Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Catherine Peterson, Jason Shafer, Jeffrey Kahane, Julie Duncan Thornton, Jun Märkl, Peter Cooper, William Hill
Friday evening, December 5, Jeffrey Kahane returned to Denver as a pianist to perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Nr. 5 in E flat Major, Opus 73, with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. In addition, the CSO had a guest conductor, Jun Märkl, to conduct the all-Beethoven program. In many ways, it is difficult to know exactly where to start this review because both Märkl and Kahane gave us one of the best performances of this concert season. The program notes for Friday’s performance state that Märkl is a “… highly respected interpreter of the core Germanic repertoire.” That simply has to be a gross understatement.
I will quote briefly from Märkl’s bio taken from his website, some of which appeared in the program notes:
“Born in Munich, his (German) father was a distinguished Concertmaster and his (Japanese) mother a solo pianist. Märkl studied violin, piano and conducting at the Musikhochschule in Hannover, going on to study with Sergiu Celibidache in Munich and with Gustav Meier in Michigan. In 1986 he won the conducting competition of the Deutsche Musikrat and a year later won a scholarship from the Boston Symphony Orchestra to study at Tanglewood with Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa. Soon afterwards he had a string of appointments in European opera houses followed by his first music directorships at the Staatstheater in Saarbrücken (1991-94) and at the Mannheim Nationaltheater (1994-2000).
“Jun Märkl conducts the world’s leading orchestras, such as the Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic and Tonhalle Orchester Zürich. He has long been a highly respected interpreter of the core Germanic repertoire from both the symphonic and operatic traditions, and more recently for his refined and idiomatic Debussy, Ravel and Messiaen.
“He was Music Director of the Orchestre National de Lyon from 2005-11 and of the MDR Symphony Orchestra Leipzig until 2012. In recognition of his tenure in Lyon and his hugely successful nine-disc Debussy cycle with the orchestra on Naxos, in 2012 he was honoured by the French Ministry of Culture with the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He also toured with the orchestra to Japan and major European halls and festivals such as the Salle Pleyel, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, BBC Proms, Bad Kissingen, Rheingau and Lucerne. With MDR he toured to Spain and the Baltics, made regular appearances in the Berlin Konzerthaus and Cologne Philharmonie, and conducted Schumann’s rarely-heard opera Genoveva at the Rotterdam Opera Festival. For the 14/15 season he has accepted the post of Musical Advisor to the Basque National Orchestra in San Sebastian.”
Maestro Märkl opened the program with Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio, Opus 72. Right away it was apparent that he wanted to show the detail and thoroughness with which Beethoven composed. He is one of the few conductors (Litton and Judd are others) whom I have heard in live performances where every single phrase, every dynamic marking, and, in some cases, every single note, is shaped by his demands upon the orchestra. I was also struck by the orchestra’s enthusiastic reaction to his conducting: they clearly respected and admired his work, for they followed every single move that he made. It is the same reaction that I have seen orchestras give Toscanini, Sir Georg Solti, and Fritz Reiner. It was also clear that the audience, even if they did not recognize the mutual respect that was being exchanged, certainly was appreciative of the way the orchestra performed. Every section gave sharp attacks, and everything was beautifully articulated. When I make a comment such as that, it sounds rather dry and sterile, but I can assure you, that the sound was anything but dry and sterile. It was full of emotion, and more than that, it was as if one could hear the music as Beethoven wrote it down. Adding to the amazing performance of the orchestra, was the oboe work of Peter Cooper, Catherine Peterson, flute, and Jason Shafer, clarinet. I understand that I am leaving out many names, but these are the individuals who, on first hearing Friday evening, left an indelible impression in my ear. The orchestra and Maestro Märkl presented one of the best performances of Fidelio that I have heard.
Following the performance of Fidelio, the CSO was joined by Jeffrey Kahane in the performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Nr. 5, in E flat Major. Everyone in Denver, of course, knows who Maestro Jeffrey Kahane is, so I will not include any kind of a biographical statement.
I must say that I was looking forward to hearing Kahane perform this concerto, as it marks a milestone in Beethoven’s career for several reasons. It is the supreme development of his concept of a concerto: the form is very tightly organized, there are no cadenzas, and it requires a pianist of supreme virtuosity. As the program notes pointed out, it was written at a time when Beethoven had overcome his suicidal thoughts due to his deafness, but it was during his deafness that he also was going through many legal proceedings and court hearings in an effort to get his nephew away from an alcoholic brother. It also marks another milestone, in that this was one of the pieces that Beethoven could not premiere himself. Due to his deafness, the premier was performed by Carl Czerny, perhaps one of Beethoven’s best known students.
I was immediately taken by the authority with which Jeffrey Kahane opened the concerto. He and Maestro Märkl were obviously of the same mind as the piece began. I do not recall the remarkable clearness and articulation in Kahane’s previous playing of a few years ago, but Friday evening he sounded like a completely different pianist. It was superb playing, and it was obvious right away. In the first of movement, the themes are truly heroic, and the opening arpeggiated chords provide an incredible entryway into the enormous work. Kahane was absolutely superb: his playing was clean and precise, and it truly seemed as if he and Märkl were of the same mind.
The second movement was done by both Märkl and Kahane as if it were a lullaby. It was absolutely serene in its beauty, and it was in this movement that the extreme dynamic changes of which the orchestra is capable were truly noticeable. It certainly emphasized the musicianship of every musician on stage, and I think that the audience began to understand how difficult it is for any orchestra larger than a chamber orchestra to play so softly that they are almost inaudible. But that is what the strings accomplished Friday evening. Maestro Märkl clearly demanded it, and the orchestra enthusiastically responded to his demands. Kahane’s playing was absolutely magical. The orchestra and the pianist gave the audience a revelation and the possibilities that Beethoven created. And that was due to the mutual musicianship of everyone on stage. The third movement of this concerto begins Attacca, that is, without pause. The last movement is more triumphant in sound than the heroic first movement. Kahane and Märkl, again, worked wonders with this movement, demonstrating a very deep understanding of what Beethoven wanted. I was truly taken with the mutual perception of Beethoven between Kahane and Märkl because I have heard so many concertos where it was clear that the pianist and conductor did not always agree. The orchestra and piano can sometimes seem to yank each other back and forth between separate realities. That simply did not happen Friday evening. It was a wonderful performance, and it was one in which everyone in the orchestra seemed to be so eager in which to participate.
The audience was obviously entranced by Kahane’s performance. They gave him a very long standing ovation, and he returned the favor by performing Schubert’s marvelous Impromptu in G flat Major.
Following the intermission, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra performed Beethoven’s masterpiece, Symphony Nr. 5 in C minor. This symphony will probably always remain the ultimate in symphonic logic. The original autograph is in the Music Department of the Prussian State Library in Berlin. It was presented that to them in 1908 by the family of Felix Mendelssohn 100 years after Beethoven had written it in 1808. Criticism of this symphony, at its opening, was divided. There was a French composer and therapist present, Jean Lesueur, who found it so exciting that he said it should not even exist.
The opening of this famous work is so well known, but it often is not so well performed. That was not the case Friday evening: the tempos that Maestro Märkl took were absolutely astonishing to me, but it was very precise. The famous theme is very short and separated by an eighth rest. The release of the first four notes was so precise that the eighth rest seemed to be highlighted, and, in fact, seemed to last an eternity. There most certainly are some strategic rests which highlights silence, for example, in measure 57 there is a full measure of rest which emphasizes the fortissimo of the French horns which lead to the B Theme in bar 63. I mention all of this only because Maestro Märkl emphasized the impact of silence in such a difficult score. Thus, each phrase was highlighted and became its own entity. The second movement, a theme with variations, was grace personified. The violin section and the cellos were absolutely perfect, as well as the tympani. The dynamic range, again, was startling to me. I don’t think I have ever heard the Colorado Symphony Orchestra play so softly. I began to wonder how many sectional rehearsals were required. On the other hand, everyone in this orchestra is a very accomplished musician, but it is clear that they were very enthusiastic in following a conductor that they admired.
The third movement of this symphony sounds almost mysterious because of Beethoven’s shifting accents, and it is interesting to point out that Beethoven didn’t really call this a scherzo. He simply labels it allegro. It certainly is a movement that is joyful. Julie Duncan Thornton was marvelous playing the piccolo in this movement. In the contrapuntal Trio section, the cellos and the basses played with a vigor that was truly exciting. I know that is what is required of them, but keep in mind it was done to perfection.
The last movement begins with a theme that is almost a fanfare and it is given out in short measure at the beginning of the movement, but it soon becomes obvious that it forms the material which leads to the re-introduction of material from the third movement. It is difficult to explain how clearly Maestro Märkl and the CSO delineated this entire movement and its themes without explaining as it is happening. It has been a long time since I have heard a conductor and an orchestra so clearly delineate the structure while at the same time being so marvelous in their sensitivity and musicianship. Did you notice how hard the timpanist, William Hill, had to work in this symphony?
This was an absolutely wonderful performance, and I left the hall thinking this must surely be one of the best performances I have heard the Colorado Symphony give. However, in the last two years, I have left the hall thinking that every performance that I’ve heard from this orchestra is the best they have done.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Alexei Tyukov, Asuka Sasaki, Catherine Sailer, Chandra Kuykendall, Dana Benton, Domenico Luciano, Francisco Estevez, Gil Boggs, Gregory K. Gonzales, Jesse Marks, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Lorita Travglia, Maria Mosina, Ryan Lee, Sandra Brown, Sean Omandam, The Nutcarcker, Tracy Jones
Saturday evening, November 29, I attended the Colorado Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. The many times that I have seen it previously includes productions by ballet companies at different universities and professional ballet companies in the Midwest and East Coast. Honestly, I do not recall how many times I have seen this ballet, but I can tell you that the performance I saw Saturday evening was absolutely the best I have ever seen performed. You readers who have not seen this ballet must understand that the reason for its popularity is the fact that it is one of Tchaikovsky’s best ballets, and one of the best ballets ever written. The orchestra score is sensational. Also, realize that Tchaikovsky was one of the greatest ballet composers, and there are many moments in his symphonies where it seems as if he had ballet in mind. Its popularity does not diminish his art, and when it is performed by such an outstanding ballet company, Tchaikovsky’s art is ensured.
Colorado Ballet has always done a superb job with this seasonal offering, but it truly seems to be getting better and better over the years. Saturday evening’s performance clearly gave the impression that this was the first time they had ever done it. Why? Because everyone on stage and in the orchestra pit seemed to be thoroughly excited, and in the grasp of the music and the choreography, which was written by Martin Fredmann and Colorado Ballet’s own Sandra Brown. In addition, the staging, which is so incredibly significant, was completed by Lorita Travaglia and Sandra Brown.
It is wonderful to see this ballet every year because Maestro Gil Boggs, the Artistic Director of the Colorado Ballet, re-casts the performance from year-to-year. Each dancer has his or her own specific take on the personality of the characters that they are depicting in E.T.A. Hoffman’s story. In Saturday evening’s performance, Dana Benton danced the role of Clara, and Jesse Marks danced the role of the Nutcracker Prince. Both of them were superb. I might add with all sincerity that Gregory K. Gonzales was absolutely perfect in every way in his role of Drosselmeyer, the mysterious, but kind, owner of the toyshop who gives Clara the Nutcracker for a Christmas present at the Christmas party.
After the Christmas party, Clara seems to fall asleep, but she is under the spell of Herr Drosselmeyer, who makes the Christmas tree grow to tremendous size along with all the presents beneath it (In the original E.T.A. Hoffman story, it is Clara who shrinks so that she becomes the same size as the Nutcracker.). The Nutcracker, now life-size, comes to life with his contingent of soldiers. They do battle with the mice, and Clara saves the day when she distracts the Mouse King long enough for the Nutcracker to win the battle. The Nutcracker then becomes a handsome prince who takes Clara on a fabulous journey. The pas de deux which Dana Benton and Jesse Marks performed at the end of the Act I was stunning, as were the Snowflakes with whom they danced.
Throughout the entire ballet, the Colorado Ballet Orchestra reflected the same excitement and wonderful precision as the dancers on stage. The orchestral part has always struck me as being incredibly difficult, but you must understand that in Maestro Adam Flatt and Associate Conductor Maestra Catherine Sailer the orchestra has leadership that they willingly respond to in every way because of their leaders’ artistry. Saturday night, they gave Maestro Flatt everything he asked for. Most notable was the incredible dynamic range. There were many times when the orchestra was so soft that one had to be intent to listen, and I guarantee you that added to the expressiveness of the performance on stage as well as in the pit.
Act II takes place in the Kingdom of the Sugarplum Fairy where Clara and her Prince are entertained by dancers from throughout the kingdom. Spanish dancers, Arabian dancers, a Chinese dancer with his Dragon, Marzipan, Russian, Dew Drop, Flowers, and, of course, Mother Ginger.
For those of you who have not seen this ballet, Act II contains some of the most difficult dancing in the ballet. Tracy Jones and Kevin Wilson as the Spanish dancers were remarkable in their sensuality. Chandra Kuykendall and Domenico Luciano, the Arabians, were absolutely superb. And I am still stunned at the physical strength that both of these dancers have. Francisco Estevez seemed to really be enjoying himself in his role of the Chinese Dancer, and, even though his role was one of humor, he exhibited an abundance of grace. Sean Omandam, Kevin Gaël Thomas, and Ryan Lee were spectacular as the Russian dancers who dance the Trepak. I began to wonder at the length of practice time their performance took. This has to be one of the most difficult dances in the ballet, if not the most popular. Asuka Sasaki was grace personified as Dew Drop.
Notice that I used the word grace. That word is seldom used in combination with the word precision, but that is what personified the entire performance. Even the humorous Mother Ginger had grace, and, of course, all of the Flowers, Sugarplum Attendants, Angels, and the Polichinelles.
Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov performed some of the most beautiful dancing I have ever seen them accomplish. Their pas de deux was so remarkably sensitive emotionally that it took my breath away. In addition, it demonstrated remarkable trust (which all ballet dancers must have) in each other’s ability and strength. For example, when Mosina stood in the palms of Tyukov’s hands, which he was holding at his waist, there was never a hesitation or waiver on either dancer’s part. They simply did it with remarkable grace and aplomb. Yes, I know that’s what ballet dancers are supposed to do, and, that is another aspect that makes ballet dancing so remarkably difficult. But the audience was left breathless. And please include me.
I have seen many reviews of The Nutcracker in which it is described as “family entertainment” rather than an adult ballet or a ballet for children. Describing The Nutcracker in that manner seems, to me, at least, to cheapen its value as a work of art. It also denigrates its difficulty in performance. There is absolutely nothing easy in this ballet for the dancers, or for the orchestra, or for the conductor who must constantly be vigilant to make sure that he is taking the proper tempo as discussed with the dancers during rehearsal. Maestro Adam Flatt must follow their every move with his baton, and he must never let the smallest amount of ego interrupt his collaboration with the dancers on stage. Saturday evening the collaboration between the orchestra and the dancers was absolutely seamless. I hasten to point out that this seamlessness did not surprise me at all. Everyone involved is a consummate artist.
That is what makes The Nutcracker, especially performed by the Colorado Ballet, such a wonderful artistic experience.
Please take a look at all of the remaining performances of this great ballet. Surely, you can attend one.
Saturday, November 29, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Saturday, November 29, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, November 30, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Sunday, December 7, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, December 12, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, December 13, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Saturday, December 13, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, December 14, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Sunday, December 14, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, December 18, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, December 19, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, December 20, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Saturday, December 20, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, December 21, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Sunday, December 21, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
Monday, December 22, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Friday, December 26, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Andrew Litton, Antonin Dvořák, Colorado Symphony, Jason Shafer, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Silver Ainomäe, William Hill
Saturday evening, November 22, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Andrew Litton, performed two enormous works: Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Opus 104 with Principal Cellist, Silver Ainomäe, and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony Nr. 2 in E minor, Opus 27. It pleases me greatly to let you readers know that Boettcher Hall was almost full. It is my sincere hope that the audience attended in anticipation of Silver Ainomäe’s performance of the Dvořák because he is a true artist and an amazing cellist. In addition, he must be one of the youngest Principal Cellists in the United States.
I will quote from the biographical statement on his website:
“From his 2000 solo debut with the Estonian National Orchestra, Silver Ainomäe has performed in over 30 countries, including concertos with the Finnish Radio Orchestra, Zürich Chamber Orchestra, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Polish Radio Orchestra, and the Colorado Symphony. He has won prizes in international cello competitions in Warsaw, Helsinki, and Tongyeong (South Korea) and awards in London and Rome.
“Born in Estonia, Silver moved with his family to Finland in 1990. He was accepted into the celebrated Sibelius Academy to study with Hannu Kiiski and Arto Noras, ultimately receiving his Masters degree. He went on to London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama and later to the Razumovsky Academy, where he studied with Oleg Kogan.
“Currently Principal Cellist of the Colorado Symphony, Silver has served as guest Principal with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. He is a founding member of the Hwang-Ainomäe-Hsu Trio (with CSO Concertmaster Yumi Hwang-Williams and Steinway Artist Hsing-ay Hsu), which the Denver Post described as ‘a powerhouse ensemble.’”
The Dvořák concerto begins with a lengthy introduction in which two themes are stated, but when the solo cello begins, it plays the first theme. I was absolutely struck by Ainomäe’s opening attacks: the germinal notes of the theme are marked to be quite emphatic, but they reminded me very much of Janos Starker’s opening, which was always very firm with strong strokes of the bow. However, many cellists don’t play it with quite the right emphasis, and it was wonderful to hear Ainomäe be so assertive. It left little doubt that he knows exactly what he wants to do with this work. On the other hand, why wouldn’t it be that way? He is a wonderful cellist who understands what the composer asked for. His double stops were sensational and his playing in the A theme of this concerto was quite vigorous. The B theme of the first movement is lyrical and lush, and Ainomäe gave it unparalleled warmth. I wish I knew what kind of a cello Silver Ainomäe owns. It has a remarkably lush sound, rich and full, and it seemed quite easy for Ainomäe to produce such a sonorous melodic line. This richness carried over into the second movement in a wonderful theme from “Leave me alone” from Dvořák’s Four Songs, Op. 82. Dvořák had inserted this theme as a dedication to his sister-in-law, Josefina Kaunitzová, who was seriously ill. When he returned home from America, her health deteriorated, and she died in 1895. At one time, he had been in love with her, but she had rejected him. Through several turns of life’s vicissitudes, he eventually married her sister, and in order that this concerto would be a memorial to her, he completely revised the coda, using this song for the second time. The third movement of this concerto begins with hints from the first movement themes and contains a marvelous duet between the solo cello and the concertmaster.
Throughout this concerto, every section in the orchestra seems to receive special attention from Dvořák. The woodwind and brass sections were outstanding, and it was truly apparent that the orchestra enjoyed supporting one of their own as soloist. Since Maestro Andrew Litton became the Music Director of the Colorado Symphony, there has been a marked change in their approach to performing. It reflects a new enthusiasm that I have mentioned before, and a new determination from each musician in the orchestra to demonstrate their excitement at having Maestro Litton as their conductor.
Silver Ainomäe received a very long standing ovation, and he graciously performed a cello quartet with the first three seats in the cello section. I wish he had announced what piece they were playing, but I must say it did sound like it could have been Elgar.
Following the intermission, Maestro Litton and the Colorado Symphony performed Rachmaninoff’s Symphony Nr. 2 in E minor. In early 1906, Rachmaninoff moved to Dresden from Moscow because of the rumblings of political unrest, and the fact that he was so busy in Russia as a conductor and composer, he had no time for performing on the piano. After his arrival in Dresden, the move proved to be so conducive to his musical life that he wrote his first piano sonata, and the second symphony. This symphony received rave reviews from everyone who heard it.
This is an absolutely enormous work, and I must say I was quite pleased that Maestro Litton knows this piece so incredibly well that he chose to conduct from memory. He conducted every nuance of every phrase magnificently, and missed none of the rhythmic jabs that are so characteristic of Rachmaninoff. The detail with which he conducted from memory was truly astounding: nothing was omitted and nothing was left to chance. The first movement begins with a very long introduction which contains the origins for everything that follows. The entire symphony uses the full resources of every member of the orchestra, and every time I have heard this performed live, I have been struck by how difficult it must be for everyone. William Hill on timpani was sensational throughout. Jason Shafer, Principal Clarinet, has one of the most beautiful melodic lines in symphonic history in the third movement. Its mellowness is due not only to his outstanding ability, but Rachmaninoff scored the work for A clarinet, rather than B-flat clarinet. Yumi Hwang-Williams took over this theme, and continued its incredible nuance with great gentleness. It is impossible to name everyone in the orchestra, but you readers must understand the high level of ability of every member of the Colorado Symphony. In such a difficult work as this, it was spellbinding to hear such complete musicality and musicianship coming from everyone on stage in such an earnest and compelling manner. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra as a whole simply proved that it is comprised of some of the finest musicians in the country. The audience responded to this performance with a standing ovation, and I must say that the audience seems to have grown more sophisticated since Maestro Litton has taken over the conductorship. When I make a statement like that, it means that Maestro Litton and the orchestra have re-educated the audience, and given them a new standard by which to judge the Colorado Symphony. This was a performance that demonstrated the mutuality of respect of everyone on stage.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Jacquet de Mantua, Palestrina, parody mass, Repleatur os meum, St. Martin's Chamber Choir, Timothy J. Krueger
Maestro Timothy Krueger and St. Martin’s Chamber Choir gave a wonderful performance Saturday evening, November 8, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. In this instance, this concert was really more of a lecture recital than an out and out performance with no commentary at all. Maestro Krueger entitled this concert The Art of Imitation: Palestrina. His explanation of Palestrina’s predominant compositional style was excellent, and I’m sure that everyone in the audience learned a great deal about music, and the value of Palestrina as a composer.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was born in 1525, or perhaps 1526, in a small town near Rome which was named Palestrina. He received his musical education in Rome through the church, and was appointed organist and choirmaster in his native town in 1554. He eventually became choirmaster in churches in Rome, and, in 1554, he published his first book of masses. Palestrina is known for his style of imitation in music, and it is difficult to think of another composer who lived before J. S. Bach (1685-1750) who used imitation so successfully.
If you readers are aware of imitation, you will realize that it is the restatement of a theme or motif in relatively close succession in the different parts of a contrapuntal texture. Do not let that jargon confuse you. Counterpoint, or contrapuntal texture, is simply two or more voices occurring at the same time. As Dr. Krueger pointed out, the old campfire song, Row, Row, Row Your Boat is counterpoint. If you think of that song, each entrance of the new voice is imitation.
The work of Palestrina that Maestro Krueger discussed Saturday evening is Palestrina’s mass entitled Repleatur os meum. The translation of the Latin is, Let my mouth be filled…[with your praise]. To make things more interesting, the title of that mass, and its musical theme, comes from a motet written by Jacquet de Mantua (1483-1559). This composer was a French composer who spent almost his entire life living in Italy. As Dr. Krueger pointed out, the composition by Jacquet de Mantua was a five voice motet, and it appealed to Palestrina so he used it for the basis of his parody mass. The term parody refers strictly to a method of composition and has absolutely no pejorative meaning whatsoever. As Maestro Krueger pointed out, when one composer borrowed a theme from another composer, it was considered a tribute. As a matter of fact, Palestrina wrote at least 50 parody masses.
At the concert Friday evening, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir sang the motet from which the mass was derived, and then, at Maestro Krueger’s direction, sang examples from the mass to show how they were related to the motet theme. This is certainly a wonderful way to show how Renaissance composers arrived at decisions in their composition, and how they used relatively popular thematic material upon which to base a mass. The advantage in using popular material is, of course, the fact that the choir would be familiar with that the tune even though it may go through some changes. One of the reasons that a choir might recognize the tune of a motet is because it was the most important form of early polyphonic (more than two melodic voices sung at one time – do you see how this could lead to counterpoint?). The motet went through many different forms from the Medieval period to the Renaissance, and even the Baroque period.
This kind of explanation of a piece of music from the Renaissance was truly welcomed by the audience. Maestro Krueger has a knack for explaining all of this detail in such a straightforward way that it was clear to everyone in the audience. In addition, I might add the fact that the choir that evening was a little smaller than usual. When one does a Renaissance mass, one does not need a huge choir, and one of the reasons is that not all of the churches or cathedrals had large choirs. Another aspect of a small choir is that it makes the text more audible. Maestro Krueger has always been extremely careful in making sure that the choir he is conducting can be understood, and he has the ability as a conductor to make sure that that is the case.
The performance that the choir gave is one of the most serene performances I have heard St. Martin’s Chamber Choir give. It was incredibly expressive, as everything that Palestrina wrote is, but it certainly reflected the peace of the text of the ordinary of the mass. You readers who may not be Catholic, must know that the Roman mass consists of two large parts: the sung part and the spoken part. In addition, those two sections are divided into the Proper and the Ordinary. Therefore the sung parts that everyone is familiar with, i.e., the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, are from the sung parts of the Ordinary of the mass. And the Ordinary of the mass is that portion of the mass which employs texts that remain the same at all times. The Proper of the mass contains items which are changeable, according to the season of the church year.
St. Martin’s Chamber Choir has proven itself to be one of the most delightful choirs in the region. Every member has great experience, and every member has an absolutely marvelous voice. Maestro Krueger has a knack for placing the members in the choir so that a perfect blend of sound is achieved. There has never been any shortcomings that other choirs may face. For example, some choirs seem to do liturgical music more competently than a 21st century work by a minimalist composer. The versatility of this choir is always impressive, and that is certainly why they are such a joy to hear.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Andrew Converse, Bahman Saless, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Christen Adler, Cobus Du Toit, Devon Park, Friedrich Gulda, Heidi Mendenhall, Igor Stravinsky, Inbal Segev, J. S. Bach, John King, Kaori Uno-Jack, Kellan Toohey, Kent Hurd, Kiel Lauer, Kimberly Brody, Max Soto, Mozart, Reid Johnson
Friday evening, November 7, I attended a concert by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Bahman Saless. This excellent program was comprised of Igor Stravinsky’s Octet for Winds, Mozart’s Serenade Nr. 12 for Winds in C minor, K. 388, and a work that I was totally unfamiliar with, the Concerto for Cello and Wind Orchestra, by pianist and composer Friedrich Gulda. The cellist who performed the Gulda Concerto was absolutely marvelous: Inbal Segev.
Maestro Seles opened the concert with the Stravinsky Octet which is scored for flute, two clarinets: one in B-flat and one in A; two bassoons, trumpets in C and A, tenor trombone, and bass trombone. According to some scholars, Stravinsky began composing this work in 1922; however, there is a sketch of 12 bars that were to become part of the waltz variation in the second movement. It is fairly certain that Stravinsky wrote those 12 measures as early as 1919.
The first movement is written in a straightforward sonata allegro form with a slow introduction. The second movement is a theme and variations, which, like the first movement, harkens back to traditional form. It even makes use of a fugue, but perhaps, the most startling variation, is the waltz, which is arrived at with no warning whatsoever. As the program notes state, the third movement is based on a Russian circle dance called a “Khorrod,” or occasionally spelled Khorovod. This is a syncopated dance in which Stravinsky almost begins to emulate a fugue once more.
This Stravinsky Octet is a difficult piece. In fact, and this is a point that needs to be made strongly, everything on Fridays program was difficult, but wonderfully done, because the musicians on stage were all excellent. I have previously written that the quality of musicians in the Boulder Chamber Orchestra is extremely high, and that sentiment was brought home with force Friday evening. Stravinsky certainly enjoyed using woodwinds in his compositions, and his use and difficulty of rhythm is truly pronounced in this work. There was a remarkable sense of energy and rhythmic precision that made the performance truly exceptional. As often as I have heard the Boulder Chamber Orchestra perform, I have come to know many of the musicians by name; however, there are some musicians whose names I do not know. Therefore, I ask forgiveness if I have misnamed any of the musicians, but I believe them to have been Cobus du Toit, flute; Kellan Toohey, B Flat and A clarinet; Kaori Uno-Jack and Kent Hurd, bassoon; Andrew Converse and Kiel Lauer, trombone; and John King and Reid Johnson, trumpet. These musicians made the march, which appears in the first movement, a wonderful, an almost caricature, of a march, wherein Stravinsky seems to be enjoying himself immensely. It was delightfully done, and the virtuosity of the musicians was remarkable.
Following the Stravinsky, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra performed Mozart’s Serenade Nr. 12 for Winds in C minor, K. 388. This Serenade was written in 1782, the same year as the Haffner Symphony, K. 385, and while Mozart was also writing his opera, Abduction From the Seraglio. This was a rare period in Mozart’s life when he was not receiving regular commissions, and many of the works composed during this time were not finished. However, this Wind Serenade, the Haffner Symphony, and, of course, the Abduction From the Seraglio are among his finest works.
This work is scored for two oboes, two bassoons, two French horns, and two clarinets. At the risk of sounding as if I am repeating myself, it was the skill and virtuosity of these performers (and of course Mozart’s ability) that truly brought this work to life. But I cannot state strongly enough how fine this evening’s concert was. Max Soto, Kimberly Brody, Kaori Uno-Jack, Kent Hurd, Kellan Toohey, Heidi Mendenhall, Christen Adler, and Devon Park are outstanding musicians. I hasten to point out that from where I was sitting, I could not see who the other French horn player was.
This particular Wind Serenade, unlike the Serenade For Winds in E Flat Major, K. 375, is quite a serious work. The E Flat Serenade has five movements, and is quite cheerful and outgoing in character. However, K. 388 has only four movements, and truly takes on the strength of a symphony complete with an introduction to the first movement. In this work, the musicians were so attuned to each other in their precision of phrasing, dynamics, and precision of note values. For example, if the oboes were playing portato notes (portato is a note value shorter than legato, but longer than staccato), and the oboes were followed by the bassoons who also played portato, the bassoon portato was exactly the same length as the oboe’s. That makes a big difference in the way any piece of music sounds to an audience: there are no ragged edges, and the Viennese charm with which Mozart writes is clearly evident. It was pure Mozart. The oboe, wonderfully performed by Max Soto, has the dominant melodic interest, while the bassoons supply the forward momentum. In so many ways, Mozart has scored this work as he would a symphonic work: the horns provide the harmonic support for the oboe, and occasionally there are wonderful, shared solos between the horn and oboe. Maestro Saless truly seemed to understand that the musicians he was conducting were excellent, as he did not seem to be forcing any kind of interpretive conducting upon them. And there is no question that he knew precisely what Mozart intended.
Following the intermission, the cellist Inbal Segev joined the Boulder Chamber Orchestra for the performance of Friedrich Gulda’s Concerto for Cello and Wind Orchestra. Before I begin to discuss Friedrich Gulda, I will quote from Inbal Segev’s bio statement on the web:
“Inbal Segev’s playing has been described as ‘characterized by a strong and warm tone . . . delivered with impressive fluency and style,’ by The Strad and ‘first class,’ ‘richly inspired,’ and ‘very moving indeed,’ by Gramophone. Equally committed to new repertoire for the cello and known masterworks, Segev brings interpretations that are both unreservedly natural and insightful to the vast range of solo and chamber music that she performs.
“Segev’s repertoire includes all of the standard concerti and solo works for cello, as well as new pieces and rarely performed gems. In June 2012, she gave the U.S. premiere of Maximo Flugelman’s Cello Concerto led by Lorin Maazel at the Castleton Festival, in Virginia near Washington DC. In February 2013, she gave the world premiere of Avner Dorman’s Cello Concerto with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, and then performed the work with the Hudson Valley, the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Colombia in Bogota, and the Youngstown Symphony. …Composer Gity Razaz is currently at work on a new multimedia piece for Segev, which will premiere in spring 2015 and explores the themes of birth, transformation and death through the retelling of an Azerbaijani folktale.
“Inbal Segev is currently recording all of Bach’s works for solo cello for commercial release in summer 2015. Her recording sessions are taking place at the Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City. Audiences will have the opportunity to look behind the scenes at the making of this album through Inbal Segev’s PledgeMusic campaign, launching in November 2014. Segev’s new album will be released with a companion documentary about her journey through the music of Bach. Segev’s discography includes two previous solo albums – Sonatas by Beethoven and Boccherini (Opus One) and Nigun, a compilation of Jewish music (Vox). She has also recorded Max Schubel’s Concerto for Cello (Opus One). With the Amerigo Trio, she has recorded serenades by Dohnányi for Navona Records.
“…She made debuts with the Berlin Philharmonic and Israel Philharmonic, led by Zubin Mehta, at age 17.
“Segev’s many honors include the America-Israel Cultural Foundation Scholarship (which she began receiving at the age of seven), and top prizes at the Pablo Casals International Competition, the Paulo International Competition, and the Washington International Competition. She began playing the cello in Israel at age five and at 16 was invited by Isaac Stern to come to the U.S. to continue her studies.
“Segev earned a Bachelor’s degree from The Juilliard School and a Master’s degree from Yale University, studying with noted masters Joel Krosnick, Harvey Shapiro, Aldo Parisot, and Bernhard Greenhouse, cellist and founder of the Beaux Arts Trio.
“Inbal Segev (pronounced Inn-BAHL SEH-gehv) lives in New York with her husband, and three young children – twins Joseph and Shira, and Ariel. Segev performs on a cello made by Francesco Rugeri in 1673. She is managed by Barrett Vantage Artists.”
Without exaggeration, I will say that Inbal Segev is one of the finest cellists that I have heard. Her musicianship and prodigious technique remind me very much of the late Janos Starker, whom I had the great good fortune of hearing on many occasions because he taught at my undergraduate school. Every note that she plays is clear, and is done with the obvious conviction that it must relate to an overall scheme. That may sound like an obvious thing to say about a musician, but there are many musicians that I have heard where that simply is not the case.
Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000), whose Cello Concerto was performed by Segev, was a pianist (who can forget his Beethoven and Mozart recordings?) who became a composer as well. He courted controversy almost all of his life because he combined jazz with classical music, often dressed in a bizarre fashion, interrupted his concerts to improvise for the audience, and sometimes tapped his feet while he was performing, which annoyed the audience endlessly. In his compositions, as I mentioned above, he often combined jazz and other influences which annoyed the critics, and drove jazz musicians to distrust him because it was not pure jazz. However, he did study jazz piano with Chick Corea, and he performed with Miles Davis. In his effort to combine so many different aspects of music, he began to alienate the public, and it was almost as if he became bored with being the “traditional concert pianist.” He tried, valiantly to combine many arts into one pianistic expression. It clearly seemed as though the critics did not want, and therefore refused, to understand what he was trying to accomplish. It reminds me, quite seriously, of some of the rejections that the American composer John Cage suffered: the music world at large seemed disinterested in what he was trying to accomplish.
The Concerto for Cello and Wind Orchestra is a wonderful piece that combines jazz, blues, and some Eastern European jazz elements. It certainly sounds almost like beer hall music.
Guitarist Patrick Sutton, tuba player, Michael Dunn, Paul Mullikin, percussion, and bassist, Kevin Sylves, joined the Boulder Chamber Orchestra for this performance, make no mistake about it: this is a very difficult piece. This work contains a movement entitled Cadenza, in which the cellist improvises for the entire movement. Remember that cadenzas in concertos were almost always improvised, but often, some composers began to compose cadenzas in order to make sure that a relationship between the main themes and the cadenza was preserved. Nonetheless, the composers usually gave the performer the option of playing his own improvised cadenza.
Inbal Segev’s technique is one of the most formidable that I have heard, but like Janos Starker’s technique, it is always used to display the music and what the composer wished, rather than to impress the audience. Nothing was left to the imagination. I can remember a chamber literature class, wherein Janos Starker, after hearing a student perform the first movement of the César Franck Violin Concerto, said, “They say that a picture is worth 1000 words. You have just increased our vocabulary by 750 words. You must always aim for 1000.” There is no doubt that Inbal Segev is always complete. The portion of the first movement that sounded like jazz blues was done with total conviction. The portion of the last movement that sounded like “German beer hall” music sounded like German beer hall music without any hint of apology. She had the stamina and skill to do exactly what Friedrich Gulda wanted done in his composition. It was a wonderful performance and wonderful to listen to, and I hasten to point out that she received a very well deserved standing ovation. Some will say that this concerto was a carefree work, but I would disagree. I think that it was a very serious work that had cheerful moments, but it also had some moments that were incredibly moving. Inbal Segev showed that it was a serious work by delving into it, and producing some absolutely wonderful music. By demand, she performed an encore: the Gigue from the Unaccomapnied Suite for Cello, Nr. 1, by J.S. Bach.
This concert was one of the best I have ever heard from the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. Maestro Bahman Saless has surrounded himself with truly fine musicians, which, it would seem, is very easy to do when one is such a skilled musician himself.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Chandra Kuykendall, Colorado Ballet, David Grill, Domenico Luciano, Gil Boggs, Gregory K. Gonzales, Jesse Marks, Lorita Travaglia, Maria Mosina, Michael Pink, Morgan Buchanan, Philip Feeney, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy
Halloween night, Friday, I attended the opening performance of the Colorado Ballet production of Dracula. As artistic director, Gil Boggs, states in the program, this is one of the most “theatrical ballets ever performed by the Colorado Ballet.” It certainly is, and you readers must understand that this is not a ballet for young children. The reason for that is that the dancers are so expressive in their presentation of fear, mystery, loathing, and gruesome characterizations that it would give them nightmares for months. This is not just a fun, scary night. It is an adult ballet done in all seriousness, and presented in a very serious way.
I have seen this ballet performed by this fine organization previously to this performance, but this was, by far, the best performance of Dracula that the Colorado Ballet has given. It was completely driven by energy: not just the dancing, but the musical score as well. The Colorado Ballet Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Adam Flatt, was just as driven as were the dancers.
The choreography for this ballet was done by Michael Pink who certainly has to be one of the finest choreographers today. I will quote briefly from the bio statement on his website:
“Michael Pink is an internationally acclaimed Choreographer and Artistic Director.
“Michael began his tenure as Artistic Director of Milwaukee Ballet Company in December of 2002. Since that time, he has established himself as a prominent member of the Milwaukee arts community, demonstrating his commitment to the future of dance through new work, education and collaboration. He is perhaps best known for his creation of full-length narrative dance works Dracula, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Giselle 1943, Don Quixote, The Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia, Cinderella, Romeo & Juliet, Peter Pan and La Bohème. His love of the theatre and music is evident in all his work, he believes in exploring the theatrical values of his work through all elements of the production. His work has a wide audience appeal and helps foster a greater understanding and appreciation of dance.
“His talent for choreography was first noted and encouraged by Dame Ninette de Valois and Sir Frederick Ashton. His early choreographic work won him first place in the inaugural Ursula Moreton Choreographic Competition He was invited by Sir Frederick Ashton to assist in choreographing the Anacat Fashion Show for HRH Princess Margaret. He left the Royal Ballet School in 1975 after being invited to attend the first Gulbenkian Choreographic Summer Program as one of eight choreographers and composers, lead by Glen Tetley, Mary Hicks and Dame Peggy van Praggh.
“Michael has established himself as an International Teacher with, amongst other companies the Norwegian National Ballet, Aterballetto, Balleto di Toscanna Italy, The Hartford Ballet U.S.A. Rozas Dance Company, London Contemporary Dance Company, Ballet Rambert, The White Oaks Dance Project, English National Ballet, Phoenix Dance Company and London City Ballet.”
The program notes state that Michael Pink often relies upon the English composer, Philip Feeney, to provide the musical score for his ballets. The production of Dracula certainly makes that clear simply because the choreography and the music fit so closely together that they seem to be inseparable. It is difficult to imagine which came first: the energy of the choreography, or the energy of the musical score.
I will quote briefly from Feeney’s biography:
“Composer and Pianist, Philip Feeney (b.1954), studied composition at the University of Cambridge with Robin Holloway and Hugh Wood, and later with Franco Donatoni in Rome at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. He is best known for his work in dance, which he first encountered in Italy and has since worked with many companies, including Northern Ballet Theatre, Rambert Dance Company, the White Oak Project and the Martha Graham Company. He has collaborated with many choreographers including Michael Pink, Didy Veldman, Michael Keegan-Dolan, Derek Williams, David Nixon, Adam Cooper and Sara Matthews, and his works have been performed by dance companies as diverse as Northern Ballet Theatre, Rambert Dance Company, Cullberg Ballet, Boston Ballet, Fabulous Beast, Scottish Dance Theatre, in addition to more than forty works for Ballet Central.
“Clearly inspired by image and movement, Feeney’s output is remarkable, apart from anything else, for its range and scope. Extending from full-length orchestral ballet scores to electro-acoustic soundscapes, even to jazz and hip hop scores, his works exhibit a capacity for making style work for him, by reinventing past styles in a post-modern way. For him, the crucial thing is that music for dance needs to make sense as pure music at all times. It needs to have that kinetic musicality and parallel logic that makes one feel that the music is right, and that it is the only possible music that could work for that particular choreography.
“From 1991-95 he lectured in composition at Reading University. He is currently composer in residence for Ballet Central and has been a longstanding accompanist at the London Contemporary Dance School.”
The momentum that is provided by Feeney’s musical score simply must be heard to be believed. It is extremely difficult for the orchestra, and that difficulty never goes away. The orchestra successfully conveys the impression that they are consumed by the energy of the choreography, and it is remarkable to watch the mutual support that the dancers and orchestra share. This kind of interchange is only possible if both the dancers and the orchestra share a common artistic goal, and that is possible only if everyone concerned is an artist. And, that is but one of the features that places this dance company at such a very high level.
Friday evening, Domenico Luciano danced Dracula. In this role, he was icy and cold and so dreadfully menacing that one never knew what was coming next. He toyed with his victims in the ballet, pretending to give them freedom, but always pulling them back into the hell that he created. He was very convincing as he slithered through the railing of a staircase and across the stage. He provided a palpable conflict between his own evil world, and the world of Harker and Mina which was one of purity and innocence.
Chandra Kuykendall, one of his victims, generated one of her finest roles as Lucy, and her dancing Friday evening was one of the finest performances I have seen her give. Anguished and lost to Dracula’s power, eternally doomed because of Dracula’s bite, she was constantly torn between wishing to escape from him and always being pulled back to him by his magnetic force. In a terrifying scene, she is covered with blood as she lures a small child to her death.
Jesse Marks danced the role of Renfield, a character whose complete insanity drives him to lick blood from the floor and consume flies and spiders. As long as he maintains his allegiance to Dracula, Dracula will keep him fed with the insects he constantly devours. Marks was incredibly and horrifyingly convincing in this role. He danced a beautiful pas de deux with Maria Mosina, while he was in a straitjacket, rolling Mina off his back and around his body without the use of his arms. He tries so desperately hard to warn Mina of the evils of Dracula, and yet he is tied by Dracula’s spell.
Maria Mosina danced the role of Mina, and her dramatic skill and acting ability gave this character a wonderful sympathetic and compassionate persona, which emphasized the evilness of Domenico Luciano’s portrayal of Dracula. Luciano and Mosina both displayed an incredible strength as well as grace in their performance. Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, as Harker, created the same persona of innocence in the role of Mina’s husband.
I have described these characters in this way, because the dancers in this company were so skilled in portraying the essence of each of them. It was terrifying to see Chandra Kuykendall crawling backwards on the stage to hide under rocks with smoke billowing from them. It was terrifying to see how Dracula toyed constantly with his victims. And the remarkable acting ability of Gregory K. Gonzales made it appear that he was the only clearheaded individual on the stage. He knew, without a doubt, how to defeat Dracula, and that knowledge kept him from being consumed by Dracula’s power.
In Act III, there is a terrifying scene in which the doors of the burial vaults of the Undead open at the sound of Dracula’s beating heart, and they crawl from their crypts, covered with the blood of Renfield who has been sacrificed by Dracula. I might add, that during the curtain call at the end of the ballet, the Undead adhered to their persona.
Lorita Travaglia directed this production and David Grill provided the lighting. It is clear that both of these individuals shared an obvious agreement as to how this production should be done. And I must say that Gil Boggs, the Artistic Director of the Colorado Ballet, has expanded (demanded?) the dancers dramatic and theatrical ability which has resulted in a ballet company whose dancers are the most expressive I have seen. And again, I feel stymied by the fact that there is simply not room enough to list every dancer by name. But the Villagers, both male and female, were absolutely astounding in the first act as they danced their sacrificial dance that would protect them from the dangers of All Souls Night. It always astounds me that many of the dancers in this ballet company can dance more than one role in one performance, for example Morgan Buchanan dances the role of a Female Villager, a Distraught Woman, a Well-To-Do Lady, and one of the Female Undead. To me, that seems like running from section to section in an orchestra, and playing a different instrument in each movement of, for example, a Mozart Symphony.
As I mentioned above, the Colorado Ballet Orchestra was sensational. Adam Flatt demands such perfection from the orchestra, and the orchestra seems to be so eager to provide that for the dancers. Of course, that’s what a ballet orchestra supposed do, but, in this case, it seems to be done so unhesitatingly and so thoroughly that in the performance, I have never been overly conscious of orchestral entrances: the support is always there for the dancers; it is never misplaced, and it is supremely expressive.
I might add that the sets in this ballet were extremely well done. I could not find in the program if the sets were owned by the Colorado Ballet or not, but I hope they are, for this ballet company now has the room in their new building to store and maintain sets.
Dracula will be performed tonight, Saturday, and tomorrow on Sunday. You must to go see this performance. You will be amazed at how expressive a ballet can be, and how your attention will be held by these wonderful dancers who possess such incredible acting ability.