Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Abby Raymond, Andrew Litton, George Gershwin, Gregory Harper, Ira Gershwin, Justin Bartels, Kent Fenner, Nicole Abissi, Paul Naslund, Steve Hearn
The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and Maestro Andrew Litton, gave one of their most exciting concerts of the season Saturday evening, May 18. It was an all Gershwin program that evinced all of the enthusiasm, drive, and transparent love for musical art, which has filled the “New Era” of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra since Maestro Andrew Litton has become its conductor. I was anxious to hear this program, because I have long felt, along with several friends who are true musicians, that George Gershwin is one of the most underrated composers.
It seems to me that music lovers in America have always had a little bit of difficulty in trying to classify the music of George Gershwin (1898-1937). His popular songs are so finely crafted, his harmonies so sophisticated when compared to other popular music of the day (and certainly, when compared to popular music of today), and his melodies so outstanding, that the artistry of his output is astoundingly high, and cannot be ignored. Because of the popularity of his songs, the American public has always seemed reluctant, even though his artistry has been recognized, to make the crossover observation that his popular music contains the same artistry as his “serious” music. It took years for the public to stop calling Porgy and Bess a musical, and identify it for what it is: an opera. When Walter Damrosch conducted the Concerto in F by Gershwin, he said, “Various composers have been walking around jazz like a cat around the plate of hot soup, waiting for it to cool off, so they could enjoy it without burning their tongues, hitherto accustomed only to the more tepid liquid distilled by cooks of the classical school.… she [Lady Jazz] has encountered no knight who could lift her to a level that would enable her to be received as a respectable member in musical circles. George Gershwin seems to have accomplished this miracle. He has done it boldly by dressing this extremely independent and up-to-date young lady in the classic garb of a concerto. Yet he has not detracted one whit from her fascinating personality… He is the Prince who has taken Cinderella by the hand and openly proclaimed her a princess to the astonished world, no doubt to the fury of her envious sisters.”
Saturday evening, the enthusiasm with which Maestro Litton approached the Overture to Crazy for You, seemed to delight and surprise everyone in the audience (I might add that it has been a while since I have been to a CSO concert which was as well attended as this one). Before the concert, Litton explained that Gershwin was one of the greatest melodists in music history, along with Mozart and Schubert. It was abundantly clear that Litton has a very special appreciation for George Gershwin. Again, it was clear that his skill in communicating with the orchestra is exceptional, and that there is an obvious mutual admiration between conductor and orchestra. The overture was infused with excitement, liveliness, and passion. After this overture was finished, and the natural and fervent applause had subsided, Maestro Litton swept his arm to the orchestra, and said to the audience, “How about this Colorado Symphony Orchestra?” The audience burst into applause again at his spontaneous pronouncement of his affection and admiration for the CSO.
Following the overture, the CSO and Maestro Litton performed Day Full of Song, which is a medley arrangement for piano and orchestra made by Sid Ramin of seven Gershwin songs that had been discovered in Ira Gershwin’s (1896- 1983) closet upon his death. Litton performed as piano soloist and conducted from the bench in this medley. Immediately, it was apparent that Litton is a pianist as well as a conductor. I stress that he is not a conductor who plays the piano, or a pianist who just happens to conduct. He is a virtuoso at both. I sat, spellbound, wondering at the CSO’s good fortune in having Maestro Litton in Denver. He infused Gershwin’s songs in Day Full of Song with incredible musicianship, and, again, displaying the art that is so inherent in everything that George Gershwin wrote. Please understand that there is a big difference between playing through a work by George Gershwin, and presenting it in such a way that Gershwin’s own mastery is obvious. It also became apparent that Andrew Litton’s ability in conducting and performing Gershwin’s music comes from a deep appreciation and experience with jazz. I do not know how vast that experience is, but it would seem to be considerable. I have never seen a conductor revel in giving not just the audience a rare treat, but giving a treat to the orchestra itself. I was sitting in an excellent seat, but it was a little to the side for I could fully witness the faces of half of the orchestra. None of them stopped smiling during the entire performance: it was obvious they were enjoying the music as much as Maestro Litton was. Litton and the orchestra gave the rhythms an extra emphasis, the melodic lines an extra poignancy, and the harmonic changes an extra emphasis through remarkable dynamic changes.
Understand that this entire concert was an unbelievable treat because of the enthusiasm of the performance. I suspect, however, that the treat for everyone in the audience was Gershwin’s most famous composition, Rhapsody in Blue. This is a remarkably difficult piece not only for the pianist, but for the orchestra as well, because of its rhythms and abrupt changes. It is, as Maestro Litton emphasized in his short talk before he performed it, quite rhapsodic; meaning that it follows no specific form. As everyone knows, it was written in three weeks and orchestrated by Ferde Grofé. It was commissioned by Paul Whiteman, who wanted a concerto, and, in some respects, and this is not a gross exaggeration, this composition is a one movement concerto with three cadenzas.
I was amazed at the tempo that Maestro Litton took: the tempo and the musicianship he displayed while performing at the keyboard certainly demonstrated to the audience that he is a true conductor and a true pianist. It was one of the best performances of Rhapsody in Blue that I have heard, and I assure you that I have heard many. About two thirds of the way through, where the main theme comes back in long mellifluous notes from the full orchestra without the piano, I swear I saw Maestro Litton wiped the tear from his eye because the beauty of the music simply got to him. That would not surprise me, as it is the spot where many people who listen to this piece feel the full impact of Gershwin’s melodic lines. The performance of this famous work displayed so many emotions that I think the audience was taken aback by its depth. In addition, I think it was the performance of Rhapsody in Blue at the concert, that made the audience realize that Gershwin was an incredibly fine composer. Distinctive performances, such as this one, can drive that point home more than just a repeated hearing of a fine piece.
As Maestro Litton explained to the audience, the famed choreographer, George Balanchine, was an excellent pianist. As Balanchine was playing through the original George Gershwin songbook, it seemed to him that many of the Gershwin songs would make a fine ballet. The orchestration of the songs was done by Hershy Kay, and the premiere was given in February of 1970. Balanchine and Gershwin had made arrangements to collaborate, however their plans were destroyed when Gershwin died unexpectedly in 1937. Thirty-three years were to lapse before Balanchine’s efforts materialized.
Throughout Saturday’s performance, all of the musicians in the orchestra excelled; however, in the performance of this ballet there were several that, to my way of thinking, deserve mentioning. Justin Bartels, Principal Trumpet, brought some of those sitting next to me to tears, especially when he switched to flugelhorn. Abby Raymond, Acting Principal Clarinet, accomplished exactly the same response. Kent Fenner, Principal Base; Steve Hearn, Jazz Drummer; all of the trombone section, Nicole Abissi, Paul Naslund, and Gregory Harper were all superb.
I shall remember this performance for a very long time for many reasons. Maestro Andrew Litton took the time to show the audience a composer that they already were familiar with in a new light. He did so by displaying incredible musicianship as a conductor and as a pianist, and by exposing to the audience, through that musicianship, George Gershwin’s artistic depth. The joy that Litton displayed truly inspired the orchestra, and it was readily apparent that the members of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra are delighted to have Andrew Litton as their conductor. I know that I have said as much before, but it has been such a long time since this orchestra has had someone at the helm who they truly admire, that I am still becoming accustomed to the “New Era.” It is as if they have found a conductor who, instead of saying, “Musicians! You must make something of your life in this composition!” he is saying, “Let’s experience the life of music together in this composition.”
It was thrilling.
Filed under: News
The Playground Ensemble, Denver’s avant garde music group will present a concert of new music this Friday. I will quote from a short press release that I received:
WHAT: New Creations Concert
WHEN: Friday, 5/17/13 at 7:30pm
WHERE: Hamilton Recital Hall, Newman Center for the Performing Arts, 2344 E. Iliff Ave., Denver, CO 80210
The Playground presents brand-new works, including commissions by Jimmy Canepa and Oren Boneh and the latest compositions by Chris Malloy and our own Conrad Kehn.
Tickets $18 adult, $16 seniors, free with Pioneer card or ANY student ID. Ticket prices include free parking at the Newman Center parking garage and a reception after the concert to greet the artists.
Lamont Concert Line (303) 871-6412
About the Playground Ensemble:
The Playground Ensemble, made up of faculty and alumni from the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, is the Rocky Mountain Region’s premier new music group. We are professional musicians, composers and fans dedicated to presenting classical music as a living art form. The Playground’s mission is to provide stimulating performances, expand common perceptions of both contemporary music and the chamber ensemble, and nurture a community around this music that we love.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Bahman Saless, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Cobus Du Toit, Ginger Hedrick, Hsing-ay Hsu, Jerome Flegg, Kaori Uno, Kellen Toohey, Kent Hurd, Kim Brody, Max Soto
I have attended three or four concerts this concert season where the musicians involved in the performance truly seemed totally energized and excited by the music they were going to perform. Such was the case Saturday evening, May 11th, with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Bahman Saless. They performed an all-Beethoven program at the Broomfield Auditorium in front of a full house.
The Boulder Chamber Orchestra opened the program with the overture to Beethoven’s only ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus. A result of an association with the choreographer Salvatore Viganò in 1800, it was first performed on March 28, 1801. At the time, it was quite popular, and received twelve performances, but even so, it was eventually criticized as being far too serious for a ballet. This work carries the number Opus 43, which is quite challenging, because it indicates that the work was written quite a bit later than it actually was. We know, for example, that there was a piano arrangement of the score published as Opus 24. It was the publisher, Hoffmeister, who published the score of the overture under the incorrect number Opus 43, which, of course, leads one to believe an incorrect composition date. Beethoven also used the theme from the ballet in his Twelve Contradanses (without opus number), the Variations and Fugue for Piano, Opus 35, and the connection for Saturday evening’s performance, as a major theme in the last movement of his Symphony Nr. 3.
This Beethoven overture is a relatively short work, but it is quite an exciting one, and was well-chosen to begin this program. The work opens with forte chords separated by a considerable space between them. The attacks on each of the chords were perfect, followed by lyrical sections of the full orchestra with the weight of the melodic line carried by the woodwinds. This short introduction is then followed by the theme of the opening chords with an underlayment of sixteenth notes in the strings. This is a very exciting piece of music, and it only works if there is true precision from the violins. That precision was in abundance throughout the whole concert Saturday evening. That sounds like a very obvious thing to say, especially considering the fact that these are all professional musicians, but I assure you there was a very special “edge” to the performance on Saturday. It was full of tension and excitement. The other aspect that I noticed about the performance was that all of the musicians on stage were not only watching Maestro Saless, they were very carefully watching each other. The sforzandos (a marked and sudden emphasis) were as perfectly together as the entrances, and that comes from eye contact with each other, as well as the conductor. Beethoven’s ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus, has fallen by the wayside as far as its popularity is concerned. That, in my opinion, has led many conductors to treat the overture to the ballet as a “filler” piece of music, to be used only when a short work is needed for the program. It was great to hear Maestro Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra treat it like the genuine piece of music, which it is.
Following the Beethoven overture, Boulder (and world) pianist Hsing-ay Hsu joined the Boulder Chamber Orchestra in the performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Nr. 5 in E Flat Major, Opus 73, known as the “Emperor.”
Surely, everyone in Colorado must, by now, know who Hsing-ay Hsu is; however, I will quote from her bio statement which is on the web:
“Since making her stage debut at age 4, Chinese pianist Hsing-ay Hsu (“Sing-I Shoo”) has performed at such notable venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, and abroad in Asia and Europe.
“Upon entering her freshman year at Juilliard, she won the William Kapell International Piano Competition silver medal. Hsu was also winner of the Ima Hogg National Competition First Prize, the prestigious Juilliard William Petschek Recital Award, a McCrane Foundation Artist Grant, a Paul & Daisy Soros Graduate Fellowship Award, and a Gilmore Young Artist Award. She was also named a US Presidential Scholar of the Arts by President Clinton at the White House.
“A versatile concerto soloist performing Bach to Barber, she is described by the Washington Post as full of ‘power, authority, and self-assurance.’ Concerto collaborations include the Houston Symphony Orchestra as first-prize winner of the 2003 Ima Hogg National Competition, the Baltimore Symphony, the Colorado Symphony, Pacific Symphony (CA), Colorado Springs, Florida West Coast, Fort Collins, New Jersey, Waterbury (CT), China National, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Xiamen orchestras. Television and radio feature broadcasts include Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion Live from Tanglewood (for a 10,000+ live audience members and 3.9 million broadcast audience), NPR’s Performance Today with Martin Goldsmith, TCI cablevision’s Grand Piano Recital (CA), CPR’s Colorado Spotlight, China Central National TV, Hong Kong Phoenix TV, and Danish National Radio. She has recorded CD/DVD’s for Pacific Records, Albany Records, and Nutmeg Press labels.
“An advocate of new music, she has given numerous world premieres including Ezra Laderman’s Piano Sonata No. and Beshert; Ned Rorem’s Aftermath (2002) for baritone and piano trio; Daniel Kellogg’s scarlet thread at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and his Momentum, which she commissioned for the 1998 Gilmore International Keyboard Festival; as well as Du MingXin’s Piano Concerto No.3 at the Gulangyu International Piano Festival and National Tour. Chamber music appearances include Carnegie Weill Hall, Bargemusic in New York, the Aspen Music Festival, Tanglewood, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, the Gardner Museum in Boston, the Detroit Art Museum, Denmark’s Viborg Hall, Taiwan’s Novel Hall, and a 2007 all-stars gala in Hong Kong for the 10th anniversary of the reunification. Recent projects include the ongoing multi-media recital China through the Lens of Piano Music, co-directing/performing in the George Crumb at 80 Music Festival, and producing/performing the Olivier Messiaen Centennial series.”
I suppose that it is not without reason that Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto is nicknamed the “Emperor,” though I hasten to point out that nickname did not come from Beethoven. The name arises from the fact that it is a very forceful piece, akin to the “Eroica” Symphony Nr.3, also in E Flat Major (and also performed at Saturday’s concert). Beethoven, perhaps, more than any other composer, has had so much written about him which is full of nonsense by the early romantically-inclined critics, that today, one must realize that listening to a single page of his music is far more instructive than reading a hundred pages of the early literary effusion. The Fifth Piano Concerto is full of sharp forte-piano shadings, and incredible bravura eruptions, but the second movement also contains some of the most idyllic writing to come from Beethoven.
As stated above in her biography, Hsing-ay Hsu takes charge of the piano the moment she sits down. Her playing is full of confidence, and why shouldn’t it be? Consider all of her awards and concert experience. However, she also exudes true musicianship, and understanding of the composer that she is playing. I also hasten to interrupt myself here, to explain that Maestro Saless, in speaking to the audience, clarified that all of works on Saturday’s concert were going to be taken at tempos that were consistent with those of Beethoven’s era. They were faster than the tempos of today. As Hsing-ay Hsu began to play, it was clear that she was comfortable, and in full agreement with the tempos that were no doubt discussed with Maestro Bahman Saless. Her arpeggios ascending the keyboard from the opening chords of the introduction were crystal clear because of her very careful pedal use. She certainly used less pedal on the ascending arpeggios and the accompanying trills at the top than, for example, Claudio Arrau. Yet, it was wonderfully musical. I was also immediately struck with the impression that she was enjoying the Sauter piano because of its clarity of tone, though there were spots in certain registers of the keyboard that seemed a little out of tune, unlike other performances that I have heard on this particular piano. Her playing is so clean that it boggles the mind, and she has such power that it seems there is no chance that the orchestra could cover her. Her playing in the second movement was positively ethereal and dream-like. And, indeed, it is one of Beethoven’s most expressive statements in his entire output. I have often stated that it is sometimes more difficult to play slowly, concentrating on tone production and dynamic shadings, then it is to play fast and loud. Hsing-ay Hsu allowed the second movement to radiate emotion without being overly sentimental, and never once did she leave Beethoven’s style behind. The second movement has a slow transition which gets faster as it progresses, and the third movement of the concerto begins attacca (begin what follows without pausing). The tempo of the third movement was very quick indeed, but Hsing-ay Hsu filled it with the jubilance that I have not heard for some time. Once again, the members of the orchestra were watching each other carefully. The violins and cellos, which could easily see the piano keyboard, were also keeping a sharp eye on Ms. Hsu. It was a perfect example of an orchestra determined to allow the soloist and the conductor to lead them in this piece and offer both individuals all the support they could muster. It was clear that the members of this orchestra truly enjoyed playing with Hsing-ay Hsu because she is such an incredibly reliable musician.
Allow me to explain precisely what I mean by reliable. It means that the soloist not only knows where every note and rest and dynamic marking is, but is able to communicate that with eye contact and gestures with the conductor. In the third movement of this concerto, Ms. Hsu had a miniscule memory slip, and came in a beat late. This is not an extreme criticism by any stretch: it is part of the price of admission of being a soloist. I am confident that no one in the audience spotted this slip because I doubt that anyone in the audience knows the score well enough to spot such a small error, but it did result in an amused smile from Hsing-ay Hsu. Her reliability as a performing musician allowed her great confidence to keep going as if nothing had happened without losing a secondary beat, and it also gave Maestro Saless the confidence to know that she was going to continue without a stumble. She knew the piece so well that her tempo never changed, her eyes never got wide with shock, and she never lost her breath. That is mental and musical reliability, and total knowledge of the work at hand. It is the mark of experience, which is something that is difficult for the audience to understand unless they do it themselves in their own field of endeavor. Hsing-ay Hsu gave a wonderfully exciting performance of this very difficult piece, and her artistry and musical excellence were in a sphere obtained by only a few.
Following Hsing-ay Hsu’s remarkable performance, Maestro Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra performed Beethoven’s revolutionary Symphony Nr. 3 in E flat Major, Opus 55. Note that I used the word “revolutionary.” In truth, all of Beethoven’s symphonies are revolutionary, because he did so many things other composers would not do, as in his first symphony (which is in C major). He starts on the wrong chord, travels through a minor, then F major, and at the beginning of the exposition section, finally settles in C major. Just that aspect startled critics of the day. Of course, being a revolutionary meant that his thinking was in advance of his contemporaries, and that he was misunderstood because his contemporaries refused to look forward. It was due only to later generations to award Beethoven their honor with their enlightenment.
This Third Symphony is so well-known that it really needs no movement by movement explanation. But I must point out that in the first movement the entire cello section was absolutely marvelous. In the second movement the oboes, Max Soto and Kimberly Brody excelled, as did Cobus du Toit and Ginger Hedrick, flute. In fact, the entire woodwind section including Jerome Fleg and Kellen Toohey, clarinet; and Kent Hurd and Kaori Uno, bassoon, were all exceptional. I have never heard the horn section of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra play as well as they did in this Third Symphony. As I said in the opening paragraph of this article, this was a wonderful concert by everyone on stage. It clearly was the best performance I have ever heard the Boulder Chamber Orchestra give. Everyone on stage, guided by Maestro Bahman Saless, had a knowledge of Beethoven that allowed them to present Beethoven in his purist sense. What more could one ask for?
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Christina Pier, Duain Wolfe, Elijah, Felix Mendelssohn, Lawrence Wiliford, Matthew Halls, Meg Bragle, Nathan Berg, Samuel Meyer
Friday evening, May 10, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Matthew Halls, conducted Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah. This work, which Mendelssohn completed in 1846, became as well-known as Handel’s Messiah. However, it could be argued that its popularity caused it to be performed by organizations that did not have the talent, or artistic sense, to perform it well. During the early twentieth century, it was even performed by numerous church choirs who were well-intentioned, but lacked the skill to present such a huge undertaking. The performance of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Chorus was absolutely breathtaking.
We all know, of course, that Mendelssohn was one of the creative geniuses of the first half of the nineteenth century, but it is still amazing to me, at least, that an individual in his 30s could compose such a work as Elijah. The other composers who also deserve a space at the top of Mount Parnassus with Mendelssohn, are few and far between.
Mendelssohn conducted the premiere of this oratorio on August 26, 1846, in Birmingham, England. It underwent a few revisions, and Mendelssohn conducted the final version in London on April 16, 1847. On May 14, 1847, Mendelssohn’s sister, Fanny, died of a stroke in Berlin. Both of Mendelssohn’s parents had died of strokes as well, demonstrating that there was a genetic trait in the family for this medical condition. At the beginning of October, 1847, Mendelssohn himself began to feel ill. In a letter to the King of Prussia, Mendelssohn addresses this issue. It is an interesting letter, and I am sure, one of his last. It is short, and therefore I will enclose it in its entirety below:
To Friedrich Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia
Leipzig. October 17, 1847
Most Serene and Powerful King,
Most Gracious Lord and Sovereign,
Your Royal Majesty,
I am taking the liberty of laying with the utmost Reverence the enclosed first copy of the score to my Elijah at your feet. It seems to me as if it were not only the deepest and innermost gratitude which makes this my duty, but as if I had no other means of proving to Your Majesty how continually I strive to be more and more worthy of all the generosity Your Majesty has shown me. May these strivings be visible in the present work.
It was my hope to find an opportunity to hand this work to Your Majesty myself while in Berlin. But having been detained here by illness I would not like to wait until the score is placed before the public, and am thus making so bold as to address these lines to Your Majesty. With deepest reverence
Your Majesty’s most humble servant,
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
On October 28, a few days after this letter was written, Mendelssohn suffered his first stroke. On November 3, he had a second stroke. He died the following day, November 4, at the age of 38.
The guest conductor Friday evening was Matthew Halls.
“Halls has made significant debuts with orchestras such as Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Hessischer Rundfunk Sinfonie Orchester, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, Iceland Symphony, Het Residentie Orkest and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. His 2010/11 season included amongst others debut appearances with the Bach Collegium Stuttgart, Colorado Symphony, Houston Symphony, Oregon Bach Festival and Tonkünstler Orchestra with re-invitations arising from all these. This season’s highlights include debuts with the BBC Scottish Symphony, Bergen Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra Washington, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestras.
“In the opera house, Halls has made recent debuts with companies such as the Handelfestspiele Halle, the Korean National Opera, Salzburg Landestheater and Central City Opera Colorado. All resulted in immediate reinvitations; Halls returned to Central City in summer 2011, having already conducted Handel’s Rinaldo and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly with the company, for a well-received production of Handel’s Amadigi and this season returns to Salzburg with Handel’s Imeneo. His operatic repertoire naturally covers Renaissance, Baroque and Classical works, but also extends to a wide range of later repertoire, with a particular focus on the Italian Bel Canto and the Britten operas. His association with both The Netherlands Opera and Nationale Reisopera Holland have included productions of Verdi Luisa Miller, Britten Peter Grimes and Bellini Norma, as well as Handel’s Hercules, Samson, Solomon and Saul.”
Maestro Halls’ conducting is very energetic, and reflects great confidence in demanding precisely what he wants from the orchestra and from the choir. I have often thought that by closely observing a conductor, one could determine if the conductor was primarily a choral conductor or a symphonic conductor. I say that because choral conductors sometimes have to spend so much time on every word and syllable; but, on the other hand, symphonic conductors have to spend a great deal of time on every dynamic, attack, release, and nuance. However, Halls can clearly do both incredibly well.
In Friday’s performance, Halls’ ability to demand and receive so much from the choir was certainly a reflection on the choirs’ preparation which was done by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra Chorus Director, Duain Wolfe. It is been a few years since I have heard a choir be so precise in their exclamatory entrances: they were absolutely together every single time. Their phrase endings were just as excellent. However, the big, pleasant surprise was their diction. It goes without saying that when one is working with the choir that is so large (there were 183 Friday evening) diction will suffer simply because it is so difficult to get them to enunciate syllables precisely together so that they can be heard above the orchestra, let alone be distinct among so many voices. I hasten to point out that at least seventy percent of the time, I could understand the choir. That was amazing to me, and Maestro Wolfe and the Choir deserve much credit and praise. I have heard performances of Elijah, as well as other oratorios, where I couldn’t understand a single word. The Colorado Symphony Chorus was clearly working hard and devoted to what it does.
One other outstanding aspect of Friday’s performance was the rhythmic drive and accentuation that Maestro Halls demanded from the orchestra and the choir. It was conducted in such a way as to illustrate Mendelssohn’s amalgamation of chorus and orchestra. I can think of no other way to phrase it. It was a true combination and meeting of the human voice and the voices of the instruments. The orchestra never simply “accompanied” the choir, and that demonstrates not only Maestro Halls’ skill as conductor, but it demonstrates Mendelssohn’s incredible ability to write for a choir.
The soloists were quite remarkable as well. Nathan Berg, bass-baritone, sang the role of Elijah. He has an enormous voice and his diction was absolutely consistent and superb. He has sung operas from Mozart to Wagner, and has also sung the difficult bass-baritone solo in the Rachmaninoff The Bells, a huge four movement choral symphony.
Meg Bragle was the mezzo-soprano Friday evening, and like Nathan Berg, she has an enormous voice and excellent diction which is so important in a work like Elijah. She has enormous worldwide experience as well, but she and Nathan Berg shared one outstanding characteristic: both of them have the ability to change the quality of their voice to emphasize the drama and the emotion of the particular verse they are singing. Both of them had seemingly infinite control over dynamics.
Lawrence Wiliford was the tenor Friday evening, who has an amazing range. He also has particular experience in singing oratorios and passions, and his vast experience was demonstrated in the confidence in which she performed Friday evening.
There was a change in the program, and Christina Pier was the soprano in place of Monica Whicher. Like her partners on stage, Christina Pier has a terrific voice that is full, and she is also a very sensitive musician. It struck me, however, that her diction was not at the level as the other three soloists, which was a bit of a surprise because she did her undergraduate work at Indiana University, where they stress diction above all. But, realize that I am criticizing at a very high level, and diction is something that can always be improved and worked on.
In addition to the above soloists was the young Samuel Meyer, who sang the role of The Youth. He was from the Colorado Children’s Chorale. My guess is that he is around ten years of age, and the music world needs more young people such as him. He did a great job, and it was terrific to see Maestro Halls congratulate him as he left the stage.
This was a beautiful performance. Maestro Halls is a remarkable conductor who uses no baton, and who exposed so many things in this oratorio that I have never heard before. In the beginning of Part II, the chorus sings Be not afraid…, and the rhythmic drive was unmistakable, and something that I have never heard in this section. Another chorus was She shall perish… and the entrances of this chorus were absolutely astounding in their tightness and accuracy. Everything was extremely concise. In the aria sung by Elijah entitled It is enough, the cello section of the orchestra was absolutely wonderful. Their tone was warm and their playing was completely mellifluous.
The chorus, He, watching over Israel which is the most famous chorus in this oratorio, really caught my attention. This is a beautiful and serene chorus and the choir was everything one could ask for, but, what caught my attention was the underlying interest to the rhythm in the strings, which gave an almost “charged atmosphere” to the serenity of the melodic line. It was very effective. In Elijah’s arioso, For the mountains shall depart, the woodwind section, particularly the oboes and bassoon, were sensational.
This work of Mendelssohn’s is two hours and twenty minutes long, but it was two hours and twenty minutes of such a marvelous performance, that I never wanted it to end. When it did end, the audience literally sprang to its feet. The only disturbing thing about Friday evening, was the fact that the hall was not packed to the ceiling. We in Denver must somehow figure out a way to educate the public about music such as this. I hasten to point out that there were many young people in the audience. Perhaps they were from the Colorado Children’s Chorale, but all of us share the responsibility to draw audience members to performances such as this. One of the solutions seems to be that many of the parents need to take their children to concerts of serious music, and some of the parents need to realize that serious music can give one an absolutely breathtaking experience.
Filed under: News
Ars Nova Singers’ “Music Beyond Words”: A Unique Collage of Sound to Top Off 27th Season
Ars Nova Singers, a professional-caliber ensemble of 38 musicians based in Boulder, will conclude their 27th concert season with a program of non-text-based choral works entitled Music Beyond Words. Both performances, on May 31 (Boulder) and June 1 (Centennial), will feature guest artists (and Coloradoans) Tana Cochran (soprano) and John Heins (composer and Strathmann flute).
Ars Nova Singers’ Artistic Director Thomas Edward Morgan explains, “We’re presenting a curious collage of music for voices: choral works composed without text implications. This is music based on the sounds of the voice and the extraordinary sonic possibilities of people singing together. These sounds can be surprisingly expressive, reaching for a more profound depth of communication: art that can ‘suggest’ rather than ‘explain.’ These are works that invite listeners in, as there are no language barriers.”
The program includes:
Thomas Jennefelt, Villarosa Sequences (Colorado Premiere)
John Heins, Nocturne for women’s voices (World Premiere)
Sergei Rachmaninoff, Vocalise, op. 34, no. 14
Frederick Delius, To Be Sung of a Summer Night on the Water
Edward Elgar, Lux Aeterna
Stephen Hatfield, La lluvia
Knut Nystedt, Immortal Bach
WHAT AND WHERE:
Friday, May 31, 7:30 p.m. – St. John’s Episcopal Church – 1419 Pine Street, Boulder
Saturday, June 1, 7:30 p.m. – Our Father Lutheran Church – 6335 S. Holly Street, Centennial
ADMISSION: Tickets are $22 for adults, $17 for seniors, $12 for college students, and $7 for youth (ages 6-18). Tickets are on sale at http://arsnovasingers.com/ or by phone: (303) 499-3165.
For more information on the program or the ensemble, please visit our website or contact Artistic Director Tom Morgan at Tom@ArsNovaSingers.com
Filed under: News
For me, it is hard to believe that ten years have passed since the construction of the Newman Center. But I have received a press release listing some concerts to celebrate just that event: the Tenth Anniversary of the Newman Center. All of the performances listed below are sure to be outstanding; however, the one that draws my immediate attention is the performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony Nr. 2, The Resurrection. How many of you readers have heard a live performance of this massive work?
I will quote from the press release:
The University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music will present a series of signature concerts to close the 2013-14 season celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of the Robert and Judi Newman Center for the Perfoming Arts.
Two performances of the Annual Musical Theatre Cabaret lead up to a very special Tenth Anniversary performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. All three performances are part of Lamont’s 250 Concerts on Us series presenting free concerts throughout the year celebrating the tenth anniversary.
Thursday, May 23 and Friday, May 24 at 7:30pm in Hamilton Recital Hall, Musical Theatre students will ask audiences to pack their bags and travel to Wonderland, Neverland and Camelot. In “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” Lamont Musical Theatre Cabaret destinations also include Evita’s Argentina, West Side Story’s “America” and, in a preview of next fall’s newly announced Lamont Musical, the sweeping plains of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic American musical Oklahoma! (October 31 – November 3). Catherine Kasch is the Director of Lamont Musical Theatre Cabaret.
Ten seasons of performances in the beautiful Newman Center for the Performing Arts will be celebrated in the final concert of the season. The Lamont Symphony Orchestra will join with the combined voices of the Lamont Chorale, Lamont Women’s Chorus and Lamont Men’s Choir to perform Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony, The Resurrection at 7:30pm on Thursday, May 30 in June Swaner Gates Concert Hall. The Resurrection Symphony was Austrian composer Mahler’s first use of voices and lyrics with an orchestra. The result was this grandly scaled work that brought him fame following its 1895 premiere in Berlin. The Lamont performance will include nearly 250 instrumentalists and vocalists. Lawrence Golan is Conductor and Musical Director of the Symphony, Catherine Sailer conducts the Chorale and Women’s Chorus, and Kyle Fleming conducts the Men’s Choir.
The following concerts are part of the 250 Concerts on Us. A FREE Ticket Required
WHAT: Concert – Third Annual Lamont Musical Theatre Cabaret, 7:30pm, Hamilton Hall. A showcase for Musical Theatre Emphasis vocal majors, Lamont Music Theatre Cabaret presents Broadway’s most promising future stars.
WHEN: Thursday and Friday, May 23, 24
WHAT: Concert – Lamont Symphony Orchestra, Lamont Chorale, Men’s Choir, Women’s Chorus, 7:30pm, Gates Hall. In commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the Newman Center for the Performing Arts, a special performance of Mahler: Symphony No. 2 Resurrection
WHEN: Thursday, May 30
The following Guest Artist and Faculty Recital require a $10 Ticket.
WHAT: Faculty Recital – DU Jazz Faculty Combo
Jazz is the musical style and the ever popular members of the DU Jazz Faculty Combo provide the outstanding performances for an informal and very “cool” evening concert.
WHEN: Wednesday, May 15, 7:30pm, Hamilton Hall.
WHAT: Guest Artist – The Playground. Brought back by popular demand! The Playground is a group of professional musicians and composers dedicated to presenting classical music as a living art form, expanding perceptions of both contemporary music and the chamber ensemble.
WHEN: Friday, May 17, 7:30pm, Hamilton Hall.
Parking is complimentary for all four events.
The Tenth Anniversary Concert and Lamont Musical Theatre Cabaret are both free events, however, tickets are required. To reserve free tickets, please contact the Newman Center Box Office online at http://www.NewmanTix.com, call 303.871.7720, or visit the box office in the Newman Center, open 10:00am to 4:00pm Monday – Friday, and 12noon to 4:00pm on Saturday. Parking is complimentary in the Newman Center garage.
For more information and a complete list of concerts, master classes and events, please visit the Lamont School of Music website at http://www.du.edu/lamont. For updated weekly information call the Concert Line at 303.871.6412.
University of Denver Contact: Kim DeVigil
Phone: (303) 871-2775
The University of Denver is committed to improving the human condition and engaging students and faculty in tackling the major issues of our day. The University ranks among the top 100 national universities in the U.S. For additional information, subscribe to The University of Denver Newsfeed or follow the University on Facebook and Twitter.
Filed under: News
The Denver Philharmonic Orchestra (DPO) is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Lawrence Golan as its new Music Director and Conductor. Golan succeeds Adam Flatt to become the DPO’s fifth Music Director since its founding in 1948.
Golan is currently in his twelfth year as Conductor of the University of Denver’s Lamont Symphony Orchestra and Opera Theatre. He is the winner of many national and international awards including nine ASCAP Awards, five Global Music Awards, two Prestige Music Awards and two DownBeat Magazine Awards. In 2012, Golan was named Grand Prize Winner of The American Prize for Orchestral Programming.
The DPO’s outgoing Music Director and Conductor, Adam Flatt, served with the orchestra from 2010–2013. “The orchestra and board are grateful to Adam for his strong and dynamic leadership and for increasing the artistic quality of the orchestra during his tenure,” says DPO Board President Jon Olafson. Although Flatt is transitioning away from the DPO due to other commitments, he will continue to be a great friend to the orchestra and will guest conduct the DPO’s 2013 Holiday Concert in December.
About his DPO appointment, Golan says he is “delighted to be working with these talented and energetic musicians” and he “looks forward to sharing the wonderful music that we make with the Denver community.” Golan adds, “In addition, I am excited about continuing and even strengthening the ties that the Denver Philharmonic has with the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music—another cultural gem of our great city.”
“On behalf of myself, the musicians and board, I am thrilled to welcome Dr. Golan as our next Music Director and Conductor,” states Olafson. “Dr. Golan is an outstanding musician, a strong leader on the podium and an inventive and creative programmer. We know he will find unique and interesting pieces to challenge our musicians and excite our audiences!”
In addition to his work in Denver, Golan is in his third season as Music Director of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra, in Washington, where he has helped to dramatically raise the artistic level of the orchestra and to increase ticket sales and donations to all-time highs. Previously, Golan was Resident Conductor of the Phoenix Symphony. That orchestra’s Music Director, Michael Christie, praised Golan as “a programmer of virtually unprecedented creativity and scope.” Golan will also continue to guest conduct professional orchestras, as well as opera and ballet companies, across the United States and around the world.
Lawrence Golan and his wife, Cecilia, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, reside in Denver. They are the proud parents of one daughter, Giovanna. Golan’s numerous recordings and publications are available at retailers including iTunes and Amazon.com. Golan is represented by William Reinert Associates in New York. To learn more about Lawrence Golan, go to: http://www.LawrenceGolan.com or http://www.WilliamReinert.com.
About the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra
Founded in 1948, the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra is dedicated to ensuring that the world’s great symphonic compositions (both old and new) are performed, heard, felt, understood, appreciated, and valued – and that they are available to the Metro Denver community at an affordable price.