Opus Colorado

Announcing: Better Boettcher Bash
October 7, 2014, 7:02 pm
Filed under: News

New plan for Boettcher Concert Hall, 25th anniversary celebrated in October 26 Concert and Fundraiser

The Colorado Symphony is thrilled to announce the Better Boettcher Bash, Colorado Symphony 25th Anniversary Celebration, to take place Sunday, October 26 at Boettcher Concert Hall. A concert and fundraiser, the Better Boettcher Bash celebrates the orchestra’s legacy as well as a bold new vision for its home.

Conducted by Scott O’Neil, the Better Boettcher Bash will feature music from the Colorado Symphony as well as Natasha Paremski, world-renown pianist and favorite of Colorado Symphony audiences. Cellist Zuill Bailey will also join the orchestra for a program that includes traditional and beloved pieces from the symphonic canon, from Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saëns to Bernstein and Williams. Belen de Leon of 9News will host. Admission is available with a tax-deductible donation of $50, $100, or $200. All proceeds support the Better Boettcher campaign.

The Better Boettcher Bash falls on the silver anniversary of a groundbreaking cultural moment in 1989, when the Denver Symphony became the Colorado Symphony.

Last month, the Colorado Symphony unveiled a plan to renovate Boettcher Concert Hall, its home of 35 years. Built for the Colorado Symphony and recognized as one of the most unique concert venues in the world, Boettcher Concert Hall is in need of overdue repair as well as upgrades to fit the changing needs of one of the great orchestras in the United States. The Better Boettcher Plan, created by Denver’s Semple Brown Design, re-envisions Boettcher Concert Hall as a flexible, multi-media space with optimal acoustics and sound reinforcements. Details of the plan are available on the Colorado Symphony’s web site http://www.coloradosymphony.org.

“We believe Boettcher Concert Hall needs renovation, not demolition, and the public seems to agree with us,” says Jerome H. Kern, Colorado Symphony CEO and co-chair of its Board of Trustees. “Since we announced the Better Boettcher plan, we’ve heard from hundreds of community members who wish to support our efforts. The Better Boettcher Bash gives them an incredible opportunity to do so.”


Better Boettcher Bash
Colorado Symphony 25th Anniversary Celebration
Sunday, October 26
Boettcher Concert Hall, Denver Performing Arts Complex
Cocktails 5:30 pm
Concert 7:00 pm
Festive Attire
Contribution levels: $50/$100/$200
Contributions may be made by phone at 303-623-7876, online at http://www.coloradosymphony.org, or through the box office in Boettcher Concert Hall, located at 1000 14th Street, in the Denver Performing Arts Complex in downtown Denver. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10 am – 6 pm, and Saturday, noon – 6 pm.


One of the leading orchestras in the United States, the Colorado Symphony performs more than 150 concerts annually at Boettcher Concert Hall in downtown Denver and across Colorado. Led by internationally renowned Music Director Andrew Litton, the Colorado Symphony is home to eighty full-time musicians, representing more than a dozen nations, and regularly welcomes the most celebrated artists from the world of symphonic music and beyond. Every season, the Colorado Symphony serves more than 250,000 people from all walks of life, performing a range of musical styles, from traditional to contemporary. Recognized as an incubator of innovation, creativity, and excellence, the Colorado Symphony continually expands its reach through education, outreach, and programming. The Colorado Symphony partners with the state’s leading musical artists, cultural organizations, corporations, foundations, sports teams, and individuals to expose diverse audiences to the transformative power of music. To learn more, visit http://www.coloradosymphony.org

The Boulder Chamber Orchestra: Rare gems

Saturday evening, October 4th, I attended the performance of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra at the Broomfield Auditorium. Their season has been titled Mystique, and Saturday’s performance featured the pianist, Victoria Aja, performing two rarely heard works: Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, and the Symphonic Variations by Belgian composer César Franck. There were two other works on the concert that night, and, as a matter of fact, they are rarely done as well: Ritual Fire Dance, by Manuel de Falla and the delightful Symphony in C by Georges Bizet.

Maestro Bahman Saless opened the program with the Ritual Fire Dance, which is one Falla’s most popular works. This is a short section from an original ballet, El Amor Brujo, which had been commissioned in 1915 by a dancer named Pastora Imperio. The scene in the ballet where Ritual Fire Dance occurs is a dance done by the character Candela, who is being haunted by the ghost of her dead husband. Candela is encouraged by Gypsies to dance the ritual fire dance in order to get rid of the ghost. As they all dance faster and faster, the ghost appears, is drawn into the flames, and then vanishes forever. This piece became so popular that Manuel de Falla arranged it for piano, and it rapidly became used by several pianists as an encore as well as a programmed work.

The Boulder Chamber Orchestra was absolutely superb in capturing the rhythms, melodic mannerisms, and the complete atmosphere of Manuel de Falla’s popular composition. Linda Wilkin is the pianist with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra, and she was excellent. There were some marvelous flute work and oboe work done by Cobus du Toit, flute, and Max Soto, oboe. The BCO seemed very excited with the performance of this piece, and it was so successful because of this excitement that I wondered why more orchestras do not perform this. It could be that for a while it was extremely popular, and that its popularity rose to the level of a cliché during the 1930s. But I was certainly glad to hear it again. I can remember hearing Arthur Rubenstein perform this years ago, and it always brought the audience to its feet.

The Spanish pianist, Victoria Aja, then joined the Boulder Chamber Orchestra to perform Nights in the Gardens of Spain. Manuel de Falla, who wrote this work, lived in Paris for a while where he befriended Claude Debussy, Paul Dukas, and Maurice Ravel. All three of these composers were very appreciative of the values they found in Spanish music, and all three of those composers responded with great enthusiasm to Falla’s music. In addition the Spanish composer, Issac Albéniz, was living in Paris as well, and there was much interchange among all of these composers. For example, Falla, through informal tutelage, learned much about Impressionism, and the French composers learned much about the Spanish model harmonies.

I will briefly quote from Victoria Aja’s bio statement:

“The Spanish Victoria Aja began her musical studies in Bilbao and continued at the Conservatory of Music in Madrid with Manuel Carra (a former student of Manuel de Falla). She then moved to London to perfect her performance. At 18, she won the Luis Coleman contest in Spain followed by the Frank Marshall Academy Competition in Barcelona and obtained the “Rosa Sabater” diploma of the Musica in Compostela. She was invited to play and hold conferences on numerous occasions by the Instituto Cervantes. She recorded an album for EMI devoted to Albéniz, Falla, Turina, Donostia and the pieces by the composer Jesus Guridi for the Naxos label, a record ranking among the American magazine Fanfare’s top records.”

Victoria Aja’s performance of this piece was exhilarating. She has great strength when she plays, and, as one would expect, she is totally at home with this composer. This is not an easy piece to play. The rhythms are extremely demanding, and there are many glissandos (on the piano, a rapid scale effect obtained by sliding the thumb, or thumb and one finger, over the keys) which must end precisely with the orchestra. As a matter of fact, she made use of a fabric pad when she performed some of the glissandos, presumably to protect her hands from being abraded as she slid the backs of her fingers across the keys. Though I have never seen this done before, in this particular composition it might be advisable because there are so many glissandos. There is no question that the audience was in love with this piece. The response to her performance was enthusiastic indeed.

Following the intermission, Victoria Aja performed César Franck’s Symphonic Variations. This is not necessarily a straightforward or simple set of variations: it is a three movement concerto form without interruption, which sometimes seems to use the word “variations” as a catchword. The number of variations, as the program notes point out is still a matter of debate, but many agreed that there are six large variations: 1) a tête-à-tête between piano and orchestra; 2) the theme stated by the cello; 3) a statement of the theme with the piano with strings and woodwinds; 4) and elaboration by the piano with harmonic changes; 5) an expansion of the former; 6) stronger variations in the piano with cello accompaniment.

César Franck (1822-1890) was born in Belgium, however, he spent most of his life in Paris. He was not a terribly prolific composer, but what he wrote is excellent music indeed. He was primarily an organist and composer, but he was also an excellent pianist. He taught at the Paris Conservatory, and his young student, Claude Debussy, studied improvisation with him, though they did not often see eye to eye. César Franck wrote this marvelous piece at the age of 63.

I am extremely familiar with this work, and I found Victoria Aja’s performance to be excellent, but at the same time a little puzzling. For example, I found her tempo to be a little bit on the slow side, and in addition, it seemed that in the lush center section where there is a two-handed arpeggio figuration, she could have been a little bit more legato in her approach. It would be interesting to know what edition of this work she was using, and that might go a long way to explaining her approach. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful performance of a work that is seldom heard. There is no question that she exposed César Franck for the creative master that he was. It is my hope that she performs this piece quite often, as the public needs to know this beautiful work.

The Boulder Chamber Orchestra closed their concert with an absolutely masterful performance of Georges Bizet’s Symphony in C Major. The Symphony was written when Bizet (1838-1875) was only 17 years old, presumably as an assignment while he was studying at the Paris Conservatory. Curiously, the work was not discovered until 1933, and it was not performed, as the program notes point out, until 1935.

Maestro Saless and the BCO gave an absolutely delightful performance of this piece. It demonstrates the influence that Mozart had on Bizet, with its transparency and refined textures. Perhaps more than any other work performed on Saturday’s program, the orchestra played this with a marvelous enthusiasm and accuracy of phrasing which accentuated Mozart’s influence. There was no denying that the entire woodwind section and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra is absolutely superb. Their performance was so exact that it could not be missed. The enthusiasm with which certain members played was easily noticeable as well. Gynögyvér Petheö and Veronica Pigeon seemed really to be enjoying this symphony, and their enthusiasm was truly hard to miss. Joseph Howe, Principal Cello; Aniel Cabán, Principal Viola, also reflected great enthusiasm. There is a fugue in the second movement of the Symphony, and that can sometimes keep the performers on their toes with dynamics and accents that keep each entrance similar. It was flawless. The entire orchestra made this work light and airy, and it made me think that Georges Bizet must have felt somewhat isolated in Paris because instrumental music was not incredibly popular in the city when he wrote this piece.

The Boulder Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Bahman Saless maintains their effortless reputation for excellent and exciting performances. And this season, the music they have programmed is truly exceptional and rarely heard: Stravinsky’s Octet for Winds; Vivaldi’s Gloria; Brahms Haydn Variations; Nielsen’s Flute Concerto; and in May, Chopin’s Concerto nr. 2 in f minor. These are all programs that you cannot miss.

Gil Shaham, Andrew Litton, and the Colorado Symphony are Magnificent

Friday evening, October 3, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Andrew Litton, gave a remarkable, world-class performance. Violinist, Gil Shaham was the guest artist, and performed the well-known Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 77. Andrew Litton has wrought such a change in the symphony orchestra that every performance seems more exciting and more perfect than the previous performance. There is no question that he respects the orchestra’s individual musicianship as well as their musicianship as an ensemble. That respect is returned to him by the orchestra, and that mutual respect makes all the difference in the world.

The CSO opened the program with a wonderful piece entitled Timepiece by the American composer, Cindy McTee. For those of you who are not familiar with that name, I will quote briefly from her two bio statements that I found on the web:

“McTee (b. 1953 in Tacoma, WA) has received numerous awards for her music, most significantly: the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s third annual Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award; a Music Alive Award from Meet The Composer and the League of American Orchestras; two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; a Guggenheim Fellowship; a Fulbright Fellowship; a Composers Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts; and a BMI Student Composers Award. She was also winner of the 2001 Louisville Orchestra Composition Competition.

”McTee has been commissioned by the Detroit, Houston, Amarillo, Dallas, and National Symphony Orchestras, Bands of America, the American Guild of Organists, the Barlow Endowment, the College Band Directors National Association, and Pi Kappa Lambda.

“She studied at Pacific Lutheran University, the Academy of Music in Kraków, Yale University, and the University of Iowa. Her teachers included Krzysztof Penderecki, Bruce MacCombie, and Jacob Druckman.

“In May of 2011, she retired from the University of North Texas as Regents Professor Emerita, and in November of 2011 she married conductor, Leonard Slatkin [he conducted the St. Louis Symphony for a number of years, and also teaches at the University of Michigan and at Indiana University]. Their principal place of residence is in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.”

Timepiece was commissioned by Andrew Litton when he conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Maestro Litton and the Dallas Symphony premiered the work on February 17, 2000. This is a wonderful work which begins softly, and in relatively long note values. If any of you attended this concert, you may have noticed Litton’s conducting movements were quite rapid in relationship to the note values that were being played. This is the first time I have heard this piece, but it also seemed as though the meter signature, and its accompanying accents, changed constantly. There were some wonderful ostinato sections of the piece with an almost locomotive energy that seemed to be accompanied by rhythmic counterpoint. Even though the woodblock in the percussion section tries to keep order, the rhythm is still quite disjunct, and it adds to the forward momentum of the piece. This incredibly complex rhythm sometimes rests underneath the string sections of the orchestra, which, in contrast, produces an almost ephemeral aura. This was a very difficult piece because of the rhythm complexities, and it was a wonderful piece that immediately caught the audiences’ attention. I would not mind hearing it several times in a row, so that I could sort out all of the remarkably creative structures that this piece contains.

Timepiece seemed to take the audience a little by surprise, and their applause at the end seemed to be a little lukewarm. However, it is my hope that the CSO performs more works like this, because we need to know what fills the world of new music.

Following the McTee work, Gil Shaham joined the CSO for the performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto, Opus 77. Nearly everyone knows the story behind this concerto, that it was written for the great violinist Joseph Joachim, and that it caused consternation among some conductors of the time, namely Josef Hellmesberger, who made the famous comment that this concerto was “not for the violin, but against the violin.” It is my personal opinion that comments such as that one stem from the fact that Brahms demanded so much from the violin, for example, the extreme range of dynamics. And I must say, that is one of the attributes that made Friday evening’s performance so outstanding.

Gil Shaham is an incredible musician, and he simply demanded from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra the full range of dynamics of which they are capable. It has been a long time since I have heard this concerto performed to this level, and I am sure that he was grateful at having a conductor of Litton’s ilk conduct this performance. He played so softly sometimes that the orchestra had to work very hard (as a group) to play softly themselves so as not to cover him. There is no question that Litton and Shaham were in complete agreement, and that their performance of this piece was to make absolute music, and not make a display of each other’s virtuosity. The result was an incredibly intimate performance, particularly of the first movement, but, mind you, the other movements have their own superlative characteristics. Brahms’ orchestration of the second movement is absolutely remarkable because of its blend of woodwinds and strings. Peter Cooper, oboe, Jason Shafer, clarinet, Brooke Ferguson, flute, and Chad Cognata, bassoon, were absolutely incredible in the dynamic shaping of the phrases of the opening theme, which matched so well the phrasing that Shaham performed on his violin. Again, it reflected the concern with the music, rather than concern with everyone’s ego. I have heard so many performances of this piece by famous violinists, who seem to have the desire to dazzle the audience with gargantuan technique rather than a sincere desire to show what the composer wanted. The entire woodwind section of the Colorado Symphony is truly outstanding, and provides a solid backbone of the orchestra, particularly in a work such as the Brahms concerto.

It was also very clear that Gil Shaham was enjoying his relationship with the orchestra. There were some beautiful moments of give-and-take with the violin section of the orchestra, wherein Shaham seemed to be playing to concertmaster Yumi Hwang-Williams, and she seemed to be returning the gesture in kind.

The third movement of this concerto was exciting because of the incredibly detailed and careful (but not cautious) execution of the rhythmic jabs that Brahms wrote. The brilliant staccato octaves with their dotted rhythm were precisely and excitingly done by Gil Shaham, and were an incredible contrast to the very gracious and charming dolce theme. The drive in the last movement of this concerto often reminds me of Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor. It was a sensational performance that was built around a love of the music itself by Gil Shaham, and certainly Maestro Litton and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

Following the intermission, Maestro Litton in the Colorado Symphony Orchestra performed Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Nr. 5 in E minor, Opus 64. There was an 11 year gap of symphonic composition on Tchaikovsky’s part between the fourth and the fifth symphonies. Number Five was written in 1888. He wrote to his benefactress, Najeda Von Meck, that he wished to write a symphony of the greatest possible state of perfection to avoid the criticism that had been directed towards his previous symphonic compositions. Tchaikovsky, himself, conducted the premier on November 16, 1888. Its reception was lukewarm, particularly the performance in Prague, and he came to the conclusion that this symphony was a failure in comparison to his Fourth Symphony. Today, I am quite sure that all of the scholars and audiences agree that Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Nr. 5 is one of his best.

Friday evening’s performance of this work was simply the best I have ever heard, and I have heard many orchestras perform this piece. In the first movement, the wonderful woodwind section of the Colorado Symphony displayed what they are capable of, and it was sheer music. I might add that Maestro Litton conducted this work from memory, and that reflects not only his vast knowledge of symphonic literature, which he certainly has as a matter of course, but it also reflects his love for this particular work. The tempos that he took in every movement were, without exaggeration, perfect. The second movement for example, starts with a very slow tempo, and so many conductors seem to approach it with an attitude of, “Oh dear, the hard Russian winters have kept old pathos fresh.” That certainly was not the case with Lipton’s conducting Friday evening. Yes, the tempo was slow -after all, it is marked Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza (with a certain freedom). Litton’s tempo gave the movement a marvelous sense of forward motion, and yet, let the incredible clarinet solo stand out in its expressiveness. The third movement is not the usual Scherzo, or Minuet: Tchaikovsky has clearly marked it Waltz. Litton’s tempo was graceful and charming and perfect. And, even in this movement, Tchaikovsky repeats the haunting theme from the first movement.

The fourth movement of this work seem to emphasize the long introduction, for the true exposition begins in measure 58. It was wonderfully exciting, wonderfully dramatic, and the repetition of the main theme brought the entire work to a wonderfully conceived conclusion. When I say wonderfully conceived, I am not referring to Tchaikovsky’s skill as a composer, which would be silly to comment on at this late date: we know he was a great composer. I am referring to the interpretation that Litton gave this work. I cannot emphasize clearly enough that this was the best performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Nr. 5 that I have heard. Jason Shafer, clarinet, indeed, the entire woodwind section, and William Hill, tympani, were absolutely amazing.

Friday evening’s performance made me reflect upon today’s fast-moving lifestyle which has resulted in so many people having a very short attention span. As I have said, there is music everywhere: elevator music, telephone hold music, short music segments between broadcasts on the radio, and all of this results in the confusion between culture and art. It results in the aforementioned short attention span, if not the complete ignorance of what music as an art can be. It seems that the days even of careful reading, holding an actual book in your hand, while the late afternoon sunlight streams in through a slight opening in the drapes, are gone. That carefulness, that appreciation, that ability to listen un-hurriedly to a complete work, the pre-Internet concern for artful things, is what I was reminded of at Friday evening’s performance by the Colorado Symphony.

Boettcher Concert Hall was far from full Friday evening. Was it because so many individuals don’t wish to take the time to listen? The audience on Friday gave the CSO two standing ovations. You will have the opportunity to hear this program tonight at 7:30, and again tomorrow at 1:00 PM.

Colorado Bach Ensemble Announces Special Free Concert
October 3, 2014, 10:54 am
Filed under: News

The Colorado Bach Ensemble has announced a special free concert on October 25 at 5:00 pm. This short, late afternoon program will feature gems from the vocal, choral and instrumental music of JS Bach performed by artists from the ensemble. The concert will take place at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, 4500 East Hampden Avenue.

On the program, the ensemble’s organist Ken Mervine will perform Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Tenor Derek Chester and alto Marjorie Bunday will sing arias from the Christmas Oratorio, St. John Passion, and St. Matthew Passion accompanied by the CBE ensemble conducted by Artistic Director James Kim.

Violinist Jubal Fulks will perform three movements from Bach’s Partita #3 in E Major for Solo Violin ,and Principal Flautist, Michelle Stanley, will perform two movements from the Flute Sonata in Eb Major. Concluding the concert, James Kim will lead the chorus and continuo in a performance of Bach’s motet Lobet den Herrn. Each of the artists will provide brief commentary on the works they will be performing.

A backstage reception following the concert will offer an opportunity for interaction between the performers and audience members. Refreshments will be served.

In assembling this program, Dr. Kim expressed the hope that he will see many old ensemble friends from previous concerts, and he expressed a special hope that many new people might use this opportunity to discover the ensemble, described by independent critic Robin McNeill as “absolute perfection in every way”.


Colorado Bach Ensemble
Free One-Hour Concert
October 25, 2014 5:00 PM
Bethany Lutheran Church
4500 East Hampden Avenue
Cherry Creek Village, CO 80013
(free parking)

Boulder Symphony’s Annual Kids’ Halloween Extravaganza
October 3, 2014, 10:38 am
Filed under: News

The Curious Case of the Mysterious Maestro
October 25th
One Day, Two Events: 
An Afternoon Kids & Family Special and an Evening Symphony Series
Saturday, October 25th will be a day full of mysterious melodies as Boulder Symphony presents two concerts: a kid-centered matinee concert complete with Halloween-inspired festivities and an evening Symphony Series filled with Elgar, Beethoven, and Brahms.

Beginning at 2:00 PM, “The Curious Case of the Mysterious Maestro” is Boulder Symphony’s annual Halloween Family Concert.  This year kids are invited to help solve the mystery of Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations as the symphony musicians present not only the symphonic pieces, but theatrical characters and a mystery-filled play, as well as a side-by-side performance with the Longmont Youth Symphony.

Costumes are encouraged as there will be a contest in which the Kids’ Costume Contest Winner gets to conduct the orchestra, as well as Boulder-style Trick-Or-Treating with healthy treats from local vendors and an Instrument Petting Zoo where kids get to try out various instruments, and get inspired.  Adults — wear your costumes too because there will also be prizes for grown-up winners.

All children 18 and under are invited to attend for free through Boulder Symphony’s Free Student Ticket Program.

Later in the day, at 7:00 PM, Boulder Symphony’s 3rd Symphony Series, “Mystery of the Enigma” takes the stage again with Elgar’s Enigma Variations.  Additionally, this concert will include Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and Brahms’ Prelude and Fugue in G Minor, featuring soloist Devon Howard’s powerful and haunting playing of the giant Cassavant organ.

All performances take place at First Presbyterian Church Concert Hall, 1820 15th Street, in Boulder. Tickets are $15 (adults), $10 (seniors), $5 (college students), and free for children (K-12) and are available online at http://www.bouldersymphony.org, or at the door.

Boulder Symphony is the intrepid explorer in the vast universe that is symphonic music.  Dedicated to making symphonic music more accessible and relevant to people of all ages and backgrounds, Boulder Symphony introduces gifted new composers and musicians, adventurous world premieres, and focuses on educational outreach and interactive programs for youth.  Committed to consistent innovation, the Symphony embraces music’s transformative joy of discovery.

Halloween Goes Baroque With Seicento Baroque Ensemble
October 1, 2014, 7:02 pm
Filed under: Reviews

Dies Irae ~ Day of Wrath

In a town that treasures its “quirky” identity and leans toward the avant-garde, premieres are frequent highlights in a wide range of musical concerts offered in Boulder.  But for a Boulder ensemble that specializes in music written 300 – 350 years ago, premieres can be hard to come by.  This fall, Seicento Baroque Ensemble proves that Boulder and Denver audiences can be treated to the unique experience of hearing music very few others have ever heard performed live, even from Seicento’s favorite period — the baroque era.

The concert’s title work, Dies Irae, written by French composer Michel de Lalande in 1690, has a mysterious history that will be revealed at the October 31/November 1 concerts.  In modern times, the piece has been performed only in Europe, and that has happened in just the past 25 years.  Seicento will present not just the United States premiere but the first live performance in all of the Americas!  A French composer and organist in the service of King Louis XIV, Lalande was one of the most important composers of les grands motets and his works foreshadowed the cantatas of Bach and Handel.

Now beginning its fourth season, Seicento Baroque Ensemble, an auditioned choir, was founded to fill the previously unmet early baroque niche in the region’s choral music scene, and is led by Artistic Director Evanne Browne.

As usual, the choir, trained in historically-informed styles, will be accompanied by period instruments and will feature the vocal solo work of Amanda Balestrieri (soprano), Marjorie Bunday (alto), Steven Soph (tenor) and Ryan Parker (baritone).  A pre-concert talk about the music and the period will be given by Dr. Deborah Kauffman.

The rest of the concert is equally custom-made for the season, including the witches scene from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Der Gerechte kommt um (“The righteous perish”) by Kuhnau (arranged by Bach), Vidi turbam magnam by Cannicciari, De profundis clamavi (“Out of the depths I cry”) also by Lalande, and Bertulosi’s O quam gloriosum est regnum.  A special Halloween treat for the audience will be a performance of the famous “scary” Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ, played by Kajsa Teitelbaum.

Browne noted that the concert will be dedicated to the late Christopher Hogwood who, as a musicologist, conductor and founder of the Academy of Ancient Music, had a major influence in the resurgence of interest in the historically informed performance of baroque music.

The Ensemble gratefully acknowledges the support of Colorado Creative Industries which recently awarded Seicento a significant operations grant.

Concert details:

Friday, October 31, 7:30 pm (6:45 pre-concert talk)
St. Paul Lutheran Church
1600 Grant Street
Denver, CO

Saturday, November 1, 7:30 pm (6:45 pre-concert talk)
First United Methodist Church
1421 Spruce Street
Boulder, CO 80302

Tickets:  $20, $18, $10
For further information and to purchase tickets:  http://www.seicentobaroque.org

The songs of Théodore Gouvy: a new CD with MeeAe Nam, John Elwes, and Joel Schoenhals is Incredible!
September 30, 2014, 6:49 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , ,

I know that there are many of you readers who remember the mellifluous voice and supreme artistry of soprano MeeAe Nam. She left Denver a few years ago to teach at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, and she is still continuing her rigorous performance schedule throughout the world, giving concerts, conducting workshops and lecturing at conferences. I am happy to announce that you will now be able to hear her voice almost any time you wish, because she has recorded a CD (Toccata Classics) of some of the songs by the obscure French composer, Théodore Gouvy (1819-1898).

Before I discuss the CD, I will provide with a very brief outline of Théodore Gouvy’s biography.

Louis Théodore Gouvy was born on July 3, 1819, in Goffontaine (today it is Schafbrücke, in the district of Saarbrücken, in Germany). Pierre Gouvy, his grandfather, opened the first steel mill of the four that the family eventually owned, built the workers’ apartments, and, expanding them to a considerable housing complex, gave it the name Goffontaine. His son, Henri (Theodore’s father), ran the steel mill as did his son Henri, Theodore’s oldest brother. The area of the Lorraine where he spent his childhood had a huge impact on Théodore’s life: not long before he was born, the border had moved because of the Second Treaty of Paris in 1815, and his home was now considered to be in Germany. Thus his brothers were French, but he was technically German.

In spite of his love for the arts and languages, he was encouraged to become a lawyer to assist in running the family steel mills; however, after graduating from the University of Paris, he failed the French equivalent of the bar exams twice because of his preoccupation with music. When he tried to enroll in the Paris Conservatory, Luigi Cherubini, then the Director, refused to admit Gouvy because he considered him to be German. Not to be daunted, Gouvy paid the faculty surreptitiously for several years and received a very good education in music. He eventually became a close friend with all of the leading composers of his time: Berlioz, Liszt (with whom he often played cards), Mendelssohn, Spohr, Grieg, Saint-Saëns, Brahms, and many others.

His works were performed in all the major cities in Europe including Amsterdam, Berlin, Bern, Brussels, Cologne, Dresden, Leipzig, London, Munich, and Vienna. They were even heard in New York where his works were commissioned by the Philharmonic Club of New York. His works include a large number of songs, piano sonatas and miniature piano pieces, piano trios, string quartets, chamber music for winds, a Requiem Mass, a Stabat Mater, symphonies, and many works for chorus and orchestra. He was awarded the highest honors: the Prix Chartier bestowed on him by the Académie des Beaux-Arts and membership of that body, the Légion d’Honneur, and membership in the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.

You must understand that Dr. MeeAe Nam is not only a performer, but she is a very accomplished scholar, and she is one of the few individuals in the United States that is thoroughly familiar with the works of Théodore Gouvy. For those of you who may not be familiar with her work, I will quote briefly from her bio statement. In addition I will also quote from the bio statements of those who join her on the CD. Appearing with her is a wonderful tenor from England, John Elwes. The pianist is Joel Schoenhals.

“[Dr. MeeAe Nam] has appeared as guest artist with numerous ensembles including the Colorado Symphony, Boulder Philharmonic, Boulder Bach Festival, Colorado Music Festival Orchestra, Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, Evergreen Chamber Orchestra, the Jefferson Symphony, the Ariel Trio, the DaVinci String Quartet, the Denver Young Artists Orchestra, Fort Collins Symphony and Colorado Chamber Players, Augustana Chamber Orchestra, Colorado Ballet and Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra.

“Dr. Nam earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in vocal performance and pedagogy from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Dr. Nam joined the faculty of the Music & Dance Department at Eastern Michigan University in 2009 as Assistant Professor of Voice. She previously taught voice at Metropolitan State College of Denver where she served as chair of the vocal studies program for 5 years and also founded and directed the annual “Vocal Arts Competition for Young Colorado Musicians”. As lecturer and vocal clinician Dr. Nam frequently travels throughout the United States and South Korea to give vocal workshops at conferences and Universities. Repeatedly, she was a guest recitalist and lecturer for the Colorado State Music Teachers Association and also gave a lecture recital at the MTNA National Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her students have been active in national and international competitions and music festivals. This year Dr. Nam appeared as advisor and guest artist clinician in the first annual Seoul International Opera Festival, where three of her students performed lead roles in Mozart’s Magic Flute.

“With her husband, Dr. Horst Buchholz, organist and conductor, she has given numerous recitals for organ and voice in Germany and Austria including performances during the Salzburg International Summer Music Festival. Her excellent understanding of works by Mozart led her to perform many soprano solos in Mozart’s sacred works, as well as Requiem and Exultate, jubilate with the Mozarteum Orchestra in the 250th anniversary year of Mozart’s birth during Salzburg Festival. This year she will appear as guest artist in Bach’s Wedding Cantata with the Boulder Bach Festival and in Monteverdi’s Love Songs with the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado.”

John Joseph Elwes (original name John Hahessy) (born 20 October 1946) is an English tenor singer. Born in Westminster, he was Head Chorister in the choir of Westminster Cathedral, London. His musical and vocal education were furthered by the eminent harpsichordist George Malcolm, the then Director of Music.

“Under the name of John Hahessy (his father was from Carrick-on-Suir, Co.Waterford, Ireland) he had considerable success as a boy soprano – from BBC broadcasts and recordings with Decca to concerts with such conductors as Benjamin Britten. He made the 1st recording of Benjamin Britten’s Canticle Abraham and Isaac, singing the role of Isaac, accompanied by the composer. Britten later dedicated his Corpus Christi Carol to him. He went on to study at the Royal College of Music, and made his stage debut as a tenor in 1968 at The Proms.

“John Elwes is particularly well known for his sensitive and musical performances. His repertoire is extensive ranging from Monteverdi, Rameau, Bach and Handel to Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Mahler and Britten. He regularly performs with the leading conductors of baroque, classical and contemporary music. He has sung in over one hundred recordings, including Dowland’s First Book of Ayres, Schubert’s song cycles Die Schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, Purcell’s The Tempest, Bach’s St Matthew Passion and Mass in B minor, Handel’s Messiah and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, for which he was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2008.”

“A dedicated teacher, Joel Schoenhals is active in local and state chapters of MTNA and was featured as the keynote artist for the Idaho Music Teachers Association state convention. He presented lecture recitals and a master class at the Oregon Music Teachers Association state convention, and presented lecture-recitals at MTNA national conventions in Kansas City and Austin. He was a featured artist, judge, and teacher at the Besparmak International Piano Festival in North Cyprus and has performed concerts in China and South America.  He is currently performing the cycle of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas in eight concerts between 2012 and 2016.

“Schoenhals holds a Master of Music, Doctoral of Musical Arts, and Performer’s Certificate from the Eastman School of Music. He earned his undergraduate degree in piano performance at Vanderbilt University. From 1998-2010, he was a faculty member of the Summer Piano Program at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York.

“In his recording of twenty Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs, [Dr.]Schoenhals cultivates a beautiful, well-paced tone that is always easy on the ear. His sense of flow in the interpretation of these pieces enhances the idea of narratives without words that Liszt aimed to achieve” (Classik Reviews). “Seek this one out and find one of the greatest releases of the year (Liszt). Now if someone would only help me to close my jaw, hung open by the second track. Only then can I return to mundane existence” (American Record Guide). “Schoenhals awakens Schubert’s exuberance, lifts it from piercing melancholy to ecstatic flights, and touches the throbbing heart of Liszt’s recreations in a way that persuades us the piano is indeed a viable, if not preeminent, medium for so much vocally conceived music. Schoenhals is passionate . . . impetuous . . . radiant. There’s abundant pleasure to be found here” (Fanfare).”

As Nam and Elwes point out in the CD program notes, Gouvy’s songs were not well known in his lifetime, nor are they well-known today. This has always been startling to me, because Gouvy was known for writing some of the most beautiful melodic lines of the Romantic period. His style is a combination, a wonderful fitting together if you will, of German forms and an early French romantic harmonic structure. His writing for the piano in the songs is totally unified in mood and description with the voice, just as the piano is in Schubert’s songs. Of course, this is the way it must be, but there are still many concert attendees who consider the pianist as an accompanist, rather than an artist of equal importance in song literature.

And, there is one other crucial aspect of this CD which marks its importance: only 11 of these songs have ever been recorded before, and the 26 songs on this CD are done exactly the way Théodore Gouvy wanted them. They are sung in the original key in which they were written. This has a great impact on the way the songs’ sound. Both Nam and Elwes have the ability to sing the songs without transposing them to a different key just to fit the vocal range or to make them easier. The result in sound is very exciting because it is precisely what Gouvy had in mind.

Aside from being a pianist and composer, Théodore Gouvy was also a linguist. He very much enjoyed the Renaissance poetry of Pierre de Ronsard, and the songs on the CD are largely by that Renaissance poet.

I am quite familiar with the Gouvy’s works, but the melodic lines in his songs never fail to startle me. Not only are they difficult, but they soar into almost unimaginable heights with unbridled passion. Both MeeAe Nam and John Elwes are capable of such melodic flow at these heights, the passion they bring to these melodic lines is unlimited. There is no question in my mind that Pierre de Ronsard is the most passionate of the poets represented on this CD, and, certainly, there is no doubt in my mind that Gouvy feels a kinship with this poet. What is truly amazing about Nam and Elwes and Schoenhals is their ability to communicate that passion so easily. Nam and Elwes have truly remarkable vocal production – and I count breath control in that production – so that their phrasing is absolutely impeccable. And, it always seems as if Joel Schoenhals is breathing with them because he is as intent on helping them shape their phrases as they are helping him shape his phrases. It has been a very long time since I have heard such mutual artistry (and artistic agreement) between vocalists and pianist. How is it possible that anyone can be more expressive than MeeAe Nam in the 16th track of the CD where she sings (and I will use the title in English) The draw of your beautiful eyes:

Since by loving you I can have no better,
Allow at least, that in dying I might sigh.
Is it not enough to witness my martyrdom,
Without you mocking my troubled pain.

Or in the 4th track of the CD, What are you saying, what are you doing, my sweetheart?

I have your beauties, your grace and your eyes,
Engraved in me and I wander in a thousand places,
Where I saw you dance, speak and laugh,
I hold you as mine and yet am not my own self,
In you alone, in you my soul breathes…

Or in track seven, were Elwes sings À Hélène:

You had still a child’s countenance,
Speech, gait, your mouth was beautiful,
Your brow and your hands, worthy of an immortal,
Your eyes that make me die as I think of them.

There are so many more instances not only of these vocalists’ art, but the art of the poet as well. And, truly, all of this is reflected by the art of Dr. Joel Schoenhals, who is superb.

It certainly deserves mention that Toccata Classics, the label of this fine CD, specializes in producing  “Forgotten music by great composers, and great music by forgotten composers.” You really must visit their website because it is a perfect example of preserving works and composers who need to be heard.

The details of this CD are: Théodore Gouvy: Songs to texts by Pierre de Ronsard and other Renaissance Poets. MeeAe Nam, soprano; John Elwes, tenor; and Joel Schoenhals, piano. The catalog number for this recording is: Toccata Classics TOCC 0269.


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