Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Ben Stevenson, Catherine Sailer, Christopher Moulton, Cinderella, Colorado Ballet, Dmitry Trubchanov, Francisco Estevez, Gil Boggs, Janie Parker, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Klara Houdet, Lorita Travaglia, Maria Mosina, Michelle Orman, Morgan Buchanan, Sandra Brown, Sergei Prokofiev, Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, Tracy Jones, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy
As I have often said, Artistic Director, Gil Boggs, of the Colorado Ballet, has assembled an organization that is truly superior in the world of dance. This was clearly demonstrated Saturday, February 16th, at their performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s marvelous ballet, Cinderella. The artistic staff of the Colorado Ballet, aside from Gil Boggs, is as follows: Sandra Brown, Ballet Mistress; Lorita Travaglia, Ballet Mistress; Maestro Adam Flatt, Music Director and Principal Conductor; Maestra Catherine Sailer, Associate Conductor; Ben Stevenson, Choreographer; and, Christina Giannelli, Lighting Designer. This season’s performance of Cinderella was staged by Janie Parker.
Sergei Prokofiev (1891- 1953) breathed new life into the symphony, the sonata, concerto, and most certainly, the ballet. Early on, Prokofiev tried to duplicate the success that his older countryman, Sergei Rachmaninoff, had had in the United States. Prokofiev himself was a brilliant pianist, but for some reason he was not met with the same reception. His first ballet that became an international success was Romeo and Juliet, but many of his other works were met with extreme hostility from the cultural ideologues of the Soviet Union. He was called before the Supreme Soviet and told that his music was bourgeoisie, and did not reflect proper Soviet culture. His works were banned from performance. Part of the reason for this was that his music was filled with harmonic deceptive resolutions, the use of modes simultaneously with major and minor, disjunct melodic lines with surprising twists and turns, and, at times, dissonances that were, as he labeled it, used in effort to “tease the geese.” In other words, annoy those who had banned his works.
Cinderella closely adheres to the tail written by Charles Perrault. All of you readers know the story, having heard it many times in your youth. Prokofiev, in his ballet, emphasized comedy, as well as love, compassion for others, and the yearning to do, and be, something different.
The two mean stepsisters are always played by males in this ballet in order to emphasize their ugliness and the obstreperous behavior. Saturday evening, Francisco Estevez and Christopher Moulton danced the two stepsisters to perfection. They were ill-dressed, rowdy malcontents who were abusive to their stepfather and stepsister. Dmitry Trubchanov danced the role of the Father, and Lorita Travaglia danced the role of the Stepmother. Sharon Wehner danced the role of Cinderella, and though I have seen this ballet several times, I have never seen anyone infuse the role of Cinderella with so much emotion, whether it be poignancy or absolute joy. It truly made me think that she and Choreographer Ben Stevenson were absolutely on the same wavelength, with every movement she made. Every movement she danced, she described Cinderella.
Act I is used to introduce the audience to all of the characters, and every dancer onstage accomplished that with aplomb. The fairy godmother appears toward the end of the act, and was danced by the remarkable Maria Mosina, whose graceful arms never stop moving when she dances.
The sets were through the courtesy of the Texas Ballet Company, and I immediately thought that the Colorado Ballet deserves their own sets. Yes, that would be enormously expensive, but this ballet company is of the ilk that they should have them. Cinderella’s coach, which thankfully did not look like an enlarged pumpkin, was a total work of art, and the horses in special costumes, were a stroke of visual genius. In addition, the transformation of the set from Cinderella’s living room to the woods where her Fairy Godmother transforms her into a Princess was absolutely magical.
From the very outset of Saturday evening’s performance I was struck by the Colorado Ballet Orchestra. I don’t think, and I say this without exaggeration, that I have ever heard them perform better. Understand, that Prokofiev’s music, because of his highly individual style, is difficult for an orchestra to play because it is sometimes impossible to anticipate where the melodic line will turn next. But the emotion expressed by the dancers was strongly supported and reflected by the orchestra.
Act II is comprised of The Ball. The Jester, danced Saturday evening by Kevin Gaël Thomas, introduces and welcomes the arriving guests. Their reaction to the ugly stepsisters was priceless. Upon the arrival of Cinderella, she and the Prince are smitten with the immortal love at first sight. Cinderella and the Prince, danced by Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, danced a wonderful and impassioned pas de deux which was one of the highlights of the evening’s performance. These two dancers were totally superb, as is everyone in this company. I have often said, and I mean that sincerely, that every single dancer who appears on stage for the Colorado Ballet could be a soloist. The depth of quality is astounding. When the clock struck twelve, Prokofiev allows the trombones to become powerful and threatening. I’m quite sure, judged by the sound, that Maestro Flatt told the brass to sneer and growl.
Act III concerns the prince’s search for the love of his life, who completely disappeared at the end of Act II. He searches far and wide. He and his servants ask all the cobblers who made the shoe that Cinderella dropped. While he is searching, Cinderella takes the other slipper from her apron pocket, and realizes that her memories of the ball and a handsome Prince were not a dream after all. The Prince arrives at the household, and the two stepsisters try on the shoe to no avail. Cinderella helps her stepmother to try it on, and while she is doing so, the other slipper falls from her apron. The Prince realizes that he has found his princess, and the two live happily ever after.
As I have said, I have seen Prokofiev’s Cinderella several times, but this is the first time where I was so taken with the shared artistry between the orchestra and the dancers. In the forest scene, where the Fairy Godmother transforms Cinderella, the Spring Fairy, danced by Klara Houdet; the Summer Fairy, danced by Tracy Jones; and the Autumn and Winter fairies, danced respectively by Morgan Buchanan and Shelby Dyer, were strongly supported by the excellent clarinet work of Michelle Orman in the orchestra. Small details, such as the transformation of the moon into a midnight clock, added to the magic of the performance. When the guests at the ball were given oranges as special treats, the orchestra seemed to emphasize the theme for the oranges, so that those familiar with Prokofiev’s opera, The Love for Three Oranges, was clearly recognizable.
It was a magical evening in every sense of the word. The adults in the audience sat transfixed, and the youngsters in the audience laughed delightedly with the antics of the stepsisters. Everyone gasped in almost terror and surprise when the clock began to strike twelve. Saturday evening’s performance was a complete artistic amalgamation where dancers, choreographer, and musicians worked together in a convincing artistic union.
There are more performances. You must see this ballet.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Asuka Sasaki, Cara Cooper, Casey Dalton, Catherine Sailer, Chandra Kuykendall, Chrisotpher Moulton, Dana Benton, Domenico Luciano, Gregory Gonzales, Jesse Marks, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Lesley Allred, Luis Valdes, Morgan Buchanan, Sean Omandam, Shelby Dyer
There is very good reason why Piotr Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is one of the most popular ballets ever written. It contains some of the most beautiful melodies ever composed, and it has an almost endless stream of character dances. As everyone knows, it is based on E. T. A. Hoffman’s story, as translated by Alexandre Dumas, of Clara, whose Christmas gift, the Nutcracker, comes to life. The Nutcracker, now a soldier, defeats the Mouse King with the aid of Clara, but not before the soldier is knocked unconscious. At the defeat of the Mouse King, a spell is broken, and the Nutcracker/Soldier is transformed into a handsome Prince. Intent upon showing his gratitude to Clara for saving his life, he spirits her off to a magical land of toys and candy. There, the Sugar Plum Fairy decrees that a great celebration take place in order to honor Clara. While Clara and the Prince are seated on thrones to witness the celebration in their honor, many dances take place to reward her for her bravery. At the end of the celebration, the Prince carries Clara back to her home, where she awakens with vivid memories of what has just transpired, but is also completely unsure if it was reality or if it was a dream.
Tchaikovsky followed no new paths or innovations in his compositions, yet his melodic lines are remarkably powerful even though they use traditional harmony, when compared to his contemporaries such as Wagner and Bruckner. His ballets, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, are the most popular ballets of all time. Many potential audience members seem to avoid the Nutcracker because it is done by every dance company imaginable since it has become a staple of the Christmas season. That is truly unfortunate because the music is remarkable, and the production presented by the Colorado Ballet is superb.
From the opening, the entire company exuded a joy and enthusiasm on their way to the Christmas party that was tangible. When Clara’s godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, appears, all of the party guests seemed to draw away from him, not from fear as in past productions, but out of a sense of respect. In Saturday evening’s production, Clara was danced by Dana Benton, who was absolutely irresistible in her childlike charm, and effortless dancing. She was truly grace personified. Herr Drosselmeyer was played by the esteemed Gregory K Gonzales who has played this role many times. However, Saturday evening, he truly excelled: he was not only mysterious and magical, but very caring towards Clara as well. Sean Omandam danced the role of Clara’s brother, Fritz, and he too was exceptional in his effortless portrayal of a somewhat bratty sibling. It is Fritz who is responsible for breaking the Nutcracker, but Herr Drosselmeyer assures Clara that all will be well. After all the guests have left the party, and the house darkens with everyone in bed, Herr Drosselmeyer begins to work his magic. In Hoffman’s story, everyone begins to grow smaller. Of course, the only way to do this on stage is to have the Christmas tree grow much taller, and, all of the toys underneath the tree become quite large. Now the Nutcracker, danced by Adam Still, is the size of the mice, as is Clara. She provides the distraction which allows the Nutcracker to slay the Mouse King. I point out that in this year’s production the Soldier Mice, and even the Mouse King, seem to have been portrayed in a more humorous vein than in the past productions, where they seemed positively evil.
The pas de deux between Clara and the Nutcracker turned Prince, was absolutely spectacular. Both Adam Still and Dana Benton are remarkable dancers, but they also possess a great dramatic sense. They not only demonstrated great confidence in their ability to dance these roles, but they demonstrated an excitement which was inherent throughout the entire performance Saturday evening.
The members of the Colorado Ballet have such versatility that they often dance different roles on the same day. For example, at the matinee performance on November 30, Sean Omandam danced the role of the soldier doll, while that evening he danced the role of Clara’s brother, Fritz. No doubt some of the alteration was done in consideration of the physical demands upon the human body. Nonetheless, I think it is remarkable the way the members of the Colorado Ballet can switch roles from day-to-day, or from afternoon to evening. Dana Benton danced Clara Saturday evening, but in the matinee performance on the same day, in Act II, she danced one of the Marzipan candies. That is remarkable concentration.
Toward the end of Act I, the Prince and Clara visit the Land of Snow. It was in this scene that the choreography seemed to be considerably different from last year. That is certainly not a criticism by any stretch of the imagination, as it was certainly beautiful to watch. The program lists additional choreography done by Sandra Brown, though most of the ballet was based on choreography done by Martin Fredmann.
Act II contains some of the most famous dances ever written. Clara and the Prince have traveled to the Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy who was performed by Chandra Kuykendall. The Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier was danced by a new member of the company, Domenico Luciano. As I watched Kuykendall dance Saturday evening, I was struck by the fact that she seemed to be a little careful and without her usual exuberance. In a few instances it seemed as though she might be recovering from a slight injury that may have occurred during rehearsal, but I stress that this is sheer speculation on my part. She certainly was as wonderful to watch as she always is. Her partner, Domenico Luciano was excellent, and I look forward to his performances throughout the season. He exhibited great strength which resulted in an astounding ease of movement as well as grace.
The highlights of the celebratory dances in Act II were the Arabian, danced by Shelby Dyer and Luis Valdes. There are so many lifts in this duet that one wonders how Valdes can stay in shape even though Shelby Dyer is very small. Morgan Buchanan, Cara Cooper, and Christopher Moulton were absolutely superb as the Spanish Chocolate dancers, as were Casey Dalton, Asuka Sasaki, and Jesse Marks as the Marzipan dancers, but I must give special mention to Sean Omandam, Kevin Gaël Thomas, and Lesley Allred who danced the Russian. Omandam and Thomas were so precisely together, and they jumped so high off the stage, that the audience was dazzled. The famed Dance of the Flowers was spectacular.
Grace is a word that might characterize the way the Colorado Ballet Orchestra performed. They were at times emotionally intense, more so than I have heard them before. But, more than any other performance, the orchestra and the dancers seemed to be very comfortable with each other. As I have said before, Maestro Adam Flatt and the Maestra Catherine Sailer have done wonders with the Colorado Ballet Orchestra over the past few years. They have contributed mightily to making the Colorado Ballet the well-rounded organization that it is: it is an organization where everybody contributes their fullest, and the result is wonderfully artistic and a joy to watch and hear.
As I said in the opening paragraph, there is such a good reason why this ballet is so well known. It is also equally important to understand that the Colorado Ballet never treats this performance as a cliché. All of the dancers, all of the orchestra members, and all of those involved in the production backstage, clearly worked very hard to make this the exciting and artistic performance. You must see it.
Follow this link to see the date and times of performances and to purchase tickets: http://www.coloradoballet.org/
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Adam Still, Adolphe Adam, Alexi Tyukov, Asuka Sasaki, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Chandra Kuykendall, Colorado Ballet, Dana Benton, Dmitry Trubchanov, Gil Boggs, Hector Berlioz, Jean Coralli, Jesse Marks, Jules Perrot, Lorita Travaglia, Maria Mosina, Marius Petipa, Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, Théodore Gouvy, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy
Friday evening, October 4, was the Colorado Ballet’s 53rd season opener. There was so much that seemed new Friday evening: there were new faces on the stage, there are new names on the board, the Colorado Ballet has a new home which they will move into next year, and there was a brand-new enthusiasm displayed by the dancers onstage. As everyone knows, Gil Boggs was made artistic director of the Colorado Ballet during the 2006 – 2007 season. He has changed the Colorado Ballet very dramatically every year since he has held that position, and there is absolutely no question that the Colorado Ballet is one of the best ballet companies in the United States. It is certainly time for an organization of this caliber to have a new home, and not only do they deserve our congratulations, they deserve our continued support.
They opened this year’s season with Giselle written by Adolphe Adam (1803 – 1856). He was a prolific composer of ballets, incidental music, comic operas, and even vaudeville. This seems most unusual considering the fact that his father was a pianist and teacher; however, his father encouraged him only to become a musician if he learned that music was only amusement (!) not an art, and certainly not suitable for a career. His father finally changed his mind and permitted Adolphe to enter the Paris Conservatory. Keep in mind, that at this time, in France, musical plays, trite operas, and music written for the entertainment of the masses was extremely popular, and remained so for a number of years, much to the consternation of composers such as Hector Berlioz (who wrote much about French music in the Journal des Débats), Georges Bizet, and Théodore Gouvy. To find seriously composed concert music, one had to go mainly to Germany and Austria, for that is where symphonies and chamber music were being written, and that, for example, is why Théodore Gouvy spent his early years in Germany surrounded by friends such as Liszt, Friedrich Förster, Ferdinand Möhring, Ferdinand Hiller, and Carl Reinecke. Nonetheless, Adolphe Adam became a very well-known composer in France, but it is two of his ballets, Giselle and Le Corsaire, that have assured his place in the history of music.
To quote from the Colorado Ballet press release: “[Giselle] tells the story of a count [Albrecht] in disguise who falls in love with Giselle, a beautiful peasant girl with a fragile heart. When she discovers the count’s true identity, and that he is engaged to another woman, she dies broken-hearted. She becomes a member of The Wilis – vengeful spirits who suffered unrequited love in life, and are destined to roam the earth each night, trapping men and dancing them to their deaths. When the count enters the domain of the Wilis, only Giselle’s love can save him.” The original choreography for this ballet was done by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, and was later revised by Marius Petipa. The staging for the performance was done by Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia.
The minute the curtain rose there was a gasp from the audience because of the scenery which came to the Colorado Ballet through the courtesy of the American Ballet Theatre. It was absolutely wonderful, with branches and leaves individually cut out with a cottage on each side of the stage. In the background, on a high hilltop, was the castle of the Duke of Courtland. The costumes were also terrific, and they were also from the American Ballet Theater.
Friday evening, Giselle was danced by Maria Mosina. I have seen Maria Mosina dance many times, but I must say that this was the best performance I have ever seen her give. There is absolutely no doubt that she was immensely comfortable on stage, which led me to believe that she has danced Giselle many times before. What sets her apart from other principal dancers around the country is her acting ability as well as her true artistic ability as a supreme ballerina. She is, simply put, incredible. And, what is more incredible is the fact that the other principal dancers in the Colorado Ballet, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, Chandra Kuykendall, Dmitry Trubchanov, Alexi Tyukov and Sharon Wehner are all equal in ability. I have written in the past about the depth of artistry that the Colorado Ballet has, and you readers must understand that there is no clear-cut division in artistic ability between principles soloists and members of the Corps. Asuka Sasaki, Shelby Dyer, Dana Benton, Jesse Marks, Adam Still, and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis are all incredibly fine artists. I have watched other ballet companies, and have often thought that, perhaps next year, so-and-so will be elevated to the rank of Soloist from the rank of Corps de Ballet. The division line was clear. With the Colorado Ballet, that division line is very hard to see indeed, and it was particularly hard to see Friday evening. There was a new precision from everyone on stage: movements were absolutely together, and they were precisely with the beat provided by the orchestra. In fact, it was difficult to tell if they were following Maestro Adam Flatt, or if Maestro Flatt was following them, because there was such precision. And I point out that everyone seemed to be at perfect ease.
When Alexi Tyukov lifted Maria Mosina over his head, Mosina was perfectly horizontal, and it was one of the most graceful moves I have seen from these two dancers. The Peasant Pas de deux, which was danced by Dana Benton and Adam Still, was simply perfect. Truthfully, I do not remember ever seeing a performance the Colorado Ballet where everyone on stage made all of their movements look so effortless. And again, I must mention their dramatic ability, as well. Berthe, Giselle’s mother, was performed by Lorita Travaglia who is one of the Ballet Mistresses with the company. This role is not a dancing role, but she performed it so well that one simply did not have to read the program notes in order to understand what she was telling her daughter.
In Act II, Giselle has died because Albrecht’s deception aggravated her frail heart, and the character, Hilarion, danced by Dmitry Trubchanov, is attending her grave. It is nighttime, and the Queen of the Wilis, Myrtha, danced by Asuka Sasaki, made her appearance on stage. She performed a bourée step across the stage, and I do not think I have ever seen a bourée done so well. Nothing moved accept Sasaki’s feet. Her head did not bobble and her arms did not move, but you must understand that she did not appear to be rigid either. She simply floated across the stage in the most graceful manner, simply by moving her feet inches at a time. That has to be one of the most difficult steps in ballet, or at least, it seems so to me.
All of the Wilis danced precisely together, and their movements were highlighted by the perfect costumes that they wore: dressed entirely in white, they seemed entirely the antithesis of evil, but that is what made them so effective. They quickly dispatched Hilarion by dancing him to death.
Even in death, Giselle resolves to protect Albrecht, and it is here that Mosina and Tyukov do some of their finest dancing together. It was artistic and it was poignant. Maria Mosina was able to demonstrate through her remarkable skill and artistry that she was a spirit trying to protect the man she loved while she was alive. And, Alexi Tyukov was clearly able to play the role of a man still in love with the spirit, and yet, frightened by being surrounded by the Wilis and not knowing what to expect from the woman he loved while she was alive.
The Colorado Ballet is also very fortunate that they have Maestro Adam Flatt to conduct the Ballet Orchestra. In some ways, conducting a ballet can be considered to be not too much different from conducting a soloist who is performing a concerto. I make that statement only because audiences sometimes find it more difficult to hear a soloist who is unable to stay with an orchestra than it is to watch a dancer who is unable to stay with the orchestra. Maestro Flatt’s conducting is flawless, because he is able to anticipate what the dancers need in the way of support rhythmically, while making sure that the orchestra responded to those needs. Needless to say, he has transformed this orchestra so that its quality matches that of the ballet company. It is a wonderful thing to have the dancers and the orchestra so evenly matched.
Looking back over the years since Gil Boggs has been the Artistic Director; it is easy to watch the rapid improvement in this organization. And to phrase it in those terms makes it sound very trite. He has inspired the dancers with a newfound enthusiasm and he has inspired them with his own love for the art of ballet. He has proven time after time that he can raise this ballet company to new heights, and that here in Denver, there is a place for such an artistic organization to exist. It is high time that the community realizes that they do need their own building, and it is a very happy occasion when the community recognizes that need and supports the ballet to the extent that they have realized a long-held dream. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could have their own set design crew? They need that as well. This company, through the hard work by everyone on the staff, is one of the best in the United States. I can say that because I have seen other ballet companies and the Colorado Ballet is an equal.
Thank you, Colorado Ballet, for making my Friday evening a memorable one.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Brahms, Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, Horst Buchholz, Katherine Thayer, MeeAe Nam, Osvaldo Golijov, Schubert, Shaun Burley, Steve Bulota
Friday evening, the first day of February, Maestro Adam Flatt led the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra in, perhaps, its best performance of the season thus far. The DPO was joined in this performance by its well-remembered friend, Soprano and Doctor of Musical Arts, MeeAe Nam, one of the finest sopranos in the United States. And, if that were not enough to create a wonderful evening, the Conductor Laureate of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, Dr. Horst Buchholz also joined the audience that evening. Dr. Buchholz, as all of you will remember, is Dr. MeeAe Nam’s husband, and he is currently serving as the Canon of Music at the enormous St. Louis Cathedral.
The DPO and Maestro Flatt began the evening with Franz Schubert’s Symphony Nr. 8 in B minor, D. 759 (Remember that in Schubert, the D. Is the abbreviation for the Schubert Thematic Catalogue compiled by Otto Erich Deutsch.).
It is probably safe to say that every music lover in the world has heard of the “Unfinished Symphony,” even though they may not know that the composer was Franz Schubert. It is also probably safe to say that no one, even trained musicians, knows why this symphony is unfinished, if, indeed, it is unfinished. Two movements were completed in 1822, and Schubert then set the work aside and never returned to it. As all music scholars know, Schubert gave it to Josef Hüttenbrenner in 1823 in order that it be transferred to Josef’s brother, Anselm, as a gift. There was a sketch, which Schubert wrote for piano, for a Scherzo movement (the third movement) that was three pages long in its piano form. Schubert orchestrated only nine measures of this movement. The first two movements were never performed during Schubert’s lifetime, but in 1865, they were performed by conductor Johann Herbeck in Vienna on December 17. There are three reasons given for it being “unfinished.” The first is that Schubert realized that the first two movements were absolutely masterful, and that he came to the conclusion that he could not write a third and a fourth movement at the same level. This, of course, is nonsense. Schubert would never have been intimidated by his own genius. The second reason seems to be that Schubert was so busy writing all of the time (and he certainly did write all of the time), that he simply forgot to finish the symphony. That, too, is nonsense. Schubert was certainly smart enough to realize that he had written something truly exceptional, and he would not simply forget it. The third reason, hypothesized by some, is that Schubert, upon realizing he had written an incredible work in two movements, realized that it was a substantial work that would stand on its own. It would certainly not be totally unheard of, as Haydn had written a two movement piano sonata, as did his student, Beethoven. Understand that a symphony is also a sonata form, as is a keyboard sonata, or a sonata for violin and piano (Think of a symphony as a sonata for 40 to 80 individuals.). And recently, a fourth reason has been postulated, and that is that Schubert gave Josef Hüttenbrenner a full four movement symphony, and, when it was passed on to his brother, Anselm, somehow the last two movements were lost. This idea was suggested by T. C. L. Prichard in the Music Review, Cambridge, February, 1942, but no sketches have ever been found for the fourth movement, and as mentioned above, only three pages of a third movement exist which were sketched for piano. One question that has never been answered satisfactorily is: why would Schubert give an incomplete work as a present? Many individuals think that Schubert came to the conclusion that the two movement work was excellent in its two movement form, and even though he had begun to sketch a third movement, he decided not to use it. Until a better answer comes along, I think that seems to be the best solution, as do many others. And it may be that we may never find out with certainty what the circumstances were. It certainly is one of the masterpieces of symphonic literature.
Friday’s performance of this symphony was excellent. Immediately, Maestro Flatt, who conducted this from memory, infused the work with tragedy and mystery, taking an ever-so-slightly slower tempo than the well-known Wilhelm Furtwängler recording made in 1952. I have heard this symphony performed live many times, and yet the plaintive clarinet solo, which was so well done by Shaun Burley, Principal Clarinet, always takes me by surprise because it is so melancholy. The low strings played better than I have ever heard them play in the opening of this symphony: it was clear that they had worked very hard to give Maestro Flatt exactly what he wanted. They created a marvelous sense of mystery and uncertainty underneath the clarinet solo. There is absolutely no question that the DPO was ready to perform this work. All of the strings were excellent as were the brass. But, again, if I had to pick outstanding sections for this first movement, there would be two, for I would have to pick the low strings and the DPO’s marvelous woodwind section.
The second movement of this remarkable work was filled with the same passion as the first movement. Again, I was dazzled by the breath control demonstrated by clarinetist, Shaun Burley. It is interesting to note that Schubert asked for an A clarinet rather than the usual B-flat clarinet. The A clarinet has a more plaintiff and mellifluous quality (Rachmaninoff, years later, also required an A clarinet in his Symphony Nr. 2 in E minor.) which certainly fits the mood of Schubert’s writing. I cannot recall if the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra has performed this symphony prior to this performance, but it was clear that every member of the orchestra had fallen in love with this work. It was full of emotion.
Following the Schubert, the DPO performed the Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra by Osvaldo Golijov. Golijov (born December 5, 1960) was born in Argentina, but his family had emigrated there from Romania and Russia. Golijov is a composer of very wide reputation, and has received a Fromm Foundation commission, and invitations from conductors and orchestras around the world. Helmut Rilling, the Bach scholar, commissioned Golijov to compose a Passion According to St. Mark, which had its premiere at the European Music Festival in 2000.
The works that were chosen by MeeAe Nam to perform, were “assembled” from other sources: film and separate commissions. The three songs entitled Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra, are Night of the Flying Horses, Lúa Descolorida, and How Slow the Wind, are all from different sources, but all of them reflect Golijov’s ability to write new music that has a tonal center.
I will now quote from MeeAe Nam’s biography:
“Dr. Nam is associate professor of voice at Eastern Michigan University and has extensive performance experience as a soloist in recitals, oratorio, chamber and orchestral concerts, and operas in the United States, Germany, Austria, and South Korea. Many of you readers will recall that Dr. Nam is the wife of Dr. Horst Buchholz, who was the Canon of Music at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, and Professor of Organ at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver. He was also the conductor of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. Dr. Nam earned her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder where she studied with Dr. Patty Peterson and Dr. Mutsumi Moteki.
“Since 2000, she has given numerous recitals for organ and voice in Germany and Austria with her husband. Her excellent understanding of the works by Mozart has led her to perform many of his sacred works including Exsultate jubilate, the Grand Mass in c minor, and the Requiem Mass, performed with the members of the Mozart Te Deum Orchestra in the 250th Anniversary Year of Mozart’s birth (1756) in Salzburg, Austria. Her frequently performed works include Bach’s cantatas, Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s Masses, Schubert’s Masses, Gounod’s St. Cecilia Mass, and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, among many oratorios. Due to her great interest in contemporary music, she has premiered, in her region, many living composer’s works, including Joseph Dorfman’s one act opera Shulamith for soprano and percussion, Voice of the River Han by David Mullikin (who won the Distinguished Composer award from the MTNA), James Mobberly’s Words of Love, and Stuart Glazer’s Voices From the Holocaust. Dr. Nam frequently travels throughout the United States, Europe, and South Korea to give vocal performances, workshops and masterclasses at universities and music organizations, including the College Music Society, the American Liszt Society, the Vianden International Summer Festival in Luxembourg, and the Seoul International Opera Festival. She is currently undertaking a project of recording a CD which will be entitled Forgotten Songs of Théodore Gouvy with Albany records.”
Though I am fairly familiar with Osvaldo Golijov’s output, I have never heard these Three Songs. The first, a genuinely heartbreaking lullaby, begins in an electrifying fashion with the soprano soloist beginning before the orchestra. I have always been amazed at Dr. Nam’s ability to start on a pitch without any hesitation or inaccuracy. It is in works like this where perfect pitch can be a definite advantage. The opening of Night of the Flying Horses was absolutely haunting, and no matter what a motion she wishes to express, she does so convincingly and without hesitation. As I have said before, Nam has an incredible voice quality coupled with the freest vocal mechanism I have heard. Concertmaster Katherine Thayer also had a solo in this first song, and she matched Nam’s emotions note for note. I heard many in the audience express the fact that they were not familiar with Golijov’s music, and many added that it might be difficult to listen to simply because it was “new.” But his tonal writing, his excellent orchestration, and Dr. MeeAe Nam’s superb voice easily won them over.
The second of the three songs, Lúa Descolorida, which translates as the Colorless Moon is, as the program notes so aptly expressed, define despair. I have never heard Dr. Nam sing in such a low register, but, of course, I have learned over the years that she can do anything she wishes, and never fail. In this song, she was so thoughtful and so pensive, and again, another violin solo, was so well done, that it literally brought tears to the eyes. The orchestra in this song was well-nigh perfect, and there were pizzicatos that were amazing because they were so precisely together. The third song, How Slow the Wind, is the setting of two short poems by Emily Dickinson, and it was written in memory of a friend of Golijov’s in response to his sudden death. This song was quite different from the other two: it made use of some very distinctive percussion work, and the harmonies, at times, were almost identical to Mahler. There was some wonderful work on bass clarinet and bassoon in the orchestra. Even though this song was like the others in its melancholy and great sorrow, MeeAe Nam was certainly able to show the audience that the different circumstances described by the text in each song conveyed three different kinds of melancholy. One never had the thought, “Here it is: another sad song.” All three were very different, and she perfectly conveyed those differences.
MeeAe Nam transmits great confidence when she is on stage, and it is borne out of vast experience and truly amazing musicianship. That word encompasses so much: technique, voice quality, knowledge of the composer, and, of course, a great sense of ensemble. She is a joy to listen to because all of these attributes allow her to be extremely reliable. She always captures the hearts of the audience and leaves them spellbound.
During the intermission, many audience members expressed curiosity about Osvaldo Golijov and their desire to hear more of his music. This curiosity, I know, would please Dr. Nam, for one of the reasons she performs is to expose the audience to new music.
Following the intermission, the DPO performed one of Johannes Brahms’ most famous works, the Symphony Nr. 1 in c minor.
It took Brahms almost 20 years to write his first Symphony in c minor, Opus 68. He had started sketches for a Symphony in 1854, but these sketches eventually became used in the first movement of his Piano Concerto, Opus 15. The symphony is Brahms’ homage to Beethoven, was first performed in 1876 under the direction of Otto Dessoff, and critical opinion of this work from Brahms’ friends, as well as the critics, varied considerably. The conductor Hans von Bülow was the one to label it “Beethoven’s tenth,” and one wonders if he was being entirely generous in making that statement. In the last movement, Brahms admitted that he was using a slight variation of themes from the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and he certainly did not consider that plagiarism. Nonetheless, many musicians, and even some critics, noticed those themes, and when another critic pointed out the similarities of themes between Brahms and Beethoven, Brahms became quite angry and said, “Any ass can see that!” I am sure that Hans von Bülow was complementing Brahms on writing a symphony that was as perfect as Beethoven’s. And, Brahms was almost hypercritical of his own work, and even ordered his secretary Max Kalbeck to destroy his letters and musical sketches that were never used, or that were changed. But you have to understand that in this time period, the Beethoven symphonies were used to measure composers (aren’t they still used this way?) and the critic Eduard Hanslick said in the Neue Freie Presse that, “Brahms’ artistic kinship with Beethoven must be plain to every observer.”
Maestro Adam Flatt, once again conducting from memory, infused this work with an urgency that was quite fresh. The opening was very dramatic and almost menacing. It sounded inexorable, as if you would get in the way, it would run you down. Every entrance was in place, the phrase endings were marvelous, as were the dynamic shadings from the orchestra. There was no question that they were trying very hard to do exactly what Maestro Flatt requested. Every time one of the themes returned in this huge sonata form movement, it became more dramatic. And, I must say, that it was toward the end of this first movement that violins seemed to be getting a little bit tired. The second movement was done just as beautifully as the first movement: perfect ambience and considerably more peaceful. The violin solo for the end of this movement was absolutely gorgeous. There are some spots in this movement that have a slightly thinner texture than the rest of the movement, and it exposes the violin section considerably. This is a hard symphony for any orchestra, but I found myself wishing that they would watch their tune just a little bit more carefully. It wasn’t bad but it was noticeably out of tune. In the third movement, which is the shortest of all four, the woodwinds were absolutely sensational. This goes along a little faster than the second movement, but Maestro Flatt infused it with lightness and almost tender energy. The orchestra responded with an incredible amount of grace. Again their entrances and phrasing were superb. There were some pizzicatos that were as precise as one would hope for. The brass section in this movement was as exceptional in this movement as they were in the first. The fourth movement was really exceptional: it was dark but flowed so beautifully, and I wondered what the audience thought of this movement at its premiere in 1876. Steve Bulota’s very quiet timpani roll provided a kind of background for the horn melody: Brahms called it his “Alphorn.” This movement has a very long introduction, and the exposition section does not begin until measure sixty-two. The strings sounded absolutely excellent in the exposition section, and again their dynamically shaped phrasing provided an almost dignified procession of melodic line. It was beautifully done.
This concert demonstrated what the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra is capable of doing. They have an exceptional conductor who pushes the orchestra to forget that they are volunteers. And, it is obvious that he reminds them continually that because they are a community orchestra does not mean they cannot be excellent. And it is clear that he is showing them that no detail in the art of music, however minor, demands less than total dedication if one wishes to excel in it. Their performance Friday evening was superb.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Catherine Sailer, Gil Boggs, Lorita Travaglia, Sandra Brown, The Colorado Ballet
There are times in any performing organization when, as a result of all the hard work and artistic skill, things align in just the right way so that it would seem the performance cannot be improved upon. Most certainly, it is not the result of luck or good fortune. One has to develop the ability to see what needs to be accomplished, and then possess the ability to make everything involved a very special case. That is precisely what the Colorado Ballet did, and clearly has done at all of their rehearsals, leading to Saturday night’s performance on November 24.
Truly, I don’t think I have ever heard the Colorado Ballet Orchestra perform as well as they did Saturday evening. They were absolutely superb: they were, beat for beat with the danseurs and coryphées, and the dancers were with them. That, in itself, is extremely difficult to carry off as perfectly as it occurred at the opening performance. Maestro Adam Flatt, when conducting a ballet, not only has to conduct the orchestra, but must also conduct the dancers while allowing them their own artistic freedom. He has to be able to anticipate the dancer’s moves while supplying them with the rhythmic and melodic background to which they perform. Of course, that sounds obvious, but that does not mean that it is easy or should be taken for granted. As I said above, I simply have not heard the Colorado Ballet Orchestra perform at such a level. Maestro Flatt and Maestra Catherine Sailer have truly had a profound impact on this orchestra.
The Colorado Ballet is, of course, deeply indebted to the inspiration and guidance of its Artistic Director, Gil Boggs. The kind of performance that was given Saturday evening would not be possible without the forward thinking leadership and enthusiasm that Boggs has been able to spread throughout the company. There certainly seems to be solid leadership on the board of directors as well as in the studio.
The reason I address this before I even begin to write about the dancers in the company is that I don’t think I have ever seen the entire company reflect such joy in dancing as they did Saturday evening. Of course, they like what they do, or they wouldn’t be doing it, but their enthusiasm on the opening night of The Nutcracker was something to behold, and virtually everyone on stage revealed it. That revelation made this performance outstanding.
I have always admired Dana Benton, who danced Clara Saturday evening, and Sean Omandam who danced Fritz: both of them excelled Saturday, and absolutely sparkled in their roles. In addition, the contribution that Gregory K. Gonzales makes to this production, as Drosselmeyer, and to the Colorado Ballet as a whole, cannot be understated. He was excellent. As Drosselmeyer works his magic, it was apparent, in this production, that the Christmas tree was not growing, but that everyone was shrinking down to the size of the Nutcracker and mice. And the outsized toys under the tree emphasize that fact. That event was quite clear in Saturday’s performance, even though in the past it has been the same. E. T. A. Hoffman would have loved it.
The connection between scenes in Saturday’s performance was considerably more seamless than in previous productions. The entire First Act flowed together so that when the intermission arrived, it seemed as though only ten minutes had passed. Casey Dalton, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Cara Cooper, Shelby Dyer, Morgan Buchanan, and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis were all superb.
Act II, as all of you must surely know by now, presents the trip that the (Nutcracker) Prince and Clara take to enchanted lands, where they are entertained by many dancers. The Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, March and, Russian, Dew Drop, and the Flowers were all exceptional, but there were three that stood out, at least to my way of thinking. This ballet seems to have more lifting required, where the male dancer raises his female partner over his head. In Saturday’s production, Luis Valdes and Shelby Dyer danced the Arabian. Valdes accomplished this with such grace and ease and lack of hesitation that I was awestruck. I’ve seen this ballet many times, but never have I seen it accomplished with such seeming lack of effort. I point out that Shelby Dyer must have enough confidence in Valdes that she can allow and trust him to do this without flinching. And, of course, it must all be done under Maestro Flatt’s, Martin Fredmann’s (the choreographer), Sandra Brown’s and Tchaikovsky’s direction.
The second dance that I found spectacular was Marzipan, which was danced by Casey Dalton, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, and Jesse Marks. The characterization and humorous drama that this pas de trois provided to the audience was delightful. The members of the Colorado Ballet have always surprised me with their acting ability as well as their dancing ability. I don’t recall seeing this depth in other dance companies, except very rarely.
The third dance was the Dance of the Flowers. At the very beginning, the orchestra and the dancers wrought an incredible rubato that was absolutely and precisely together. They did it more than once. Rubato means “dwell on” where the rhythm is used to prolong prominent melodic tones (or chords). This requires an equivalent acceleration of the less prominent tones, so that the time value is robbed. It is one thing for a soloist to accomplish this because a soloist does not have to rely on anyone else to stay with him. But when an orchestra does it together with a group of dancers onstage, and does it repeatedly with no errors, it is something of which to take notice. It is the result of incredible work and skill, and an exchange of artistic thought between dancer and conductor. For that reason, I came away from this performance thinking that the Dance of the Flowers must be one of the most subtly difficult in this entire ballet. It was mesmerizing.
Of course, another highlight of this remarkable performance was the pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy, danced by Maria Mosina, and the Cavalier, danced by Alexei Tyukov. Both of these Principals are so full of grace, beauty, and strength that it absolutely boggles the mind. Their pas de deux requires many jeté entrelacés and grand jetés, but they never seem to get tired, and in addition they communicated this pervasive sense of joy in what they were doing that it was infectious. It was palpable.
I have said this before, but it bears repeating. It is extremely rare to attend a performance of a ballet company that has such remarkable depth of artistic ability. It is rare to see performances by a ballet company where virtually all of the dancers so easily demonstrate the love for what they do. That makes an incredible difference. The staging, done by Lorita Travaglia and Sandra Brown, was excellent. The Colorado Ballet is fortunate beyond compare to have Gil Boggs, Maestro Adam Flatt, and Maestra Catherine Sailer, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia as the Artistic Staff. For any organization to succeed as the Colorado Ballet has succeeded, it is clear that they must support one another and share a mutual artistic respect. Everything this entire company produces is art.