PRO MUSICA COLORADO’S 2020-2021 SEASON FOCUSES ON HEALING, DIVERSITY

The hybrid season will offer livestream and limited in-person tickets.

By Izzy Fincher Oct. 7 at 4:50 p.m.

Amidst the turmoil of 2020, we can turn to music for comfort.

“Music has such a capacity to heal,” Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor of Pro Musica Colorado, says. “It has the capacity to comfort. It has the capacity to connect us, to remind us of our humanity, and to remind us of who we are.”

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra with conductor Cynthia Katasarelis

Katsarelis planned Pro Musica’s 2020-2021 season in response to the grief and suffering of 2020, hoping to offer comfort and healing to the audience through music.

“Usually we program a year or more in advance,” Katsarelis says. “But now with this season we can respond to what is going on in the world. We decided this season needed works that were healing, comforting and joyful discoveries.”

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photo by Glenn Ross

Katsarelis’ original plans for the season dissolved mid-summer. To comply with COVID-19 social distancing requirements, she had to find repertoire for strings without winds or vocalists. This reduced her options and forced her to look for local soloists on short notice. At that time, she also decided to offer the season as both a virtual and limited in-person experience.

The December program, originally planned to be Handel’s Messiah with the Boulder Chorale, was scrapped in favor of an all-strings program and a new soloist—Yumi Hwang-Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony. Katsarelis decided to open the concert with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Novellette No. 1 for string orchestra, a lesser-known work for musical discovery, before moving to familiar works by Vivaldi, Corelli and Dvořák to heal.

For February’s concert, “Rainbow Valentine,” Katsarelis also wanted to begin the program with new discoveries. First, Pro Musica will premiere a new work by Jordan Holloway, the winner of CU-Boulder’s Composition Competition. Then they will play Joseph Bologne’s Violin Concerto No. 9 with soloist Harumi Rhodes, the second violinist of the Takács Quartet, and finish with the comforting Serenade for String Orchestra by Tchaikovsky.

Katsarelis is most excited for the Bologne violin concerto and feels grateful that Rhodes agreed to perform it on short notice. “This violin concerto is swashbuckling,” she says. 

Harumi Rhodes. Photo by
Michael Barnes

“Harumi sets the room on fire when she opens her violin case, let alone when the bow comes to the string. The combination of this swashbuckling concerto and Harumi will be electric. It will pass through the internet to all those tuned in.”

For the final concert in May, aptly named “Springtime,” Pro Musica will collaborate with Nicolò Spera, director of CU’s classical guitar program, on a concerto (currently TBA). The program will also include Carter Pann’s Three Secrets in Maine and  the chamber version of Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Katsarelis feels the works by Pann and Copland are distinctly American and will offer familiar sounds as the season’s final comforting gesture. 

Appalachian Spring is such a quintessential American piece,” she says. “It’s a good piece to play at this time. It’s a piece that reminds us who we are. It is an American work that speaks to the best of American culture.”

For those listening to concerts virtually, Katsarelis recommends working on a high-quality audio setup.

“People might want to get in touch with their inner audiophile,” Katsarelis says. “If they haven’t experimented with connecting their computer to decent speakers, now is the time. It would really enhance the listening experience.”

Beyond the three concerts, Pro Musica will also stay engaged with the Boulder community, particularly in local elementary schools, during the season. They will collaborate with Boulder MUSE, a non-profit organization that provides free music lessons for underprivileged children. Pro Musica’s string quartet will perform music by diverse composers, especially composers of color, from their previous season for young musicians at Columbine Elementary School and University Hill Elementary School. 

For Pro Musica, issues of diversity and representation have always been important. Since their conception in 2007, Pro Musica has aimed to share “new voices from ethnically and racially diverse cultures,” according to their mission statement. This perspective is important with 2020’s focus on diversity. This season includes works by two black composers, Coleridge-Taylor and Bologne.

For Katsarelis, diversity in classical music is personally important. She is currently the only female conductor of a professional orchestra in Colorado.

“This is something I have done my entire career, going back to the mid-1990s,” she says. “It’s not new for me or for Pro Musica. We have been presenting music by female composers, composers of color and underrepresented voices. We have a mission of bringing forward voices that have been silenced unjustly. 

“Artistic grounds alone are enough to bring this music forward. This is great music that has a lot to say to us and can really speak to our hearts.”

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Pro Musica Colorado
2020-2021 Season
Limited tickets available for live performances
Live-stream tickets available for Saturday night of each program

Holiday Moods
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Yumi Hwang-Williams, violin

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Novellette No. 1
Corelli: Christmas Concerto
Vivaldi: “Fall” and “Winter” from The Four Seasons
Dvořák: Serenade for Strings

*7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield 
3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, First United Methodist Church, Boulder

Rainbow Valentine
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Harumi Rhodes, violin

Jordan Holloway (CU Composition Competition winner): World Premiere
Joseph Bologne: Violin Concerto No. 9
Tchaikovsky: Serenade for String Orchestra

*7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield
2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14,Mountain View United Methodist Church, Boulder

Springtime
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Nicolò Spera, classical guitar

Carter Pann: Three Secrets in Maine
Concerto TBA
Copland: Appalachian Spring (chamber version)

*7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield
2 p.m. Sunday, May 2, Mountain View United Methodist Church, Boulder.

*Livestreamed concerts

Purchase individual in-person or livestream tickets or 2020-21 season subscriptions for Pro Musica Colorado here.

“Women Among Men” featured by Pro Musica Colorado Sept. 22-23

Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz is ”a great discovery”

By Peter Alexander Sept. 20 at 8 p.m.

“Women Among Men,” a concert by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, will feature a woman conductor, two women soloists, and a woman composer—and some male composers as well.

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

Cynthia Katsarelis. Photography by Glenn Ross.

The conductor is Cynthia Katsarelis, Pro Musica’s music director. The soloists are violinist Yumi Hwang-Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony, and soprano Amanda Balestrieri, artistic director of Seicento Baroque Ensemble. And the composer is Grazyna Bacewicz, who Katsarelis describes as “a great discovery.”

Other composers on the program are J.S. Bach, Joseph Haydn and Mozart. Performances will be Saturday in Denver and Sunday afternoon in Boulder (Sept.  22–23).

Katsarelis points out that the program is filled cheerful pieces. Recent seasons have seen Pro Musica playing some pretty dark, serious works—musical reflections on death, the martyrdom of Joan of Arc, and a tragic shipwreck, for example. “I decided we should do a happy concert for once,” she says.

Grazyna Bacewicz

Grazyna Bacewicz

Bacewicz, Katsarelis’s “great discovery,” is likely better known to violinists than to the audience. She was a virtuoso violinist as well as composer, and she wrote a lot of music for the violin. “I’m going to get her violin sonatas and play those,” Katsarelis says. “I’m really enjoying her music!”

Born in Poland in 1909, Bacewicz lived and worked through the middle of the 20thcentury. The Concerto for String Orchestra was written in 1948, and reflects the clean and bracing neo-classical style of the era between the wars.

“Her aesthetic likes clarity and orchestration that has space,” Katsarelis says. “She didn’t like the giant, dense sound blocks, and in that respect she reminds me of Ravel.

“There are areas that have an impressionistic sound, there are areas that have a Stravinsky-like sound, and sometimes we get eastern European rhythms that are reminiscent of Shostakovich. She’s obviously aware of Bach, and the coloristic effects of Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, and Shostakovich. Without anything sounding derivative, it just sounds like she’s got a really wonderful broad palette.”

A word that Katsarelis uses to describe Bacewicz’s music is “lively,” but she also points out that it is not music that is difficult or unfriendly to audiences. “She knows how to drive a line, but it’s nothing intimidating or scary,” she says. “You can really take it in and enjoy it deeply.”

yumi-hip

Yumi Hwang-Williams

Katsarelis knew Hwang Williams before either moved to Colorado, when Hwang-Williams was principal second violin in the Cincinnati Symphony and Katsarelis was an apprentice conductor with the orchestra. Since they both settled in Colorado, Hwang-Williams has been a soloist with Pro Musica several times.

On this occasion, she is playing one of her favorite pieces, Haydn’s Violin Concerto in C major. “It’s a wonderful, beautiful, ebullient, joyful work,” she says. “I have loved this concerto for a long time, and I’ve always wanted to play it.”

Although it is not a big Romantic showpiece, Hwang-Williams says that the concerto has its own challenges. “There’s a lot of virtuosity,” she says. “It’s just a different kind of virtuosity. The challenge of playing classical repertoire well is that you have to have a lot of refinement in your playing. You need crystal clear intonation and articulation, so what you hear is the purity of the violin, in the tone and phrasing.”

Katsarelis says “It’s just a really wonderful piece, written around the time of his early to middle symphonies. It’s a mature work, from the beginning of his peak—which then lasted for 50 more years!”

The concerto will be followed by a piece that Katsarelis calls “a bonbon”: Die Schätzbarkeit der weiten Erde (The riches of the world), an aria for soprano and violin with strings from Bach’s Cantata No. 204. “Yumi has been talking to me about the wonderful Bach arias that have violin solos,” she explains.

Amanda Balastrieri.2

Amanda Balestrieri

“The concert was a little bit short, so there would be room to do a wonderful bon-bon. The music is charming—and of course, Amanda Balestrieri is the perfect person for this, both because of her voice quality and her musical intelligence.”

The fourth piece on the program is Mozart’s Serenade in D major, K239, known as the “Serenata Notturna” (Nocturnal serenade). “When I was putting together the program, I was shuffling through pieces for string orchestra,” Katsarelis says. “I’d forgotten about this, except that it has two orchestras, the quartet of principals and the string orchestra with also timpani. I looked into it, and I was delighted by the piece right away!”

As Mozart would have done, Pro Musica will separate the two performing groups—”so that we get that aural, spatial surround sound,” Katsarelis says.

Mozart’s serenades, were usually written for celebrations of some kind. The occasion for the “Serenata Notturna” is not known, but was most likely a masked ball during Carnival season. Katsarelis happily suggests that “it’s not difficult to imagine intrigue going on while they were playing this at a masked ball—where you can get away with more than at a non-masked ball!”

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Viennese masked ball

To add to the enjoyment of his Viennese audiences, Mozart incorporated some melodies hat would have been recognized at the time. “That would have added to their delight,” Katsarelis says.  “But the music still carries that delight, even if we don’t know the songs.”

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Women Among Men
with Violinist Yumi Hwang-Williams
Amanda Balestrieri, soprano
Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor

7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 22 
Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St., Denver

2 p.m. Sunday, September 23
Mountain View United Methodist, 355 Ponca Pl., Boulder

Mozart: Serenade in D major K. 239, Serenata notturna
Grazyna Bacewicz: Concerto for String Orchestra
Haydn: Violin Concerto in C Major
J.S. Bach: Die Schätzbarkeit der weiten Erde

Tickets 

 

Pro Musica Colorado presents a rich exploration of sound and expression

By Peter Alexander

Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor of Pro Musica Colorado

Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor of Pro Musica Colorado

The Pro Music Colorado Chamber Orchestra performed a concert of music for strings last night (Feb. 7) with pieces that were inspired by poetry, by earlier music, and by nature.

Cynthia Katsarelis conducted Pro Musica’s string sections with both intensity and control. The performance proved to be a beautiful and rich exploration of sound and expression.

All three pieces on the program—Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto No. 2, “The American Four Seasons,” and the world premiere of . . . I give you my sprig of lilac by CU composition student Daniel Cox—originated in roughly the past 100 years, and all three impressed with the depth and breadth of sound that a string ensemble can produce.

The program opened with Cox’s brief, elegiac score. The winner of a composition competition, Cox turned to Walt Whitman’s memorial poem for Abraham Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” for inspiration. The title comes from lines in the poem, describing the passage of Lincoln’s coffin through the streets: “With the tolling, tolling bells’ perpetual clang,/Here coffin that slowly passes,/I give you my sprig of lilac.”

The sound is warm and comforting as the music gradually emerges, swells, then trails into silence. The obvious comparison is of the funeral cortege slowly passing, but it would undervalue the music to hear it only in pictorial terms. Cox has written a polished and assured work that reaches deeper levels of emotion and honors Whitman’s poem.

The earliest piece on the program was Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia, finalized 1919 and inspired by the music of the 16th-century English composer Thomas Tallis. The score harkens back to the idyllic days before the First World War, expressing the very apotheosis of the English pastoral style that emerged from the composer’s study of folk song.

The performance by Katsarelis and the Pro Musica players was impressive for both the fullness of sound—the sheer volume—that can be achieved by a small group of string players, and by the careful control of the music’s contour. Katsarelis loves to talk about the “journey” of each piece; here that journey was clearly delineated in her interpretation.

Philip Glass

Philip Glass

The second half of the concert was filled by Glass’s Concerto, written as a companion for the much loved Four Seasons concertos of Antonio Vivaldi. Although Glass has declined to indentify which seasons the individual movements represent, there is a sense of a journey—that word again!—through time and the stages of the year. And while Glass sticks mostly to the stylistic paths that he has long followed in his career, the music is varied in its expressive content and always rewarding.

Yumi Hwang-Williams. Photo by r r jones

Yumi Hwang-Williams. Photo by r r jones

The concerto’s eloquent soloist was Yumi Hwang-Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony and an accomplished solo artist and chamber musician. She was equally impressive in the solo part’s seamless long lines, the breathless pianissimos, and the cascading arpeggios for which Glass is so well known.

Katsarelis and Pro Music provided full-bodied support, with great rhythmic propulsion when needed, the requisite chugging that never flagged in the lower parts, and delicately balanced chords in the gentler moments. This is a style that we do not hear often in Boulder, and it was delightful to hear Glass’s music so enthusiastically championed.

But which season is which? I have my ideas, but you won’t find an answer here. As a Buddhist, Glass likely honors the journey over the destination. So you will have to find your own answers; I would not deny my readers that personal journey of discovery.

Pro Musica Colorado Offers Four Seasons, But Can’t Say Which is Which

Also on the program: World Premiere by CU student Daniel Cox

By Peter Alexander

Philip Glass

Philip Glass

The Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra will perform Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 2: “The American Four Seasons,” but don’t ask which season each movement represents.

Conductor Cynthia Katsarelis explains that the composer left it up to the listener to decide: “The concerto was commissioned by violinist Robert McDuffie,” she says. “But when McDuffie and Glass got together, they didn’t agree on which parts went with which season.

“Glass saw that as an opportunity for the listener to make their own interpretation—and that’s the invitation to our audience.”

yumi-hipThe performances (Friday, Feb. 6, in Denver and Saturday, Feb. 7, in Boulder, both at 7:30 p.m.) will feature violinist Yumi Hwang Williams, concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony as soloist. Other works on the program will be the world premiere of . . . I Give you my Sprig of Lilac by CU composition student Daniel Cox, and the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Katsarelis thinks that Hwang-Williams is the ideal interpreter for Glass’s concerto. “Yumi’s appetite for music goes beyond the orchestral,” Katasrelis says.

“She is a concertmaster who runs the full gamut of repertoire, as concerto soloist she runs the gamut, she has particular experience in the contemporary repertoire, and she’s a formidable chamber musician. All of that comes to bear in making her one of the most fabulously intelligent and deep feeling soloists that you could have.”

Read the full article in Boulder Weekly.

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Cynthia Katsarelis and the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orcehstra

Cynthia Katsarelis and the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orcehstra

“American Seasons”
Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra
Cynthia Katsarelis conductor, with Yumi Hwang-Williams, violin

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 6, St. John’s Cathedral, 1350 Washington St., Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder

Click here for tickets; or call 720-443-0565