Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adriana Contino, Chrstipher Maunu, Clara Rottsolk, Cobus Du Toit, Colorado Bach Ensemble, Cynthia Henning, Daekwang Kim, Dann Coakwell, David Kim, Elise Greenwood Bahr, Eric Jurenas, Gene Stenger, James Kim, Joshua Ooms, Kenrick Mervine, Margaret Soper Gutierrez, Marjorie Bunday, Mary Artmann, Matt Sommer, Michelle Stanley, Nicole Lamartine, Paul Max Tipton, Steven Soph, Stuart Dameron
Every performing musician who goes out on stage to expose an audience to incredible music has his or her own “Opus Ultimum,” to borrow that term from Daniel Leeson. It doesn’t matter if the musician is a conductor, a pianist, or a vocalist: It is a piece of music that he or she strives to do, but only when he or she knows that the moment in their performing life has arrived. For pianists, it may be Liszt’s Sonata in B minor; for cellists, it may be Kodály’s Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello; or, for a conductor, it may be Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, which requires an orchestra of 200, and a choir of 800. For a Heldentenor, it may be Parsifal, by Wagner.
For Dr. James Kim, it is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Notice that I did not mention a particular work. Dr. Kim is on his way to perform all of the important choral works of this remarkable composer, and he has even established a basic choir and orchestra in which to complete this monumental pursuit: the Colorado Bach Ensemble. You readers who love music, but have never performed or even been trained in music, must understand the amount of preparation that goes into learning a piece such as the Zoltán Kodály Cello Sonata. It takes a great deal of musical maturity as well as knowledge of the composer, and even the period of his life when he composed the piece. When one conducts a work such as the St. Matthew Passion, one must have an understanding of the work and performance at several different levels: 1) one must understand Bach’s deep religious beliefs, 2) one must study the score of this three-hour piece, and decide how best to bring out the intricate counterpoint that infuse all of J.S. Bach’s works, 3) one must be familiar with, and know soloists who are capable of singing the solo voice parts, 4) one must know orchestral musicians who have a similar dedication and understanding of the music, 5) one must be able to put together a choir which possesses the same thought process as the instrumentalists, 6) and on a more mundane level, one must have the funding available, or have the skill to put it all together, so that this huge work can be performed. One must also have the knowledge to understand all of the ramifications of a performance preparation, and have the stamina and courage to never stop asking questions of oneself concerning its readiness. And, finally, one has to have the self-knowledge concerning one’s own ability to communicate to soloists, orchestra, and choir, what has to be done.
Needless to say, this does not happen overnight.
I will begin with the orchestra. In the Baroque orchestra, one of the most important parts is called the continuo (literally, continuing throughout the piece). To make the definition of continuo fairly simple, it is a stenographic system in which bass notes are written, but intervals (notes) above those notes are indicated by numerical figures. For example, if the bass note is an E, and there is a number 6 written below that E, then the instrumentalists performing the continuo would play the note C. The continuo is usually played by organ or harpsichord plus a low string instrument, normally the cello. Sometimes the bassoon is added. In the St. Matthew Passion, there are two orchestras, therefore, two continuo players are required. Mary Artmann played continuo cello in Orchestra II. She is a superb cellist and has performed regularly with the Colorado Chamber Players. I have had the great pleasure of hearing her perform several times. The guest cellist was Adriana Contino. Ms. Contino “… Was professor of cello, Baroque cello, and chamber music at the Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, Germany, where she taught and concertized from 1991 to . She moved back to the United States in 2011 and is teaching at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington.” I might point out that she comes from a very musical family, and that her mother, conductor Fiora Contino, also taught at the Indiana University School of Music, when I was a student there. Kenrick Mervine performed the organ continuo Saturday evening. He is the organist with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and was Instructor of Organ at Seton Hall University.
Other members of the orchestra of the Colorado Bach Ensemble come from orchestras around the state, and often play with the Colorado Chamber Players, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra, and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. The Concertmaster of Orchestra I was Margaret Soper Gutierrez, who plays regularly with the Colorado Chamber Players. Concertmaster of Orchestra II was Dr. Hee-Jung Kim, who plays with the Fort Collins Symphony and the Cheyenne Symphony. Maestro James Kim has put together an absolutely outstanding group of musicians, which he truly has the ability to do.
The vocal soloists were tenor, Dann Coakwell, in the role of the Evangelist. This was his first appearance in Colorado, but he has sung throughout Europe and the United States, performing the Bach cantatas, the St. Matthew Passion, the St. John Passion, the Christmas Oratorio, and the Mass in B minor. The role of Jesus was sung by baritone Paul Max Tipton, who has appeared in Denver before this performance in Bach’s B minor Mass, which was the first performance given by the Colorado Bach ensemble. Clara Rottsolk sang the Soprano role. This was her first appearance in Colorado to the best of my knowledge. She teaches voice at Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr colleges. Eric Jurenas returned to Colorado to sing the Countertenor role in this Passion. I have heard him sing, and I have written about him before, and he still stuns the audience with his remarkable voice and musicianship. Steven Soph was the lead tenor in Saturday night’s performance, and he performs throughout the United States, and is a member of several vocal ensembles including New York’s Musica Sacra and Miami’s Seraphic Fire. The baritone for Saturday’s performance was David Kim (no relation to Dr. James Kim, the conductor). He has one of the most astonishing bass-baritone voices that I have heard in some time, and he is completing his Doctorate of Musical Arts degree at the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati.
The above-mentioned soloists deserve more space than I am able to give them here. They were absolutely outstanding, and I might add that their voice quality fit, or matched, if you will, with each other as well as the roles which they were singing.
There were also some excellent soloists singing from the choir. Though some may consider these roles relatively minor, I hasten to point out that the soloists’ qualities were not minor by any stretch of the imagination. These individuals were Elise Greenwood Bahr, Pilate’s Wife; Marjorie Bunday, False Witness I; Gene Stenger, False Witness II; Stuart Dameron, Judas; Christopher Maunu, Peter; Cynthia Henning, Maid I; Nicole Lamartine, Maid II; Daekwang Kim, Pilate; Joshua Ooms, High Priest II; and Matt Sommer, High Priest I. I mention these individuals because they were all exceptional, and well-chosen by Maestro James Kim. In addition, it is a reflection of the careful consideration that Maestro Kim gave this entire performance. There is no question that absolutely nothing was left to chance.
As the St. Matthew Passion began to unfold at Saturday’s performance, the performance of everyone on stage became more and more stunning. This work is divided into sixty-eight sections, delineated by recitatives, chorales, and arias. Section 5 and Section 6, a recitative, and aria, are scored for the countertenor. I have heard Eric Jurenas sing before, as I stated above; however, he never ceases to amaze me with the clear quality of his voice. It is as if one can see through it, and, in addition, his diction is remarkable. In those same two sections, the flutes in Orchestra I, Michelle Stanley and Cobus du Toit, also excelled. I point out that these two musicians are absolutely superb, as was everyone in the orchestra.
In the recitativo of Section 12, the soprano, Clara Rottsolk is required to enter on a relatively high pitch with little, if any, indication from the orchestras. She entered exactly on pitch so effortlessly and so musically that it quite literally took my breath away. Section 19, the tenor solo was the first entrance of the evening for Stephen Soph. Once again, I was impressed by the power of his voice and in his following aria (Section 20) the bassoon and oboe were absolutely gorgeous. And, I must say that all of the instrumentalists in the orchestra played as if they were all performing their own solos, even though they were all tutti. Section 22 was the first entrance of David Kim, the bass-baritone. He took the stage with disarming casualness, but when he began to sing, those around me looked at each other in disbelief of the fullness and the quality of his sound. He absolutely filled the hall, and his voice had the same transparency and clearness as that of Eric Jurenas.
All of these soloists not only had amazing vocal production, but they sang with great emotion and musicality. It was clear that the impact of Bach’s writing was having an effect on their own emotions, thus making it easier for them to project the story to the audience. The choice of the soloists is a reflection on the thoroughness demonstrated by Maestro James Kim in paragraph two of this article. For example, in the St. Matthew Passion, as he did in the B minor Mass, Bach writes an entrance for the countertenor on a note that is of very long duration. On this note the countertenor must gradually increase from a pianissimo dynamic level to a solid forte. Eric Jurenas was absolutely stunning in his long crescendo. Maestro Kim has to be able to pick a countertenor that has the breath control to do that.
Dr. James Kim infused the entire performance, both orchestras and choirs, with an intensity that was noticeable and non-stop: it lasted for three solid hours. This is how this particular, and monumentally important, work by J.S. Bach should be heard. There have been many performances of the St. Matthew Passion done with enormous choirs, presumably because the conductor thinks that more is better. It is easy to suppose that those conductors think that a large choir will make the work more impressive. However, in the end, all it does is to hide Bach’s counterpoint and sophistication in an unintelligible wash of sound. It certainly is not the size of orchestras and choirs that Bach had in mind when he wrote the piece, or that he had available to him at the time.
In Section 39, violinist Margaret Soper Gutierrez performed a duet with countertenor, Eric Jurenas. Her playing was exquisite, and both performed as if it was an unusually instrumented miniature sonata. Both parts were of equal importance, and both of these musicians honored each other’s musicality and extraordinary gifts.
This same ambience was also manifest in Section 42, when violinist Hee-Jung Kim performed a duet with David Kim, the bass-baritone. Both musicians were absolutely stellar. And, if you can imagine this from a bass-baritone, his voice was light and airy, and matched the quality of spirit of the violin, even though it was lower in pitch.
This entire performance from beginning to end was filled with uncompromising musicianship. There are many moments when the two orchestras share contrapuntal moments that produce a conversation between Orchestra I and Orchestra II. One orchestra began a “sentence,” and the other orchestra would finish it with a sentence of its own, or little rhythmic jabs of startling precision. The clarity of Bach’s counterpoint, and his inherent and constant rhythmic drive and accentuation was always distinct and unmistakable in Saturday’s performance. It is what defines Bach, and there is no question that Maestro Kim used it to shape the intensity of the performance. Everyone on stage, the soloists, the orchestra musicians, and the musicians in the choir, were all exceptional. As I stated above, this is one of the most important compositions of Bach’s, as well as one of the most important in music literature, and it takes immense stamina and artistic courage. Maestro James Kim has a way of the leading these knowledgeable musicians into the inner-most spirit of Bach, and then, if that were not enough, he eagerly invites the audience to follow.
Filed under: Commentary
In 2010, in Sacramento, California, an experimental rap group was founded by Stefan Burnett (his stage name is MC Ride), Zach Hill, and Andy Morin (his stage name is Flatlander). They call their group Death Grips, and one of their works, which I heard, is entitled Get Got. The name of the album in which this work appears is “The Money Store,” and the cover art depicts a dominatrix with a leash, which is attached to an androgynous male (a male with breasts), on whose chest is carved “Death Grips.” Of course, that is sure to attract the attention of many of today’s youth.
According to the Urban Dictionary, Get Got is a term used to indicate the death of an individual, as in, “Get out of my face, before you get got!” It can also indicate a connection to pregnancy, as in, “I won’t get got, I’m on the pill.” And, within that frame of reference, it can also indicate a young man who is in need of a girl, as in, “What’s a guy got to do to get got in this town?”
Death Grips’ debut album was called Exmilitary, and NBC New York.com called it a very “… intense, and dark listen.” I have not heard that album, or anything from it, so I can’t address that review, but Death Grips’ one piece that I did hear, Get Got, is anything but intense or dark.
The video of Get Got, which you can find at http://www.last.fm/music/Death+Grips, features MC Ride sitting in a chair in the middle of the street and performing Get Got while doing all of the hand motions that rap seems to require, though in this case they are more arm motions than hand motions. Apparently, Mr. Burnett has not read the Rappers Handbook by Escher and Rappaport. According to that publication, “… hand motions are used to emphasize certain words and give a visual element to a listening experience.” It goes on to say that hand gestures can pump up the crowd at a party (And, just think, in my youth I used to dress nicely to do that) or they can be used to visually cut down an opponent. And, most noble of all, hand gestures should often be used to help the performer concentrate and “stay flowing.” The best rappers, it seems, use the hand gestures so that they seem to be an extension of the verse. But, I must say, that it does appear that hand gestures are entirely necessary to emphasize the words, at least in this piece, which I have heard, because one cannot understand the words at all. What do you suppose ever happened to diction? At the risk of exposing the fact that my imagination might be considered moribund, I always thought that when one sang or recited poetry that the words were the most important. There was, however, one word which was more carefully enunciated than the others, and reappeared often in the refrain stanza of this rap. That word was f—. I am also fairly sure, but not positive due to the poor diction, that I heard the word s—. Other than those two words, I simply could not understand anything else that MC Ride was saying. He also performed the poetry at one consistent dynamic level, and that was loud.
Since this is rap, none of the following elements of music are present except (in this particular album) for a synthesized rhythmic element:
1. Rhythm (beat, meter, tempo, syncopation)
2. Dynamics (forte, piano, etc.)
3. Melody (pitch, theme, conjunct, distinct)
4. Harmony (chord, progression, consonance, dissonance)
5. Tone color (range, register, instrumentation)
6. Texture (monophonic, homophonic, polyphonic, imitation, counterpoint
7. Form (binary, ternary, etc., though composed)
Rap is supposed to be poetry chanted to a rhythmic pattern. Some individuals do classify this as music even though it generally does not contain any of the elements of music, which are mentioned above, except rhythm. Since this particular work, therefore, cannot be classified as music, and since the words in this recording cannot be understood even though they are supposed to be of prime importance, what function does Get Got serve?
This album, The Money Store, has collected some very high scores from several reviewers. Jayson Green of Pitchfork Media gave the album 8.7 out of 10, and in so doing, said, “The Money Store is about as intellectual an experience as a scraped knee. But, it’s just as good at reminding you that you’re alive.” If Get Got is only useful to remind one that he/she is still alive, then why give such a high score. Why not explain that the main thrust of the work, the text, is virtually unintelligible except for a few expletives, and give it the low score that it deserves because the primary subject matter is missing?
Not long ago I taught a class of twenty-one graduate level students in Medieval music. I asked them what kind of music they listened to, and all of them, save one, said they listened to rap and to rock. When I asked them why they did not listen to serious music, i.e., Mozart, Mendelssohn, or Stravinsky, they said that rock and rap allowed them to listen without thinking. I certainly had to agree with that, because how can one think about what is contained in rap when the words cannot be understood.
So many of our youth today wish to avoid any kind of thoughtful contemplation. It certainly appears that they often do not want to confront their own serious thoughts, let alone the serious thoughts of others, because of the potential confrontation that those thoughts may provoke.
This is germane to rap and rock because, with such great frequency, the words cannot be understood, unless one reads the album notes. I do not own the album which contains Get Got, and therefore, I could not read the liner notes. I do not know if the words that I could not understand reflected the cover art portraying the dominatrix and the masochist, or if the words were simply benign.
In serious music, particularly in the Romantic Period, there was a genuine union between music and language when so many composers wrote songs. It was a true supremacy of the language of feelings over the language of fact, and one would suppose that is the direction that rap might take. However, there is nothing notable or noble in this particular work entitled, Get Got. As I have mentioned in other articles, Felix Mendelssohn even wrote a set of short piano pieces which he entitled Songs Without Words (the underlining of that portion of the title is mine). When he was asked about the meaning of some of his songs without words he replied, “The thoughts that are expressed to me by music that I love are not too indefinite to be put into words; but on the contrary, too definite.” He expected some mystery to be felt by the individuals who heard those pieces because, due to the expressivity of the music, one automatically begins to wonder at what the words could be, and how they might fit the music that Mendelssohn wrote. I would like to stress that even though the words are absent, the music is not, and it forces us to think about what might be.
There certainly is not any mystery that might encompass a thought process in Get Got. Because it is rap, there is no music, and because the words are unintelligible, they are absent as well.
If one is going to take something seriously enough to write about it, or to create it, why not take the medium, the language, seriously as well. Rap poets presumably have something to say, but when it is unintelligible, and when it is consistently filled with inarticulate colloquialisms used only for shock value, it only perpetuates a perceived lack of intelligence and artistry by many in the audience.
I have heard other adults say to me that rap poets write in that way to make it “appealing” to members of their own generation. If that is true, then I object to it more strongly than ever, because what it truly succeeds in doing is to strip away any kind of meaning that is important to their performance. If they do not dedicate themselves to their own words, how can they expect others to comprehend the significance and meaning of what they write?
I am fully aware that our current society needs an entertainment factor, and I certainly don’t object to that need. I do find it quite amazing that many of our youth seem to go out of their way to avoid art and music. Colloquialisms may be fine for private conversation, but including them in work that the authors consider important represents a lack of skill.
There have been many artistic movements in the past that have been considered “subcultures.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if young people today would imbue rap and rock with an undeniable artistic merit, so that we could all step back and be awed by it in the same way that the public was awed by Impressionist painting, or Symbolist poetry?
Filed under: News
The St. Matthew Passion is one of the most important pieces in the history of music. It is certainly one of the greatest of all of Bach’s works.
The Colorado Bach Ensemble launches its second season, presenting J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in Fort Collins and Denver. According to Artistic Director, James Kim, “This is a huge undertaking with a double chorus, a double orchestra, a children’s chorus, and six soloists. Many of my colleagues would agree that this is one of the most influential masterpieces in western music.”
Dann Coakwell, one of the premier tenors specializing in Bach’s music will sing the role of the Evangelist. Coakwell has been praised by The New York Times as a “clear-voiced and eloquent … vivid storyteller.” Joining Mr. Coakwell will be two favorites from last season’s performance of the Mass in B Minor: Eric Jurenas, Countertenor and Paul Max Tipton, Tenor. Also featured will be exceptional soloists Clara Rottsolk, Soprano; Stephen Soph, Tenor; and, David Kim, Baritone.
In addition the St. Matthew Passion in June, the Colorado Bach Ensemble will present a series of Cantata Concerts in the fall, and a reprise of their hugely successful 2012 performances of The Messiah in December.
“For our second season, we will build on the established expectations to bring world-class performances to this region,” says Dr. Kim. “We also believe strongly in offering our music with affordable ticket prices so that cost is not a barrier to this beautiful art form – an art that I consider a necessity, not a luxury.”
WHAT: St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) by J.S. Bach, conducted by Dr. James Kim, Artistic Director
SOLOISTS: Dann Coakwell, Evangelist-Tenor;
Paul Max Tipton, Christus-Baritone;
Clara Rottsolk, soprano;
Eric Jurenas, Countertenor;
Stephen Soph, Tenor;
David Kim, Baritone;
WHEN: Friday, June 14, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Griffin Concert Hall, University Center for the Arts, 1400 Remington Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
WHEN: Saturday, June 15, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: The King Center on the Auraria Campus, 855 Lawrence St, Denver, CO 80204
TICKETS: online or at the door: $20 adults, $5 students
Visit http://www.coloradobachensemble.org for more information
Visit us at http://www.ColoradoBachEnsemble.org to order tickets or to sign up for the CBE eNewsletter, including updates from Dr. Kim and performers as the group researches the music, rehearses and prepares for the upcoming performances.
Dann Coakwell, tenor, has been praised by The New York Times as a “clear-voiced and eloquent … vivid storyteller;” Stark Insider of San Francisco has complimented his “rare warmth and depth;” and The Dallas Morning News has commended him as “the standout vocal soloist … with utterly natural diction,” and “a gorgeous lyric tenor that could threaten or caress on the turn of a dime.” Much sought-after as a performer of Bach, Handel, and their contemporaries, he specializes in J.S. Bach’s Evangelist roles. Additionally versed in the repertoire of Benjamin Britten and other composers within the last century, he also actively seeks out opportunities to collaborate with modern composers and perform new music.
Described by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a dignified and beautiful singer, Paul Max Tipton, baritone, is building a fine career in opera, oratorio, and early music. Upcoming and recent engagements include Britten’s War Requiem with the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra & the American Boy Choir, concerts of Charpentier & Couperin with Ensemble VIII in Austin, the role of Christus in Bach’s St. John Passion with the Back Bay Chorale in Boston, Rameau’s La Lyre Enchantée with Jacques Ogg and the Lyra Baroque Orchestra in Saint Paul, and a recording of the Brahms Requiem, Op.45 with Seraphic Fire and Patrick Dupré Quigley in Miami, an album recently honored with a 2012 Grammy nomination. Mr. Tipton is based in Boston, and is a May 2010 graduate of the Yale University Institute of Sacred Music, having studied with tenor James Taylor.
“Pure and shining” (Cleveland Plain Dealer) soprano Clara Rottsolk has been lauded by The New York Times for her “clear, appealing voice and expressive conviction” and by The Philadelphia Inquirer for the “opulent tone [with which] every phrase has such a communicative emotional presence.” In a repertoire extending from the Renaissance to the contemporary, her solo appearances with orchestras and chamber ensembles have taken her across the United States, Japan and South America. She specializes in historically informed performance practice, singing with ensembles such as American Bach Soloists, Tempesta di Mare, Les Délices, St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, Magnificat Baroque, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Bach Sinfonia, Piffaro—The Renaissance Wind Band, Trinity Wall Street Choir, Handel Choir of Baltimore, Buxtehude Consort, and the Masterwork Chorus under the direction of conductors including Joshua Rifkin, Bruno Weil, Paul Goodwin, Jeffrey Thomas, John Scott, David Effron, and Andrew Megill.
[Eric Jurenas]having a “rich, mature voice,” (Third Coast Digest) with “incredible power,” (Opus Colorado) American countertenor Eric Jurenas is quickly making a name for himself in both the opera and concert scene. After a brief stint as a baritone in his first year of university studies, he made the daunting switch to the opposite side of the vocal spectrum. Eric has worked with several groups as a featured soloist, including Michigan Opera Theatre, Opera Philadelphia, The Dayton Philharmonic, American Bach Soloists, Colorado Bach Ensemble, Calvin College Choirs, Kentucky Bach Choir, and the Bel Canto Chorus of Milwaukee, among others. Highlights of 2013-2014 season include performances with American Bach Soloists (Bach Magnificat), The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (Messiah), and Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music ensembles (Adams El Niño).
A “sweetly soaring tenor” Dallas Morning News with “impressive clarity and color” New York Times, Steven Soph performs as a soloist and chamber musician throughout the United States. Upcoming engagements include Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum with the Cleveland Orchestra under Ton Koopman, Evangelist in Bach’s St. John Passion with the Chicago Chorale, Messiah with Saint John’s Cathedral Choir and Orchestra in Denver, Liebeslieder Waltzes with Yale Choral Artists, and a residency at Stanford University with Cut Circle interpreting the works of DuFay and Josquin. Solo appearances this season include Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum as a 2012 Young American Artist with Robert Shafer’s City Choir of Washington; Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy in Alice Tully Hall with Musica Sacra conducted by Kent Tritle; Bach cantata arias (BWV 70 & 181) on Trinity Wall Street’s Bach at One series with Julian Wachner; arias in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with Dennis Keene’s Voices of Ascension; Uriel in Haydn’s Creation, arias in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 with the Yale Schola Cantorum and Juilliard 415 under Masaaki Suzuki; and Zadok in Handel’s Solomon with Simon Carrington.
Korean-born baritone David Dong-Geun Kim has made several important concert and recital debuts since coming to the United States. His recent recital, Schubert’s Winterreise, was described as “One of the most moving, powerful and accomplished recital of the year” by conductor Simon Carrington. Kim has been presented in numerous recitals across the United States and Canada, performing many of the major works by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Mahler, Rimsky-Korsakov, Finzi, as well as earlier repertoire such as the lute songs of John Dowland. On the concert stage, Kim has been a featured soloist in works ranging from Monteverdi, Schütz, Bach, and Handel to Mendelssohn, Brahms and Philip Glass. His performances of Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 5 Requiem, Bardo, Nirmanakaya led the composer himself to praise the “special character” of Mr. Kim’s “rich voice.” Recent performances include a role in Stravinsky’s Les Noces, which was his first major foray into the Russian repertoire.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Andrew Cooperstock, Antonin Dvořák, Barbara Hamilton, Colorado Chamber Players, Daniel Silver, Ernó Dohnányi, Kolio Plachkov, Margartet Soper Gutierrez, Mark Carlson, Michael Thornton, Paul Primus
As I have said before, there are a few groups here in Colorado that always perform exceedingly well. But every now and then, one hears a performance which is so exceptional that it no longer fits the superlative of “exceedingly well.” Such was the case Sunday afternoon, June 9th , at the Boulder Public Library, where the Colorado Chamber Players performed. How they managed such a spectacular performance is beyond me, because they faced a last-minute emergency, as one of their members, French hornist, Kolio Plachkov, became indisposed. At the very last minute, they found a substitute French horn performer in the person of Michael Thornton, who is Principal French Horn with the Colorado Symphony. Even though Thornton is a remarkable horn player, and even though he has previously performed the Dohnányi Sextet, Opus 37, there is no question that he put everyone on their mettle, including himself.
The Colorado Chamber Players opened their program with a piece that is infrequently performed: the Terzetto for Two Violins and Viola, Opus 74. As was explained before the performance began, this work was written in the second week of January, 1887. It was inspired by a young chemistry student who was renting a room in Dvořák’s house. He was an amateur violinist, and Dvořák thought that it would be fun to write a piece that the two of them could play together along with the student’s violin teacher. However, the piece proved to be too difficult for this young violinist, so Dvořák had to write another piece for violin and piano. The Terzetto is in four movements, the first of which is rather simple in structure. In fact, this entire work is considered by some as a salon piece, even though it is brilliantly written and a solid piece of music.
The Terzetto is a remarkable work that requires the performers to be experienced chamber players well adept at rhythmic changes and hemiola (rhythm across the bar line). The opening movement is quite emotional, and extremely lyrical. And that is precisely the way it was performed, and I might add, that it was abundantly clear that the Colorado Chamber Players know this piece extremely well. The entire work has a certain atmosphere of innocence, causing many uninitiated to call this a piece of fluff, but I heartily disagree. The scherzo is an incredible movement that demonstrates Dvořák’s ability with rhythmic and melodic lines. If it is fluff, it is incredibly difficult fluff. The last movement is a wonderful theme and variations that alternates between C Major and C minor. This was a remarkable performance that was at once cheerful, emotional, and thoroughly exciting. The viola (Barbara Hamilton Primus) has some remarkable work in the Scherzo movement. The violinists, Margaret Soper Gutierrez and Paul Primus, seem to be enjoying themselves thoroughly. But, please realize that in order to communicate that enjoyment Gutierrez and Primus have to be remarkable violinists. I know that the Colorado Chamber Players are well-known in this community (as well they should be), but it does take remarkable musicians to impart that communication in so difficult a piece. And, I assure you that it is difficult, and wonderfully solid piece of music
Following the Dvořák, the CCP performed View from a Hilltop by Mark Carlson. I will quote briefly from his bio statement on the web:
“Composer Mark Carlson’s lyrical, emotionally powerful, and stylistically unique music has earned him the admiration of audiences and musicians throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. A versatile composer, his nearly 100 works include art songs, chamber music, choral music, concertos and other large ensemble works, and songs for musical theater. The recipient of more than 50 commissions, he has been commissioned by the National Shrine in Washington, DC, the New West Symphony, First Methodist Church of Santa Monica, and Westwood Presbyterian Church, among other organizations, as well as by many individual musicians and private parties. … He teaches music theory and composition at UCLA and also taught at Santa Monica College for 15 years. The Founder and Artistic Director of the Los Angeles chamber music ensemble Pacific Serenades, he is also active as a flutist, performing primarily chamber music. Born in 1952 in Ft. Lewis, Washington, Carlson grew up in California, attended the University of Redlands, graduated from CSU Fresno, and received MA and PhD degrees in composition from UCLA. His principal teachers were Alden Ashforth and Paul Reale (composition) and Roger Stevens (flute).”
View from a Hilltop was commissioned by the family members of Mark Carlson in honor of his aunt, Dorothy Leavens Carlson, to celebrate her eightieth birthday. It is scored for a fairly unusual combination of instruments: clarinet, performed by Daniel silver; violin, Paul Primus; cello, Mary Artmann; and piano, Andrew Cooperstock.
This is a five movement work, the first of which is a very short prologue. The second movement, entitled Ostinato, is powerful indeed. One’s attention is immediately riveted upon the bass clarinet which Carlson requires to carry the melodic line, which is rhythmically very disjunct. As a matter of fact, the rhythm reminded me very much of Stravinsky: it gives the movement a sense of irrevocability, but conversely, it has its incredibly lyrical moments, but then it returns to irresistible momentum. The third movement, entitled The Fog, is, surprisingly very menacing, with the interest in the violins and clarinet while the piano plays forte arpeggios.
The fourth movement, Lost, gives these remarkable musicians a chance to wallow in their musicianship. It is turgid and lush, and though it is decidedly an avant-garde work, it does not make use of the harmonies that were made popular by the Second Viennese School (the serial technique of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg). It was in this movement that the Colorado Chamber Players seemed to be most at home, but do not take that to mean that the previous movements were less than satisfactory. This movement, as well as the last movement, entitled Faria Beach, was absolutely magical. Daniel Silver’s clarinet performance in the last movement was spectacular, as it was when I heard the CCP perform this work in October of last year. This movement requires a bass clarinet, and Silver made it dulcet and mellifluous and sensuous. I don’t recall ever hearing a bass clarinet sound the way it did at this performance.
The performance of the Carlson composition was absolutely breathtaking. It was almost impressionistic in its aura, but certainly not in the fashion of Debussy. Many portions of it reminded me of very early Stravinsky because of the harmony, and, very early on, I would certainly consider Stravinsky as an Impressionist composer. Everything that these terrific musicians played was wonderfully detailed, and fully demonstrative of beautiful musicianship. It was also a demonstration of the joy of making music, but even then, it was a special kind of joy made possible by the immense understanding and skill of the performers. It was breathtaking.
After the intermission, the Colorado Chamber Players performed the remarkably difficult Sextet in C Major for Piano, Strings, and Winds, Opus 37, by Erno von Dohnányi. This was a very exciting performance, in more ways than one. The scheduled performer on French horn, Kolio Plachkov, suffered a last minute emergency on Sunday morning. As I said in the opening paragraph, the CCP found a fine replacement, Michael Thornton, who is Principal Horn with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
Dohnányi was born in 1877, and was at least ten years older than a group of Hungarian musicians that were as famous as two other groups: the Russian group: “The Mighty Five”: Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Alexander Borodin. The second group of composers were French, known as “Le Six”: Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, and Germaine Tailleferre. The Hungarian composers were not nearly as tightly formed as the Russian and French groups, but they had a profound impact that was, perhaps, even greater than the Russians and French. The Hungarian musicians were Dohnányi, Bela Bartok, Zoltán Kodály, Ede Zathureczky, Janos Starker, György Sebok, Eva Janzer, Georges Janzer, Bela Boszorményi-Nagy, and Tibor Kozma. I stress that these Hungarian musicians were not necessarily affiliated in the same way as the Russian group and the French group; however there were some incredible links: Bartok had accompanied Zathureczky; Sebok accompanied Starker. Almost all of them taught at the Budapest Conservatory, and they knew each other well. Dohnányi was older, and, for a while, served on the faculty at the Berlin Hochschule, but he returned to Hungary and devoted himself to the composers Bartok and Kodaly, conducting their works, and performing them on the piano at concerts. Suffering conflicts with the Nazis by refusing to dismiss members of the Budapest orchestra on the basis of racial and religious grounds, he disbanded the orchestra and relocated to Austria. That move is, perhaps, one of the reasons that his fellow Hungarians looked at him critically. Finally, he was appointed to the faculty of Florida State College and became a United States citizen. He died in Florida in 1960.
Make no mistake about it: this Sextet, Opus 37, is overwhelmingly difficult. It is to chamber music what the Kodaly Cello Sonata is to the cello. Truly, it is symphonic in scope. It has a very powerful and soaring first movement in which the horn is prominent. As the first movement progresses, one begins to notice that Dohnányi has left Brahms and Wagner and Richard Strauss behind. He does so with incredible rhythmic vitality and remarkable tempos that would be out of place in any other late romantic work. The cello gets a remarkable work out in this first movement, but Artmann had no problems whatsoever. The second movement begins with an almost mysterious introduction, which is followed by a march which becomes quite ominous in tone. It builds to an incredible climax, which is quite soft but very dark.
The third movement begins with the clarinet, which is lyrical and lush, and, at other times, a fast and furious scherzo. The fourth movement is playful, and even contains, as Dan Silver pointed out to the audience, a Viennese waltz in the spirit of Johann Strauss. Nonetheless, the last movement, waltz or not, is fast and furious. It is almost as if Dohnányi is playing a joke. But I point out that it is a remarkably difficult joke.
The Colorado Chamber Players were mesmerizing in the performance of this work. They were obviously inspired by each other’s ability and by the music, and, I think, feeling somewhat relieved at finding an absolutely superb horn player at the very last minute. Michael Thornton’s tone was beautifully golden, and it was clear that he has had abundant chamber experience aside from his orchestral work. Andrew Cooperstock was absolutely flawless in the performance of this incredibly difficult piece. His playing was exciting and driven.
This performance by the Colorado Chamber Players was one in which everyone on stage seemed totally excited by the music, and totally excited by being able to rely so heavily on each other’s musicianship. They were enjoying each other in a way that only experienced chamber performers can. It is a very difficult emotion to describe, but it is the realization of self-reliance, reliance on others, and such a firm and shared knowledge which makes the enjoyment of the music come through. The performers can see and hear all of the years of practice paying off in a wonderfully shared execution of their art.
This is what establishes the Colorado Chamber Players as one of the best ensembles in the country.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Alexander Grechaninov, Arvo Pärt, Daniel Hutchings, Eric Pultz, Kenneth Leighton, Marjorie Bunday, Max Reger, St. Martin's Chamber Choir, Taylor Martin, Timothy Krueger
St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, under the leadership of Timothy J. Krueger, gave their final performance of the season on Friday, June 7, at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral on Washington Street. I am enormously pleased to say that there was a very large audience for this final concert. And that is the way it should have been, for this is a very fine choral organization. Timothy Krueger is one of the best choral conductors in the state, and he has been performing incredibly fine concerts with this organization for almost twenty years. This concert also featured a marvellous organist, Eric Plutz, to accompany the choir, in addition to performing two organ solos.
Maestro Krueger and the choir opened the program with Solus ad Victimam, which is a relatively short work by Kenneth Leighton. I will quote briefly from Leighton’s bio statement which I obtained on the web:
“Kenneth Leighton [1929-1988] is one of the most distinguished of British post-war composers; over 100 compositions are published, many of which were written to commission, and his work is frequently performed and broadcast both in Britain and abroad.
“In 1947 he [attended] The Queen’s College, Oxford, on a Hastings Scholarship in Classics; in 1951 he graduated both BA in Classics, and BMus (having studied with Bernard Rose). In the same year he won the Mendelssohn Scholarship and went to Rome to study with Goffredo Petrassi.
“Kenneth Leighton was Professor of Theory at the Royal Marine School of Music 1952-1953, and Gregory Fellow in Music at the University of Leeds 1953-55. In 1955 he was appointed Lecturer in Music at the University of Edinburgh where he was made Senior Lecturer and then Reader. In 1968 he returned to Oxford as University Lecturer in Music and Fellow of Worcester College.
“In October 1970 he was appointed Reid Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh, the post which he held until his death in 1988.”
Solus ad Victimam was written sometime in 1973, and that means that Leighton was showing his influence of serial technique. Harmonically, it is the organ part that seems to drive this anthem: the harmonic progression stated by the organ introduction appeared to me to be the identical harmonic progression stated by the choir in their opening. Keep in mind this is the first time I have heard this work, so that previous statement could be incorrect. But, I must say the minor seconds, in both organ and choir parts, emphasized the tragedy of the text, which was written by Peter Abelard (1079-1142). The text begins: “Alone to sacrifice thou goest, Lord, giving thyself to Death, whom thou hast slain.…” Kenneth Leighton certainly sets himself apart from other English composers in that he certainly shows his influence of twentieth century English composers (Walton and Vaughn Williams) while, in his later life, showing the influence of the second Viennese school. This was a beautiful piece in which the dynamic changes and the harmony was very skillfully conducted by Maestro Krueger to emphasize the text. Certainly, I am no conductor, but, it appeared to me, that one of the difficulties in such a short and very intense work as this would be for the choir to immediately “get into” the work and make it sound as if this was a huge piece of music. The performance was incredibly profound, and a perfect example of the preparation the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir always exhibits.
The second work on the program was also by Kenneth Leighton. It was entitled Crucifixus pro Nobis, with a text that could have been taken from a passion as well as a Stabat Mater. The text (by Phineas Fletcher [1582- 1650]) was very grim, and a very explicit description of Christ’s suffering upon the cross. Daniel Hutchings, who has recently arrived in Colorado from the San Francisco Bay area, was soloist in this work, and he was absolutely outstanding. I have heard him perform before, and he possesses a very strong lyric tenor with excellent diction and the ability not only to project above the choir, but to make that projection incredibly sensitive in keeping with the text.
Over the years, I have learned that when I attend concerts at St. John’s Cathedral, I must sit toward the front of the sanctuary. It is there that the acoustics are the best. However, the audience was so large at Friday’s performance that I could not find a seat in my usual preferred section, so I sat in the center of the hall. This made it a little difficult to understand some of the diction that I know the choir was exhibiting, for excellent diction is one of the trademarks of St. Martin’s Chamber Choir and the work that Timothy Krueger insists upon. I had no problem understanding Hutchings, but the blend of twenty-five voices in the choir overstepped, to a small degree, the acoustics.
This is an absolutely beautiful work, and the balance between Eric Plutz’ performance and the choir was perfect: but, make no mistake, the text of this piece and the expression given by the musicians, imbued one with a sense of being forsaken. I am quite sure that was the intention of Phineas Fletcher who wrote the text. The performance of this composition left me wondering how a conductor can coax the choir to focus so convincingly on a text that is so incredibly forlorn, and yet guide the performance into a work of beauty. I assure you that the choir and Maestro Timothy Krueger did just that. Its emotional impact was very similar to a choral work by Karl Jenkins, a Welsh composer who wrote a Mass using the theme “The Armed Man,” which is a popular tune from the fifteenth century used by many composers for a cantus firmus in motets and the Mass.
Following the second Leighton work, organist Eric Plutz performed his first solo of the evening: the Benedictus by Arvo Pärt. I will quote very briefly from my own article (June 2, 2012) concerning Arvo Pärt:
“…Arvo Pärt [born 1935] is widely known as a minimalist composer, and his work between the years 1977 to 1992 can be described as “holy minimalism” because of his immersion in Gregorian chant and early liturgical music. He further describes this sound as “tintinnabuli” because it often sounds like the ringing of bells. Some critics have gone so far as to describe Pärt as a Western Confucius because of his mysticism and liturgical leanings. Pärt found much inspiration in the Russian Orthodox Church, and was specifically influenced by his acquaintance with Archimandrite Sophrony, who was a disciple and biographer of St. Silouan. As a matter of fact, it was Father Sophrony who advised Pärt to stay the course and become a composer.”
And, concerning Eric Plutz:
“Eric Plutz is University Organist at Princeton University. There, his responsibilities include playing for weekly services at the Chapel, Academic Ceremonies, solo concerts and accompanying the Chapel Choir in services and concerts. He also coordinates the weekly After Noon Concert Series at the University Chapel. In addition, Mr. Plutz is rehearsal accompanist for the Westminster Symphonic Choir at Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, NJ. He is also Instructor of Organ at Princeton University and maintains a private studio of organ students.
“As an accompanist, Mr. Plutz has worked with many organizations, including Westminster Choir College of Rider University, National Symphony Orchestra, Choral Arts Society of Washington, Princeton Pro Musica, Washington Symphonic Brass, and the Washington Ballet. He has accompanied the Voices of Ascension conducted by Dennis Keene and has worked with conductors Leonard Slatkin, J. Reilly Lewis and Norman Scribner in various venues in the Washington area, including the National Gallery of Art, the Barns at Wolf Trap and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He has also spent time in Paris researching the organ works of César Franck.”
Mr. Plutz performed the Annum per Annum by Arvo Pärt. This is one of four organ compositions which was written by Pärt for the 900th Anniversary Celebration for the Cathedral of Speyer in Germany. It is a beautiful work which was done beautifully. I do not know if Arvo Pärt allows the organist the opportunity to use his own registrations. I rather doubt it, for have heard this piece performed a few years ago, and the registrations sounded quite familiar. Eric Plutz is a very sensitive organist, which some individuals may think is difficult, because the organ does not respond in the same way that, for example, a piano does. However, it does respond to a certain degree to one’s keyboard touch, and certainly changes in dynamics. That left me wishing the piece were longer.
Following Mr. Plutz’ organ solo, the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir performed another work by Arvo Pärt, The Beatitudes. The Beatitudes a are set of teachings in Christianity that consist of two phrases each. The first phrase is a condition, and the second phrase is the result. For example, one of the Beatitudes reads “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” One can easily see the two phrases (Do any of you recognize this beatitude? It is used by Brahms in his Requiem.) This work was conducted by Taylor Martin, who is the Mark Sheldon Memorial Fund Conducting Intern. It was remarkable watching him conduct, and there is no mistaking the fact that he will make a mark for himself. He is currently working on a Master’s Degree in conducting with Dr. Catherine Sailer at the University of Denver. His conducting a superb, and he is able to obtain whatever he wishes from the choir. And, most importantly, the choir responds willingly to his requests. It was a fine performance.
Following the intermission, Eric Plutz performed Max Reger’s Benedictus. Max Reger (1873-1916) is a composer whose remarkable worth far surpasses the number of his performances. Harmonically, he was influenced by Wagner, and yet compositionally, he was influenced by Bach. Thus, his works are extremely contrapuntal, and yet, very complex harmonically. Plutz’s performance of the Benedictus was exceptional. He imbued it with a pastorale-like quality. I am familiar with this piece, and I don’t recall hearing it done so sensitively. It is my hope that Eric Plutz will return to Denver in the near future to give a solo concert. If he does, all of you who read this must make a point to attend the concert.
The last work on the program was the Missa Festiva by Alexander Grechaninov (1864-1956. Please note that his last name can also be correctly transliterated Gretchaninov).
I will quote from a biographical statement that I found on the web concerning Grechaninov:
“Grechaninov composed over one thousand works, and his life spanned nearly an entire century, and almost spanned the globe from Russia, travelling to London and Italy, and emigrating to Paris and finally the USA. He was never interested in the avant-garde, and thought that modernists spent too much attention on the concrete materials of music. Whereas, in his own works, he wished to faithfully communicate his inner emotion to both performer and listener, so that when leaving the world he could be satisfied in saying ‘I have fulfilled my life’s task’. Some of his songs and sacred works, which are entrenched in the rich heritage of Russian folk song, became very popular, and he was subsequently awarded a pension by the Tsar. This stopped during the Revolutionary period, and at times he and his wife were close to starvation. Grechaninov was however considered something of a revolutionary himself, for daring to question the authority of the Holy Synod in the realms of sacred music. He believed that liturgical music should relate to the texts sung, and not be over embellished, and he actively promoted the use of instruments which the Holy Synod had previously banned.
“Grechaninov’s parents were deeply religious, and he was often taken to the shrines of Saints, even having to bite into the wooden coffin of St Sergius in order to cure toothache. Sacred music would prove to be of significant interest to Grechaninov, including his concerto for choir, Inspire, O Lord.
Through cheating in his school exams, Grechaninov would eventually be allowed to study music, firstly at the Moscow Conservatoire. However, he argued with his teacher Arensky, and left to study under Rimsky-Korsakov at the St Petersburg Conservatoire. Rimsky-Korsakov would not only be best man at Grechaninov’s wedding, but would also advocate the performance of a number of his student’s works, including the String Quartet Opus 2, which won a Belyayev prize.”
I would add to this biographical statement, that Grechaninov wrote some perfectly delightful piano pieces for children.
The Missa Festiva contains the portions of the ordinary of the mass, that is, the portions that do not change from Sunday to Sunday: the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus Benedictus, Agnus Dei. I have never heard this work before, and I was completely taken by surprise. It is astonishingly beautiful, and seems to have been written at a time when Grechaninov was starting to push the envelope harmonically. For example, it is certainly more adventurous in its use of dissonance than some of Grechaninov’s contemporaries. I cannot imagine that Rachmaninoff would have ever written anything that sounded like this work by Grechaninov. It was ethereal, and it was readily apparent that the members of the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir were strongly moved by this piece. Their singing evidenced great enthusiasm. The work was surprising because, in spite of its beauty, it is so seldom performed. In addition, it is composed in such a way that it could be used in the actual performance of a Mass. I would like to draw attention to the fact that Marjorie Bunday, a member of the alto section, had a marvelous solo. She is a perfect example of the quality of every singer in the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir. I was left stunned by this particular work and the excellence of its performance, and this is one of the reasons why the performances of the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir are so valuable.
Friday evening’s performance, again, demonstrated that we in Denver, and all of Colorado, are fortunate to have St. Martin’s Chamber Choir in residence here. Their enthusiasm for what they do always results in a fine performance, and the music they perform is often quite rare, and, therefore, always instructive. I wish they would perform all year around, and not just during the concert season. They are a joy.
Filed under: Commentary
I recently attended a concert of a deservedly famous violinist, Sarah Chang, whose movements, while performing, were so excessive that I wondered how she could perform at all. Though I have heard this violinist on recordings, this was the first time I have seen her perform live since she was about ten years old, and yes, she was a child prodigy. She is one of the finest violinists today. As I have written before, there is no question that all musicians must move when they perform or play their instrument.
While playing, she jumped up and down, and twice during the concert, she performed a three-step backward hop on both feet. This is while she is bowing her violin, and as far as I can tell there is no explanation or purpose for that kind of activity while one is trying to play the correct notes and phrasing. At the ends of phrases, she would raise her bow above her head and swing it in a full circle with her arm fully extended. When I saw this performance, she was performing a violin concerto which means that she was surrounded by other musicians which were seated in fairly close proximity. I point out that they had cleared a larger than average space for Ms. Chang, presumably to give her more room for her movements. Nonetheless, I was concerned that she would strike the music stand of the concertmaster. While playing, she would also bend over backwards so far that I considered she might fall down. It was extreme.
I point out that I have often seen violinists who don’t move at all, and seem reluctant to even move their bow arm more than four or five inches. The result is a sound that reflects no variation in phrasing or dynamics, and is devoid of any emotion. This, of course, is the opposite extreme. One does need to move.
The pianist Lang Lang is another example of an individual who is well-known for his excessive movements during performance. He leans back and gazes at the ceiling, swings his arm off the keyboard and behind him, clutches his heart with one hand, buries his nose in the keyboard, and occasionally swings his feet up underneath the piano. He does all of this while contorting his face, and rolling his eyes back into his head.
As I have stated before, movements and performance are necessary. Pianists must move because their thumb and their fifth finger are shorter than their three middle fingers. So a pianist is constantly traversing from the outer short fingers across the longer middle fingers. Every pianist has different hands: the fortunate ones have a great deal of meat on the ends of their fingers, and thus, can curve their fingers more. When a pianist curves his/her fingers, the long middle fingers and the fifth finger become equal in length. The ends of the fingers are where the tone comes from. When a pianist plays passage work that involves many black keys, then one must play with flatter fingers. Therefore, more movement is necessary to stay relaxed and to help reach the black keys. Pianists also need to make sure that the back of their hand is level with their forearm. In addition, they need to let their arms hang naturally from their shoulders. All of this helps to ensure that they will stay physically relaxed. Granted this is a very quick and not very thorough explanation, but movements beyond those mentioned in this paragraph are usually unnecessary.
Many pianists excuse excessive movement by explaining that they have read reports of how Franz Liszt used to move at the keyboard, and, indeed, there are cartoons that were drawn of Liszt in performance which show his hair flying and his hands very high off the keyboard. Before the performances of Liszt, Chopin, and Clara Schumann, audiences were accustomed to see keyboard performers move very little.
Prior to Liszt, Clara Schumann, and Chopin, the piano was the fortepiano, which was the precursor to the pianoforte. Its development was begun around 1700, but the fortepiano was not perfected until around 1750.
The pianoforte, which had just been invented in 1821 by Broadwood, demanded and allowed a new technique to play. Broadwood was the first manufacturer to use an iron frame. Other piano manufacturers followed suit. Due to the iron frame, the piano strings could be pulled tighter than on the fortepiano which was constructed entirely of wood. The result was increased volume, and increased sustaining power – if one held the key down, the sound continued for a longer time than on the fortepiano, and certainly on the harpsichord. No matter how hard one played a harpsichord, its volume would not increase or decrease because of its mechanical restrictions, which, by the way, were not intentional. It was, simply, that technology had not progressed to the point where hammers struck the strings, rather than plectra, which plucked the string.
The fortepiano had hammers that hit the strings, but there was no iron frame which allowed the strings to be drawn tightly. It was capable of increased dynamic shadings in comparison to a harpsichord, and it had a very mellow and lush sound. It was the first stringed keyboard instrument on which one could play legato, and it was an enormous change from the harpsichord even though the actual mechanism was still relatively primitive compared to a modern piano. In addition, there were limits to the speed that could be obtained when compared to the modern piano.
Because of the limitations of the harpsichord, one could not play louder or softer, so there was no need to move a great deal. One simply sat and played, moving only when necessary to help one’s fingers in difficult passage work. Using greater force to change dynamics accomplished nothing.
The fortepiano, with its newer technologies, was a great boon to performers, with its ability to allow them to change dynamics, and its ability to play faster. Composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven relished the new instrument.
Out of necessity, performers began to perform on the fortepiano because it produced more favorable results. By the time the piano with the iron frame was invented (Its name gradually became the pianoforte, rather than fortepiano, and eventually, just piano.), Beethoven was totally deaf, but nonetheless, partially realized its new potential. However, without his ability to hear, he never realized its full potential. Beethoven’s last Sonata, Opus 111, his Diabelli Variations, and his two sets of bagatelles, were written between 1821 and 1824. He came to the conclusion that the piano was an inadequate instrument, and concentrated on writing string quartets. Of course, there is the age-old question which will never be answered: what if Beethoven had not gone deaf?
Due to the above-mentioned improvements in piano construction, and its vastly increased ability in volume and expression, the piano attracted new performers and composers. In many ways, it is remarkable that composers and pianists alike discovered its potential so rapidly. Keep in mind that the technique required to play the piano progressed just as rapidly, especially because composers Chopin, Liszt and Robert Schumann were writing for the instrument.
Much has been made of Liszt’s “showmanship,” and the way his movements seemed exaggerated. I think much of this excessive movement was exaggerated in the press, and in the letters sent by concert goers to each other. They were unaccustomed to seeing a pianist move in order to draw increased dynamic range, legato playing, and accompanying phrasing ability, out of the instrument. They were also unaccustomed to attending a solo keyboard performance. Certainly, Beethoven and Schubert were the first to do solo recitals, but they were not as popular as they were to become. Chopin, Liszt, and Clara Schumann were inventing new technique all the time for the new instrument, and doing so quite rapidly. Clara Schumann and Franz Liszt were the first pianists to turn the piano sideways, rather than performing while facing the audience. Many people have ascribed this to the vanity of the performer, but they fail to realize that the full sound of the piano was more available to the audience when the piano was turned sideways and its lid opened.
Consideration of the “new instrument,” and its new abilities in creating sound, explain, in part, how increased movement is necessary in order to play it. There are many modern pianists who exaggerate the movements they make, in order, I think, to prove to some of the audience how expressive they are, rather than let the music provide the expression. Rachmaninoff, Horowitz, Rudolph Serkin, Sviatoslav Richter, and John Browning, certainly moved when it was necessary, but not to the extent that Lang Lang does. Rachmaninoff and Horowitz moved hardly at all.
There was a scholarly paper written and presented to the Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research, that, I believe, was presented to the University of New South Wales in 2012. It was written by Jane Davidson, and entitled Bodily movement and facial actions in expressive musical performance by solo and duo instrumentalists: Two distinctive case studies.
In the abstract of the paper, Davidson states that, “The first study examined flute and clarinet performers in both solo and duo settings. Whilst each player has a specific way of expressing musical goals through their bodily movement, there were features common to the woodwind instruments investigated. Detailed analysis revealed that, although many movements were possible, performers used only six basic expressive gesture types. The second study described a performance of the internationally celebrated pianist, Lang Lang, focusing on the relationship between musical effect, bodily movement and facial expression. Analysis also revealed extensive and striking use of combined bodily and facial expression, which was involved in articulating structural features of the music and the narrative of the work. Findings suggest the existence of a repertoire of expressive information used for the generation of expressive ideas, and available to the observers and music performers.”
Concerning the woodwind performers, Davidson states that, “… Yet the woodwind players in the study barely showed any expressions on their faces. One possible explanation for this is that, since they hold their instruments in or close to their mouths, the face is too occupied with the activity of instrument control.” That seems to me a fairly obvious conclusion, and I am not sure that it needs a psychology paper to determine that. I also point out that Davidson did exert an immense amount of effort placing cameras in just the right spot, and aiming at the faces, etc. Her comments, as a result of this study of the flautist and clarinetist were very clinical and to the point.
In her study of Lang Lang, a film was observed of Lang Lang performing one of his favorite composers, Franz Liszt. Camera positions were codified as front view close-up, rear view close-up, side profile shot, etc. The musical score was followed by an assistant who could read music, and comparison was made between content of the score and Lang Lang’s gestures. Admittedly, I read this forty page article hurriedly, but I was struck by the fact that Jane Davidson (I am not sure if she has a doctorate, or if this paper was leading to a doctorate) was thoroughly impressed by how the rapturous visage of Lang Lang so closely followed the score, and, therefore, must be assisting his emotion filled performance.
I found myself wishing that Ms. Davidson was more of a musician, because I think it would have assisted her in the revelations and discoveries made in this paper. I certainly agree that playing a performance on stage in front of an audience takes intense concentration, because one must remember every single note, rest, and phrase. One does not memorize simply by playing the piece so often that one’s hands know where to go. That is the first step, but it cannot be the only step. In addition, being able to concentrate helps one ignore the audience and thoroughly concentrate on the music. And, when one is concentrating so intensely, it seems that it would destroy that concentration, and distract oneself by excessively assuming different motions and facial expressions just to prove to the audience how wondrously expressive one is. I have seen some pianists move to such an extent, that I am sure it is artificial. I fail to understand how excessive movements translate into meaningful music.
Sadly, I know of some private teachers who, when they have a young student who emulates excessive movements they see adult pianists make, do not encourage the student to reduce the movements so that they can concentrate on playing. I have heard them tell the parents that the movements are “impressive” because they illustrate the artistry of their child, and they don’t want to harm the students “spirit.” Do not misunderstand me: I am not saying that movement is unnecessary. Only excessive movement.
I repeat: it seems to me that any movement that comes naturally and is a part of making music is not detrimental. On the other hand, if the movement is contrived, it is extraneous and requires an unnecessary mental effort, that, at the very least, interferes with the flow and the mechanics of making music. Most certainly, it is distracting to the listener, just as Elvis Presley’s movements were distracting, and just as all the guitar smashing in past rock concerts was distracting. However, there is always the consideration that the guitar smashing was an integral part of the act that surpassed the music being played.
There is a violinist who performs only classical music, and is, by all accounts, a superb violinist. He is Korean-American, but recently changed his name from Yoo Hanbin to Hahn-Bin, and now to Amadéus Leopold. He studied at Juilliard with Itzhak Perlman. In spite of his reputation as a violin virtuoso, he wears very heavy makeup, has a very tall Mohawk haircut, and often brings a set of stairs out on stage, and while he is performing, he climbs up and down the stairs. It is unclear to me how this adds to the art of a Vivaldi Violin Concerto or a Brahms Violin Concerto. It leaves me wondering if the trends in rock concerts, where there must be a “show” or exhibition to attract attention to oneself, has become more important than attracting attention to the music with one’s virtuosity. Judging by the photographs I have seen, his appearance and stage antics are so distracting that the music will be totally forgotten.
Brass and woodwind musicians cannot possibly do this kind of thing, because they would risk the danger of changing their embouchure to the point where they could no longer play.
What has happened to the expectation of going to a concert and listening to the music without having to watch antics on stage that have nothing to do with the music? One would hope that a mentor or former teacher would pull them aside and explain what a distraction it is.
There are so many young concert artists today who have remarkable ability. One would hope that the time spent learning to play their instrument, their hours of practice every day, their knowledge of the literature, and the ovation they receive after performing a serious concert in a serious manner, would convince them that they have arrived.
Filed under: News
The following is a press release that I received from the Boulder Bach Festival:
The Boulder Bach Festival Board of Directors has appointed Zachary Carrettin, noted violinist and conductor, as the new music director, effective July 1, 2013. Carrettin has served as concertmaster and soloist of the Boulder Bach Festival since 2011and is co-directing the festival’s inaugural baroque performance practice summer program from June 10 to June 14, 2013.
“Zachary Carrettin’s artistry and extensive knowledge of baroque style and Bach’s music have delighted festival audiences and the community for the past two seasons,” said Dan Seger, president, Boulder Bach Festival Board of Directors. “We look forward to the most exhilarating performances of Bach’s music, together with dynamic educational experiences for our community under Zachary’s leadership.”
As concertmaster of the Boulder Bach Festival, Carrettin has led dynamic instrumental performances in collaboration with leading baroque instrument soloists while nurturing the development of local professionals interested in learning eighteenth-century stylistic approaches. Carrettin most recently taught a master class for baroque violinists at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Currently, Carrettin balances symphonic and choral conducting, teaching, and solo performing while serving as Director of Orchestras at Sam Houston State University and Principal Conductor of the Cypress Symphony in Texas.
He has performed as conductor, soloist, and concertmaster with America’s finest baroque orchestras, including the American Bach Soloists in San Francisco, Musica Angelica in Los Angeles, Camerata Pacifica in Santa Barbara, Houston’s Ars Lyrica, and the Holy Trinity Bach Orchestra in New York. He toured and recorded baroque choral repertory with the world-renowned choir Chanticleer and held the post of Music Director at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Champaign, Illinois.
Zachary Carrettin replaces the Rick Erickson, who led the Boulder Bach Festival for the past two years and was instrumental in its rejuvenation. Erickson is moving on from this leadership position to attend to his growing commitments in New York City, throughout the U.S., and abroad.
“Rick Erickson has strengthened the reputation of the festival both locally and nationally with his exquisite musical performances, understanding of baroque performance practice, and his extensive knowledge of the man—J. S. Bach,” said Seger.
Boulder Bach Festival
The Boulder Bach Festival, founded in 1981, celebrates the music of Johann Sebastian Bach by providing high quality performances and educational opportunities that not only satisfy those who already love Bach’s music, but also introduce Bach’s music to others. It is the premier festival in the Rocky Mountain Region dedicated to the propagation of the legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach. For information, see http://www.boulderbachfestival.org/.
Zachary Carrettin, Music Director, Conductor, and Violin Soloist
Conductor and violin soloist Zachary Carrettin gave his symphony orchestra conducting debut with the Royal Philharmonic of Kishinev, Moldavia, and soon thereafter conducted the Symphony Orchestra of the Theatre Vorpommern in Germany and the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic in the Czech Republic.
An avid educator, Carrettin has directed the symphony orchestras of the National University of Music in Romania and the orchestras of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Sam Houston State University Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the Tri-Valley Youth Symphony and Oakland Youth Orchestra in California, the Wabash Valley Youth Symphony in Indiana, the Houston Youth Symphony Sinfonia, and the All-Region Orchestras in Texas.
In 2005, Carrettin conducted the first-known performance of Giuseppe Antonio Capuzzi’s ballet music, L’Impostore Punito, at Rice University Shepherd School of Music as part of the Capuzzi Festival. He discovered the work in manuscript (Bergamo, Italy) in collaboration with concert violinist Kenneth Goldsmith. In 2009, he directed the U.S. premiere of the Granlund Lolea TriTangoMetro at the University of Illinois and heard his own compositions performed by the Bachiana Chamber Orchestra in Sao Paulo, Brazil. On the podium he has accompanied numerous soloists including pianist Ian Hobson, harpsichord virtuoso Charlotte Mattax, violinist Dylana Jenson, the award-winning Texas Guitar Quartet, and soprani Nicole Franklin and Bronwen Forbay, in projects ranging from baroque and classical-period instruments to contemporary instruments and repertory.
Following a decade of performing as concertmaster in sacred choral works with America’s finest baroque orchestras, (American Bach Soloists in San Francisco, Musica Angelica in Los Angeles, Camerata Pacifica in Santa Barbara, Houston’s Ars Lyrica, and the Holy Trinity Bach Orchestra in New York), Carrettin served as the Music Director of Northminster Presbyterian Church in El Cerrito, California. After touring and recording baroque choral repertory with the world-renowned choir Chanticleer, he was offered the post of Music Director at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Champaign, Illinois. Currently he balances symphonic and choral conducting, teaching, and solo performing while serving as director of orchestras at Sam Houston State University and principal conductor of the Cypress Symphony in Texas.
As violin soloist, Carrettin has toured four continents in collaboration with Project Bandaloop, including a private performance for the Sultan and Royal Family of Oman, in Muscat. He also performed as soloist at the Power of Houston Festival, in the historic Shubert Theatre in Boston, the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rovereto, Italy, at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival in Denver, the Detroit Arts Festival, Seattle’s Bumbershoot, and at the Stavanger 2008 Festival in Norway. Carrettin has collaborated as violist with the Tokyo String Quartet and the Assad Brothers, and has performed in various capacities at the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival, the Oregon Bach Festival, and the La Jolla Music Society Summerfest.
As concertmaster and soloist of the Boulder Bach Festival, Carrettin has led dynamic instrumental performances in collaboration with leading baroque instrument soloists while nurturing the development of local professionals interested in learning eighteenth-century stylistic approaches. He continues to perform at community events, and most recently taught a master class for baroque violinists at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is co-director of BBF’s inaugural baroque performance practice summer program and looks forward to contextualizing “rules and creativity, reason and emotion” for the participating students.
Mr. Carrettin holds Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in violin performance from Rice University Shepherd School of Music, and a Master of Music degree in conducting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He studied orchestral, choral, opera, and wind ensemble conducting in Bucharest, Romania, where he was the assistant to Maestro Dumitru Goia, and pursued studies in the Doctor of Musical Arts program at Rice University.