Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Aaron Copland, André de Ridder, Basil Vendryes, Beethoven, Benjamin Britten, Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Jonny Greenwood, William Wolfram
Friday evening, February 28, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra under the direction of André de Ridder, presented an extremely varied program comprised of a suite of six pieces entitled There Will Be Blood taken from the movie score of the same name. Also on the program was one of the great piano concertos of the twentieth century, the rarely performed Piano Concerto Nr. 1, Opus 13 (1945 Revision), and Beethoven’s immortal Symphony Nr. 1 in C Major, Opus 21.
As I watched and listened to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra Friday evening, my impression of André de Ridder’s musicianship and conducting was excellent, however, before I discuss the music, I will introduce you to André de Ridder:
André de Ridder is in his fifth seasons as Principal Conductor of the UK-based Sinfonia ViVA, and his programmes with the orchestra are typically rich in innovation. His passion for the development of contemporary music has contributed to his position as one of today’s most fascinating and versatile conductors.
He has become especially known for his bold programming and blurring of traditions: last season he appeared at the Kölner Philharmonie and London’s Barbican Centre with electronica
duo Mouse on Mars and Musikfabrik, following their initial collaboration on Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW series. His regular presence at the Barbican saw him perform at their
Steve Reich festival 2011 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with British band These New Puritans, and, most recently, premiering works by Nico Muhly, Missy Mazzoli and Owen Pallett with Britten Sinfonia.
De Ridder performs opera at venues including English National Opera, Teatro Real, Theater Basel, Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and Salzburg Festival, conducting works by composers as
diverse as Henze, Janacek, Wolfgang Rihm and Mozart. This season, he undertakes an extensive project at Berlin’s Komische Oper, performing three Monteverdi operas reworked by
Elena Kats-Chernin. De Ridder conducted and orchestrated Damon Albarn’s music theatre pieces, Monkey: Journey to the West and Dr Dee: a recording of Dr Dee is released this season on EMI.
André de Ridder studied at the Music Academies of Vienna and London, under Leopold Hager and Sir Colin Davis. He was Young Conductor in Association with the Bournemouth Symphony
Orchestra and also held the position of Assistant Conductor at the Hallé Orchestra in 2005-2006.
Jonny Greenwood’s suite There Will Be Blood, as mentioned previously, is from the movie of the same name. The movie score was nominated for an Academy Award, but as the program notes stated it was withdrawn from recognition because it made use of works he had written for Radiohead as well as ideas from Krzysztof Penderecki and Johannes Brahms. Greenwood then decided to write an orchestral suite with the same title as the movie, and that was premiered by the Amsterdam Sinfonietta in 2012. As I listened to this work, I could not help but compare it to other movie scores that have become well known to concert audiences, for example, The Red Pony, by Aaron Copland. Greenwood’s suite is in a minimalist style, but it does not seem to have the same depth as other minimalist composers such as Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, or Phillip Glass. Indeed, there seemed to be something missing from the work as the orchestra proceeded through the composition, and I stress that the sense of loss was not caused by any lack of effort or musicianship in the orchestra. Nor did it seem to come from any inability on the part of Maestro de Ridder. It came from the music itself. While I am sure that this was an effective score as one watched the movie, it seemed easy to come to the conclusion while listening to the six parts of the suite, that this work would not stand on its own as does the aforementioned The Red Pony by Aaron Copland. To be sure, Greenwood employs some very interesting compositional techniques: the division into multiple sections of the strings which allows him to have very thick textures and wonderful sounding tone clusters. In the fifth movement of the suite, entitled Proven Lands, Greenwood asks the string players (all of them) to strum their instruments as if they were guitars. This produced a very interesting and redolent mood, and yet it somehow seemed incomplete. I am sure that if I had been watching the movie (which I have not seen) I would have been impressed with the score; however, as I stated above, I do not think that this piece of music can stand alone.
It was also easily noticeable that Maestro de Ridder used no baton as he conducted this work, but relied on hand movements alone. Every conductor has his style, and I am certainly not criticizing his decision to use his hands. However, the music just seemed to refuse his supreme effort in trying to pull any depth from it.
After the Greenwood work, William Wolfram joined the orchestra to perform Benjamin Britten’s only piano concerto.
I will quote from Wolfram’s website:
“American pianist William Wolfram was a silver medalist at both the William Kapell and the Naumburg International Piano Competitions, a bronze medalist at the prestigious Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow and finalist in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
“Wolfram has appeared with many of the greatest orchestras of the world and has developed a special reputation as the rare concerto soloist who is also equally versatile and adept as a recitalist, accompanist and chamber musician.
“His concerto debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony under the baton of Leonard Slatkin was the first in a long succession of appearances and career relationships with numerous American conductors and orchestras. He has also appeared with the San Francisco, Saint Louis, Indianapolis, Seattle and New Jersey symphonies, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra (Washington D.C.), the Baltimore Symphony, the Colorado Symphony, the Rochester Philharmonic, the Nashville Symphony, the Oregon Symphony, the Utah Symphony, the Edmonton Symphony, the Columbus Symphony, the Florida Orchestra, and the Grand Teton and San Luis Obispo Mozart festival orchestras, among many others. He enjoys regular and ongoing close associations with the Dallas Symphony, the Milwaukee Symphony, the San Diego Symphony and the Minnesota Orchestra in the United States.
“Internationally recognized conductors with whom he has worked include Andrew Litton, Jerzy Semkow, Mark Wigglesworth, Jeffrey Tate, Vladimir Spivakov, Gerard Schwarz, Carlos Miguel Prieto, Jeffrey Kahane, James Judd, Roberto Minczuk, Stefan Sanderling, JoAnn Falletta, James Paul, and Carlos Kalmar.
“A graduate of The Juilliard School, William Wolfram resides in New York City with his wife and two daughters.”
I strongly suspect that one of the reasons the Britten piano Concerto is not performed often is because of its difficulty. I spoke very briefly with William Wolfram about the concerto after his performance, and he corroborated the fact that in many ways it is one of the most difficult piano concertos. As the program notes state, Britten revised the concerto in 1945 by replacing the third movement which had originally been labeled Recitative and Aria with one entitled Impromptu. The opening movement is an incredibly demanding Toccata, which is not only the movements name, but also its style even though it is in a Sonata allegro form. Toccatas often employ a perpetual motion environment which gives the performer a chance to display his technical ability. There is no question that this is a bravura piece of music, and William Wolfram played it beautifully, clearly defining the two subjects: octaves over animated chords in the winds, and the second, a more lyrical theme from the strings. The second movement has a wonderful viola solo which allowed Basil Vendryes to remind us what an exceptional musician he is. The second movement is entitled Waltz, and it is interesting to note that in the Classical period of music, a minuet was often used for a slow movement. Realize that a minuet has a triple meter just as does a waltz, but it is apparent that Britten wanted something a little less staid than the traditional minuet. Like a minuet, the Waltz also has a contrasting trio section. The third movement, labeled Impromptu, has themes that come from music that Britten composed for a radio play about King Arthur in 1937, and, in the concerto, is the basis for a set of variations. The last movement, entitled March, is full of deceptive twists and turns in the melodic line as well as harmonic relationships. The result is that it sounds very much like something Prokofiev might have written, and yet, it is still clearly Benjamin Britten.
The difficulty of this work was absolutely astounding. William Wolfram’s performance of it was astounding as well. He is a fine pianist who deserves to be heard far more often than he is. He is a formidable technician whose ability allows him to use the full range of his musicianship and displaying what the composer asked for. In hearing him play, one is never conscious of an ostentatious rush for glory: the music always comes first, and what wonderful music it is. The only time I have heard this concerto played live prior to William Wolfram and the CSO performance, was in 1953 when I heard it performed by the Indianapolis Symphony. Unfortunately, I do not remember who the soloist was, and when I mentioned the performance to William Wolfram Friday evening, I said I thought perhaps it had been John Browning. Wolfram stated that he didn’t think Browning had ever performed the piece, but said that he thought it might have been Sviatislav Richter. The one thing I clearly remember about that performance in 1953, was that the audience gave the pianist a very long standing ovation. That is precisely what William Wolfram received, and deserved, Friday evening. His performance was breathtaking.
After the intermission, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Maestro de Ridder performed Beethoven’s Symphony Nr. 1 in C Major, Op. 21. This work needs no introduction. It is simply, and deservedly, one of the great works of symphonic literature. I suspect that the members of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra have played this work dozens of times, but Friday evening they approached it as if it was a brand-new work. This performance was so evenly excellent across the entire orchestra, that it is impossible to point to one particular section that could be called exceptional. It was one of the finest performances of this symphony that I have heard the CSO give. I might also add that, in the Beethoven and in the Britten, Maestro de Ridder’s conducting seemed to me to be much more confident. He used a baton for the Britten and the Beethoven, and seemed to be at greater ease than he was in the Greenwood work. The orchestra received a standing ovation for the Beethoven. It was an exciting performance full of wonderful dynamic contrast, phrases and entrances that were perfect and remarkable musicianship. The tempos were perfect, as well.
I wish there had been more people in the audience. This concert was an excellent and spectacular way to spend a Friday evening, but the audience was truly sparse. I sat there thinking that one of the local television stations has a Friday feature which they call “9 Things to do This Weekend.” I don’t recall ever seeing the Colorado Symphony listed as one of those nine things. Perhaps this television station might expand their concept of culture enough to include one of the best orchestras in the United States and one of the best guest artists. Is that a challenge? You bet it is.
This program will be repeated tonight, March 1st, and tomorrow, March 2nd. Go hear it.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Ewing, Alessandro Marcello, Amanad Balestrieri, Anna Marsh, Boulder Bach Festival, Daniel Hutchings, J. S. Bach, Kristin Olson, Marjorie Bunday, St. John's Episcopal Church, Zachary Carrettin
Friday evening, February 21, the Boulder Bach Festival traveled to St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, where they presented an outstanding concert of Bach (1685-1750), and the remarkable Venetian composer, Alessandro Marcello (1673-1747). It is not often that we get to hear three Bach cantatas on one program, so those in the audience received quite a treat.
For those of you who are not quite sure what a cantata is, it is a vocal and instrumental form that is particular to the Baroque period. It can contain several movements (and usually does) such as arias, recitatives, duets, and choruses which are based on religious texts. However, there are also secular cantatas, which were more popular in Italy. Bach’s cantatas were mostly of the sacred variety, cantata da chiesa, but he also composed secular cantatas known as cantata da camera. The cantatas performed at Friday’s concert were all church cantatas, or cantata da chiesa.
For those of you to whom Zachary Carrettin is new, I will include an abbreviated biographical quote from his website. He is the new Music Director of the Boulder Bach Festival.
“Zachary Carrettin is a gifted and impassioned musician whose accomplishments as a music director, conductor, violin soloist, and educator have earned him international recognition well beyond his years. He currently balances symphonic and choral conducting, teaching, and performing while serving as director of orchestras at Sam Houston State University, and music director of the Boulder Bach Festival.
“Carrettin made his conducting debut with the Royal Philharmonic of Kishinev, Moldavia, and soon thereafter conducted the Symphony Orchestra of the Theatre Vorpommern in Germany and the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic in the Czech Republic. He has conducted numerous soloists in projects ranging from baroque and classical-period instruments to contemporary instruments and repertory.
“Zachary Carrettin holds bachelor and master of music degrees in violin performance from Rice University Shepherd School of Music, and a master of music degree in conducting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He studied orchestral, choral, opera, and wind ensemble conducting in Bucharest, Romania, and pursued studies in the doctor of musical arts program at Rice University. For more information, visit http://www.zacharycarrettin.com.”
At the beginning of the program Friday evening, there was the usual tuning amongst the instrumental ensemble. There is nothing at all unusual about that. As the starting time of 7:30 PM arrived, Maestro Carrettin calmly walked “on stage” and began to tune his violin. He is an absolutely remarkable violinist, so I made the assumption that he was going to perform in the Marcello Concerto for Oboe. However, he soon began to play a solo work by J. S. Bach, which I think was a toccata for violin. It was not mentioned in the program, nor was it announced by anyone. It was quite a short piece, but it was absolutely beautifully done. The casual demeanor of Maestro Carrettin and the fact that there were a few other instrumentalists on stage, seemed to take the audience by surprise.
Following the short work, Zachary Carrettin certainly did join the Boulder Bach Players to perform Alessandro Marcello’s beautiful Concerto for Oboe in D minor. The oboe soloist was Kristin Olson.
Quoting from Ms. Olson’s bio statement:
“Kristin Olson performs regularly on both modern and historical instruments. As an early music specialist, she has played with such notable conductors as William Christie, Richard Egarr, Philipe Herreweghe, and Jordi Savall. Kristin’s interest in early music began during her undergraduate studies, but first she pursued a modern orchestra career, playing in Mexico with La Orquesta Sinfonica Sinaloa de las Artes for several seasons. She eventually attended the Juilliard School, graduating from their new Historical Performance program on baroque oboe. Kristin is now co-artistic director for several ensembles, including SacroProfano on the west coast, and Grand Harmonie on the east coast. As an entrepreneur, she has been featured on PBS and in Symphony Magazine for success with her reed-making business, Reed Lizard. Her business caters to all oboe and bassoon players, but stands out as one of the only places in the country to purchase historical oboe and bassoon reeds. Kristin holds degrees from the California Institute of the Arts, the University of Southern California, and the Juilliard School. Sometimes she is also seen performing on baritone saxophone. For more information, visit http://www.reedlizard.com or http://www.kristinoboe.com.”
Alessandro Marcello was not only a composer but was an accomplished painter, inventor, bibliophile, instrument collector, and violinist. Because he was a nobleman, he was also expected to serve in various government posts, and was on the Criminal Council of 40 in Venice. Because of his governmental positions, he did not publish a great deal of music; however, there is no question that he was a very serious musician of considerable capability. The Concerto for Oboe in D minor is without a doubt his most famous composition. It is in three movements, with the first and third quite lyrical, and, I might add, very different from his Venetian contemporary, Antonio Vivaldi. It is the second movement of this concerto that continues to capture the most attention. It is an introspective and deeply felt Adagio which exhibits true pathos. Bach certainly knew this piece, for he transcribed it for solo harpsichord.
Ms. Olson’s performance of this piece was absolutely beautiful. She has amazing breath control, and her ability on the Baroque oboe was something to behold. Her tone was lush and warm, and in the second movement, her ornamentation, which was historically correct, served to increase the movement’s remarkable sense of loss and despair. This was only the second time I have heard this concerto performed live, the first being in undergraduate school when it was performed by Professor Jerry Sirucek. This was an exquisite performance by everyone on stage.
Following Kristin Olson’s performance, the Boulder Bach Festival performed J.S. Bach’s Cantata Der Herr denkt an uns (The Lord thinks on us…), BWV 196. You readers must remember that BWV is the abbreviation for Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, the thematic catalogue of Bach’s works organized by Wolfgang Schmieder (1909-1990). The soloists in this cantata were soprano Amanda Balestrieri, Daniel Hutchings, tenor, and Adam Ewing, bass. This was very well done. As the excellent program notes point out, there is no mistaking this work for a late work of Bach’s, because the counterpoint and melodic imitation reminds one of Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707). The blend of the choir was absolutely marvelous, though, from time to time, their diction was not always clear. Amanda Balestrieri has an absolutely wonderful soprano voice and gave a pronounced air of cheerfulness in this cantata. However, like the choir, from time to time her diction was not as excellent as it has been in the past. Daniel Hutchings and Adam Ewing were beyond compare. Their vocal production allows them the ability to have excellent diction, and they are also possessed of an infinite variety of emotions.
Following this cantata, the Boulder Bach Chorus performed a motet by Bach, his well-known Komm, Jesu, komm, (Come, Jesus, come, my body is weary…). The motet was originally one of the most important forms of polyphonic music, but by Bach’s time, its a cappella style had fallen by the wayside and solo voices as well as instrumental accompaniment were used. The Baroque composers allowed themselves more variety of styles: alternation of singers and instruments, expressive vocal lines, solo voices, and certain echo effects, which made it quite difficult to distinguish between secular and sacred motets. The diction of the choir in this work, as well as that of the soloists, was considerably better than the opening cantata.
Following the intermission, Maestro Carrettin performed the Bach Cantata, BWV 150: Nach dir Herr, verlanget mich (For you, Lord, I am longing…). This work featured soloists Amanda Balestrieri, Marjorie Bunday, Daniel Hutchings, and Adam Ewing. Amanda Balestrieri sang a wonderful aria solo in this cantata, and her diction was well-nigh perfect in this work. Marjorie Bunday was exceptional as well.
The following cantata, Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (Out of the depths I cry, Lord, to you.) was superbly done by everyone on stage. I would also like to point out that another member of the Boulder Bach Festival Players, the bassoonist, Anna Marsh, was truly outstanding.
The following is from Ms. Marsh’s bio statement:
“Anna Marsh is originally from Tacoma, WA, and owns six bassoons from the Renaissance to the modern era. She also enjoys trying new restaurants, porcelain painting and exploring National Parks with her friends. She appears regularly with Tempesta di Mare, Opera Atelier, Tafelmusik, Arion Baroque Orchestra, Atlanta Baroque, Seattle Baroque, Opera Lafayette, Ensemble Caprice, Washington Bach Consort and Clarion Music Society. This season she will play concertos with New York State Baroque and the Boulder Bach Festival and will also appear at Versailles. She has been a featured concerto soloist with the Arion Baroque Orchestra in Montreal, The Dryden Ensemble in Princeton, Foundling Orchestra in Providence, Buxtehude Consort in Philadelphia, Americantiga Orchestra in Washington DC, the USC Early Music Ensemble and the Indiana University Baroque Orchestra… Anna is ABD [an informal expression denoting All But Dissertation] for her Doctorate at Indiana University and has recorded for Analekta, ATMA, CBC Radio, NPR, Centaur, Avie, Naxos, the Super Bowl and Musica Omnia Record Labels.”
This was a truly enjoyable concert, but I was occasionally surprised by the almost casual manner in which Maestro Zachary Carrettin (who, I stress, is a masterful musician in every way) took the stage. This resulted many times in the audience not being sure whether they should applaud his entrance, as is customary for the conductor. Indeed, after the intermission, he was tuning his violin with a few of the other musicians. The tuning went on for some time, when he obviously became concerned that the soloists had not come out to perform. He hurriedly left stage to seek out the performers, who joined him, finally, much to amusement of the audience. Perhaps, a very authoritative stride to the podium, as is de rigueur, would be more useful. But, please understand that this is hardly a permanent blot on the record of such an outstanding musician.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Ben Stevenson, Catherine Sailer, Christopher Moulton, Cinderella, Colorado Ballet, Dmitry Trubchanov, Francisco Estevez, Gil Boggs, Janie Parker, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Klara Houdet, Lorita Travaglia, Maria Mosina, Michelle Orman, Morgan Buchanan, Sandra Brown, Sergei Prokofiev, Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, Tracy Jones, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy
As I have often said, Artistic Director, Gil Boggs, of the Colorado Ballet, has assembled an organization that is truly superior in the world of dance. This was clearly demonstrated Saturday, February 16th, at their performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s marvelous ballet, Cinderella. The artistic staff of the Colorado Ballet, aside from Gil Boggs, is as follows: Sandra Brown, Ballet Mistress; Lorita Travaglia, Ballet Mistress; Maestro Adam Flatt, Music Director and Principal Conductor; Maestra Catherine Sailer, Associate Conductor; Ben Stevenson, Choreographer; and, Christina Giannelli, Lighting Designer. This season’s performance of Cinderella was staged by Janie Parker.
Sergei Prokofiev (1891- 1953) breathed new life into the symphony, the sonata, concerto, and most certainly, the ballet. Early on, Prokofiev tried to duplicate the success that his older countryman, Sergei Rachmaninoff, had had in the United States. Prokofiev himself was a brilliant pianist, but for some reason he was not met with the same reception. His first ballet that became an international success was Romeo and Juliet, but many of his other works were met with extreme hostility from the cultural ideologues of the Soviet Union. He was called before the Supreme Soviet and told that his music was bourgeoisie, and did not reflect proper Soviet culture. His works were banned from performance. Part of the reason for this was that his music was filled with harmonic deceptive resolutions, the use of modes simultaneously with major and minor, disjunct melodic lines with surprising twists and turns, and, at times, dissonances that were, as he labeled it, used in effort to “tease the geese.” In other words, annoy those who had banned his works.
Cinderella closely adheres to the tail written by Charles Perrault. All of you readers know the story, having heard it many times in your youth. Prokofiev, in his ballet, emphasized comedy, as well as love, compassion for others, and the yearning to do, and be, something different.
The two mean stepsisters are always played by males in this ballet in order to emphasize their ugliness and the obstreperous behavior. Saturday evening, Francisco Estevez and Christopher Moulton danced the two stepsisters to perfection. They were ill-dressed, rowdy malcontents who were abusive to their stepfather and stepsister. Dmitry Trubchanov danced the role of the Father, and Lorita Travaglia danced the role of the Stepmother. Sharon Wehner danced the role of Cinderella, and though I have seen this ballet several times, I have never seen anyone infuse the role of Cinderella with so much emotion, whether it be poignancy or absolute joy. It truly made me think that she and Choreographer Ben Stevenson were absolutely on the same wavelength, with every movement she made. Every movement she danced, she described Cinderella.
Act I is used to introduce the audience to all of the characters, and every dancer onstage accomplished that with aplomb. The fairy godmother appears toward the end of the act, and was danced by the remarkable Maria Mosina, whose graceful arms never stop moving when she dances.
The sets were through the courtesy of the Texas Ballet Company, and I immediately thought that the Colorado Ballet deserves their own sets. Yes, that would be enormously expensive, but this ballet company is of the ilk that they should have them. Cinderella’s coach, which thankfully did not look like an enlarged pumpkin, was a total work of art, and the horses in special costumes, were a stroke of visual genius. In addition, the transformation of the set from Cinderella’s living room to the woods where her Fairy Godmother transforms her into a Princess was absolutely magical.
From the very outset of Saturday evening’s performance I was struck by the Colorado Ballet Orchestra. I don’t think, and I say this without exaggeration, that I have ever heard them perform better. Understand, that Prokofiev’s music, because of his highly individual style, is difficult for an orchestra to play because it is sometimes impossible to anticipate where the melodic line will turn next. But the emotion expressed by the dancers was strongly supported and reflected by the orchestra.
Act II is comprised of The Ball. The Jester, danced Saturday evening by Kevin Gaël Thomas, introduces and welcomes the arriving guests. Their reaction to the ugly stepsisters was priceless. Upon the arrival of Cinderella, she and the Prince are smitten with the immortal love at first sight. Cinderella and the Prince, danced by Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, danced a wonderful and impassioned pas de deux which was one of the highlights of the evening’s performance. These two dancers were totally superb, as is everyone in this company. I have often said, and I mean that sincerely, that every single dancer who appears on stage for the Colorado Ballet could be a soloist. The depth of quality is astounding. When the clock struck twelve, Prokofiev allows the trombones to become powerful and threatening. I’m quite sure, judged by the sound, that Maestro Flatt told the brass to sneer and growl.
Act III concerns the prince’s search for the love of his life, who completely disappeared at the end of Act II. He searches far and wide. He and his servants ask all the cobblers who made the shoe that Cinderella dropped. While he is searching, Cinderella takes the other slipper from her apron pocket, and realizes that her memories of the ball and a handsome Prince were not a dream after all. The Prince arrives at the household, and the two stepsisters try on the shoe to no avail. Cinderella helps her stepmother to try it on, and while she is doing so, the other slipper falls from her apron. The Prince realizes that he has found his princess, and the two live happily ever after.
As I have said, I have seen Prokofiev’s Cinderella several times, but this is the first time where I was so taken with the shared artistry between the orchestra and the dancers. In the forest scene, where the Fairy Godmother transforms Cinderella, the Spring Fairy, danced by Klara Houdet; the Summer Fairy, danced by Tracy Jones; and the Autumn and Winter fairies, danced respectively by Morgan Buchanan and Shelby Dyer, were strongly supported by the excellent clarinet work of Michelle Orman in the orchestra. Small details, such as the transformation of the moon into a midnight clock, added to the magic of the performance. When the guests at the ball were given oranges as special treats, the orchestra seemed to emphasize the theme for the oranges, so that those familiar with Prokofiev’s opera, The Love for Three Oranges, was clearly recognizable.
It was a magical evening in every sense of the word. The adults in the audience sat transfixed, and the youngsters in the audience laughed delightedly with the antics of the stepsisters. Everyone gasped in almost terror and surprise when the clock began to strike twelve. Saturday evening’s performance was a complete artistic amalgamation where dancers, choreographer, and musicians worked together in a convincing artistic union.
There are more performances. You must see this ballet.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Brett Kostrzewski, Celctic Folksongs, Leslie Soich, Marjorie Bunday, Partsongs, St. Martin's Chamber Choir, Taylor Martin, Timothy J. Krueger
Friday evening, February 7, I attended the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir performance entitled, Celtic Echoes. The program consisted of British Folksongs and Partsongs, several of which would be easily recognized by most concertgoers. Among those were Greensleeves, Loch Lomond, and Irish Tune From County Derry.
It may be helpful for some of you readers to understand exactly what a partsong is. The term partsong refers to a homophonic style wherein the upper voice carries the melodic line. Think of a four-part choral composition with S (soprano), A (alto), T (tenor), and B (bass). In a partsong, the soprano usually has the melodic line, but it is also possible for the tenor or the altos to sing the melodic line; however, only one melodic line is sung at a time. The term partsong is the antonym of Madrigal wherein there is a polyphonic (contrapuntal) treatment of the melody, which is repeated at regular intervals in each voice of the choir. Remember your days of youth, sitting around a campfire, and singing Row, Row, Row, Your Boat. That is a simple example of counterpoint – the melodic line is repeated at specific intervals.
Maestro Timothy Krueger and the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir began the performance with the well-known English folk song Greensleeves. This particular arrangement was done by W. H. Anderson (1882- 1955), an Englishman who settled in Canada, and arranged a vast amount of folksongs from many countries. This particular arrangement was, in some ways, traditional, but had moments of twentieth century harmonies and deceptive resolutions of the harmony. It was beautiful, and the performance of the choir was stunning because of its dynamic range which immediately caught my attention, as well as their precision in pitch and phrase entrances and exits. The performance of this opening folksong set the tone for the entire performance of the evening. The text of this arrangement was a love poem: the program did not say who wrote the poem, if indeed, it is known. You must understand that the folk music of Renaissance England, as separated from the art music of the time, was performed by balladeers, minstrels, and other musicians who simply performed the music but were not skilled enough to compose it. There were large amounts of ballad texts which were instantly written (and occasionally printed) with the only direction given that they should be sung to the melody of such folksongs as Greensleeves. There has been some discussion about the first written appearance of this folksong because it appears in Thysius Lute Book (c. 1595) and the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book which contains music from 1562 to 1612. The only reason I bring this up is to demonstrate the popularity of this still-relevant piece of music, as the aforementioned Lute Book was a Dutch publication.
The choice of arrangement demonstrates the musicological skill of Dr. Timothy Krueger. Most of the music performed Friday evening has been collected by the twentieth century’s most valuable English musicians and collectors, among them: W. H. Anderson, Ralph Vaughn Williams, R. O. Morris, Gustav Holst, Peter Warlock, Granville Bantock, and Percy Grainger (Australian). Many of the folksongs that were performed Friday had several arrangers, but Krueger has the depth of knowledge to pick the best. He also possesses the musicianship to put together a choral organization in which, I am convinced, every member could be a soloist. I will also make the editorial comment that there should have been more young people in the audience. After all, the text of these folksongs concern topics that would be of interest to young people (love, the loss of love, lullabies, nature, etc.). And, unlike modern pop performances, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir has such remarkable diction, that every word could be understood, which seems to be an amazing concept in today’s pop music performances.
There is absolutely no question that the poignancy of Friday evening’s performance was created not only by the text of the songs, but by the artful interpretation by the choir. The folksong, The Turtle Dove, was the second work on the program, and the text concerns the statement of eternal love by a young man to his ‘bonny lass.’ This work was arranged by Ralph Vaughn Williams, and it was exquisite. Each member of the choir seemed to be emotionally involved with the text as well as the music, and the performance was spellbinding. That kind of involvement by each member of the choir is what sets this organization apart from many others. One could ascribe this to ‘detail’ work, but that sounds so sterile after hearing the performance. For example, one of the works performed Friday evening was the Irish Tune From County Derry, which many of you readers will know under the name of Danny Boy. The St. Martin’s Chamber Choir sang this arrangement by Percy Grainger without any text whatsoever, and it was just as moving as the rest of the program which had text. It was quite a surprise to hear this popular melody sung without words because it certainly highlighted the beauty of the melody as well as the outstanding ability of the choir. Though many have long ascribed this folksong as a statement of eternal love between a man and a woman, most are now in agreement that it represents the statement of a father’s loss of his son in battle.
Yarmouth Fair, arranged by Peter Warlock, was a cheerful description of a celebration. Blow Away The Morning Dew was the accounting of a winsome young lady who makes her amorous boyfriend appear as a fool in front of her father.
Though the program had a subtitle of British Folksongs and Partsongs, it was divided between the English, Welsh, Irish, and Scottish folksongs. One of the most beautiful of the evening was An Cronan Bais, which is Scots Gaelic (Erse is the form of Gaelic in Ireland, Cymric in Wales) for The Death Croon. Though it was arranged by Granville Bantock who died in 1946, many of the harmonies seemed more recent. I am quite sure that this is a very old folksong, undoubtedly from the pagan era of the Outer Hebrides. However, the text, as performed Friday evening, was decidedly from the Christian era. This is only given as a point of interest, but it helps to underscore the varied impact that this performance by the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir had on Friday evening’s audience.
Brett Kostrzewski, is the Conducting Intern for St. Martin’s, and I must say that in his conducting of some of the folksongs Friday evening, that he achieved the same results as Timothy Krueger. Miles Canaday, likewise, achieved the same results. Canaday is the conductor of the MSU Denver Women’s Chamber Choir, who will appear with St. Martin’s Chamber Choir on Saturday and Sunday’s performance.
Soloists at the Friday evening performance were Taylor Martin, tenor; Marjorie Bunday, contralto; and Leslie Remmert Soich, contralto. All three of these soloists have excellent vocal production which, in turn, allows them excellent diction. Every word could be understood, and their phrasing, as well as their musicality, was superb.
The St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, under the direction of Maestro Timothy Krueger, is one of the most outstanding choral organizations, not only in Colorado, but in the United States. I always marvel at how their performances can be so stunning and consistently fine. I spent many hours, which were required of piano majors at my undergraduate school, accompanying in voice studios, and every member of this choir exemplifies what the voice professors were telling their students. I am continually amazed that there are so many fine vocalists in Denver. There was a decent audience Friday evening, but to my way of thinking, Holy Cross Lutheran Church should have been standing room only for this performance.
This article also appears at: http://www.thescen3.org/
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: François Couperin, Frederick Chopin, Jan Lisiecki, Jeffrey Kahane, Maurice Ravel, Thomas Adès
Saturday evening, January 18, the Colorado Symphony, under the leadership of guest conductor Jeffrey Kahane, presented a concert entitled Return to Paris which was comprised of music by French composers, or in the case of Chopin, a composer who is generally associated with France because of his longtime residence there.
Maestro Kahane and the Colorado Symphony opened the program with a work by English composer Thomas Adès (b. 1971), Three Studies from François Couperin. Thomas Adès is quite well known in Europe, perhaps more than in the United States, even though his work, America: a Prophecy, was commissioned for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s Millennium Messages in November 1999, when he was only twenty-eight years old.
The following comes from his website:
“Born in London in 1971, Thomas Adès studied piano (Michael Blackmore and Paul Berkowitz), composition (Erika Fox and Robert Saxton) and percussion at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and read music at King’s College, Cambridge. In 1993, he made his recital début as pianist and composer at the Park Lane Group in London. Between 1993 and 1995, he was Composer in Association with the Hallé Orchestra, which resulted in These Premises Are Alarmed for the opening of the Bridgewater Hall in 1996. Asyla (1997) was a Feeney Trust commission for Sir Simon Rattle and the CBSO, who toured together, and repeated it at Symphony Hall in August 1998 in Rattle’s last concert as Music Director. Rattle subsequently programmed Asyla in his opening concert as Music Director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in September 2002.
“Among the festivals at which he has been the featured composer are Helsinki Musica Nova (1999), Salzburg Easter Festival (2004), Radio France’s Présences, Paris (2007), the Barbican’s ‘Traced Overhead’, London (2007), New Horizons Festival, St. Petersburg, Russia (2007), Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Festival (2009), Melbourne Festival (2010); in addition Carnegie Hall, New York, appointed him to the R and B Debs Composer Chair and featured him as composer, conductor and pianist throughout the 2007/8 season.”
Thomas Adès used three works by François Couperin, Les amusements, Les Tours de Passe-Passe, and L’âme en Piene, to build a suite (the works by Couperin are separate pieces and were not written as part of a single composition) based on, and using, Couperin’s skill at composition. Keep in mind that Couperin is the greatest French composer of the Baroque era (1600 to 1750), and his skill at composing for the keyboard was loved by J.S. Bach. Adès uses extensive counterpoint in his interpretation of these three Couperin works, but it is a counterpoint that is very close together rhythmically, with only one metric beat (for the most part) separating the entrance of each voice. The result of these close entrances sometimes made the orchestra sound as though they were simply not playing together, rather than playing a structure that Adès had purposely written. Indeed, at the very outset, it seemed as though Maestro Kahane miscued the orchestra, so that there was, in the first few measures, some confusion on the orchestra’s part. After the opening three or four measures, everyone found their footing, and proceeded to produce some very complex music that was absolutely wonderful. These three works by Adès demonstrate a masterful skill at orchestration, and certainly, Maestro Kahane pointed out to the audience the use of alto and bass flute, which have a very distinctive sound. It is wholly different in timbre, from the regular flute. These pieces were charming and absolutely wonderful to listen to. Adès divided the string sections orchestra into two separate groups, thus accentuating the counterpoint, and making it easier to perceive the twentieth century harmonies that appeared above and below Couperin’s melodic lines. Thomas Adès is a very skillful composer, and his use of these twentieth century harmonies, and his closely adjacent counterpoint, were well conceived and combined with Couperin’s elegance.
Following the Three Studies from Couperin, pianist Jan Lisiecki joined the Colorado Symphony for the performance of the Piano Concerto Nr. 1 in E minor, Opus 11, by Frederic Chopin. Jan Lisiecki is eighteen years of age. Before I go any further, please read his biography which I have taken from the Deutsche Grammophon website:
“Recognized for his poetic and mature playing, Lisiecki has been awarded many prestigious awards. In 2013, he received the Leonard Bernstein Award of the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, in 2011, Jeune Soliste des Radios Francophones, and in 2010, Révélations Radio-Canada Musique. In 2012 he was named UNICEF Ambassador to Canada after being a National Youth Representative since 2008. 2013 performance highlights include Lisiecki’s debut with Claudio Abbado and Orchestra Mozart, his BBC Proms debut with Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia at Royal Albert Hall in London, and his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the Bravo Vail Festival. Jan’s official subscription debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra is scheduled for April 2014 where he will be performing three different Mozart concertos in one week. The 2013/14 season includes his debut with Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala in Milano under Daniel Harding, return engagements to Orchestre de Paris, debuts with the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich and NHK Symphony in Tokyo, recital debuts at Santa Cecilia in Rome, in San Francisco, as well as his Wigmore Hall debut in London. Since the 2012/13 season Jan is a member of Konzerthaus Dortmund’s series ‘Junge Wilde’.
“Highlights of past seasons included Lisiecki’s New York Philharmonic subscription debut under David Zinman, the season opening concert of Orchestre de Paris under Paavo Järvi, and his debut with the BBC Symphony under Jiří Bělohlávek. Lisiecki has played at Aver Fisher Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Barbican, Salle Pleyel, Tonhalle Zurich, Konzerthaus Vienna, and Suntory Hall. He has substituted for Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire, and has shared the stage with Yo-Yo Ma, Pinchas Zukerman, and Emanuel Ax. He has performed in Armenia, Belgium, Brazil, China, England, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Italy, Japan, Korea, Poland, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, the USA, and throughout Canada. Worldwide recital debuts included Berlin, Brussels, Chicago, Frankfurt, Gstaad, Hamburg, Lisbon, Nagoya, Osaka, Seattle, Tokyo, Vienna, and Zurich. Since summer 2011 Jan has appeared frequently at various festivals including Verbier, Radio France, La Roque d’Anthéron and Chopin and his Europe.
“Upon the school board’s recommendation Jan was accelerated four grades and graduated from high school in January 2011. Since September 2011 he has been studying for a Bachelor of Music at the Glenn Gould School of Music in Toronto, Canada.”
I have heard many prodigies in my day perform with important orchestras such as the Colorado Symphony. All of them deserve to be called prodigies, or they would not be appearing with such prestigious ensembles. All of them clearly demonstrated they were on a career path that would eventually lead them to a position of artistic prominence. But, you must understand that Jan Lisiecki is already there. At the age of eighteen.
I was anticipating a very pleasing performance of the Chopin Concerto in E minor, but I was not prepared for the masterful, in-depth, poetic, and sublime performance that Lisiecki gave. The Chopin is a difficult piece, so I did anticipate a good set of fingers from the pianist. I was not prepared for the thought and understanding of the music that Lisiecki produced. The kind of “depth of thought” that I am referring to is what a musician eventually learns during his or her career: some musicians learn it more quickly than others, but, to have learned it at the age of eighteen is almost miraculous. He taught the audience the music, and the way it impacted him, rather than his ability to get around the keyboard – which he certainly can do. You readers must understand that there is so much more to being a thorough musician than just learning to play the instrument technically. One must have knowledge of music history and the performance practice of that period, the particular work’s impact on the composer’s own contemporaries, how the composer wrote for the instrument, and the ability to communicate the composer’s intentions to the audience.
Jan Lisiecki seems to have accomplished all of this in the span of eighteen years. Without exaggeration, it was easy for me to imagine that I was listening to John Browning or Byron Janis or Claudio Arrau perform this concerto. It was that good and it was that artistic. His playing was full of sureness, maturity, and a great deal of mental calmness and authority. His memory was unbelievably solid, as was the knowledge of what he wanted to do with this particular work. His musicianship was better than the young Van Cliburn. My only regret was the fact that there should have been a larger audience, and there should have been more young people in the audience. Young musicians need to hear another young pianist in order to show them what is possible, and what they can do if they work. Jan Lisiecki received a standing ovation, and played the Étude in C minor, Op. 10, Nr. 12 (known as the Revolutionary Étude) for an encore. It was a wonderful and breathtaking performance in every respect.
After the intermission, the Colorado Symphony performed Ravel’s own transcription of his piano work, Le Tombeau de Couperin. In his transcription, as the program notes pointed out, Ravel uses only four of the six movements from his original work to set for chamber orchestra. The Colorado Symphony’s performance was magnificent, and Peter Cooper’s performance on the oboe was delightful. The entire work was infused with an aura of relaxation and sunny enjoyment.
The CSO closed the program with another Ravel work, La Valse. This work was conceived as an orchestral work, but rewritten by Ravel for two pianos. Again, the woodwind section proved its superiority, and I include the entire woodwind section. This is a difficult piece, and it has the reputation of an orchestral showpiece. It is showpiece, but it is also a remarkable piece of music, and it has almost achieved the level of fame as Ravel’s Bolero. It was full of exuberance and excitement, and every single instrument in the orchestra could be heard. It is that kind of clarity that makes this orchestra so unique.