Pro Musica’s ‘Heart of Hungary’ puts the spotlight on a world premiere

New Violin Concerto by Jeff Nytch will feature Edward Dusinberre as soloist

By Peter Alexander April 13 at 5:20 p.m.

Some stories just have to be told.

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Jeff Nytch. Courtesy of CU Photo Archive.

That is what composer Jeffrey Nytch thought when he heard about Sandor Feher, a violinist on the cruise ship Costa Concordia who died going back to retrieve his violin when the ship sank off the coast of Italy in 2012. “I heard this story and I was just incredibly moved by it,” Nytch says. “I felt that I had to respond to it in a musical way.”

The world premiere Nytch’s musical response, his Violin Concerto: Costa Concordia, will be presented by violinist Edward Dusinberre with the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and conductor Cynthia Katsarelis. Performances will be Friday (April 13) in Cherry Hills Village and Saturday (April 14) in Boulder.

Pro Musica will also perform Bartók’s Divertimento for Strings both nights.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With Edward Dusinberre, violin

Jeffrey Nytch: Violin Concerto:Costa Concordia(World Premiere)
Béla Bartók: Divertimento for String Orchestra

7:30 p.m. Friday, April 13
Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Avenue,Cherry Hills Village
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14
Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder

Tickets

Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra celebrates Reformation, women composers

New concert location in Boulder, Mountain View Methodist, offers convenient parking

By Peter Alexander Feb. 5 at 6:00 p.m.

Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, because it was a major turning point in European history—and because, she says, “there’s not that much for a classical symphony to celebrate 500 years!”

True enough: orchestral music only goes back a little more than 300 years.

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

Cynthia Katsarelis, Pro Musica celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

The theme of the program goes beyond the Reformation itself to the idea of “liberation,” by which Katsarelis means freeing the mind from old ways of thinking. “In the big arc of history, the Reformation was a turning point in terms of people being able to follow their conscience,” she says.

The concert celebrates the anniversary of the Reformation through J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 80, based on the Lutheran chorale tune Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (A might fortress is our God), with words by Martin Luther. St. Martin’s Chamber Choir joins Pro Musica for the cantata, one of Bach’s most significant sacred works. Soloists will be soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, alto Leah Creek Biesterfeld, tenor Steven Soph and baritone Adam Ewing.

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St. Martin’s Chamber Choir

Other works on the program will be “Raucous Rumpus: A Fanfare” from Dance Card by Jennifer Higdon; Haydn’s Symphony No. 85, nicknamed “La Reine” (The queen); and the world premiere of “Marantha” by Elena Specht, winner of the CU Composition Competition.

The Boulder performance will take place in a location that Katsarelis has chosen as an ongoing venue for Pro Musica: The Mountain View Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place in Boulder, which has its own parking lot—a welcome convenience in Boulder.

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Jennifer Higdon

Higdon’s complete work Dance Card comprises five dance pieces, of which Pro Musica is doing the first, “Raucous Rumpus,” to open the concert. “It pretty much sounds like the title,” Katsarelis says. “It’s fast and fun and it’s very conversational between the sections of the string orchestra. The movements all make really good concert openers or closers, so I think we will end up doing them all over time.”

Higdon’s music relates to the title of “Liberation” in two ways, she says. “Higdon’s style uses jazz inspired things, and you didn’t do those dances in polite society at one time, and also being a woman composer. I would say that the inclusion of Jennifer Higdon’s piece and Elena Specht’s piece, are part of the liberation.”

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Joseph Haydn

“La Reine” is at least the sixth or seventh Haydn symphony Pro Musica has presented. Haydn’s works are “the core of our repertoire,” Katsarelis says. “Everything came out of this, in terms of symphonic writing. What’s so interesting, is that he wrote so many (symphonies) but they don’t all sound alike. This one is a beautiful, charming piece.”

One of Haydn so-called “Paris Symphonies, No. 85 was written around 1785 for performance in the French capitol. The title comes from the fact that it was supposed to have been a favorite of Marie Antoinette. It includes numerous references to French musical style, including variations on a French folk song, Ma gentille et jeune LisetteI (My lovely young Lisette).

Bach’s Cantata No. 80 calls for a small orchestra with four-part chorus and four vocal soloists. It is not an easy assignment for the singers, as their parts are complex, often chromatic, and highly contrapuntal. But Katsarelis feels she has the ideal partners in St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, a highly selective, professional, vocal group in Denver.

“We love working with St. Martin’s,” she says. “It’s always a very happy collaboration, with really beautiful musical results.”

Although Bach’s cantatas don’t often get performed in concert settings,  Katsarelis would like to do more of them. “The cantatas are just so fabulous,” she says. “These are just gems of the repertoire that should be played.”

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Elena Specht

Specht’s piece was written as a companion piece to the Bach. Katsarelis says that the connection between the two works is conceptual, and does not involve any direct quotes of Bach’s music. “Specht calls Marantha the story of hope and the ultimate victory of goodness,” Katsarelis says. “It’s a short piece, and it does a very good job of exploring darkness and light. The darkness and light motive is also very, very prevalent in the Bach: the victory over Satan and sin.”

The duality is reflected in the title Marantha (sometimes written “Maranatha”), an Aramaic word that can be translated either as “Come, Lord” or more positively, “Our Lord has come.” In her program notes, Specht connects this binary division of meaning to the modern world, as “the destructive forces of natural disasters alongside the astounding beauty of the natural world, and incomprehensible acts of evil side by side with bravery, compassion and kindness.”

Katsarelis applies that theme to the concert as a whole. “It’s a concert that takes us through darkness and light, and what the Higdon does is add American optimism,” she says. “The experience of the concert will be a kind of a liberation of spirit and mind for one evening.”

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Liberation: From the Reformation to Haydn to Higdon
Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With St. Martin’s Chamber Choir
Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano; Leah Creek Biesterfeld, alto; Steven Soph, tenor; and Adam Ewing, baritone

Jennifer Higdon: Dance Card
Elena Specht: Marantha (CU Composition Competition winner, World Premiere)
Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 85 in B-flat major, La Reine
JS Bach: Cantata No. 80, Ein feste Burg is unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress is our God)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9, Bethany Lutheran Church, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder

Tickets

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.

Olga Kern

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

“Happy Concert” opens Pro Musica Colorado’s 2017–18 season

Music by Ravel, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Stravinsky performed with energy, enjoyment

By Peter Alexander

The Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra opened their 2017–18 season last night (Oct. 21) with a program conductor Cynthia Katsarelis calls “probably the happiest concert we’ve ever done.”

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Cynthia Katsarelis and Pro Music Colorado Chamber Orchestra (photo from a prior season)

The program featured three ebullient neo-classical works written between the First and Second World Wars. This is music that is ideal for a chamber orchestra of Pro-Musica’s size and quality, and it was performed with obvious energy and enjoyment. Pace Katsarelis, it was not happy throughout, since there were moments of melancholy here and there, but on the whole the program was indeed light in texture and mood.

The opening work, Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin (“The tomb of Couperin,” a form of musical homage to a deceased composer), is one of the great works for smaller orchestra. Originally composed for piano, it is a set of Baroque dances stylistically descended from the great keyboard suites of Françoise Couperin. Ravel orchestrated four of the original six dances in the years immediately after World War I.

There is a slight sense of melancholy beneath the surface, since every movement is dedicated to the memory of one or more of Ravel’s friends who had died in that terrible war. But the graceful Baroque-style dances are more reflective of cherished memories than mourning, and the music can be enjoyed without knowing the deeper motivation.

From the first moment, the crucial wind parts were crystal clear and well played. The strings were occasionally less distinct, but the sound was warm and lovely to hear. The players were secure and achieved a sense of ensemble under Katsarelis’ direction. The final movement (Rigaudon) was particularly enjoyable, with nice contrast among the different sections.

Ideally, the orchestra should breathe and move together like the two hands of a single pianist. A certain amount of rhythmic expansion and contraction is an essential part of the style. Instead, I found the interpretation a little rigid and too steady of tempo, but never less than enjoyable.

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Guitarist Nicolò Spera

The Concerto No. 1 for Guitar and Orchestra of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, performed by CU music faculty member Nicolò Spera as soloist, was a real highlight. Spera is clearly a master of his instrument who plays with a palpable love and joy in every note. His easy virtuosity made this piece, one of the great concertos for guitar, look easy. He has the ability to take expressive freedom with the music without every losing a strong sense of beat, of meter, and of phrase.

The second movement, described by Katsarelis as a sort of farewell to the composer’s homeland of Tuscany before he had to flee Mussolini’s Italy, is wistful throughout. Probably the least “happy” music on the program, it was eloquently performed by Spera and the orchestra. The finale, marked Ritmico e cavalleresco (“rhythmic and knightly”), was delightful from beginning to end.

Katsarelis and the orchestra provided stylish support for the soloist. Spera’s joy in playing this music was contagious to all, orchestra and audience alike, making this a performance to relish and remember.

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Cynthia Katsarelis

The final piece on the program, Stravinsky’s Suite from Pulcinella, is a good example of why we “play” music. Here there is nothing but happy music, and when performed as it was by Katsarelis and Pro Musica, it is fun for conductor, for players, and for the audience. The performance had great energy and drive.

The score is filled with solo bits for nearly every instrument in the ensemble, some quite showy, all played with evident virtuosity. Concertmaster Stacy Lesartre gave outstanding technical and expressive leadership for the ensemble, and while I hesitate to list individuals for fear of slighting someone, I have to praise string bassist Paul Erhard, another CU faculty member. I have never heard the bass solos played with greater beauty and purity of sound. The entire wind section—flute, oboe, bassoon, horn, trombone—was outstanding.

The only criticism was that the sound was occasionally a little heavy-footed. This may be due to the venue, which is new for Pro Musica: Boulder’s Mountain View Methodist Church. The very high A-frame ceiling may reinforce the longer wave lengths; certainly the bass was well heard all evening. But it was never muddy and the texture was generally clear, which cannot be said of the sound in their prior home, First United Methodist in downtown Boulder.

Mountain View has another great advantage over any of the downtown venues: its own parking lot. This is not a musical issue, but it is an important one. Boulder lacks a decent concert venue with adequate parking, and in particular the crowding in central Boulder on busy weekends may discourage some people from making the effort to go to live performances. I see no downside to using Mountain View: the entryway makes a suitable lobby, the sanctuary is comfortable, the sound is good, and the parking seems like a luxury after all the nights I have cruised downtown neighborhoods looking for an open space.

I hope Pro Musica will make the move permanent.

Edited to correct minor typos 10/22.

Pro Musica concerts, and season, culminate with Beethoven’s “Eroica”

From Creation to love and death to triumph in just three concerts

By Peter Alexander

Pro Musica

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra

Cynthia Katsarelis first played Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony when she was 16. Since then she has played it, and conducted it, dozens of times, but she still feels she has more to learn.

“That’s what’s so great about great music,” she says. “Every time I look at it there’s something new that I discover.”

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

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross.

Katsarelis’ latest opportunity to look at the “Eroica” comes this weekend, when it will be the culmination of not just a pair of concerts in Denver and Boulder (details below), but in fact the whole 2016–17 season of the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra.

The Pro Musica’s season opened in October with a performance of Joseph Haydn’s Creation. A second concert in January paired a joyful symphony by Schubert with Shostakovich’s dark meditation on death in his 14th Symphony. And now Beethoven: in Katsarelis’s description of the season, “We started with creation, we went into love and death, and we come out in triumph.”

The concerts Friday and Saturday will open with the world premiere of a new piece by CU composition student Egemen Kesikli, Weltschmerz (world-weariness or world’s pain). Also on the program is Carl Nielsen’s neo-classical Flute Concert, performed by CU flute professor Christina Jennings. The concerts will end, after intermission, with Beethoven’s Symphony.

A piece about world weariness and resignation seems like a strange place to begin a concert titled “Triumph,” but Katsarelis thinks it fits right in. “It’s great because we get to kind of replay the arc of the season within the concert,” she says. “We are starting from pain, finding joy in the Nielsen, and overcoming in the Beethoven. It’s a microcosm of the season.”

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Egemen Kesliki

Weltschmerz was commission by Pro Musica Colorado. The CU composition faculty selected scores by several students, which they presented to Katsarelis. Based on the scores she saw, she selected Kesikli to write a new piece for the 2016–17 season.

“It’s a really beautiful piece,” she says. “It has some interesting effects—playing with the wooden part of the bow, raindrop effects that some players do with their left hand, violin parts that are written in eight different parts. It will have an interesting sound to it, and the piece has a nice arc to it.”

Nielsen is best known for his expansive, lushly Romantic symphonies, but Katsarelis stresses that the Flute Concerto is not like those works at all. “It’s really a charming, neo-classical piece,” she says.

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Christina Jennings

“I guess mercurial is the word for it. You think it might be a majestic piece, but then it has these charming 1/16-notes with off-beats in the accompaniment, and then it goes on to a really sweet melody. It covers a range of emotions, and does it rather quickly. So it’s very mercurial, but it’s fun.”

Beethoven’s Third Symphony is one of the best known works in the classical canon, and Katsarelis says it is one of the greatest symphonies ever written. It was longer and more powerful than any symphony written before. But what makes it great, Katsarelis says, is the way Beethoven’s personal struggles turned the symphony into a universal statement of triumph.

It was written soon after Beethoven discovered that he was going deaf, and that his deafness would only get worse. Rather than give in to thoughts of suicide, he turned his suffering into music that speaks of overcoming pain and hardship.

“He says it’s his art that keeps him alive,” Katsarelis explains. “He makes peace with the deafness, and out of that despair he enters his ‘Heroic’ period. The sense of Beethoven bringing the inspiration of heaven starts with the opening chords of the ‘Eroica’.”

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Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Mähler, painted around the time of the Eroica Symphony

It is also well known that Beethoven originally intended to dedicate the symphony to Napoleon, until he crowned himself emperor. Out of disillusionment, Beethoven violently removed the emperor’s name from the cover page. “When Beethoven scratched out the dedication to Napoleon and made it to ‘a great person,’ he turned it into something universal,” Katsarelis says.

The universality of the symphony’s message can also generate personal impact. “It gets personal, as certain pieces do,” Katsarelis says. “I was playing in an orchestra when my grandmother died. I missed one rehearsal, and when I got back we were doing the Eroica and the first thing we rehearsed was the funeral march.

“I see it personally, but I also see it universally. I think the personal connection helps me to see the universal.”

Katsarelis says that “everybody should come” to the concert, because the message of Beethoven’s music is still relevant today. “The triumph in Beethoven’s Eroica was more aspirational than accomplished, even when Beethoven wrote it,” she says.

“I think that taps into our aspirations today, and can really ignite our inspiration to strive for a better world, in just being the best that we can be.”

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“Triumph”
Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra of Colorado
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Christina Jennings, flute

Egemen Kesikli: Weltschmerz (world premiere)
Carl Nielsen: Concerto for Flute
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op. 55 (“Eroica”)

7:30 p.m. Friday, April 7, First Baptist Church, 1371 Grant St., Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8, First United Methodist Church, 1412 Spruce St., Boulder
Pre-concert talk, 6:30 p.m. both evenings.

Tickets

 

Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra gives worthy performance of important music

By Peter Alexander

Denver and Boulder audiences have much for which to thank Cynthia Katsarelis and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra.

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Cynthia Katsarelis

Friday night in Denver and last night in Boulder (Jan. 20 and 21) they presented Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14. 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.

For the most part, then, Katsarelis and the Pro Musica gave us a worthy performance of an important piece. The soloists, soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and bass Ashraf Sewailam, sang with deep expression and careful attention to the texts. They ably handled the Spanish, French and German of the original poetry by Garcia Lorca, Apollinaire, Rilke and Wilhelm Kuchelbecker.

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Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson

Bird-Arvidsson was bright and incisive from her first entrance. She enticed expression from the chant-like phrases, especially in the haunting movement on Apollinaire’s Le Suicidé. Sewailam sang the more brooding texts with great weight and power. At times his notes seemed more placed that phrased, and his sound was rough in the lowest range. Both singers were appropriately dramatic in the dialogue portions of the text.

The orchestral music reflects and amplifies the words of the texts. Katsarelis and the players capably managed the many swings of mood, from deep gloom to poignant sadness to sardonic despair, and provided the singers with expressive and well balanced support.

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Ashraf Sewailam

The Pro Musica strings provided a meaty and resonant sound, while the two percussionists capably provided the precise punctuation points the score requires. The lower strings were particularly weighty, and the duo between Bird-Arvidsson and the solo cello at the beginning of the fourth movement provided one of the evening’s high points.

Alas, last night’s Boulder performance was marred by what seemed to be noisy air handling at the First United Methodist Church. (I did not hear it in Denver.) The performers did their professional best to not be distracted, but for listeners the noise unavoidably covered musical details and moments that should slowly die into silence. It was equally distracting when the sound suddenly stopped in the middle of a movement. I have never heard this before in the many performances I have attended in this venue; it was most unfortunate for it to happen in any concert, and even more so in a piece that builds so much out of silence.

The concert ended with Schubert’s Fifth Symphony, selected by Katsarelis as a frolicking antidote to Shostakovich’s morbid meditations. For me, this was less successful; whether it was the boomy acoustics in the shoe-box-shaped sanctuary, or the ghost of Shostakovich still haunting the room, the performance was heavy-footed when it should be fleeting. The orchestra, otherwise well balanced, often sounded bottom heavy and murky in the middle register. The winds and upper strings sparkled, but could not always cut through the texture.

Nonetheless, the symphony was played with enthusiasm and a sense of fun. It was well paced from beginning to end, and clearly left the audience in a happier place than where Shostakovich had left them.

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As a final thought, the room acoustics and the noisy air handling in the church both serve to point to Boulder’s need for an easily available, acoustically superb, professionally managed concert hall. Many performances take place in churches, and both the performing groups and the churches are to be thanked for their creativity. But such performances are always compromises in one way or another. The performers deserve our gratitude for the musical riches they provide, but they also deserve better performance conditions.

Edited for clarity 1.22.17

From opposite ends of the spectrtum

Pro Music Colorado offers “Love and Death” through Schubert and Shostakovich

By Peter Alexander

The next concert from the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and conductor Cynthia Katsarelis will bring together two opposing worlds.

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Dmitri Shostakovich

The concert, titled “Love and Death,” will be presented Friday in Denver and Saturday in Boulder. There are only two works on the program: the Symphony No. 14 by Shostakovich, a vocal-orchestral meditation on death; and Schubert’s frolicsome Symphony No. 5. Soloists for the Shostakovich, singing poetic texts by Federico García Lorca, Guillaume Apollinaire, Wilhelm Kuchelbecker and Rainer Maria Rilke, will be soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and bass Ashraf Sewailam.

The two works come from the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. “Right, and that’s by design,” Katsarelis says. “The Shostakovich is really intense, and you don’t want to leave people on their own at the end of this piece. The Schubert is a sublimely beautiful feel-good piece, and it will be a good antidote to the emotional intensity of the Shostakovich.”

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson

“Love and Death”
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano, and Ashraf Sewailam, bass

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 14
Schubert: Symphony No. 5

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Ashraf Sewailam

7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, First Baptist Church, 1373 Grant St, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce, Boulder

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Pro Musica and Masterworks Chorus deliver a joyful “Creation”

By Peter Alexander

Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and her musical colleagues—the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, the Colorado Masterworks Chorus and three outstanding soloists—presented a joyful and enjoyable performance of The Creation by Joseph Haydn last night (Oct. 29).

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Amanda Balestrieri

This was the first performance of the 2016–­17 season for Pro Musica, and the only the second outing for the Masterworks Chorus, a new entry into Boulder’s crowded classical music scene. The well matched soloists appearing with them were soprano Amanda Balestrieri, tenor Steven Soph and bass-baritone Jeffrey Seppala. Following a performance Friday in Denver, last night’s performance was in Boulder’s First United Methodist Church.

With the chorus on the broad but shallow sanctuary “stage,” the orchestra had to adopt an unusual seating arrangement, with woodwinds behind the strings on one side, brass behind the strings on the other. In a more complex work with tricky coordination among the winds this might have been a problem, but in this case it seemed to work quite well. The woodwinds in particular sounded bright and clear. In the church’s shoebox space the brass had to be restrained to avoid thickening the texture, but for the most part they succeeded.

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Jeffrey Seppala

The long, deep space of the church favors the lower frequencies. The timpani, for example, had to be discreet to avoid muddying the sound, and usually succeeded. Katsarelis visually restrained the players throughout, generally keeping the orchestra and singers well balanced and the texture transparent.

The choral sound was solid and clear, even with all forces combined, as in the final fugue to the words “The Lord is great, his praise shall last for aye.” While the words from the chorus were not always understandable, the audience had the full text and the lights were, appropriately, left on.

This also benefitted the soloists, who were not always understandable, either. This is not entirely the singers fault, however: it is hard to be clearly understood when singing lines like “Softly purling glides on thro’ silent vales the limpid brook,” or “Most beautiful appear, with verdure young adorn’d, the gently sloping hills.” For this you can blame the Austrian Imperial Court Librarian, Baron Gottfried van Swieten, who wrote Haydn’s English text. Alas, his command of the language was not as fine as he thought.

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Steven Soph

All three soloists should be commended for their performances. They have fine oratorio voices and sang their solo recitatives and arias with careful attention to expression. One of the highlights was surely the duet between Adam and Eve—Balestrieri and Seppala—with chorus, “By thee with bliss.” Likewise, their lengthy closing duet “Graceful consort!” drew a spontaneous “Bravo!” from the audience. And I could not suppress a chuckle at Seppala’s solemn delivery of the text “In long dimension creeps with sinuous trace the worm,” one of many delightful moments of text painting in Haydn’s score.

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Joseph Haydn

One of the hallmarks of Katsarelis’s performances with the Pro Musica has been her careful control of dynamics. From the pianissimo whispers in the “Representation of chaos” and the fourth-day sunrise, to the full climaxes, the large-dimension contours were highly effective, with something held in reserve for the major climaxes. This was particularly evident at the end of the oratorio’s Part I, the much-sung chorus “The heavens are telling,” and the final “Amen.”

Finally, I have to return to Haydn, the genial genius whose lifelong humility and ability to learn paved the way for this great work. Inspired by the London Handel Festival performances of the 1790s, he wrote in his 60s a work unlike anything he had done before—to our eternal benefit. To quote the oratorio’s final chorus, “Let his name resound on high!”

Haydn’s happy creation

By Peter Alexander

There are lightning and thunder, leaping tigers and creeping serpents.

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Cynthia Katsarelis

All of that and more are portrayed musically in The Creation by Joseph Haydn, but conductor Cynthia Katsarelis wants you to know that they are happy tigers. “It’s almost two hours of ecstatic happiness,” she says of Haydn’s oratorio, which she will conduct this weekend in Denver and Boulder with the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and the Colorado Masterworks Chorus.

Soloists will be soprano Amanda Balestrieri, tenor Steven Soph and bass Jeffrey Seppala.

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Joseph Haydn

Katsarellis particularly appreciates the cheerfulness of Haydn’s score right now, as an antidote to the tense and threatening times we live in. “I was studying the piece this summer after Orlando and Istanbul and Pakistan and all of these terrible things happening,” she says. “So it was kind of a vacation from all of that.”

And maybe, she says, The Creation offers us more than an escape from what we hear on the news. “The happiness and gratitude expressed in the choruses — this is also who we are,” she says.

“So to some extent The Creation can call to us and remind us that we’re more than what’s happening in the news. We are much more than that.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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The Creation by Joseph Haydn

orch-chorus

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and the Colorado Masterworks Chorus
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With soprano Amanda Balestrieri, tenor Steven Soph, and bass Jeffrey Seppala
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St., Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, First United Methodist Church, 2412 Spruce, Boulder

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Mozart’s Requiem: “A Musical Miracle and a Mystery Story”

Performances Friday and Saturday by Pro Musica Colorado and St. Martin’s Chamber Choir

By Peter Alexander

It is one of the most famous stories in music history.

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Unfinished portrait of Mozart by Joseph Lange

It was December, 1791. Mozart lay on his deathbed, with his family and friends gathered around. They sang for the dying composer, music from the Requiem that he might as well have been writing for himself and that he was never to complete. After his death, Mozart’s friends and students gathered up all the bits and pieces of music that lay scattered around the room and worked feverishly to finish the manuscript, so that Mozart’s widow could deliver a completed score to the eccentric count who had paid for it.

Out of all of the confusion there emerged a work that has captivated listeners ever since, in spite of the uncertain authorship of its various parts. “It’s a musical miracle and a mystery story wrapped into one,” says Cynthia Katsarelis, who will conduct performances of the Requiem Friday in Denver and Saturday in Boulder (7:30 p.m. April 8 at First Baptist Church in Denver, and April 9 at First United Methodist Church in Boulder).

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

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photography by Glenn Ross.

Katsarelis, director of the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, has put together what she considers just about an ideal group of performers for the Requiem. “Pro Musica and (Denver’s) St. Martin’s Chamber Choir are practically a dream team for the Mozart Requiem,” she says. “And our soloists are all people who are just wonderful artists.

“It’s going to be different from a Mozart Requiem with a large orchestra and choir. Our size is more like the size that Mozart would have had, and there’s a kind of immediacy and a visceral quality to doing it with a chamber orchestra and a chamber choir. I think it’s a special team, and there’s incredible potential of being a worthy Requiem.”

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Manuscript page of Mozart’s Requiem

Like all conductors who approach the Requiem, Katsarelis had to decide exactly what to perform. Mozart left different movements in differing degrees of incompletion: some merely had to be filled in according to a partial score, some had to be completed, and some had to be composed more or less from scratch.

Adding to the confusion, Mozart left behind what his widow called “scraps of paper” that may have held music, or instructions, or both. At least two different pupils undertook a completion. And all of their contributions were mixed together, and it was years before scholars were able to separate, more or less, who did what.

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Franz Xaver Süssmahr

Today there are numerous performing versions to choose from. The score that was turned over to the count three months after Mozart’s death was essentially completed by Mozart’s pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr. But Süssmayr was not a very good composer: Mozart didn’t think much of him, calling him “a duck in a thunderstorm,” and he made numerous mistakes in the score that he hurriedly finished.

And so there have been many subsequent versions that aim to correct and improve on Süssmayr. Some editors have gone so far as to write whole new movements to stand alongside Mozart. Katsarelis has chosen a version created by Franz Beyer in 1971 that sticks largely to Süssmayr’s version, but polishes some of his work.

There are three movements that Mozart never started, but Katsarelis thinks that Süssmayr had some help with those. “He claimed to have composed the Sanctus, the Benedictus and the Agnus Dei, but I’m not convinced of that, for reasons right out of the music,” she says. “I had my doubts to begin with. Süssmayr never, ever composed anything of the caliber of (those movements).”

She has a “sneaking suspicion,” she says, that the scraps of paper that Mozart left had music on them that Süssmayr was able to use. And, she adds conspiratorially, “I have a theory that I actually don’t have an ounce of historical evidence for, but during the time that Süssmayr was completing the Requiem, he was studying with Salieri.”

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Antonio Salieri

That Salieri? The one who definitely didn’t poison Mozart but was still the villain of the play and movie Amadeus?

Yes, that one. “I just have this sneaking suspicion that Salieri might have helped,” she says. And it’s definitely not the craziest theory about the Requiem, which has attracted conspiracy stories from the date its very first performance.

Regardless of who wrote those movements, and whose help they might have had, “the meat of the Requiem is what Mozart wrote,” Katsarelis affirms. And after the disputed movements, the Requiem ends with two more movements that re-use Mozart’s music from the beginning.

Following the Requiem, the concert will include one more short piece, Mozart’s beautiful and elegiac Ave verum corpus, composed only months before the Requiem. “By doing the Ave verum corpus, we’re absolutely sure that we’ll be ending with Mozart, no question,” Katsarelis explains. “It’s a piece that everybody knows and loves, and it’s a very comforting and beautiful piece.”

In spite of the mystery and confusion, the different hands that touched the Requiem, and all of the controversy that has swirled around the piece over the centuries, “the fact the sublime music comes through is pretty miraculous,” Katsarelis says. “It is deeply moving to do the piece that was the last thing Mozart composed.

“He made it the most beautiful music that he could possibly write. That’s his final gift to us, and it’s one that I receive very gratefully, and that we’ll share on Friday and Saturday.”

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Mozart’s Requiem

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra
Cynthia Katsarelis, music director
St. Martin’s Chamber Choir
Timothy J. Krueger, artistic director
Amanda Balestrieri, soprano
Leah Biesterfeld, alto
Joseph Gaines, tenor:
David Farwig, bass

W.A. Mozart: Requiem, K626
W.A. Mozart: Ave Verum Corpus, K618

Friday, April 8, First Baptist Church, 1373 Grant St., Denver
Saturday, April 9, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder
Both concerts at 7:30 p.m.
Pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. both evenings

TICKETS

NB: Edited to correct typos 4.7.16.