Opus Colorado

I Am Taking a Hiatus
October 19, 2015, 6:58 pm
Filed under: News

Dear readers and fellow musicians:

It has become increasingly obvious that I have much to do with teaching, fundraising, editing and proofing, research, translating, fall yard work, and writing for my blog site, Opus Colorado.

Therefore, I must cut down somewhere. I am taking a hiatus from writing reviews and previews on my blog site Opus Colorado. I will return to this job in full in January 2016.

Many of you have been extremely complementary about my reviews, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that. Please be patient. I will be back.

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra 2015-16 Season: Remembrance
September 28, 2015, 8:54 am
Filed under: News

Pro Musica Colorado Creates, Celebrates, and Observes Memories

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra (PMC) presents its 2015-16 Season: Remembrance.
Music has incredible power to evoke poignant memories and to create new memories. In this season, PMC presents unforgettable collaborations with pianist Larry Graham and St. Martin’s Chamber Choir. And PMC creates new memories in two commissions, a work by CU Composition Competition Winner, Kurt Mehlenbacker, and another by a rising star, composer D. J. Sparr.

Who: Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, Music Director and Conductor, with guests, Larry Graham, piano, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, CU Composition Competition Winner, Kurt Mehlenbacher, and composer D. J. Sparr.

Please Note:
Friday performances are given at the First Baptist Church of Denver, 1373 Grant St., Denver, 80203
Saturday performances are given at First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder, 80302

PMC has a new home in Denver, performing all Denver concerts at First Baptist Church of Denver. In Boulder, PMC continues to perform at First United Methodist Church.

How Much: Tickets are available online at: http://www.promusicacolorado.org, or by calling 720-443-0565. Season ticket pass $67.50, Single Ticket prices are $25 General seating, $5 Student Tickets.

What: Mozart and Larry Graham
Friday, November 20, 2015 and Saturday, November 21, 2015 – Concert at 7:30 pm, Pre-Concert Talk at 6:30 pm

Wolfgang A. Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491, Larry Graham, pianist
Wolfgang A. Mozart: “Prague” Symphony No. 38, in D Major, K. 504
World Premiere: CU Composition Competition winner, Kurt Mehlenbacher

Colorado legend Larry Graham joins Pro Musica Colorado in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor. “This concerto is one of only two piano concertos that Mozart wrote in the minor key and it is spell binding,” says Cynthia Katsarelis, Music Director and Conductor of PMC. “The minor key opens doors to more interesting colors, harmonies, and key areas, making the listening process and the final resolution even more engaging.” Larry is a Colorado treasure who has won competitions, concertized internationally, and captured the hearts of music lovers in Colorado. Also on the program is Mozart’s Symphony No. 38, The Prague Symphony, premiered in Prague in 1787 and repeated many times there. Prague loved Mozart.

What: Pro Musica Colorado presents Shostakovich: Dedication

January 22 & 23, 2016, Concert at 7:30 pm, Pre-Concert Talk at 6:30 pm

Dmitri Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony for String Orchestra,  Op. 110a dedicated to victims of fascism and war
Pavel Haas: Study for Strings
J. S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3
World Premiere: D. J. Sparr based on Brandenburg Concerto No. 3

In January, PMC presents Shostakovich: Dedication. On this program, PMC, features the Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a, by Shostakovich, a work that is “dedicated to victims of fascism and war.” Also on the program is the Study for Strings by Pavel Haas. Haas was a victim of fascism; he was one of many musicians interred by the Nazi’s in Terezin Concentration Camp and ultimately sent to Auschwitz where he perished. “Haas and the other composers at Terezin were writing great music, their fate is a sad ‘lost generation’ of music that would have been embraced by classical music audiences. Fortunately, some of the music survives for us to enjoy today,” says Katsarelis. The program includes Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and a new work by composer D. J. Sparr
that pays homage to the Bach with the same orchestration.

What: Pro Musica Colorado presents Mozart Requiem w/ St. Martin’s Chamber Choir

April 8 & 9, 2016, Concert at 7:30 pm, Pre-Concert Talk at 6:30 pm

Wolfgang A. Mozart: Requiem
Wolfgang A. Mozart: Ave Verum Corpus

In April, Pro Musica Colorado joins with St. Martin’s Chamber Choir in Mozart’s Requiem and Ave Verum Corpus. Mozart’s Requiem was finished by his student, Süssmayr, and has been retouched and virtually recomposed over time. PMC will end with Ave Verum Corpus, to insure that Mozart has the last word! PMC presents a great deal of Mozart’s music and has a point-of-view that blends modern instruments with concepts from the historically informed performance movement.

PMC has a new home in Denver, performing all Denver concerts at First Baptist Church of Denver. In Boulder, PMC continues to perform at First United Methodist Church.

About Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and Cynthia Katsarelis, Music Director and Conductor

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra is a fully professional chamber orchestra presenting inspirational performances of classic to cutting edge music. Reviews in the Boulder Daily Camera called PMC’s performances of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio “a triumph.” OpusColorado wrote that Pro Musica Colorado’s performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was “electrifying!” Marc Shulgold wrote that the music making was “spot on.” Cynthia Katsarelis has served with the Cincinnati Symphony, Pops and May Festival, the Greensboro (N.C.) Symphony, and has conducted many professional, college, and youth orchestras. For three seasons, she has guest conducted the Colorado Music Festival’s Young People’s Concerts. Katsarelis is a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University, with degrees in both violin and conducting.

Colorado Ballet prepares for “La Sylphide”
September 27, 2015, 3:25 pm
Filed under: News

Saturday afternoon, September 26, I attended a rehearsal of the Colorado Ballet’s performance of La Sylphide. The music for this ballet was written by Norwegian composer Herman Severin Løvenskiold (1815-1870) when he was only 21 years old. It was written for the choreographer August Bournonville (1805-1879) whose choreography of the score was done in 1836 for the Royal Danish ballet in Copenhagen. Herman Løvenskiold’s music shows a distinct Russian influence, and indeed, part of his study was at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Bournonville was a Danish ballet master and choreographer who had been trained in France, and his best-known work as a choreographer was without a doubt La Sylphide.

Since it was a rehearsal, the dancers were dancing to recorded music, and occasionally with the music provided by Company Pianist Natalia Arefieva. I hasten to point out that Natalia Arefieva is not just an accompanist. She is the orchestra for most of the rehearsals, and she is an incredibly fine, if not formidable, pianist. Please note that Company Pianist is capitalized.

La Sylphide is a story of a young Scotsman, James, who, on his wedding day, has an encounter with a sylph, or wood nymph. He dreams of her, and when he awakens she is actually there. She eludes him, but James cannot forget her. His future wife’s girlfriends arrive with wedding decorations and gifts, and the wedding celebration begins. However, James notices that in the corner the witch, Madge, is sitting. She tells everyone’s fortune, but when she tells James’s fiancé Effy her fortune, she reveals that Effy will never marry James. James throws the witch out. All of a sudden, the sylph reappears, and she declares her love for James. But, in the following wedding celebration, James forgets all about the sylph, and he declares his love for Effy.

The second act opens deep in the forest where Madge and her allies are preparing a poisonous scarf as revenge against James. Madge gives James the scarf and shows him how to adorn the sylph with the scarf. When he sees the sylph again, he wraps her in the scarf not realizing that it will cause her death. Overcome with grief, he hears a wedding procession approaching and realizes that his fiancé Effy is marrying his rival, Gurn. Participating in the procession, the witch Madge reveals to James that she has gotten her revenge. James, speechless with horror and grief, collapses and dies.

This is a tragic story indeed, and at the rehearsal I was truly astounded by the acting ability, and the communication of that grief, given by the dancers. In the moment of the death of the sylph, her fellow sylphs gather around her and express their extreme sadness. I can promise you that I saw a real tears because the dancers were so moved by the story and by the music.

The dancers in the Colorado Ballet are known for their artistry and for their remarkable enthusiasm and constant demonstration of the love for what they do. It is readily apparent to every member of the audience. But, in the rehearsal on Saturday, I was only feet away from these marvelous dancers, sitting on the mirror side of the studio, the mirrors of which, had been hidden by a black curtain so that the dancers had to imagine an audience, rather than checking their precision in the reflection of the mirror. There were several breaks in the rehearsal where they received comments from the Ballet Mistresses. At one point most of the dancers were waiting for the music to start. There were, perhaps, ten dancers in a line “on stage,” and while they were waiting for the suggestions and comments from the Ballet Mistresses to the main characters, they stood chit-chatting on the floor. But when the music started, within half a beat, they began to complete what I think was a Dessus without a moment of hesitation, all together, with one foot crossing the knee of the supporting leg, with their feet a uniform height from the stage. To me, this was astounding, because after a three or four minute break, they knew precisely where they were in the music, they knew precisely what movement was involved, and there was absolutely no hesitation, and no one made an error. This demonstrated, without a doubt, the kind of memory, related to the movement and music, that these dancers must have. Let me make this clear: I have had many audience members come up to me after a concert, particularly after a performance with an orchestra, where the individual will ask me how I know where I am in relation to the orchestra. I explained that I have my own score to learn, but I explained that it is necessary to also learn the orchestral part. Members of a ballet audience sometimes do not realize that dancers have to learn the same thing, i.e., the music provided by the orchestra, but also the movements, which are charted out, by the choreographer. Their movements require extreme athleticism which is very difficult, and they must have enough control so that they can get their feet back down on the stage in relation to a specific beat produced by the music. It doesn’t matter how tired they get, or how hard they are breathing, it simply has to be done. It is much easier for a pianist to sit on the piano bench. But all of the dancers have to react to the music in the same way all of the orchestra members must react to the music and to the conductor. You readers must also keep in mind that members of an orchestra have the music in front of them to follow during the performance. Pianists, thanks to the precedent set by Franz Liszt and Clara Schuman, generally have to play from memory. But realize this: ballet dancers do not have a musical score in front of them, nor do they have a chart of choreography in front of them. Dwell on that for a while.

Another highlight of Saturday’s rehearsal was two very young ladies, certainly not over the age of ten. Clearly, they had been taking ballet lessons at the Academy since they were three or four years of age. They were dancing with everyone else on stage, and, I assure, you they alone are worth the price of admission on the opening night (October 2 at 7:30 PM in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House) of La Sylphide. Their movements were astonishingly precise and exactly with all of the other dancers – in the Wedding Party – on stage. The performance was so remarkable I could not take my eyes off of them, and I never saw them make a mistake. The investment that their parents are making in their ballet lessons are truly paying off, as I am convinced that these young ladies will make a name for themselves.

I have not mentioned any names in this article because I want you readers to realize (and I know some of you already do) what all of the dancers have to go through, and how they prepare for a performance. Everybody in this ballet company demonstrated at this rehearsal that they are ready for the performance. Yes, the Ballet Mistresses corrected and emphasized the minutest of details to the dancers, but the Colorado Ballet is known for always seeking perfection.

I can assure you readers that this article has only scratched the surface. Rehearsals with a live orchestra are necessary as well so that Maestro Adam Flatt and Maestra Catherine Sailer can make sure the dancers are following the rhythms of the score, and they must also learn to allow the dancers to have a certain amount of input in their interpretation of the choreography. That is to say, subtle nuances in the rhythm caused by the dancers having to lift a partner and other difficult and rhythm consuming steps. Of course, one must never underestimate and undervalue the work done by the choreographer.

This production of La Sylphide will be a remarkable production to see. The Colorado Ballet has not performed it for at least 20 years, and I can guarantee you that it will be breathtaking. Artistic Director Gil Boggs, and ballet Mistresses Sandra Brown and Lorita Travaglia have a magical effect on this wonderful company of dancers.

Ars Nova Singers Opens 30th Season October 9 & 10: The Centenary of Rachmaninoff’s Choral Masterpiece
September 19, 2015, 7:02 pm
Filed under: News

For 30 years, Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers has been bringing exceptional choral music to the Colorado Front Range and beyond. Our 2015-2016 season features dramatic, soaring works for voices performed with professional polish, stylish versatility, and a joyous spirit. Founder and Artistic Director Thomas Edward Morgan has assembled a season of some of the world’s most exceptional choral music, ranging from music of the Renaissance to the avant-garde, and traversing the range of human emotion.

The season opens October 9 and 10 with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil”, opus 37 (also known as the “Vespers”), one of the great choral masterworks of the twentieth century. Two performances will be held:

Friday, October 9 – St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant Street, Denver

Saturday, October 10 – First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce Street, Boulder

Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $5 for college students and youth. Tickets are on sale at our website: http://www.arsnovasingers.org.

Composed in just two weeks during January and February of 1915, Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers” was hailed on its premiere as one of the greatest achievements in Russian choral music. However, the effects of World War I and the worsening political and economic environment made further performances in Russia impossible for many decades after the premiere. By the end of 1917, Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) and his family had left his home country, never to return. The Vespers, along with a large percentage of Russian choral music, was suppressed by the communist government.

The literal translation of the Russian title of the work (“Vsenoshchnoye Bdeniye”) is “All-Night Vigil”, and the 15 movements of the work were originally part of the liturgy of three separate services: Vespers, Matins, and Prime. For his source material, Rachmaninoff drew upon the rich tradition of Eastern chant, carried into the liturgy of the Russian Church from the Middle Ages. Ten of the movements are based on these ancient melodies. The themes of the remaining five movements are of Rachmaninoff’s own composition. Though he had a rather tenuous personal relationship with the Church (he had to negotiate a special dispensation in order to have a church wedding in 1903), Rachmaninoff was sensitive to the liturgical and musical traditions, and he often visited the Adroniev monastery, where he listened to the singing of the monks. Many of his instrumental and orchestral compositions contain themes derived from the ancient chants. In keeping with the church traditions, the music is written exclusively for voices.

The composer once described how he introduced the Vespers to two friends, including Nikolay Danilin, the conductor of the Moscow Synodal Choir, who would eventually conduct the premiere performance: “My favorite number in the work…is the fifth canticle, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. I should like this sung at my funeral. Towards the end there is a passage sung by the basses, a scale descending to the lowest B-flat in a very slow pianissimo. After I played this passage, Danilin shook his head, saying, ‘Now where on earth are we to find such basses? They are as rare as asparagus at Christmas!’ Nevertheless he did find them. “I knew well the voices of my countrymen, and I well knew what demands I could make upon Russian basses!”

Upcoming programs in Ars Nova 30th concert season include:

Happiness and Cheer: A Colorado Holiday Tradition, accompanied by harp and oboe – December 12, 13, 17, 18

Renaissance Retrospective: Music for Many Voices, featuring music by Tallis, Striggio, and Gesualdo – February 19-20

The New Art: Shared Visions, new music from Colorado poets and composers – April 29-30, 2016

All programs performed both in Boulder and in Denver. Complete details can be found at http://www.arsnovasingers.org

Ars Nova’s 30th season is made possible in part by grants from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (Boulder County); the Colorado Council on the Arts; the Schramm Foundation; and the Avenir Foundation. The performances in the season are accessible to persons with disabilities. For complete accessibility information, please contact the Ars Nova Singers office at (303) 499-3165.

Specializing in a cappella music of the Renaissance and the 20th and 21st centuries, Ars Nova Singers of Boulder, Colorado celebrates its 30th concert season in 2015-2016. The professional-core ensemble conducted by founding Artistic Director Thomas Edward Morgan is composed of 36 selectively auditioned choral musicians from the Denver/Boulder metropolitan region. In its history, Ars Nova has presented over 300 performances of more than 100 different concert programs.

The ensemble has received national recognition, including being selected as a semifinalist for The American Prize in choral performance (2010). Ars Nova was invited to perform in the studios of National Public Radio on its March 2006 East Coast tour.  The ensemble has been funded by the Avenir Foundation, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and the Chorus Program of the National Endowment for the Arts, among others.

Recent collaborative performances include a world premiere of Peter-Anthony Togni’s “Warrior Songs” with legendary jazz percussionist Jerry Granelli (October 2014); a program of music for solo violin and chorus at Macky Auditorium with internationally acclaimed violinist Edward Dusinberre (February, 2014); the U.S. premiere of Arvo Pärt’s “Salve Regina” with Sphere Ensemble (October 2013); an acclaimed rendition of Giya Kancheli’s “Amao Omi” with the Colorado Saxophone Quartet (October 2012); Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna” with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra (April 2011); the Colorado premiere of Carol Barnett’s “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass” with Jake Schepps and Expedition (September 2010); Osvaldo Golijov’s cantata “Oceana”, presented in collaboration with the professional chamber orchestra Pro Musica Colorado (May 2008); and a critically acclaimed performance of Terry Riley’s “Sun Rings” with the renowned Kronos Quartet at the Colorado Music Festival (July 2006). Ars Nova Singers has been heard in radio broadcasts throughout the world, including such National Public Radio programs as Performance Today, The First Art, Music from the Hearts of Space, and locally on Colorado Spotlight and Colorado Matters. Ars Nova has released ten independent recordings on compact disc and performed on seven internationally released recordings with Boulder composer and instrumentalist Bill Douglas.

Thomas Edward Morgan, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Ars Nova Singers, has been acknowledged as a leading interpreter of new music in Colorado. Under his leadership the choir has become one of the premier ensembles in the region. Mr. Morgan received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota and the Master of Music degree in composition from the University of Colorado. In addition to his work with Ars Nova Singers, he serves as Music Director of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, a position he has held for 27 years. Mr. Morgan studied choral and orchestral conducting with Dale Warland, Helmut Rilling, and Giora Bernstein, and has taken master classes with Eric Ericson and Herbert Blomstedt.

As a composer, Mr. Morgan was an artist-in-residence of the Lucas Artists program at the Montalvo Center for the Arts in Saratoga, California (2006-2008). He collaborated with New York visual artist Lesley Dill in the production of “I Heard a Voice”, an extended work for a cappella chorus premiered by the Ars Nova Singers in September 2002.  His composition “Psalm 88” for orchestra and chorus received the prestigious BMI Award, and his choral work “Four Poems of e. e. cummings” was presented on the opening program of the eighth Internacional Musica Nueva festival in Mexico City. Several of his works have been performed internationally by the Peiyang Chorus of Tianjin, China.

Augustana Arts and Stratus Chamber Orchestra presents Anniversaries: 150th Birthday of Sibelius
September 19, 2015, 6:55 pm
Filed under: News

Featuring the Valor Symphonics Youth Orchestra, David Rutherford, Music Director and Conductor

October 16 and 17, 2015

Stratus Chamber Orchestra (formerly the Musica Sacra Chamber Orchestra) begins its season with a celebration of Jean Sibelius’s 150th Birthday.  Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite and Aaron Copland’s Outdoor Overture begin the program, and then Stratus welcomes Valor Symphonics Youth Orchestra to the stage for a side-by-side performance of Sibelius’s grand and charming Symphony No. 3.

Augustana Arts and Stratus Chamber Orchestra presents Anniversaries: 150th Birthday of Sibelius at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, October 16 at Valor Christian HS, 3775 Grace Blvd., Highlands Ranch, CO 80126 and Saturday, October 17 at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5000 East Alameda Avenue, Denver, CO. Tickets are $25 adult; $20 senior; $15 student; $10 children age 4-17 years and are available online at http://www.augustanaarts.org or by calling 303-388-4962.

The works of Jean Sibelius established a strong sense of national musical tradition in Finland – a tradition that has flourished ever since, especially at the Academy of Music in Helsinki which adopted his name in 1939.

Sibelius’s music grew out of the Romantic tradition of Tchaikovsky, Berlioz and Wagner. The core of his oeuvre is his set of seven symphonies and his symphonic poems. He developed a personal and cogent symphonic style: every symphony has its own individual distinction, the third being known for its good-natured and triumphant sound.

His status as one of Finland’s most important artists comes from his ability to combine his original style with a profound national historical awareness and a strong connection with Finnish nature.

Since 1997, Augustana Arts has been serving the community by presenting the artistry of resident performing groups, internationally renowned touring artists and accomplished locally-based ensembles of many genres. The resident groups, Stratus Chamber Orchestra and the Colorado Women’s Chorale (CWC) perform at a variety of venues in addition to the majestic Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver. Augustana Arts serves educational outreach through the City Strings program, an inspired vision to provide youngsters with great need access to high quality, small group music instruction free of cost afterschool at several metro locations.

Augustana Arts concerts and programs are made possible in part by generous support from the citizens of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, the Colorado Creative Industries, a state agency which is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, the Augustana Foundation, the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and several other community partners.

Augustana Arts and Stratus Chamber Orchestra
Anniversaries: 150th Birthday of Sibelius
Friday, October 16 at 7:30 p.m. at
Valor Christian HS, 3775 Grace Blvd., Highlands Ranch, CO 80126

Saturday, October 17 at 7:30 p.m. at
Augustana Lutheran Church, 5000 East Alameda Ave., Denver, CO 80246
Tickets are $25 adult; $20 senior; $15 student; $10 children ages 4 – 17 years
303-388-4962 or online at http://www.augustanaarts.org

The Pacifica Quartet: Excellence and Virtuosity

Wednesday evening, September 16, the Friends of Chamber Music hosted the Pacifica Quartet at Gates Concert Hall on the DU campus. Formed in 1994, the Pacifica quartet has rapidly become one of this nations, and most likely the world’s, finest quartets. With Simin Ganatra, violin, Sibbi Rernhardsson, violin, Masumi Per Rostad, viola, and Brandon Vamos, cello, this chamber group truly seems destined to take its place among the all-time great string quartets, such as the Budapest Quartet of the 1950s with members Joseph Roisman, Jac Gorodetzky, Boris Kroyt, and Mischa Schneider. In addition, they are all full-time faculty members at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and that is, without a doubt, the finest music school in the world. As an aside, there are now eight buildings in music.

The Pacifica Quartet opened the program with Mozart’s wonderful Quartet in F Major, K. 590. Evidence, as mentioned in the program notes, points to this quartet of Mozart’s being intended for the King of Prussia, but the dedication was never finalized. The reason for this was that the King of Prussia reduced the amount of the commission he was to give Mozart. He had originally asked for six string quartets along with some easy piano sonatas for Princess Friederike. Mozart finished the first three of the six string quartets, but the easy sonatas for the Princess never materialized. Artaria published the first three quartets after Mozart died in 1791, but there was no dedication in the publication of them. It would be very unusual for Mozart to not mention the King of Prussia in a dedication because of a commission; therefore, it is possible that Mozart was miffed when the commission was reduced, or perhaps the King of Prussia never commissioned them in the first place.

Mozart opens this wonderful quartet with a three measure theme which is symmetrically answered with a slightly modified version. However, it is worth noting that the opening begins softly in the first measure (marked piano), and on the first beat of the second measure, Mozart has marked it forte. In the answer to the first three measures, Mozart does not indicate a forte emphasis. Granted this is a minute detail, but it adds interest to the opening of this quartet, as this is the kind of detail that Mozart never overlooked. It leads one to wonder if Mozart’s style was changing.

The audience Wednesday evening was quite large, and details, such as the above, are easy to hear in Mozart. It led me to wonder how many of the audience heard this subtle change in dynamics called by Mozart, and which the quartet reproduced in such detail. But it is this kind of detail that makes Mozart and his transparency so wonderful to listen to. The Pacifica Quartet performed this first movement in such a remarkably lyrical way that it was sheer joy, and the cello work done by Brandon Vamos was outstanding. The second movement of this quartet truly begins to display the changes in Mozart’s creative style. The texture becomes a little thicker and the harmony becomes more complicated. It has been sometime since I have heard this quartet, and the difference between the first two movements was striking. Mozart was certainly going through a rugged time in his life when this quartet was written: he and his wife desperately needed money, and Mozart seems to have been going through a period of depression. I was left wondering if that had an effect on the sonorities of the second movement. The third movement was full of charm and grace, and the fourth movement was a return to the clarity of a typical Mozart quartet.

At the risk of irritating some of you readers, I must say that in spite of the Pacifica Quartet’s supreme musicianship, two of their members seemed, to me at least, to be making excessive theatrical movements. The accompanying grimaces were extremely distracting from the music. Please do not misunderstand me: I am perfectly aware that it takes great energy to be sincere in the aural reproduction of a printed page of music. In addition, there is much emotion involved, as there should be. But the movements became extreme, and it often seemed as if two of the musicians were trying to convince the audience that they were “feeling” the music. I feel that it is necessary to make a comparison. When one hears the Colorado Chamber Players perform, one hears the music. Certainly the musicians in that organization move as they perform, but it is clear that the music is the first priority. There are no distractions such as lifting one’s feet off the floor, leaning far over in one’s chair, or gazing at the other members of the quartet in rapture or feigned aggression. The composer’s voice always remains unencumbered.

The second work on the program was String Quartet Nr. 3 entitled Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory by Israeli composer Shulamit Ran (b. 1949). This four movement work also bore titles for each movement: “That Which Happened,” “Menace,” “If I Must Perish – Do Not Let My Paintings Die – Felix Nussbaum (1904-1944),” and the fourth movement, “Shards, Memory.” As the program notes, and violist Masumi Per Rostad explained, this work was specifically written for the Pacifica Quartet. The composer found inspiration for her quartet in the work of a German-Jewish painter, Felix Nussbaum who died at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The first movement is a metaphor for one’s “ordinary life” which is shattered by realization of oncoming war. The second movement, entitled “Menace,” depicts the death march; the third, painting and Auschwitz and the execution; and the fourth movement describes all that is left.

Needless to say this was an incredibly moving piece of music, and it was certainly performed that way by the Pacifica Quartet. Obviously, since this is a new work, I have not heard it before; however, it seemed to make rather spare use of 12 tone (serial) composition. It appeared as though the composer was searching for something that was quite new harmonically. In the first movement, it was startling to hear some of the dissonances resolved to a major chord, and that truly seemed to symbolize the contentment of an “ordinary life.” The second movement, as the program notes so adequately detailed, gathers momentum as it becomes unstoppable. The third movement, as stated by the program notes, demonstrates that the act of “creating” must have been for Felix Nussbaum a way of maintaining sanity. I would certainly agree, but I would also hasten to point out that for a painter, or a musician, or a sculptor, that art is not just a source of maintaining sanity: it is a way of life. It is not an occupation or a vocation. The fourth movement, entitled “Shards, Memory,” are all things human, where the only result of the degradation that was suffered by Nussbaum is the dignity provided by death.

If one had no idea of the programme that inspired this work, its sound would still be overwhelming. It was an incredibly powerful piece of music, and everyone in the audience would have ascribed to it various moments of his/her own life. However, knowing what inspired this composition left an indelible focus of one’s attention on an enormous stain in our history. The performance was superb.

After the intermission, the Pacifica Quartet performed a portion of a new work commissioned from Daniel Kellogg, composer on the faculty at the University of Colorado in Boulder. This was not in the program, and I am sorry to say that I missed the title. I am also sorry that I missed the “talkback” session that was offered after the concert. I will say that the movement of the work which was performed was outstanding, and I am quite anxious to hear it again. We are fortunate that Kellogg is on the faculty, for his award-winning compositions have attracted a great deal of attention. This particular work, which was commissioned by the Pacifica Quartet and Richard Replin, seemed quite dramatic upon first hearing. I am fairly confident that I heard some melodic counterpoint, but again this was my first hearing, so I cannot be sure. It is my sincere hope that this work is performed again quite soon.

The last work on the program was the Quartet Nr. 4 in E minor, Opus 44, Nr. 2. Dedicated to the Crown Prince of Sweden, this particular quartet has one of the most captivating scherzos that Mendelssohn wrote: it is lyrical, and yet fast, and also elegant, and only Mendelssohn could have combined all those attributes. Like the other Opus 44 quartets, this one contains fugal passages that give these quartets an incredible sense of richness. It almost seems as though Mendelssohn’s fugal technique had improved over the years. The Pacifica Quartet seems to have a true knack for Mendelssohn – his Mozart-like transparency and his sense of absolute lyricism were easily exposed. This was a breathtaking performance of a marvelous piece which is simply not heard often enough.

The Pacifica Quartet truly deserves its fine reputation. They are excellent. But it is my humble wish that they would not dictate to the audience with gestures and facial expressions what mood the audience must feel. The composer’s intent must always come first.

Three artists lead the discovery of an unknown French composer: Théodore Gouvy
September 15, 2015, 2:58 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Sunday afternoon, September 13, soprano MeeAe Nam, and pianists Mina Gajić and Hsing-ay Hsu presented a recital of songs and four hand piano compositions of the Romantic French composer Théodore Gouvy. The program was presented at the Grace Lutheran Church on 13th Street in Boulder, Colorado.

Théodore Gouvy (1819-1898) was quite well known during his lifetime but soon after his death, he was forgotten. This is surprising for many reasons, especially considering the fact that one of the eminent musicologists at the turn of the 20th century, Otto Klauwell, published Gouvy’s biography in 1902. In addition, in the 1870s, the New York Philharmonic Club commissioned works from him. Gouvy was a friend of all of the composers of the Romantic era, and this is borne out by the large amount of correspondence that occurred between Gouvy and the musicians and composers of his time. It is true that he was not an innovator in the same way that César Franck and Gabriel Fauré were innovators: he did adhere to the more conservative trends of the Romantic period having been strongly influenced by Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Liszt. Though his symphonies were performed frequently in Paris, Gouvy found it the easier to be published in Germany rather than in France and England where symphonies and chamber music were not as highly regarded at that time. As a result, he spent many winters in Leipzig, and returned to Hombourg-Haut, France, in the summers where he composed at peace in the home of his brother, Alexander.

I must say at the outset that the Grace Lutheran Church in Boulder has startlingly fine acoustics, and the setting is certainly intimate, and perfect for chamber music or a song recital. There is an absolute minimum of distortion and everything that is done by the performers can clearly be heard. In addition, Grace Lutheran Church had the knowledge and foresight to purchase a German Steingraeber piano which is one of the six or seven best pianos in the world. I hasten to point out that this church always keeps their piano an absolutely superb condition.

The Gouvy songs, and he wrote about 120, are certainly, to my way of thinking, on par with those of Franz Schubert or Hugo Wolf. Most certainly Gouvy has his own voice, and keep in mind that the concert-going public of the day gave Gouvy the nickname, “the French Mendelssohn.” He used French poets for his songs texts, and wrote at least 40 songs using the text of the Renaissance poet Pierre de Ronsard. Gouvy also set the poems of Philippe Desportes, Joachim du Bellay, and Amadis Jamin.

I am confident that all of you who read this will be familiar with the name of MeeAe Nam as she is a former resident of Colorado and now teaches at Eastern Michigan University. She still performs all over the world and in addition to her world-wide performance schedule, Dr. Nam has developed a well-deserved reputation as an important scholar of rare French song literature of Théodore Gouvy. She has given lecture recitals of Gouvy’s songs at various universities in the U. S. and Hans Eisler Musik Hochschule in Berlin, Germany. The first CD “Songs of Gouvy” was released in September, 2014 on Toccata Classics.

Equally, I am sure that all of you know of our resident pianist, Hsing-ay Hsu. She has been performing at such venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, and in Europe and Asia.  Her thoughtful and passionate interpretations have won international recognition, including the Juilliard William Petschek Debut Award, William Kapell International Piano Competition, Ima Hogg National Competition first-prize, Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship, Gilmore Young Artist Award, and the US Presidential Scholar of the Arts Award from President Clinton. Ms. Hsu is the Artistic Director for Pendulum New Music at CU-Boulder.  She has served as visiting piano faculty at several universities including CU-Boulder.  Her Conscious Listening™ Seminars brings dynamic teaching to festivals, universities, and the upcoming 2016 Music Teachers National Association convention.

The one relative newcomer to Colorado that was on the program Sunday is Mina Gajić. Mina Gajić started her music career and education in Yugoslavia. She has concertized as piano soloist in Italy, France, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Montenegro, China, and in the United States. Recent solo appearances include concerto performances with the National Symphony Orchestra of Bolivia and the Symphony Orchestra Stanislav Binički, Serbia. She has performed recitals internationally as soloist and with violinist Zachary Carrettin, focusing on a diverse repertory spanning the centuries and various styles on historic period pianos in addition to modern concert instruments. She is currently Director of Education and Outreach of the Boulder Bach Festival, maintains a private teaching studio in Boulder, and performs in a variety of musical contexts in the United States, South America, and Europe. This season in Boulder, she will appear as soloist with Boulder Chamber Orchestra and as an artist for the Boulder Bach Festival season finale.

As evidenced by the length and enthusiasm of the applause at the end of this performance, it was clear to me that everyone in attendance recognized and understood that these three women, MeeAe Nam, Hsing-ay Hsu, and Mina Gajić are world-class performers. I can assure you that this was an outstanding performance, and it truly was performed at a world class level. I would also point out that Gajić and Hsu had little time to learn the music involved. Gajić performed with Nam on all of the songs, and Hsing-ay Hsu performed the four hand piano works with Gajić. All of you aspiring pianists take note: performing experience counts. It truly seemed as if these three women had been performing together for years. They were very comfortable with each other on stage and they also communicated a thorough understanding of Gouvy.

Gouvy songs can often be very deceptive. On the surface, and particularly if one does not know French or have a translation of the French text in front of them, his music often sounds very lighthearted. Ronsard’s poems are often quite emotional. It is not that Gouvy’s music does not match the text, because it does; however, it does not have the collapsing despair as evidenced in some of Schubert’s songs (i.e., Die Schöne Müllerin). Like Schubert, Gouvy’s songs are intensely thought-provoking, and his expression is often produced by penetrating lyricism. It is that lyricism for which Gouvy was known

For example, in the second song that was performed on Sunday entitled Here is the wood, Ronsard uses the past tense to imply that the texts author can no longer find his love:

Here is the wood where my darling Angelette
In springtime rejoices with her song.
Here are the flowers that her foot walks upon
While in solitude she contemplates.

And the last stanza:

Here singing, there weeping, I saw her
Here sitting, and there dancing,
Here smiling and there I was enraptured
With the chatter of my beloved:
On the loom of vaguest thought,
Love weaves the fabric of my life.

In the texts above, Gouvy’s music could almost be called underrated because the harmonies used are not as obvious as other composers: the listener must truly engage in thought as well as the performer. Nam and Gajić gave an enormously moving performance of this song, and gave the impression that they had been performing together for years. This symbiosis was in evidence throughout the entire performance.

In What do you say, what do you do, my sweetheart?, the singer becomes agitated in expressing the text:

What are you saying, what are you doing,
my sweetheart?
What are you dreaming of? Are you not thinking
of me?
Have you no care for my heartache,
And for the torment that your pride gives me?

Gouvy allows Ronsard’s text to provide more agitation in the music, and emphasizes this by giving the musicians the instruction “a little more animated.” The torment becomes even clearer when Gouvy accents it with small 32nd note flourishes in the pianists left-hand. And yet the soprano line must soar.

Nam and Gajić gave this song incredible passion, and at least two members of the audience confided in me after the performance was finished that several of the songs brought tears to their eyes.

MeeAe Nam grouped the songs together in threes, and between each group Mina Gajić and Hsing-ay Hsu performed some of Gouvy’s piano works. Take note that everything he wrote for piano was either for four hands at one piano or for two pianos. They performed works from Gouvy’s Opus 59, which is entitled Six Morceaux a Quatre Mains (Six Pieces for Four Hands).

The first work was a Polonaise, and it was a wonderful break from the tension of the songs. I might add at this point that all of the works on this program displayed Gouvy’s affinity for the piano. The instrument was his main interest in music until he became close friends with Franz Liszt. He was, as many other musicians were, totally intimidated by Liszt’s formidable skill at the keyboard (Liszt was one of the greatest pianists who ever lived.) Gouvy, thereafter, decided to concentrate as a composer, and yet his piano works reflect his own brand of virtuosity combined with unrivaled lyricism.

Gajić and Hsu were magnificent in their interpretation of this piece, and these two musicians clearly gave the impression that they had performed for years together. This grasp of Gouvy’s music, combined with their performance experience and virtuosity, gave the audience an absolutely magnificent experience.

After the intermission, and the next group of songs, Hsu and Gajić performed the Theme and Variations and the Prelude from Gouvy’s Opus 59. It was wonderful to hear these pieces, and I must say the tempo that these two pianists took in the Prelude (it was an accurate tempo) gave the audience the opportunity to hear a real technical tour de force. It was intensely musical and very exciting.

This was a wonderful performance that contained Colorado Premiers and United States Premieres of this rare music. It was intensely gratifying to hear these unknown works by an unknown composer who has, since his death, fallen into undeserved oblivion. By their excellent performance, MeeAe Nam, Mina Gajić, and Hsing-ay Hsu have taken a giant step in restoring Théodore Gouvy to his rightful place.


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