celebrated “greatest generation,” it hardly registers in our consciousness. And yet we still live in the world that was created by the barbarity of the war and blunders of the post-war peace process. Harrington wanted to remind us all of that, and in that context Barsamian has much to say. But I am not convinced that making an artistic performance into a didactic exercise serves either the music or the message being conveyed.

In the end, it is the music that matters. And because Kronos plays such exceptional and striking music, music that itself monopolizes our attention, it is easy to forget how good they are at what they do, and how their adventurous, passionate explorations have changed the musical landscape. Whether or not you like the music they play—and I admittedly don’t like everything they have done over the years—it is always worth hearing. From the most tender and gentle pieces to the most fierce and aggressive, Kronos crosses borders, explores limits, and takes us all along for the journey.

They have been doing this for 40 years now, and remarkably all but the cellist are founding members. Such longevity is remarkable, especially when you see how physically demanding some of their playing can be. Whatever they do, they do it with commitment and technical polish. Long may their adventure continue!

Boulder’s Barsamian joins Kronos Quartet for Oct. 8 concert at Macky

Concert will feature music commemorating the 1914 outbreak of World War I

By Peter Alexander

Kronos Quartet performing Beyond Zero. Photo courtesy of Kronos Quartet

Kronos Quartet performing Beyond Zero. Photo courtesy of Kronos Quartet

The Kronos Quartet, always bold, brings Boulder artists to Boulder for their appearance at Macky Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 8.

The concert will feature the world premiere of Speak, Time by Yuri Boguinia, who grew up in Boulder; and an appearance by broadcaster and writer David Barsamian, who founded Boulder’s Alternative Radio in 1986.

Barsamian will speak while Kronos performs songs from the early years of the 20th century. That performance will lead to the major work of the program, filling the second half of the concert: Beyond Zero: 1914–1918, a new multimedia work for string quartet and film that Kronos commissioned for the centennial of the outbreak of World War I.

Kronos

Courtesy of Kronos Quartet

Beyond Zero was written by Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and will be performed with film restored by experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison from extremely rare and badly deteriorated original films of the war.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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CU Presents: Kronos Quartet
Death to Kosmische by Nicole Lizée
World premiere of Speak, Time by Yuri Boguinia
Four songs from the time of World War I with David Barsamian
Beyond Zero: 1914–1918 by Aleksandra Vrebalov, with film by Bill Morrison
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 8, Macky Auditorium
Tickets