Grace Notes: Guest artists for Ars Nova and Boulder Bach

“Stardust” for Black History Month, and a renowned guest artist

By Peter Alexander Feb. 7 at 10:04 p.m.

The Denver-based string group Sphere Ensemble will be a guest of Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers for a concert recognizing Black History Month. Titled “Stardust,” the program will be presented at 7:30 pm. Friday in Boulder and Saturday in Denver (Feb. 10 and 11; details below).

Joel Thompson

Under the direction of Ars Nova’s artistic director Tom Morgan, the program opens with the world premiere performances of Love Songs from Lonely Letters by Joel Thompson. Ars Nova is one of five American choirs that jointly commissioned the Love Letters, which are based on the writings of Ashon Crawley, who teaches at the University of Virginia. 

An Atlanta resident and Emory College grad, Thompson is the composer of a widely acclaimed opera based on “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats, the most checked-out book in the history of the New York Public Library. Thompson’s opera was premiered in August 2021 by Houston Grand Opera, where he currently holds a residency. Thompson will speak at the Ars Nova performances about his Love Songs, a work that explores individual agency and transformative joy.

The Sphere Ensemble will play their own arrangements of works by the Black English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and the remarkable Brazilian woman composer Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzaga, known as Chiquinha Gonzaga.

The program concludes with music by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Ars Nova will repeat his Berlin Mass, a 1990 composition that they performed with the Boulder Philharmonic in 1997. Originally written for voices and organ, the score was arranged by the composer for voices and strings and incorporates the composer’s tintinnabula technique (from the Latin word for “bell”)—a way of creating deep resonance in slow-moving passages by combining notes of the tonic chord with simple scale patterns.

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“Stardust”
Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan, conductor
With Sphere Ensemble

  • Joel Thompson: Love Songs from Lonely Letters
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Three-fours, II: Andante (arr. Alex Vittal)
  • Chiquinha Gonzaga: “Corta-Jaca” (arr. Alex Vittal)
  • Arvo Pärt: “Es sang vor langen Jahren” (Long years ago the nightingale sang)
    —Virgencita (Little Virgin)
    —Solfeggio
    Berlin Mass

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10
First United Methodist Church, 14521 Spruce St., Boulder

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11
Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St., Denver

TICKETS, including livestream Feb. 10–28

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The Ukrainian-born Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman and the Indonesian pianist Janice Carissa will present a joint recital as guests of the Boulder Bach Festival, at 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, in the Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum.

Vadim Gluzman. Photo by Marco Borggreve

The children of musicians, Gluzman was born in the former Soviet Union and grew up in Riga, Latvia. He began studying violin at seven and moved to Israel with his family at 17. Today he teaches at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore as distinguished artist in residence and plays a Stradivari violin that once belonged to the virtuoso Leopold Auer.

Carissa first studied piano with her mother in her native Indonesia. She came to the United States to study at the Curtis Institute in 2013 and made her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of 16. She is currently a master’s student of Robert McDonald at the Juilliard School. She has appeared at Caramoor, Marlboro and Ravinia festivals, among others.

Their program features J.S. Bach’s Sonata in C minor for violin and keyboard, as well as the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita in D minor for solo violin, with a piano accompaniment by Robert Schumann. Continuing a tour through music history, Gluzman will play the A minor sonata for violin solo by the late Romantic violinist/composer Eugène Ysaÿe and par.ti.ta for solo violin written for the Bachwoche (Bach week) in Ansbach, Germany, by Lera Auerbach.

Gluzman wrote, “par.ti.ta is an incredible work, projecting Lera’s lifelong fascination with Bach. . . . We hear traces and echoes of Brandenburg Concerti, Concerto for two violins, sonatas and partitas for violin solo. No particular work is being quoted, yet I can’t help the feeling of being drawn to an incredible world of shades, echoes—are these shades of ourselves?”

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Boulder Bach Festival
Vadim Gluzman, violin, and Janice Carissa, piano

  • J.S. Bach: Sonata in C minor, S1017, for violin and clavier obbligato
  • Eugène Ysaÿe: Sonata in A minor, op. 27 no. 2, for violin solo
  • Lera Auerbach: par.ti.ta
  • J.S. Bach: Partita in D minor, Chaconne, with piano accompaniment by Robert Schumann

4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11
Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum

TICKETS

Grace Notes: Music from America

Concerts by Sphere Ensemble and the Longmont Symphony

By Peter Alexander Nov. 16 at 2:50 p.m.

The Sphere Ensemble, a string ensemble formed by professional string players in the Denver area, will present a kaleidoscope of many American musics at the Mercury Café in Denver Friday (7:30 p.m. Nov. 18) and the Canyon Theater of the Boulder Public Library Saturday (7:30 p.m. Nov. 19; details below).

Under executive director Alex Vittal, a longtime violist and arranger with the group, Sphere has brought educational programming to marginalized audiences, including people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, women’s shelters, children’s hospitals and assisted living facilities.

Sphere characteristically includes both concert music written for string orchestra and arrangements of works drawn from popular and other vernacular genres in their programs. In the case of the “Kaleidoscope” concert, that ranges from music by 20th-century African-American composer Florence Price, to the contemporary Chickasaw composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, to the Pulitzer Prize-winner Carolyn Shaw, to a medley of music by Prince.

Tate’s Pisach has been arranged for Sphere through a special agreement with the composer, and several of the pop pieces were arranged specifically for the ensemble. Vittal’s arrangement of the Prince Medley has been particularly popular in past performances. The concert announcement from Sphere states, “This concert program focuses on the wide range of what ‘American’ music is: with composers from diverse backgrounds, genres from classical to pop, and arrangements written by Sphere musicians.”

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“Kaleidoscope”
Sphere ensemble

  • Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate: Pisach. (adapted with permission of the composer by Alex Vittal and Alejandro G. Gullien)
  • Caroline Shaw: Entr’acte
  • Florence Price: “Juba” from Second String Quartet
  • Tan Dun: Symphony for Strings
  • Gordon/Warren: “At Last,” arr. Chris Jusell
  • Prince: Prince Medley, arr. Alex Vittal
  • Randy Newman: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” arr. Sarah Whitnah
  • Scott Joplin: “Wall Street Rag,” arr. Alex Vittal
  • Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Souvenir de Porto Rico, arr. David Short

7:30 pm. Friday, Nov. 18
Mercury Café, 2199 California St., Denver

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
Canyon Theater, Boulder Public Library

TICKETS 

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The Longmont Symphony Orchestra and conductor Elliot Moore will focus on America in two of their subscriptions concerts this year. The first of these, “Trail of Tears: America—Part 1” will be presented Saturday at the Vance Brand Auditorium (7:30 p.m. Nov. 19; details below).

The concert takes it title from composer Michael Daugherty’s “Trail of Tears” Flute Concerto, which will be performed by soloist Brice Smith and the orchestra. Smith teaches flute at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colo.

The concerto is named for the route that Cherokees and other Native Americans were forced to travel from their ancestral homes in Southeastern states to reservations in present-day Oklahoma. In his program notes, the composer has described the piece as “a musical journey into how the human spirit discovers ways to deal with upheaval, adversity and adapting to a new environment.”

Other works on the program are the Overture to The Song of Hiawatha by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and the Symphony No. 8 in G major by Dvořák. Coleridge-Taylor was a mixed-race British composer and conductor who had a significant career in both England and the United States, where he was known as “the African Mahler.” 

His trilogy of cantatas The Song of Hiawatha was written 1898–1900. The first part to be performed, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, became popular world-wide and earned praise from leading English musicians including Sir Arthur Sullivan.

Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony is one of the composer’s most popular and joyful pieces. It was composed in 1889, soon before the composer’s famous and fateful trip to the United States in 1892. More than any of the Dvořák’s symphonies, it draws on the music of the composer’s homeland, giving it a uniquely relaxed and folkish quality.

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“Trail of Tears”
Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore conductor
With Brice Smith, flute

  • Samuel Coleridge Taylor: Overture to Song of Hiawatha
  • Michael Daugherty: Trail of Tears
  • Dvořák: Symphony No 8 in G major

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont

TICKETS