Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Asuka Sasaki, Cara Cooper, Casey Dalton, Catherine Sailer, Chandra Kuykendall, Chrisotpher Moulton, Dana Benton, Domenico Luciano, Gregory Gonzales, Jesse Marks, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Lesley Allred, Luis Valdes, Morgan Buchanan, Sean Omandam, Shelby Dyer
There is very good reason why Piotr Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is one of the most popular ballets ever written. It contains some of the most beautiful melodies ever composed, and it has an almost endless stream of character dances. As everyone knows, it is based on E. T. A. Hoffman’s story, as translated by Alexandre Dumas, of Clara, whose Christmas gift, the Nutcracker, comes to life. The Nutcracker, now a soldier, defeats the Mouse King with the aid of Clara, but not before the soldier is knocked unconscious. At the defeat of the Mouse King, a spell is broken, and the Nutcracker/Soldier is transformed into a handsome Prince. Intent upon showing his gratitude to Clara for saving his life, he spirits her off to a magical land of toys and candy. There, the Sugar Plum Fairy decrees that a great celebration take place in order to honor Clara. While Clara and the Prince are seated on thrones to witness the celebration in their honor, many dances take place to reward her for her bravery. At the end of the celebration, the Prince carries Clara back to her home, where she awakens with vivid memories of what has just transpired, but is also completely unsure if it was reality or if it was a dream.
Tchaikovsky followed no new paths or innovations in his compositions, yet his melodic lines are remarkably powerful even though they use traditional harmony, when compared to his contemporaries such as Wagner and Bruckner. His ballets, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, are the most popular ballets of all time. Many potential audience members seem to avoid the Nutcracker because it is done by every dance company imaginable since it has become a staple of the Christmas season. That is truly unfortunate because the music is remarkable, and the production presented by the Colorado Ballet is superb.
From the opening, the entire company exuded a joy and enthusiasm on their way to the Christmas party that was tangible. When Clara’s godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, appears, all of the party guests seemed to draw away from him, not from fear as in past productions, but out of a sense of respect. In Saturday evening’s production, Clara was danced by Dana Benton, who was absolutely irresistible in her childlike charm, and effortless dancing. She was truly grace personified. Herr Drosselmeyer was played by the esteemed Gregory K Gonzales who has played this role many times. However, Saturday evening, he truly excelled: he was not only mysterious and magical, but very caring towards Clara as well. Sean Omandam danced the role of Clara’s brother, Fritz, and he too was exceptional in his effortless portrayal of a somewhat bratty sibling. It is Fritz who is responsible for breaking the Nutcracker, but Herr Drosselmeyer assures Clara that all will be well. After all the guests have left the party, and the house darkens with everyone in bed, Herr Drosselmeyer begins to work his magic. In Hoffman’s story, everyone begins to grow smaller. Of course, the only way to do this on stage is to have the Christmas tree grow much taller, and, all of the toys underneath the tree become quite large. Now the Nutcracker, danced by Adam Still, is the size of the mice, as is Clara. She provides the distraction which allows the Nutcracker to slay the Mouse King. I point out that in this year’s production the Soldier Mice, and even the Mouse King, seem to have been portrayed in a more humorous vein than in the past productions, where they seemed positively evil.
The pas de deux between Clara and the Nutcracker turned Prince, was absolutely spectacular. Both Adam Still and Dana Benton are remarkable dancers, but they also possess a great dramatic sense. They not only demonstrated great confidence in their ability to dance these roles, but they demonstrated an excitement which was inherent throughout the entire performance Saturday evening.
The members of the Colorado Ballet have such versatility that they often dance different roles on the same day. For example, at the matinee performance on November 30, Sean Omandam danced the role of the soldier doll, while that evening he danced the role of Clara’s brother, Fritz. No doubt some of the alteration was done in consideration of the physical demands upon the human body. Nonetheless, I think it is remarkable the way the members of the Colorado Ballet can switch roles from day-to-day, or from afternoon to evening. Dana Benton danced Clara Saturday evening, but in the matinee performance on the same day, in Act II, she danced one of the Marzipan candies. That is remarkable concentration.
Toward the end of Act I, the Prince and Clara visit the Land of Snow. It was in this scene that the choreography seemed to be considerably different from last year. That is certainly not a criticism by any stretch of the imagination, as it was certainly beautiful to watch. The program lists additional choreography done by Sandra Brown, though most of the ballet was based on choreography done by Martin Fredmann.
Act II contains some of the most famous dances ever written. Clara and the Prince have traveled to the Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy who was performed by Chandra Kuykendall. The Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier was danced by a new member of the company, Domenico Luciano. As I watched Kuykendall dance Saturday evening, I was struck by the fact that she seemed to be a little careful and without her usual exuberance. In a few instances it seemed as though she might be recovering from a slight injury that may have occurred during rehearsal, but I stress that this is sheer speculation on my part. She certainly was as wonderful to watch as she always is. Her partner, Domenico Luciano was excellent, and I look forward to his performances throughout the season. He exhibited great strength which resulted in an astounding ease of movement as well as grace.
The highlights of the celebratory dances in Act II were the Arabian, danced by Shelby Dyer and Luis Valdes. There are so many lifts in this duet that one wonders how Valdes can stay in shape even though Shelby Dyer is very small. Morgan Buchanan, Cara Cooper, and Christopher Moulton were absolutely superb as the Spanish Chocolate dancers, as were Casey Dalton, Asuka Sasaki, and Jesse Marks as the Marzipan dancers, but I must give special mention to Sean Omandam, Kevin Gaël Thomas, and Lesley Allred who danced the Russian. Omandam and Thomas were so precisely together, and they jumped so high off the stage, that the audience was dazzled. The famed Dance of the Flowers was spectacular.
Grace is a word that might characterize the way the Colorado Ballet Orchestra performed. They were at times emotionally intense, more so than I have heard them before. But, more than any other performance, the orchestra and the dancers seemed to be very comfortable with each other. As I have said before, Maestro Adam Flatt and the Maestra Catherine Sailer have done wonders with the Colorado Ballet Orchestra over the past few years. They have contributed mightily to making the Colorado Ballet the well-rounded organization that it is: it is an organization where everybody contributes their fullest, and the result is wonderfully artistic and a joy to watch and hear.
As I said in the opening paragraph, there is such a good reason why this ballet is so well known. It is also equally important to understand that the Colorado Ballet never treats this performance as a cliché. All of the dancers, all of the orchestra members, and all of those involved in the production backstage, clearly worked very hard to make this the exciting and artistic performance. You must see it.
Follow this link to see the date and times of performances and to purchase tickets: http://www.coloradoballet.org/
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Beethoven, Cynthia Katsarelis, David Schwartz, Joaquín Rodrigo, Kaori Uno, Max Soto, Michael Daugherty, Michelle Orman, Michelle Stanley, Miriam Kepner, Nicoló Spera, Olga Shylayeva
It is always quite an experience, upon leaving a concert that you know will be good, to be totally surprised at just how excellent it was. Such was the case Friday evening as I left St. Paul’s Lutheran Church here in Denver, upon hearing the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis. The performance Friday evening, November 22, was absolutely electric: it was a performance in which all the musicians (and they are all excellent) were equally excited by the music that they were playing. They seemed eager to show how their hard work allowed them to perform absolutely incredible music in an incredible way.
Maestra Katsarelis and the Pro Musica opened the program with Michael Daugherty’s Strut for String Orchestra. This work was inspired by the African-American actor Paul Roberson, who was also a singer and a civil rights activist, and a very accomplished stage actor. I will quote from the program notes:
“Robeson was widely admired for his acting, on stage as Shakespeare’s Othello, in films such as The Emperor Jones (1932) and Showboat (1936), and in concert for his singing of Afro-American spirituals and folksongs. Paul Robeson was also an advocate for American racial equality and justice. His civil rights activities were viewed as ‘subversive’ by J. Edgar Hoover, director of the F.B.I. Robeson’s American passport was revoked by the U.S. Government in 1950, forcing his political, film and concert career to a virtual stand-still.”
Keep in mind that Michael Daugherty, born in 1954 (and not 1915 as the program notes stated), has been strongly influenced all his life by American pop culture. His compositions most definitely reflect that influence, and as far as Paul Robeson is concerned, Daugherty stated that he could imagine “Robeson ‘strutting’ down 125th Street in Harlem.” While I would not disagree at all with the composer’s train of thought as he wrote this piece, to me, it seemed more like a formal tribute. It had very complicated dotted rhythms and very thick harmonic textures. It was a very exciting piece to be sure, and it clearly demonstrated how excellent the strings are in this chamber orchestra. The rhythms were very sharp indeed, and the attacks were perfect. The orchestra’s enthusiasm for the piece wanted a certain angularity in its forward motion. Keep in mind this is the first time I have heard this piece, but it seemed to me that rather than melodic counterpoint being used, there was rhythmic counterpoint, that occurred three times in this relatively short composition. This certainly was not an easy piece, but it was a delightful one, and it is my hope that they perform it again. Maestra Katsarelis infused this with a very appealing energy and drive.
Following the Daugherty, the Pro Musica and guest artist, Nicolò Spera, performed the well-known Concierto de Aranjuez, by the blind composer Joaquin Rodrigo (1901–1999). As Spera pointed out in the excellent pre-concert talk, this was the first guitar concerto written in the twentieth century. It is an astounding work, not only because it reveals Rodrigo’s affinity for both orchestra and guitar, but that the writing for the guitar never seems to be overpowered by the orchestra. I use the word “astounding” because it would be so easy for other composers who are not so sensitive to the limitations of the guitar, to write a good piece perhaps, but one for the guitar would be buried in the orchestral sound. In addition, Rodrigo creates remarkable colors by pairing the guitar, for example, with other solo instruments, such as the oboe in the second movement.
All of this has resulted in a guitar concerto which has become as popular as Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Nr. 2, or the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. The result of this popularity has resulted in performances by those who have not taken the time to study its musicality in depth.
I have heard this piece, as many of you readers have, performed several times, and the performance that Nicolò Spera gave Friday night was the best I have ever heard. First of all Spera is a virtuoso guitar player, and second, he is a superb musician. In addition, the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra is exactly the right size for this kind of work, and it is comprised of very fine musicians.
Nicolò Spera is capable of producing an incredibly warm sound from his guitar, and it was inherent throughout the concerto. His musicianship seems to inspire the orchestra, and the orchestra and Spera seemed to inspire Maestra Katsarelis. It was if they realized, simultaneously, that a genuinely special performance was taking place. Every movement of this performance was intense, either in its virtuosity on the part of Nicolò Spera, or in the sensuousness and passion demonstrated by everyone on stage. In the second movement of this concerto, there is an English horn solo which was played by Max Soto. It is always a pleasure hearing his orchestral solos, but I cannot recall hearing a better English horn performance in this guitar concerto. His sensuousness matched Nicolò Spera’s. I might add, that if I had to choose a certain section of the orchestra which I thought to be outstanding (and mind you, this is always dangerous, because it annoys the rest of the orchestra!) I would have to choose the woodwind section for their performance Friday night. Every single one of them, Michelle Stanley, flute; Olga Shylayva, flute; Miriam Kapner, oboe; Max Soto, oboe and English horn; Daniel Silver, clarinet; Michelle Orman, clarinet; David Schwartz, bassoon; and Kaori Uno, bassoon, were outstanding. I will say it again: I have never heard Rodrigo’s concerto performed where everyone on stage seemed to be of one mind, and shared such a remarkable intensity and passion. In the second movement of this concerto the cellos and violas were as warm as the woodwind section. Perhaps the best way to describe the performance of this work, is to say that it was complete. There was nothing missing. I will remember it for a very long time.
Following the intermission, Maestra Katsarelis and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra performed Beethoven’s Symphony Nr. 7 in A Major, Opus 92. This symphony was completed in 1812, but was not premiered until December 8, 1813. The year 1812 was a rather tumultuous year for Beethoven. He was almost completely deaf. With no invitation, he interfered in the romantic affairs of his youngest brother. His delight at finally meeting Goethe was turned sour when he made the discovery that Goethe was so elderly, that he was no longer a rabble-rouser. Beethoven also made the discovery that Goethe did not know so much about music at all, and that was a great disappointment to him. And finally, 1812 was the date placed on the letter to his “immortal beloved” which was not found until after Beethoven had died.
Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis has aptly named this entire concert season of the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra Epic Music. Certainly, this Symphony Nr. 7 is epic, not only because formal structure and harmonic vicissitudes, but because of its technical difficulty. Every symphony that Beethoven wrote contains some kind of milestone. If one looks at an evolutionary line drawn on a piece of paper showing the progress of Mozart and Haydn and their symphonic development, one can see that it progresses at a very steady, if not rapid, rate. Beethoven’s “line of progress” goes off at a tangent, and climbs ever higher. He stretches harmonic rules, and widens the symphonic forms that Haydn and Mozart anticipated. His harmonic progressions are radical for his time period, so much so, that he is clearly pointing to a new era. Some of the rhythms in this symphony are dancelike, and believe it or not, because of that, it inspired Isadore Duncan and Léonide Massine to choreograph portions of this work. That remarkable misstep (pardon the pun) seemed to give license to many others, who completely misinterpreted the fact that this was a symphony.
Friday evening’s performance of this work was exhilarating. It has been several years since I was able to sit so close to the orchestra while this particular symphony was being performed. From the first measure to the last measure, the orchestra is required to work very hard. They did so with great willingness and great energy. As with the two first works on this program, it seemed as though the orchestra truly caught fire. In all four movements, Maestra Katsarelis took perfect tempos, and though they were working very hard, the orchestra seemed to respond to the realization that practice makes perfect.
The performance was exciting, forceful and joyful at the same time, and performed by the orchestra with great precision. Frankly, Maestra Katsarelis’ interpretation of this symphony, reminded me very much of the conducting of János Ferencsik (1907-1984), and the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra. To my mind, that is still one of the best recordings available, because, like Katsarelis, Ferencsik (a protégé of Arturo Toscanini at Bayreuth) provides a sense of irrevocability in his interpretation.
I left the concert Friday evening with the certain knowledge that a city the size of Denver has an extraordinarily large population of really fine musicians that are professional in every sense of the word. One does not have to live in a city the size of Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles to hear a really fine performance. That is what I heard Friday evening from the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra.
Filed under: News
The Boulder Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Devin Hughes, will present an ambitious program on Saturday, December 7th. It will include two large works by Mahler, and a World Premiere by Austin Wintory, who is the Composer in Residence with the Boulder Symphony.
Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G major was written in 1899 and 1900, and, in it, Mahler uses a song, as did his first four symphonies, originally written in 1892. The song, “Das himmlische Leben”, depicts a child’s vision of Heaven. It is sung by a soprano in the work’s fourth and last movement.
Also on the evenings program is Mahler’s Songs of the Wayfarer, which is his first song cycle.
EVENT: Boulder Symphony Concert “Bridges to Heaven”
EVENT DATE: Saturday, December 7th at 7:30 pm (NOTE: This is a later start time due to the Lights of December Parade in downtown Boulder)
LOCATION: First Presbyterian Church, 1820 15th St., Boulder
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 4
Gustav Mahler: Songs of a Wayfarer
Austin Wintory: Converge – A WORLD PREMIERE –
Guest artists for this performance are Teresa Castillo, soprano, and Thomas Kittle, baritone.
ADMISSION: $5-$15, and always free admission for K-12 students
Boulder Symphony is excited to present “Bridges to Heaven” at 7:30 pm on Saturday, December 7th at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Boulder.
Gustav Mahler’s music brings us a wealth of experience from the earliest childhood memories to depictions of heaven, and everything in between. For his Fourth Symphony, widely known as his more populist from the genre, classical tradition clashes magnificently with contemporary culture. The Song and Symphony become one as we premiere composer-in-residence Austin Wintory’s modern version of the Song cycle for orchestra, as we welcome back soprano Teresa Castillo and baritone Thomas Kittle.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors (60+), $5 for college students with ID, and always free for K-12 students. Additional information is available at http://www.bouldersymphony.org or at 970-577-1550. Free parking is available in the city garages.
ARRIVE EARLY AS PARKING WILL BE A CHALLENGE DUE TO THE LIGHTS OF DECEMBER PARADE.
CONTACT: 970-577-1550, email@example.com
Filed under: News
The Ars Nova Singers, Boulder’s nationally recognized ensemble of 38 choral musicians, will present their annual holiday concerts, Christmas Connections, in December. The program includes special guest artist Kathryn Harms, harp. The performances will be held:
Friday, December 6, 7:30 p.m. – St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant Street, Denver
Saturday, December 7, 7:30 p.m. – St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine Street, Boulder
Friday, December 13, 7:30 p.m. - St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine Street, Boulder
Saturday, December 14, 2:00 p.m. – Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Blvd, Englewood
Tickets are $24 for adults, $18 for seniors, $12 for college students, and $6 for youth. Tickets are on sale at our website: http://www.arsnovasingers.com or by phone: (303) 499-3165. Advance purchase is recommended; the Boulder performances are expected to sell out.
Artistic Director Thomas Edward Morgan: “Our annual December program has become a valued Colorado holiday tradition, recognized for providing unusual, little-heard music for the season. As Artistic Director, this is one of most challenging concerts of the season to assemble, constructing a program that balances novelty and tradition, mystery and jubilation, familiar melodies with innovative new sounds.”
The program begins in the medieval era with music from the 13th and 14th century England, including Latin sequences and early carols. Three hundred years later, the Renaissance was truly the golden age of vocal music; Ars Nova will perform the celebrated Lullaby by the English Renaissance master William Byrd.
Moving closer to our own era, the Singers will perform a selection of music by Benjamin Britten in the centennial year of his birth. The program includes some of Britten’s finest choral works, including the beautiful Ceremony of Carols and three rarely performed early works: A Hymn to the Virgin (composed when Britten was 16 years old), A Wealdon Trio and A New Year Carol.
Ars Nova is recognized as a leading interpreter of contemporary works, and the program will include modern carols by Marjorie Hess and Steve Heitzig, as well as traditional carols in new arrangements by Ars Nova Artistic Director Thomas Edward Morgan.
Guest Artist: Kathryn Harms, harp
From international solo recitals to state fair performances, harpist Kathryn Harms enjoys a varied performing career. In 2013, she graduated cum laude from Ball State University with a BM in Music Performance and a BA in French. While at Ball State University, she studied with Elizabeth Richter, and she is currently pursuing an MM in Music Performance at the University of Colorado at Boulder studying with Janet Harriman.
In 2012, Ms. Harms was named as the Ball State School of Music’s Presser Scholar, an award given to the most outstanding junior, and she also won the undergraduate concerto competition. As first-prizewinner, she represented her school as an exchange-soloist and presented a solo recital at Mukogawa Women’s University near Osaka, Japan. In 2010, she won first prize in the Jan Pennington Gray National Harp Competition, and she was also selected as one of thirteen finalists to compete in the Anne Adams Awards National Competition.
In the summer of 2011, Ms. Harms was chosen from national auditions as harpist for the Pierre Monteux Festival Orchestra, and she was also selected to perform in the debut season of the National Music Festival Orchestra. Additionally, she has attended the Saratoga Harp Colony studying with Elizabeth Hainen and the MPulse Summer Institute at the University of Michigan studying with Lynne Aspnes. In summer of 2012, she performed regularly at the Indiana State Fair where she was interviewed by the Indianapolis Star Morning News.
While an avid performer and competitor, Ms. Harms also has a passion for teaching and studying various approaches to harp pedagogy. She has taught both private lessons and harp ensemble preparatory classes through the Williamsburg Youth Harp Ensemble, and she currently serves as the teaching assistant for the University of Colorado at Boulder harp studio.
For further information on the program or the ensemble, please visit our website, http://www.arsnovasingers.com
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: David Wallace, Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, James Buswell, Kim Brody, Lawrence Golan, Loren Meaux, Pauline Dallenbach, Robert Dallenbach, Samuel Barber, Tchaikovsky
Friday evening, November 15, I attended the concert given by the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra under the conductor Maestro Lawrence Golan. This was their second performance of the season, and the second performance under the baton of Maestro Golan. He was selected as the DPO’s conductor after the departure of Maestro Adam Flatt, who left because of a heavy schedule.
This is the 66th season for the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, and they have made several new changes this fall, aside from their new logo and program design. There were many new faces in the orchestra, particularly in the violin section. There truly seemed to be a fresh new attitude amongst the musicians of the orchestra Friday evening: one of excitement, and, certainly, one of renewed dedication to the art of making music. In addition, this season marks the fiftieth anniversary of violinist Pauline Dallenbach’s performance with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. She, and her husband, Dr. Robert Dallenbach, have given so much of their lives to the DPO, and they have supported the DPO by allowing the orchestra to use the KPOF Hall as its residence. Ms. Dallenbach was presented with a photograph of her and her husband, Robert, surrounded by signatures of the board and the musicians of the orchestra. She and her husband deserve much recognition for what they have contributed.
The Denver Philharmonic opened their program with Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio, Opus 72c. As most concertgoers know by now, the overture to Fidelio was revised many times by Beethoven, and the particular one used by the DPO on Friday evening is actually the fourth overture that he composed for this opera. None of the four overtures use music that is contained in the opera itself. They were written in order to establish the atmosphere of triumph that is inherent in the opera. The other overtures are known as Lenore 2, and Lenore 3, Lenore 3 being a revision of Nr. 2. Lenore Nr. 1, carries the opus number 138, and was not discovered until after Beethoven’s death. It is widely considered to have been a possible overture to a performance which was to have been given in Prague in 1807.
After the opening chords in dotted rhythm by the orchestra, Beethoven requires the horn section to announce the main theme, followed by another outburst from the full orchestra. The horn section seemed to have some trouble with this opening, and it was burbled several times. But most noticeable in this overture, which uses the sonata-allegro form, was the marked improvement of the violin section from last season. They were in tune, and considerably more precise in their attacks. The woodwind section of this orchestra has always been good, and the oboes, clarinets, and bassoons were outstanding. Maestro Lawrence Golan is clearly leaving his own mark on this orchestra. The general tone was very different, and I think that its fullness and robustness can be ascribed to the changes in personnel. This overture seemed not only to be an opening to the evening’s performance, but an introduction to a new step in the orchestra’s development.
Following the Beethoven, violinist James Buswell joined the orchestra to perform Samuel Barber’s beautiful violin concerto. Buswell has performed the world over, and teaches violin at the New England Conservatory. I will quote from his website:
“Since his solo début with the New York Philharmonic at the age of seven, he has appeared with most of the major orchestras in the U.S. and abroad and also with conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, George Szell, William Steinberg, Leonard Slatkin, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Zubin Mehta, Andre Previn, Erich Leinsdorf, Seiji Ozawa and Michael Tilson Thomas.
“Buswell studied at the Juilliard School, where he was a pupil of Ivan Galamian, and at Harvard University, where his major field of study was Renaissance Art. For more than a decade he was a professor of violin and conductor at the Indiana University School of Music. His instrument is a Leveque Stradivarius of 1720.
“In 1987, Mr Buswell and his family moved to Massachusetts, where his teaching activities are centered at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He is frequently engaged as an Artist-in-Residence and Visiting Professor at Harvard University and Amherst College.
“He has performed nearly one hundred works for violin and orchestra spanning three centuries. Formerly a member of the Chamber Music Society of the Lincoln Centre, Mr Buswell appears frequently as a guest artist at the Lincoln Centre and at other music festivals such as those in Santa Fe, Marlboro and Sarasota as well as events in Italy and Australia.
“James Buswell is as closely associated with new music as he has been with the standard repertoire. World première performances include works by Donald Erb, Charles Wourinen, Gian Carlo Menotti, Ned Rorem, Leon Kirchner, John Harbison, Gunther Schuller, William Bolcom, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Peter Schickele. Presently he is active in reviving lesser-known masterpieces from the 20th century by composers such as Martinů, Weill, Busoni and Respighi.
“He and his wife, cellist, Carol Ou, reside in Boston where he is Professor of Violin at New England Conservatory, and gives an annual recital in NEC’s Jordan Hall. The unanimous praise for his ‘sensitive, evocative, compelling playing’ continues unabated today.”
As the excellent program notes pointed out, there is much erroneous information about the Barber violin concerto that has for many years been taken as the truth. As the program notes stated, whatever gets printed first stays in the mind of the public as “the truth.” This work was commissioned by the soap magnate, Samuel Fels, for his ward, Iso Briselli. If one does the proper research, one learns that the violinist Iso Briselli’s violin coach, Albert Meiff, thought the last movement was “unviolinistic,” and might harm Briselli’s reputation. This does not mean they thought that the last movement was too difficult, as the old story goes. I think it is quite possible that Meiff and Briselli simply didn’t like the work. Therefore, Albert Spaulding gave the premier, and it was a success.
As Buswell began the Barber, I was immediately struck by the remarkable sound of his violin. It was full and it was rich, and his playing was wonderfully lyrical in the opening theme. The lyricism changes to a short and very rhythmical theme which provides a great deal of drama. I might add that in this first movement, the violin section of the orchestra sounded excellent, as did the clarinets. There is no question that James Buswell knows the Barber extremely well. His playing revealed every nuance that Barber intended in this magnificent work: drama and lyricism in the first movement, and moodiness and melancholy in the second movement. The third movement is marked Presto, and Buswell performed it at a blindingly fast pace that left everyone in the audience breathless. The orchestra provided Buswell with exactly the right amount of rhythmic drive in this work, and they performed this last movement with a great deal of confidence.
I must say that Buswell performed this concerto as if he had some special insight into what Barber wished. His musicianship is absolutely extraordinary, and as I have said before about performing musicians whether they are pianists or violinists or percussionists: it is necessary to be a musician first, and Buswell certainly is. I assure you that that musicianship is accompanied by a very powerful technique that seems limitless. I would also like to add that before the performance of the Barber began, Maestro Golan announced that Buswell had been his violin teacher at the New England Conservatory. That knowledge filled in the gap, because it seemed that the personal and musical knowledge these two gentlemen shared in the performance, narrowed their connection to Samuel Barber. It was a fine performance.
After the intermission, the DPO performed Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Nr. 5 in E minor, Opus 64. Tchaikovsky had ambivalent feelings about this symphony, certainly after it was performed, but also while it was being written in 1888. When he conducted the work in Prague, he labeled it a failure. But shortly after, he stated that he “… liked it much better now.” This Symphony is unified by a six measure motive that appears in all the movements, and many listeners and critics found the reiteration of this theme to be annoying, resulting in an overblown effect. And I think that it can certainly be said that Tchaikovsky did not find the symphonic form as satisfying or as friendly as ballet, or even opera.
The Denver Philharmonic Orchestra performed well in this symphony, but seemed to suffer a little, because their playing did not quite equal their performance of the Barber or the Beethoven. It made me wonder what would happen if they performed a concert with no intermission, which sometimes seems to drain the spark of their excitement. I hasten to point out, however, that there were moments in the Tchaikovsky where the orchestra sounded absolutely terrific. But, even in the first movement, the violins began to go out of tune as did the violas and cellos. The second movement of this work has a marvelous horn solo, and David Wallace performed it very nicely. Different sections of the orchestra seemed to be, alternatively, in and out of tune throughout the entire symphony, with the exception of the woodwinds. They were outstanding for the duration of the entire concert, and in the third movement of the Tchaikovsky, the oboes, Kim Brody and Loren Meaux, were superb. Please be aware that when I say that the orchestra vacillated in its tune, it was not terribly extreme, but it was noticeable. This was still one of the best performances that I have heard the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra give. The second movement of this symphony was done extraordinarily well, because Maestro Golan did not imbue it with the familiar maudlin and weepy quality that seems to say “hard Russian winters have kept old pathos fresh.” He conducted it with a very beautiful and lyric fashion, at a proper andante tempo, which provided it with an excellent, but unhurried forward momentum. It was very much like a slow ballet. The same was true for the third movement, which Tchaikovsky labeled Valse – Allegro moderato. As I was sitting in the audience listening, I thought to myself, “Finally, someone has some insight into this particular Tchaikovsky Symphony.”
I must emphasize how much the violins have improved in this orchestra.
Even though I continually nag about the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra having problems with tune, there is no mistaking their excitement with what they play, and their desire to continually improve. There is no question in my mind that they are the best community orchestra in the state.
Filed under: News
The theme for the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra’s 2013-2014 concert season is Epic Music. It is music that has had epic impact on the history of music, it is music that is epic in scope, or it might even be music that is of epic difficulty. Certainly, such is the case with some of the music that is being performed on their season opener, November 22.
The Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, with Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis conducting, is performing Beethoven’s (1770-1827) difficult Symphony Nr. 7. This symphony is also epic because it was Beethoven’s definitive break with stylistic conventions that he had learned from Mozart and Haydn. It is totally abstract and totally symphonic, breaking harmonic rules and increasing the breadth of symphonic form. It could be considered epic because of the large number of noted musicians that contributed their services to play in the orchestra when it was premiered: Schuppanzigh, Romberg, Spohr, Mayseder, Dragonetti, Meyerbeer, Hummel, and Moscheles.
The second epic work on the November 22nd program will be the Concierto de Aranjuez by Spanish composer, Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999). This work is epic for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Rodrigo was blind from the age of three due to diphtheria. He composed in Braille, and then carefully dictated his compositions to a copyist. This guitar concerto had an epic impact on his musical life, because it immediately established him as one of the important twentieth century composers. He was always in demand as a pianist, as well as a composer, and during his life he received many awards from governments around the world, as well as six honorary doctorates from universities worldwide. This concerto clearly demonstrates his affinity for the guitar as well as his affinity for the orchestra. The guest artist performing this concerto will be Nicolo Spera, and I quote from the web:
“Spera received his postgraduate education with Lorenzo Micheli at the Conservatory of Aosta and at the Accademia Musicale Tema in Milan. He then moved to the United States, where he was awarded the Artist Diploma in Guitar Performance at the University of Denver. He later completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Colorado Boulder with Jonathan Leathwood.
A versatile chamber musician, in 2012 Spera co-founded the ensemble Duo Chagall with violinist Jenny Diaz. Previously, he worked on an unusual chamber music project with clarinetist Andrew Dykema, and together they performed the complete guitar and clarinet repertoire by the late Romantic Viennese composer Ferdinand Rebay.
“In 2011, Spera was appointed to the faculty at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he is Instructor of Classical Guitar. He is also on the faculty of the International Studies Institute at Palazzo Rucellai in Florence, Italy.
“In 2013, he founded the University of Colorado International Guitar Festival and Competition, an unprecedented event that attracts prestigious guests, guitar performers, and students from all over the world.”
The Strut for String Orchestra might be considered epic because of Michael Daugherty’s (b. 1954) American compositional influences, which run the gamut from jazz, rock, and funk. Some of his compositions contain references to Elvis Pressley, J. Edgar Hoover, I Love Lucy, UFOs, spaghetti westerns, Rosa Parks, and Barbie dolls. Perhaps that is what makes him one of the most widely performed composers of today. This work is a tribute to the great American dancer, Paul Robeson.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A Major
Joaquín Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez
Michael Daugherty: Strut for String Orchestra
Note that there are two performances of this concert:
November 22, 2013 Friday, 7:30 PM – Pre-Concert Talk at 6:30 PM
St. Paul Lutheran, 1600 Grant St. Denver, CO 80203
November 23, 2013, Saturday, 7:30 PM – Pre-Concert Talk at 6:30 PM
First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce Street, Boulder, CO 80302
$25 at the Door ($22.50 in advance), $5 Students.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Aniel Cabán, Athur Rimbaud, Bahman Saless, Beethoven, Benjamin Britten, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Christine Brooke-Rose, Cobus Du Toit, Joey Howe, Kimberly Brody, Max Soto, Mozart, Samuel Barber, Soheil Nasseri, Szivilia Schranz
It is always very exciting when an organization that is already outstanding improves even more. Such is the case with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra under the directorship of Maestro Bahman Saless. The first concert of this season that I was able to attend was Saturday, November 9, at the Broomfield auditorium. They performed Mozart’s Symphony Nr. 29 in A Major, K. 201; Britten’s Les Illuminations, sung by Szilvia Schranz; and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Nr. 2 in B flat Major, Op. 19.
There were many new faces in the orchestra, but particularly in the violin section. But, do not worry; Annamaria Karacson is still the Concertmaster. The result of the heavy changes, at least to my ear, was an amazing precision in dynamically shaped phrases which were shared by everyone, and very accurate attacks and releases in entrances. This new accuracy seems to be contagious, for the “old hands” in the orchestra played better than ever Saturday evening. Aniel Cabán was again superb as first chair viola, as was Joey Howe, Principal Cello, Cobus du Toit, flute, and Max Soto and Kimberly Brody, both on oboe. Just because I don’t mention everyone in all of the sections certainly does not mean that they escaped my attention for excellent playing. The entire orchestra seemed to be breathing fresh air.
Another reason I was delighted with this concert is purely personal: they opened with the Mozart Symphony Nr. 29, which happens to be one of my favorites. It is also regarded the world over as the first of Mozart’s mature style and symphonic writing, even though he was eighteen years old when he wrote this work. The word symphony (coming from the word ‘sinfonia’ in Italian), until the middle of the 18th century, could be applied to almost any style of composition for orchestra with different characters: suites, overtures, and even the interludes in oratorios. It was the Mannheim composers, those that came before Haydn, and the Bach sons, who contributed so greatly to the development of the sonata form and its use in the symphony. Mozart’s 29th symphony marks his change from the Italianate style to one of thematic development, richer motives, and a genuine balance between first and last movements.
From the outset, the change in this orchestra was apparent. The new precision was evidenced in the absolute accuracy of the dotted rhythms. In addition, the transparency of Mozart’s style can make it very obvious if someone in the orchestra is playing out of tune. This simply was not the case on Saturday. The entire orchestra was superbly in tune, and exhibited great care in the kind of sound they were producing. They played with such a new confidence, that it was very easy to sit back, relax, and share their amazement at the ability of an eighteen-year-old composer who could write such a work. It truly seemed as if they were able to put all of their musicianship into Mozart. The performance was warm, graceful, delicate where it needed to be delicate, and full of vigor. It was a delightful performance.
Following the Mozart, Szilvia Schranz sang Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this work, it is a musical setting of Arthur Rimbaud’s cycle of poems. Keep in mind that Rimbaud was one of the Symbolist poets of the nineteenth century. Christine Brooke-Rose in her Grammar of Metaphor explains that in symbolist poetry “… The proper term is replaced altogether by a metaphor, without being mentioned at all.” Of course, the proper term or thing must be hinted at, or at least deciphered, from the context. I hasten to point out that some symbolist poetry simply cannot be ‘deciphered.’ Many of the symbolist poets visualized their poetry as expressing through its sensible instrumentality, something that is insensible. In addition, one of the elements that must be mentioned here is that in symbolist poetry, the lyrical self does not speak in the first person, but yields its place to a suggestive and impersonal lyrical object. For example a symbolist poet who is trying to express a search for meaning in life, might describe himself as a wandering ship.
The point of all this discussion is that symbolist poetry has a certain “musicality of language” which was recognized by Benjamin Britten, who clearly understood a great deal about poetry, especially from his friendship with W. H. Auden. Britten’s settings of Rimbaud’s poems are lyricism personified, and it is very clear that Szilvia Schranz recognized this. Her performance of this work was very emotional, and as one followed the translation in the program notes, one became aware of the “inherent search” in Rimbaud’s poetry: “Bordered by colossi and copper palms, ancient craters bellow melodiously through flames.… Groups of belfries sing the people’s ideas. Unfamiliar music escapes from castles of bone.”
There is no question that for a singer, this is a difficult piece. It not only demands perfect voice control which Ms. Schranz has in abundance, but that control must not get in the way of interpretive drama. In addition, one has to have a very keen sense of pitch, and enough control to land squarely on pitch every single time. Her performance was incredibly beautiful, and very sensitive, conveying the extraordinary sense of futility that is inherent in Rimbaud’s text. A few years ago, I was fortunate to hear Ms. Schranz perform Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, which is one of my favorite compositions of the twentieth century. That was a stunning performance as well, just as this one was. I would also point out, that in this work Aniel Cabán’s performance on the viola was superb.
The Boulder Chamber Orchestra performed beautifully in this work. There was immediate and solid communication between Maestro Saless and Szilvia Schranz, without any confusion or haste, proving beyond a doubt, that Ms. Schranz is a solid and very reliable musician. She and Maestro Saless were very comfortable with one another, which allowed them to concentrate on making music.
I will quote from the bio statement on her website:
“Ms. Schranz was born in Budapest, Hungary into a family of musicians that had worked for generations in the Hungarian National Opera and Hungarian Festival Orchestra. At the age of 10, her family escaped their country’s oppressive communist government to relocate in Boulder, Colorado where her father’s string quartet, the Grammy-winning Takács Quartet, [was] appointed as musicians-in-residence at the University of Colorado School of Music.
“After graduating from the University of Colorado, Ms. Schranz performed at the Denver Center for Performing Arts with their Tony-award winning theater company in the Tempest. She then went to further her studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London where she studied with Vera Rózsa, who also taught such renown singers as Kiri Te Kanawa and Anne Sofie Von Otter. After a year’s study in London, she received a post-graduate diploma in vocal training.
“While in London she appeared several times with the London Chamber Soloists, including solo performances of Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as well as in Mozart’s Requiem and Haydn’s Creation at St. Martin in the Fields. She also sang at a charity concert for the Kensington Housing Trust at the Leighton House in London.
“Today, Ms. Schranz studies with Julliard’s Daniel Ferro, while expanding her career as a solo and opera singer from her home in Manhattan.”
Following the intermission, pianist Soheil Nasseri, joined the Boulder Chamber Orchestra in performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Nr. 2 in B flat Major. I think most concertgoers are familiar with the reverse publication dates concerning Beethoven’s first piano concerto and his second, so I will not dwell on those details.
Quoting from Nasseri’s website:
“Pianist Soheil Nasseri has been lauded by The New York Times as “consistently interesting… consistently thoughtful… a vivid imagination. Filled with character…” and by the Berliner Zeitung as “Fantastic! A real talent. [In Beethoven] We in the audience could not possibly have had more fun.” In addition to critical acclaim for his playing, The New Yorker has noted that Mr. Nasseri is “one of New York’s most prolific recitalists.” Since 2001 he has performed 20 completely different solo recital programs in New York, all without repeating a single piece: at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, and at Merkin Concert Hall. These concerts included 25 premières of contemporary works in addition to 30 of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, a part of Mr. Nasseri’s pledge to perform all of Beethoven’s works involving piano by the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020.
“Born in Santa Monica, California, Soheil Nasseri began studying the piano at the age of five and at the age of twenty moved to New York in part to study with Karl Ulrich Schnabel. In 2001 Mr. Nasseri became a protégé of Jerome Lowenthal who remains Mr. Nasseri’s mentor today. Other teachers include Irina Edelman, Claude Frank, Anna Balakerskaia, Clinton Adams, Eva Pierrou, and Ann Schein.”
Soheil Nasseri deserves all of the accolades above. As a pianist, he is extremely relaxed, and has an astonishing ability to play extremely softly, and not allow himself to be covered by the orchestra. His knowledge of Beethoven is profound, with all of the clarity and dynamic contrasts that Beethoven demands. His playing can be very articulate, and then wonderfully lyrical, and his concentration on what he is doing is total, and very confident. He demonstrated remarkable finesse in his phrasing, and every aspect of musicianship that can be verbalized. The only thing that I would change in his performance ability is his penchant for stomping his right foot on the damper pedal and the stage. That created a substantial amount of noise, and gave rise to my expectation that he might explode into the theatrical movements that some pianists of today seem to think is necessary when performing. He did not do that, but, nonetheless, he made a great deal of noise with his right foot. It was a real distraction to his fine playing.
There was another aspect of Mr. Nasseri’s performance that bears mention, and which was not at all expected. At the beginning of the concert, Maestro Saless explained to the audience a few things to listen for in the Mozart Symphony. When Szilvia Schranz came out on stage to perform the Britten, Maestro Saless handed her the microphone, and she gave us some insight into her performance. When Mr. Nasseri came out on stage, Maestro Saless handed him the microphone. However, instead of offering insights into the Beethoven Concerto, Nasseri delved into a standup comedy routine, a la Lenny Bruce, complete with foul language, that had no bearing whatsoever on his performance of the piano concerto. It certainly appeared to me that Maestro Saless was clearly surprised and taken aback, as was the audience. After about five minutes of this, Nasseri asked the audience if they wanted to hear the concerto, and everyone nodded their heads, and said yes. He then proceeded to play, and, as I said, he played very well. I do not know what caused his desire to do a “standup comedy routine,” but it reminded me of the nineteenth century pianist named Daniel Steibelt, who would play the piano while his wife performed on the tambourine. I thought that Nasseri’s actions were entirely uncalled for, and I stress that it is my opinion that Maestro Bahman Saless, everyone on stage, and in the audience, was dumbfounded. I would suggest to Soheil Nasseri that no matter where he plays, if he wishes to be asked back, that he concentrate on his art, rather than contribute to its denigration.