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, 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.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Bartok, Beethoven, Catherine Sailer, Debussy, Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, Kim Brody, Loren Meaux, Michelle Mendoza, Nocturnes, Three Village Scenes
The Denver Philharmonic Orchestra continued setting examples of good programming Friday night, March 30, in their performance at the KPOF Hall. First on the program was Nocturnes by Debussy, followed by Three Village Scenes by Bartók, and ending with Beethoven’s Symphony Nr. 6, known as the Pastoral. The Denver Philharmonic Orchestra was joined by the University of Denver Lamont Women’s Chorus for the performance of the Debussy and the Bartók. Dr. Catherine Sailer is the conductor of this choir, as well as the Associate Conductor of the Colorado Ballet Orchestra.
Maestro Adam Flatt opened the program by performing the Nimrod Variation from Sir Edward Elgar’s orchestral work, the Enigma Variations, in tribute to the late Vincent C. LaGuardia. Maestro LaGuardia was the conductor of the Arapahoe Philharmonic, and he passed away on March 10 of this year while conducting the performance of that orchestra.
Debussy completed his work Nocturnes, for Female Chorus and Orchestra, L. 91 in 1899 (the L. is the abbreviation for François Lesuré, who compiled the thematic catalogue of Debussy’s works in chronological order). Before eventually assuming their final form, the three nocturnes went through several incarnations, but due to his ever-increasing skill with orchestral coloration which had been made apparent in 1894 with the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faune, he finally arrived at the combination of orchestra and chorus. The first of the three nocturnes is Nuages (Clouds), and is a work for English horn which is accompanied by a two-part counterpoint in steady quarter notes. There are small “remarks” from the French horn in this opening section which states the theme several times. There is a middle section for flute and harp which provide contrast.
The Denver Philharmonic Orchestra was excellent in this work by Debussy. The woodwind section, with Loren Meaux on English horn and Kim Brody on oboe leading the way through this mellifluous work, were truly exceptional. The violins were also excellent as were the low strings, and as a whole, the entire string section played with a full rich tone as the woodwinds wove their way through the piece. I was sitting in the balcony at this performance, the first-time I have done so for years, and I think that makes a great deal of difference in this hall due to the open dome in the ceiling. But the orchestra sounded absolutely terrific.
In the second of these three nocturnes, Fêtes (Festivals), there is a percussive ostinato which bills into several climaxes, fades, and then is repeated as a marching band tries to proceed through the celebration. Nonetheless, Debussy never seems to lose his sense of refinement in the orchestration of this work. Once again, the DPO sounded absolutely superb, and Maestro Adam Flatt carefully shaped each phrase with the kind of dynamic contrast that I have seldom heard from this orchestra.
The last of the nocturnes, Sirènes, is, in some ways, the most descriptive because it parallels the deceptive charms of the evil Sirens who are trying to lure the sailors onto the rocks. The Lamont Women’s Chorus was incredibly well prepared by Dr. Catherine Sailer, and it seemed quite easy for Maestro Flatt to control the balance between the choir and the orchestra. The choir has no text to sing in this section, but their vocalizing with the orchestra, which was continually extremely soft, was haunting indeed. All of the intricacies in the orchestra could be heard even with the sixty voice choir. At the end of this work, both choir and orchestra simply drifted away.
This was an important work for Debussy, for it certainly helped to establish him as an orchestrator and an orchestral colorist. Those in the audience Friday night were very fortunate, because this piece is seldom performed. I have heard it performed only once before, and that was when I was fifteen years of age.
Bartók’s rarely performed Three Village Scenes began life as a portion of a larger work for voice and piano which were later scored for female voices and orchestra. The folksongs that Bartók used are authentic and were transcribed by Bartok during the years of 1915 to 1916. The setting for voices and orchestra was finished in 1926 after a period of malaise. This work is dedicated to Ditta Pásztory whom Bartok married in August of 1923, and the first scene is Wedding.
The fact that the Lamont Women’s Chorus sang these songs in Hungarian is demonstrative of the preparation and care that goes into the work done by Catherine Sailer. In addition, this work is full of complex rhythms and tempos that make choral singing difficult. The first scene of the three was very exciting, and full of the dissonances one would expect from Bartok, particularly the augmented fourth.
The second scene of this work is a Lullaby that contains a soprano solo, which was beautifully done by Michelle Mendoza. Ms. Mendoza has a wonderfully transparent quality to her voice, and enough power to be heard above the choir and the orchestra. I do not speak Hungarian, but I could certainly hear individual syllables very carefully pronounced not only by Mendoza, but also by the choir.
The third scene, entitled The Lad’s Dance, begins a slow tempo which is typical of Hungarian folk tunes. It gradually increases to a rather furious pace. Throughout this work, the orchestra and chorus demonstrated the necessary spirit and rhythmic accuracy that is inherent in Hungarian folk music. It was quite interesting to note the audience’s response to this work by Bartók. Many audiences shrink at the thought of Bartók, I think, because they are largely unfamiliar with this composer’s work. True, this is a rarely formed piece that Maestro Flatt wisely chose for this concert, and it truly helped to expand the audience’s knowledge of Bartok’s output. Some audiences seem to still consider Bartók difficult to listen to, and clashingly inharmonious. However, the audience’s reaction to this work was truly enthusiastic, and I think proves that audiences are becoming more sophisticated. They now seem to be accepting Bartók as enthusiastically as they have accepted Stravinsky. Sadly, I could not help but notice that as this wonderful piece progressed, the orchestra, especially the low strings, started to lose their tune. I am baffled by that.
Following the intermission, the DPO performed one of Beethoven’s most treasured symphonies, Symphony Nr. 6. This Symphony was completed in 1808, in the village of Heiligenstadt which is northwest of Vienna. And, yes, it is the same village where Beethoven wrote the famous letter just a few years before this completion. The fact that Beethoven called this the Pastoral seems to have confused many individuals not only today, but certainly during his lifetime. There were several attempts made to perform this Symphony with scenery, and even individuals who moved around the stage. But all of that aside, this Symphony has one of the most glorious final movements that Beethoven wrote, with its anticipated, but always delayed, climax to what has to be one of the most effective uses of a German 6-5 chord in orchestral music. Beethoven’s use of this chord comes between measures 219 and measures 230 in the last movement. The chord itself comes on the first beat of measure 225. It is worth it for all of you readers to buy a miniature score of the Symphony Nr. 6 and the CD, and then listen until you can hear the violas, the second violins, and the oboes move by a half-step to create this chord. This moment, all by itself, I think, would be reason to admit Beethoven to the very top of Mount Parnassus.
There is no question that Adam Flatt is a superb conductor, knows how to conduct Beethoven and how to conduct an orchestra. He has wrought many changes in this organization, and they are all for the better. This was perfect Beethoven when it comes to style, which includes rhythmic drive, dynamics, balance between sections, cues to the sections and individuals, and choice of tempos. Everything that Beethoven should have was there Friday night. There is one aspect that was missing, and in the end, it is an aspect that the conductor has no control over: for the life of me, I do not understand why orchestral string sections cannot play in tune. If one wants to play the violin, the first thing one learns is to play in tune. Perhaps it was the texture in the Debussy that obscured the fact that the violins may have been out of tune, but I don’t think they were. In the Debussy, I think they were in tune. It may have been the texture and thickness of the orchestration in the Bartók that obscured the fact that they may have been out of tune, but I don’t think they were until near the end of that work. But at the very outset of the Beethoven, the strings were out of tune. It is infinitely more understandable that they might miss an entrance or be inconsistent in their bowing. But I do not understand why they cannot play in tune. Could it be that they were overconfident after the intermission because of the fine way they performed before the intermission? Perhaps they need to practice outside of rehearsals? There are times that a conductor cannot be responsible for everything. This orchestra has a wonderful woodwind section, brass section, and percussion section. Perhaps one of these days the string sections – and there are some fine musicians in the string sections – will equal the brass, winds, and percussion. What a concept.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Catherine Sailer, Conrad Kehn, Evans Choir, Lamont Chorale, Lamont School of Music, Morten Lauridsen, The Playground Ensemble
The Lamont School of Music presented a program Thursday night, February 16, of the music of the American composer Morten Lauridsen, one of the country’s most prominent composers for choral literature. There were several faculty members and ensembles involved in the performance: the Evans Choir and Lamont Chorale, conducted by Dr. Catherine Sailer; The Playground Ensemble, conducted by Conrad Kehn; and, Joseph Galema, who teaches organ at DU, and who is also the Music Director and Academy Organist at the United States Air Force Academy.
For those of you who are not familiar with Morten Lauridsen, I have shortened some information from his website. This is also the information that was enclosed in the program notes.
“The music of Morten Johannes Lauridsen, composer-in-residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale from 1994-2001 and professor of composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music for more than thirty years, occupies a permanent place in the standard vocal repertoire of the Twentieth Century. His seven vocal cycles — Les Chansons des Roses (Rilke), Mid-Winter Songs (Graves), Cuatro Canciones (Lorca), A Winter Come (Moss), Madrigali: Six “FireSongs” on Renaissance Italian Poems, Nocturnes, and Lux Aeterna — and his series of sacred a cappella motets (O Magnum Mysterium, Ave Maria, O Nata Lux, Ubi Caritas et Amor and Ave Dulcissima Maria) are featured regularly in concert by distinguished ensembles throughout the world. O Magnum Mysterium, Dirait-on (from Les Chansons des Roses) and O Nata Lux (from Lux Aeterna) have become the all-time best-selling choral octavos distributed by Theodore Presser, in business since 1783.
“In speaking of Lauridsen’s sacred works in his book, Choral Music in the Twentieth Century, musicologist and conductor Nick Strimple describes Lauridsen as “the only American composer in history who can be called a mystic, (whose) probing, serene work contains an elusive and indefinable ingredient which leaves the impression that all the questions have been answered… From 1993 Lauridsen’s music rapidly increased in international popularity, and by century’s end he had eclipsed Randall Thompson as the most frequently performed American choral composer.”
“A recipient of numerous grants, prizes and commissions, Dr. Lauridsen chaired the Composition department at the USC Thornton School of Music from 1990-2002, founded the School’s Advanced Studies Program in Film Scoring, and is currently Distinguished Professor of Composition. In 2006, Morten Lauridsen was named an “American Choral Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2007, he was the recipient of the National Medal of Arts from the President in a White House ceremony, “for his composition of radiant choral works combining musical beauty, power and spiritual depth that have thrilled audiences worldwide.” The National Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government.”
Members of The Playground Ensemble opened the program with a chamber work, Be Still, My Soul, Be Still, for voice, clarinet, cello, and piano. All of you who are familiar with The Playground recognize Megan Buness, voice; Brian Ebert, clarinet; Richard vonFoerster, cello; and Reggie Berg, piano. Before the program began, Mr. Lauridsen mentioned that this piece, which was written in 1979, was full of the angst of the Vietnam War. It certainly is a turgid and dramatic work. It was immediately obvious that this piece was written several years ago, because it was built around musical gestures. Even though these gestures were made up of tone clusters which were rolled across the keyboard and accompanied by dramatic cello and clarinet writing, it was a tonal work. It is also a very difficult work because of the technical demands on instrumentalists, but their entrances had to be very precise. Megan Buness has a marvelous voice quality for doing avant-garde music because it spans a considerable range, and that is what a lot of avant-garde composers call for. I have always been pleased with her performances, but it is difficult to understand the words that she is singing. I am left with the impression that she concentrates more on the quality of her voice that she does the text. Lauridsen’s work, Be Still, My Soul, Be Still, is based on a wonderful poem by A. E. Housman, and though the text was printed in the program notes, it was somewhat of a distraction to read the text and listen to the musicians at the same time. Every other aspect of her performance was excellent, and there is no question that she is quite accustomed to performing with these musicians. It was clear they have performed together enough to almost read each other’s minds.
Next on the program came four songs: Cuarto Canciones, written for the same instrumentation as the first work on the program. The text for these songs was written by the Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, who died far too early in 1936, at the age of thirty-eight. It is known that he was arrested during the Spanish Civil War, and it is assumed that he was shot, because he disappeared after his arrest. No grave has ever been found.
The compositional style of the Four Songs, Pause of the Clock, Night, The Moon Rising, and Farewell, seem to be similar with the first composition on the program because there are musical gestures in the accompaniment, while the vocal solo has a more mellifluous melodic line. Lauridsen, in his comments before the performance, said that this was an atonal work with no tonal center, and one could certainly tell that that was the case upon hearing the piece performed. This is a very moving work, and it is apparent that Morten Lauridsen selects his texts with great care. I think that of the four songs, my favorite was undoubtedly Farewell. The text is as follows:
If I die,
leave the balcony open.
The little boy is eating oranges.
(From my balcony I can see him.)
The reaper is harvesting wheat.
(From my balcony I can hear him.)
If I die,
leave the balcony open.
Aside from the text, which is obviously expressive, the music was absolutely sensational as was its performance. The musicians are clearly quite moved by the piece, and were truly trying to share its impact with the audience. These musicians were very precise and their entrances, and their dynamics and dynamic contrast, were really quite remarkable. But again, I missed being able to understand the words.
Following the Cuarto Canciones was a short work entitled, Canticle/O Vos Omnes, which was performed by the Women of the Evans Choir, with Rachel Hargroder performing on the vibraphone, and Richard vonFoerster, in the chime. This beautiful piece was the first on the program that sounded genuinely “new.” And indeed, it was written in 2005/2007. Rachel Hargroder is a very sensitive musician, and if you have never heard of a vibraphone played with great sensitivity, you should have been at this performance. She also had the chance to use a bow on the end of the vibraphone keys, which produced a sound that was very different from any sound I have ever heard a vibraphone produce. The choir, which was in the balcony, was extremely effective because Dr. Sailer knows how to get a very mystical sound that matched the sound coming from the bowed vibraphone.
The major work of the evening’s concert was Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, which was written in 1997. The performance of this piece involved the Evans Choir with Joseph Galema on the organ. This is an enormous work and it is a very emotional work. According to Lauridsen it is a “message piece,” and he tried to write each of the five movements so that they would demonstrate and express “light.”
Maestra Catherine Sailer’s conducting of this piece was absolutely magnificent, and so was this work. I am sure that it has to be one of Morten Lauridsen’s most famous works. As a matter of fact, he said that he had heard it played on the radio after 9/11. What ever the motivation for the piece, Sailer has an astounding ability to create phrases that contain incredible differences and dynamics. It has also been a long time since I have seen a choral conductor conduct each syllable, wherever it is necessary, so that those of us in the audience can understand every single word. And that is difficult. But every word that the choir sang was understandable. She is also a very demonstrative conductor, using very large sweeping motions. Dr. Galema was able to keep an eye on her from the organ console because of the mirror attached. Thankfully, I have never had to use a mirror in all of the performances that I have given; however, Galema and Sailer seem to have no problem with that whatsoever. Entrances, attacks and responses to each other’s musicianship, were perfect. This is a beautiful work, and it was performed beautifully by everyone concerned.
The last work on the program was a short piece with Lauridsen, himself, playing the piano with both choirs and Maestra Sailer conducting. It was a wonderfully effervescent piece with a very definite tonal center based on a text by Rainer Maria Rilke, entitled So They Say.
What an enjoyable concert this was! The first two works on the program, while superbly written (and therefore they are very good compositions) reminded me a little bit of listening to George Crumb, whose new pieces sound a little dated. But that is his style. Obviously, Lauridsen has made a significant journey through his compositional styles, and does not linger in old, but well done, approaches to his work.