Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Andrew Litton, Bil Jackson, Clarinet Concerto, Colorado Symphony, Kevin Puts, Leonard Bernstein, The Age of Anxiety Symphony Nr. 2, Two Mountain Scenes, William Wolfram
The Colorado Symphony Orchestra presented its American Festival: Part I under the direction of Maestro Andrew Litton, Saturday evening, February 28. Without becoming involved in poetic rapture, you readers must understand that this was one of the finest CSO concerts they have given. There are several reasons for this, the first of which is that they played extraordinarily well, but also they introduced Kevin Puts to the Denver audience. In addition, Bil Jackson, former Principal Clarinetist with the CSO, returned to perform Kevin Puts’ Clarinet Concerto, and the outstanding pianist William Wolfram returned to perform Leonard Bernstein’s The Age of Anxiety, Symphony Nr. 2.
The program opened with Two Mountain Scenes, Maestoso and Furioso by the American composer, Kevin Puts. Before I discuss his music, I will quote the entirety of his biographical statement from his website. I do so because it was apparent Saturday night that this is a major American composer that you readers need to know about. If you see a concert program where his works are being performed, you must attend.
“Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his debut opera Silent Night, Kevin Puts has been hailed as one of the most important composers of his generation. Critically acclaimed for his distinctive and richly colored musical voice, Puts’ impressive body of work includes four symphonies as well as several concertos written for some of today’s top soloists. His newest work, The City (Symphony No. 5), co-commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in honor of its 100th anniversary and by Carnegie Hall in honor of their 125th anniversary, will receive its premiere in Baltimore and New York in April 2016.
“Silent Night, commissioned and premiered by Minnesota Opera, has since been produced and performed at Fort Worth Opera, Cincinnati Opera, the Wexford Opera Festival, and Calgary Opera, with upcoming productions at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Montreal Opera. In 2013, his choral works To Touch The Sky and If I Were A Swan were performed by Conspirare, and a recording was released by the Harmonia Mundi label. The recording includes a performance of his Symphony No. 4: From Mission San Juan, performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop. His second opera, an adaptation of Richard Condon’s novel The Manchurian Candidate, also commissioned by Minnesota Opera, will have its world premiere in March 2015. That same month, his song cycle Of All The Moons, commissioned by Carnegie Hall, will be performed by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke. His first chamber opera, an adaptation of Peter Ackroyd’s gothic novel The Trial of Elizabeth Cree commissioned by Opera Philadelphia will have its premiere in 2016.
“His orchestral works have been commissioned, performed, and recorded by leading orchestras and ensembles throughout North America, Europe and the Far East, including the New York Philharmonic, the Tonhalle Orchester (Zurich), the Boston Pops, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Miro Quartet, Cypress Quartet, Conspirare, the Eroica Trio, Eighth Blackbird, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the symphony orchestras of Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, Atlanta, Colorado, Houston, Fort Worth, St. Louis, and Minnesota. In 2005, in celebration of David Zinman’s 70th birthday, he was commissioned to write Vision, a cello concerto premiered by Yo-Yo Ma and the Aspen Music Festival Orchestra. During the same year, Dame Evelyn Glennie premiered his Percussion Concerto with the Pacific and Utah Symphonies. In 2008, his piano concerto Night, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and premiered by pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane.
“Mr. Puts has received prestigious awards and grants from the American Academy in Rome, the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, BMI and ASCAP. He has served as Composer-in-Residence of Young Concerts Artists, the California Symphony, the Fort Worth Symphony, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, Music from Angel Fire, and the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. Mr. Puts received his training as a composer and pianist at the Eastman School of Music and Yale University. Since 2006, he has been a member of the composition department at the Peabody Institute, and currently is the Director of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer’s Institute.
“A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Mr. Puts received his Bachelor’s Degree from the Eastman School of Music, his Master’s Degree from Yale University, and a Doctor of Musical Arts at the Eastman School of Music.”
You readers who are, perhaps, not familiar with musical terminology (which is traditionally an Italian) will, even so, recognize that two pieces are titled “majestic” and “furiously” in the work Two Mountain Scenes, Maestoso and Furioso. The work was commissioned by the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, and it certainly reflects the scope of the Rocky Mountains.
The first of the two pieces, Maestoso, opens with a trumpet fanfare, and the music is so wonderfully descriptive that I did not bother at the concert to read the program notes describing the two pieces. I was absolutely dazzled by Puts’ use of harmony and the melodic line. His harmonic structure is best imagined as something that Aaron Copland might write if he were still alive and composing. Indeed, when I read the program notes during the intermission, they quoted Puts as saying that he “… always loved Copland’s Concerto for Clarinet.” The chordal harmony that Puts uses, on first hearing, seems to be that of 9th and 13th chords in parallel motion beneath a melodic line which has a remarkable ambitus and is quite disjunct, very similar to Sergei Prokofiev. He also seems to use a lot of harmonic counterpoint, but, again, that is based on my first hearing of this work. The overall effect is one of surprising mellifluous beauty, and the convincing use of the 9th and 13th chords in a traditionally functional manner is filled with surprise when a truly functional chord, such as a V7, makes its appearance.
The second of the Two Mountain Scenes, Furioso, very clearly describes an approaching storm. His orchestration – masses of percussion – very skillfully describes the impending storm, but his use of harmony takes away the terror of the storm, and turns it in to a natural occurrence.
The effect of these two pieces was that of absolutely stunning beauty and serenity. It is my sincere hope that the CSO programs more of his work.
Following the Two Mountain Scenes, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra welcomed the return (for this performance only) of clarinetist Bil Jackson. I’m sure that all of you readers will recognize his name because he was Principal Clarinet in the CSO for 28 years. He is now Associate Professor of Clarinet on the faculty of the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University. To jog your mind, I will quote very briefly from his bio statement on his website:
“Bil Jackson enjoys a varied musical career that includes solo, orchestral and chamber music appearances. Before joining the faculty at the Blair School, he served as principal clarinetist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Honolulu Symphony, and has performed as guest principal clarinetist with the St Louis, Minnesota and Cincinnati symphony orchestras. He also has appeared as a soloist with the Colorado, Honolulu, Denver, Charlotte, Dallas Chamber and Aspen Chamber orchestras.”
Bil Jackson and the CSO, as I stated in the opening paragraph, performed Kevin Puts’ Clarinet Concerto. This concerto, written for string orchestra, has two movements, each with a descriptive title of Vigil and Surge.
The opening movement was easily recognizable as being written by Kevin Puts because I had just heard his previous work. Before Saturday’s performance, I was completely unfamiliar with this composer even though this work was commissioned for Bil Jackson by Catherine Gould through the Meet the Composer program. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra premiered this work in 2009 with Jeffrey Kahane conducting. Regretfully, I did not hear that performance.
I can assure you Kevin Puts sounds like no other composer who is writing today. His skill as a composer is evident in this work because it is so convincingly written for the clarinet. It is remarkably difficult, but, on the other hand, Bil Jackson is a totally remarkable clarinetist. The opening of the work is, once again, mellifluous while being disjunct (a seemingly impossible combination?). It has some beautiful writing for two harps, and there are some long sustained notes in the violas underneath the performance of the rest of the orchestra. In the excellent program notes, Kevin Puts is quoted as explaining that part of the impetus for this work was the memory of a television documentary concerning the U. S. military personnel who lost their lives in the Middle East. It is a somber piece in many ways, and the performance of this work was very passionate indeed. Both of the movements of this concerto have a cadenza, and they truly allowed Jackson to demonstrate his almost supernatural technical ability and musicianship on the clarinet. No matter the difficulty involved, it is always apparent that the music and the art of the composer comes first. Not once did he use the ferocious difficulty required in this concerto to simply make a display of his virtuosity. The harmony of the first movement was similar to that of the Two Mountain Scenes, and yet there seemed to be an added aspect of almost modal harmony in the first movement of this concerto.
The second movement of this Clarinet Concerto by Puts began with an incredible sense that something inevitable and irrevocable was taking place: if you got in the way, it would simply run you down. However, no matter the ferocious mood, it was still an astoundingly beautiful work. This movement had a cadenza as well, and, after the cadenza, the mood to seem to change into poignant reflection. There was some wonderful use of percussion in this work: glockenspiel, marimba, bass drum, and chimes. Kevin Puts is a remarkable composer, and Bil Jackson is a remarkable clarinetist. The audience responded with a standing ovation, and it was clear that it was for both Kevin Puts and Bil Jackson.
Following the intermission, and the second half of Saturday’s program was the performance of Leonard Bernstein’s remarkable The Age of Anxiety, Symphony Nr. 2, with William Wolfram at the piano. This work was finished in 1949, but it was revised in 1965. At its premiere by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1949, it was conducted by Sergei Koussevitzky with Leonard Bernstein at the piano. This remarkable work was performed by the CSO in 1998 with Marin Alsop conducting and Jeffrey Kahane at the piano.
William Wolfram performed with the CSO exactly one year ago, February 28, 2014, performing Benjamin Britten’s Piano Concerto. William Wolfram is clearly one of the best pianists alive today. He has won major awards all over the world, and he has performed with major symphonies all over the world. This also seems like a good point in this article to mention one important fact: Saturday evening, he performed on a Yamaha concert grand, because he is a Yamaha artist. I point this out because the piano he performed on was excellent. It was head and shoulders above the Steinway concert grand that is owned by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. The Yamaha was perfectly voiced and perfectly tuned and it sounded wonderful. What a breath of fresh air it would be if the Colorado Symphony Orchestra could afford a new concert grand: perhaps a Bösendorfer, Sauter, Yamaha, Schimmel, or Blüthner, and a technician who could properly care for it.
This work by Leonard Bernstein was inspired by W. H. Auden’s poem The Age of Anxiety, which Bernstein considered “… One of the most shattering examples of pure virtuosity in the history of English poetry.” It inspired his second symphony, and he gave it the same form as Auden’s poem.
This work has to be one of the most difficult concertos written in the 20th century, and it truly takes the appearance of a concerto rather than a symphony. The second movement makes use of a drum set, an offstage upright piano, wood blocks, celesta, and bass drum located on stage behind the solo pianist. If one is thinking of this piece as recognizable because of its similarity to Westside Story or Fancy Free, he or she will be surprised. This is a wonderful example of Leonard Bernstein’s supreme compositional abilities. For example, Bernstein writes a boogie rhythm for the pianist which reminds one very strongly of the score he wrote for On the Waterfront. But keep in mind, this work is a very serious composition by Bernstein – it is almost introspective – and in no way can it be associated with “entertainment.” There are many different moods in this work, which seem to vie for the listeners’ attention. And, of course, it is remarkably complex.
This was an outstanding concert because of the works that were chosen to be performed, the superior artistry of the performers, and of the conductor, and those in the symphony. Kevin Puts, Bil Jackson, and William Wolfram are formidable artists and soloists. It was truly a memorable experience having the three of them on one program.
The American Festival: Part II will be performed on March 13 to the 15, and will feature the work of George Gershwin, Samuel Barber, and Stephen Albert. The guest artist will be violinist Anne Akiko Myers.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Boulder Bach Festival, Faythe Vollrath, Gina Vega, J. S. Bach, John Grau, Josefien Stoppelenburg, Julie Simson, Kenneth Goldsmith, Mass in B minor, Melissa Givens, Michael Dean, Mina Gajic, Paul Erhard, Robert Howard, Ysmael Reyes, Zachary Carrettin
Friday evening, February 27, the Boulder Bach Festival came to Denver to perform J. S. Bach’s monumental Mass in B minor at the Montview Presbyterian Church. I was anxious to hear this performance as it was the first performance by the Boulder Bach Festival’s new resident conductor, Maestro Zachary Carrettin. I have written about Maestro Carrettin previous to this article, but you must recall that he was recently appointed as the Resident Conductor of the Boulder Bach Festival. This season is the 34th year of the Boulder Bach Festival, and it is also the first year of Zachary Carrettin’s appointment. I also point out that aside from their coup in retaining Carrettin, they truly gained a package, because his wife, Mina Gajić, is an accomplished pianist. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Zachary Carrettin, I will quote from the bio statement which appears on his website:
“Zachary Carrettin has performed as violinist and conductor in more than twenty-five countries on four continents, dazzling audiences by fusing ancient music with sounds influenced by South American, Middle Eastern, and European folk traditions, and guitar solos by Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix. Fusing improvisation with decades’ experience researching old manuscripts and performing on original instruments, his performances are singular, unlike any other. Whether improvising a cadenza in a romantic violin concerto or performing the Four Seasons with an all-electric-instrument chamber orchestra, he continues to surprise audiences with a sense of freedom, poetic depth, and brilliant virtuosity.
“Zachary has performed as featured artist at festivals in Italy, Germany, Norway, and Argentina, in the world’s great concert halls including the Mondavi Center, Zurich’s Tonhalle, the Grieg Hall in Bergen, the Wolf Trap Center, the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, and at one hundred stadiums internationally, on tour with Yanni. Zachary has been featured in Brazil by IBM, in Oman by Toyota, and in Las Vegas at The Venetian.
“A dynamic conductor and violin soloist, Zachary has led orchestras across Europe, the U.S., and South America, including the National Symphony Orchestras of Bolivia and Moldavia. He performs with pianist Mina Gajic in the duo Mystery Sonata, which presents twenty-first century programs including Tango Nuevo and Balkan Dances alongside impressionist and impetuous classical concert works. On baroque violin, he tours with trio Aeris, which specializes in the wildly expressive and improvisatory Italian sonatas of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
“Zachary has held university positions in violin and conducting at the University of St. Thomas and Sam Houston State University. He has premiered numerous works by living composers, while resurrecting the forgotten works of great artists of the past. Not one to be bound by self-prescribed limitations, he frequently presents the complete unaccompanied works for violin (and cello) by J.S. Bach on electric violin.”
I have written about J.S. Bach’s remarkable Mass in B minor before. It is remarkable in many respects. One is that Bach normally wrote at lightning speed, but it took him several years to finish this work. In addition, there has always been the question of Bach’s motivation for writing a Mass liberally taken from the Catholic style when he was a Lutheran. And, scholars often point out that the work is so large that it is not at all suitable for liturgical use. Sometimes, when I read these arguments, I think to myself that, perhaps, the reason is very simple. Bach was a very devout Lutheran, and for every liturgical piece that he wrote, he included the initials “S. D. G.” after he signed his name. Those initials stand for Soli Deo gloria meaning to the glory of God alone. He also added these initials on many of his secular works. It simply means that he was not concerned with his own glory, but humbly presenting the composition for the glory of God. In addition, it was unusual in the Baroque era to have a Mass written with such large proportions, but in later years there were many composers who wrote “concert” Masses that were too large for liturgical use. I hasten to point out that I mention these items only as food for thought in this article. I am not trying to solve the puzzle that this remarkable work presents.
The problem that occasionally occurs with the performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor is that many who perform this work believe that its large-scale and its historical importance indicate that one should have a huge orchestra and a huge choir. Unfortunately, the result of this misdirection often results in an exaggerated, almost romantic, interpretation of a Baroque work. This was certainly not the case with Friday evening’s performance: the orchestra was the perfect size, and the choir was certainly not beyond the scale available to Bach.
When the performance began, I was very pleasantly surprised at the diction of the choir. They were singing the expected Latin text with which I am quite familiar. Their diction was absolutely exceptional, and it remained so for the duration of the performance which was just over two hours. The Boulder Bach Festival Orchestra was led by Concertmaster Kenneth Goldsmith. I was sitting in a fortunate position where I could hear the orchestra as a whole and also the individual instruments. Goldsmith’s playing was remarkable. There were other new faces in the orchestra, but it was a certainty that they were all chosen very carefully as this was the best Boulder Bach Festival Orchestra I have heard to date.
The Mass in B minor is such a huge piece that there is no room here to cover every detail of the performance. The soloists, Josefien Stoppelenburg, soprano, Melissa Givens, soprano, Julie Simpson, mezzo-soprano, John Grau, tenor, and Michael Dean, bass baritone, were all truly exceptional, and all of them were very obviously familiar with this work, and familiar with the Baroque style. They had the common sense to let Bach’s genius govern the way they sang, rather than infuse the work with their own self-aggrandizing.
The outstanding feature throughout the performance Friday evening is one that is critical to the performance of Bach, and it is one which is often overlooked by those who have no true conception of how Bach should be performed. That feature is the inherent rhythmic pulse and forward motion in every single piece that Bach wrote. It is in his most languid melodic lines of the slow movements. Part of it comes from the continuo section of the orchestra. For those of you who are not familiar with that term, the continuo is that part of a Baroque ensemble played on a keyboard instrument – organ or harpsichord – and a low stringed instrument (sometimes two) that provide the harmonic basis upon which everything else is organized. Friday evening, the organ was played by Faythe Vollrath, Robert Howard, Principal Cello, and Paul Erhard, Principal Bass. It is clear that these are remarkable musicians.
In the opening Kyrie, Josefien Stoppelenburg, and Melissa Givens sang a duet in the Christe portion. They sang beautifully and it was an indication of what was to come from them throughout the entire work. Their diction was excellent, and they were strongly influenced by the steady pulse of the orchestra. I feel that I must mention again the diction of the choir. The larger the choir the more difficult diction becomes. Counting the names and the program, the choir numbered 52 individuals. Simply put, their diction never failed.
In the soprano and tenor duet, which occurs in the Domine Deus section of the Gloria, the soloists were superb, but it was this section where the orchestra took my attention completely. The woodwinds were truly excellent and the portato notes played by the cellos and the bass were absolutely the same length all the time. The counterpoint, played by the flutes Ysmael Reyes and Gina Vega, was absolute perfection and supported the soloists and the chorus without being obtrusive. And that brings me to a very important point: every note and every measure of the performance Friday evening could be heard. Nothing was covered or hidden, and I am quite sure that even a first-time listener could appreciate what Bach wrote.
The bass aria, sung by Michael Dean, in the Quoniam to solus sanctus, was full and rich, and it was done without the exaggeration of the romantic style that I have heard in other performances of the B minor Mass. It was excellent Bach.
At the beginning of the program, Maestro Carrettin explained to the audience that an intermission was going to be taken after the text in the mass, “And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.” He asked that the audience not applaud because of the solemnity of the text. After the intermission, the positioning of the sections in the choir were very different from the first half of the program. I am sure this was done in consideration of the fact that Bach wrote this Mass over a long period of time, and Maestro Carrettin, after studying Bach’s intent, wished to have a different blend of voices for the remaining sections of Bach’s work. Consider that the second half of the program began with the jubilant, Et resurrexit, and the choir seemed to be full of energy and excitement.
The Mass in B minor gives each section of the orchestra and the choir the opportunity to display their ability as musicians. I feel that it is necessary to point out that the Boulder Bach Festival, with the appointment of Zachary Carrettin, has undergone a sea change. The quality of this performance was certainly indicative of the fact that every musician on stage, be they orchestra member, choir member or soloist, was inspired by the leadership of Maestro Carrettin. The phrasing, entrances and exits, and forward motion, was absolute perfection, and it clearly delineated the counterpoint inherent in Bach’s writing. They performed with such excitement that one could imagine that this was the first time this piece had ever been heard. I am aware that I have not mentioned some of the orchestra members and some of the choir members, but there simply is not enough room to mention everyone. However, I can assure you, everyone on stage deserves mention for this performance. It was marked by an amazing range and depth of mood which was absolutely exhilarating. The Boulder Bach Festival performers were rewarded with a standing ovation. Now, if they would just give us a performance of Bach’s Cantata, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Alexandra Pullien, Alexei Tyukov, Asuka Saski, Casey Dalton, Catherine Sailer, Chandra Kuykendall, Christopher Moulton, Dana Benton, Domenico Luciano, Emily Dixon, Emily Speed, Fernanda Oliveira, Francisco Estevez, Gill Boggs, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Lorita Travaglia, Maria Mosina, Melissa Zoebisch, Morgan Buchanan, Sandra Brown, Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, Tracy Jones
Friday evening, February 20, the Colorado Ballet gave one of its most brilliant performances. It was brilliant not only because the dancers are so good and the orchestra so fine, but because the Ballet Masterworks series is always just that: usually three short ballets – roughly 20 to 25 minutes each – are very carefully chosen by Artistic Director Gil Boggs. They are truly masterworks. They can carry that label because the choreography is excellent and because the music is magnificent as well.
The opening work was Concerto Barocco choreographed by George Balanchine with music by Johann Sebastian Bach. Balanchine was an excellent musician as well as a choreographer and dancer, and he had the reputation of being a remarkable pianist. He had extensive courses in music when he was in school. When he conceived this work, which uses the music from Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, he was quoted as saying, “if the dance designer sees in the development of classical dancing a counterpart in the development of music and has studied them both, he will derive continual inspiration from great scores.” I came away from the performance Friday evening secure in my realization that Gil Boggs is also an accomplished musician, and agrees with the ethos expressed by Balanchine. For those of you who are surprised by the use of Bach’s music for a ballet, realize this: the one feature of every single piece that Bach wrote that stands out above all else is an underlying rhythmic pulse. And, it is that pulse that Balanchine took advantage of. Certainly, there is much in Bach’s music to take advantage of: the counterpoint, incredible grace, and continual forward movement. I also hasten to point out that Gil Boggs is aware of the fact that Maestro Adam Flatt, who conducts the ballet orchestra, has had a profound effect on the quality of this orchestra. Lydia Sviatlovskaya and Leslie Sawyer where the violin soloists for this double concerto. They were superb.
I was astounded by the very opening of this work, because the minute the curtain was up the orchestra and the dancers began their work; there was no hesitation. It was absolutely together as the curtain reached its zenith. It truly seemed to me as if Maestro Flatt was watching the curtain, and, of course, all of the dancers on stage had their eyes glued to Maestro Flatt. It had a profound effect on the audience. It was immediately obvious that Balanchine felt a remarkable kinship with the music, and the dancers on stage seem to take particular joy in dancing to his choreography. The most astounding feature of their dancing came in the last movement, where Bach wrote many 16th note passages. The dancers were required to use a step which seemed to me to be a combination of a frappé and a bourée. I have never seen that step before, and I’m quite sure that it has a name, but it was incredibly difficult and every dancer on stage was precisely together with the orchestra and with each other. It was a breathtaking demonstration of the ability of these dancers. However, truly, the most amazing aspect of the performance of this work was the fact that Balanchine’s choreography, and the skill of the dancers on stage, made Bach’s wonderful double concerto truly fit ballet. It was as if Bach had written this work as a ballet. I am sure that he would be amazed if he could have seen this performance.
Sharon Wehner, Maria Mosina, and Alexei Tyukov, were truly sensational. The dancers in the core, Morgan Buchanan, Casey Dalton, Emily Dixon, Tracy Jones, Fernanda Oliveira, Alexandra Pullen, Emily Speed, and Melissa Zoebisch were marvelous. All of these dancers “fit” the choreography to the extent that I cannot imagine a performance using any other dancers.
The second ballet on this program of three was a work entitled In Pieces, which was given the world premiere by the Colorado Ballet on February 22, 2013. The title comes from a work entitled Concerto in Pieces by Danish composer, Poul Ruders (b. 1949). The work was commissioned by the BBC for the 300th year of the death of English composer Henry Purcell, and the 50th anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s Young Persons’ Guide to the Orchestra. The choreographer of this ballet is Val Caniparoli who, in an interview that is still available on the Colorado Ballet’s website, states that he specifically wanted the dancers in the Colorado Ballet to give the world premiere of this work. That should say something about the skill and artistic ability of these dancers, as well as the entire organization. Caniparoli, in the interview, states that he was very excited by the ability of these dancers, as well as having a live ballet orchestra at his disposal. He admired the versatility of these dancers because they are always “willing to try something new and they love challenges.” He also had a great affection for the orchestra’s ability.
From the outset, it was very clear that this is an incredibly difficult ballet. The rhythm is very complicated, and quite often the tempos, at least to me, seemed to be extreme. Asuka Sasaki, Domenico Luciano, Chandra Kuykendall, Jesse Marks, Sharon Wehner, and Christopher Moulton, were the soloists in this ballet, and I was left speechless (again) by their remarkable ability. The music itself has many instances wherein I was reminded of John Cage. There was what I can only describe as thorough use of percussion instruments in this ballet, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to the comparison with Cage. Douglas Walter, Scott Higgins, Mark Foster, Paul Milliken, and Carl Dixon are the percussionists in the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, and they are excellent. In addition, there was a marvelous tuba solo, and Michael Allen came wonderfully close to making the tuba sound like a cello.
The music and the choreography in this work were incredibly dramatic. The movements and steps that the dancers were required to make were quite new to me, and I am quite sure that Caniparoli invented them out of necessity in order to fulfill his spectacular concept of the music. And, there again, I have mentioned a choreographers concept of movement that the music requires. Many audience members who are not totally familiar with ballet and all of its artistic intricacies are under the impression that a choreographer somehow separates movement from the music, and only picks the music once he or she has the choreography in mind. I hasten to point out that in the mind of a choreographer, the movement and the music cannot be separated: they are conceived simultaneously. I encourage all of you to go to the Colorado Ballet website and listen to the interview with Caniparoli. It will shed much light on the process of such a complicated procedure. It also shows how much respect Val Caniparoli has for the Colorado Ballet.
Following In Pieces, the Colorado Ballet performed Fancy Free, choreographed by Jerome Robbins to the music of Leonard Bernstein. The set design for this work was absolutely terrific. One could easily tell that it was in the heart of New York City, for that is where this short ballet takes place: on a hot summer evening in 1944, with three sailors looking for relief from their military duty. As a matter of fact, this work was premiered on April 18, 1944. It concerns three sailors who find themselves in a pickle because they meet only two girls. There is a marvelous pas de deux which was danced by Dana Benton and Francisco Estevez. But when I mention them, you must realize that Kevin Gaël Thomas, Jesse Marks, and Shelby Dyer were excellent as well. It is that fact that sets this ballet company so far above many others that I have seen. I have stated many times, and it is my sincere belief, that every member of this ballet company is a truly fine artist. In the plot of this ballet. Each of the sailors performs a solo dance to attract one of the two girls they have met. The girls can’t decide who they wish to pair up with, so the three sailors promptly engage in a fight. While they are fighting the two girls disappear. The three sailors eventually noticed this, renew their friendship with another drink, and leave the bar for the sidewalk. There, they promptly meet another beautiful girl, danced by Tracy Jones, and they follow her with great enthusiasm.
Estevez, Thomas, Marks, Dyer, and Benton, are not only truly fine ballet artists, they are skilled actors as well, and they injected this ballet with humor as well as a certain amount of pathos. That fact always seems to surprise many individuals who are not familiar with ballet, as they seem to be unaware that a ballet can express so many different emotions.
This ballet company approaches every single production as if it were a theatrical play set to music with incredibly thought out and descriptive movement. Gil Boggs, Adam Flatt, Catherine Sailer, along with Sandra Brown and Lorita Travaglia, have changed this Colorado Ballet into a remarkable artistic organization by demonstrating to the dancers and the musicians that artistry and dedication are rewarded. It is clear that all of the dancers are artists just as all of the orchestra member are artists, and they have the support of the leadership and the Board.
There was a standing ovation Friday night by an audience that was too small. Certainly, many people stayed home in fear of the weather, but those who stayed home are the ones who lost the advantage of seeing three honest Masterworks of Ballet.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Antonio Vivladi, Cynthia Katsarelis, Daniel Cox, Daniel Kellogg, Philip Glass, Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Walt Whitman, Willi Apel, Yumi Hwang-Williams
I always admonish you readers to attend as many concerts as you possibly can. One of the reasons is that there are many remarkably fine ensembles here in the state of Colorado, and their excellence often takes new concertgoers by surprise. And sometimes, it takes veteran concertgoers such as myself completely by surprise even though I know the ensemble which is performing has an outstanding reputation.
I had the great privilege Friday evening, February 6, to hear a truly outstanding concert, and even the word outstanding does not describe the excellence of the performance. Without exaggeration, it was truly world-class.
The performance that I’m referring to was the concert at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral given by the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis. The guest artist at the concert was Yumi Hwang-Williams, violin, and the guest composer was Daniel Cox.
The performance opened with a World Premiere of a work by Daniel Cox entitled … I give you my sprig of lilac. Composer, Saxophonist, and Pianist from Kansas City, Missouri. BA in Music and BA in Psychology from University of Missouri-Columbia, 2012. Currently working on MM in Music Composition at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where he studies with Daniel Kellogg. Daniel Cox also won the University of Colorado Boulder composition competition.
This work was commissioned for the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra’s 2014-2015 concert season, and it is a response to Walt Whitman’s poem, When Lilacs Last In The Dooryard Bloom’d. As the program notes written by Daniel Cox state: “This piece is my musical response to Walt Whitman’s famous poem, When Lilacs Last In The Dooryard Bloom’d, written in 1865 in response to the death of Abraham Lincoln. Whitman’s poem uses natural and idyllic imagery to ruminate on the nature of life and death. The result is one of coexisting sadness and beauty and the fleeting world that surrounds us. My goal with this piece was to process how Whitman’s poem made me feel while reading it and translate those emotions through music.”
Daniel Cox certainly realized his goal in this piece. This was an absolutely gorgeous piece of music that had sustained tone clusters that moved very slowly creating not only tension and release, but creating a vivid impression that these tone clusters had a chordal function. That is rare, because you must realize that tone clusters contain no obvious leading tone. In addition, there was some discernible counterpoint that appeared in the last half of the piece that was in three voices: viola, cello, and violin. The orchestration of this piece – and it was for just a string orchestra – was remarkably skillful, and the entire work was so artistic that it seemed to have come from the pen and mind of someone much older. This was a piece that could be listened to again and again. It is my sincere hope that Maestra Katsarelis and the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra perform this again and soon. I promise you that you will hear a great deal about, and from, Daniel Cox.
I might add that the sensitivity with which this chamber orchestra played Cox’s composition left me with the impression that they were thoroughly enamored with it. There were also some new faces in the orchestra, and there is no question that Maestra Katsarelis is very demanding at the auditions. This has always been a very good chamber orchestra, but I have never heard them play as beautifully as they did Friday evening.
Following the splendid work by Daniel Cox, the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra performed the Fantasia On a Theme by Thomas Tallis, which was written by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Ralph Vaughn Williams, as I am sure most of you readers are aware, is one of the outstanding English composers of the 20th century. Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) was another major English composer, and one will find his name in almost every collection of English music from the 1500s. As a matter of fact, one of my professors in undergraduate school, Willi Apel, told me that Tallis was so well thought of that Queen Elizabeth allowed him to use the paper to compose on (because of its fine quality) which hitherto had been used exclusively for printing.
In 1567, Tallis contributed nine vernacular psalm settings for a Salter being compiled by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker. These nine songs became quite obscure after Tallis died, and as Maestra Katsarelis pointed out in the pre-concert lecture (which all of you should attend), Vaughan Williams was familiar with these through his second calling which was musicology. The name of the Tallis tune that Vaughan Williams chose was Why Fum’th in Fight. Katsarelis also pointed out that this original tune was written in the Phrygian mode. Modes are different from scales in that there is no leading tone as there are in major and minor scales. It was in 1558 that Italian theorist, Gioseffo Zarlino, codified major and minor in a four volume treatise translated as the Institution of Harmony. The primary use of modes was to describe the ambitus of the melodies and Gregorian chant or pre-major and minor melodic lines.
Maestra Katsarelis divided the chamber orchestra into two sections, one of which remained in the Crossing of St. John’s, while the other was placed in the Ambulatory, which is the area closest to the alter. I point out that the orchestra members situated in the Ambulatory faced the congregation so that their sound was projected outward, and thus, not allowed to bounce off the walls of the Ambulatory. Katsarelis did this because Vaughan Williams wanted to take advantage of the antiphonal effect of Tallis’s score. I point out that this effect is felt in the opening bars before Tallis’ melody is heard in the low pizzicato strings. As one may take for granted, the two orchestras are treated separately, and there are some remarkable melodic lines for solo violin and viola. Towards the end of the work, the solo violin brings the music to a close, but it is a close in which these fine musicians seemed to evoke an extraordinary eternal rest. It was an absolutely wonderful performance, and there is no question that this piece by Vaughan Williams be placed in the same stratosphere as the Dvořák Serenade for Strings and the Serenade for Strings by Josef Suk. This was a wonderful performance, and it was profoundly moving. It pointed out that every musician in this orchestra is truly exceptional.
Following the intermission, Yumi Hwang-Williams joined the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and performed one of the finest violin concertos of the 20th century, the Violin Concerto Nr. 2, “The American Four Seasons” by Philip Glass (b. 1937). Before I introduce this concerto, I will tell you readers a little about Yumi Hwang-Williams.
I know that all of you recognize the name, for she is the concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. She made her concert debut as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra when she was 21 years old. She has soloed with the Cincinnati Symphony, the Indianapolis Symphony, and the Santa Rosa Symphony. She has played, toured, and recorded extensively with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and she continues to be invited there as a guest first violinist. Her accolades and experience are so extensive that they simply cannot be mentioned here, but she is one of the finest violinists in the United States if not the world. She has had experience performing the works of Philip Glass (she is a champion of avant-garde music), and recently performed Glass’ Double Concerto for violin and cello with Wendy Sutter and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
This concerto was commissioned by violinist Robert McDuffie, and it has a subtitle of “the American Four Seasons.” Glass gave it this subtitle because it is his homage to Antonio Vivaldi’s set of four concertos which he entitled The Four Seasons, or Le quattro stagioni. As Maestra Katsarelis said in her pre-concert lecture, Vivaldi named each of his concertos with the name of a season, i.e., Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. Philip Glass does not do that because he, rather coyly, left that up to the audience to decide which season he was musically describing.
I had the great good fortune to be sitting rather close to the Crossing in St. John’s Cathedral. This had the advantage of a very clear view of how hard Yumi Hwang-Williams works when she plays. She has absolutely colossal technique, and it is to her advantage that she does not use this to impress the audience or to take extreme tempos. She is such a profound musician that impressing the audience, unlike some violinists which I shall not name, is far from her mind.
In this work, Philip Glass begins with a solo section (without orchestra) which he calls a Prologue. That is followed by Movement I. Following that Movement there is another solo section which Glass has called Song Nr. 1. This format is followed until Movement IV which ends the piece without a closing Song Section.
Hwang-Williams playing in the opening Prologue was wonderfully sensitive, and it was emphasized by such an amazing confidence and conviction that the audience was profoundly moved. I was happy to see that the program notes included the make of violin that Ms. Hwang-Williams owns. It was made in 1752 by Carlo Landolfi in Milan, Italy. The sound of her violin is remarkable but no less so than her ability to obtain amazing volume and tone from it. This was one of the few violin performances I have attended in recent years where the instrument and the performer truly seemed to be one unit.
Throughout the entire work, but particularly in the sections that Glass has named as “Movements,” there is a remarkable rhythmic drive and urgency from the orchestra. Yumi Hwang Williams echoed this character very easily so that one literally was sitting on the edge of his seat because of the irrevocable drive. Movement II was an exception to this drive, for it was sweet and lyrical, and even mysterious. Yumi Hwang-Williams’ playing is full of passion without being cloying and overdone, and her tone and phrasing is solid and very convincing. I truly wish that Philip Glass had heard this performance of his composition. Not only was this remarkable soloist exceptional in every way, but so was the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra. I truly believe that it was one of the best performances they have ever given. I dare say that after the Glass, the orchestra looked totally exhausted but also triumphant as well they should.
This entire performance Friday evening seemed to be so full of mutual respect amongst the musicians in the orchestra, and certainly between the composer and orchestra, as well as the violinist. This was a performance clearly given by people who truly love good music, and the audience responded accordingly with a standing ovation. Yes, it was for Yumi Hwang-Williams, but I can promise you it was also for Daniel Cox, Maestro Cynthia Katsarelis, and the remarkable musicians that are in the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Abdrew Sords, Anton Arensky, Antonin Dvořák, Bahman Saless, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Johannes Brahms
It was my great pleasure Saturday evening, January 31, to attend the Boulder Chamber Orchestra’s performance at the Broomfield Auditorium. The concert included a young man named Andrew Sords who is a marvelous violinist, and who is well on his way to becoming a true virtuoso.
Under the direction of Maestro Bahman Saless, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra opened the concert with the Dvořák Romance in F minor for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 11. I have often said that Dvořák needs to be played more often, and this is certainly a piece that fits in that category. Happily, this was just the first rarely heard piece on the program.But first, a brief introduction to Andrew Sords from his website:
“American violinist ANDREW SORDS has received continuous critical acclaim for his performances combining ravishing tone and dazzling virtuosity. Hailed in the press as ‘a fully formed artist’ (Kalisz-Poland News), ‘utterly radiant’ (Canada’s Arts Forum), and ‘exceptionally heartfelt and soulful’ (St. Maarten’s Daily Herald), Sords has appeared as soloist with nearly 150 orchestras across 4 continents. Continually diversifying his repertoire and appearances, Sords is respected as a charismatic performer, clinician, and recording artist.
“Born in Newark, Delaware, Sords began piano lessons at the age of five, followed shortly by violin studies. He studied at The Cleveland Institute of Music and Southern Methodist University, and counts Linda Cerone, David Russell, and Chee-Yun among his teachers. Additional summer studies were undertaken at Interlochen’s Center for the Arts and the Encore School for Strings.”
The F minor Romance by Dvořák (1841-1904) comes very close to being a tone poem for violin and orchestra, and it has an unmistakable aura that reminds one of the rolling hills and woods in the Bohemian countryside south of Prague. This piece, finished in 1877, is really a reworking of the second movement of his String Quartet in F minor which was written in 1873. Sords’ performance of this piece was lyrical and warm and it seemed the perfect piece to play on his 96 year old Belgian violin by Augustine Talisse, which has a wonderful rich sound. His playing style is quite relaxed, and it is thankfully devoid of extracurricular movement such as sweeping his bow off the strings at the end of a phrase. He knows the music, and he simply gets down to business and performs it. This Dvořák is a beautiful piece, and Sords filled it with warmth and emotion. I might add that the BCO seemed to thoroughly enjoy performing with Sords, and I am sure that one of the reasons is because he is such a reliable musician. Sords was clearly at ease in performing with the BCO, and the interaction between the two was marvelous.
Following the Dvořák, Maestro Saless and Andrew Sords performed another work, the Violin Concerto in A minor, Opus 54, by the rarely heard composer, Anton Arensky (1861-1906). Arensky was a Russian composer who studied with Rimsky-Korsakov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Arensky’s mother was a fine pianist who supervised his early training, and, though his father was a physician, he was also an excellent cello player. Arensky seems to have been quite fortunate to have two good musicians to influence his musical training. In 1882, at the startlingly young age of 21, Arensky became professor of music at the Moscow Conservatory, and it was here that he gained fame by teaching Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, and Grechaninov.
His compositional style closely follows that of Tchaikovsky: it is lyrical and warm rather than dramatic. This concerto has attracted much attention recently, as well as his three suites for two pianos.
Arensky’s violin concerto was strongly influenced by Tchaikovsky, and that fact was noted by his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov who seemed a little miffed when, as the program notes pointed out, he stated that Arensky would “… soon be forgotten.”
Sords performance of this piece was absolutely superb. Not only does it reflect Tchaikovsky’s lyricism, but it also contains elements of Mendelssohn because of it’s a delicacy, particularly in the orchestration. It is cast in one movement, and, as the program notes pointed out, there is returning material at the end of the work which unifies the whole. For me, the most sensational aspect of this concerto has been its waltz, which comprises the third movement. As Maestro Saless pointed out, the waltz sounds very much like it could come from a Tchaikovsky ballet, and that is indeed quite a compliment. Be aware that Tchaikovsky wrote some of the greatest ballet music that has ever been written.
Andrew Sords’ lyrical way of playing was a perfect companion to the Arensky Concerto in A minor. I might add that his violin seemed incredibly well-suited to this piece. It had a very warm tone, and its mellowness seemed to soften the beginnings of phrases, giving them an almost dreamlike quality. There is no doubt that this is a virtuoso piece, but Sords’ remarkably flexible bow arm, and his relaxed left-hand not only made this piece wonderfully musical, but created the impression that he was having no difficulty whatsoever.
Following the intermission, Maestro Bahman Saless chose another work by Anton Arensky, the Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky, Opus 35a. This work is an homage to Tchaikovsky who died in 1893. He used a song by Tchaikovsky entitled “When Jesus Christ Was Yet a Child,” from Tchaikovsky’s Songs for Children. This work is a set of variations on Tchaikovsky’s theme, and it is a very touching tribute to the composer to whom Arensky admired so much. It is certainly more profound than his violin concerto, and yet one can easily identify this work as one by Arensky, because of its lyricism and its lack of typical Russian drama. In fact, that is a hallmark of all of Arensky’s compositions.
Throughout this concert Saturday evening, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra sounded absolutely superb, and though I continually searched for one section of the orchestra that was better than all the rest, it was almost impossible because this chamber orchestra is so well-balanced. But it was in this Arensky composition that the violas really stood out. They were excellent; they’re playing was precise, and very emotional.
The final work on the program was the well-known Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Opus 56a. Note that there are two versions of this composition: one with the opus number Opus 56a which is for orchestra, and the other with the opus number 56b, which is for two pianos. Even though the version for two pianos was written first, it carries the opus number 56b. The original work for two pianos was first performed by Brahms and Clara Schuman in the summer of 1873. The orchestral version is also from 1873, but there is no doubt that the orchestral version was composed after the version for two pianos. There are some individuals who insist that the arrangement for two pianos is inferior to the orchestral version. However, I assure you readers that both versions display Brahms compositional stature to the fullest. It is true that the orchestral version is better known, but it is my belief that is only because duo-piano artists are not as common as an orchestra. This work has eight variations, and as Maestro Saless pointed out, each variation is almost an exercise completed by Brahms as a self-assignment to determine his ability at orchestration. Clearly, it was a success, and it has become one of the most popular concert pieces by Brahms, and very deservedly so.
The performance that the Boulder Chamber Orchestra gave this piece highlighted the skill of everyone in the orchestra. The woodwind section, the horns, and the basses were absolutely superb; however, please realize that when I make that statement I am not diminishing the strings. They were excellent as well, but again, this orchestra is so very well-balanced, because Maestro Saless has the ability to pick outstanding musicians. The entire orchestra brought out the remarkable color of Brahms’ orchestration, and each section of the orchestra was absolutely breathtaking in Variation 7 which is a marvelous and lilting siciliana with it 6/8 meter and graceful melodic line.
As Maestro Saless pointed out to the audience, the last variation uses a five measure ground bass which is repeated in the manner of a Baroque passacaglia. Around these repeating five measures, Brahms fashioned a rather remarkable development of the theme that becomes increasingly grand as it progresses. The BCO filled this magnificent final variation with remarkable majesty. It was an absolutely breathtaking performance.
As I stated above, this performance was at the Broomfield Auditorium. I know that the evening before this concert was presented at the First United Methodist Church in Boulder. I did not hear that performance; therefore, I cannot say how many were in attendance. The Broomfield Auditorium should have been packed. The Boulder Chamber Orchestra is one of the outstanding organizations in the state, and their performances are superior. It is a wonderful thing to see the interchange between the orchestra members and their conductor, Bahman Saless. More than once, as he did Saturday evening, I have seen him simply stop conducting and let the orchestra, themselves, take the lead. I point out, again, that the musicians in this orchestra are so superior that their ability instills great confidence in Maestro Saless. This is not “showmanship” on Saless’ part, but it is a demonstration of his ability to enjoy the music as he is in front of the orchestra, and it certainly shows to the audience the mutual confidence that he and the orchestra share. There is also considerable mutual joy.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Anton Bruckner, Brook Ferguson, Catherine Beeson, Claude Sim, J. S. Bach, Judith Galecki, Mark Wigglesworth, Paul Primus, Silver Ainomäe, Simone Dinnerstein, William Hill, Yumi Hwang-Williams
Friday evening I attended the Colorado Symphony Orchestra concert entitled Going Baroque. The title is taken from the fact that the first half of the program was devoted to J. S. Bach’s famous Brandenburg Concerto Nr. 5. The guest artist in the Bach was the well-known American pianist, Simone Dinnerstein. Performing with her as soloists was CSO Concertmaster Yumi Hwang-Williams and CSO Principal Flautist, Brook Ferguson. These three individuals were part of an ensemble that was authentic in size. That is to say, that it was a small group of musicians that would have been roughly the same size as Bach may have had when the piece was performed initially. It was a shame that the other members of this small chamber orchestra were not mentioned in the program. Regrettably, I do not know all of those individuals by name, but I did recognize Claude Sim, violin; Paul Primus, violin; Silver Ainomäe, cello; Judith Galecki, cello; and Catherine Beeson, viola. Given the artistry and ability of all the instrumentalists on stage, I do not understand why the other musicians in this small group were not named. They are the reason that the CSO is one of the finest orchestras in the country: these musicians have truly helped make that so.
Simone Dinnerstein is not only a renowned American pianist, but one aspect of her performance and dedication to music deserves special mention. She actively seeks to present music to students in the public schools, and there is no doubt that she recognizes that efforts such as this will excite young people to become interested in good music, and in some instances, may lead them to careers in music as an art. I will quote the portion of her biographical statement from her website that details a portion of what she does with young students:
“Dedicated to her community, in 2009 Dinnerstein founded Neighborhood Classics, a concert series open to the public hosted by New York City public schools. The series features musicians Dinnerstein has met throughout her career, and raises funds for the schools. The musicians performing donate their time and talent to the program. Neighborhood Classics began at PS 321, the Brooklyn public elementary school that her son attended and where her husband teaches fourth grade. Artists who have performed on the series include Richard Stoltzman, Maya Beiser, Pablo Ziegler, Paul O’Dette and many more. In addition, Dinnerstein has staged three all-school “happenings” at PS 321 – a Bach Invasion, a Renaissance Revolution, and a Violin Invasion – which immersed the school in music, with dozens of musicians performing in all of the school’s classrooms throughout the day. In early 2014, she launched her Bachpacking initiative, bringing a digital piano provided by Yamaha from classroom to classroom in public schools, presenting interactive performances and encouraging musical discussion among the students.
“Dinnerstein is a graduate of The Juilliard School where she was a student of Peter Serkin. She was a winner of the Astral Artist National Auditions, and has received the National Museum of Women in the Arts Award and the Classical Recording Foundation Award. She also studied with Solomon Mikowsky at the Manhattan School of Music and in London with Maria Curcio. Simone Dinnerstein (pronounced See-MOHN-uh DIN-ner-steen) lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and son. She is managed by Tanja Dorn at IMG Artists and is a Sony Classical artist.”
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was at the court in Cöthen where he worked as he composed the Brandenburg Concertos. These exuberant six concertos are modeled on the concerto form that Antonio Vivaldi perfected, however, Bach’s reliance in the six concertos on wind instruments, and, at least the wind sound (the clarino trumpet, recorders, and violino piccolo) set them apart from the Vivaldi concertos. The fifth concerto which was performed Friday evening combines the flute and violin with the harpsichord – Maestra Dinnerstein used the piano Friday evening – but truly, it is the piano which Bach emphasizes in this Fifth Brandenburg. As a point in fact, Bach’s skillful use of the piano culminates in a cadenza in Brandenburg Nr. 5, and that truly means that this is the first important harpsichord (piano) concerto that we know of. There is no question that Bach was beginning to recognize the inadequacies of the harpsichord, and though these pieces were written in 1721, in his later years he encouraged harpsichord manufacturers to build an instrument that could at least change dynamics. I am absolutely sure that if Bach had had a modern grand piano, he would have been thrilled. There are still those individuals who count it as sacrilege if one performs Bach on the piano rather than a harpsichord. (Some of you readers may remember a misquoted statement by Wanda Landowska, who supposedly told Rosalyn Tureck that Bach should always be played on the harpsichord.)
The performance that all of the musicians on stage gave of this Brandenburg Concerto was absolutely marvelous. Dinnerstein, Hwang-Williams, and Ferguson performed this piece as if it was the first time they had ever seen: it was absolutely exultant, and their mutual concepts of the counterpoint was solid and thoroughly delightful. Everyone on stage was musically well-balanced, which allowed the contrapuntal imitation to be exposed. In the cadenza, Dinnerstein’s remarkable technique was absolutely crystal clear and astounding. Dinnerstein is known for her Bach performances, and I can guarantee you that her phenomenal technique was not used for display only. She infused this piece with an irresistible charm, as did the Yumi Hwang-Williams and Brook Ferguson. As I sat and listened to the remarkable performance of this renowned piece, I could not help but think of the portraits of Bach wherein he looks so stern and serious, and I thought to myself that these three women certainly demonstrated that, at least on this occasion, he smiled. These musicians received a very well deserved standing ovation.
Following the intermission, the CSO performed Anton Bruckner’s Symphony Nr. 4 in E-flat Major, which carries the subtitle, “Romantic.” It was conducted by guest conductor, Maestro Mark Wigglesworth. And, I hasten to point out that Wigglesworth, like Dinnerstein, is concerned with teaching young people music. I will quote from the biographical statement on his website:
“Born in Sussex, England, Mark Wigglesworth studied music at Manchester University and conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He won the Kondrashin International Conducting Competition in The Netherlands in 1989, and since then has worked with many of the leading orchestras and opera companies of the world.
“In 1992 he became Associate Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and further appointments included Principal Guest Conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Highlights of his time with the BBCNOW included several visits to the BBC Proms, a performance of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony at the prestigious Amsterdam Mahler Festival, and a six-part television series for the BBC entitled Everything To Play For.
“In addition to concerts with most of the UK’s orchestras, Mark Wigglesworth has guest conducted many of Europe’s finest ensembles, including the Berlin Philharmonic; Amsterdam Concertgebouw; La Scala Filarmonica, Milan; Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Orchestra, Rome; Stockholm Philharmonic; Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. He has been just as busy in North America having been invited to the Cleveland Orchestra; New York Philharmonic; Philadelphia Orchestra; Chicago Symphony; Los Angeles Philharmonic; San Francisco Symphony; Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal; Toronto Symphony; and the Boston Symphony. He often visits the Minnesota Orchestra, and has an on-going relationship with the New World Symphony. Further a field he regularly works with the Symphony Orchestras of Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Tokyo.
“Mark has a commitment to making music with young people. Having conducted the Dutch National Youth Orchestra on several occasions since 1990 he has collaborated with many of Holland’s finest musicians from the earliest stages of their careers. Passionate about passing on his experiences to a younger generation, he has also performed with the European Union Youth Orchestra, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and the Aspen Music Festival Orchestra, as well as giving Conducting Masterclasses in London, Stockholm, and Amsterdam.”
Much has been made, deservedly so, of the Wagnerian influence upon Anton Bruckner. Certainly, he revered Wagner but there seems to be an almost naïve quality to his symphonies when one compares it to the music of Wagner. And that is said merely as a description, not necessarily is hard fact. However, the difference between Bruckner and Wagner, aside from harmonies, is the fact that Bruckner wrote no works that were programmatic or symbolic as did Wagner and Liszt. To find similarities to another composer, one must return to the Classical period and the four movement Beethoven symphonies. That is also the root of Brahms. Indeed, the opening grandiloquence of his Symphony Nr. 4 brings one’s thoughts immediately to Wagner, but the second theme is lyrical and charming and has a decided innocent and pastoral quality.
The minute Maestro Wigglesworth began to conduct this symphony, I was struck by the difference in style with which he approached it. Most conductors seem to “dig in” with exaggeratedly firm motions and great emphasis. That is, of course, what it takes to conduct Wagner. But right away, Wigglesworth’s motions conveyed the fact that this was not Wagner, it was Bruckner, and his motions were considerably more fluid as if to announce that Bruckner was totally different. And, he is. Wigglesworth emphasized the lyricism and naïveté of Bruckner’s music. Before I am jumped upon by using the word naïveté, I use it only to emphasize that there is no grandiose program to Bruckner’s music such as there is in Wagner and Liszt. It is absolutely beautiful music, and, in comparison, seems to be almost dream-like. Wagner captures one’s attention by the musical descriptions of a program; Bruckner captures one’s attention by the harmonic serenity which is full of grace and almost bliss. Wigglesworth certainly understood this, and he led the orchestra in a manner which reflected Bruckner’s ambition: beauty from the repose, rather than drama based upon drama. He led the orchestra through pianissimos that were almost inaudible, and I don’t recall hearing the CSO ever play so softly, yet keeping every single sound audible.
At every CSO performance, there is usually, or perhaps, one musician who stands out and demands one’s attention. Friday night during the Bruckner it was timpanist William Hill. I was sitting in Mezzanine 4, and I could clearly see his hands for the first time. When the score demanded a continuous role at an incredibly soft level, he controlled the sticks with his third, fourth, and fifth fingers, while holding them between his thumb and index finger. As the dynamic range grew louder, he began to use his wrist, and when it was truly loud, he used his whole arm. This allowed him remarkable control over the entire dynamic range, and I began to understand how meticulous the timpanist must be. During the softest parts of the Bruckner, his playing was never obtrusive, but it matched the dynamic level of the rest of the orchestra. Clearly, it was long experience, and the ability to take a great deal of mental time in producing the sound that Bruckner wanted. The audience gave Wigglesworth and the CSO a standing ovation, and I wished there had been more people in the audience to hear, and then testify, to this fine performance.
As I left the hall, I was convinced that I had heard Bruckner in a way that was totally fresh and new, and in a way that he would been overjoyed to hear. The Bach on the first half of the program, was perfect. The CSO is comprised of amazing musicians, all of whom could be soloists.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Catherine Peterson, Jason Shafer, Jeffrey Kahane, Julie Duncan Thornton, Jun Märkl, Peter Cooper, William Hill
Friday evening, December 5, Jeffrey Kahane returned to Denver as a pianist to perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Nr. 5 in E flat Major, Opus 73, with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. In addition, the CSO had a guest conductor, Jun Märkl, to conduct the all-Beethoven program. In many ways, it is difficult to know exactly where to start this review because both Märkl and Kahane gave us one of the best performances of this concert season. The program notes for Friday’s performance state that Märkl is a “… highly respected interpreter of the core Germanic repertoire.” That simply has to be a gross understatement.
I will quote briefly from Märkl’s bio taken from his website, some of which appeared in the program notes:
“Born in Munich, his (German) father was a distinguished Concertmaster and his (Japanese) mother a solo pianist. Märkl studied violin, piano and conducting at the Musikhochschule in Hannover, going on to study with Sergiu Celibidache in Munich and with Gustav Meier in Michigan. In 1986 he won the conducting competition of the Deutsche Musikrat and a year later won a scholarship from the Boston Symphony Orchestra to study at Tanglewood with Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa. Soon afterwards he had a string of appointments in European opera houses followed by his first music directorships at the Staatstheater in Saarbrücken (1991-94) and at the Mannheim Nationaltheater (1994-2000).
“Jun Märkl conducts the world’s leading orchestras, such as the Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic and Tonhalle Orchester Zürich. He has long been a highly respected interpreter of the core Germanic repertoire from both the symphonic and operatic traditions, and more recently for his refined and idiomatic Debussy, Ravel and Messiaen.
“He was Music Director of the Orchestre National de Lyon from 2005-11 and of the MDR Symphony Orchestra Leipzig until 2012. In recognition of his tenure in Lyon and his hugely successful nine-disc Debussy cycle with the orchestra on Naxos, in 2012 he was honoured by the French Ministry of Culture with the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He also toured with the orchestra to Japan and major European halls and festivals such as the Salle Pleyel, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, BBC Proms, Bad Kissingen, Rheingau and Lucerne. With MDR he toured to Spain and the Baltics, made regular appearances in the Berlin Konzerthaus and Cologne Philharmonie, and conducted Schumann’s rarely-heard opera Genoveva at the Rotterdam Opera Festival. For the 14/15 season he has accepted the post of Musical Advisor to the Basque National Orchestra in San Sebastian.”
Maestro Märkl opened the program with Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio, Opus 72. Right away it was apparent that he wanted to show the detail and thoroughness with which Beethoven composed. He is one of the few conductors (Litton and Judd are others) whom I have heard in live performances where every single phrase, every dynamic marking, and, in some cases, every single note, is shaped by his demands upon the orchestra. I was also struck by the orchestra’s enthusiastic reaction to his conducting: they clearly respected and admired his work, for they followed every single move that he made. It is the same reaction that I have seen orchestras give Toscanini, Sir Georg Solti, and Fritz Reiner. It was also clear that the audience, even if they did not recognize the mutual respect that was being exchanged, certainly was appreciative of the way the orchestra performed. Every section gave sharp attacks, and everything was beautifully articulated. When I make a comment such as that, it sounds rather dry and sterile, but I can assure you, that the sound was anything but dry and sterile. It was full of emotion, and more than that, it was as if one could hear the music as Beethoven wrote it down. Adding to the amazing performance of the orchestra, was the oboe work of Peter Cooper, Catherine Peterson, flute, and Jason Shafer, clarinet. I understand that I am leaving out many names, but these are the individuals who, on first hearing Friday evening, left an indelible impression in my ear. The orchestra and Maestro Märkl presented one of the best performances of Fidelio that I have heard.
Following the performance of Fidelio, the CSO was joined by Jeffrey Kahane in the performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Nr. 5, in E flat Major. Everyone in Denver, of course, knows who Maestro Jeffrey Kahane is, so I will not include any kind of a biographical statement.
I must say that I was looking forward to hearing Kahane perform this concerto, as it marks a milestone in Beethoven’s career for several reasons. It is the supreme development of his concept of a concerto: the form is very tightly organized, there are no cadenzas, and it requires a pianist of supreme virtuosity. As the program notes pointed out, it was written at a time when Beethoven had overcome his suicidal thoughts due to his deafness, but it was during his deafness that he also was going through many legal proceedings and court hearings in an effort to get his nephew away from an alcoholic brother. It also marks another milestone, in that this was one of the pieces that Beethoven could not premiere himself. Due to his deafness, the premier was performed by Carl Czerny, perhaps one of Beethoven’s best known students.
I was immediately taken by the authority with which Jeffrey Kahane opened the concerto. He and Maestro Märkl were obviously of the same mind as the piece began. I do not recall the remarkable clearness and articulation in Kahane’s previous playing of a few years ago, but Friday evening he sounded like a completely different pianist. It was superb playing, and it was obvious right away. In the first of movement, the themes are truly heroic, and the opening arpeggiated chords provide an incredible entryway into the enormous work. Kahane was absolutely superb: his playing was clean and precise, and it truly seemed as if he and Märkl were of the same mind.
The second movement was done by both Märkl and Kahane as if it were a lullaby. It was absolutely serene in its beauty, and it was in this movement that the extreme dynamic changes of which the orchestra is capable were truly noticeable. It certainly emphasized the musicianship of every musician on stage, and I think that the audience began to understand how difficult it is for any orchestra larger than a chamber orchestra to play so softly that they are almost inaudible. But that is what the strings accomplished Friday evening. Maestro Märkl clearly demanded it, and the orchestra enthusiastically responded to his demands. Kahane’s playing was absolutely magical. The orchestra and the pianist gave the audience a revelation and the possibilities that Beethoven created. And that was due to the mutual musicianship of everyone on stage. The third movement of this concerto begins Attacca, that is, without pause. The last movement is more triumphant in sound than the heroic first movement. Kahane and Märkl, again, worked wonders with this movement, demonstrating a very deep understanding of what Beethoven wanted. I was truly taken with the mutual perception of Beethoven between Kahane and Märkl because I have heard so many concertos where it was clear that the pianist and conductor did not always agree. The orchestra and piano can sometimes seem to yank each other back and forth between separate realities. That simply did not happen Friday evening. It was a wonderful performance, and it was one in which everyone in the orchestra seemed to be so eager in which to participate.
The audience was obviously entranced by Kahane’s performance. They gave him a very long standing ovation, and he returned the favor by performing Schubert’s marvelous Impromptu in G flat Major.
Following the intermission, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra performed Beethoven’s masterpiece, Symphony Nr. 5 in C minor. This symphony will probably always remain the ultimate in symphonic logic. The original autograph is in the Music Department of the Prussian State Library in Berlin. It was presented that to them in 1908 by the family of Felix Mendelssohn 100 years after Beethoven had written it in 1808. Criticism of this symphony, at its opening, was divided. There was a French composer and therapist present, Jean Lesueur, who found it so exciting that he said it should not even exist.
The opening of this famous work is so well known, but it often is not so well performed. That was not the case Friday evening: the tempos that Maestro Märkl took were absolutely astonishing to me, but it was very precise. The famous theme is very short and separated by an eighth rest. The release of the first four notes was so precise that the eighth rest seemed to be highlighted, and, in fact, seemed to last an eternity. There most certainly are some strategic rests which highlights silence, for example, in measure 57 there is a full measure of rest which emphasizes the fortissimo of the French horns which lead to the B Theme in bar 63. I mention all of this only because Maestro Märkl emphasized the impact of silence in such a difficult score. Thus, each phrase was highlighted and became its own entity. The second movement, a theme with variations, was grace personified. The violin section and the cellos were absolutely perfect, as well as the tympani. The dynamic range, again, was startling to me. I don’t think I have ever heard the Colorado Symphony Orchestra play so softly. I began to wonder how many sectional rehearsals were required. On the other hand, everyone in this orchestra is a very accomplished musician, but it is clear that they were very enthusiastic in following a conductor that they admired.
The third movement of this symphony sounds almost mysterious because of Beethoven’s shifting accents, and it is interesting to point out that Beethoven didn’t really call this a scherzo. He simply labels it allegro. It certainly is a movement that is joyful. Julie Duncan Thornton was marvelous playing the piccolo in this movement. In the contrapuntal Trio section, the cellos and the basses played with a vigor that was truly exciting. I know that is what is required of them, but keep in mind it was done to perfection.
The last movement begins with a theme that is almost a fanfare and it is given out in short measure at the beginning of the movement, but it soon becomes obvious that it forms the material which leads to the re-introduction of material from the third movement. It is difficult to explain how clearly Maestro Märkl and the CSO delineated this entire movement and its themes without explaining as it is happening. It has been a long time since I have heard a conductor and an orchestra so clearly delineate the structure while at the same time being so marvelous in their sensitivity and musicianship. Did you notice how hard the timpanist, William Hill, had to work in this symphony?
This was an absolutely wonderful performance, and I left the hall thinking this must surely be one of the best performances I have heard the Colorado Symphony give. However, in the last two years, I have left the hall thinking that every performance that I’ve heard from this orchestra is the best they have done.