Opus Colorado

The Pacifica Quartet: Excellence and Virtuosity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the last stanza:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Colorado Ballet: Enthusiasm, Joy and Artistry

Colorado Ballet opened its season this Saturday, August 22, with its usual performance entitled An Evening Under The Stars at the Arvada Center. It is always an exciting performance because it is so obvious that the dancers have been looking forward to the new season, and their enthusiasm for their art is supremely in evidence. There seems to be no question that they missed dancing in front of a Denver audience during the summer break. The performance at the Arvada Center is always a preview usually comprised of several short works and perhaps a movement or two from larger ballets.

The Saturday performance opened with a work entitled Pirates of the Caribbean which was choreographed by Colorado Ballet’s own Ballet Mistress, Sandra Brown. The choreography in this work was absolutely superb, and it seemed very difficult because of the energy required to perform it. It was a pas de deux which was danced by Asuka Sasaki and Francisco Estevez. It was fast-paced, and the rhythms were very difficult, but Sasaki and Estevez certainly used it to demonstrate their incredible dancing ability. It may be my enthusiasm for the opening season, but it seemed that everyone in the Colorado Ballet, no matter whether they were Principles, Soloists, or members of the Corps, just keep getting better and better. And believe me, by making that comment, I do not mean to say that they needed the improvement. Artistic Director Gil Boggs has wrought so many changes in this organization since he has been in his present position that it is astounding, and one of his accomplishments can certainly be codified as inspiring the already excellent dancers to new heights. He has made sure that the dancers hired are of the ilk that constantly work on self-improvement, and it is astounding to me to have such a fine ballet company in Colorado.

One of the performances Saturday evening that literally took my breath away was the pas de deux from La Sylphide which will be the official season opener of the Colorado Ballet at the Ellie Caulkins Theater from October 2 to October 11. The pas de deux was danced by Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov, and again, the choreography, which was done by August Bournonville was remarkably difficult. It required that Maria Mosina dance using a step known as the bourée. This is where the dancer is on her toes and takes a “stuttering” step across the stage. To me, this has always been one of the most difficult steps that a solo dancer can do because it is incredibly rapid. In this instance, Mosina had to make use of this step for a great length of time, and I was totally convinced that if the choreographer had asked her, she could dance that step for at least six hours without a break. Mosina and Tyukov danced incredibly well together, and they are such artists, and possessed of such great skill, that their grace as a duo is absolutely enthralling.

Another performance Saturday evening that must be mentioned was an excerpt from the ballet Don Quixote. The music is by Ludwig Minkus, and the choreography was composed by Marius Petipa. There was a pas de deux which was danced by the ever graceful Sharon Wehner, and a new face in Colorado Ballet, Yosvani Ramos. In addition to Wehner and Ramos, Shelby Dyer and Asuka Sasaki danced the roles of flower girls. All four of these individuals are absolutely superb artists, and Yosvani Ramos will certainly be an exciting addition to Colorado Ballet. His agility and strength were something to behold, and even though he is new to the organization, it was obvious that Sharon Wehner felt extremely comfortable because she was able to rely on his ability and artistry as a partner. They made incredible partners on the stage. And, of course, Shelby Dyer and Asuka Sasaki were beautiful to watch.

Before the excerpt from Don Quixote, there was a three-part “suite” entitled Piazzolla, after the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). It was Piazzolla who helped to establish the tango as a major artistic dance in the 20th century. This marvelous work was choreographed by another of Colorado Ballet’s marvelous Ballet Mistresses, Lorita Travaglia. There were three sections to this sweet: Friendship, Love, and Passion. The dancers in this suite were Emily Speed and Kevin Gaël Thomas, Morgan Buchanan and Francisco Estevez, and another new face, Mackenzie Dessens and Kevin Wilson, and Sean Omandam was linked with Sarah Tryon who is yet another new face. I might add that Francisco Estevez has been elevated to the rank of Soloist. In this performance of the first portion of the three-part Suite, these “new faces” clearly demonstrated why Gil Boggs added them to the company. They are remarkable dancers, and another factor that is most important, at least to my observation, these new dancers fit so well in the company because they easily demonstrated their artistry. Tracy Jones and Kevin Hale danced together in Love and Dana Benton and Christopher Moulton were paired in the third part of the suite, Passion. The choreography by Lorita Travaglia seemed to me to be incredibly difficult, however, keep in mind that she is closely connected with all the dancers in the company because she is a Ballet Mistress. Therefore, she knows their abilities and the abilities of ballet artists in general. This knowledge, and her closeness with the dancers on stage allowed her to create an incredibly appealing dance suite. In addition, it was clear that those who danced Piazzolla were reveling in its inherent artistic choreography.

In this article, I have mentioned the word “artistry” several times. That is only easy to do when those involved possess so much of it as evidenced by their performances. Another example of excellent choreography comes, again, from within the organization, and that was demonstrated Saturday evening by the work entitled Lost in Dreamland, with choreography by Kevin Gaël Thomas. The music by William Hill seemed to be a slow tango which was complicated and distorted by the self-same slowness of the tempo. It was danced by Dana Benton and Kevin Gaël Thomas and it was absolutely thrilling to watch. The costumes were done by Colorado Ballet’s own Shirin Lankarani. This was a very forceful piece because of its difficult choreography. It left me wondering how dancers can memorize the incredibly complicated movements that they must complete. Musicians have notes in front of them that they can rely upon and which they learn. They play – or sing – those notes on their instrument. But those in ballet, while they have charts sketching out the choreography, must then translate the charts into movements in the air. That has always seemed immensely difficult to me. Benton and Thomas are enormously skilled artists, and they are breathtaking when they dance together.

The last work on the program was premiered by the Colorado Ballet on February 22, 2013. The music was by Poul Ruders who is a Danish composer (born in 1949) who wrote a concerto for several instruments, so that one can almost sectional-ize his Concerto in Pieces by the instruments that are playing in each section. The choreography was done by Val Caniparoli. I have written about this ballet in the past, and I stated that not only was the rhythm incredibly complicated, but the tempo seemed very fast. Two of the dancers that appeared Saturday night, Asuka Sasaki and Domenico Luciano, have danced this before. New to me in this ballet on Saturday were Morgan Buchanan, Luis Valdes, Shelby Dyer, and Kevin Hale. It requires great ability from the dancers, and I was left wondering who recorded the music by Ruders. The choreography by Caniparoli was specifically done for the Colorado Ballet, so I don’t know if the Colorado Ballet Orchestra recorded the music for the Saturday performance or not, but it was exceedingly well done.

All of the use of the word “artistry” in the above paragraphs lead to one conclusion: the Colorado Ballet – and by that, I mean the entire organization – is an exceptional congregation of artists and staff. The enthusiasm and the dedication displayed in this amalgam of sections from ballets at Saturday’s preview concert simply made one look forward to their coming season with excitement. To you readers who have never attended the Colorado Ballet, I promise you that my use of the word “artistry” was not flippant or used in exaggeration. To those of you who have attended at least one of their performances, you know that I do not aggrandize the standing of this organization.

Zikr Dance Ensemble: Art abounds with mysticism

Sunday afternoon I attended Invocation, the performance of the Zikr Dance Ensemble led by David Taylor. It was entitled Invocation because of its repertoire which depict religious thought and prayers. The program was comprised of seven short dances representing sacred ritual, mystical experience, and the impact of these rituals on the conscious mind.

The first work on the program, a World Premiere, was entitled The Lady of the Lake, and depicts a Knight (the Seeker) who is seeking the sword, Excalibur, which, after King Arthur’s death, was thrown into a lake by Sir Bedivere. The Lady of the Lake helps the seeker attain the first degree of spiritual initiation through the gift of Excalibur.

The story becomes a little complex at this point. Realize (and here I refer to the program notes) that the Zikr in the title of the Zikr Dance Ensemble is an Arabic word meaning “remembrance” of God. This entire dance performance seems to have been inspired by mysticism, and particularly, the mysticism of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1870-1949). He was a mystic who traveled the world in order to be enlightened, and eventually combined aspects of religious thought from the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Catholicism, and Christian mysticism. He ascribed his combinations to several different legends, and even developed physical exercises to help the students develop what he called “presence of being.” Though Gurdjieff was not a dancer, these exercises have provided the basis for choreography, and two of the works on Sunday’s program make use of this choreography.

Though the choreography in the Lady of the Lake was created by David Taylor, the Zikr Dance Ensemble’s version of this ancient story becomes a vision and a metaphor for the seven degrees of spiritual initiation as The Seeker is on a quest to complete the First of the Seven Degrees. The Seeker was danced by Greg Gonzales, and the Lady of the Lake was danced by Tracy Jones. All of you readers will certainly recognize the name of Greg Gonzales as he is a well-known dancer and was Choreographer in Residence for the Colorado Ballet. Tracy Jones arrived in the United States for the 2012-13 season after dancing extensively throughout Europe.

I was immediately struck by the set design which was created by Corey Gilstrap of Imagined Creations. Greg Gonzales was awakened on a bed of rocks, while in the center of the stage mist and smoke created the impression that the body of the dancers were underwater. The dancing was superb in this opening work, and I found myself wishing that it had not been so short. The music that Taylor used for this sequence was Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor, Opus 27, Nr. 1, and Debussy’s Prelude, Nr. 10 from Book One, known as the Engulfed Cathedral. It was an excellent choice of music, and I must say that the dancers seem to thrive on it. To my way of thinking this was the best program of the entire concert. At the end of the work, the Lady of the Lake displays to The Seeker the Holy Grail which represents the seventh and final degree of the consciousness of Christ in the mystical depiction of the legend. I might add, that the Grail was a beautiful illuminated sculpture done by Dorothy Tanner and Marc Billard.

The third work on the program was entitled Psalm #1, and again David Taylor relies on another Chopin nocturne in C sharp minor, this one is the Nocturne in C sharp minor, Opus Posthumous. Dana Benton and Francisco Estevez danced this work Sunday. They were absolutely excellent as they always are. The backdrop was a slide of a Cathedral which lent a surprising solemnity to this dance. As many of you will recall, the opening line of this Psalm is: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked…”

This seems the proper opportunity to quote directly from the Zikr Dance Ensembles website:

“The Zikr Dance Ensemble offers a spectrum of works that include transcendent dance rituals from many different ancient world cultures throughout history along with original and contemporary dance/theatre realizations. The company’s purpose is to offer performance experiences of spiritual atonement for both participants and audiences alike, which are both theatrically engaging and educational and that also connect to numerous organizations dedicated to both promoting spiritual tolerance and multi-cultural understanding for the entire community.”

Sunday’s program certainly fell into those guidelines. The fifth work on Sunday was entitled Cathedral of Light. Again, the choreography was done by David Taylor and the music was by Rick Wakeman, a keyboard player who performed with Black Sabbath, the Brotherhood of Man, and Edison Lighthouse. Projected on the back of the stage was the outline of a Cathedral which crumbles at the end. Peter Strand, Bryce Lee, Gregory Gonzales, Brandon Coleman, Alan Gonzales, Kurtis Irwin, and Connor Horak were the dancers in this work which was inspired by the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres. The dancing was truly excellent, but I was beginning to wonder if the idea expressed in the above paragraph was really being fulfilled by these dancers and the chosen music. I began to wonder how such a difficult art as dance can be used for the “spiritual atonement of the participants and the audiences.” Certainly, most ballets and dances relate some kind of narrative or demonstrate an artistic gift possessed by those involved, but I am not sure that it offers spiritual atonement.

The sixth work on the program was entitled Zikr, Ho Yah, The Four Prophets. The music was written by George Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartman. De Hartman was a composer from Russia who became a pupil and follower of Gurdjieff’s. Even de Hartman’s wife, Olga, became Gurdjieff’s personal secretary for several years. Thomas de Hartman wrote the music for George Gurdjieff’s exercises and movements which were used at Gurdjieff’s Paris Institute For the Harmonious Development of Man. This work is a zikr circle chant, and it is an authentic reconstruction of a Sufi Zikr ceremony. Connor Horak and Greg Gonzales danced Whirling Dervishes who, in their medieval ceremonies, would spin in divine trance to induce a state of ecstasy.

The final work on Sunday’s program, and the second World Premiere, was Sadhu. Quoting the program notes: “A sadhu is a religious ascetic or holy person who has renounced the material world to devote themselves to spiritual practice. A sadhu wanders from place to place and owns nothing.” Dana Benton danced the title role to the traditional Tibetan Buddhist Monk chants, the music of Deva Premal, and the music of Philip Glass. German vocalist, Deva Premal, is a classically trained singer who concentrates on New Age meditative chants, concentrating on Buddhist and Sanskrit mantras. She is known throughout Europe. The choreography for this work was done by David Taylor. This work offered a climactic finish to the entire concert.

I must say that this was a unique experience for me. And, it was also the first time that I have seen the Zikr Dance Ensemble perform. There were members of this group that I have seen perform many times with the Colorado Ballet, and it was like seeing old friends on stage. There is no question that David Taylor has put together a unique group of dancers who fulfill a unique role. While the main thrust and philosophy of this concert was unexpected, there certainly was some distinctive dancing and choreography. The originality, alone, deserves a larger audience than was in attendance Sunday afternoon.

St. Martin’s Chamber Choir: Inherent artistry from all concerned

Friday evening, May 29, I attended the concert entitled, Byrd 4, given by the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir conducted by Maestro Timothy Krueger. Once again, I was struck by Krueger’s ability to pick compositions that fit so well together on a program. Friday evening there were four works: two short compositions by Tim Sarsany and Donna Wickham (a choir member), and two large compositions, one by John White, and the other by the Renaissance composer, William Byrd.

The first work on the program was Salve mater by Tim Sarsany (b. 1967). Before I continue, I will give you readers a short bio of Tim Sarsany that I have taken from the web:

“Dr. Timothy Sarsany is in his fourteenth year with CGMC [Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus]. He is serving his second year as Artistic Director, following twelve years as Assistant Director. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting from The Ohio State University, as well a Master of Music degree in choral conducting and a Bachelor of Music degree in music composition. He served on the faculty at The Ohio State University Marion Campus for seven years, where he taught chorus and voice. As a doctoral student in conducting, Tim was the conductor of the University Chorus and taught undergraduate conducting, as well as serving as assistant conductors of the Chorale and Men’s Glee Club. Tim is also an accomplished composer and arranger, and continues to receive commissions from high school, collegiate, professional groups and other GALA choruses nationwide. His sixth published piece “Pater Noster”, an a cappella setting of the Lord’s Prayer in Latin, was released this past year by Roger Dean Publishing. As a singer, Tim is called on frequently as a tenor and countertenor soloist and has performed with the Westerville Civic, Ashland and Springfield Symphonies.”

Sarsany’s Salve mater is a motet with the mot in the tenor of the choir at the opening. The motet is unquestionably one of the most important forms of early polyphony, and to have a 21st century motet begin the program Friday evening was quite appropriate since the final piece by William Byrd is well-nigh the perfect example of Renaissance polyphony. The early motets had themes of borrowed material, or mots, taken from the florid sections of Gregorian chant. These sections, or themes, were given to one voice of the choir, while the other voices were freely composed, most often in counterpoint. Thus, members of the congregation or any audience could recognize the composition. For example, J. S. Bach’s Cantata, Wachet auf, opens with a motet, and uses Martin Luther’s hymn as its mot (one can easily see where the word motet comes from, as the mot plus the counterpoint became known as the motet).

The Sarsany work was remarkably well performed Friday evening from several standpoints. When the choir entered after the initial pronouncement of the theme in the tenors, I was taken with the blend of the choir. Not only is this due to the skill of the composer, but keep in mind that the conductor of a choir has to place the members in such an order that the voices produce a sound which is “total,” rather than hearing one side of the choir as the tenors, the other side of the choir as the bass, etc. Choral conductors of Maestro Krueger’s and James Howe’s ilk have very discriminating ears so that all the voices come from one particular point in the choir. As I have said before about St. Martin’s Choir, they are all carefully chosen as is demonstrated by the remarkable sense of pitch. I assure you that the blend was so perfect that if one person was singing off pitch it would be instantly noticeable. This was a beautiful performance from another standpoint: the obvious devotion and enthusiasm of the choir for what they were singing. That ethereal fervor makes a world of difference in the sound that they produce, and sets them into the world of true musicians. That makes it possible for them to emphasize the major second dissonances that resolved into major or minor thirds. The Conducting Intern, James Howe, who took the baton for this work, created a wonderful sound.

There followed the work by John White, The Canonical Hours. Maestro Krueger described this work in the program notes extremely well emphasizing the use of Renaissance polyphony combined with modern harmonies. This work was specifically composed for St. Martin’s Chamber Choir and premiered by them in 2005. It is a very striking piece with eight sections, all of which share the same forward motion irrespective of their tempo. The piece just keeps moving. For example, the seventh section, Matchless creator of light, was incredibly serene, and yet, it had a 6/8 meter which gave it the feeling of a modern cantilena. Again, this is a work which fit so well with the rest of the program, and with the mass by William Byrd which was the concert’s centerpiece, even though it was last on the program. How could that be, you may ask? The texts which John White used in his composition were all from Medieval authors: St. Ambrose (c. 342–397), St. Gregory (c. 540–604), and Hermannus Contractus (1013-1054). When composers such as John White, Tim Sarsany, Donna Wickham, and William Byrd choose texts, they are, of course, bound by the age in which they lived. It certainly is not unusual for modern composers to use ancient texts; however, if all the works on a given program use texts from the same era, it does make a difference in the overall frame of mind.

Following the intermission, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir performed a short work, Veni Redemptor genitum. In this composition, Donna Wickham used a text from St. Ambrose (340-397). In case some of you readers are unfamiliar with Donna Wickham, I will quote from her bio statement that appears on the DU website:

“Donna Wickham holds a BM in vocal performance and an MM in conducting from the University of Denver. She is the head of the Vocal Jazz program at the Lamont School of Music and teaches music history courses for Colorado Community Colleges Online. Her diverse professional activities include work as a jazz composer, arranger and performer, conductor, keyboardist and electric bass player in genres that range from early music to rock, jazz and avant-garde. Donna’s performance credits include work with the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, The Playground, Colorado Music Festival, Santa Fe New Music, the Denver Concert Band and the Colorado Art Rock Society. She recently released two albums over the course of one month. Her classical quartet named Firesign released an album featuring the world premiere recording of Terry Schlenker’s Mass for Four Voices along with William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices. She followed that with a jazz album featuring her own compositions, entitled Myth and Memory.”

I do not know what translation from the Latin she used, but to me, it seemed exceptional because of the way the English translation rhymed. I don’t know if it was a conscious effort, but when the rhyme at the end of every second line appeared, there was also a corresponding release of tension through the harmony in the music. This was a beautiful piece of music that was distinguished from the other three works on the program by a distinct aura of calmness. Clearly a 21st century composition, the dissonances created by the harmony were not extreme, and, therefore, created a great sense of repose. I sincerely hope that it is programmed again by St. Martin’s Chamber Choir. James Howe, once again, conducted to perfection. He is a fine conductor who communicates very well with the choir.

The final work on the program was the Mass For Four Voices by the English composer, William Byrd (1543-1623). Maestro Krueger, in his pre-concert talk, expressed the belief that this was the finest example of Renaissance settings of the Mass. Clearly, he is absolutely correct. This particular work was written between 1592 and 1593 and, as Maestro Krueger again pointed out, during this time period, it was quite dangerous for Catholics to perform any music of the Mass, and certainly the Mass itself because Catholicism was forbidden in Elizabethan England. Catholics were constantly referred to as “rescuants,” and conducted their religion in the strictest secrecy. It is, however, worthy of note that Byrd was granted special permission by Queen Elizabeth I to print his music in 1575 in spite of his intense commitment to Catholicism.

Byrd’s Mass For Four Voices was unquestionably written for liturgical use by Byrd’s fellow Catholics. It is exuberant and florid, and the writing is largely syllabic, which lends itself well to the clear imitative counterpoint. It contains a remarkable climax in the “dona nobis pacem” (grant us Thy peace), which seems as an ill-disguised plea on behalf of his fellow Catholics.

In their performance of this piece, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir was absolutely brilliant. They were full of emotion, and their blend of voices was again brilliant as well. For the performance of this work, Maestro Krueger had rearranged the positioning of the voices in the choir due to his sensitive ear discerning the difference between Byrd and the opening work by Sarsany. It has been a long time since I have heard this work performed live – perhaps 50 years, and I was awestruck by how the harmonies and the counterpoint appear to be virtually timeless. I attribute a great deal of that to the sensitivity of Timothy Krueger and the singers in the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir.

I applaud the fact that after every performance the choir congregates near the exit of whatever building they perform in, so that the audience can converse with them and express their reaction to the performance. I am continually amazed that these remarkable musicians are always sincerely concerned with how they performed. It is always easy to assure them that they were outstanding.

Virtuosity, clarity, vivacity, and intimacy: Swensen and the CSO perform Bach

The Colorado Symphony Orchestra provided the concert audience here in Denver a truly unique opportunity Friday night, May 15. It was the chance to hear all six of J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. I might add that this opportunity also applied to all of the professional musicians in the state of Colorado. In all of my many years, I have never heard of a performance of all six of these magnificent pieces. This opportunity has to be extremely rare.

The performance was led by Maestro Joseph Swensen who is a world renowned conductor and violinist. I will quote very briefly from the bio statement on his personal website:

“Joseph Swensen currently holds the posts of Conductor Emeritus of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Professor of Music (violin) at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and Founder/Director of Habitat4Music. Swensen was Principal Guest Conductor & Artistic Adviser of the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris from 2009-2012. He was Principal Conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra from 1996-2005, and has also held positions at the Malmö Opera (2008-2011), Lahti Symphony, and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Swensen is a busy guest-conductor throughout the world (from Europe, to the USA, Japan and Australia), enjoying long-established relationships with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse (with whom Swensen recently completed a Mahler cycle, spanning ten years), London Mozart Players, Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto Casa da Música and Orchestre National de Bordeaux.

“Joseph Swensen and Victoria Eisen are co-founders and co-directors of Habitat4Music. Habitat4Music connects highly qualified, passionate young American-trained classical musicians with children living in challenged areas across the world. Their goal is to use the power of long-term, committed, participatory music education and classical music programs to inspire and bring together individuals and communities.

“Joseph Swensen was born on 4 August 1960 in Hoboken, New Jersey and grew up in Harlem, New York City, (an American, of Norwegian and Japanese descent). He maintains residences in Copenhagen (Denmark), Bloomington (Indiana) and Vermont (USA).”

Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are truly the beginning of symphonic music even though the sonata allegro architectural form had yet to be developed. However, his use of instruments in the six concertos clearly an anticipation of what is to come. As is well known, the six works were dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg, Christian Ludwig, whom Bach had met while traveling in 1718 and 1719. Prince Ludwig heard Bach perform, most likely, at the Meiningen court, and asked Bach to compose some works for his orchestra. As the CSO program notes pointed out, it is unclear what Prince Ludwig’s reaction was to these six concerti for he seems to have tucked them away and forgotten about them. And indeed, Bach did not complete the commission until 1721. The reason for that is undoubtedly due to the circumstance of the death of Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara, who passed away while he was traveling.

You readers must keep in mind that these concertos follow the traditional fast-slow-fast structure of the Italian concerto grosso style: the German style was slow-fast-slow. Hence, all of the Brandenburg Concertos with the exception of the first which has four movements, feature three movements modeled after the style which Vivaldi used. And, even in his first Brandenburg Concerto, Bach does not closely follow the traditional contrast between the solo instruments and the body of the orchestra (concertino and tutti). Of course, the other comparison between Bach and Vivaldi must be that Bach uses strict counterpoint which, for all practical purposes, was considered old-fashioned when Bach composed. But it is worth stating, that these anticipate the grand era of symphonic music. This means that Bach was clearly ahead of his time, and synthesized an old-style with the new.

Several things impressed me the minute the concert started. Maestro Swensen infused this orchestra with an incredible amount of energy. Keep in mind that this was not the full Colorado Symphony Orchestra but a chamber orchestra made up of members of the CSO, and at least one additional member that I recognized, Max Soto, playing oboe. The violinist, Yi Zhao, who is the Assistant Concertmaster of the CSO, was absolutely sensational as were Monica Hanulik, Jason Lichtenwalter, and Max Soto, all on oboe, plus Michael Thornton and Carolyn Kunicki, French horns. I was also struck by Joseph Swensen’s conducting style which is very individual, but, and I stress, extremely effective. I was also left wondering what impact this vivacious Brandenburg Concerto Nr. 1 had on those who heard it for the first time.

When I use the word “vivacious” I mean just that. I could see several members of the orchestra smiling as this work began. Additionally, I was terribly impressed, as I always am, with the depth of musicianship of everyone in the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Everyone on stage could have been a soloist. I am sure that many of you who read this article attend the performances of the CSO because of your love for music, but also for the entertainment value. I assure you that the art of music is not considered as entertainment by those on stage. It is a way of life. Friday evening, everyone on stage made that abundantly clear.

Not only were the concertos performed out of numerical order, they required different groups of musicians, and so there was a rearrangement of the stage in between each of the concertos. Brandenburg Nr. 6 was performed as the second work on the program, and again I was struck by the musicianship and clarity with which everyone performed. It was nice to hear Basil Vendryes with a prominent viola part, and that brings up another point: I was in wonderment of the clarity with which everyone performed. Those who were in attendance might say, “Well, of course you could hear everyone because there were so few people on stage.” But that is certainly not always the case. I have heard many small chamber groups perform in a much muffled manner.

Before the intermission, Maestro Swensen performed the violin solo with Catherine Peterson and Julie Thornton playing the flute. Swensen clearly demonstrated his mastery of Bach, and he also gave a clear demonstration of why it is he teaches at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, which is one of the best music schools in the world, if not the best. Peterson and Thornton were perfect. That is the only way to state it. Again, Bach was imbued with incredible forward motion, rhythmic pulse, and virtuosity. It was wonderfully poetic.

Brandenburg Concerto Nr. 5 was next on the program, and it is in this one that Ian Watson, who had been playing the continuo part on the harpsichord, had his solo, coupled with Joseph Swensen, violin, and Brook Ferguson, flute. I was impressed once more with the clarity of the musicians, and their ability to have every note heard while playing so softly. Keep in mind that the harpsichord is a very soft instrument (and the one used was a 7 foot harpsichord), and the lid was put back on the harpsichord so that in the open position it would direct the sound to the audience. The end result was that Ian Watson could be clearly heard. He has remarkable technique, and his ornamentation was simply beyond compare. Swensen and Ferguson demonstrated an uncanny ability to play virtuosic passages at a very soft dynamic level, and you readers must understand that that adds to the difficulty.

To me, the order of the programming was excellent. I am quite sure that Bach would not object to hearing the concertos performed in the order that they were Friday evening. Brandenburg Concerto Nr. 3 was performed next, and the last on the program was the Brandenburg Nr. 2. The soloists in Nr. 2 were Brook Ferguson, flute; Peter Cooper, oboe; Justin Bartels, clarino trumpet; and Joseph Swensen, violin. As Maestro Swensen pointed out at the beginning of the program Friday evening, the trumpet solo in Brandenburg Concerto Nr. 2 is one of the most difficult in any piece you care to name. But I hasten to point out that the oboe, flute, and violin solos were equally difficult. It was wonderful to hear the Brandenburg Nr. 2 close the program as it is, perhaps, the most rousing of all six. This, as were all the others Friday evening, was performed perfectly.

As I said at the beginning of this article, Bach used the Vivaldi concertos as his model, but Vivaldi’s concertos seem but an outline when compared to the incredible counterpoint, the complexity of the form, and the unified structure that Bach has supplied. It underscores the fact that even though Bach was using counterpoint, which was considered old-fashioned by many Baroque composers, he must clearly be labeled as the greatest composer who ever lived. I emphasize that in making that statement that I am not making light of the artistry displayed by Vivaldi, Handel, Telemann, or other of the famous composers of the time.

There is no doubt that Joseph Swensen has a way with Bach. He brought him to life as did the musicians that he was performing with and conducting. It truly was a picture of Bach with all of his clarity, vivacity, intimacy, and virtuosity.

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg: Passionate Shostakovich. Andrew Litton: Passionate Mahler

Friday, May 1, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra gave another remarkable performance. Under the directorship of Maestro Andrew Litton, and partnering with the sensational guest violinist, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, they performed two very difficult works: Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto Nr. 1 in A minor, Opus 99, and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony Nr. 5 in C sharp minor.

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg needs no introduction to Denver audiences. She is one of the world’s most extraordinary violinists, and she is spectacular to watch. On stage, she moves a little more than many violinists; however, her movements are not directed toward theatrical impact, but rather they clearly assist in placing energy into her bow arm. The result is one of excitement and intensity: and it is abundantly clear that she genuinely feels that intensity. Every performance that Salerno-Sonnenberg gives seems to remind me that she is, perhaps, one of the few violinists today who can truly see and re-create the passion and intensity of the composer.

Shostakovich’s marvelous Violin Concerto in A minor was written in 1947 and 1948 and then revised in 1955. It was composed for Shostakovich’s close friend David Oistrakh, but it had to be “withdrawn” because of the oppressive climate for composers, poets, and artists in the Soviet Union at the time. As I have said in past articles, the favorite term of the communist regime was “formalist perversions.” However, in the instance of the First Violin Concerto, Dmitry Shostakovich, in a rare response to Soviet criticism, wrote an article in the June 17, 1956, issue of Pravda, wherein he stated, “Not infrequently, ‘formalism’ is a label applied to what is not comprehensible or even unpalatable to some persons… However, only art which is empty and devoid of ideas, cold and lifeless, deserves to be described as formalistic art. In the latter, the technique chosen by the composer becomes an end in itself, a kind of foppery, a trick of an aesthete.” It is amazing to me that Shostakovich was able to get away with this rebuttal, but he was certainly one of the most prominent composers in the world, and it is that prominence which probably kept him from being sent to Siberia.

The reason that the Concerto was revised in 1955 was that David Oistrakh suggested that because the third movement ended with a startlingly difficult cadenza that leads directly into the fourth movement without pause, that the opening statement of the main theme of the fourth movement be given to the orchestra. In that way, the soloist gets a chance to rest and catch his breath. Shostakovich agreed to that suggestion from his friend.

Salerno–Sonnenberg’s playing at the beginning of the first movement was as moody and dark as the sound of the theme itself. Shostakovich does not begin this piece with a fast first movement: rather, he has labeled it a Nocturne that must be taken at a moderate tempo. In keeping with its rather ill-omened sound, there is a thinly veiled reference from the Dies Irae theme of the Requiem Mass in the middle of the movement. The second movement continues this mood; however, this movement is labeled a Scherzo, and it is here that Salerno-Sonnenberg’s supreme technical ability was highlighted. This is an incredibly difficult movement, but it was filled with passion and excitement. In spite of its obvious technical difficulties, Salerno-Sonnenberg demonstrated that she was more than capable in realizing what Shostakovich wished. Before the concert began, Principal Second violinist, Paul Primus, in his introductory remarks about the concert, made the statement that Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg “owned” this concerto. That is a very high compliment indeed, but you readers must realize that he was dead accurate. Everything was in place as she performed this marvelous second movement. I might also add that the woodwind section of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra was spectacular in this second movement. I truly believe that the Colorado Symphony has one of the best woodwind sections in the United States, if not the world. They certainly gave their all in providing Salerno-Sonnenberg with the musical support that her musicianship demands.

As it is labeled, the third movement of this concerto is a Passacaglia that has an almost choral like quality at the outset because the woodwinds deliver a mournful theme. When the violin enters with the main theme, it is obvious that this is one of Shostakovich’s most beautiful themes. Salerno-Sonnenberg gave it astonishing warmth, gradually increasing the tension as it headed into the cadenza which led directly to the fourth movement without any pause. The last movement is marked Burlesca: Allegro con brio, and it is indeed festive in nature. And Shostakovich seems to have written this as a statement, that even though the government is trying to control him and his art, he is daring to show them that he can have a good time. Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg played this last movement in an almost triumphant manner, and I am convinced by her playing that she is accurately convinced that is what Shostakovich wished.

It has been some time since I have heard this violin concerto. But Salerno-Sonnenberg’s performance of it will live in my memory for a very long time. Her astonishing accuracy coupled with her astonishing musicality and technical prowess was supreme in every sense of the word. The audience responded with a very long standing ovation. It was if they were saying that they clearly understood the artistic sincerity that was inherent in Salerno-Sonnenberg’s performance.

Following the intermission, Maestro Litton and the Colorado Symphony performed Mahler’s Symphony Nr. 5 in C sharp minor. Mahler “finished” this work in 1902, but the reason I used quotation marks around the word finished is because Mahler continued revising the orchestration of this work until he died in 1911. The first revision was published in 1904, and even then his publisher, C. F. Peters, didn’t bother to make the corrections in the miniature score version of their publication. In 1964, the Austrian musicologist Erwin Ratz’ “critical first edition” of Mahler’s works, turned out to be less than the final word because another musicologist, Karl Heinz Füssl, made additional discoveries which he published in 1989. Indeed, Mahler even composed the movements of this symphony out of numerical order, beginning with the third, he then wrote the first and second movements. The first movement, as Friday’s program indicated, falls into three sections: a funeral march, then a second section which is in sonata form, and a third section which is marked “Stormily with great vehemence.” The second movement of this symphony stands by itself and is marked Scherzo. The third movement can be divided into two sections, the first of which is arguably one of Mahler’s most famous symphonic movements. It is marked Adagietto: Sehr langsam and almost seems to be motivated in spirit to a song that Mahler wrote using a text by Rückert which reads “… I have become lost to the world… I live alone in my heaven.” Following this slow and emotionally painful section, there is the final fast movement which is marked Rondo – Finale: Allegro. Therefore, the end result is a symphony with three large sections, which when performed, give the impression of a typical four movement Symphony. All of this is evidence of Mahler’s continuing search to solve what some consider to be an unsettled compositional process. Nonetheless, there is clear evidence that he was beginning to discover his true symphonic vocabulary.

The performance Friday evening was absolutely superb, and the audience, which almost filled the hall completely, sat in rapt attention for over an hour. Maestro Litton was obviously concerned with every minute detail of this work. In the first movement, the violas and the cellos were absolutely sensational. Their warmth filled the funeral march with a remarkable passion. The third section of this movement, which Mahler marked stormily, brings an end to the first movement in an almost joyous conclusion.

The second movement of this work, marked Scherzo, is equally joyful and it was in this movement that the brass section, particularly the French horns, were superb. Then comes the 3rd movement, divided into two sections, with its wonderfully performed Adagietto and then the final Rondo.

As I stated above, Mahler devised a form completely separate from any previous symphonic form. It is huge and episodic, but it has its own logic. The testament to that is that it captures the audience’s attention for a very long time. Of course, Friday evening, the attention span was aided by an absolutely stellar performance. You readers must understand that Andrew Litton’s knowledge of this symphony, and of Mahler, allowed him to bring out the details of this work so that the final result was shorter in time than that which could be measured by a clock. The members of the orchestra truly must have been emotionally and mentally exhausted at the end of this performance.

It was wonderful to see that the audience came very close to filling the hall Friday evening. It was also wonderful that they demonstrated their appreciation of such a fine performance with a standing ovation after each work that was presented. Also exciting Friday evening was the fact that there were many young people in attendance to hear the works of two absolutely significant composers so beautifully performed.


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