Tickets available for Sunday’s concert by Takács Quartet

Music by Haydn, Schubert, Dutilleux: Stream available through May 10

By Peter Alexander April 7 at 12:30 p.m.

The CU-based Takács Quartet has played a series of concerts in Grusin Hall this year, but you can be forgiven if you missed them. They were played without an audience, and most of the live streams were available only to season ticket holders.

The final concert of ’20-21, at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 11, will again be in an empty hall, but tickets for the stream are available to the general public. The performance will be streamed live at 4 p.m., and the stream will remain available through Monday, May 10.

David Requiro

Cellist and CU faculty member David Requiro will join the Takács for Schubert’s much loved Quintet in C major for Strings, D956. Other works on the program will be two quartets by Joseph Haydn—Op. 42 and Op. 103, both in D minor—and the atmospheric Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night) by 20th-century French composer Henri Dutilleux.

András Fejér, the quartet’s cellist, has been with the Takács since it was founded in 1975. He has played everything on the program many times, but he never gets tired of his job. “The literature is so incredibly rich!” he says. “One can argue and counter argue on any page of any of the pieces for lifetime. It’s a joy to listen to (other players’) ideas.”

Take for example the two Haydn quartets that will open the program. “With Haydn, whenever we start learning and studying you are just swept away by his generosity of ideas—surprising key changes, character changes and trickery,” he says.

Fejér believes the “trickery,” for which Haydn is well known, was done for the composer to entertain his audience—and himself. “If you spend 40 years in a palace on the Austro-Hungarian border, however generous your patron is, you need to care about your own entertainment,” he says.

Some of the fun also comes from Haydn’s contact with the local peasants, Fejér believes. “They were full of joy, they were full of rowdiness, probably some dancing, and we can find most of it on those pages. Hopefully you will see the enjoyment in our body language, and you will be transported into the 18th-century. It’s got such spice and an earthy, primal energy. Wonderful!”

Both Haydn quartets are unusual among the composer’s works. For one thing, they are both in D minor, at a time when few works were written in minor keys. Further, both are short works that do not belong to a larger set, as most Haydn quartets do. Op. 42 is in four short movements—less than 20 minutes all together. 

One of the last pieces Haydn wrote, Op. 103 remains a fragment of two movements. Written in B-flat major and D minor, they are assumed to have been the second and third movements of a planned four-movement quartet, but even that is uncertain. Haydn was in poor health as he was writing, and was unable to finish a full quartet.

Like the Haydn Op. 103, Schubert’s Quintet in C major was the composer’s last piece of chamber music. It was completed about two months before Schubert’s death in Nov. 1828 but was not performed until 1850, and published three years after that.

Schubert added a second cello to the standard string quartet, which gives a great resonance and warmth of sound to the ensemble. This is especially true because the piece is in C major, and the two bottom string of the cello are C and G, tonic and dominant of the key. Fejér explains that “the open strings of the cello, C and G, resonate just by lightly touching the instrument. It just rolls out—wonderful!”

Henri Dutilleux

The Takács Quartet has performed the Schubert with Requiro in the past, including a performance at Lincoln Center. “We are just looking forward to (performing with) David Requiro,” Fejér says. “We already played the Quintet many times with him, and it was wonderful.”

Schubert’s String Quintet has become one of the most loved pieces of chamber music from the 19th century. Like many of Schubert’s last works, it has a warmth and benedictive quality that audiences have responded to. It is indicative of that quality, Fejér says, that “the most people I know ask for the Schubert Quintet slow movement for their own funeral.”

That is unlikely to be true for the final piece on the program, which comes from another world. Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night) is a highly atmospheric work from the late 20th century. The composer has been identified with the atonal 12-tone style of composition, although he notably rejected the more radical and intolerant aspects of musical modernism.

“The music is extremely atmospheric,” is how Fejér describes Ainsi la nuit. “Many composers were trying to give meaning for the noises of the night, and Dutilleux certainly tries it his own ways. As performers, we need to (bring out) the colors and character to give the audience some sense of within what cosmos are we moving about.

“There are clashes and supernovas and black matter and God knows what else, but the beauty and atmosphere keep recurring.”

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Takács Quartet

Takács Quartet, with David Requiro, cello

Haydn: String Quartet in D minor, op. 42
Haydn: String Quartet in D minor, op. 103
Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night)
Schubert: String Quintet in C major, D956

Live stream at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 11; available through 11 p.m. Monday, May 10

Tickets

CU Faculty Member wins “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” Grammy

Violist Richard O’Neill, newest member of the Takacs Quartet, wins first Grammy award

By Peter Alexander March 22 at 3:51 p.m.

Violist Richard O’Neill, member of the CU College of Music faculty and the Takacs Quartet, has won the Grammy award for “Best Classical Instrumental Solo.”

His recording of Christopher Theofanidis’ Concerto for Viola and Chamber Orchestra with David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony (Albany Records TROY1816, released August 2020) was nominated along with these recordings: 
• pianist Kirill Gerstein playing the Thomas Adès Piano Concerto, with Adès and the Boston Symphony; 
• pianist Igor Levit playing the complete Beethoven piano sonatas; 
• violinist Augustin Hadelich playing “Bohemian Tales,” a collection of music by Dvořák, Janáček and Josef Suk, with Jakub Hrůša and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; and
• pianist Daniil Trifonov playing the Second and Fourth piano concertos of Rachmaninov with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

O’Neill was caught by surprise last year when the nominees were announced. This time, of course he knew that he was in the running for the award and when the awards would be announced, but he nearly got caught by surprise again. For one thing, he looked at the distinguished list of other nominees, and thought, ‘OK, we’re going to lose’.”

For another, the streamed Grammy ceremony was held Sunday, March 14, the same day that Boulder was under a heavy blanket of snow. O’Neill had arranged to attend the ceremony online, but Sunday morning his internet kept going out. “I was like, ‘How am I going to be able to Zoom if I don’t have internet?’” he says. He even planned to walk to his studio in the CU Imig Music Building if he had to—since he couldn’t get out of his driveway.

Finally, the internet came back on just in time, but the ceremony was running ahead of schedule. “There was supposed to be 30 minutes buffer, and then you’re on,” he says. “I tuned in and it was basically five minutes to go! So I was like, ‘Holy, bleep!’ 

“And when they said ‘the Grammy goes to,’ I almost burst into tears. I just wasn’t expecting it.”

Richard O’Neill

To keep the ceremony on schedule, each recipient is allowed just 30 seconds to thank everyone. “There’s a very conspicuous clock, and it started right as they announced my name. Basically, they’ll just cut you off! It’s very, very short, but I tried my best to get everybody thanked. It was a really great, great moment, and then my phone was going crazy with all my friends who were watching.”

After than, O’Neill was asked to enter the virtual press room to take questions, and later he had several interviews with press from South Korea, where he is very well known. He took a quick break to step outside and gather his thoughts and chat with his neighbors, who were all out clearing their driveways and had no idea that he had just won a Grammy.

This was O’Neill’s third nomination for a Grammy and his first win. He also has won an Emmy Award and an Avery Fisher Career Grant. He has an extensive record of working with living composers, including the premieres of works written for him. Theofanidis’s Concerto was written for the distinguished violist Kim Kashkashian in 2002 and revised for O’Neill in preparation of his performances and recording.

O’Neill joined the Takacs Quartet in June of 2020, replacing Geraldine Walther as the group’s violist. He has appeared in streamed performances by the quartet, and in a handful of concerts before small, distanced audiences, but has not yet appeared onstage before a live Boulder audience.

Reflecting on the past year, O’Neill says it has been tough. He moved to Boulder, he joined the Takacs Quartet and the CU faculty, planned tours as solo artist and with the Takacs were interrupted by the pandemic, and his mother has had breast cancer—“This has been a long haul,” he says. 

“It feels good to have something nice happen.”

Musical Adventures 1: Now’s the time to explore new musical territories

A Grammy nominee and a new disc from the Takacs Quartet

By Peter Alexander Jan. 19 at 11:15 p.m.

I am someone who enjoys adventures, in music as in other ways.

I’m not as interested in new Beethoven recordings, although I got notices about plenty of them last year. (In case you were completely isolated last year: 2020 was the 250th anniversary of his birth.) But give me a recording with composers I have never heard before, and I will go straight to the CD player.

Since we are likely to be isolated for a while longer, now is a good time for you to have your own musical adventures. Committed performances of music we don’t know, even music we don’t like, helps clean out the ears and open the mind to new experiences. If you don’t like it, don’t listen again; but at least you know what’s out there.

In that spirit, this is the first of several articles I plan to write about recordings that offer musical adventures, small steps into new territory. And if one of these is not new territory for you, congratulations. I will have other suggestions.

There is no better place to start than a stunning recent recording by violist Richard O’Neill, the newest member of the Takács quartet. His performance of the Concerto for viola and chamber orchestra by Christopher Theofanidis with the Albany Symphony Orchestra and conductor David Alan Miller (Albany Records TROY1816, released August 2020) has been nominated for a classical music Grammy. Since the Grammy awards have been postponed until March 14, you can hear the recording before the winners are announced.

Theofanidis teaches composition at Yale and is co-director of the composition program at the Aspen Music Festival. His orchestral work Rainbow Body has been performed by more than 150 orchestras worldwide. He is a composer of remarkably wide imagination and creativity, as his Viola Concerto shows.

The concerto was written for the violist Kim Kashkashian in 2002 and revised for O’Neill in preparation of his performances and recording. Partly inspired by Navajo texts, it is by design a work of great emotional intensity. “It is written as a response to [Kashkashian’s] incredible intensity and focus as a performing artist,” Theofanidis wrote.

O’Neill provides all the intensity Theofanidis calls for. As soloist he creates a wide palette of sounds that match the kaleidoscopic moods and sounds of the score. The are passages of dark, brooding gloom and fleet passages of sheer virtuosity, with O’Neill flying through these changes without a hitch or a stumble.

Each movement has its own individual rewards. The first is dominated by pulsing sounds in the orchestra, an extension of drum patterns that open the movement, interrupted by fleet passages for the soloist. The second enters a totally different sound world, with a static orchestral haze overlaid with barely-musical fragments for the soloist that gradually coalesce to reach a moment of passionate intensity.

The emotional high point is the third movement, written in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and using a Sikh melody that was sung at a memorial held at Yankee Stadium. Here O’Neill’s expressive playing creates a deep sense of mourning. This is eloquent music of loss, a barren emotional landscape that accepts the light of consolation only at the end. After this catharsis, the scurrying finale closes the concerto with an explosion of energy.

So varied are the movements and their internal sections that it is easy to see why this recording stood out to the Grammy committee. O’Neill’s interpretation and integration of the disparate elements seems flawless as he flies confidently through this emotionally virtuosic work. “No matter what happens with this nomination,” O’Neill says, “ I think this piece deserves to be in the repertoire.”

The Viola Concerto is paired on Albany’s disc with Theofanidis’s Violin Concerto, played by Miller and the Albany Symphony with violinist Chee-Yun. Another dramatic and varied work, it is dominated by a movement based on a theme the composer wrote for his new-born daughter. That moment of lyrical blossoming is framed by a dramatic movement where the soloist seems pitted in a struggle with forces of nature, and another whirlwind finale.

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Takacs

The full Takacs Quartet, recorded before O’Neill replaced Geraldine Walther in the viola chair, offers a comfortable adventure with their recording of the piano quintets of Amy Beach and Edward Elgar. Released in June, the recording was made with pianist Garrick Ohlsson (Hyperion CDA68295).

The first American woman to achieve success as a composer, Beach was a teenaged piano prodigy in the 1880s but had to give up her public career when she married. She published first under the name Mrs. H.H.A. Beach until her husband’s death in 1910, and then as Amy Beach. Her Quintet in F-sharp minor for piano and strings of 1905 was widely performed in her lifteime, often with the composer playing the piano part.

The Quintet was heavily influenced by Brahms’s popular Quintet in F minor, which she had played. An echo of Brahms is heard in the first movement, but Beach announcers her own imagination at the very opening, sustained notes that overlay dramatic flourishes in the piano. Here the atmospheric performance by Ohlsson and the Takacs pulls the listener in from the first notes. They follow Beach’s expressive turns, through sudden changes of mood from warmth to spookiness and a gentle sigh at the ending.

The sigh is followed by a realm of sweetness and gentle repose through a second movement marked by long, lyrical lines that build to a strong climax, subsiding to a quiet close. The finale seems less integrated, as passage follows passage. This is no fault of the performers, who follow Beach in her rambling walk. Every section is well crafted, creating just the sound that the composer wants, but it fails to hang together as an organic whole. It is none the less pleasant for that, especially as played by Ohlsson and the Takacs.

Elgar is closer to the beaten path than Beach, although the Quintet is less familiar than his “Pomp and Circumstance” or “Enigma” Variations. Like his other works, the Quintet is marked by a cheerful mixture of drama and playfulness that seems thoroughly Victorian in style. It is a musically challenging work that lacks conspicuous flamboyance; even the most energetic passages remain genial in mood.

The first movement is a moderate allegro that anecdotally may be based on supernatural tales about a wooded copse near Elgar’s home. The exact source of inspiration remains mysterious, and any sense of menace the woods may have suggested is lessened by sudden bursts of song. 

The second movement begins in a state of serenity, in Elgar’s best warm if slightly fuzzy Romantic manner. One is easily carried along by the flow of the Takacs Quartet’s performance, which conveys a feeling of enveloping comfort, with no danger in sight.

One idea succeeds another succeeds another in the long, fantasy-like Finale. In the hands of Ohlsson and the Takacs Quartet, the changing tempos seem organic across a wide and shifting range. Each idea and section emerges seamlessly from the material before, even as Elgar extends and extends his material toward a final firm ending. The performance is well balanced among the instruments, with the performers achieving a notable clarity of texture in spite of Elgar’s luxuriant harmonic language.

Both performances are exemplary. There is no better place to begin your musical adventures than with these congenial and thoroughly enjoyable works. And if these works are not new to you, stand by for further suggestions.

Violist Richard O’Neill nominated for Classical music Grammy

Newest member of Takacs Quartet part of a very distinguished slate

By Peter Alexander Dec. 18 at 4 p.m.

Violist Richard O’Neill, the newest member of the Takacs String Quartet, has been announced as one of a distinguished slate of Grammy nominees in the “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” category.

O’Neill was nominated for his recording of the Concerto for Viola and Chamber Orchestra by Christopher Theofanidis, with the Albany Symphony and conductor David Alan Miller. This is O’Neill’s third nomination. Winners will be announced in an online ceremony Jan. 31, 2021.

O’Neill replaced Geraldine Walther as the Takacs Quartet’s violist starting in June of this year. He has appeared in streamed performances by the quartet, but has not yet appeared onstage before a live Boulder audience.

O’Neill learned of the nomination when he was in Los Angeles. “I was sort of lounging around and turned on the Grammy announcement on their Facebook page,” he says. “A friend of mine, Nicola Benedetti, was reading the names for the classical things. When she read my name I was just floored.

“It’s just an incredible honor.”

The other nominees for “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” are pianist Kirill Gerstein for the Thomas Adès Piano Concerto; pianist Igor Levit for the complete Beethoven piano sonatas; violinist Augustin Hadelich for “Bohemian Tales,” a collection of music by Dvořák, Janáček and Josef Suk; and pianist Daniil Trifonov for a recording of the Second and Fourth piano concertos of Rachmaninov.

O’Neill knows and admires most of the other nominees. “Those people, they’re just my favorite artists, every one!” he says.

O’Neill is speaking by Zoom from Korea, where he is quarantining in preparation for scheduled concerts over the Holidays. He notes that the current Covid-19 transmission rate in Seoul is almost high enough for a complete shutdown. “I might not have work when I get out of quarantine,” he says.

Richard O’Neill

Theofanidis’s Viola Concerto was originally written in 2001 for violist Kim Kashkashian and has since been revised. The current recording is the first of the revised version of the concerto. Before he performed and recorded the concerto, O’Neill met Theofanidis met at a Starbucks near Lincoln Center in New York to discuss the piece.

“I remember that meeting,” O’Neil says. “Everything he says is very meaningful. The way he talked to me about the third movement just moved me very deeply.”

That is partly due to one of the sources of inspiration for the work. In his program notes, Theofanidis writes “This work was written before, during, and in the shadow of September 11th, and I believe is deeply influenced by that event.”

O’Neill explains that “I had actually been living in [New York City] for a few weeks when the planes hit the twin towers. For anybody who was in the city at that time, especially a newbie like me, it felt like the end of the world.”

For O’Neill, just getting the nomination for a Grammy is very meaningful, regardless of who wins. “The nomination is not something that I lobbied or I wrote to somebody,” he says. “It was an anonymous panel that had hundreds if not thousands of records to listen to and judge, and they chose these five albums. That to me, to be in that category—it’s great.”

What matters most, he says, is the piece itself, more than the award. “What happens next is anybody’s guess, and that’s fine with me,” he says. “[Theofanidis] has written a piece that, no matter what happens with this nomination, I think this piece deserves to be in the repertoire and more played.”

Takács Quartet livestream will be available to all

Nov. 1 concert will feature music by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel and Felix Mendelssohn

By Peter Alexander Oct. 30 at 10:50 a.m.

The next live stream of a CU campus concert by the Takács Quartet will be available to the public worldwide.

This is a change from their previous concerts this fall, which, due to contractual restrictions, were made available online only to prior subscribers to their CU performances. In this case, they will again be performing from the stage of an otherwise empty Grusin Hall in the Imig Music Building, at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1.

Takács Quartet

Virtual admission may be purchased through the CU Presents Web page. The performance will remain available online to ticket purchasers through 11 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29.

The program will comprise three works by Felix Mendelssohn and his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel: Fanny’s String Quartet in E-flat major and Felix’s string quartets No. 6 in F minor, op. 80, and No. 2 A minor, op. 13.

The Takács Quartet will play two more online concerts from Grusin Hall this season, Jan. 10–11 and April 11–12, 2021. If conditions allow, those concerts will be performed before a live audience and single tickets will be sold as available. If live performances are deemed not to be safe, online access will only be available to previous season ticket holders.

The same will be true for a guest concert by the Jupiter String Quartet, March 7–8, 2021. Their concert was originally scheduled in October, and was postponed due to the pandemic.

The Takács Quartet has not announced their programs for the spring. The Jupiter String Quartet, which is the resident string quartet at the University of Illinois, will perform music by Mendelssohn, Schubert and Michi Wiancko.

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Takács Quartet

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel: String Quartet in E-flat Major
Felix Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80
    String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13

4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1: Live stream from Grusin Hall on the CU Boulder campus (program available through 11 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29)

More information and tickets available from CU Presents 

Takács Quartet returns to the stage of an empty Grusin Hall Oct. 4

Performance with Ivalas Quartet will be available online to prior Takács subscribers

By Peter Alexander Oct. 2 at 3:20 p.m.

The Takács Quartet will be entering familiar territory Sunday (Oct. 4) when they step onstage in Grusin Music Hall for one of their campus concerts.

Takács Quartet. Photo by Amanda Tipton

But there won’t be an audience in the hall. The concert, and one scheduled for Nov. 1, will be streamed live for prior Takács season ticket holders. The concert will feature the Takács Quartet playing alone; the Ivalas Quartet, the current graduate quartet-in-residence at CU, playing alone; and the Takács and Ivalas players joining together as a string octet.

This will be only the Takács’s second campus concert since Richard O’Neill joined the quartet as violist, replacing the retired Geraldine Walther.

The program opens with the Takács playing Five Fantasiestücke, op. 5, by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a piece they have not played before. The Ivalas Quartet will play several short numbers: Strum by Jessie Montgomery; An Elegy: A Cry from the Grave by Carlos Simon; and two movements from Daniel Bernard Roumain’s String Quartet No. 5, “Rosa Parks.” Concluding the program will be a string octet arrangement of Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas brasileiras No.9.

The most notable feature of the program is the ethnic and racial diversity of the composers: African-English—Coleridge-Taylor; African-American—Montgomery and Simon; Haitian-American—Roumain; and Spanish-Brazilian— Villa-Lobos.

Ivalas Quartet

In this regard, the program also reflects the diversity of the Ivalas Quartet. One violinist is of mixed Danish/German and Ethiopian heritage and grew up in Des Moines, Iowa; the other violinist has American and French-Caribbean/African ancestors and grew up in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma; the cellist is Venezuelan; and the violist is from Southern California but has an Argentinian mother.

Members of the Takács Quartet are busy working to pull the program together, but first violinist Ed Dusinberre shared his thoughts by email. “This has been a time of reflection for us,” he wrote. “Over the summer we’ve been exploring works such as Coleridge Taylor’s extraordinary Fantasiestücke that to our shame we didn’t know previously.

“We always like to showcase our graduate quartet in different ways throughout their residency here. We can’t wait to play the Villa Lobos together and to hear Ivalas perform a variety of wonderful works that they feel passionately about.”

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Not widely known today, Coleridge-Taylor was prominent in English musical life early in the last century. Known in the U.S. as “The African Mahler,” he had several successful tours of the U.S. before he died at 37.

In his program notes, Simon wrote that A Cry from the Grave, written in 2015, “is an artistic reflection dedicated to those who have been murdered wrongfully by an oppressive power; namely Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown.”

Roumain’s String Quartet No. 5 is dedicated to Rosa Parks, whose refusal to move to the back of a bus set off the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott in 1956. Roumain, whose Haitian parents lived through the Civil Right movement in the U.S, wrote that he created the quartet “as a musical portrait of Rosa Parks’ struggle, survival and legacy. The music is a direct reflection of a dignified resistance.”

The Bachianas brasileiras are a series of nine suites by Villa-Lobos written for varying performance media. Each work aims to join Baroque compositional techniques to Brazilian musical material. Most of then are not well known in this country, although No. 5, for soprano and eight cellos, has achieved widespread popularity with classical audiences. The ninth of the series was originally written for chorus and string orchestra, and will be performed in an arrangement for string octet.

Grusin Hall

Performing into an empty hall might seem discomfiting, but Dusinberre says it is not that difficult for the players. “Of course it is an adjustment but compared with the challenges most people face during the pandemic, we feel very fortunate to have projects to work on at all,” he wrote. “We have become experienced at recording CDs over the years and to creating performance energy without a present audience.

“We hope our audience are staying safe. We are extremely grateful to CU Presents in being both sensible and innovative to find means by which we can still communicate with our loyal audience here.”

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Takacs and Ivalas string quartets
Full program

Takács Quartet. Image by Amanda Tipton Photography

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Five Fantasiestücke, op. 5 
I. Prelude 
II. Serenade
III. Humoresque 
IV. Minuet
V. Dance 

Takács Quartet 

Jessie Montgomery: Strum
Carlos Simon: An Elegy: A Cry from the Grave 
Daniel Bernard Roumain: String Quartet No. 5, “Rosa Parks”
I. “I made up my mind not to move.” 
II. Klap Ur Handz 

Ivalas Quartet 

Heitor Villa-Lobos: Bachianas brasileiras No.9, W449, arranged for string octet
I. Preludio, Vagaroso e Mistico 
II. Fuga (Pouco apressando) 

Takács Quartet and Ivalas Quartet 

The shared Takács/Ivalas concert will be live streamed at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4, and will remain available through 11 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12. A second all-Mendelssohn program by the Takács alone will be live streamed at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1, and will be available through 11 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9. These performance will be available online only to prior Takács subscribers. A decision is pending on Takács Quartet performance arrangements for the spring.
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NOTE: Subhead changed 10/3 to include Ivalas Quartet.

CMF announces six virtual summer concerts, June 25–July 30

Compilation orchestra performances and composers from marginalized communities

By Peter Alexander June 19 at 2 p.m.

The Colorado Music Festival (CMF) announced a series of six virtual, online concerts, featuring the Takács Quartet and other guest artists, members of the CMF orchestra, and music director Peter Oundjian.

The performances will be presented free of charge, on demand through the CMF Website.  The performances will be made available at 7:30 p.m. on six consecutive Thursday evenings, June 25 through July 30. Each performance will be available for some time after the time they are first posted.

CMF’s usual summer home, the Chautauqua Auditorium

A letter from CMF music director Peter Oundjian places the virtual festival in the current times, and particularly issues of racial justice in the United States. “It is no secret to any of us that the story of this country is riddled with the murder and mistreatment of non-white races,” Oundjian writes. “I am committed to doing everything in my power to make this festival an instrumental platform for musicians who come from marginalized communities.

CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian

“This summer’s festival will include only a fraction of what our programming will look like next summer, and the summers that follow. We will be featuring the music of a number of composers, both living and deceased, who come from different marginalized communities all across the country and the world.

“This is just the beginning.”

For the abbreviated 2020 virtual festival, the inclusion of minority and marginalized musicians includes works by, among others, Florence Price, Agustin Barrios Mangoré, Keith Jarrett, Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank, Jessie Montgomery and George Walker. The festival will conclude with performances by the current quartet-in-residence at CU Boulder, the Ivalas Quartet, a multi-cultural group with members from Hispanic and Black communities.

Takács Quartet

The six performances and their full programs will be:

June 25: Festival Orchestra and the Takács Quartet, featuring the debut of the quartet’s newest member, violist Richard O’Neill. The program will feature a previous Festival Orchestra performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide; and the Takács Quartet on the Chautauqua stage playing Schobert’s Quartettsatz and movements from Florence Price’s String Quartet No. 2; Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 2, and Beethoven’s String Quartet in C major, op. 59 no. 3.

Sharon Isbin. Photo by J. Henry Fair.

July 2: A celebration of women in music. Guitarist Sharon Isbin will play works by Enrique Granados, Antonio Lauro, Leo Brouwer, Nanomi Shemer and Agustin Barrios Mangoré. Percussionist Jisu Jung will play works by Howard Stevens and Keith Jarrett. Framing their performances, CMF musicians will play virtual compilation performances of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and two marches by John Philip Sousa. 

July 9: Violinist Augustin Hadelich will join Oundjian in his home to perform music by J.S. Bach, Eugène Ysaÿe and Francisco Tarrega.

July 16: Pianist Jan Lisiecki will perform cadenzas from the Beethoven piano concertos nos. 1 through 4,  and join Oundjian in a discussion of those pieces.

July 23: Brooklyn Rider string quartet will share a performance from their “Healing Modes” repertoire, which features works by Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank and Kinan Azmeh. The program will open with a virtual compilation of Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 5, performed by members of the CMF Orchestra brass section.

Ivalas Quartet

July 30: CU’s Ivalas Quartet will perform movements from quartets by Joseph Haydn and Jessie Montgomery, and the piano duo of twin sisters Michelle and Christina Naughton will perform music by Ravel, Debussy, George Walker, Rachmaninoff, and Conlon Nancarrow. CMF orchestra members will open the program with Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, and close the virtual festival with the second and fourth movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Except for the Overture from Candide, all the performances by CMF orchestra musicians will be virtual compilation performances, assembled from separate videos submitted by the players. These individual video will be compiled by the festival’s recording and sound engineer Michael Quam and CMF staff.

Other performances will be recorded in advance for broadcast at the stated program times.

You may register for the virtual festival performances here

How to fill the hours of isolation? Music by unfamiliar composers

New CDs from local performers offer rare pleasures

By Peter Alexander April 11 at 3:30 p.m.

The hours stretch empty before you, and you’ve already re-watched all 202 episodes of The X-files. Or was it Game of Thrones?

Now is the time to expand you horizons and discover music you don’t know, by composers whose names are not familiar. And happily, Boulder-area musicians have new offerings that you can order by internet and have delivered directly to your front porch without violating social distancing.

Here are four that are worth attention.

81OtBx57QHL._SL1200_Ernst Dohnányi: Piano Quintets Nos. 1 & 2, String Quartet No. 2. Takács Quartet and Marc-André Hamelin, piano. Hyperion CDA68238

Hungarian composer Ernst Dohnányi is best known for his set of orchestral variations on the French nursery tune Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman, which you probably know as “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” A highly skilled and original composer, he also wrote chamber music and pieces for piano that provide a more complete perspective of his output.

The Takács Quartet teamed up with pianist Marc-André Hamelin to record Dohnányi’s two piano quintets and the String Quartet No. 2. Presented in chronological order on the disc, the quartet falls neatly between the two quintets.

The First Piano Quintet, composed in 1895 when Dohnányi was 17, is a remarkably assured student work, and a perfect representation of post-Brahms late Romanticism. The movements are carefully plotted out and filled with attractive themes. This is music to let wash over you and enjoy the warm blanket of sound. There are moments of excess, when the layering of figuration and overripe harmonies threaten to over-thicken the soup, but Hamelin and the Takács players do a remarkable job of maintaining transparency.

Dohnányi’s style matures and shifts over the course of the three works, but it is always marked by the late Romantic ethos. The String Quartet, composed in 1906, 11 years after the First Quintet, is at times lighter in tone, with notable playful touches in the first movement. The second movement (marked “presto acciacato,” or “crushed presto”) is a propulsive, driven scherzo-like movement, which the Takács plays with perfect precision, with a thoroughly contrasting, gentle chorale in the center.

The Second Quintet, written on the precipice of the First World War in 1914, is the most original and striking piece on the disc. Too early to have been influenced by better known works by Stravinsky and Prokofiev, it almost seems to foreshadow the neo-classical style that would emerge after the war. It is marked by sudden, quirky changes of direction and mood. Here Hamelin and the Takács are at their best, bringing out every swerve of mood without losing the forward movement of the music.

This is a disc filled with remarkable pleasures: engaging, interesting music given exemplary performances. Whether you listen with attention to details or prefer to sit back and simply enjoy, you will find much to appreciate on the disc. Available here and here.

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TOCC0528_webcoverHermann Grädener: Orchestral Music, Vol. One. Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, op. 22; Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, op. 41. National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Gottfried Rabl, conductor, with Karen Bentley Pollick, violin. Toccata Classics TOCC 0528.

The German/Austrian composer Hermann Grädener taught at the Vienna Conservatory for 35 years (1877-1913). His works were often found on concert programs in Vienna and elsewhere, if not warmly embraced by the stern critics of the time. After his death, however, he disappeared, and in recent years his music has gone unrecorded and is nearly impossible to find.

Or it was until Viennese conductor Gottfried Rabl and his Indiana University grad-schoolmate violinist Karen Bentley Pollick began investigating his music. (Pollick is a Colorado Mahlerfest festival artist who has performed in Boulder and served as principal second violinist in last year’s Mahlerfest orchestra. Disclosure: I also knew her when we were both students at Indiana University, and we have stayed in touch over the years.)

Pollick and Rabl have teamed up for the first volume of a planned series of recordings of Grädener’s orchestral works, a CD of his two violin concertos with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. This is a well played and well engineered recording of music that is available nowhere else. As such it is a worthy addition to any collection.

Grädener was born before Dohnányi, and is consequently more in the Romantic mainstream than post-Romantic—or as the liner notes laconically state, he was firmly “downstream from Brahms.” His music is lush, sometimes overripe, always attractive to the ear. It is filled with striking Romantic moments, from the very first opening solo by the horn in the First Concerto.

The first movements of both concertos are on the longwinded side, with discursive passages that tend to wander. It’s all pleasant music, if occasionally overripe, that sometimes gives the impression of having lost the plot. The shorter movements are more successful, particularly the second movement of the second concerto, where a lyrical opening section with long, flowing melodic lines is followed by a more energetic middle section and a return of the opening mood.

Both finales are buoyant rondos. That of the First Concerto has plenty of fireworks which Pollick handles gracefully. The finale of the Second Concerto opens dramatically, but soon turns to a more cheerful character, again played with assurance.

Pollick plays with an alluring sound and great confidence. Rabl and the Ukrainian orchestra provide a solid background. They never threaten to overwhelm the soloist; indeed, either the performance or the engineering so favor the soloist that the orchestra seems understated.

These is no question that this is attractive music, skillfully woven together. The recording helps fill in a blank spot in the history of 19th-century music and is certainly worth enjoying, but whether either concerto adds up to more than a lovely 35–40 minutes in the concert hall—or sitting in front of your speakers—is something each listener will have to decide. Available here and here.

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91+vB0jSWxL._SL1396_Paul Juon: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1–3. Charles Wetherbee, violin, and David Korevaar, piano. Naxos 8.574091.

Paul Juon, much like Hermann Grädener, had a successful career as a teacher and composer before falling into obscurity. Born in Russia to Swiss parents, he was educated in Moscow and Berlin, and spent most of his professional life in the latter city. He is another conservative late-Romantic composer who music is associated with an earlier generation; during his lifetime, he was called “the Russian Brahms.”

Over the years there have been a few recordings of his music, most recently a disc from Naxos featuring CU faulty Charles Wetherbee, violin (known to many as concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic) and David Korevaar, piano, performing Juon’s three sonatas for violin and piano.

Although his style is comfortably Romantic, Juon is on some ways a strange composer who avoids the expected. Korevaar’s notes for the album says the his music “suggests a narrative,” which may be another way of saying that it is episodic. Juon often writes wonderful, striking fragments that never quite coalesce into whole themes.

This is especially evident in the first work on the disc, the Sonata No. 2 in F major of 1920. Playing different material, the violin and piano respond to one another in an interesting musical dialog throughout the first movement. Their disparate themes and motives are like pieces of a mosaic that create an image that is always colorful, never quite distinct.

The slow movement features mysterious meanderings full of odd twists and turns. Once again the violin and piano take turns commenting on each other’s different themes and motives. The finale moves from a light, airy opening that suggests a traditional finale, but transforms unexpectedly to a more spooky feeling.

The one-movement Sonata No. 3 in B minor from 1920 features a lovely central section in slower tempo. This leads to a jolly conclusion that is the closest Juon comes to providing the expected, but still with his own surprise twists.

The First Sonata in A major (1898) offers the most conventional music on the disc. All three movements have clear structures and identifiable, if highly individual themes. In spite of being the longest individual movement of the three sonatas, the first movement is the easiest to follow. Its attractive themes are laid out in a clear ex[position, and can be discerned though the extensive development section. The second movement is an uncomplicated set of variations of contrasting moods and styles, and the finale is a lively rondo.

The sensitive partnership between Korevaar and Wetherbee make this disc a pleasure to listen to. They match each other well through all the thematic give and take, maintaining a comfortable balance between the two voices. Wetherbee plays warmly and with great expression, especially in the slower, reflective passages. The performance is marked by a careful sensitivity to the shifts of mood and expressive swerves that characterize Juon’s style.

If you enjoy exploring unfamiliar byways of the Romantic style, this disc will be most rewarding. Available here and here.

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71GxFdVIH2L._SL1426_Longing: Chamber Music of Reza Vali. Charles Wetherbee violin; David Korevaar, piano; Dariush Saghafi, santoor; Carpe Diem String Quartet. MSR Classics 1738.

More adventurous than the CDs of music by Dohnányi, Grädener and Juon is Longing, a new disc from the Carpe Diem String Quartet that features the music of Iranian-American composer Reza Vali. Several disparate works of chamber music are performed by the quartet, and by their first violinist Charles Wetherbee, again with pianist David Korevaar. Dariush Saghafi joins them playing the Santoor, an Iranian and Indian hammered dulcimer, for one track.

Vali was born in Iran, educated in Tehran, Vienna and the United States, and now teaches composition at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. His music embraces both his Iranian/Persian cultural heritage and his education in Western styles and genres. It is an intriguing mix, though the two are more comfortably paired in some works than in others.

The album includes two sets of pieces for violin and piano, “Three Romantic Songs” and “Love Drunk,” five folk song settings. All eight movements are essentially very conservative, Romantic character pieces, relatively short (1”32” to 3’31”) and expressing a single mood. They are varied, from wistful fragments to strongly characterized dance pieces to a forceful memory of a lost beloved.

For the most part the music of these duets flows on the surface of romantic yearnings, with a heavy sense of nostalgia deriving from the conservative 19th-century idiom. Wetherbee and Korevaar’s expressive performances bring out the varied qualities of the movements, while revealing glimpses of deeper feelings.

The remaining other works on the disc—all for string quartet—draw heavily on Vali’s Iranian/Persian musical heritage. Some are based on folk songs, others make us of Persian modes, which are significantly different from Western keys and scales

Listening to these works I often had the sense of a meaning, a structure and a musical sense that remains just beyond my Western-trained comprehension. This music provides a great adventure for the adventurous listener, even when it seems partly hidden behind a veil of unfamiliarity.

santoor

Santoor

The most interesting work is Calligraphy No. 14, part of an ongoing series of works, also titled Âshoob. This work exists in two versions, both a little over 6 minutes in length, one for string quartet alone and one for string quartet and santoor, a type of hammered dulcimer found in Iran and India. For the recording, the santoor is played by Darius Saghafi, a medical doctor and master santoor player.

The version with santoor has an exoticism that is enchanting. The santoor gives the music a stronger profile than in the version for strings alone. For me this is the best track on the album, an engaging mix of Western and Eastern elements that fit comfortably together with no sense of unease.

I do not have the expertise to know how well the Carpe Diem Quartet handles the Persian elements in Vali’s scores, although it is clear that they play with confidence and commitment. They are a solid quartet, and in this unusual and challenging repertoire they have their parts well under control. Most likely a native Iranian will hear their playing differently than I do, but I find the result intriguing and engaging. At its best, this an adventurous and enjoyable album. Available here and here.

 

 

 

 

UPDATE: Cancellations of CU Performances; statement from Boulder Phil

Eklund Opera, Takács Quartet are included in the latest round of cancelations

By Peter Alexander March 11 at 3:57 p.m.

CU Presents and the University of Colorado, Boulder. have just announced the cancellation of all Spring 2020 College of Music events. Their statement specifies that:

This includes Eklund Opera, Artist Series, Takacs Quartet, ensemble performances and all other events. We will be in touch with ticketholders soon regarding next steps.

Please note that this includes the Eklund Opera production of  The Marriage of Figaro (scheduled for March 13–15) and the performance by the Kronos Quartet (March 19) previously covered in Boulder Weekly and on this blog.

The following is also posted on the CU Presents Web page:

We are currently working with the university to understand the impact this has on our events and will update patrons with more information as soon as possible. . . . CU Presents is committed to the health, safety and wellbeing of everyone at our events. We are actively monitoring the global coronavirus or COVID-19 situation and would like to point you to updates and resources from the University of Colorado Boulder and Boulder County Health.

The Boulder Philharmonic has sent a statement to its patrons and ticket buyers concerning the cancelation of its upcoming concerts March 21 and 22. This information will be shortly available on the Boulder Phil Web page.  Here is the message that has been sent to patrons:

We regret to report that the Boulder Phil will be unable to proceed with concerts scheduled for March 21 at Macky Auditorium and March 22 at Pinnacle Performing Arts Center. CU announced today the suspension of all campus classes and gatherings, and we are supporting public health and safety by suspending our concerts until the virus threat has passed. We hope these preventative measures will be effective as our community does its part to protect our citizens.
We view this change as a postponement, and we will reschedule the concert if at all possible. We will keep you informed of developments as we have information.
For all ticket holders, your tickets is valid for a rescheduled performance of this program, or for exchange to a future concert. If you prefer you may donate the value of your ticket to the Phil, or request a refund, by calling the box office, 303-449-1343 starting Monday.
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NOTE: As much as possible, I will attempt to keep updates concerning cancellations due to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 current on the Web page. Anyone with further information is encouraged to contact this site at alex.peterm@gmail.com.

Takács Quartet features Mendelssohn siblings in spring concert series

Retiring violist Geraldine Walther will be honored for her years with the quartet May 3–4

By Peter Alexander

04-Takacs-Quartet-Amanda-Tipton-photography.jpg.jpg

Takács Quartet

Programs featuring string quartets by sister and brother Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (Jan. 12-13) and Felix Mendelssohn (May 3-4) will form the bookends of the spring concert series by the Takács Quartet at the University of Colorado.

In between (March 8-9) will be a program recognizing the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. Other composers on the bill over the three programs will be Mozart, Haydn and Brahms.

The programming of quartets by the siblings Mendelssohn comes about partly from a planned recording by the Takács Quartet that will include both pieces, but it also reflects the music’s history. “The Felix Mendelssohn quartet that we’re playing was written just after Fanny died, and he dedicated it to her,” Edward Dusinberre, the quartet’s first violinist, explains. “It’s also his last quartet, and he died very soon after that.

“That’s a nice link between the two pieces, which will form the nucleus of our next recording.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Takács Quartet Spring Series 2020

4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12 and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13
Mozart: String Quartet in D major, K575
Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel: String Quartet in E-flat major
Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A major, K 581, with Daniel Silver, clarinet

4 p.m. Sunday, March 8 and 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 9
Haydn: String Quartet in C major, op. 54 No. 2
Beethoven: String Quartet in G major, op. 18 no. 2
Beethoven: String Quartet in C-sharp minor, op. 131

4 p.m. Sunday, May 3 and 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 4
Beethoven String Quartet in B-flat major, op. 18 no 6
Felix Mendelssohn, String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, op. 80
Brahms: String Quintet No. 2 in G major, op. 111, with Erika Eckert, viola

All performances in Grusin Hall of the Imig Music Building on the CU campus. For ticket availability, call 303-492-8008.