Boulder International Chamber Music Competition presents duos from around the world

Live rounds and winners concert will be open to the public, Thursday–Sunday

By Peter Alexander Oct. 9 at 4:10 p.m.

Twenty classical music duos are arriving in Boulder this week from all over the world.

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Dairy Arts Center, location of the Boulder International Chamber Music Competition, “The Art of the Duo”

They are coming for the second Boulder International Chamber Music Competition, “The Art of the Duo,” which will unfold in the Gordon Gamm Theater of the Dairy Arts Center Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 11–14. The duos (listed here) include standard duo pairings, including violin and piano, cello and piano; other common pairings, including flute and piano, clarinet and piano, trumpet and piano; and one surprising pair, accordion and piano.

They are arriving from many parts of the globe. There are contestants from South Korea, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, France, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria and Poland, as well as the U.S. and Canada.

All live portions of the competition are open to the public, with semi-final rounds Thursday and Friday, Oct. 11-12, the final round on Saturday, Oct. 13, and the winners’ concert Saturday, Oct. 14 (see schedule below). All performances will be in the Gordon Gamm Theater. Tickets for the four-day event, or for each individual day of the competition, are available through the Dairy Web page.

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Mina Gajić

The competition is the brainchild of its artistic director, pianist Mina Gajić, who put together the first competition in 2016. Like many music contests, it will be held every two years.

“With each new iteration of the competition we’ll be able to continue promoting this kind of competition [for duos], which is pretty rare in the classical music world,” Gajić says. “At the same time we’re promoting Boulder as an arts destination and bringing even more visibility to our cultural life that is already rich.”

Gajić has assembled a jury of three accomplished musicians to judge the live rounds, representing three different instrument families represented in the competition:

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    Jon Kimura Parker. Photo by Tara McMullen

    Pianist Jon Kimura Parker, an internationally recognized performer and director of the Honens International Piano Competition and Festival in Calgary;

  • Violinist Ani Kavafian, professor in the practice of violin at Yale University who has performed as soloist and chamber musician with leading ensembles around the world; and
  • Clarinetist Richie Hawley, who teaches at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, and appeared with the Boulder Bach Festival in Longmont in 2017.
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Ani Kavafian

“Our judges are some of my favorite musicians,” Gajić says. “They are world-class performers and teachers, equally as soloists and chamber musicians.”

The application process for the competition began last summer. The deadline was in July, after which a four-person panel—Gajić, Zachary Carrettin of the Boulder Bach Festival, plus the 2016 winning duo of cellist Julian Schwarz and pianist Marika Bournaki—heard to and watched more than 100 online application videos. After an intensive two-week period, the semi-finalists who would come to Boulder were announced Aug. 1.

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Richie Hawley

“I listened several times to all the videos,” Gajić says.“It’s a really big responsibility to be the one who says this duo can enter can enter, and this duo cannot, but that’s just the nature of a competition.”

Even narrowed down to the 20 semifinalists, two full days is a lot of music by duos. “Those are long days, but our audience is really devoted to this event,” Gajić says. “I was amazed how many people stayed the whole time in 2016. Audience members develop a relationship with the performers and want them to advance to the finals, to win a prize!”

As in 2016, the competition has commissioned a work to be performed by all contestants in the semifinal round. This year’s piece, “True Green,” is by Tomasz Golka, director of the Riverside (Calif.) Philharmonic and an accomplished violinist. It is an interesting challenge for the composer to write a piece that can be played by duos with differing instruments and sonic capabilities.

The challenge for the performers is to come up with their own interpretation of a piece they have never heard or seen before, and make it fit the individual character of their instrument. “It’s really great to hear the same piece performed 20 different ways, in 20 different instrumentations, 20 different interpretations,” Gajić says.

Like most musical organizations in U.S., the Boulder International Chamber Music Competition is supported by a combination of grants and individual gifts. “I have great support from the Boulder Bach Festival, who serves as the fiscal agent, so that is extremely helpful,” Gajić says. “And we get really great support from the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau, who have supported us in many different ways, because we bring valuable arts tourism to Boulder.

“We’re promoting the classical music scene here, and we’re also attracting contestants ages 18–35 who are discovering Boulder. This is an event where (young artists) can gain experience, see a beautiful town in the United States, win some substantial cash prizes, and get other performance opportunities.

“I would encourage anybody to come and experience this live, because it’s something really special, and it’s happening right her in Boulder.”

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The Art of Duo
Boulder International Chamber Music Competition

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Semifinal rounds:
2–5 and 6:30–9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11
3–5:30 and 6:30–9 p.m. Friday, Oc.t 12
See the full list of participating duos here.

Finalist rounds and announcement of winners
1–9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13

Final concert: Three prize-winning duos
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14

All performances in the Gordon Gamm Theater, Dairy ArtsCenter
Tickets available through the Dairy Arts Center Web page

 

Boulder Bach Festival announces 38th concert season

B-minor Mass will be performed on Veterans’ Day/Remembrance Day Nov. 11

By Peter Alexander May 24 at 10:20 p.m.

The 38thconcert season of the Boulder Bach Festival, 2018–19, will include a performance of the B-minor mass, one of the great masterworks of European music, as well as a chamber concert, a guest appearance by conductor Nick Carthy from CU, a dance performance with electric instruments, and the unveiling of a new/old piano, manufactured in Paris in 1845.

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Boulder Bach Festival Orchestra and Chorus, Zachary Carrettin, conductor

Also noteworthy will be the role of guest artists during the season, both as performers and as expert teachers of early musical performance styles, and the introduction of a Baroque orchestra and a Romantic orchestra as historically-informed performance ensembles.

The season was announced tonight (May 24) at the BBF’s final concert of the 2017–18 season. In a news release, the BBF’s director, Zachary Carrettin, commented: “The Boulder Bach Festival’s 38th season celebrates the influence of J.S. Bach across time and across cultures, and explores the musical dialogue with modern instruments, period instruments, electric instruments, and various vocal and choral forces. The guest artists contribute in performance, masterclasses, lectures, and more, adding to our rich cultural landscape.”

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Robert Hill

The season opens Sept. 13 with a chamber concert featuring harpsichordist Robert Hill, who teaches historical keyboards and performance practice at the Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, with Carrettin performing on Baroque violin and viola and the cello da spalla. The all-Bach program will include sonatas, a concerto, a suite, and the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor BWV 903. (See details of all concerts below.

The BBF returns to CU Macky Auditorium for a performance of the B-minor Mass on Nov. 11, Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth nations and Veterans’ Day in the U.S. The performance by the Bach Festival Orchestra, Chorus and soloists will be under Carrettin’s direction. Audience members will be given poppies, since World War I a symbol of soldiers lost in battle, and given the opportunity to place them on the front of the stage.

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Nicholas Carthy

Nicholas Carthy, music director of the CU Eklund Opera Program, will be guest conductor for performances Feb 14 and 16 by the BBF Fellowship Artists Baroque Orchestra. Titled “From London with Love,” the concert will feature Baroque music from England.

The BBF moves to the Dairy Arts Center April 5, 6 and 7 when the Venice on Fire electric Baroque instrument trio collaborates with 3rdLaw Dance/Theater to recreate “Obstinate Pearly,” first performed in 2014. Composers will include Barbara Strozzi, J.S. Bach and their contemporaries.

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1845 Érard piano

For the season finale May 23, the BBF will present a Romantic-era period instrument chamber orchestra accompanying pianist Mina Gajićin Chopin’s Piano Concerto #2 in F Minor. Past performances have introduced Gajić’s 1895Érard piano, and in this concert she will play her earlier Érard grand from 1845, an instrument built during Chopin’s lifetime. The orchestra will also perform Haydn’s Symphony No. 49 in F minor, “La Passione,” and the Fellowship Artists Vocal Ensemble will perform a motet by Brahms.

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Boulder Bach Festival
38thSeason, 2018–19

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Zachary Carrettin with cello da spalla

Gala opening concert
Robert Hill, harpsichord, and Zachary Carrettin, Baroque violin, viola and cello da spalla
Solo and duo works by J.S. Bach

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sep. 13
Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum

Dance of Life: J.S. Bach’s B Minor Mass
Festival Chorus and Orchestra, Zachary Carrettin, conductor
With Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano; Abigail Nims, alto; Peter Scott Drackley, tenor; and Ashraf Sewailam, bass

2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11
Macky Auditorium

From London With Love
Songs of love and passionate concertos
Boulder Bach Festival Fellowship Artists Baroque Orchestra, Nicholas Carthy, guest conductor
With Guy Fishman, cello; Szilvia Schranz, soprano; and Claire McCahan, mezzo-soprano

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, Broomfield Auditorium
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum

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3rd Law Dance/Theater

Obstinate Pearl
Venice On Fire electric instrument trio with 3rd Law Dance/Theater
Zachary Carrettin, violin; Gal Faganel, cello; and Keith Barnhart, guitar
Katie Elliot, choreographer
Music by Barbara Strozzi, Robert de Visée, J.S. Bach and others

7:30 p.m. Friday, April 5, 2019
2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6, 2019
7 p.m. Sunday, April 7, 2019
Dairy Arts Center

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Mina Gajic

The Romantic Period Orchestra and Piano
Boulder Bach Festival Fellowship Artists Chamber Orchestra and Vocal Ensemble
Zachary Carrettin violin/conductor, with Mina Gajic, piano
Colorado debut of 1845 Érard grand piano

Brahms: Es ist das Heil uns kommen her
Haydn: Symphony No. 49 in F minor, “La Passione”
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor

7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 23
Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder

Season subscription tickets available May 25

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2017: The Year in Classical Music

Some outstanding concerts, and some changes of leadership in Boulder

By Peter Alexander

With the year drawing to a close, it is time to look back at 2017. It has been a tumultuous year in many realms, including some aspects of Classical music. But before that, it is good to remember the outstanding musical experiences of 2017 here in the Boulder area.

Pro Musica

The year began on an expressive high point when Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and soloists Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano, and Ashraf Sewailam, bass, presented Shostakovich’s rarely-heard Symphony No. 14.

I wrote at the time: “This somewhat gloomy meditation on death is not often given live, partly because of the difficult assignments facing the soprano and bass soloists, but mostly because of the difficult subject matter. But it is a major statement from a great composer—what Katsarelis calls ‘a piece that needs to be heard’—and so the rare performances are to be treasured.”

The February visit of Deborah (Call Me Debbie) Voigt to Macky Auditorium will be a cherished memory for fans of the classical voice. Voigt Lessons, the superstar soprano’s candid retelling of her struggles with relationships, substances, and weight that clouded her career not only showed some realities of life at the top of the opera world, it also revealed the very human person beneath the superstar image. For both reasons, this was a meaningful event.

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Takacs Quartet

The Takacs Quartet always provides some of the year’s best performances. It’s hard to chose just one, but for 2017 I would single out their February concert including Beethoven’s Quartet in G major, op. 18 no. 2—performed while the Takacs was in the midst of a full Beethoven cycle at several venues—and CU music faculty Daniel Silver, clarinet, playing the Brahms Quintet in B minor, op. 115. An especially beautiful rendering of this beautiful work had at least one audience member in tears by the end.

March saw the arrival of another superstar in Boulder when Sir James Galway played at Macky Auditorium, and the departure of an important member of Boulder’s classical music community when Evanne Browne gave her farewell concert with Seicento Baroque Ensemble, the organization she founded in 2011.

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Boulder Phil at Kennedy Center

One of the biggest events of the year for Boulder performing arts was the visit in March of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Michael Butterman and Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance Company to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for the first annual Shift Festival of American Orchestras. The Phil repeated a concert they had given in Boulder a few days earlier, including the world premiere of All the Songs that Nature Sings by Stephen Lias and Copland’s Appalachian Spring, performed with Frequent Flyers.

An audience favorite of the festival, the Boulder Phil played to a sold out house. Butterman wrote the next day, “It was a peak experience for me, and, I think, for all of us at the Phil. . . . To be there with our orchestra, with that crowd and with that repertoire—it was something I shall never forget. We had a great sense of pride in representing our hometown.”

Several important changes of personnel were announced for Boulder classical scene in the spring. In April, Jean-Marie Zeitouni announced that he was stepping down as music director of the Colorado Music Festival. He will remain with CMF as principal guest conductor, and conductor/violinist Peter Oundjian will serve as artistic advisor for the 2018 season. Later the same month, James Bailey left his position as music curator of the Dairy Arts Center, to be replaced by Sharon Park.

Elliot Moore at Lake McIntosh - credit - Photography Maestro (1)

Elliott Moore

In May, Seicento Baroque Ensemble announced the appointment of Kevin T. Padworksi as artistic director, succeeding Browne, and the Longmont Symphony announced the appointment of Elliot Moore to succeed long-time music director Robert Olson.

The same month, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra wrapped up its 2016–17 season with its largest performance to date, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony presented in Macky Auditorium. The performance under conductor Bahman Saless was unfortunately the occasion of a protest by the anti-fracking group East Boulder County United. Seven members of EBCU blew whistles, shouted slogans and left flyers before the concert to voice their opposition to the orchestra having accepted a contribution from Extraction Oil & Gas.

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Olga Kern, photographed by Chris Lee at Steinway Hall.

Zeitouni proved to be anything but a lame duck conductor at the Colorado Music Festival. The 2017 season started at the end of June with an all-Russian program featuring exciting performances of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. On the same concert, one of Boulder’s favorite guest artists, pianist Olga Kern, gave scintillating performances of Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Other high points over the summer included the return of CMF’s founding director Giora Bernstein to lead a concert of Mozart, Zeitouni conducting Beethoven’s Ninth as the CMF centerpiece, and the visit of violinist Gil Shaham at the end of the summer season. Up in the mountains, Central City Opera’s Downton-Abbey-inspired Victorian-era production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte was one of the year’s highlights for opera lovers.

Another delight for the opera crowd came in the fall, with the CU Eklund Opera Program’s serio-comic production of Lehar’s Merry Widow. In November, Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra returned to its core repertoire with a lively concert featuring two youthful works for smaller ensemble: the Concerto for piano, violin and strings by the 14-year-old Mendelssohn, with violinist Zachary Carrettin and pianist Mina Gajić, and Janáček’s Idyll for Strings.

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Carrettin and Gajic

Carrettin and Gajić were featured performers in December when the Boulder Bach Festival gave one of its most intriguing and adventurous concerts in its increasingly adventurous schedule. With guest artist Richie Hawley, the program offered insight into the instruments and performance practices of the early 20th century, performed on Hawley’s 1919 Buffet clarinet, Gajić’s 1895 Érard piano, and Carrettin’s violin set up with strings typical of the period.

 

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For the classical music world outside of Boulder, the biggest news was certainly the intrusion of a long-overdue reckoning for sexual misconduct that is going on in our society generally. The first bombshell, not unexpected by people in the business but a bombshell nonetheless, landed Dec. 3 with the suspension of conductor James Levine from the Metropolitan Opera and other organizations, including the Boston Symphony and the Ravinia Festival. Accusations against Charles Dutoit, artistic director and principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, surfaced later in the month.

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James Levine

Both conductors are in the twilight of long careers. Rumors about Levine have been widely known in the classical music world; indeed I first heard them in the 1980s. Every music journalist I know has heard the same stories, but so far as I am aware, no one who experienced Levine’s assaults was previously willing to speak publicly. In the case of Dutoit, I had not heard the rumors, but I do know one of the women who spoke publicly about what happened to her, and I believe her unquestioningly.

As the controversy has swirled about the subject of sexual abuse, harassment and assault in classical music, several critics have written powerfully about the subject: Anne Midgette of the Washington Post, Jennifer Johnson of the Guardian, Andrew Riddles of Classical Ottawa to name three. Singer Susanne Mentzer has written about her personal experiences in the opera world for the Huffington Post, as has Dan Kempson for Medium.

There are certain to be more revelations. One major journalist has more first-hand information, with names including some of the of the most famous classical artists, and is preparing an article. I have no doubt that several men are nervously awaiting that story, or some other revelation that reveals past misdeeds.

Will this tidal wave reach Boulder?

It’s hard to say with certainty. I have spoken with many on the classical scene here, and the only rumor I have heard, from several sources, has been of inappropriate comments and behavior by one person, none of which reached the level of abuse or assault. “He might not have been hired today,” one person speculated, but as so often happens, the people who heard the comments preferred not to make an issue of it.

Another person told me he had never heard any rumor from the College of Music, so Boulder may escape the worst of this necessary but unhappy process. In the meantime, it is my wish for 2018 that society in general and the music world specifically create a safe environment, where powerful men do not feel free to behave like adolescent boys.

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Edited for clarity 12.31.17

Bach Festival’s ‘World Transformed’ features historical perspectives on familiar instruments

Piano, clarinet and violin in music of the early 20th century

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Bach Festival enters a new realm Saturday (Dec. 9), performing music from the early 20th century while demonstrating unusual historical perspectives on three familiar instruments: the piano, the clarinet and the violin.

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Mina Gajic’s historical piano from 1895

The concert will be at 7:30 p.m. in Longmont’s Stewart Auditorium (tickets). It will not be repeated elsewhere.

Each of the three will be subtly different from modern instruments, and each will be only one example of the many variations on the same instrument that have been heard, at different times and in different locations. So the concert will be both a musical program and a demonstration of the relationship between the music of a particular era and the instruments on which it is played.

Comprising seven pieces from the 20th– and 21st-centuries, the program reflects the BBF’s goal of “navigating the waters of music history with J.S. Bach as our compass.” It will follow several distinct threads from the early 20th century to works by living composers. Using different combinations of the three players, the program will be:

—Alban Berg’s Four Pieces for clarinet and piano (1913);
—Berg’s Piano Sonata (1908);
—George Antheil’s Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano (1923);
—Béla Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances (1915, later arranged for violin and piano);
—William Bolcom’s “Graceful Ghost Rag” (1970, also arranged later for violin and piano);
—Charles Ives’s Largo for violin, clarinet and piano (1902); and
—The world premiere of “Prelude and Hardboiled Fugue” by Arthur Gottschalk, written for this specific trio of players.

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Zachary Carrettin

“There’s no piece longer than 10 minutes on the program,” Carrettin says. “I really wanted to tell short stories, each one being distinct in its tonal language, in its rhythmic drive and its abstraction, so that we could focus on the special qualities of each instrument.”

It was Hawley’s clarinet that inspired the concert. “A year ago I was judging the Art of the Duo Competition (in Boulder),” Hawley says. “We were talking about (Gajic’s) Érard piano and what music would go with it. I said, ‘I would love to hear some of the music that was written for the clarinet, with the instrument of the time and the piano of the time.’”

That idea led to Saturday’s concert, which will be Hawley’s first public performance on his vintage clarinet.

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Richie Hawley with a modern clarinet

Hawley found the clarinet 27 years ago when he was a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. He was looking for old clarinet mouthpieces, which often have qualities that he likes. He found an old instrument in an estate sale and bought it for $35 in order to get the mouthpiece. But when he opened the case, he was disappointed to see that the mouthpiece looked new.

It was his teacher, Donald Montanaro of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who realized what Hawley had. “He said, ‘No, that’s a vintage mouthpiece from the ‘20s and it’s never been played!’” Hawley explains. “He said ‘‘This clarinet is brand new.’ So someone had this amazing professional clarinet, top of the line from 1919, and never played on it.”

He had the clarinet restored to playing condition, but never found much use for it until he realized how well it would match the 1895 piano. “The fingerings are the same as now, but the sound is dramatically different,” Hawley says. “It has a very dense, compact, small sound, and it doesn’t project like the modern instrument.”

He has not had a chance to play with Gajic on her 1895 piano, or with Carrettin, until this week. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like to hear these instruments together,” Hawley says. “It’s going to be a very, very steep, yet mandatorily fast learning curve.”

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Parallel strings in the Érard piano

This will not be the first time Gajic has brought her piano to Longmont for a BBF concert. Because the instrument is straight strung—meaning all the stings run parallel, unlike modern pianos that have bass strings that cross over the others—it has a very clear, transparent sound that is subtly different in different registers. This matches well with the clarinet’s compact sound. (Read more about the piano here.)

Carrettin explains that there were several different types of violin strings available before the 1960s, when the nylon core string was developed. These included pure gut, gut wound with metal alloy, and steel, all of which are available today from specialist string makers.

“There are a lot of options in a historical setup,” he says. Depending on the type chosen for each of the four strings, “violinists had the option of treating each string as a voice, or having two registers, perhaps and alto and tenor if you want to think about it that way, with two strings in each register.

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From left: Three wound gut and one steel string on Carrettin’s violin

“The string choices on different violins will determine how homogenous the tone is across the four strings, or how much the registers are distinct from one another. What I have chosen to do is three strings with a gut core wound in an alloy, and then a top string of steel.”

Carrettin sees several themes that run through the program. With the inclusion of the Bartók Romanian Folk Dances and the modern rags, one of those is dance., which is the basis of much of the music of Bach and other Baroque composers. “I wanted to have some very obvious dance music on this program that did not come out of the Baroque,” he says.

Ragtime is also connected to the music of Antheil, “an American in Paris in the 1920s hanging out with Stravinsky and Ezra Pound. The reason I thought of adding the ‘Graceful Ghost Rag,’ which is tonal and beautiful and melodic, was to connect to these abstract ragtime moments in the Antheil.”

Another theme is the connection among teacher and student in Carrettin’s own life. Gottschalk, whose world premiere will close the concert, was Carrettin’s composition teacher, and a student of Bolcom. What’s more, the violin-piano version of “Graceful Ghost” was written for one of Carrettin’s violin teachers, and an earlier version of Gottschalk’s was written for another.

“There’s a lot of personal connections for me here in my life, as a student and as a musician,” he says. But more important is the kaleidoscopic variety of the program he has put together.

“As we program more and more chamber music on the Bach Festival, my goal is to offer programs that are distinct,” Carrettin says. “I’m hoping that (this concert has) something for everyone. It has consonance, dissonance, abstraction, melody, surrealism. It has dance, it has song, it has banging on the piano, and it even has drums at one point.

“It’s kind of got everything, and that was the idea.”

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A World Transformed
Boulder Bach Festival
Mina Gajic, 1895 Érard piano; Richie Hawley, 1919 Buffet clarinet; and
Zachary Carrettin, gut-string violin

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9
Stewart Auditorium, Longmont

Tickets

 

 

Boulder Chamber Orchestra and soloists delight with rare, youthful works

Performances of music by Mendelssohn and Janáček were ‘charming and expressive’

By Peter Alexander

Last night (Nov. 10), Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra gave charming and expressive performances of two little known works: Mendelssohn’s Concerto for piano, violin and strings, written when the composer was 14; and Janáček’s Idyll for Strings, written when the composer was 24.

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Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. Photo by Keith Bobo.

Both scores have been eclipsed by greater works that came later in the composers’ careers. But last night’s performances were refined and stylish, making a case for the Concerto and the Idyll.

The program and others this year mark a return to genuine chamber orchestra repertoire for the BCO, after an excursion into the large-symphony realm last year. This is a good decision: the BCO sounded better and more comfortably at home with these two works than ever. It is one the best concerts I have heard them give.

Zachary & Mina

Zachary Carrettin and Mina Gajic

The soloists for the Mendelssohn, pianist Mina Gajić and violinist Zachary Carrettin, ripped through their often-virtuosic parts, tossing off Mendelssohn’s adolescent show-off riffs with aplomb. The young Mendelssohn was clearly drawing on classical models for structure and syntax, but he did not hesitate to use more dramatic Romantic gestures for the solo parts.

For example, the Concerto opens with a Mozartian introduction that would not be out of place in the catalog of any Classical composer. The piano then seems to drop in from another planet—call it the world of heroic soloists—entering with stentorian chords and flamboyant arpeggios. Gajić played with complete command, and was matched by Carrettin’s flourishes on the violin.

The mixture of styles is especially evident when Mendelssohn begins to develop his carefully balanced melodies, spinning off into unexpected keys and sudden changes of mood. Writing for himself to perform on piano with his violin teacher, he seems unable to resist showing everything he can do with the material.

Much of the slow movement is a Romanza for the two soloists, which provided some of the best moments. The Finale bounces between light-hearted jollity and stormy outbursts of passion, much as we can imagine the 14-year-old Mendelssohn doing with his own playing. Gajić and Carrettin followed Mendelssohn through every twist and turn, matching one another note-for-note through all the movement’s many scampering scales and runs.

bsaless.1.Keith Bobo

Bahman Saless: Czech in a former life?

Saless and the BCO came into their own with the Janáček Idyll, a suite of seven movements marked with the sweet melancholy and dance rhythms of Czech folk music. Saless spends part of every year in Prague and has said that he must have been Czech in a previous life.

If so, his performance of the Idyll was clear evidence of his identification with Czech culture. His interpretation was sensitive and deeply expressive throughout. Apart from an occasional muddiness in the lowest parts—likely due more to the venue than the players—the performance was exemplary. Though little known, the Idyll contains music of unexpected beauty.

The performance will be repeated, tonight at 7:30 in Boulder’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Both pieces are well worth hearing: the Mendelssohn is a delightful glimpse of a young genius at play, brought delightfully to life, and the Janáček is filled with wistful beauty, played with deep expression.

You can order your tickets here. You won’t be sorry.

Youthful works form the Boulder Chamber Orchestra’s program Nov. 10 & 11

Music by Mendelssohn and Janáček with soloists Mina Gajić and Zachary Carrettin

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) calls its current season “Fourteeners,” in honor of the their 14th season and their goal of “reaching new heights.”

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BCO and Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bobo.

It may or may not be a coincidence, then, that conductor Bahman Saless chose a piece by the 14-year-old Mendelssohn for the next concert, to be performed Friday in Broomfield and Saturday in Boulder (Nov. 10 and 11). The program features pianist Mina Gajić and violinist Zachary Carrettin playing Mendelssohn’s Concerto for piano, violin, and strings from 1823.

Joining the Mendelssohn on the program is another youthful piece, the Idyll for Strings by Leoš Janáček, written when the composer was 24—a relatively young age for someone who lived and worked into his 70s.

Mendelssohn’s concerto is a youthful work, but it should not, Saless maintains, be considered an immature piece. “It gives the audience the chance to see the charm that you find in early Mendelssohn, and quite frankly his genius at that age,” he says. “It’s a pretty fascinating snapshot of what he was able to do at the time, and what he will be doing later.”

Carrettin agrees. “It’s an early work, but not that early,” he says. “He wrote it at 14, but at 16 he wrote the String Octet, which is considered by all to be a complete, mature masterpiece. In these two years, Mendelssohn becomes a fully formed master composer.”

Zachary & Mina

Zachary Carrettin and Mina Gajic

Gajić and Carrettin are known for their historically informed performances with the Boulder Bach festival, of which he is the artistic director. The performance with Saless and the BCO will be entirely on modern instruments, including the piano, but Gajić and Carrettin, who are married to one another, have been practicing the concerto at home with their own historical pianos and violin bows. Using instruments from Mendelssohn’s time, they have found, gives insights into the music.

One of the pianos that they rehearsed with dates from 1845, during Mendelssohn’s lifetime. “It’s just a whole world of colors and possibilities for phrasing that come naturally on an instrument like this,” Gajić explains. “Because they’re so related to the instrument’s nature, it’s revealing to look into special colors, timings, pedaling. It’s wonderful to see how certain pieces unlock themselves on a piano like this.”

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The 1845 piano that Gajic and Carrettin have used for rehearsals (photo by Peter Alexander)

“Every time we go back to the 1845 (piano) in rehearsal, it reveals something that the other pianos didn’t reveal,” Carrettin adds.

One difference using earlier pianos and bows is tempo. To Carrettin and Gajić it feels right to play faster on the older, lighter instruments. “For us, the later the instrument, the more resonance, the thicker the sound, the more we find that if we go just a couple of clicks slower, the sonorities make more sense with the character of the music,” he says.

That character, Carrettin explains, falls between the Classic and Romantic styles. “It has a little bit of tension between classical rhetoric and Romantic expression,” he says. “There’s a sense of walking between two worlds at a particular time in history, which I love.”

The score combines expressive melodies with virtuosic flourishes, all in a chamber music texture of exchange between soloists and orchestra. “It’s really exciting to bring the chamber music aspect into a concerto,” Gajić says. “We’ll have a great time performing with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra.”

Saless is equally excited. “It’s always a pleasure and an honor to work with Zachary and Mina,” he says. “It’s a charming piece, and performing with a husband and wife couple also makes it intriguing, because it’s like the violin and piano could be one instrument.”

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Bahman Saless. Photo by Keith Bobo

Saless and the BCO played the Janáček Idyll before, and it’s a piece that he feels a special connection with. “The first time I conducted it was in the Czech Republic and I fell in love with it,” he says. “It’s such a [cultural] identity piece, especially the last movement that brings this absolute joy of Czech culture. I think if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I was Czech in my last life!”

We think of Janáček as a 20th-century composer, because his best known works were composed after 1900, but the Idyll was written in 1878, more than 20 years before the new century. The first performance was heard by Dvořák, a friend of the younger composer who is often cited as an influence on the Idyll. But Saless isn’t sure about the influence.

“It’s hard to say if it’s Dvořák’s influence or just Czech influence,” he says. “Because it’s so Czech, it sounds like Dvořák.”

Some of Janáček’s later and better known pieces are fairly complex and spiky, but the Idyll is very straightforward. “It’s much more approachable,” Saless says. “It’s a suite of seven movements like folk songs, and that’s really all it is. It’s pretty simple.”

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to play, however. “There are some parts that are just impossibly hard,” Saless says. “There are some really hard cello parts. I’ve done quite a few Janáček pieces in the Czech Republic, and every orchestra complains how hard it is.”

The difficulty of the string writing probably reflects Janáček’s training as a pianist and organist and not a string player. “My guess is that he was so young that he was writing more as a composer that was not so familiar with the limitations (of the instruments),” Saless says.

“Having said that, it’s just gorgeous. Don’t miss it!”

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BCO Logo 2016

Idyllic Mendelssohn
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Mina Gajić, piano, and Zachary Carrettin, violin

 

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10
Broomfield Auditorium, 3 Community Park Rd., Broomfield

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11
Boulder Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder

PROGRAM

Mendelssohn: Concerto for piano, violin, and strings
Leoš Janáček: Idyll for Strings

Tickets

From ‘Bachtoberfest’ to Carnival in Brazil, Boulder’s musicians plan celebrations

Boulder Bach Festival, Boulder Chorale announce 2017–18 seasons

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Bach Festival and Boulder Chorale have announced their 2017–18 seasons, with globe-trotting celebrations from “Bachtoberfest” to Brazil to Venice.

imageOf the two, the Boulder Bach Festival (BBF) gets underway first with the “Bachtoberfest” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday , Oct. 12 in Boulder’s Seventh Day Adventist Church. The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, in Longmont’s Stewart Auditorium.

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Soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg

The concert—which actually has nothing to do with beer—will feature four guest soloists: violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock from the faculty of the Juilliard School; Guy Fishman, principal cellist of the Handel-Haydn Society of Boston; Chris Holman, historical keyboardist of the Bach Society in Houston; and Dutch soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, who has appeared with the BBF several times in the past.

Violinist Zachary Carrettin, artistic director of the BBF will also play on the concert of 18th-century chamber music. The program includes trio sonatas and arias by Handel, Vivaldi, J.S. Bach and Telemann.

A particularly interesting item on the program that continues the BBF’s exploration of historical rarities is listed as a “Keyboard Concerto in G major” by Johann Christian Bach, arranged by Mozart. Known as “The London Bach” for having had a very successful musical career in that city, Johann Christian was the youngest of J.S. Bach’s sons. Mozart visited London while on tour with his family during the years 1763–66, when he was seven to 10 years old. He became friends with Bach, around 30 at the time.

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Johann Christian Bach, portrait by Thomas Gainsborough

In order to learn how to write concertos, the young Mozart arranged three of Bach’s solo sonatas as concertos by adding passages for orchestra. These arrangements were originally included in Mozart’s works under the listing K107 nos. 1–3; the Concerto in G major is the second of the three. Rarely performed, because they are not strictly “by” either J.C. Bach or Mozart, they are nonetheless fascinating historical documents, revealing the young composer’s learning process.

There are two new scheduling features for BBF’s 2017–18 season: Boulder performances will all be on Thursdays, to avoid conflicts with other performing organizations; and the performances will be split between Boulder’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church and Longmont’s Stewart Auditorium. Some concerts will be presented in both venues, and others only in one or the other.

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1895 Érard piano

For example, the second event on the season, a concert titled “A World Transformed,” will only be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, in the Stewart Auditorium in Longmont. The performance will feature Mina Gajić performing on her 1895 Érard grand piano together with Richie Hawley performing on a 1919 Parisian clarinet and Carrettin playing a  gut-string violin. They will play music of the early 20th century by Bartók, Ives, Berg and Antheil.

Likewise, the major Bach performance of the year will only be presented once, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15, in Boulder’s Seventh Day Adventist Church. Titled “The Eternal Spirit,” the program comprises four of Bach’s great sacred cantatas. Zachary Carrettin will lead the BBF Chorus and Orchestra with vocal soloists Josefien Stoppelenburg, soprano; Abigail Nims, mezzo-soprano; Derek Chester, tenor; and Ashraf Sewailam, bass-baritone.

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Flutist Ismael Reyes

The final concert of the season will honor the musical heritage of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, with music by  prominent Venetian Baroque composers: Antonio Lotti, Giovanni Gabrieli, Tarquino Merulo and Antonio Vivaldi. The concert will end the season with one more piece by J.S. Bach, the Orchestral Suite in B minor with Ysmael Reyes playing the flute solos.

You can see the full Boulder Bach Festival season here.

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Dec-2014-BC-adults

The Boulder Chorale (BC) opens its 52nd season with “Carnival Brazil,” at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, in Boulder’s First United Methodist Church. Titled “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” this will be BC’s ninth season combined with the Boulder Children’s Chorale and the third with artistic director Vicki Burrichter.

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Ginga

Carnival Brazil (Oct. 28) will see the BC sharing the stage with the Brazilian-music band Ginga and the Bateria Alegria, the percussion ensemble of the Boulder Samba School. That is only the beginning of the collaborative performances in a season that the BC is describing as “an adventurous exploration of different genres.”

The BC will be joined by JAMkeyJAM, a duo of Nepalese musicians who aim to combine ancient traditional music with contemporary sounds, March 10 and 11. The joint program, “Between Heaven and Earth,” will include a performance of Eliza’s Gilkyson’s Requiem, written in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

© Glenn Ross | www.glennrossphoto.com

Vicki Burrichter

Later the same month, the chorale will appear with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem (March 30 in Broomfield and 31 in Boulder), and they will close out the season May 19 and 20 with Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts, performed with a jazz combo.

 

The full Boulder Chorale season, including ticket information and performances by the Boulder Children’s Chorale not mentioned in this article, can be found here.

NOTE: Typos corrected 9.8.17