Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Alban Berg, Anton von Webern, Arnold Schoenberg, Gerhardt Hauptman, Gustav Mahler, Johannes Brahms, Leopold Stokowski, Michael Butterman, Rachel Barton Pine
Saturday evening, January 11, the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra under the conductorship of Maestro Michael Butterman performed a concert which was publicized as The Three B’s, however, in this case, the three B’s did not stand for Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, but rather Bach, Berg, and Brahms.
The Boulder Phil opened its program with J. S. Bach’s Komm, süsser Tod which is a song for solo voice and basso continuo from the 69 Sacred Songs and Arias that Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) contributed to Georg Christian Schemelli’s Musicalisches Gesangbuch (BWV 478). It was arranged for orchestra by Leopold Stokowski (1882- 1977), the long-lived and celebrated conductor. Stokowski was born in London, England, of a Polish father and Irish mother, and, with what seemed to be very little effort, became a prodigy on the violin, piano, and organ. He was one of the youngest students to ever be admitted to the Royal College of Music. After establishing himself as a conductor with the Cincinnati Symphony, he accepted the conductorship of the Philadelphia Orchestra where he not only vastly improved the standard of playing, but increased the size of the orchestra to 104 musicians. His transcriptions of Bach are known for their lavishness, but it must be said that they had great impact upon the American public.
Maestro Butterman and the Boulder Phil were quite accurate in their reading of Stokowski’s interpretation. It was at once poignant, and yet sweet, and the dynamics that Stokowski revised, gave it a very romantic aura, which, today, many scholars might disagree with because of its “un-Baroque” flavor. However, it is important to note that Stokowski was successful in placing some of Bach’s lesser-known compositions before the general concert going public, and, thus, widening their curiosity.
Second on the program, Maestro Butterman in the Boulder Philharmonic performed Gustav Mahler’s Blumine (Bouquet of Flowers) which was originally conceived as a movement for his Symphony Nr. 1 in D Major. This symphony, which was nicknamed Titan, was conceived as a tone poem, loosely based on Jean Paul’s novel, Titan, which describes a youth gifted with an artistic desire that the world has no use for. Sometimes, one wonders if Mahler (1860-1911) saw himself as that youth; however, he eventually avoided any kind of programmatic considerations in his symphonies. As he expanded this first symphony, he dropped this movement because he felt that it contradicted the concept of the work as a whole.
The Boulder Phil’s performance of Blumine made it a perfect companion piece for the Stokowski rendition of the Bach. Compared to later works by Mahler, Blumine does not have the complicated harmony that will become so characteristic of Mahler. This work is clearly romantic, but seems almost spare in comparison to what he is to write later in his career. It certainly was lush, and the richness of its orchestration is pronounced, thus, giving it a wonderful fit to follow the Bach- Stokowski.
Following the Mahler, violinist Rachel Barton Pine joined the Boulder Phil in the performance of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I will quote briefly from a bio statement that I found on the web:
“Celebrated as a leading interpreter of great classical works, Rachel Barton Pine’s performances combine her gift for emotional communication and her scholarly fascination with historical research. Audiences are thrilled by her dazzling technique, lustrous tone, and infectious joy in music-making.
”Pine has appeared as soloist with many of the world’s most prestigious ensembles, including the Chicago Symphony; the Philadelphia Orchestra; the Royal Philharmonic; and the Netherlands Radio Kamer Filharmonie. She has worked with such renowned conductors as Charles Dutoit, Zubin Mehta, Erich Leinsdorf, Neeme Järvi and Marin Alsop. She has recorded 25 albums, her most recent CD, Violin Lullabies, recorded with pianist Matthew Hagle, debuted at number one on the Billboard classical chart.
”While she regularly plays baroque, renaissance, and medieval music, Rachel Barton Pine also performs rock and heavy metal music with her band Earthen Grave. She has jammed with the likes of Slash of Guns N’ Roses and other rock and metal stars.”
Ms. Pine has a very well-deserved reputation for being a fine violinist. The Berg Violin Concerto is a difficult piece, and even though it is one of his most popular works, it is challenging to locate a live performance.
Berg was an adult student, along with Anton von Webern, of Arnold Schoenberg who originated the twelve tone serial technique. Instead of using a standard eight note major or minor scale, Schoenberg decided that all twelve notes of the chromatic scale could be used in serial fashion in order to produce a brand-new sound. Keep in mind that major and minor has been used for almost 450 years, and Schoenberg considered it to be outdated, and was constantly looking for something new. Berg’s twelve tones are arranged in such a manner that his composition does not sound as ascetic and spare as do some of the works by Webern and Schoenberg.
The American violinist, Louis Krasner, wanted to commission a violin concerto, and was definitely intrigued by the new serial method of composition. However, he was not sure how the new serial technique would fit the melodic and lyrical needs of the violin, but when he heard Berg’s Piano Sonata he decided that Berg should receive the commission. Berg decided to take the commission, and dedicate the work, as everyone knows by now, to Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler by her second marriage. Berg’s family was on very good terms with the Mahler family, and he was profoundly shaken by her death. Berg finished the concerto in August, 1935: it had only taken a little over four months for him to write it.
In late November and early December 1935, Berg fell ill with a Staphylococcus infection. He had suffered repeated bouts with similar infections since 1932, when he was stung by a swarm of wasps. The stings became infected and put him in bed for a week. However, in 1935 the periodic infection became quite serious, and in the middle of December he was given a blood transfusion which seemed to result in some success. However, it was to no avail. He grew delirious from the infection, and died on December 24, at 1:15 in the morning, without ever having heard the concerto that he wrote. Two days later, Alban Berg’s wife received a note from the German poet Gerhardt Hauptman. The very short note seemed to express not only the feelings of the art world toward Alban Berg, but also seemed to echo the feelings of Berg for Alma Mahler’s daughter:
“Deeply shaken, dear gracious lady, we press your hand. Why had so noble a man and master to take his leave so early? May Heaven give you strength in your great sorrow. In sincere admiration,
Rachel Barton Pine’s enthusiasm for this concerto was obvious the minute she began to perform. It was sonorous and warm, and very passionate, which is something that many audience members do not expect in a twelve tone work. I have never been sure why audiences do not anticipate the expressiveness of contemporary music, but many do not, and I am, as they should be, grateful for musicians such as Rachel Barton Pine to demonstrate that all music is expressive. Pine’s playing is so clear that one can almost hear the twelve tone row which is built of major and minor triads. This allows for remarkable shifting of harmonic colors, which indeed, combined with the perfect tempos and phrasing, infused her playing with all the character of a Requiem. She was certainly able to expose the fact that the arrangement of the row makes some sections of this concerto tonal as well as atonal.
There is one aspect of this performance that needs to be mentioned, and it is most certainly not a reflection on Rachel Barton Pine’s performance. The sad fact is that many times throughout the Berg concerto, the orchestra covered Ms. Pine’s playing. They were simply too loud, particularly the brass section, but often the entire orchestra was guilty. It simply proves the point that in the performance of a concerto, someone needs to be in the hall to listen for orchestral balance with the soloist. I am quite sure that Maestro Butterman would have welcomed that kind of information as would Ms. Pine. I have attended many concerts in Mackey Auditorium and have sat in the same vicinity. I cannot immediately recall hearing the Boulder Phil cover a soloist before this performance, so I think that it was endemic only to Saturday’s concert.
After the intermission, Maestro Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic performed Brahms’ Symphony Nr. 4 in E minor, Opus 98. Brahms composed the first and second movements of his Symphony in E minor during the summer of 1884. He composed third and fourth movements in 1885. During this time, he was trying to find a little relaxation in the Styrian Alps of Austria, and he wrote to Hans von Bülow that he was somewhat concerned about the serious nature of the work, for he said in the letter: “I am pondering whether the Symphony will find more of a public. I fear it smacks of the climate of this country; the cherries are not sweet here, and you would certainly not eat them.” Critical opinion of both personal friends and the music press was quite favorable upon its premiere; however, several persons to whom Brahms played it on the piano previously to the concert thought that it was altogether too serious.
The moment the Boulder Phil began, I was struck by the swaying motion produced by the violins with their quarter note pick up leading to a half note creating a two note phrase across the bar line. It was absolutely gorgeous, and it clearly captivated the audience immediately. There was a little fuzzy entrance from the woodwinds around measure twenty-three, but they quickly recovered and proceeded to the end of the entire Symphony without any miscues. There is no question that this is one of the most complex symphonies that Brahms wrote, and, even though this opening theme is so lyrical and gentle, there is a notable sense of unrest throughout the entire work. The second movement begins with a short fanfare from the French horns, which gives way to the woodwinds, which has to be one of the most beautiful themes that Brahms wrote. The tempo that Maestro Butterman took in the third movement was absolutely perfect in re-creating a very lively dance movement which proved very popular with the audience at the premiere. It is the last movement of this work, which is, in some ways, the most elaborate, and, yet, in some ways, very simple: it is a chaconne – variations over a ground bass -which uses a portion of J. S. Bach’s Cantata Nr. 150. There are thirty-four variations in this last movement which gradually increase in intensity, and act as a “recollection” of the pathos of the first movement.
The Boulder Phil and Maestro Butterman gave a wonderful performance of this symphony. There is no question that Butterman knows Brahms very well. He imparted a remarkable fluidity to this complex symphony so that the never-maudlin pathos implied in the first movement filled the remaining three.
Wouldn’t it be terrific to hear the four Brahms symphonies on one program?
This article also appears on The Scen3 website.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Antonin Dvořák, Case Scaglione, Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Edward Elgar, Itzhak Perlman, Jason Lichtenwalter, Max Bruch, Silver Ainomäe, William Hill
Thursday evening, January 9, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra demonstrated, once again, what a treasure they are. They were led by a young American conductor, Case Scaglione. I will quote from his impressive bio statement which I found on the web:
“American conductor Case Scaglione continues to inspire orchestras and audiences across the world with his natural ease of conducting, musical depth, and infectious joy on the podium. He began his tenure as Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic in September 2011, and subsequently made his subscription debut with the Philharmonic in November 2012, stepping in for Kurt Masur. Mr. Scaglione has appeared as a guest conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra, Baltimore, Houston, and St. Louis Symphonies as well as many others. In September 2013 he assisted Sir Andrew Davis on Elektra at Lyric Opera Chicago.
“During the 2013-14 season, Mr. Scaglione makes debuts with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Colorado Symphony, Santa Fe Symphony, and Orchestra of St. Luke’s, in addition to return appearances with the Alabama Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic. Following highly successful engagements with the Guangzhou Symphony, China Philharmonic, and Shanghai Symphony in the summer of 2013, Mr. Scaglione returns to China this season to conduct the China Philharmonic and Shanghai Symphony. He will also travel to Madrid to conduct a performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass with the Orquesta Clásica Santa Cecilia.
“Mr. Scaglione received his Bachelor’s Degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music. His postgraduate studies were spent at the Peabody Institute where he studied with Gustav Meier. A native of Texas, Mr. Scaglione currently lives in New York City with his wife Toni.”
Maestro Scaglione and the CSO opened their program with Sir Edward Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme, Opus 36, perhaps better known as the Enigma Variations. Elgar (1857–1934), in 1898, after a long day of teaching, was simply amusing himself at the piano and by playing little melodic lines that he told his wife were musical descriptions of his friends. His wife, who was a constant source of inspiration, told him that he was onto something new. Elgar took her quite seriously, and wrote a set of fourteen variations which depict his friends by the nature of the music. He gives each variation a set of initials to name his friends, and, in the theme, he depicts himself. Some of the haunting and passionate aspects of the opening theme are repeated in the first variation in which he describes his wife, Caroline. Throughout the work he gives hints as to the identity of his friends. For example, in the thirteenth variation, he quotes Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage to reveal the identity of Lady Mary Lygon, a friend who traveled to New Zealand, and spent the rest of her life there. However, the most elusive “enigma” is Elgar’s statement that throughout the work an “unheard” theme, which is never stated, but is very well-known according to the composer, is present. Sir Edward Elgar carried the identity of the secret theme to his grave, leaving scholars the world over to listen very carefully to the entire composition in order to identify it. It was twenty years after the Enigma Variations were finished in 1899, that the Austro-Hungarian conductor, Hans Richter, premiered the work in 1919. It was an immediate success, and the ninth variation, Nimrod, remains one of the great poetic movements of all time.
The Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s performance of this work was excellent. Maestro Scaglione’s conducting motions seemed, at first, to be almost too mellifluous. But, realize that every conductor has his own style, and after a short while, it became obvious as to the sense of Scaglione’s movements. I do not know how long it has been since the CSO has performed this work by Elgar, but it was terrific to see and hear the excitement given the piece by the orchestra and this young conductor. I must emphasize that by calling him a young conductor, I mean absolutely no slight whatsoever. He is excellent and he knows his craft. The woodwind section, and I do include all of them, was absolutely outstanding throughout the entire concert Thursday evening. I had absolutely marvelous seats in the second row from the stage, and it gave me an unequaled opportunity to listen and watch the different orchestra members. Elgar’s composition contains some very difficult requirements from the timpani that certainly brought out the ability, both musically and technically, of William Hill. Aside from its straightforward difficulty, Elgar asks the timpanist to use the back, or stick, of the mallet (think handle), to produce a thin, almost tinny sound to imitate water, and then immediately change the position of the mallet in one’s hand, and use it in the normal fashion, with the head of the mallet striking the timpani head. This reversal must be done instantaneously, and, of course, the danger is dropping the mallet. It was impeccably done.
Silver Ainomäe, Principal Cello, was absolutely sensational in his solo. He always produces the most sensationally rich sound imaginable. It was very obvious that his cello is a fine instrument which suits his playing immeasurably.
As I have said, the performance of this work was truly wonderful, but the audience could not contain themselves after the famous Nimrod variation, and they burst into applause. There was no doubt that some of the audience members were dabbing at their eyes due to the beauty and emotion in the performance of this variation.
Following the intermission, Maestro Scaglione and the Colorado Symphony performed Antonin Dvořák’s Carnival Overture, Opus 92. This is a tried-and-true piece, but it is also an excellent work, and I have stated many times that I think Dvořák is very much underrated. This piece was composed during the decade in which he traveled to Spillville, Iowa, in the United States, where he wrote his famous Symphony Nr. 9 (From the New World) in addition to some wonderful chamber music. There is no doubting the dancelike portions of this overture with its folk-like energy. And, again, the woodwinds, particularly the English horn, performed by Jason Lichtenwalter, were exceptional. This is a very enjoyable and excellent piece, and it is very well-known. However, I do wish the CSO would perform some of Dvořák’s symphonic poems such as The Water Goblin or The Noon Witch. His Serenade For Strings in E Major is another work not heard often enough. These three works display a characteristic of Dvořák that many audience members do not know exists. However, these are fairly lengthy pieces, and when a short exciting piece is called for, the Opus 92 certainly fits. And there is no doubt that the Colorado Symphony Orchestra gave this an exceptional performance.
Following the Dvořák was the eminent violinist, Itzhak Perlman. He needs no introduction. He performed Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto Nr. 1 in G minor, Opus 26. Bruch (1838-1920) began work on this concerto in 1857, but was dissatisfied with it, and began a revision after its 1866 premiere. The final version of this concerto was not done until 1868 when it was performed by Joseph Joachim. The three movements of this concerto are performed without pause. The first movement which he called a Prélude was a holdover from its initial conception as a fantasy, even though it is in sonata allegro form. However, to my way of thinking it is the incredible second movement that is the heart of this work. It is an aria that is deeply emotional, but never saccharine. In some respects, it certainly depends on who is playing Bruch’s Concerto.
As I have written before, there are those violinists, usually young, who have the skill and technical ability to play any of the difficult pieces in the repertoire. But often, they have done the pieces enough so that they use them to display their own technique, rather than the music that composer wrote. This is most definitely not the case, and has never been the purview of Itzhak Perlman. I have heard him perform many times. I do not know how many times he has performed the Bruch, but this is the second time I have heard him play it. There has never been a rush to glory. Every time he plays, it is as if he is discovering the piece for the first time, and he wants to show the audience what a beautiful piece of music truly sounds like when it is played well. This excitement of rediscovery reminds me very much of the pianist Artur Rubenstein, whom I have heard perform several times. Even when he was performing a piece for the thirtieth time, it was always fresh, and it always revealed as something new. It is an amazing experience to hear Perlman play the Bruch because it becomes a new world premiere. The tone was flawless, the technique was flawless, and the emotion and exposure was the unearthing of something not heard before. He clearly uses his experience in playing this piece as a way of delving into it: delving into the heart and mind of the composer. And, every time that burrowing discloses new possibility and new vision.
Maestro Scaglione and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra seemed perfectly comfortable with each other, and there is no doubt in my mind that the audience left the hall with the realization that they had heard something fresh, and that they had heard the Elgar, Dvořák and Bruch works performed the way the composers had intended. It is that fact which makes this orchestra so excellent.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Annamaria Karacson, Bahman Saless, Bill Douglas, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Dances For Oboe and Strings, David Korevaar, Devon Park, Gyöngyvér Petheö, Handel, K. 414, Kent Hurd, Kim Brody, Max Soto, Megan Rubin, Michaela Borth, Mozart
Saturday evening, December 21, I attended a concert given by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Bahman Saless, given at the Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Denver. The title of this particular program was A Gift of Music, and, I must say, that certainly turned out to be the case. There were two remarkable soloists. David Korevaar performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 414, and the BCO’s own Max Soto performed a work by Boulder composer Bill Douglas, entitled Songs and Dances for Oboe and Strings. Also on the program was George Frideric Handel’s well-known Water Music Suite Nr. 1 in F Major. This program was indeed a gift because there were two well-known works on the program, the Handel and the Mozart, but also, because there was a brand-new piece that I have never heard before, and that was the work by Bill Douglas.
Maestro Saless opened the program with the Handel. Handel had left Germany for England because he did not particularly like the patronage system that was in Germany, where the type of music he wrote was dictated to him by the royalty. In England he hoped to be able to compose more freely. The three Water Music suites, as the program notes pointed out, came about because King George I was trying to improve his image before the English people. He took some barge trips on the Thames from London to Chelsea, which, in today’s vernacular, we would call a ‘photo op,’ in order to prove to the people that he could mingle.
The Suite Nr. 1 is well-known for its tricky French horn writing, and this certainly gives the piece its immediate identity. The first movement of the six part suite opens with trills in the violins, and then in the horns. I was impressed immediately by the fact that the trills in the violins were together (each note!) as well as in the horns. As a matter of fact, Devon Park and Megan Rubin, French horn, were outstanding all the way through this work by Handel. I also hasten to point out that the violins have taken on a new life this season because of all the new faces. Annamaria Karacson, Concertmaster, did not play Saturday evening, because she was serving as concertmaster in the Colorado Ballet’s The Nutcracker. Principal Second violinist, Gyongyver Petheo, took her place, and another violinist who I believe was Michaela Borth, moved up one chair. The reason that I mention all of this is that this season, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra has demonstrated a great deal of depth with many new faces. I had the opportunity Saturday evening to sit very close to the violins, and because of that, I could hear the violinists individually. Some of the ornaments in the Handel are difficult, but, as one might expect, they were accomplished with great ease. In the second movement, which Handel has marked Adagio e staccato, there was some very nice work done by the oboes, Max Soto and Kim Brody, and bassoonist, Kent Hurd. The entire orchestra reflected a new precision and care Saturday evening. It is as if the new members of this orchestra have infected the entire group with a new sense of meticulousness. The Handel was full of spirit and drive, and it truly did seem as if they were in total agreement with Maestro Saless every step of the way.
Following the Handel, and immediately before the Douglas work, Maestro Saless inserted a seasonal carol entitled Chanukah, Chanukah. This was the first time I had heard this Carol and it was very definitely a slow-fast-slow dance form. I am sure that it was using the Ahava Rabbah scale which is used throughout Israel, Turkey, and Lebanon, at least. It is similar to a modified Phrygian mode. But this was a marvelous piece of music, and it was very definitely emotional in its celebratory spirit.
Next on the program Maestro Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra principal oboist, Max Soto, performed a work by Boulder composer Bill Douglas entitled, Songs and Dances for Oboe and Strings. I will quote from Douglas’ website:
“I was born in London, Ontario, Canada on November 7, 1944. My father played trombone and sang in a big band, and my mother played organ in church. My earliest memory is of myself playing in a one-man band with toy instruments when I was three. I began piano lessons at four and I taught myself ukulele and guitar when I was about eight or nine….
“From 1962-66, I attended the University of Toronto and obtained a BA in music education. During this time, I became very interested in 20th century classical music, and started composing pieces influenced by Anton Webern, Elliott Carter, and Igor Stravinsky, as well as such contemporary jazz artists as Paul Bley and Gary Peacock. I played fourth bassoon in the Toronto Symphony, and I often played jazz piano gigs on weekends.
“I was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship in 1966, and attended Yale University from 1966-69. There I met clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, and we have been touring and recording ever since. In 1967, I played three concerti with the Toronto Symphony. I received a Master of Music degree majoring in bassoon in 1968, and a Master of Musical Arts degree in composition in 1969. At this time, I was writing very avant-garde atonal music. After Yale, I received a Canada Council award to study composition in London, England, for a year.
“In 1977, I moved to Boulder, Colorado, to teach at the Naropa Institute. I continue to teach there and to tour with Richard Stoltzman and my own groups. With Richard, I also often play with bassist Eddie Gomez. Some of my bassoon students from Cal Arts moved to Boulder with me, and we formed the Boulder Bassoon Band which played together for twenty years.”
This was the first time I have heard this composition. It is a very impressive piece, which has the overall quality of a pastorale, even though these movements are all dance movements. The movements are listed as, I. Bebop Jig; II. Folksong; III. Afro-Cuban Baroque; IV. Lament; and V. Celtic Waltz.
This is truly a beautiful piece of music, and it seemed to me that it was very well suited to Soto’s marvelous ability on the oboe. The Bebop Jig is full of difficult rhythms, and in spite of its lively character, has a certain plaintiveness about it. The program notes explained that in Part II of the suite, Folksong, that Douglas was inspired by the folk music of the British Isles. Indeed, this was a beautifully lyric work which displayed the newfound richness that the violin section has. It also gave Max Soto the opportunity to show that he could match that ambience with his oboe. But, for me, the most exciting portion of this work (and it is difficult to make this choice because the entire work is so excellent, as was Soto’s playing) was Part III entitled, Afro-Cuban Baroque. This was a vigorous tango that was so skillfully written that I could not help but compare it to the work done by Arturo Márquez or Luis Jorge González. It was as elegant as it was spirited, and I must say that the Boulder Chamber Orchestra seemed to have the same affinity for a tango that the Costa Rican native, Max Soto, displays without effort. If you can imagine a tango being lyrical and carefree, that is the character that Soto gave this movement. Yes, it was fast at times but Soto and the orchestra seemed to be totally relaxed. I could have listened to Part III all night long. Part IV of this suite of dances was named Lament, and Part V, Celtic Waltz. Bill Douglas and Max Soto seem to have created a piece of music that has a narrative. That almost seems a shallow way to describe this work, but the narrative is so skillfully done that it could be applied to anything the listener wishes.
When Songs and Dances for Oboe and Strings came to an end I was genuinely disappointed. I would love to hear this piece again and again.
In the closing weeks of 1782, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart began work on several compositions: piano concertos K. 413, K. 414 (most likely completed by December 28, 1782), and K. 415. The G major string quartet was completed December 31, 1782. Also, we know that he had begun work on the C minor Mass at this period of time because it was mentioned in a letter to his father on January 4, 1783. This is, quite obviously, a truly Herculean effort on Mozart’s part. In many ways, it was spurred by his satisfaction of leaving Salzburg, where he had been very unhappy, for Vienna. He remained in Vienna until 1786, when the Viennese failure of The Marriage of Figaro received fewer than ten performances. This was due to the musical politics of the Italian clique in Vienna.
The A Major Piano Concerto was performed Saturday evening by David Korevaar, well-known faculty member at CU-Boulder. Korevaar has amazing concentration which keeps him very relaxed, and this was even more noticeable Saturday evening because the front row seats at the Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church seemed to be immediately at the end of the keyboard. But I assure you that did not phase David Korevaar one bit. The minute the Boulder Chamber Orchestra and Maestro Saless began to perform, Korevaar was deep in concentration. His playing was, as usual, quite remarkable. This concerto has six major subjects in the first movement alone, and Korevaar carefully delineated each one in the most delightful way imaginable, through impeccable dynamic phrasing and nuance, which did not exceed the style of the Classical Period. It seemed that his ease at the keyboard inspired the orchestra to follow his every move with an effortlessness which was almost serene: Maestro Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra easily demonstrated that they were just as musically reliable as David Korevaar. It was very clear throughout this entire concerto that everyone on stage was thoroughly enjoying each other’s company, and I assure you that for the solo performer that can be not only a very warm feeling, but a very great compliment.
The slow movement in K. 414 is a Sonata allegro form, with its main subject taken from an overture composed by Johann Christian Bach, who was Mozart’s childhood friend and teacher. As the program notes state, J.C. Bach died on New Year’s Day in 1782. This movement is so lyrical that its solemnity can almost be overlooked, and Korevaar gave it great warmth which was not at all destroyed by his meticulous shaping of each phrase. There has never been anything mechanical about the way Korevaar plays.
The third movement is a very affable and congenial movement presented in a way that only Mozart can accomplish, in spite of the complexities of its counterpoint. As my memory serves me, the last movement is written in a 2/4 meter, and is in a rondo form. It is, technically, the most difficult of the three movements, but it genuinely seemed as though Korevaar was saying to the audience, “Yes, it is difficult, but it is also an incredible joy to play, and that makes it very easy.” Again, the interchange between Korevaar and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra was something to behold: it was a remarkable and artistic collaboration.
I truly believe that I have never heard the Boulder Chamber Orchestra and Maestro Bahman Saless perform so well. On the other hand, when the orchestra has two fine soloists such as Max Soto and David Korevaar, their task becomes much more delightful. It was also a great pleasure at Saturday evening’s performance to see so many young people in the audience, even though the weather caused the audience to be somewhat sparse. Because of the intimate surroundings, these young people were able to hear a truly fine performance.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Andrew Garland, Awet Andemicael, Carole Whitney, Emily Marvosh, Forrest Greenough, Handel, Hee-Jung Kim, James Kim, Joseph Mikolaj, Kenrick Mervine, Messiah
Friday evening, December 20, the Colorado Bach ensemble led by Maestro James Kim, gave another remarkable performance of George Frederic Handel’s Messiah. It was as excellent this year as it was last year, but it was also very different from last year, each performance having its own personality. And that is what makes this particular Oratorio so interesting.
As the excellent program notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes (Assistant Professor of Music History at CSU) point out, it was none other than Mozart, who began to change the orchestration of this oratorio to make it fit the classical period orchestra which was larger. That has eventually led to huge productions that many audience members are now accustomed to, which have no relationship to what Handel actually wrote. Certainly, I do not intend to blame Mozart for the destruction of Handel’s intent, but it is a genuine pleasure to hear Messiah performed the way it was written by musicians who obviously care about the art of what they do, rather than the art of bombast and huge sound. We also know that Handel, himself, would occasionally change the score for the benefit of different soloists at any given performance.
This is a completely different work of Handel’s when compared to the rest of his output. It is a sacred, non-dramatic (no costumes or scenery) work which, because of its statement of faith, makes one think more of Bach than of Handel. And certainly, Handel never wrote another oratorio like it. During Handel’s lifetime, there were some audience members who objected to the fact that this oratorio was more often performed in concert halls than in churches because of its sacred text.
There is no question that Maestro James Kim has put together an outstanding organization in the Colorado Bach Ensemble. The choir is superb and experienced, and so is the orchestra. Both are clearly dedicated to the art of music. One aspect of Friday night’s performance that was so different from the Colorado Bach Ensemble’s past performance, was the relationship between soloists, choir, and orchestra. I have never heard a performance where the orchestra treated the choir and the soloists as if they were performing a concerto rather than a choral work. Dr. James Kim and the orchestra followed the nuances, and more importantly, the exchange of nuance, between the soloists in the orchestra. Dynamics and phrasing were anticipated and exchanged to such a degree that it was startling. It truly seemed as if the soloists were inspiring the orchestra, and that the orchestra was inspiring the soloists. It was an incredibly intimate exchange that carried through the entire performance, and was also manifest between the orchestra and the choir.
But, before I go on with any explanation, please carefully read the brief bio statements that I obtained from the Colorado Bach Ensemble website. Simply put, the soloists were remarkable.
“Although her primary repertoire focus is eighteenth-century sacred music, [soprano Awet Andemicael] has frequently sung the role of El Trujamán in Manuel de Falla’s puppet opera, El Retablo de Maese Pedro, including performances with the San Francisco Symphony (under Mo. Charles Dutoit), the Los Angeles Philharmonic (under Mo. Esa-Pekka Salonen), the Boston Symphony and Pittsburgh Symphony (under Mo. Rafael Fruehbeck de Burgos), and at the Kennedy Center and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (under Mo. Angel Gil-Ordóñez. She has been a featured soloist at the Tanglewood, Ravinia, Lyrique-en-Mer (France), Aldeburgh (England), Boston Early Music Fringe and Vancouver Early Music Fringe Festivals. She holds degrees from Harvard University, the University of California at Irvine, and Yale University’s Divinity School and Institute of Sacred Music.”
“Emily Marvosh, contralto, has been gaining recognition for her ‘flexible technique and ripe color,’ and ‘smooth, apparently effortless vocal display.’ Following her solo debut at Boston’s Symphony Hall in 2011, she has been a frequent soloist with the Handel and Haydn Society under the direction of Harry Christophers. Her contributions to 21st century repertoire and performance include world premiere performances with Juventas New Music and Intermezzo Chamber Opera, and in 2013, Miss Marvosh will create the roles of Viviane and the Mother in the world premiere of Hugo Kauder’s Merlin with the Hugo Kauder Society. She is a founding member of the Lorelei Ensemble, which promotes new music for women. Of a recent Lorelei performance, one critic wrote, ‘Marvosh, whose stage presence was a joy to behold, offered a tone that had the velvety soulfulness of a cello…and lent a refreshing pious solemnity to this more joyful of Mass texts.’ She holds degrees from Central Michigan University and Boston University.’
“Joseph Mikolaj, tenor, is a graduate of the Yale School of Music and Institute of Sacred Music with his Masters of Music in Vocal Performance, concentrating in Early Music, Oratorio and Chamber Ensemble, studying with tenor James Taylor. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of St. Thomas (Houston), graduating summa cum laude and studying under Dr. Brady Knapp. Mikolaj’s recent portrayal of the Celebrant in Bernstein’s Mass was praised as ‘sensational all evening long’ at the Chautauqua Institution. He also traveled to Florence to sing Evangelist in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion under the baton of Masaaki Suzuki. Engagements at Yale included soloist in Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium, a concert of Elizabethan lute songs, Bach’s B Minor Mass, Beethoven’s Mass in C, and Haydn’s Paukenmesse, among others. He also performed as soloist in Mozart’s Requiem with Mount Holyoke College, Handel’s Alexander’s Feast with the New Haven Chorale, and Honegger’s King David with the Farmington Valley Chorale. In the summer of 2009 he appeared as a guest artist at the Oregon Bach Festival under the baton of Helmuth Rilling.”
“American baritone, Andrew Garland, has been saluted by The New York Times as having a ‘distinctly American presence’ with a ‘big voice’ who is ‘an able and comfortable performer, and a sincere one.’ Mr. Garland will be heard during the 2012 – 13 season as Schaunard with Seattle Opera, Count Almaviva in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro with Dayton Opera, Dandini in La Cenerentola with Knoxville Opera, and Young Galileo in Galileo Galilei with Cincinnati Opera. He will give a number of recitals including his return to Carnegie Hall in a new program with world-renowned pianist Warren Jones and in the newest program from the New York Festival of Song. He returns to the Grammy-nominated Boston Baroque orchestra for Handel’s Partenope and their annual Messiah, and the Marion Philharmonic Orchestra for Copland’s Old American Songs. Garland also brings his exquisite baroque coloratura to the newly-formed Colorado Bach Ensemble. Mr. Garland is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. His teachers and coaches have included Penelope Bitzas, William McGraw, Paulina Stark, John Humphrey, Oren Brown, Elizabeth Mannion, Martin Katz, Donna Loewy, Kenneth Griffiths and Terry Lusk.”
Awet Andemicael has an absolutely amazing voice quality: it is light and airy and crystal clear, and yet, she can be full of passion and energy. Her quality reminds me very much of Lily Pons (how many of you readers remember her?), only completely without the “bleat” that was so pronounced when Lily Pons sang. Emily Marvosh has a rich full sound that is eminently lyrical, and yet, robust. Joseph Mikolaj and Andrew Garland have amazing clarity as they sang, and I don’t recall recently hearing a tenor and a baritone with such striking control: even at the pianissimo level, their incredible voice quality never changed. It was simply softer or louder as the score called for. All four of these musicians were just that: excellent musicians.
It was fascinating to hear the interchange between the orchestra and the soloists on Friday evening. For example, in the recitative, “And the angel said unto them,” which is for violin and soprano, Concertmaster Hee-Jung Kim truly, in every sense of the word, performed a duet with soprano Awet Andemicael. It was an interchange that was completely without ego: both artists were following each other’s nuances and phrasing. The duet in the Air of Nr. 36, “Thou art gone up on high,” which was between Emily Marvosh and Hee-Jung Kim demonstrated the same affinity of both of these artists in listening to each other. Of course, this is exactly what Handel would have delighted in, but the degree in which this was accomplished would have startled even him.
Carole Whitney, cello, Forrest Greenough, double bass, and Kenrick Mervine, keyboard, fulfilled the role of the continuo. Continuo is a function of an accompanying part by the bass notes only, combined with figures designating the chords above those bass notes. This was the role that Baroque composers assigned to the harpsichord and cello (as well as viola da gamba) in a composition: these three instruments were supplying the harmony for the ensemble. Their work sometimes goes unnoticed, except when they are performing during recitatives, or, in some instances, an aria (in a recitative, the vocal soloist follows the rhythm of the prose text. In an aria, the soloist follows the rhythm that has been written by the composer). Whitney, Greenough, and Mervine were exceptional Friday evening. They were clearly involved and engaged with the soloists.
This artistic concern was consistently demonstrated between the soloists in the orchestra, and between the orchestra and the choir. The extreme dynamics demonstrated by both were astounding. In the chorus, Nr. 46, “Since by man came death,” the pianissimo and richness of the choir’s sound at such an extreme level was truly something to behold. Keep in mind that if Maestro Kim had succumbed to the belief that “bigger is better,” this kind of performance would not have been possible. The Colorado Bach Ensemble, in its short history, has gained a reputation not only for artistic excellence, but for authenticity in adherence to the composer’s wishes. Friday evening, this resulted in a performance that kept the audience absolutely silent for two and a half hours. I’m quite sure that many in the audience were familiar to some degree with Handel’s Messiah, but I can guarantee you that this performance demonstrated to them what has been missing from so many other performances of this work.
It goes without saying that the Colorado Bach Ensemble received a standing ovation. It was the genre of performance that both musicians and audiences long for.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Alyssa Rigsby, Charpentier, Christopher Aspaas, George Shearing, Gregory J. Hutter, Justin Kerr, Kantorei, Kevin Gunnerson, Philip Lawson, Sarah Harrison, Ēriks Ešenvalds
Friday evening, December 13, I attended a performance given by the choral group Kantorei at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver. Kantorei was formed in 1997 by Richard Larson, and it has rapidly developed into a choir of great merit that has gone on European tours. Richard Larson, after sixteen years conducting the organization, stepped down as the Artistic Director of the group following the 2012- 2013 season, and they are now looking for a full-time director. The Interim Director of Kantorei is Sarah Harrison, and the three paragraphs below are from her bio statement on Kantorei’s website:
“Sarah Harrison is serving as the Interim Director of Kantorei for the 2013-2014 season. In addition to Kantorei, she is in her eighth year teaching choir and AP Music Theory at Cherry Creek High School in Greenwood Village. Under her direction, choirs have appeared at several regional and state conventions. Prior to Cherry Creek, Ms. Harrison opened and spent five years at Silver Creek Middle/Senior High School in Longmont, CO.
“In addition to school, she sings with various ensembles throughout the community and is an orchestral and jazz string bassist. Ms. Harrison has been a guest conductor and adjudicator in Colorado, Idaho, and Nebraska. Ms. Harrison is currently serving as Colorado’s ACDA High School Mixed Repertoire and Standards Chair. She also served as Choir Director and Organist at Westview Presbyterian Church in Longmont and taught orchestra in Minnesota before moving to CCHS.
“Ms. Harrison obtained her Bachelor of Music Education degree, with instrumental and vocal certification, from St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, and her Master of Music in conducting and music education from Colorado State University. She will conduct Kantorei for the entirety of the 2013-2014 concert season, while the group completes a search for a permanent Artistic Director and Conductor to begin in July, 2014.”
Kantorei, according to the program notes, is a fifty-two member choir, though I counted fifty-three in the program. I bring this up only because it is a large choir, and large choirs sometimes have their own unique problems. For example, the larger the choir the more difficult it is to have good diction. But, the first thing that caught my attention Friday evening was that the diction of this choir is well-nigh perfect. To have such good diction, every member of the choir must be singing together so that syllables start at the same time and end at the same time. Once that is done, attention to phrasing comes next, but if the diction is excellent, chances are greatly increased that the phrasing will be good as well. It was. Keep in mind, that the program notes state that most of the members of this choir have some kind of extensive musical training. It shows.
Of course, the question that I am leading up to is why is Kantorei still looking for a new Artistic Director? Sarah Harrison certainly demonstrated that she is quite capable of filling those shoes. The blend of the choir, influenced by the scattered placement of different voices throughout, was excellent. The dynamic range that she achieved from this fifty-two voice choir was superb. I will say it again: she clearly understands diction, bland, dynamics, and phrasing. In addition she demonstrated a marvelous capability of obtaining those qualities from the choir itself. It was a wonderful demonstration of a keen musician’s ear guiding a choir to give their utmost.
She opened the program with an exciting work entitled Hodie Christus Natus Est by the Argentine composer Ariel Quintana. Quintana is a relatively young composer, born in 1965, who is now working on his Doctorate in Choral Conducting at the University of Southern California. He graduated from the Buenos Aires Conservatory with degrees in piano performance.
This was the perfect piece with which to open the program because it is exciting and vigorous. Maestra Harrison stood in the center aisle of St. John’s Cathedral, after dividing the choir; one half in the front of the church, and the other in the rear of the church. It was a very effective antiphonal performance that filled the church with a wonderful balance of the singers. Harrison seemed to have an ability to take advantage of the acoustics in St. John’s, which can sometimes be a little difficult. It is an absolutely excellent piece that is full of deceptive resolutions of major and minor seconds that comprise much of the harmony.
One aspect of Friday evening’s performance that took me quite by surprise was Maestra Harrison’s persuasive combining of different works, six different compositions in the first combination, to comprise a section of the program. It was almost as if she considered the individual pieces to be parts of a suite. And, I hasten to point out, that the composers were quite disparate. For example, this first group of six compositions included the composers Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1634-1704), a Baroque composer renowned for writing liturgical music; Christopher Aspaas (b. 1973) who teaches voice and choral conducting at St. Olaf College; and Philip Lawson (b. 1957), an English composer, who is also a choral clinician. The works chosen from these composers were portions of the Mass and a Carol, the text of which was written by Jean de Brébeuf a French missionary who died in Canada in 1649. The combination of these works, even though each was so different, was quite effective, and certainly displayed a great deal of musical imagination and perspicacity.
Another item worthy of note, I believe, is that several compositions on the program required the use of soloists. That’s nothing unusual, of course; however, the number of vocal soloists that participated was twenty-two. There were not just two or three soloists that were used several times. All twenty-two of the soloists sounded as though they had had extensive vocal training; i.e., degrees in voice. These were all members of Kantorei. None of them were guest artists. That is surprising depth even for a choir of fifty-two singers. In addition, I was surprised to learn that Maestra Sarah Harrison is an accomplished jazz bass player, and she demonstrated that skill, along with Kevin Gunnerson on percussion, in the performance of the late George Shearing’s Christmas Carol, Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind, which is based on the poem by Shakespeare. As my memory serves me, this work is from a set of Shakespearean poems that were set to music by George Shearing.
For my part, the most beautiful work on the program was Winter Song by American composer Gregory J. Hutter (b. 1971), who is a MacDowell Colony Fellow and a faculty member at DePaul University. This was another work on the program that was most certainly tonal, but where dissonances were created by the intervals of major and minor seconds that were sometimes deceptive in their resolution.
Another work on the program that was absolutely outstanding was entitled Northern Lights by Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977). His orchestral, chamber and choral works have been performed worldwide. This is a very descriptive piece, and Justin Kerr, the tenor soloist from the choir, was spectacular performance. He has a crystal clear voice with effortless production.
This was an outstanding program. The music was well-chosen: there was absolutely nothing that was a cliché on this program. It was fresh and beautifully done. I must also mention the pianist with the group, Alyssa Rigsby. A graduate of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, she is a wonderful pianist and seemed to fit very comfortably with everything that Maestra Harrison asked for. It has been a long time since I have heard this group, and I must emphasize that I normally associate a fine choir performance with a group of individuals that is smaller. As I said above, the larger the choir the less the musicianship shows through. I sometimes think that here in America everyone has the concept that huge choirs are always better because they make a bigger sound. This choir certainly made a huge sound, but I emphasize that I could understand every word they said, and their entrances, and periods of rest were truly superb. It left me wondering why Kantorei is searching for a new director. Why don’t they just keep Maestra Sarah Harrison?
This article is also posted at http://www.thescen3.org/