Filed under: Reviews | Tags: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Adam Flatt, Alexei Tyukov, Asuka Sasaki, Catherine Sailer, Chandra Kuykendall, Dana Benton, Dmitry Trubchanov, Domenico Luciano, Dracula, Emily Dixon, Emily Speed, Francisco Estevez, Gil Boggs, Lorita Travaglia, Luis Valdes, Maria Mosina, Melissa Zoebisch, Morgan Buchanan, Sandra Brown, Sean Omandam, Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, Tracy Jones, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy
The Colorado Ballet gave their opening performance of the season at the Arvada Center Outdoor Amphitheater on Saturday, August 16. Some of the works that were on the program have been previously performed, but Saturday night they were infused with a new sense of freshness and enthusiasm that truly reflected the excitement of an opening season. Indeed, there has been so much good news from the Colorado Ballet in the last few weeks. The Artistic Director, Gil Boggs, has wisely been offered – and he has signed – a new five-year contract. This is remarkably good news, for it should be obvious to everyone that he has turned the Colorado Ballet into a vital and robust program that has some of the best dancers in the country. The second bit of good news is that Dana Benton and Domenico Luciano have been promoted from Soloists to Principals, and that is most certainly where they belong, for they are stellar artists. The other bit of good news, as most of you ballet aficionados know, is that they are preciously close to moving into their new building in the art district on Santa Fe. Note that it is their building, and they won’t have to pay anybody rent.
Keep in mind that on Saturday there were no complete works performed: this wonderful dance concert was comprised entirely of excerpts which gave the audience a taste of the coming 2014-2015 season. And, in addition, the opening excerpt, a pas de deux from the ballet Flames of Paris, was used simply as an introduction to their entire performance. I’m sure it was chosen because the choreography certainly attracts immediate attention due to its difficulty and its romantic ambiance. It was danced by Dana Benton and Viacheslav Buchkovskiy. The original ballet was premiered in 1932, and it is a fairly typical “French Revolution” ballet which deals with the trials and tribulations of that era. The music was composed by Boris Asafyev (1884-1949) whose music sounds very much like Tchaikovsky. The choreography was done by Vasily Vainonen and it requires a great deal of virtuosity. Benton and Buchkovskiy are, of course, two virtuoso artists and it showed very clearly in this introduction which alternated between solo dances and a pas de deux. As I said above, the entire company seemed to be very excited for the opening performance, and certainly Benton and Buchkovskiy were no exception.
You readers, who are not totally familiar with ballet terminology, must understand that principals are the top-of-the-line. Next, comes soloists, and, after that are members of the corps de ballet. I mention this only to tell you that everyone in the Colorado Ballet is an exceptional dancer, and I have absolutely no doubt that all of them are quite capable of eventually being promoted to a principal. From my point of view, it is only the smallest detail that is separating them now.
Next on the program, Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov danced the Grand Pas de Deux from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The music for this ballet always startles me, because Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) wrote the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was 17 years old. Dwell on that. He wrote the incidental music (incorporating the Overture) for Shakespeare’s play shortly before his death, and it is that music of Mendelssohn’s which is used in the ballet.
Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov were sensational. They are sensational because they are totally consumed by their art, and there is nothing that detracts from their concentration on that art, which includes their relationship to each other on stage. They are capable of so much communication through their movements and facial expressions, that it surely must attract the attention of those not totally familiar with ballet. Therefore, they are completely able to convert ballet neophytes to ardent supporters. And, as in paragraph one of this article, there is one more bit of good news: everyone in this company is capable of doing exactly that. It’s still astounds me that Gil Boggs has put together such an amazing collection of dancers. Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov are positively electrifying.
The Mendelssohn was followed by a short work entitled Young and Beautiful featuring the choreography of the Colorado Ballet’s own Sandra Brown with music by Lana Del Rey. This was a pas de deux that was stunningly beautiful, and it was danced by Chandra Kuykendall and Domenico Luciano.
Following the remarkable grace of Kuykendall and Luciano was a solid and very expressive depiction of evil. It was the pas de deux from Dracula danced by another incredible pair of dancers, Sharon Wehner and Dmitry Trubchanov. This is the pas de deux wherein Dracula entices Mina from her bed by appearing in her dream, and then flings her around the stage by her emotions, at once enticing her with his supposed love, and repelling her with his overpowering evil. This was another pas de deux where the emotional expression conveyed by the dancers was unmistakable.
Sitting in front of me were some individuals that seemed to me to be unfamiliar with the power of expression of which ballet is capable. When Dracula ripped open his shirt and slashed his chest open, and then thrusts Mina’s face into the blood forcing her to drink, the individuals stared at each other, not believing the horror they had just seen. It was a very powerful moment. If any of you readers have not seen Dracula by the Colorado Ballet, I would encourage you to attend this season. Yes, it is horrifying, but the choreography by Michael Pink, and the music by Philip Feeney, will stay with you for a long time, not only because of the horror, but because of the beauty as well.
The Colorado Ballet then performed the Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This certainly demonstrated the depth of ability of the dancers in the Colorado Ballet. Asuka Sasaki, Sean Omandam, Shelby Dyer, Morgan Buchanan, Luis Valdes, Francisco Estevez, Emily Speed, Tracy Jones, Emily Dixon, and Melissa Zoebisch were truly remarkable. Again, it all comes down to their expression through the movement and the spirit of the music. Some of these are new faces, but they are certainly welcome additions to the Colorado Ballet, and it is an important point to make that the Colorado Ballet can attract, and demand, dancers of this quality.
After the intermission, the second half of Saturday’s performance was taken up by the remarkable (there’s that word again) choreography by Sandra Brown in the performance of a new ballet, The Last Beat, which was given its world premiere in March of this year. The entire company was used on this half of the program. All of the dancers in the Colorado Ballet exemplify what it means to be a member of a Professional company. And, I might add, that this organization keeps getting better and better, and ever since Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia have been a part of this organization, their artistic demands have been raised and met with every performance. The choreography for The Last Beat is difficult, and I think there is no mistaking the fact that Sandra Brown took into consideration the dedication and artistic ability of the dancers she was writing for. If you demand a lot, you will receive a lot.
Saturday’s performance was memorable. In addition to all of the good news, there is still more. Even though Saturday’s performance was done to recorded music (there is no room for an orchestra at the Arvada Center Outdoor Amphitheater) Maestro Adam Flatt and Maestra Catherine Sailer will still be in charge of leading the Colorado Ballet Orchestra.
The Colorado Ballet is comprised of individuals who have made a tremendous investment to their art. They have made it very clear that their art comes first. Therefore, let us all make our own investment, and attend their performances so that this outstanding ballet company will understand how much we appreciate them.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam of St. Victor, Brett Kostrzewski, Giovanni Gabrieli, Luigi Cherubini, Orlando Gibbons, St. Martin's Chamber Choir, Terry Schlenker, Timothy Krueger
It seems fitting that the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, under the direction of Maestro Timothy Krueger, should finish their twentieth season with one of the best performances they have ever given. Friday evening, May 30, they performed a program entitled Antiphonal Echoes which featured music written for multiple choirs. This was a particularly effective program not only because of the skill of the musicians, but because of the venue: Montview Presbyterian Church on Dahlia Street and Montview Boulevard. The acoustics are absolutely perfect for this kind of a concert.
Maestro Krueger opened the program with a medieval sequence entitled Profitentes Unitatem which has been attributed to Adam of St. Victor who died in 1192. To understand what a sequence is, you must first understand what a trope is, because a sequence is a special kind of trope. A trope is a textual addition to parts of the Roman Mass that is used to amplify textual passages. For example, if the text says, “Lord, have mercy upon us” then the trope might be (I have indicated the trope in italics), “Lord, omnipotent Father, God, Creator of all, have mercy upon us.” The most frequently troped sections of the Mass were the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Benedicamus Domino. The sequence, as I say above, was a special kind of trope. Each strophe of text is followed by another of the same length and meter, and both are sung to the same melodic segment which is repeated for the second strove. First and last verses do not have parallels, so the structure of a sequence could possibly be A BB CC DD E. Sequences were developed around the year 870 by Notker Balbulus, and Adam of St. Victor was one of the masters of the form. Eventually all tropes and sequences were abolished by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) except for four, two of which are the well-known Dies Irae and the Stabat Mater.
When the St. Martin’s Choir began to sing, the sound filled the entire church. Krueger had divided the choir into four parts: one in each transept, one at the rear of the church, and one at the front. The antiphonal effect was absolutely startling because it was so well defined and yet because the choirs blended so well together. It reminded me very much of a choir rehearsal that I had serendipitously stumbled upon in the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. Certainly, the scale was smaller in Montview Presbyterian, but the effect was just as stunning. It was certainly enhanced by the vocal precision of the four choirs. They were perfectly in tune with each other and their diction was remarkable. I don’t know if Maestro Krueger chose this piece as first on the program because he anticipated the attention that it would bolster from the audience, but the effect was immediate. There was a good-sized audience in attendance, and they simply sat and listened very carefully to this performance.
Following the Profitentes Unitatem, Brett Kostrzewski, who is the Mark Sheldon conducting intern with St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, conducted a polyphonic anthem entitled, O Clap Your Hands, by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) the great English composer, and a poly-choric motet by Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612) entitled Quam Pulchra Est. Kostrzewski is a fine conductor whose conducting style is quite vigorous and very demanding. The choir was divided into two parts, and each portion was put in a transept of the church. Though his conducting technique differs greatly from Timothy Krueger’s, Kostrzewski achieved the same goal: authenticity. He truly seemed to relish the sound of this period of music, and I must say that both choirs responded to him enthusiastically and gave him exactly what he wanted. I wondered if there were any musicology students in the audience simply because the comparison of Orlando Gibbons and Giovanni Gabrieli was very interesting, and very well-defined. In many ways, Gibbons is a more harmonically colorful than the more staid Gabrieli, and that is what Kostrzewski drew attention to: the difference between English and Italian composers. It was terrific.
One of the most outstanding works on the program was composed by Terry Schlenker, a member of the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir. I will quote from a bio statement that I obtained from his website:
“Terry Schlenker studied music composition at the University of North Dakota and at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, from which he holds a Master of Art’s Degree in Composition. A composer of many orchestral, piano, and chamber works, Schlenker has focused much of his recent energy on a cappella choral music. His choral works are widely recorded, published, and have been performed internationally on five continents. Many of his pieces are regularly heard on the National Public Radio Network, where he has been featured on the programs of Colorado Matters, Colorado Spotlight, Sacred Classics, and Classical Discoveries. His works have been performed at the national conventions of Chorus America and ACDA (The American Choral Director’s Association), at the International Festival of GALA Choruses, and at the National Choral Festival. For Schlenker, to compose music is not to engage in an esoteric, intellectual exercise, but to articulate beauty, to express his deepest self, and to make a connection with the spiritual, both for himself and for others.
“An embryologist by profession, Schlenker co-founded and for 12 years directed one of the most successful human in-vitro fertilization laboratories in the world. Several years ago he partially retired, in order to focus more time on composing music. He continues to work part- time as an embryologist and consultant in embryology, and frequently speaks internationally on the topic.”
The work that St. Martin’s performed was entitled In Paradisum which Terry Schlenker wrote in memory of his recently deceased father. This was a World Premiere, and it demonstrated Schlenker’s ability to write for a cappella choir. I have heard many avant-garde compositions for choir, and many seem to combine the same concept of sound with barely nontraditional harmonies. Terry Schlenker’s work is always startlingly original, and displays unique erudition, not only in harmony, but in the colors that are available from human voices. Maestro Krueger performed this work in a very touching and emotional way, as if reassuring Schlenker that he is one of their own. It was beautifully done, and its originality demanded the rapt attention from the audience.
Following the intermission, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir performed a work which Maestro Krueger called a Missa Pastiche. It was the six sung portions of the ordinary of the mass: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and the Benedictus, though in Friday’s performance the order of the Agnus Dei and Benedictus were reversed so that the Agnus Dei was last. Krueger used the word “pastiche” to indicate that each of these six sections were in different styles because they were composed by different composers. I was struck by Krueger’s choice of composers, because everything in this Missa Pastiche fit so very well together. It was a natural flow of the history of music that was so well done that the ear was never jarred by difference in styles. And it was in this work that St. Martin’s Chamber Choir truly seemed to excel. One of the choices that Maestro Krueger made was the composer Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842). Aside from being known as a composer, Cherubini was also known as the director of the Paris Conservatory. However, during his lifetime, he was much admired by his contemporaries, and as Krueger pointed out, particularly Beethoven, because of his remarkable skill as a contrapuntalist. He also had an amazing ability to combine a passionate dramatic impulse with the discipline of religious contemplation. His ability at such a versatile combinations, led to his great success with his opera Médée, in which he combines the character of the Greek mythological sorceress who murders her children in an unimaginable rage, with an overpowering sense of humanity.
In this Credo by Luigi Cherubini, the choir allowed the flow of the counterpoint to govern the structure of the piece in such a way as to remind one of a truly fine symphony orchestra. The attacks of each entrance of the canons and fugues were incredibly smooth. So smooth, in fact, that the choir seemed not to take a breath, and I found myself listening to see if they actually did breathe while they performed this Credo. This entire Missa Pastiche was performed in this way, but was made truly obvious in the Cherubini. It was some of the finest singing that I have heard, and it is certainly reflective of the musical imagination, not only of everyone in the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, but certainly of Maestro Timothy Krueger. The sound surrounded the entire audience so that it became almost ethereal.
This performance received a very well-deserved standing ovation, and, I state again, that it was a concert in which the audience remained silent during the entire performance, as engrossed as they were in its flawlessness. There was absolutely no evidence of microphones to record this concert, and that is a great disappointment. It was wonderfully done, and it was an intense musical experience.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Andrew Litton, Erich Korngold, Gustav Mahler, Paul Primus, Vadim Gluzman
The concert given by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra Friday evening, May 4, left me absolutely speechless. They performed Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony Nr. 7 in E minor.
The primary reason this concert left me speechless is the fact that both of these works performed have their own separate problems that must be dealt with: an orchestra does not perform the Korngold (1897-1957) concerto unless one has a soloist who is up to the task because it is difficult. The Mahler (1860-1911) has an immense length (roughly an hour and twenty minutes) that requires intense concentration on the part of every single orchestra member, and, of course, the conductor. About thirty-five years ago, I heard the Mahler 7th performed live by an orchestra that was “quite decent” and the conductor who, judging by my own hindsight, may have been trying to gain stature by performing difficult works. That’s a fine idea, but one must have several years of experience before undertaking such a work.
The Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Andrew Litton clearly have that experience, and it is completely unnecessary for me to point that out. I do so only because I want the average concert attendee to understand the stamina that it takes everyone on stage to present such a work. But first, the Korngold.
The guest artist Friday evening was violinist Vadim Gluzman, and astoundingly fine violinist who may be someone unfamiliar to American concert audience. Watching Gluzman and Maestro Litton interact on stage made it clear that they had performed together prior this performance. Whether or not that is the case, we here in Denver are indebted to Maestro Litton and the orchestral powers that be, for inviting Gluzman to perform this work. I will quote an abbreviated bio statement from his website:
“Born in the former Soviet Union in 1973, Vadim Gluzman began violin studies at age 7. Before moving to Israel in 1990, where he was a student of Yair Kless, he studied with Roman Sne in Latvia and Zakhar Bron in Russia. In the US his teachers were Arkady Fomin and, at the Juilliard School, the late Dorothy DeLay and Masao Kawasaki. Early in his career, Mr. Gluzman enjoyed the encouragement and support of Isaac Stern, and in 1994 he received the prestigious Henryk Szeryng Foundation Career Award.
”Vadim Gluzman plays the extraordinary 1690 ‘ex-Leopold Auer’ Stradivari, on extended loan to him through the generosity of the Stradivari Society of Chicago.
“The Israeli violinist appears regularly with major orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony, London Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, London Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Munich Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra and NHK Symphony; and with leading conductors including Neeme Järvi, Michael Tilson Thomas, Andrew Litton, Marek Janowski, Itzhak Perlman, Tugan Sokhiev, Paavo Järvi, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Hannu Lintu and Peter Oundjian. His festival appearances include Verbier, Ravinia, Lockenhaus, Pablo Casals, Colmar, Jerusalem, and the North Shore Chamber Music Festival in Northbrook, Illinois, which was founded by Gluzman and pianist Angela Yoffe, his wife and long-standing recital partner.
”In this 2013-14 season, Mr. Gluzman begins a new collaboration as Creative Partner and Principal Guest Artist of the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio. As Artist of the Year with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, he performs a series of three concerts with conductor Andrew Litton, which will result in a new album of concertos by Shostakovich and Gubaidulina. In the United States Vadim is making his début with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Tugan Sokhiev, and in the United Kingdom, Gluzman’s highly anticipated Wigmore Hall recital follows last year’s acclaimed Proms début.”
Erich Korngold is one of music history’s most amazing child prodigies. Born in in 1897, he was already dazzling Viennese concertgoers by 1917 at the age of twenty. As a matter of fact, it was Gustav Mahler who proclaimed Korngold a genius, an opinion which was borne out by Korngold’s works in every serious genre: chamber music, opera, orchestral, keyboard, and even film music. Nonetheless, Korngold seems to have fallen off Mt. Parnassus, no doubt due in part to cruel criticisms written by critics who do not seem to have been schooled in music, but schooled in journalism. For example, a New York critic said after hearing this violin concerto that there was more “corn than gold,” seems like a comment designed to further the reputation of the critic rather than make a true statement of the music heard. When Jascha Heifetz premiered the work with the St. Louis Symphony in 1947, the work was a resounding success. Korngold suffered, perhaps, because he wrote scores for Hollywood movies. This association with Hollywood also damaged the career of pianist, conductor, and harpsichordist José Iturbi, who not only starred in movies, but recorded the soundtrack for various movies, including A Song to Remember, which was a movie about Frederic Chopin.
When I heard Gluzman begin to play, I was completely astonished at the sound of his violin. I had read in the program notes that it was Stradavari, but it simply has to be one of the best violins that Stradavari ever made. It sounded sweet yet warm, and both the instrument and Gluzman’s superior artistry brought out its transparent tone which was a perfect match for the Korngold Concerto in D. I say this, because, though Korngold was certainly a romantic composer who used complicated harmonies, he was such a superior orchestrator that his music often has an almost transparent, or Mozartean if you will, quality. I heard this piece performed fourteen years ago by the CSO, but I don’t remember the soloist giving the work such a personal and intimate interpretation. Vadim Gluzman’s playing was at once dynamic and powerful, yet lush and most certainly romantic, and there is no question in my mind whatsoever that he and Maestro Litton were perfectly in agreement as to its interpretation.
The violin enters almost at once in the first movement in a broad and lyrical melody that is undeniably romantic. The first movement includes a stunning cadenza that requires incredible virtuosity in total mastery of the art. Gluzman easily brought to the forefront the nostalgic qualities of the second movement, and it was here that his violin and its remarkable qualities which he clearly displayed, were overpowering. There is no question that this violin concerto demands fearless virtuosity, but Gluzman certainly brought out the more relaxed and lyrical quality of this second movement, and made it contrast perfectly with the first and third movements.
Another aspect of the performance of this Korngold concerto as performed by Vadim Gluzman was the obvious connection between the orchestra and soloist and conductor. It speaks again to the change that has been made in this orchestra in the last two or three years, and it is one of the important characteristics that makes this orchestra as conspicuous as one of the best in the United States. It goes far beyond the love of music of every member in the orchestra. It is that, plus the artistry of everyone on stage.
After the intermission, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Andrew Litton performed Gustav Mahler’s Symphony Nr. 7. It was not until Mahler was twenty years old that he began to become interested in philosophies outside of music such as socialism, Nietzsche and philosophy, and pan-Germanism. His first symphony was considered bizarre by many musicians, and it was his conducting ability that truly advanced his early career as a musician. However, even as a conductor, he incurred the displeasure, to put it mildly, by orchestra members because of his perfectionism and exacting rehearsals. In addition, his symphonies are enormous in length: his third Symphony lasts almost 2 hours, and he revised his works several times. For example he kept revising his Fifth Symphony, written in 1901-1902, until his death. His 7th Symphony, performed Friday evening, has five movements. The inner three movements are the shortest; nonetheless, this work lasts almost an hour and twenty minutes. In addition, the degree of harmonic experimentation in the first movement is unlike any previous work, and may be considered a portent of what is to come in his Symphony Nr. 8, which also uses the largest symphonic ensemble and choir ever conceived to that point.
The first movement of Mahler’s Symphony Nr. 7 begins with a slow introduction that is at once ominous, passionate, and turgid. It has harmonies that seem to be based on the interval of fourth (but, keep in mind, this is only the second time I have heard this symphony performed live), and it is this harmony that gives it its mysterious and almost abstract quality. The second movement continues this aesthetic by its very strange militaristic march. In addition, he calls this movement “Night Music.” Read Nocturne. The third movement is full of irregular rhythms which gradually coalesce into a waltz. The fourth movement is once again referred to as Night Music, and it is this movement that is most obviously romantic. As matter of fact, it also uses a mandolin which was skillfully and artistically performed by Principle Second violinist, Paul Primus, which certainly added to its atmosphere of the serenade. The last movement is an exciting Finale that is full of virtuosity for every member of the orchestra.
This work is very difficult, and the difficulty is caused by Mahler’s differentiation of voices in the orchestra which gives this symphony a characteristic of collage. Therefore, his concept, in a sense, is really one of re-creating symphonic structure from all of these instrumental lines that cut at each other, and then coalesce. The difficulty is placed squarely on the conductor, and truthfully, just as much on the performing musicians in the orchestra. Everyone must share in this difficulty, and bring to the forefront the years of experience as performing musicians. As I stated above, one does not perform a work such as this without having considerable experience as a musician. In this symphony, Mahler uses many sounds from the world which surrounded him: cow bells, hammers, and a mandolin. And, in this symphony, none of these sounds are free of pathos or suppressed pain.
It is in this symphony, even though it is not the longest, that Mahler begins to use such a variety of voices, even though he does not always require the orchestra to be physically larger. Indeed, in the Seventh Symphony he does not necessarily seem to be concerned with increasing the physical size of the orchestra.
One can cite many reasons in this symphony where the difficulties raised by Mahler’s concepts can have numerous deleterious effects upon the performance. But, Friday evening it was clear that Maestro Litton and his group of remarkable musicians thoroughly understood what Mahler had intended. Everyone in the orchestra deserves to be named individually. This was a wonderful performance of this incredibly complex work, and, as I said above, it demonstrates the kind of artistry that is inherent in the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Amanda Balestrieri, Carla Sciaky, Christopher Darling, Eric Harbeson, Grace Braddock, Linda Lunbeck, Marie-Jose Payannet, Marjorie Bunday, Yayoi Barrack
It is usually the case that when one attends a recital or a concert, one expects the very best. That is certainly part of the joy of attending any performance. But, once in a while, the performance is so good that its excellence causes enormous surprise. That was certainly the case Saturday evening, April 26, when I attended the performance of the Denver Early Music Consort at the King Center Recital Hall on the Auraria campus.
The Artistic Director of the Denver Early Music Consort is contralto Marjorie Bunday, who is well-known as a member of several choirs in the state of Colorado. Understand this: she is not just a fine contralto, she is also a scholar of music, and that applies to everyone who was onstage Saturday evening. The performers included Amanda Balestrieri, soprano; Eric Harbison, percussion; Linda Lunbeck, a woodwind artist on every woodwind instrument you can think of; Carla Sciaky, an artist on a considerable number of stringed instruments; and last, but not least, Yayoi Barrack, who is a wonderfully gifted string performer, and in addition, was the Guest Artistic Director for the performance Saturday evening. The DEMC was joined by the Danse Etoile Ballet under the Artistic Directorship of Marie-Jose Payannet. The dancers in this group are all high school students (and somewhat younger) and they were all excellent.
I am confident that most of you readers know Marjorie Bunday and Amanda Balestrieri, and are aware of their remarkable performance ability, as well as their scholarship, which shows through at every performance. Therefore, I will not include their biographies in this article simply because of space limitations. I will, however, include abbreviated bio statements of the other performers taken from the Denver Early Music Consort webpage, as well as the webpage of the Danse Etoile Ballet. In order to keep this article somewhat shorter here is the link to the DEMC where you can further discover the bios of the performers: http://www.denverearlymusic.org/bios.html
Yayoi Barrack, viol and vielle player, early music specialist and composer, obtained both her pedagogical and performing degrees for the viola da gamba at the Music Conservatory in Utrecht, the Netherlands, studying with Anneke Pols in Utrecht and taking masterclasses with Wieland Kuijken and Christophe Coin. Among others, she was a member of a Dutch medieval and renaissance music group focused on improvisational interpretations of early and Sephardic music that won first prize in a national ensembles competition in the Netherlands. For several years she was the viola da gamba soloist in the yearly performances of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew and St. John Passions in the Dom cathedral in Utrecht. She performed internationally with well-known groups such as the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet and with members of the Amsterdam Bach Soloists, toured Germany and Portugal as a soloist in Bach’s St. John Passion, and for some years was the solo continuo player in productions of the operas of Henry Purcell in France.
Percussionist Eric Harbeson received his training in Ohio, where he studied with Cleveland Orchestra members Tom Freer and Donald Miller at Cleveland State University, and with Tom Fries at the College of Wooster. He has since performed widely in the Cleveland, Washington, DC, and Central Illinois regions. Before moving to Colorado, he was librarian for, and performed with the Champaign Urbana Symphony Orchestra, and gave several well-regarded performances as principal timpanist with the Prairie Ensemble and the Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana. Locally, he has performed with the Seicento Baroque Ensemble, the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Ars Nova Singers, among others.
By day, Eric is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Boulder, serving as music special collections librarian and curating the American Music Research Center collections. His research focuses on intellectual property issues as they relate to music and libraries, a topic for which he is in demand as a speaker.
Linda Lunbeck (recorder) performs solo and ensemble music around the Rocky Mountain region and on the East Coast, ranging from medieval to contemporary repertoire. A member of the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado, she has also performed with the Colorado Music Festival, Boulder Bach Festival, Up Close and Musical, Musica Sacra, at the Boston Early Music Festival, on National Public Radio, with SoHIP (Boston area), Manet Consort (Maryland) and others. She co-founded Diverse Passions early music ensemble, and was music director for their collaborative staging of “The Delights of Posilipo”, a 17th-century operatic work. While living in Boston, Linda performed and toured with the innovative recorder quartet For Four, including premieres and newly commissioned works. Linda holds a Master’s degree in Early Music Performance from New England Conservatory of Music (Boston), and a BA in Music Education (University of Delaware).
Carla Sciaky is a multi-instrumentalist based in Denver, Colorado. As a solo folksinger and songwriter, she toured the US extensively through the 1980s and 90s, recording first on her own Propinquity Records and later on Green Linnet and Alacazam Records, compiling a discography of eight solo albums and appearing on many group efforts, compilations, and colleagues’ collections. Her songwriting won her awards and/or recognition in such arenas as the Kerrville New Song Competition, the Louisville, Kentucky songwriting competition, the Colorado Arts and Humanities Fellowship for Composition, the Billboard Songwriting Competition, and the Colorado, Utah, and Kansas Artist in Residence programs in the schools. At present, Carla performs with the Folkaltones, in ballad concerts with Harry Tuft, and in the blockbuster series “Jews Do…” (Cohen and Dylan to date), as well as teaching classes in guitar and Jewish songs and traditions at the Denver Waldorf School.
In the classical/early music world, Carla performs on baroque violin with Sémplice, a Denver quartet specializing in baroque music on period/replica instruments, as well as being a member of the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado since its first season. She plays rebec, viola da gamba, and violin with the Denver Early Music Consort, and modern violin with Musica Sacra Chamber Orchestra.
Marie-Jose Payannet grew up in beautiful Southern France. She studied ballet at the Conservatory of Classical Dance and Music in Avignon where she received full scholarship to study at the prestigious school of the Opera de Paris. A serious injury delayed that dream and much later, Marie-Jose went back to Paris to study with Yves Casati from the Opera de Paris at the theater of the Marais. During her career, she also trained with Galina Mezentseva, prima absoluta Kirov Ballet, Shamil Yagudin, ballet master Bolshoi Ballet, Luba Gulyaeva, soloist Kirov Ballet, Gaenor Grange Parkes, Royal Ballet, Mira Popvic, principal Czech Republic and David Herriot, principal dancer Winnipeg Ballet and North Carolina Ballet.
Saturday’s program was entitled From Solomon’s Court to the Ends of the Earth: Songs of the Sephardim, featured music of the Sephardic Jews on the Iberian Peninsula. As the excellent program notes explained: “‘Sephardic’ refers to Jews who practice a Sephardic style of liturgy, who have adopted Sephardic customs or who have been assimilated into Sephardic culture, whether or not their community has any historical connection to Iberia.” The music that they sung is known as Ladino, and it is a Judeo-Spanish language which is a combination of old Spanish and Hebrew. In some ways it is similar to Yiddish, which is a combination of the Ashkenazi Jewish and German dialects. It is important to realize that the Ladino language was once the common language that joined together all the sources of trade in the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Adriatic Sea. Eventually, Ladino found its way to South America and even the southern United States. It is still not abundantly clear to me, at least, how such a wealth of music could have been ignored for such a long time. It is quite possible that other collections of music such as the Cantigas de Santa Maria assembled by Alfonso X, were partly responsible. One must also take into consideration the profound influence of the French troubadours and trouvères which overflowed into Spain because of its close proximity. Nonetheless, there seems to be ample opportunity for doctoral dissertations!
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Saturday’s performance was the enthusiasm exhibited by all of the performers. Some of these songs were cheerful, some were sad, and some very definitely showed their influence of Western European forms such as the Branle, which is a fifteenth century dance. This was a dance which was accompanied by singing – or, some might say singing accompanied by dancing. Likewise, some of the music performed Saturday showed the influence of the Goliard songs and the French Pavane. All of these were songs that included dancing. Therefore, the addition to Saturday evening’s program of the ballet students from the Danse Etoile Ballet was not out of place.
It was a little difficult to tell who some of the dancers were, but there were two who I thought were outstanding. I hope I have the names right: I tried to fit the faces that I remembered to the photographs on the Danse Etoile Ballet’s website. Those two were the diminutive Grace Braddock, whose dancing ability was anything but diminutive, and Christopher Darling, whose dancing ability is not only graceful and sure, but is augmented by immense strength for one so young. He had no trouble in lifting other dancers above his head.
Amanda Balestrieri and Marjorie Bunday exhibited great excitement and genuine pleasure in performing these songs which are incredibly rare and seldom heard. Their rhythms are also remarkably difficult. As Bunday explained, one of the songs, Yo hanina, tu hanino (I am beautiful, you are handsome) has a meter signature of 15/8. All of them seemed to have complicated dance rhythms, and it was a delight to hear these skilled the musicians perform them with such great ease. Their vocal production never suffered, nor did the marvelous sound of their voices.
Yayoi Barrack arranged much of the music for Saturday’s performance. When I use the word “arranged” I’m referring to the fact that sometimes a vielle was used, sometimes a tenor viol. Occasionally Linda Lunbeck performed on the recorder, a shawm, or a gemshorn. Eric Harbison was also required to change percussion instruments often. You must understand that careful and scholarly consideration was given to the choice of instruments to be used, and it was quite evident that there were no haphazard choices.
One of the most exciting aspects of Saturday evening’s performance was that it opened many doors to expose music that is simply not heard often enough. It was beautiful, and it was done in such an artistic yet authentic way, that one could imagine a very intimate, joyous, or melancholy setting in the fifteenth century. It was also abundantly clear that the students of Marie-Jose Payannet and the Danse Etoile Ballet are getting spectacular instruction in the art of dance. Read, again, the bio statements that I have included in this article out of necessity. Then make sure that you attend one of the programs of the Denver Early Music Consort.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Abby Raymond, Andrew Stevens, Brook Ferguson, Catherine Peterson, Chad Cognata, Charles Griffes, Claude Sim, Jason Lichtenwalter, Jason Shafer, Julie Duncan Thornton, Peter Cooper, Philip Glass, Scott O'Neil, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Silver Ainomäe, Wendy Sutter, Yumi Hwang-Williams
Friday evening, April 11, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Scott O’Neil, presented an absolutely marvelous program of two rare works, and one well-known work. The CSO performed the Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra by Phillip Glass. This work featured the CSO’s own Yumi Hwang-Williams, violinist, and guest cellist, Wendy Sutter. Also on the program was The Pleasure Dome of Kublai Khan, Op. 8, by Charles Griffes, and the well-known Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
The CSO opened the concert with the Griffes work, The Pleasure Dome of Kublai Khan. Charles Griffes (1884-1920) was an American composer whose very short life has relegated him to the ‘unknowns.’ This is truly lamentable: there are many scholars today who regard him as one of the most outstanding American composers of his generation because of his compositional artistry as well as his skill at orchestration. He was born in Elmira, New York, and began taking piano lessons from his older sister. He eventually studied piano at the Elmira Free Academy where he attracted the attention of his piano teacher. The teacher subsidized his traveled to Berlin where he began taking piano lessons with Ernst Jedliczka and Gottfried Galston. He also began to take composition lessons with Engelbert Humperdinck, and that is where he felt most comfortable. While he was in Germany, he wrote several lieder in the German language in addition to one symphony. He returned to the United States, and accepted a job at the Hackley School in Tarrytown, New York. He kept that position until he died in 1920 of pneumonia.
He began composing in a Germanic post-romantic style that soon evolved into French Impressionism, and it is that element which became very strong in his adult life, short as it was.
Before the concert opened, CSO Principal Flutist, Brook Ferguson, and pianist Josh Sedwicki gave a performance of Poem by Charles Griffes as part of the pre-concert lecture. This gave the audience a hint of his style, and what to listen for in The Pleasure Dome of Kublai Khan.
The Pleasure Dome of Kublai Khan was originally written in 1912 for piano solo, but when he submitted it to his publisher, G. Schirmer, it was rejected because they thought that Griffes was writing in a way which was much too “dreamy” for that day and age. One of Griffes’ acquaintances introduced him to Ferruccio Busoni, a Liszt pupil, who was coming to New York City on a concert tour. Busoni looked at several of Griffes’ works and was quite impressed. He also suggested that Griffes rewrite The Pleasure Dome of Kublai Khan and orchestrate it. It was that version which was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the directorship of Pierre Monteux in 1919. It was an immediate, critical success, and it was received with rave reviews by the audience as well.
The CSO performance of this work was absolutely superb. It seems to me that it would be a rather difficult piece because of its many contrasting sections or, if you will, episodes. The orchestration of this work demonstrates how skilled Griffes truly was. I was strongly reminded of Debussy’s La Mer because of its richness and the combination of instruments. The work is only ten minutes long, but in that time span, one can hear an opening of darkness, which begins with a tremolo from the cellos and gong, accompanied very soon by soft chords from the orchestral piano. It then proceeds through stateliness and contemplation, all the while using Oriental style “scale” structure and deceptive Impressionistic harmonies. That is a great abundance for a ten minute work, but it is an absolutely beautiful work. It has always amazed me that in spite of Griffes’ quality output that he has just fallen off Mount Parnassus following his death. He deserves a great deal of attention.
Following the Griffes, the CSO performed the Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra by the well-known 20th-century composer, Phillip Glass (1937- ). This concerto demonstrates a real change in Phillip Glass’ style because it seems as though he has gone through a process of adding to, and expanding his original minimalist aesthetic. Thus, this work seems to take into consideration the harmonies that his elemental groups of notes can generate, as well as the textures resulting from his contrapuntal techniques. By that, I mean that in the strict sense of the word counterpoint, Glass is not only concerned so with melodic counterpoint, but becomes concerned with rhythmic counterpoint as well. The result is a new-found, and quite remarkable, expressive sound.
This is an absolutely beautiful piece of music, and I must say that Yumi Hwang-Williams and Wendy Sutter were beautifully paired for this performance. I also point out that Wendy Sutter and Maria Bachmann, violinist, were the two artists for which this piece was originally composed. The concerto itself is most unusual. Most concertos are concerned with two aspects: a soloist who “competes” with the orchestra, or a soloist who is supported by the orchestra, and in turn supports them. However, each movement of the Glass concerto begins with a solo duet for violin and cello which is then followed by the full orchestra for the remainder of the movement. The violin and cello take part in the rest of the movement as well, but are not necessarily highlighted as soloists. It is in the opening duet that the violinist and cellist demonstrate their technical prowess. I assure you that both of these performers have a great deal of technical prowess and artistry. This is a superb work, but these two individuals made it an absolute joy to hear. The duets before each movement struck me as being quite intimate even though they require a great deal of virtuosity. Both Hwang-Williams and Sutter made it seem as if they were playing very personal statements, as if they were performing chamber music rather than an enormous orchestral concerto. The duets were performed so that one could well imagine that it was written for a ballet, and, indeed, the Netherlands Dans Theater commissioned the work for their ballet, Swan Song. In many ways, the second movement of this concerto was the most important because after its duet opening, the orchestra slowly builds into a vibrant dance for orchestra and soloists. And it is interesting to note that Glass does not conclude the work, as is the case with most concertos, with a bombastic finale. Rather he closes the entire work with another duet which is rather melancholy.
Yumi Hwang-Williams and Wendy Sutter received a standing ovation for their performance. It was wonderful to see the audience truly appreciate an avant-garde composition and understand that the two artists who performed it are truly artists in every sense of the word. This was the Denver premiere of this work, and judging by the audience reaction, perhaps it will become a staple of the CSO. And, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Wendy Sutter would come back every time it was performed to join with our own, and the CSO’s, Yumi Hwang-Williams?
Following the intermission, Maestro O’Neil and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra performed Rachmaninoff’s well-known Symphonic Dances. This was Rachmaninoff’s last composition, and it was his only composition completely written in the United States. One who is familiar with Rachmaninoff’s (1873-1943) compositions understands that one can hear several things in his works. Throughout his life, Rachmaninoff was obsessed, if that is the right word, with bells. He even wrote a four movement choral symphony entitled, The Bells. A full choir is called for in every movement of that piece. And sounds of bells can be heard in many of his compositions, even the last few bars of the second movement of his famous Piano Concerto Nr. 2. But in this work, Symphonic Dances, there is no reference to bells, aside from a short snippet of bells in the percussion section. I feel that since this work was written in the United States, Rachmaninoff decided not to use the imitation of bells. Another theme that recurs in several of his works is the Dies Irae theme. This was added to the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass by Thomas of Celano around 1240 A.D. The text reminds believers that they must continue to live exemplary lives or they will be judged. In the Requiem, this section is then followed by the Tuba Mirum, the call to judgment, and it is in this section where all bets are off, and the heathens are condemned to eternal damnation. Personally, I don’t think that Rachmaninoff was overly pessimistic about his own existence, but I do think he found that this Dies Irae theme could easily be introduced as a variation, or as just an interesting theme.
The CSO presented a splendid performance of this work. In the first movement which contains a driving rhythm, there is a moment in the score where Rachmaninoff uses the entire woodwind section to form a nonet. The CSO has one of the best woodwind sections of any orchestra in the United States. The members of this nonet were Brook Ferguson, Principal Flute; Catherine Peterson, Flute; Julie Duncan Thornton, Piccolo; Peter Cooper, Principal Oboe; Jason Lichtenwalter, English Horn; Jason Shafer, Principal Clarinet; Abby Raymond, Clarinet; Andrew Stevens, Bass Clarinet; and Chad Cognata, Principal Bassoon. Their playing was absolutely without peer. Other members of the CSO whose performance stood out Friday evening were Claude Sim, Associate Concertmaster, and Silver Ainomäe, Principal Cello.
In the second movement of Symphonic Dances, Rachmaninoff scores one of the most expressive melodic lines he has ever written for alto saxophone. It gives a startlingly melancholy and soft, dramatic sound to the orchestra, and the choice of this instrument in this orchestral work is not unheard of, but it is a little unusual. The saxophone was first demonstrated at an industrial exhibition in Paris in 1844. It was in that same year that the French composer Georges Kastner used it in his opera, The Last King of Juda. Ravel also used it, as did Berlioz. I could not find any reference in the program to the performer who played the alto saxophone Friday evening, but he was truly excellent.
It should be apparent to regular Symphony attendees, and lovers of Rachmaninoff’s music, that in this work, Rachmaninoff is looking to the future and is beginning to write with brand-new harmonies and the structure of his melodic lines. Many of his long, flowing lines are now replaced by shorter lines put together to build longer ones. This makes the development of each theme much easier. And in this work, his orchestration has become thicker as he seems to concentrate on more and different combinations of instruments than in his past compositions.
All three of the works on Friday evening’s program reflected change in composer’s styles, and that is what unified these three disparate composers, and created a remarkably interesting program to hear.
Another highlight of Friday evening’s performance was the revelation that Maestro Scott O’Neil’s conducting has undergone a tremendous change over the last five years. It is a change that emphasizes his musicianship and his trust in the ability of everyone in the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. It was a change that seems to emphasize mutual acceptance.
The audience Friday evening was larger than many of the concerts I have attended the season, and it should be noted that, finally, there were some younger people in the audience. I will never get tired of telling you readers that Colorado Symphony Orchestra is one of the best orchestras in the United States. They have proven that over and over again, and in the last couple of years the orchestra has brightened considerably due to several changes which I will not mention again.
The CSO will perform this program again tonight, Saturday, April 12, and Sunday, April 13.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Antonio Vivaldi, Astor Piazzolla, Cynthia Katsarelis, Erika Eckert, Heidi Mausbach, Lina Bahn, Lyn Loewi, Margaret Soper Gutierrez, Paul Erhard, Pro Musica Coloardo Chamber Orchestra, Stacy Lasartre
Friday evening, the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis presented an absolutely stunning program featuring the renowned violinist, Dr. Lina Bahn. Not only was the program stunning because of its excellence, it was also stunning because of its originality. Maestra Katsarelis chose two works to feature on this program: the famous The Four Seasons by the Italian Baroque composer, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), and The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires by the twentieth century Argentine composer, Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). The unusual aspect of the program was that Katsarelis picked contrasting seasons from each of these two works, and paired them together on the program, while keeping in mind that Italy is in the northern hemisphere, and Argentina is in the southern hemisphere. Thus, Vivaldi’s Spring was paired the Piazzolla’s Autumn, next came Vivaldi’s Summer paired with Piazzolla’s Winter; the Vivaldi’s Autumn paired with Piazzolla’s Summer; and Vivaldi’s Winter, paired with Piazzolla Spring. Lest the purists among you readers object to this kind of pairing, I advise you to attend the concert tonight, April 5, at the First United Methodist Church in Boulder at 7:30 PM. I admit to a certain amount of suspicion when I saw the program, but the minute the first pairing of these two composers were heard, I realized what a creative imagination Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis has. In addition, I can assure you that the members of the orchestra are totally dedicated, professional musicians, and they would truly not participate in anything that would denigrate their art. So, those of you who were not in attendance Friday evening, quell your suspicions, and attend Saturday evening’s performance. You will, once again, be amazed at the artistry and musicianship by violinist Lina Bahn, and you will also be amazed at the camaraderie between Pro Musica and the soloist.
I will quote from the University of Colorado at Boulder website for Lina Bahn’s bio, which I have abridged slightly:
“Lina Bahn is a violinist who has a keen interest in collaborative and innovative repertoire, and has been called ‘brilliant’ and ‘lyrical’ by the Washington Post. Appointed to the faculty at the University of Colorado in Boulder in 2008, she has taught masterclasses throughout the world, including those at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory in Singapore, the Sydney Conservatory, Hong Kong University, Renmin University in Beijing, the Curtis Institute of Music, and The Colburn School, among others. She has been on the faculty of the Sierra Summer Academy of Music since 2001, and is on the faculty at Green Mountain Chamber Music Summer Festival, and at The Institute of the Palazzo Rucellai in Florence, Italy.
“In Washington, D.C., Dr. Bahn is the Executive Director and violinist with the VERGE Ensemble, the resident ensemble of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The VERGE Ensemble has performed in Paris, New York, Cleveland, at the Livewire Festival (UMBC) and Third Practice Festival (Richmond), and was the resident ensemble for the June in Buffalo Festival in 2009. They have performed at Le Poisson Rouge, The Issue Project Room, and the National Museum of American Indians. She is also the violinist and member of the National Gallery New Music Ensemble of the Smithsonian, which gave its inaugural performance in the East Wing in 2010, performing works of Xenakis, Antosca, and a premiere by Roger Reynolds. The National Gallery Ensemble participated in the 2012 Washington D.C. John Cage Centennial Festival, with performances at the East Wing, the NGA Auditorium, and at the Maison Francaise of the French Embassy. These included premieres of composers Christian Wolff, Beat Furrer, Robert Ashley, and George Lewis. http://www.johncage2012.com/
“As a soloist, she has appeared with the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, La Orquesta Sinfonica de la Serena (Chile), and the Malaysian National Symphony Orchestra. Solo performance recitals include those at the Phillips Collection, The Stone, and at The Corcoran Gallery of Art. She has commissioned works by Benjamin Broening, Ken Ueno, Dan Visconti, Jeffrey Mumford, Adam Silverman, Steve Antosca, Keith Fitch, and (upcoming) Douglas Cuomo. Dr. Bahn’s chamber music performances have included recitals and concerts in festivals such as the Costa Rican International Chamber Festival, the Sierra Summer Festival, the Grand Canyon Music Festival, the Garth Newel Music Series, and the Festival de Música de Cámara de San Miguel de Allende. In the spring of 2010, she was on tour with the Takacs Quartet, performing at Carnegie Hall, the Southbank Centre, Concertgebouw, and the Mariinsky Theater, among others. From 1992-1994 she toured extensively throughout Chile with the Bahn-Mahave-Browne piano trio as a recipient of national grants to teach and perform. In 2005, their piano trio was selected to perform for the president of Chile and the King of Indonesia, in Kuala Lumpuur.
“Dr. Bahn studied with Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School for her undergraduate degree. She completed her Master’s degree as the recipient of the Jane Bryant Fellowship Award under the tutelage of Paul Kantor. Her Doctorate in Music is from the Indiana University, where she completed her dissertation entitled, Virtuosity in Luciano Berio’s Sequenza VIII. At Indiana University, she was an Associate Instructor and studied with Miriam Fried and Paul Biss. Dr. Bahn’s early training in Chicago started with Lillian Schaber and she finished her high school years under the guidance of Roland and Almita Vamos.”
As any performer can tell you, excellence is always pursued, and it is the result of hours of practice. Musicianship improves with every performance, and, yet, one always reaches for that elusive, perfect performance. Once in a while, when all of the musicians are superb, all of the stars can line up in exactly the right order, and the audience will receive the benefits of a perfect performance, reflecting the joy of musicianship. That is precisely what happened at Friday’s performance. Everyone in the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra is an excellent musician, and the performance that this orchestra gives is always truly superb. Friday night it was exceptional.
The minute they begin to play, the joy of the music came through. The size of the Pro Musica changes with the dictates of the score, and Friday evening there were sixteen members of the orchestra. Therefore, practically every individual could be heard separately, as well as the blend of the entire ensemble. That clarity was manifest throughout the entire evening.
Everyone is familiar with Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, but some of you readers may be unfamiliar with Astor Piazzolla’s work. He was an Argentine composer, as previously stated, who once made a statement that the “tango was always for the ear rather than the feet.” Piazzolla has clearly become the master of the tango for the concert hall, rather than the dance floor. His composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger (he went to Paris in 1954 to study with her) encouraged him to concentrate on the tango after she heard one of his pieces. He developed a Nuevo tango style which departed substantially from its traditional sound, as he adapted it to classical music.
Stacy Lesartre, Concertmaster, led the ensemble Friday night, and everyone in the orchestra played as if they were a concertmaster, and I assure you they all sounded as if they could be a concertmaster. Stacy Lesartre and Margaret Soper Gutierrez, Principal Second violin, were excellent. It has been sometime since I have heard Vivaldi’s work, as well as Piazzolla’s, performed live, and it always surprises me at how difficult these two composer’s works are. Plainly, everyone on stage was working hard, and yet there was no awkwardness: it was all very graceful work. Lina Bahn performed these difficult works with great aplomb, and never did her intense musicianship and virtuosity cause a wrinkle on her forehead. I mentioned that only because as the program progressed, I finally put my finger on the one element of Friday evening’s performance: it was joy. The orchestra was having a wonderful time playing these pieces, and they were having a wonderful time playing with Lina Bahn. And, Dr. Bahn was having a wonderful time playing with the orchestra. That was clearly in evidence. It has been a long time since I have seen so many smiles in an orchestra. Stacy Lesartre, Margaret Soper Gutierrez, and Heidi Mausbach, Principal Cello, easily responded to the different tempi that Lina Bahn and Maestra Katsarelis wished to take. I might add that those tempi were some of the fastest that I have heard in the Vivaldi or the Piazzolla, but I hasten to point out that everyone in the orchestra followed them with complete accuracy. There were many times when members of the orchestra had a marvelous solo, such as Heidi Mausbach in Piazzolla’s Autumn.
Lina Bahn was the perfect choice as the guest violinist and soloist for this performance. She is daring and effortless in her choice of tempos, and her musicianship is strong and authentic. Music comes to her as the primary consideration, never flamboyant. Her tone is incredible, as is her sense of pitch, which never failed even in the most rapid portions of the Vivaldi. Lina Bahn is clearly a world-class artist, and her consummate artistry reflects and underscores that fact.
The evening was marked by its contrasts between Vivaldi and Piazzolla, and yet those contrasts, emphasized as they were by the pairings, were legitimate and wonderful to hear. Paul Erhard, bass and Erika Eckert, viola, were superb as was Lyn Loewi on the harpsichord continuo. I might add that “…Lyn Loewi earned a Doctor of Musical Arts from Stanford University, and a First Prize in Organ from the French National Conservatory. She has worked for many years as a choir director and organist, and has taught at Portland State University and at the University of Minnesota. She now works as a freelance musician in Denver, and is a regular volunteer organist at Saint John’s.”
This performance by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra with Lina Bahn was as exciting as it was masterful. The tempos, and the musicianship, were something to behold: nothing was out of place, or out of order. Everything exceeded expectations.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Andrew Litton, Chad Cognata, Colorado Symphony Chorus, Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Dona Nobis Pacem, Missa Mirabilis, Peter Cooper, Rachmaninoff, Ralph Vuaghn Williams, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Stephen Hough
Saturday evening, March 29, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, under the leadership of Maestro Andrew Litton, welcomed Stephen Hough to a concert at Boettcher Hall. It was a remarkable concert, for not only did Stephen Hough perform, but the CSO performed one of his compositions. I daresay that many people do not know that he is a composer as well. Therefore, I will quote briefly from a bio statement that appeared in the program notes:
“Stephen Hough is regarded as a renaissance man of his time. Over the course of his career he has distinguished himself as a true polymath, not only securing a reputation as a uniquely insightful concert pianist but also as a writer and composer. Hough is commended for his mastery of the instrument along with an individual and inquisitive mind which has earned him a multitude of prestigious awards and a long-standing international following. In 2001, Hough was the first classical performing artist to win a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded the 2008 Northwestern University’s Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano, won the Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist Award in 2010 and in January 2014 was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in the New Year’s Honors List. He has appeared with most of the major European and American orchestras and plays recitals regularly in major halls and concert series around the world. Hough resides in London and is a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music, and holds the International Chair of Piano Studies at his alma mater, the Royal Northern College in Manchester.”
Stephen Hough’s work that the CSO performed Saturday evening was his Missa Mirabilis which was premiered in its orchestral version by the Indianapolis Symphony April 6, 2012. This orchestral version was commissioned by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, while the original version for choir and organ was commissioned by the Westminster Cathedral, and that version was premiered in 2007.
This composition makes use of the five parts of the sung portion of the Ordinary of the Mass. (The Ordinary contains those texts which remain the same at all times. The Proper of the Mass contains items which are changeable according to the season of the church year.) Thus, Hough’s composition makes use of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.
The composition of this work has an interesting story connected to it, and I will quote as briefly as possible from the Chorus America website of March 21, 2012:
“Hough originally wrote Missa Mirabilis for the Westminster Chorus and after hearing the first performance, he desired to transform it into a symphonic work for a chorus and full orchestra. A Catholic, Hough said, ‘My Missa Mirabilis, as well as being a musical setting of the traditional Mass texts, explores some of the psychology behind them. The centerpiece of the work is the Creed – but what does believing mean? What if we don’t believe? Or if it’s all become jaded? Or if we fear our failing faith?’
“When asked why he used the term Mirabilis, Hough said, ‘Mirabilis means ‘miraculous’ and it is purely personal. I gathered a year’s-worth of sketches for the Mass together in September 2006 and wrote three of the movements in three days while visiting the Halle Orchestra. The following day, I had a serious car crash, overturning on the motorway at 80 mph; I stepped out of the untouched door of my completely mangled car with my Mass manuscript and body intact. I was conscious as I was somersaulting with screeching acrobatics on the highway, and one regret which went through my mind was that I would never get to hear this piece. Someone had other ideas.’
“Of the two remaining movements, I sketched the Agnus Dei in St. Mary’s Hospital a few days later, waiting four hours for a brain scan following the crash, and the Gloria later still while sitting in a practice room at the Hilbert Circle Theatre on a visit to play with the Indianapolis Symphony. I never did think at the time that I would orchestrate the piece and that it would receive its premiere in that same building,’ he added.”
In addition to the rather amazing events surrounding the piece, it is a breathtaking composition. Immediately noticeable was the orchestration of this piece. There is absolutely no question in my mind that Stephen Hough knows the orchestra and the inherent capabilities of each instrument as well. His orchestration is certainly as skillful as that of Ravel or Berlioz. Perhaps it is because my mind was prejudiced with his soon-to-be performance of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, but I could not help but hear some portions of the orchestration that reminded me very much of the sound that Rachmaninoff obtained in his four movement choral symphony, The Bells. The sound was full and lush, and it left me with the impression that none of it was left to chance. The Kyrie made marvelous use of the woodwind section, particularly oboe and bassoon (Peter Cooper and Chad Cognata were stunning, as usual), as well as the full horn section. In the Gloria, the full choir and brass combined again with woodwind section, and it was absolutely beautiful. There were several measures where two piccolos appeared from nowhere to produce an almost ethereal effect.
There is no question that Hough’s composition is a twentieth century work, for it used twentieth century harmonies. This was the first time I have heard this work, and I certainly have to hear it again. But the element of orchestration and expert choral writing is what left an indelible impression upon this first hearing. It was tremendous.
Following Hough’s composition, Missa Mirabilis, Huff joined the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Litton to perform Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Opus 43. This is such a famous piece that it needs no introduction, and, of course, everyone knows the eighteenth variation as “THE melody.”
This work is a theme with twenty-four variations. I would disagree strongly with the comment in the program notes that the work gets underway after a “brief introduction to set the stage.” It is not an introduction but the first variation which Rachmaninoff states before revealing the theme and Rachmaninoff states this as Variation I in the score. However, if one is familiar with Paganini’s 24 Caprices for violin, the opening is easily identifiable as the last Caprice.
The work is easily divided into three sections that resemble a fast-slow-fast structure of a concerto. Variations XI through Variations XVIII comprise the “slow movement.” Rachmaninoff also discovered as he was writing the variations, that the theme could evolve into the Dies Irae theme from the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. This first appears in Variation VII and the next three variations as well. While some state that this is a reference to the myth that Paganini sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his unbelievable talents on the violin, I think it points out a characteristic that both Rachmaninoff and Stephen Hough share: a remarkable ability to see in the score things that remain unseen by the eyes of others.
Rachmaninoff simply must be credited with the uncanny ability to discern, and articulate, movements and ideas in musical compositions that remained hidden from so many other artists. And, I must say, that after hearing Stephen Hough perform, it is my strong belief that he has the same ability. Rachmaninoff was a huge man, 6’5” tall, and his enormous hands could reach almost two octaves – from C to A. The kind of technical demands with which Rachmaninoff filled all of his piano compositions are difficulties that he could play without effort. I assure you, that Stephen Hough can do exactly the same thing. I was amazed at Hough’s posture at the piano, for it was very similar to Rachmaninoff’s. Both pianists simply sat at the piano and went to work. There was no flailing of arms up to the ceiling or behind one’s back. There was no stomping of feet on the floor. And there certainly was no gaze heavenward as if beseeching divine assistance. I do not know the span of Stephen Hough’s hands, but it brought back the recording that I have heard of Rachmaninoff playing this work. The depth of Stephen Hough’s artistry at the keyboard, and his very clear desire to delve into what the composer wanted and expose that to the audience, was startling. Hough never uses his prodigious technique purely for the sake of amazing the audience. His playing always reflects his artistry and the artistry of the composer without any superficiality at all. There are many young pianists today who could use Stephen Hough as an example.
After the intermission the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Colorado Symphony Chorus performed Ralph Vaughan Williams Dona Nobis Pacem. This work was written in 1936 at a time when the rise of fascism alarmed Vaughn Williams, and caused him to write this moving work protesting against the terror of war. Dona Nobis Pacem (Give Us Piece) takes its texts from four different sources: the Mass, the Bible, poet Walt Whitman, and the British pacifist, Quaker John Bright. It is written in six sections that are performed without pause: Agnus Dei, Beat! Beat! Drums!, Reconciliation, Dirge for Two Veterans, and Finale. Appearing with the chorus and the orchestra were soloists Sarah Fox, soprano, and Christopher Maltman, baritone.
Sarah Fox received her training at London University and the Royal College of Music. She has won many awards and performed with orchestras and opera companies throughout Europe and England. Christopher Maltman studied at the Royal Academy of Music and has appeared in concert throughout Europe and the United States.
The first movement, Agnus Dei, is quite slow, and opens with the soprano pleading for peace. The second movement, Beat! Beat! Drums!, is, as you might expect, almost violent featuring some superb writing for brass and percussion. In comparison, Reconciliation sounds almost like a lullaby. And, of course, the Dirge for Two Veterans is a very slow solemn march. The Finale creates a mood that is glorious and gives us a sense of hope.
I suspect, and I could be completely wrong, that when the Colorado Symphony Chorus is used, there may be some regulation that all of the chorus must be used, but I found myself wondering what Ralph Vaughn Williams work would sound like with the choir half that size. The reason for the speculation is one that I have commented on in the past regarding the use of choirs. It is simply that the larger the choir the more difficult it is to understand the words. I hasten to point out that that difficulty arose Saturday night only occasionally. Nonetheless, it would have been wonderful to understand the text throughout the performance. Sarah Fox and Christopher Maltman both had wonderful voices, but the diction problem reared its head again as these two fine artists sang. Nonetheless, one could easily discern their musicianship and her dedication to what they do.
It pleases me greatly to tell you readers that there was a larger audience present Saturday evening, however, the Boettcher Hall was still not full as it should have been. This was a performance that was satisfying on every level, and exposed a depth of artistry that was very satisfying. Maestro Litton has wrought an amazing change in the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and the soloists reflected that change in the joy and artistry of their performance.