Opus Colorado

Artistry and hilarity: The Colorado Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Friday evening, September 26, I attended the opening night of the Colorado Ballet’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the music of Felix Mendelssohn. This is a marvelous ballet that combines humor, love, and magic spells, in one of the most appealing ballet’s ever created. The choreography is by Christopher Wheeldon (George Balanchine also choreographed this ballet), and it is important to note that the Colorado Ballet gave the World Premiere of Wheeldon’s choreography when they performed this in 1997. Christopher Wheeldon (b. 1973) is an English choreographer who began his career with the Royal Ballet in London in 1991. In 1993 he joined the New York City Ballet and was named a soloist in 1998, all the while writing choreography. Notice the dates involved. Wheeldon was only 24 when he choreographed this ballet. Also, consider that when Felix Mendelssohn wrote his famous overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which became one of the most famous overtures ever written, he was only 17 years of age.

Several years ago, I attended a performance of this ballet with Balanchine’s choreography. I must say that I prefer Wheeldon’s choreography, because it lends itself more easily to the spirit of Shakespeare’s play, even though some aspects of the original play were not used by Wheeldon.

The performance Friday evening certainly made me sit up and take notice – once again – that this ballet company is comprised of some of the most expressive dancers that I have seen. The rampant confusion caused by the character Puck, danced by Sean Omandam, in this ballet was hilarious. It was truly refreshing to hear the audience respond at the humor in this ballet, because many individuals go to the ballet and sit there stone-faced, afraid to laugh at such an artistic event. Watching brave Sean Omandam fly through the air, suspended by wires attached to the flying machine in the ceiling of the stage, was a treat in itself as he dispensed his fairy dust and magic spells to all the creatures below him. Another performance that caught my eye Friday evening was Asuka Sasaki who danced Peaseblossom, an attendant to Queen Titania. She was positively liquid on stage, and very expressive.

There is a remarkable complexity to the plot of this story. Hermia, danced by Dana Benton, is in love with Lysander, who was danced by Viacheslav Buchkovskiy. However, Demetrius, danced by Jesse Marks is in love with Hermia, but, of course, she does not return his feelings. Helena, danced by Sharon Wehner is in love with Demetrius, and she follows him constantly as he tries to chase her away. Hermia and Helena have a rousing fight as they chase each other across the stage. In the end, Puck waits until everyone is asleep, then places a magic flower on the lovers’ eyes. They wake up, and discover that all is well: Demetrius loves only Helena, and Hermia loves only Lysander. The second act of this ballet is primarily the double wedding of Hermia and Lysander, and Demetrius and Helena. There is far more actual dance in this act then there is a dramatic acting.

It was quite something to see the ever-graceful Maria Mosina, who danced Titania, fall in love with Bottom even though he has been turned into a donkey. She displayed such a wonderfully comic nature in her relationship with Bottom, portrayed by Gregory K. Gonzales. Again, Puck has caused this problem, but he comes to the rescue and releases Bottom from his spell, and Queen Titania falls back in love with King Oberon who is danced by Alexei Tyukov. Much of the humor of the story comes from the fact that it is so confusing, and even the dancers as part of their character, portray the confusion amongst themselves. The acting ability of the dancers was absolutely outstanding.

In one scene, Queen Titania, danced by Maria Mosina, is sung to sleep by the fairies, the Colorado Children’s Chorale was augmented by sopranos Amanda Balestrieri, and Ana Spadoni. I must say that these two fine sopranos seemed to be just as excited to perform in the ballet as the youngsters who comprised the Children’s Chorale. The young people from the Colorado Ballet Academy were delightful and charming to watch. Saige Ju, who performed as the Changeling attendant to Queen Titania was absolutely perfect. All of the young people had such remarkable stage presence that they all seem to be headed for a career in ballet.

The dancers in Friday’s performance, Alexei Tyukov, Sharon Wehner, Dana Benton, Jesse Marks, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, Domenico Luciano, Asuka Sasaki, and Shelby Dyer were all superb. But in listing these names, I have run up against an enormous problem: there is not room in this article to name everyone who appeared on stage. Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia have put together a wonderful assemblage of dancers. In Friday’s performance, it was so obvious that a new spirit has taken over the Colorado Ballet.

The costumes were excellent. Many came from the Boston Ballet Company as well as the Orlando Ballet. The set came from Ballet West and was designed by Adam Skulte.

Even the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Adam Flatt, seemed to be inspired by a new spirit. There was a wonderful spontaneity and precision in Friday’s performance, particularly in the dynamic range demonstrated by the musicians. Both Flatt, and Associate Conductor, Catherine Sailer, have had a profound impact on the Colorado Ballet Orchestra. Friday evening there was a new spark from the orchestra which was clearly evident to the audience.

The leadership that Gil Boggs has shown as Artistic Director, and the artistic ability of all of the dancers, has been rewarded by the awareness and support of the Board of Directors. Their new building on Santa Fe Street is a reflection of the fact that the Colorado Ballet’s evolution has been irrevocable in every artistic respect, and that this evolution has resulted in a national standing. The new building has eight studios, two of which are the size of the Ellie Caulkins’ stage. It has facilities for the Academy students to do their school work with tutors available, so that they may be immersed in ballet as they do their studies. There is a Black Box Theater to provide an extra dimension of performance. And, there is also adequate office space for the staff, and much, much more. As I have said before, the Colorado Ballet has become a very robust and artistic organization that can stand with any other ballet company in the United States. We need to support it, and we need to show our appreciation not only to the artistic leadership of the Colorado Ballet, and the musicians, but to the Board of Directors for their recognition of the artistic accomplishments and the needs of this fine ballet company.

Stunning virtuosity and musicianship: the Alpenglow Chamber Music Festival

Saturday evening, September 20, I attended a concert given by the Alpenglow Chamber Music Festival, which was held at the Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Dillon. This festival was founded in 1998 by Steven Copes and Bil Jackson, both formerly of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. When it was founded, it was named Music from the Summit. There have naturally been some changes over the years, and among them are two new artistic directors, Rieko Aizawa, pianist, and Jesse Mills, violinist. Rieko Aizawa has been the pianist with the Alpenglow Festival for 17 years, and she was asked to take over the Directorship of the organization by Edward Arron, the cellist, who had a very significant impact on the festival. In 2010, Mr. Arron’s colleague and old friend, Rieko Aizawa respectfully accepted his offer to take the festival over with another close friend of Mr. Arron’s, the long-time Alpenglow violinist, Mr. Jesse Mills. I also point out, that Rieko Aizawa and Jesse Mills are husband and wife.

Before I discuss the actual performance of Saturday evening, I will give a short bio statement of Aizawa and Mills.

“Praised by the NY Times for an “impressive musicality, a crisp touch and expressive phrasing”, Japanese pianist Rieko Aizawa has performed throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe, including Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall, Chicago’s Orchestra Hall and Vienna’s Konzerthaus.

“At the age of thirteen, Rieko Aizawa was brought to the attention of conductor Alexander Schneider on the recommendation of the pianist Mitsuko Uchida. Schneider engaged Aizawa as soloist with his Brandenburg Ensemble at the opening concerts of Tokyo’s Casals Hall. Later that year, Schneider presented her in her United States début concerts at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall with his New York String Orchestra. She has since established her own unique musical voice.

“The youngest-ever participant at the Marlboro Music Festival, she has performed as a guest with string quartets such as the Guarneri Quartet and the Orion Quartet. She is a founding member of the Horszowski Trio and of the prize-winning Duo Prism. In 2005, Aizawa’s solo debut recording of Scriabin’s and Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes was released by Altus in Japan, and her second album of Messiaen’s and Faure’s Preludes was released in 2013.

“Rieko Aizawa was the last pupil of Mieczyslaw Horszowski at the Curtis Institute and she also studied with Seymour Lipkin and Peter Serkin at the Juilliard School. Aizawa lives in New York City, and she is on the faculty at Longy School of Music of Bard. Aizawa is a Steinway Artist.”

“Two-time Grammy nominated violinist Jesse Mills enjoys performing music of many genres, from classical to contemporary, as well as composed and improvised music of his own invention.

“Since his concerto debut at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, Mills has performed throughout the U.S. and Canada, including concerts at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall, the 92nd Street Y, the Metropolitan Museum, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, Boston’s Gardener Museum, and the Marlboro Music Festival. He has also appeared at prestigious venues in Europe, such as the Barbican Centre of London, La Cité de la Musique in Paris, Amsterdam’s Royal Carré Theatre, Teatro Arcimboldi in Milan, and the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels. Mills is a founding member of the Horszowski Trio and of Duo Prism, a violin-piano duo with Rieko Aizawa, which earned 1st Prize at the Zinetti International Competition in Italy in 2006.

“Jesse Mills is also known as a pioneer of contemporary works, a renowned improvisational artist, as well as a composer. He earned Grammy nominations for his performances of Arnold Schoenberg’s music, released by NAXOS in 2005 and 2010. He can also be heard on the Koch, Centaur, Tzadik, Max Jazz and Verve labels for various compositions of Webern, Schoenberg, Zorn, Wuorinen, and others. Soon to be released on the NAXOS label are recordings of Schoenberg’s String Quartets #3 and #4, as well as the Ode to Napoleon.

“Mills graduated from The Juilliard School.  He studied with Dorothy DeLay, Robert Mann and Itzhak Perlman. He lives in New York City, and he is on the faculty at Longy School of Music of Bard College and at New York University. In 2010 the Third Street Music School Settlement in NYC honored him with the ‘Rising Star Award’ for musical achievement.”

One of the reasons that the Alpenglow Festival is so fortunate in having Aizawa and Mills is that, aside from their absolutely world-class musicianship, they also have a remarkable ability to surround themselves with musicians of equal caliber. Everyone performing Saturday evening had an astonishing musicality, and it was clearly obvious that their dedication to their art surpasses the ordinary.

The program opened with Aizawa, James Wilson, cello, and Bart Feller, flautist, performing a Haydn piano trio in D Major, Hob. XV:16. [I think there was a typo in the program: it should be 15. 16 is in C Major.](You readers must remember that all of Haydn’s works were catalogued by Anthony van Hoboken, hence the Hob. The Roman numeral XV is the portion of the catalog for piano trios. The number 16 means that it is the 16th Trio that Haydn wrote.) There is no doubt that Haydn wrote this trio, but, surprisingly, there are two manuscripts where it is been written out for piano solo. As my memory serves, those two versions were published. The trio that was performed Saturday evening is in manuscript form, and was never published during Haydn’s lifetime.

“Bart Feller is Principal Flute of the New Jersey Symphony and the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra. He has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Bargemusic and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Mr. Feller has also appeared as concerto soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Jupiter Symphony. Among the summer festivals he has participated in are the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Marlboro Music Festival, OK Mozart International Festival, Colorado College Chamber Music Festival, Napa Valley Chamber Music Festival, and the Grand Teton Music Festival. He has released three CDs, “Elysian Fields”, “20th-Century Duos”, and “Mozart Flute Quartets”. Mr. Feller is Professor of Flute at Rutgers University/Mason Gross School of the Arts, and teaches in the Pre-College Division of The Juilliard School.”

“As recitalist and chamber musician, James Wilson has appeared in many of the world’s most illustrious venues, including America’s Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center, Casal’s Hall in Tokyo, the Sydney Opera House, the Basilica of Notre-Dame in Montreal, the Philharmonie in Köln and the Musikverein in Vienna. He has performed at music festivals around the world such as the Hong Kong Arts Festival, the City of London Festival, the Deutches Mozartfest in Bavaria, the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in Finland, the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York, the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, and the Ysbreker in Amsterdam. In demand as a player of Baroque and modern cello, Wilson has collaborated with such diverse artists as violinist Joshua Bell, flutist Eugenia Zukerman, guitarist Eliot Fisk, actress Claire Bloom, the Tokyo String Quartet and the Mark Morris Dance Group.”

Immediately, it seemed as if Feller, Wilson, and Aizawa had played together all of their lives. Their sense of ensemble was a wonderful thing to behold, and I might add that Bart Feller used a wooden mouthpiece on his silver flute. This changed the tone considerably, and made it much mellower. The first movement of this work reflected the spirit that pervades all of Haydn’s works. The motivic fragments, which set Haydn apart from the more lyrical Mozart, were beautifully phrased dynamically. The second movement was also beautifully done. James Wilson’s cello has an incredibly beautiful sound, and his control over the wonderful sound blended wonderfully well with the flute in this movement. The third movement was typical Haydn playfulness. All three musicians are possessed of great virtuosity which, mind you, does not just include playing fast. It includes the ability to end and begin phrases absolutely together, shape those phrases with dynamics, and make the portato notes the same length with each other’s portato notes.

Following the Haydn, marimbist Makoto Nakura performed three selections from a composition entitled Five Pieces After Paul Klee. Like the other musicians on stage Saturday night, Makoto Nakura has performed throughout the world. As his bio on the web states:

… “Marimbist Makoto Nakura is a musician whose artistry and astonishing virtuosity has been mesmerizing audiences for several decades. In 1994, Makoto moved from his native Japan to New York City, becoming the first marimbist to win first prize in the prestigious Young Concert Artists International Auditions. His critically acclaimed performances around the world have included venues in London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Montreal, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires.

“In the U.S., he has performed for audiences in 41 of the 50 states, with orchestras such as the New York Chamber Symphony, the Chicago Sinfonietta and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and, as a recital soloist, his long list of appearances includes Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall and Washington’s Kennedy Center. He has appeared as a guest artist with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and with the American Ballet Theater in New York City. A television portrait of Mr. Nakura was shown on CBS News Sunday Morning throughout the U.S.”

I promise you that his virtuosity is indeed “astonishing,” and there are times when it seemed almost supernatural. The composer who wrote this work for marimba, Toshiya Sukegawa, born in 1930 in Sapporo, won the first prize of the Mainichi Music Competition while studying at Tokyo University of the Arts in the early l950s. Sukegawa admired the painter Paul Klee, and each selection in this piece represents one of Klee’s paintings. The first selection was entitled One Who Runs Swiftly, and the tempo that was taken by Nakura was spectacular, but it was also wonderfully musical and sensitive. Cloud and Light was the second selection of the three, and it was positively dreamlike in its sensitivity and tone. Keep in mind that the sound of the marimba can be changed by switching mallets. Nakura’s performance of the second piece was intensely sensitive. The third selection, Hot Points and Lines, contained sudden outbursts followed by relatively long phrases. It was wonderfully well done, and I point out that when Nakura played each selection, Paul Klee’s paintings that inspired each piece were shown on a large computer screen. The composer and the performer gave magnificent expressivity to the visual art.

Next came a work entitled Melodies of a Flute. This is a quartet for flute, violin, cello, and marimba: a seemingly unusual combination of instruments. However, I assure you that skill of the composer, Bright Sheng (born 1955), uses each instrument so effectively that there are no surprises at their choice. This is a two movement work, the first of which is named Flute and Phoenix. Parts of this work were very Debussy-like: the colorful harmonic content was very illusory. The second movement, Lotus Flowers, was very well done, and clearly demonstrated the musicians’ excitement at performing this work. Understand, this was only the fourth time this work has been performed because it is so new. Feller, Mills, Wilson, and Nakura seemed so familiar with each other’s virtuosity and musicianship, that they were entirely comfortable performing this difficult piece.

After the intermission, Rieko Aizawa, Jesse Mills, and James Wilson performed Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio Nr. 2 in C minor, Op.66. This is a marvelous piece of music which has everything that one could ask for from Mendelssohn. It even includes the theme from the Doxology hymn, Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.

The performance of this work was absolutely stellar. Mendelssohn was a brilliant pianist, and this trio is fraught with difficulty; however Rieko Aizawa played it brilliantly and with seemingly little effort. At some piano trio performances, it is easy to spot the leader of the group. But all three individuals who performed Saturday night were in total agreement, and all were of equal artistry. The opening tempo of the first movement was absolutely perfect and, after couple of pages, they imbued it with a sense of irrevocability: it seemed as though if one stepped in front of it, you would be run over by a beautiful piece of music. And yet, all three musicians performed this work with such intense lyricism and perfection that it reminded me very much of the Beaux-Arts Trio of Indiana University fame. I do not say that lightly. I also point out that the piano at the church is a Bösendorfer, which is one of the five or six finest pianos in the world. However, it needed to be voiced and regulated (one could see that the keys were at different levels). Nonetheless, Rieko Aizawa was able to overcome the piano’s difficulties with great ease.

Every performer on Saturday’s program was an exceptional musician and clearly in the pursuit of excellence. Every performer, no matter how well the audience thinks he or she performs, is always aware of something that is not perfect. The Beaux-Arts Trio, the Emerson Quartet, the old Budapest Quartet had similar performance experience to the performers at the Alpenglow Festival on Saturday: they are, and were, experienced enough to be aware of the minutest of details as they built their reputation. Like the three famous chamber groups that I mentioned, these performers at the Alpenglow Festival will unquestionably make a remarkable name for themselves because they are in the process of doing it now. You readers who have not heard any of these performers must attend The Alpenglow Chamber Music Festival next September. It is an exciting experience to hear such advanced musicianship, unencumbered by ego, directed to each other or to the audience. They are world-class. Remember their names, as you will hear of them again. They are the new guard.

Art and the art of communication: The Colorado Ballet

The Colorado Ballet gave their opening performance of the season at the Arvada Center Outdoor Amphitheater on Saturday, August 16. Some of the works that were on the program have been previously performed, but Saturday night they were infused with a new sense of freshness and enthusiasm that truly reflected the excitement of an opening season. Indeed, there has been so much good news from the Colorado Ballet in the last few weeks. The Artistic Director, Gil Boggs, has wisely been offered – and he has signed – a new five-year contract. This is remarkably good news, for it should be obvious to everyone that he has turned the Colorado Ballet into a vital and robust program that has some of the best dancers in the country. The second bit of good news is that Dana Benton and Domenico Luciano have been promoted from Soloists to Principals, and that is most certainly where they belong, for they are stellar artists. The other bit of good news, as most of you ballet aficionados know, is that they are preciously close to moving into their new building in the art district on Santa Fe. Note that it is their building, and they won’t have to pay anybody rent.

Keep in mind that on Saturday there were no complete works performed: this wonderful dance concert was comprised entirely of excerpts which gave the audience a taste of the coming 2014-2015 season. And, in addition, the opening excerpt, a pas de deux from the ballet Flames of Paris, was used simply as an introduction to their entire performance. I’m sure it was chosen because the choreography certainly attracts immediate attention due to its difficulty and its romantic ambiance. It was danced by Dana Benton and Viacheslav Buchkovskiy. The original ballet was premiered in 1932, and it is a fairly typical “French Revolution” ballet which deals with the trials and tribulations of that era. The music was composed by Boris Asafyev (1884-1949) whose music sounds very much like Tchaikovsky. The choreography was done by Vasily Vainonen and it requires a great deal of virtuosity. Benton and Buchkovskiy are, of course, two virtuoso artists and it showed very clearly in this introduction which alternated between solo dances and a pas de deux. As I said above, the entire company seemed to be very excited for the opening performance, and certainly Benton and Buchkovskiy were no exception.

You readers, who are not totally familiar with ballet terminology, must understand that principals are the top-of-the-line. Next, comes soloists, and, after that are members of the corps de ballet. I mention this only to tell you that everyone in the Colorado Ballet is an exceptional dancer, and I have absolutely no doubt that all of them are quite capable of eventually being promoted to a principal. From my point of view, it is only the smallest detail that is separating them now.

Next on the program, Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov danced the Grand Pas de Deux from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The music for this ballet always startles me, because Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) wrote the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was 17 years old. Dwell on that. He wrote the incidental music (incorporating the Overture) for Shakespeare’s play shortly before his death, and it is that music of Mendelssohn’s which is used in the ballet.

Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov were sensational. They are sensational because they are totally consumed by their art, and there is nothing that detracts from their concentration on that art, which includes their relationship to each other on stage. They are capable of so much communication through their movements and facial expressions, that it surely must attract the attention of those not totally familiar with ballet. Therefore, they are completely able to convert ballet neophytes to ardent supporters. And, as in paragraph one of this article, there is one more bit of good news: everyone in this company is capable of doing exactly that. It’s still astounds me that Gil Boggs has put together such an amazing collection of dancers. Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov are positively electrifying.

The Mendelssohn was followed by a short work entitled Young and Beautiful featuring the choreography of the Colorado Ballet’s own Sandra Brown with music by Lana Del Rey. This was a pas de deux that was stunningly beautiful, and it was danced by Chandra Kuykendall and Domenico Luciano.

Following the remarkable grace of Kuykendall and Luciano was a solid and very expressive depiction of evil. It was the pas de deux from Dracula danced by another incredible pair of dancers, Sharon Wehner and Dmitry Trubchanov. This is the pas de deux wherein Dracula entices Mina from her bed by appearing in her dream, and then flings her around the stage by her emotions, at once enticing her with his supposed love, and repelling her with his overpowering evil. This was another pas de deux where the emotional expression conveyed by the dancers was unmistakable.

Sitting in front of me were some individuals that seemed to me to be unfamiliar with the power of expression of which ballet is capable. When Dracula ripped open his shirt and slashed his chest open, and then thrusts Mina’s face into the blood forcing her to drink, the individuals stared at each other, not believing the horror they had just seen. It was a very powerful moment. If any of you readers have not seen Dracula by the Colorado Ballet, I would encourage you to attend this season. Yes, it is horrifying, but the choreography by Michael Pink, and the music by Philip Feeney, will stay with you for a long time, not only because of the horror, but because of the beauty as well.

The Colorado Ballet then performed the Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This certainly demonstrated the depth of ability of the dancers in the Colorado Ballet. Asuka Sasaki, Sean Omandam, Shelby Dyer, Morgan Buchanan, Luis Valdes, Francisco Estevez, Emily Speed, Tracy Jones, Emily Dixon, and Melissa Zoebisch were truly remarkable. Again, it all comes down to their expression through the movement and the spirit of the music. Some of these are new faces, but they are certainly welcome additions to the Colorado Ballet, and it is an important point to make that the Colorado Ballet can attract, and demand, dancers of this quality.

After the intermission, the second half of Saturday’s performance was taken up by the remarkable (there’s that word again) choreography by Sandra Brown in the performance of a new ballet, The Last Beat, which was given its world premiere in March of this year. The entire company was used on this half of the program. All of the dancers in the Colorado Ballet exemplify what it means to be a member of a Professional company. And, I might add, that this organization keeps getting better and better, and ever since Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia have been a part of this organization, their artistic demands have been raised and met with every performance. The choreography for The Last Beat is difficult, and I think there is no mistaking the fact that Sandra Brown took into consideration the dedication and artistic ability of the dancers she was writing for. If you demand a lot, you will receive a lot.

Saturday’s performance was memorable. In addition to all of the good news, there is still more. Even though Saturday’s performance was done to recorded music (there is no room for an orchestra at the Arvada Center Outdoor Amphitheater) Maestro Adam Flatt and Maestra Catherine Sailer will still be in charge of leading the Colorado Ballet Orchestra.

The Colorado Ballet is comprised of individuals who have made a tremendous investment to their art. They have made it very clear that their art comes first. Therefore, let us all make our own investment, and attend their performances so that this outstanding ballet company will understand how much we appreciate them.

Stunning artistry: The St. Martin’s Chamber Choir

It seems fitting that the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, under the direction of Maestro Timothy Krueger, should finish their twentieth season with one of the best performances they have ever given. Friday evening, May 30, they performed a program entitled Antiphonal Echoes which featured music written for multiple choirs. This was a particularly effective program not only because of the skill of the musicians, but because of the venue: Montview Presbyterian Church on Dahlia Street and Montview Boulevard. The acoustics are absolutely perfect for this kind of a concert.

Maestro Krueger opened the program with a medieval sequence entitled Profitentes Unitatem which has been attributed to Adam of St. Victor who died in 1192. To understand what a sequence is, you must first understand what a trope is, because a sequence is a special kind of trope. A trope is a textual addition to parts of the Roman Mass that is used to amplify textual passages. For example, if the text says, “Lord, have mercy upon us” then the trope might be (I have indicated the trope in italics), “Lord, omnipotent Father, God, Creator of all, have mercy upon us.” The most frequently troped sections of the Mass were the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Benedicamus Domino. The sequence, as I say above, was a special kind of trope. Each strophe of text is followed by another of the same length and meter, and both are sung to the same melodic segment which is repeated for the second strove. First and last verses do not have parallels, so the structure of a sequence could possibly be A BB CC DD E. Sequences were developed around the year 870 by Notker Balbulus, and Adam of St. Victor was one of the masters of the form. Eventually all tropes and sequences were abolished by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) except for four, two of which are the well-known Dies Irae and the Stabat Mater.

When the St. Martin’s Choir began to sing, the sound filled the entire church. Krueger had divided the choir into four parts: one in each transept, one at the rear of the church, and one at the front. The antiphonal effect was absolutely startling because it was so well defined and yet because the choirs blended so well together. It reminded me very much of a choir rehearsal that I had serendipitously stumbled upon in the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. Certainly, the scale was smaller in Montview Presbyterian, but the effect was just as stunning. It was certainly enhanced by the vocal precision of the four choirs. They were perfectly in tune with each other and their diction was remarkable. I don’t know if Maestro Krueger chose this piece as first on the program because he anticipated the attention that it would bolster from the audience, but the effect was immediate. There was a good-sized audience in attendance, and they simply sat and listened very carefully to this performance.

Following the Profitentes Unitatem, Brett Kostrzewski, who is the Mark Sheldon conducting intern with St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, conducted a polyphonic anthem entitled, O Clap Your Hands, by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) the great English composer, and a poly-choric motet by Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612) entitled Quam Pulchra Est. Kostrzewski is a fine conductor whose conducting style is quite vigorous and very demanding. The choir was divided into two parts, and each portion was put in a transept of the church. Though his conducting technique differs greatly from Timothy Krueger’s, Kostrzewski achieved the same goal: authenticity. He truly seemed to relish the sound of this period of music, and I must say that both choirs responded to him enthusiastically and gave him exactly what he wanted. I wondered if there were any musicology students in the audience simply because the comparison of Orlando Gibbons and Giovanni Gabrieli was very interesting, and very well-defined. In many ways, Gibbons is a more harmonically colorful than the more staid Gabrieli, and that is what Kostrzewski drew attention to: the difference between English and Italian composers. It was terrific.

One of the most outstanding works on the program was composed by Terry Schlenker, a member of the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir. I will quote from a bio statement that I obtained from his website:

“Terry Schlenker studied music composition at the University of North Dakota and at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, from which he holds a Master of Art’s Degree in Composition. A composer of many orchestral, piano, and chamber works, Schlenker has focused much of his recent energy on a cappella choral music. His choral works are widely recorded, published, and have been performed internationally on five continents. Many of his pieces are regularly heard on the National Public Radio Network, where he has been featured on the programs of Colorado Matters, Colorado Spotlight, Sacred Classics, and Classical Discoveries. His works have been performed at the national conventions of Chorus America and ACDA (The American Choral Director’s Association), at the International Festival of GALA Choruses, and at the National Choral Festival. For Schlenker, to compose music is not to engage in an esoteric, intellectual exercise, but to articulate beauty, to express his deepest self, and to make a connection with the spiritual, both for himself and for others.

“An embryologist by profession, Schlenker co-founded and for 12 years directed one of the most successful human in-vitro fertilization laboratories in the world. Several years ago he partially retired, in order to focus more time on composing music. He continues to work part- time as an embryologist and consultant in embryology, and frequently speaks internationally on the topic.”

The work that St. Martin’s performed was entitled In Paradisum which Terry Schlenker wrote in memory of his recently deceased father. This was a World Premiere, and it demonstrated Schlenker’s ability to write for a cappella choir. I have heard many avant-garde compositions for choir, and many seem to combine the same concept of sound with barely nontraditional harmonies. Terry Schlenker’s work is always startlingly original, and displays unique erudition, not only in harmony, but in the colors that are available from human voices. Maestro Krueger performed this work in a very touching and emotional way, as if reassuring Schlenker that he is one of their own. It was beautifully done, and its originality demanded the rapt attention from the audience.

Following the intermission, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir performed a work which Maestro Krueger called a Missa Pastiche. It was the six sung portions of the ordinary of the mass: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and the Benedictus, though in Friday’s performance the order of the Agnus Dei and Benedictus were reversed so that the Agnus Dei was last. Krueger used the word “pastiche” to indicate that each of these six sections were in different styles because they were composed by different composers. I was struck by Krueger’s choice of composers, because everything in this Missa Pastiche fit so very well together. It was a natural flow of the history of music that was so well done that the ear was never jarred by difference in styles. And it was in this work that St. Martin’s Chamber Choir truly seemed to excel. One of the choices that Maestro Krueger made was the composer Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842). Aside from being known as a composer, Cherubini was also known as the director of the Paris Conservatory. However, during his lifetime, he was much admired by his contemporaries, and as Krueger pointed out, particularly Beethoven, because of his remarkable skill as a contrapuntalist. He also had an amazing ability to combine a passionate dramatic impulse with the discipline of religious contemplation. His ability at such a versatile combinations, led to his great success with his opera Médée, in which he combines the character of the Greek mythological sorceress who murders her children in an unimaginable rage, with an overpowering sense of humanity.

In this Credo by Luigi Cherubini, the choir allowed the flow of the counterpoint to govern the structure of the piece in such a way as to remind one of a truly fine symphony orchestra. The attacks of each entrance of the canons and fugues were incredibly smooth. So smooth, in fact, that the choir seemed not to take a breath, and I found myself listening to see if they actually did breathe while they performed this Credo. This entire Missa Pastiche was performed in this way, but was made truly obvious in the Cherubini. It was some of the finest singing that I have heard, and it is certainly reflective of the musical imagination, not only of everyone in the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, but certainly of Maestro Timothy Krueger. The sound surrounded the entire audience so that it became almost ethereal.

This performance received a very well-deserved standing ovation, and, I state again, that it was a concert in which the audience remained silent during the entire performance, as engrossed as they were in its flawlessness. There was absolutely no evidence of microphones to record this concert, and that is a great disappointment. It was wonderfully done, and it was an intense musical experience.

Litton, Gluzman, and the CSO are magnificent!
May 3, 2014, 2:16 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , ,

The concert given by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra Friday evening, May 4, left me absolutely speechless. They performed Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony Nr. 7 in E minor.

The primary reason this concert left me speechless is the fact that both of these works performed have their own separate problems that must be dealt with: an orchestra does not perform the Korngold (1897-1957) concerto unless one has a soloist who is up to the task because it is difficult. The Mahler (1860-1911) has an immense length (roughly an hour and twenty minutes) that requires intense concentration on the part of every single orchestra member, and, of course, the conductor. About thirty-five years ago, I heard the Mahler 7th performed live by an orchestra that was “quite decent” and the conductor who, judging by my own hindsight, may have been trying to gain stature by performing difficult works. That’s a fine idea, but one must have several years of experience before undertaking such a work.

The Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Andrew Litton clearly have that experience, and it is completely unnecessary for me to point that out. I do so only because I want the average concert attendee to understand the stamina that it takes everyone on stage to present such a work. But first, the Korngold.

The guest artist Friday evening was violinist Vadim Gluzman, and astoundingly fine violinist who may be someone unfamiliar to American concert audience. Watching Gluzman and Maestro Litton interact on stage made it clear that they had performed together prior this performance. Whether or not that is the case, we here in Denver are indebted to Maestro Litton and the orchestral powers that be, for inviting Gluzman to perform this work. I will quote an abbreviated bio statement from his website:

“Born in the former Soviet Union in 1973, Vadim Gluzman began violin studies at age 7. Before moving to Israel in 1990, where he was a student of Yair Kless, he studied with Roman Sne in Latvia and Zakhar Bron in Russia. In the US his teachers were Arkady Fomin and, at the Juilliard School, the late Dorothy DeLay and Masao Kawasaki. Early in his career, Mr. Gluzman enjoyed the encouragement and support of Isaac Stern, and in 1994 he received the prestigious Henryk Szeryng Foundation Career Award.

”Vadim Gluzman plays the extraordinary 1690 ‘ex-Leopold Auer’ Stradivari, on extended loan to him through the generosity of the Stradivari Society of Chicago.

“The Israeli violinist appears regularly with major orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony, London Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, London Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Munich Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra and NHK Symphony; and with leading conductors including Neeme Järvi, Michael Tilson Thomas, Andrew Litton, Marek Janowski, Itzhak Perlman, Tugan Sokhiev, Paavo Järvi, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Hannu Lintu and Peter Oundjian. His festival appearances include Verbier, Ravinia, Lockenhaus, Pablo Casals, Colmar, Jerusalem, and the North Shore Chamber Music Festival in Northbrook, Illinois, which was founded by Gluzman and pianist Angela Yoffe, his wife and long-standing recital partner.

”In this 2013-14 season, Mr. Gluzman begins a new collaboration as Creative Partner and Principal Guest Artist of the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio. As Artist of the Year with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, he performs a series of three concerts with conductor Andrew Litton, which will result in a new album of concertos by Shostakovich and Gubaidulina. In the United States Vadim is making his début with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Tugan Sokhiev, and in the United Kingdom, Gluzman’s highly anticipated Wigmore Hall recital follows last year’s acclaimed Proms début.”

Erich Korngold is one of music history’s most amazing child prodigies. Born in in 1897, he was already dazzling Viennese concertgoers by 1917 at the age of twenty. As a matter of fact, it was Gustav Mahler who proclaimed Korngold a genius, an opinion which was borne out by Korngold’s works in every serious genre: chamber music, opera, orchestral, keyboard, and even film music. Nonetheless, Korngold seems to have fallen off Mt. Parnassus, no doubt due in part to cruel criticisms written by critics who do not seem to have been schooled in music, but schooled in journalism. For example, a New York critic said after hearing this violin concerto that there was more “corn than gold,” seems like a comment designed to further the reputation of the critic rather than make a true statement of the music heard. When Jascha Heifetz premiered the work with the St. Louis Symphony in 1947, the work was a resounding success. Korngold suffered, perhaps, because he wrote scores for Hollywood movies. This association with Hollywood also damaged the career of pianist, conductor, and harpsichordist José Iturbi, who not only starred in movies, but recorded the soundtrack for various movies, including A Song to Remember, which was a movie about Frederic Chopin.

When I heard Gluzman begin to play, I was completely astonished at the sound of his violin. I had read in the program notes that it was Stradavari, but it simply has to be one of the best violins that Stradavari ever made. It sounded sweet yet warm, and both the instrument and Gluzman’s superior artistry brought out its transparent tone which was a perfect match for the Korngold Concerto in D. I say this, because, though Korngold was certainly a romantic composer who used complicated harmonies, he was such a superior orchestrator that his music often has an almost transparent, or Mozartean if you will, quality. I heard this piece performed fourteen years ago by the CSO, but I don’t remember the soloist giving the work such a personal and intimate interpretation. Vadim Gluzman’s playing was at once dynamic and powerful, yet lush and most certainly romantic, and there is no question in my mind whatsoever that he and Maestro Litton were perfectly in agreement as to its interpretation.

The violin enters almost at once in the first movement in a broad and lyrical melody that is undeniably romantic. The first movement includes a stunning cadenza that requires incredible virtuosity in total mastery of the art. Gluzman easily brought to the forefront the nostalgic qualities of the second movement, and it was here that his violin and its remarkable qualities which he clearly displayed, were overpowering. There is no question that this violin concerto demands fearless virtuosity, but Gluzman certainly brought out the more relaxed and lyrical quality of this second movement, and made it contrast perfectly with the first and third movements.

Another aspect of the performance of this Korngold concerto as performed by Vadim Gluzman was the obvious connection between the orchestra and soloist and conductor. It speaks again to the change that has been made in this orchestra in the last two or three years, and it is one of the important characteristics that makes this orchestra as conspicuous as one of the best in the United States. It goes far beyond the love of music of every member in the orchestra. It is that, plus the artistry of everyone on stage.

After the intermission, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Andrew Litton performed Gustav Mahler’s Symphony Nr. 7. It was not until Mahler was twenty years old that he began to become interested in philosophies outside of music such as socialism, Nietzsche and philosophy, and pan-Germanism. His first symphony was considered bizarre by many musicians, and it was his conducting ability that truly advanced his early career as a musician. However, even as a conductor, he incurred the displeasure, to put it mildly, by orchestra members because of his perfectionism and exacting rehearsals. In addition, his symphonies are enormous in length: his third Symphony lasts almost 2 hours, and he revised his works several times. For example he kept revising his Fifth Symphony, written in 1901-1902, until his death. His 7th Symphony, performed Friday evening, has five movements. The inner three movements are the shortest; nonetheless, this work lasts almost an hour and twenty minutes. In addition, the degree of harmonic experimentation in the first movement is unlike any previous work, and may be considered a portent of what is to come in his Symphony Nr. 8, which also uses the largest symphonic ensemble and choir ever conceived to that point.

The first movement of Mahler’s Symphony Nr. 7 begins with a slow introduction that is at once ominous, passionate, and turgid. It has harmonies that seem to be based on the interval of fourth (but, keep in mind, this is only the second time I have heard this symphony performed live), and it is this harmony that gives it its mysterious and almost abstract quality. The second movement continues this aesthetic by its very strange militaristic march. In addition, he calls this movement “Night Music.” Read Nocturne. The third movement is full of irregular rhythms which gradually coalesce into a waltz. The fourth movement is once again referred to as Night Music, and it is this movement that is most obviously romantic. As matter of fact, it also uses a mandolin which was skillfully and artistically performed by Principle Second violinist, Paul Primus, which certainly added to its atmosphere of the serenade. The last movement is an exciting Finale that is full of virtuosity for every member of the orchestra.

This work is very difficult, and the difficulty is caused by Mahler’s differentiation of voices in the orchestra which gives this symphony a characteristic of collage. Therefore, his concept, in a sense, is really one of re-creating symphonic structure from all of these instrumental lines that cut at each other, and then coalesce. The difficulty is placed squarely on the conductor, and truthfully, just as much on the performing musicians in the orchestra. Everyone must share in this difficulty, and bring to the forefront the years of experience as performing musicians. As I stated above, one does not perform a work such as this without having considerable experience as a musician. In this symphony, Mahler uses many sounds from the world which surrounded him: cow bells, hammers, and a mandolin. And, in this symphony, none of these sounds are free of pathos or suppressed pain.

It is in this symphony, even though it is not the longest, that Mahler begins to use such a variety of voices, even though he does not always require the orchestra to be physically larger. Indeed, in the Seventh Symphony he does not necessarily seem to be concerned with increasing the physical size of the orchestra.

One can cite many reasons in this symphony where the difficulties raised by Mahler’s concepts can have numerous deleterious effects upon the performance. But, Friday evening it was clear that Maestro Litton and his group of remarkable musicians thoroughly understood what Mahler had intended. Everyone in the orchestra deserves to be named individually. This was a wonderful performance of this incredibly complex work, and, as I said above, it demonstrates the kind of artistry that is inherent in the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

Rare music and rare beauty: The Denver Early Music Consort

It is usually the case that when one attends a recital or a concert, one expects the very best. That is certainly part of the joy of attending any performance. But, once in a while, the performance is so good that its excellence causes enormous surprise. That was certainly the case Saturday evening, April 26, when I attended the performance of the Denver Early Music Consort at the King Center Recital Hall on the Auraria campus.

The Artistic Director of the Denver Early Music Consort is contralto Marjorie Bunday, who is well-known as a member of several choirs in the state of Colorado. Understand this: she is not just a fine contralto, she is also a scholar of music, and that applies to everyone who was onstage Saturday evening. The performers included Amanda Balestrieri, soprano; Eric Harbison, percussion; Linda Lunbeck, a woodwind artist on every woodwind instrument you can think of; Carla Sciaky, an artist on a considerable number of stringed instruments; and last, but not least, Yayoi Barrack, who is a wonderfully gifted string performer, and in addition, was the Guest Artistic Director for the performance Saturday evening. The DEMC was joined by the Danse Etoile Ballet under the Artistic Directorship of Marie-Jose Payannet. The dancers in this group are all high school students (and somewhat younger) and they were all excellent.

I am confident that most of you readers know Marjorie Bunday and Amanda Balestrieri, and are aware of their remarkable performance ability, as well as their scholarship, which shows through at every performance. Therefore, I will not include their biographies in this article simply because of space limitations. I will, however, include abbreviated bio statements of the other performers taken from the Denver Early Music Consort webpage, as well as the webpage of the Danse Etoile Ballet. In order to keep this article somewhat shorter here is the link to the DEMC where you can further discover the bios of the performers: http://www.denverearlymusic.org/bios.html

Yayoi Barrack, viol and vielle player, early music specialist and composer, obtained both her pedagogical and performing degrees for the viola da gamba at the Music Conservatory in Utrecht, the Netherlands, studying with Anneke Pols in Utrecht and taking masterclasses with Wieland Kuijken and Christophe Coin. Among others, she was a member of a Dutch medieval and renaissance music group focused on improvisational interpretations of early and Sephardic music that won first prize in a national ensembles competition in the Netherlands. For several years she was the viola da gamba soloist in the yearly performances of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew and St. John Passions in the Dom cathedral in Utrecht. She performed internationally with well-known groups such as the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet and with members of the Amsterdam Bach Soloists, toured Germany and Portugal as a soloist in Bach’s St. John Passion, and for some years was the solo continuo player in productions of the operas of Henry Purcell in France.

Percussionist Eric Harbeson received his training in Ohio, where he studied with Cleveland Orchestra members Tom Freer and Donald Miller at Cleveland State University, and with Tom Fries at the College of Wooster. He has since performed widely in the Cleveland, Washington, DC, and Central Illinois regions. Before moving to Colorado, he was librarian for, and performed with the Champaign Urbana Symphony Orchestra, and gave several well-regarded performances as principal timpanist with the Prairie Ensemble and the Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana. Locally, he has performed with the Seicento Baroque Ensemble, the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Ars Nova Singers, among others.

By day, Eric is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Boulder, serving as music special collections librarian and curating the American Music Research Center collections. His research focuses on intellectual property issues as they relate to music and libraries, a topic for which he is in demand as a speaker.

Linda Lunbeck (recorder) performs solo and ensemble music around the Rocky Mountain region and on the East Coast, ranging from medieval to contemporary repertoire. A member of the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado, she has also performed with the Colorado Music Festival, Boulder Bach Festival, Up Close and Musical, Musica Sacra, at the Boston Early Music Festival, on National Public Radio, with SoHIP (Boston area), Manet Consort (Maryland) and others. She co-founded Diverse Passions early music ensemble, and was music director for their collaborative staging of “The Delights of Posilipo”, a 17th-century operatic work. While living in Boston, Linda performed and toured with the innovative recorder quartet For Four, including premieres and newly commissioned works. Linda holds a Master’s degree in Early Music Performance from New England Conservatory of Music (Boston), and a BA in Music Education (University of Delaware).

Carla Sciaky is a multi-instrumentalist based in Denver, Colorado. As a solo folksinger and songwriter, she toured the US extensively through the 1980s and 90s, recording first on her own Propinquity Records and later on Green Linnet and Alacazam Records, compiling a discography of eight solo albums and appearing on many group efforts, compilations, and colleagues’ collections. Her songwriting won her awards and/or recognition in such arenas as the Kerrville New Song Competition, the Louisville, Kentucky songwriting competition, the Colorado Arts and Humanities Fellowship for Composition, the Billboard Songwriting Competition, and the Colorado, Utah, and Kansas Artist in Residence programs in the schools. At present, Carla performs with the Folkaltones, in ballad concerts with Harry Tuft, and in the blockbuster series “Jews Do…” (Cohen and Dylan to date), as well as teaching classes in guitar and Jewish songs and traditions at the Denver Waldorf School.

In the classical/early music world, Carla performs on baroque violin with Sémplice, a Denver quartet specializing in baroque music on period/replica instruments, as well as being a member of the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado since its first season. She plays rebec, viola da gamba, and violin with the Denver Early Music Consort, and modern violin with Musica Sacra Chamber Orchestra.

Marie-Jose Payannet grew up in beautiful Southern France. She studied ballet at the Conservatory of Classical Dance and Music in Avignon where she received full scholarship to study at the prestigious school of the Opera de Paris. A serious injury delayed that dream and much later, Marie-Jose went back to Paris to study with Yves Casati from the Opera de Paris at the theater of the Marais. During her career, she also trained with Galina Mezentseva, prima absoluta Kirov Ballet, Shamil Yagudin, ballet master Bolshoi Ballet, Luba Gulyaeva, soloist Kirov Ballet, Gaenor Grange Parkes, Royal Ballet, Mira Popvic, principal Czech Republic and David Herriot, principal dancer Winnipeg Ballet and North Carolina Ballet.

Saturday’s program was entitled From Solomon’s Court to the Ends of the Earth: Songs of the Sephardim, featured music of the Sephardic Jews on the Iberian Peninsula. As the excellent program notes explained: “‘Sephardic’ refers to Jews who practice a Sephardic style of liturgy, who have adopted Sephardic customs or who have been assimilated into Sephardic culture, whether or not their community has any historical connection to Iberia.” The music that they sung is known as Ladino, and it is a Judeo-Spanish language which is a combination of old Spanish and Hebrew. In some ways it is similar to Yiddish, which is a combination of the Ashkenazi Jewish and German dialects. It is important to realize that the Ladino language was once the common language that joined together all the sources of trade in the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Adriatic Sea. Eventually, Ladino found its way to South America and even the southern United States. It is still not abundantly clear to me, at least, how such a wealth of music could have been ignored for such a long time. It is quite possible that other collections of music such as the Cantigas de Santa Maria assembled by Alfonso X, were partly responsible. One must also take into consideration the profound influence of the French troubadours and trouvères which overflowed into Spain because of its close proximity. Nonetheless, there seems to be ample opportunity for doctoral dissertations!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Saturday’s performance was the enthusiasm exhibited by all of the performers. Some of these songs were cheerful, some were sad, and some very definitely showed their influence of Western European forms such as the Branle, which is a fifteenth century dance. This was a dance which was accompanied by singing – or, some might say singing accompanied by dancing. Likewise, some of the music performed Saturday showed the influence of the Goliard songs and the French Pavane. All of these were songs that included dancing. Therefore, the addition to Saturday evening’s program of the ballet students from the Danse Etoile Ballet was not out of place.

It was a little difficult to tell who some of the dancers were, but there were two who I thought were outstanding. I hope I have the names right: I tried to fit the faces that I remembered to the photographs on the Danse Etoile Ballet’s website. Those two were the diminutive Grace Braddock, whose dancing ability was anything but diminutive, and Christopher Darling, whose dancing ability is not only graceful and sure, but is augmented by immense strength for one so young. He had no trouble in lifting other dancers above his head.

Amanda Balestrieri and Marjorie Bunday exhibited great excitement and genuine pleasure in performing these songs which are incredibly rare and seldom heard. Their rhythms are also remarkably difficult. As Bunday explained, one of the songs, Yo hanina, tu hanino (I am beautiful, you are handsome) has a meter signature of 15/8. All of them seemed to have complicated dance rhythms, and it was a delight to hear these skilled the musicians perform them with such great ease. Their vocal production never suffered, nor did the marvelous sound of their voices.

Yayoi Barrack arranged much of the music for Saturday’s performance. When I use the word “arranged” I’m referring to the fact that sometimes a vielle was used, sometimes a tenor viol. Occasionally Linda Lunbeck performed on the recorder, a shawm, or a gemshorn. Eric Harbison was also required to change percussion instruments often. You must understand that careful and scholarly consideration was given to the choice of instruments to be used, and it was quite evident that there were no haphazard choices.

One of the most exciting aspects of Saturday evening’s performance was that it opened many doors to expose music that is simply not heard often enough. It was beautiful, and it was done in such an artistic yet authentic way, that one could imagine a very intimate, joyous, or melancholy setting in the fifteenth century. It was also abundantly clear that the students of Marie-Jose Payannet and the Danse Etoile Ballet are getting spectacular instruction in the art of dance. Read, again, the bio statements that I have included in this article out of necessity. Then make sure that you attend one of the programs of the Denver Early Music Consort.

The Colorado Symphony Orchestra with Yumi Hwang-Williams and Wendy Sutter are without peer.

Friday evening, April 11, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Scott O’Neil, presented an absolutely marvelous program of two rare works, and one well-known work. The CSO performed the Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra by Phillip Glass. This work featured the CSO’s own Yumi Hwang-Williams, violinist, and guest cellist, Wendy Sutter. Also on the program was The Pleasure Dome of Kublai Khan, Op. 8, by Charles Griffes, and the well-known Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The CSO opened the concert with the Griffes work, The Pleasure Dome of Kublai Khan. Charles Griffes (1884-1920) was an American composer whose very short life has relegated him to the ‘unknowns.’ This is truly lamentable: there are many scholars today who regard him as one of the most outstanding American composers of his generation because of his compositional artistry as well as his skill at orchestration. He was born in Elmira, New York, and began taking piano lessons from his older sister. He eventually studied piano at the Elmira Free Academy where he attracted the attention of his piano teacher. The teacher subsidized his traveled to Berlin where he began taking piano lessons with Ernst Jedliczka and Gottfried Galston. He also began to take composition lessons with Engelbert Humperdinck, and that is where he felt most comfortable. While he was in Germany, he wrote several lieder in the German language in addition to one symphony. He returned to the United States, and accepted a job at the Hackley School in Tarrytown, New York. He kept that position until he died in 1920 of pneumonia.

He began composing in a Germanic post-romantic style that soon evolved into French Impressionism, and it is that element which became very strong in his adult life, short as it was.

Before the concert opened, CSO Principal Flutist, Brook Ferguson, and pianist Josh Sedwicki gave a performance of Poem by Charles Griffes as part of the pre-concert lecture. This gave the audience a hint of his style, and what to listen for in The Pleasure Dome of Kublai Khan.

The Pleasure Dome of Kublai Khan was originally written in 1912 for piano solo, but when he submitted it to his publisher, G. Schirmer, it was rejected because they thought that Griffes was writing in a way which was much too “dreamy” for that day and age. One of Griffes’ acquaintances introduced him to Ferruccio Busoni, a Liszt pupil, who was coming to New York City on a concert tour. Busoni looked at several of Griffes’ works and was quite impressed. He also suggested that Griffes rewrite The Pleasure Dome of Kublai Khan and orchestrate it. It was that version which was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the directorship of Pierre Monteux in 1919. It was an immediate, critical success, and it was received with rave reviews by the audience as well.

The CSO performance of this work was absolutely superb. It seems to me that it would be a rather difficult piece because of its many contrasting sections or, if you will, episodes. The orchestration of this work demonstrates how skilled Griffes truly was. I was strongly reminded of Debussy’s La Mer because of its richness and the combination of instruments. The work is only ten minutes long, but in that time span, one can hear an opening of darkness, which begins with a tremolo from the cellos and gong, accompanied very soon by soft chords from the orchestral piano. It then proceeds through stateliness and contemplation, all the while using Oriental style “scale” structure and deceptive Impressionistic harmonies. That is a great abundance for a ten minute work, but it is an absolutely beautiful work. It has always amazed me that in spite of Griffes’ quality output that he has just fallen off Mount Parnassus following his death. He deserves a great deal of attention.

Following the Griffes, the CSO performed the Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra by the well-known 20th-century composer, Phillip Glass (1937- ). This concerto demonstrates a real change in Phillip Glass’ style because it seems as though he has gone through a process of adding to, and expanding his original minimalist aesthetic. Thus, this work seems to take into consideration the harmonies that his elemental groups of notes can generate, as well as the textures resulting from his contrapuntal techniques. By that, I mean that in the strict sense of the word counterpoint, Glass is not only concerned so with melodic counterpoint, but becomes concerned with rhythmic counterpoint as well. The result is a new-found, and quite remarkable, expressive sound.

This is an absolutely beautiful piece of music, and I must say that Yumi Hwang-Williams and Wendy Sutter were beautifully paired for this performance. I also point out that Wendy Sutter and Maria Bachmann, violinist, were the two artists for which this piece was originally composed. The concerto itself is most unusual. Most concertos are concerned with two aspects: a soloist who “competes” with the orchestra, or a soloist who is supported by the orchestra, and in turn supports them. However, each movement of the Glass concerto begins with a solo duet for violin and cello which is then followed by the full orchestra for the remainder of the movement. The violin and cello take part in the rest of the movement as well, but are not necessarily highlighted as soloists. It is in the opening duet that the violinist and cellist demonstrate their technical prowess. I assure you that both of these performers have a great deal of technical prowess and artistry. This is a superb work, but these two individuals made it an absolute joy to hear. The duets before each movement struck me as being quite intimate even though they require a great deal of virtuosity. Both Hwang-Williams and Sutter made it seem as if they were playing very personal statements, as if they were performing chamber music rather than an enormous orchestral concerto. The duets were performed so that one could well imagine that it was written for a ballet, and, indeed, the Netherlands Dans Theater commissioned the work for their ballet, Swan Song. In many ways, the second movement of this concerto was the most important because after its duet opening, the orchestra slowly builds into a vibrant dance for orchestra and soloists. And it is interesting to note that Glass does not conclude the work, as is the case with most concertos, with a bombastic finale. Rather he closes the entire work with another duet which is rather melancholy.

Yumi Hwang-Williams and Wendy Sutter received a standing ovation for their performance. It was wonderful to see the audience truly appreciate an avant-garde composition and understand that the two artists who performed it are truly artists in every sense of the word. This was the Denver premiere of this work, and judging by the audience reaction, perhaps it will become a staple of the CSO. And, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Wendy Sutter would come back every time it was performed to join with our own, and the CSO’s, Yumi Hwang-Williams?

Following the intermission, Maestro O’Neil and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra performed Rachmaninoff’s well-known Symphonic Dances. This was Rachmaninoff’s last composition, and it was his only composition completely written in the United States. One who is familiar with Rachmaninoff’s (1873-1943) compositions understands that one can hear several things in his works. Throughout his life, Rachmaninoff was obsessed, if that is the right word, with bells. He even wrote a four movement choral symphony entitled, The Bells. A full choir is called for in every movement of that piece. And sounds of bells can be heard in many of his compositions, even the last few bars of the second movement of his famous Piano Concerto Nr. 2. But in this work, Symphonic Dances, there is no reference to bells, aside from a short snippet of bells in the percussion section. I feel that since this work was written in the United States, Rachmaninoff decided not to use the imitation of bells. Another theme that recurs in several of his works is the Dies Irae theme. This was added to the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass by Thomas of Celano around 1240 A.D. The text reminds believers that they must continue to live exemplary lives or they will be judged. In the Requiem, this section is then followed by the Tuba Mirum, the call to judgment, and it is in this section where all bets are off, and the heathens are condemned to eternal damnation. Personally, I don’t think that Rachmaninoff was overly pessimistic about his own existence, but I do think he found that this Dies Irae theme could easily be introduced as a variation, or as just an interesting theme.

The CSO presented a splendid performance of this work. In the first movement which contains a driving rhythm, there is a moment in the score where Rachmaninoff uses the entire woodwind section to form a nonet. The CSO has one of the best woodwind sections of any orchestra in the United States. The members of this nonet were Brook Ferguson, Principal Flute; Catherine Peterson, Flute; Julie Duncan Thornton, Piccolo; Peter Cooper, Principal Oboe; Jason Lichtenwalter, English Horn; Jason Shafer, Principal Clarinet; Abby Raymond, Clarinet; Andrew Stevens, Bass Clarinet; and Chad Cognata, Principal Bassoon. Their playing was absolutely without peer. Other members of the CSO whose performance stood out Friday evening were Claude Sim, Associate Concertmaster, and Silver Ainomäe, Principal Cello.

In the second movement of Symphonic Dances, Rachmaninoff scores one of the most expressive melodic lines he has ever written for alto saxophone. It gives a startlingly melancholy and soft, dramatic sound to the orchestra, and the choice of this instrument in this orchestral work is not unheard of, but it is a little unusual. The saxophone was first demonstrated at an industrial exhibition in Paris in 1844. It was in that same year that the French composer Georges Kastner used it in his opera, The Last King of Juda. Ravel also used it, as did Berlioz. I could not find any reference in the program to the performer who played the alto saxophone Friday evening, but he was truly excellent.

It should be apparent to regular Symphony attendees, and lovers of Rachmaninoff’s music, that in this work, Rachmaninoff is looking to the future and is beginning to write with brand-new harmonies and the structure of his melodic lines. Many of his long, flowing lines are now replaced by shorter lines put together to build longer ones. This makes the development of each theme much easier. And in this work, his orchestration has become thicker as he seems to concentrate on more and different combinations of instruments than in his past compositions.

All three of the works on Friday evening’s program reflected change in composer’s styles, and that is what unified these three disparate composers, and created a remarkably interesting program to hear.

Another highlight of Friday evening’s performance was the revelation that Maestro Scott O’Neil’s conducting has undergone a tremendous change over the last five years. It is a change that emphasizes his musicianship and his trust in the ability of everyone in the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. It was a change that seems to emphasize mutual acceptance.

The audience Friday evening was larger than many of the concerts I have attended the season, and it should be noted that, finally, there were some younger people in the audience. I will never get tired of telling you readers that Colorado Symphony Orchestra is one of the best orchestras in the United States. They have proven that over and over again, and in the last couple of years the orchestra has brightened considerably due to several changes which I will not mention again.

The CSO will perform this program again tonight, Saturday, April 12, and Sunday, April 13.


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