Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Antonio Vivaldi, Astor Piazzolla, Cynthia Katsarelis, Erika Eckert, Heidi Mausbach, Lina Bahn, Lyn Loewi, Margaret Soper Gutierrez, Paul Erhard, Pro Musica Coloardo Chamber Orchestra, Stacy Lasartre
Friday evening, the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis presented an absolutely stunning program featuring the renowned violinist, Dr. Lina Bahn. Not only was the program stunning because of its excellence, it was also stunning because of its originality. Maestra Katsarelis chose two works to feature on this program: the famous The Four Seasons by the Italian Baroque composer, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), and The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires by the twentieth century Argentine composer, Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). The unusual aspect of the program was that Katsarelis picked contrasting seasons from each of these two works, and paired them together on the program, while keeping in mind that Italy is in the northern hemisphere, and Argentina is in the southern hemisphere. Thus, Vivaldi’s Spring was paired the Piazzolla’s Autumn, next came Vivaldi’s Summer paired with Piazzolla’s Winter; the Vivaldi’s Autumn paired with Piazzolla’s Summer; and Vivaldi’s Winter, paired with Piazzolla Spring. Lest the purists among you readers object to this kind of pairing, I advise you to attend the concert tonight, April 5, at the First United Methodist Church in Boulder at 7:30 PM. I admit to a certain amount of suspicion when I saw the program, but the minute the first pairing of these two composers were heard, I realized what a creative imagination Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis has. In addition, I can assure you that the members of the orchestra are totally dedicated, professional musicians, and they would truly not participate in anything that would denigrate their art. So, those of you who were not in attendance Friday evening, quell your suspicions, and attend Saturday evening’s performance. You will, once again, be amazed at the artistry and musicianship by violinist Lina Bahn, and you will also be amazed at the camaraderie between Pro Musica and the soloist.
I will quote from the University of Colorado at Boulder website for Lina Bahn’s bio, which I have abridged slightly:
“Lina Bahn is a violinist who has a keen interest in collaborative and innovative repertoire, and has been called ‘brilliant’ and ‘lyrical’ by the Washington Post. Appointed to the faculty at the University of Colorado in Boulder in 2008, she has taught masterclasses throughout the world, including those at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory in Singapore, the Sydney Conservatory, Hong Kong University, Renmin University in Beijing, the Curtis Institute of Music, and The Colburn School, among others. She has been on the faculty of the Sierra Summer Academy of Music since 2001, and is on the faculty at Green Mountain Chamber Music Summer Festival, and at The Institute of the Palazzo Rucellai in Florence, Italy.
“In Washington, D.C., Dr. Bahn is the Executive Director and violinist with the VERGE Ensemble, the resident ensemble of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The VERGE Ensemble has performed in Paris, New York, Cleveland, at the Livewire Festival (UMBC) and Third Practice Festival (Richmond), and was the resident ensemble for the June in Buffalo Festival in 2009. They have performed at Le Poisson Rouge, The Issue Project Room, and the National Museum of American Indians. She is also the violinist and member of the National Gallery New Music Ensemble of the Smithsonian, which gave its inaugural performance in the East Wing in 2010, performing works of Xenakis, Antosca, and a premiere by Roger Reynolds. The National Gallery Ensemble participated in the 2012 Washington D.C. John Cage Centennial Festival, with performances at the East Wing, the NGA Auditorium, and at the Maison Francaise of the French Embassy. These included premieres of composers Christian Wolff, Beat Furrer, Robert Ashley, and George Lewis. http://www.johncage2012.com/
“As a soloist, she has appeared with the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, La Orquesta Sinfonica de la Serena (Chile), and the Malaysian National Symphony Orchestra. Solo performance recitals include those at the Phillips Collection, The Stone, and at The Corcoran Gallery of Art. She has commissioned works by Benjamin Broening, Ken Ueno, Dan Visconti, Jeffrey Mumford, Adam Silverman, Steve Antosca, Keith Fitch, and (upcoming) Douglas Cuomo. Dr. Bahn’s chamber music performances have included recitals and concerts in festivals such as the Costa Rican International Chamber Festival, the Sierra Summer Festival, the Grand Canyon Music Festival, the Garth Newel Music Series, and the Festival de Música de Cámara de San Miguel de Allende. In the spring of 2010, she was on tour with the Takacs Quartet, performing at Carnegie Hall, the Southbank Centre, Concertgebouw, and the Mariinsky Theater, among others. From 1992-1994 she toured extensively throughout Chile with the Bahn-Mahave-Browne piano trio as a recipient of national grants to teach and perform. In 2005, their piano trio was selected to perform for the president of Chile and the King of Indonesia, in Kuala Lumpuur.
“Dr. Bahn studied with Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School for her undergraduate degree. She completed her Master’s degree as the recipient of the Jane Bryant Fellowship Award under the tutelage of Paul Kantor. Her Doctorate in Music is from the Indiana University, where she completed her dissertation entitled, Virtuosity in Luciano Berio’s Sequenza VIII. At Indiana University, she was an Associate Instructor and studied with Miriam Fried and Paul Biss. Dr. Bahn’s early training in Chicago started with Lillian Schaber and she finished her high school years under the guidance of Roland and Almita Vamos.”
As any performer can tell you, excellence is always pursued, and it is the result of hours of practice. Musicianship improves with every performance, and, yet, one always reaches for that elusive, perfect performance. Once in a while, when all of the musicians are superb, all of the stars can line up in exactly the right order, and the audience will receive the benefits of a perfect performance, reflecting the joy of musicianship. That is precisely what happened at Friday’s performance. Everyone in the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra is an excellent musician, and the performance that this orchestra gives is always truly superb. Friday night it was exceptional.
The minute they begin to play, the joy of the music came through. The size of the Pro Musica changes with the dictates of the score, and Friday evening there were sixteen members of the orchestra. Therefore, practically every individual could be heard separately, as well as the blend of the entire ensemble. That clarity was manifest throughout the entire evening.
Everyone is familiar with Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, but some of you readers may be unfamiliar with Astor Piazzolla’s work. He was an Argentine composer, as previously stated, who once made a statement that the “tango was always for the ear rather than the feet.” Piazzolla has clearly become the master of the tango for the concert hall, rather than the dance floor. His composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger (he went to Paris in 1954 to study with her) encouraged him to concentrate on the tango after she heard one of his pieces. He developed a Nuevo tango style which departed substantially from its traditional sound, as he adapted it to classical music.
Stacy Lesartre, Concertmaster, led the ensemble Friday night, and everyone in the orchestra played as if they were a concertmaster, and I assure you they all sounded as if they could be a concertmaster. Stacy Lesartre and Margaret Soper Gutierrez, Principal Second violin, were excellent. It has been sometime since I have heard Vivaldi’s work, as well as Piazzolla’s, performed live, and it always surprises me at how difficult these two composer’s works are. Plainly, everyone on stage was working hard, and yet there was no awkwardness: it was all very graceful work. Lina Bahn performed these difficult works with great aplomb, and never did her intense musicianship and virtuosity cause a wrinkle on her forehead. I mentioned that only because as the program progressed, I finally put my finger on the one element of Friday evening’s performance: it was joy. The orchestra was having a wonderful time playing these pieces, and they were having a wonderful time playing with Lina Bahn. And, Dr. Bahn was having a wonderful time playing with the orchestra. That was clearly in evidence. It has been a long time since I have seen so many smiles in an orchestra. Stacy Lesartre, Margaret Soper Gutierrez, and Heidi Mausbach, Principal Cello, easily responded to the different tempi that Lina Bahn and Maestra Katsarelis wished to take. I might add that those tempi were some of the fastest that I have heard in the Vivaldi or the Piazzolla, but I hasten to point out that everyone in the orchestra followed them with complete accuracy. There were many times when members of the orchestra had a marvelous solo, such as Heidi Mausbach in Piazzolla’s Autumn.
Lina Bahn was the perfect choice as the guest violinist and soloist for this performance. She is daring and effortless in her choice of tempos, and her musicianship is strong and authentic. Music comes to her as the primary consideration, never flamboyant. Her tone is incredible, as is her sense of pitch, which never failed even in the most rapid portions of the Vivaldi. Lina Bahn is clearly a world-class artist, and her consummate artistry reflects and underscores that fact.
The evening was marked by its contrasts between Vivaldi and Piazzolla, and yet those contrasts, emphasized as they were by the pairings, were legitimate and wonderful to hear. Paul Erhard, bass and Erika Eckert, viola, were superb as was Lyn Loewi on the harpsichord continuo. I might add that “…Lyn Loewi earned a Doctor of Musical Arts from Stanford University, and a First Prize in Organ from the French National Conservatory. She has worked for many years as a choir director and organist, and has taught at Portland State University and at the University of Minnesota. She now works as a freelance musician in Denver, and is a regular volunteer organist at Saint John’s.”
This performance by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra with Lina Bahn was as exciting as it was masterful. The tempos, and the musicianship, were something to behold: nothing was out of place, or out of order. Everything exceeded expectations.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Beethoven, Cynthia Katsarelis, David Schwartz, Joaquín Rodrigo, Kaori Uno, Max Soto, Michael Daugherty, Michelle Orman, Michelle Stanley, Miriam Kepner, Nicoló Spera, Olga Shylayeva
It is always quite an experience, upon leaving a concert that you know will be good, to be totally surprised at just how excellent it was. Such was the case Friday evening as I left St. Paul’s Lutheran Church here in Denver, upon hearing the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis. The performance Friday evening, November 22, was absolutely electric: it was a performance in which all the musicians (and they are all excellent) were equally excited by the music that they were playing. They seemed eager to show how their hard work allowed them to perform absolutely incredible music in an incredible way.
Maestra Katsarelis and the Pro Musica opened the program with Michael Daugherty’s Strut for String Orchestra. This work was inspired by the African-American actor Paul Roberson, who was also a singer and a civil rights activist, and a very accomplished stage actor. I will quote from the program notes:
“Robeson was widely admired for his acting, on stage as Shakespeare’s Othello, in films such as The Emperor Jones (1932) and Showboat (1936), and in concert for his singing of Afro-American spirituals and folksongs. Paul Robeson was also an advocate for American racial equality and justice. His civil rights activities were viewed as ‘subversive’ by J. Edgar Hoover, director of the F.B.I. Robeson’s American passport was revoked by the U.S. Government in 1950, forcing his political, film and concert career to a virtual stand-still.”
Keep in mind that Michael Daugherty, born in 1954 (and not 1915 as the program notes stated), has been strongly influenced all his life by American pop culture. His compositions most definitely reflect that influence, and as far as Paul Robeson is concerned, Daugherty stated that he could imagine “Robeson ‘strutting’ down 125th Street in Harlem.” While I would not disagree at all with the composer’s train of thought as he wrote this piece, to me, it seemed more like a formal tribute. It had very complicated dotted rhythms and very thick harmonic textures. It was a very exciting piece to be sure, and it clearly demonstrated how excellent the strings are in this chamber orchestra. The rhythms were very sharp indeed, and the attacks were perfect. The orchestra’s enthusiasm for the piece wanted a certain angularity in its forward motion. Keep in mind this is the first time I have heard this piece, but it seemed to me that rather than melodic counterpoint being used, there was rhythmic counterpoint, that occurred three times in this relatively short composition. This certainly was not an easy piece, but it was a delightful one, and it is my hope that they perform it again. Maestra Katsarelis infused this with a very appealing energy and drive.
Following the Daugherty, the Pro Musica and guest artist, Nicolò Spera, performed the well-known Concierto de Aranjuez, by the blind composer Joaquin Rodrigo (1901–1999). As Spera pointed out in the excellent pre-concert talk, this was the first guitar concerto written in the twentieth century. It is an astounding work, not only because it reveals Rodrigo’s affinity for both orchestra and guitar, but that the writing for the guitar never seems to be overpowered by the orchestra. I use the word “astounding” because it would be so easy for other composers who are not so sensitive to the limitations of the guitar, to write a good piece perhaps, but one for the guitar would be buried in the orchestral sound. In addition, Rodrigo creates remarkable colors by pairing the guitar, for example, with other solo instruments, such as the oboe in the second movement.
All of this has resulted in a guitar concerto which has become as popular as Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Nr. 2, or the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. The result of this popularity has resulted in performances by those who have not taken the time to study its musicality in depth.
I have heard this piece, as many of you readers have, performed several times, and the performance that Nicolò Spera gave Friday night was the best I have ever heard. First of all Spera is a virtuoso guitar player, and second, he is a superb musician. In addition, the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra is exactly the right size for this kind of work, and it is comprised of very fine musicians.
Nicolò Spera is capable of producing an incredibly warm sound from his guitar, and it was inherent throughout the concerto. His musicianship seems to inspire the orchestra, and the orchestra and Spera seemed to inspire Maestra Katsarelis. It was if they realized, simultaneously, that a genuinely special performance was taking place. Every movement of this performance was intense, either in its virtuosity on the part of Nicolò Spera, or in the sensuousness and passion demonstrated by everyone on stage. In the second movement of this concerto, there is an English horn solo which was played by Max Soto. It is always a pleasure hearing his orchestral solos, but I cannot recall hearing a better English horn performance in this guitar concerto. His sensuousness matched Nicolò Spera’s. I might add, that if I had to choose a certain section of the orchestra which I thought to be outstanding (and mind you, this is always dangerous, because it annoys the rest of the orchestra!) I would have to choose the woodwind section for their performance Friday night. Every single one of them, Michelle Stanley, flute; Olga Shylayva, flute; Miriam Kapner, oboe; Max Soto, oboe and English horn; Daniel Silver, clarinet; Michelle Orman, clarinet; David Schwartz, bassoon; and Kaori Uno, bassoon, were outstanding. I will say it again: I have never heard Rodrigo’s concerto performed where everyone on stage seemed to be of one mind, and shared such a remarkable intensity and passion. In the second movement of this concerto the cellos and violas were as warm as the woodwind section. Perhaps the best way to describe the performance of this work, is to say that it was complete. There was nothing missing. I will remember it for a very long time.
Following the intermission, Maestra Katsarelis and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra performed Beethoven’s Symphony Nr. 7 in A Major, Opus 92. This symphony was completed in 1812, but was not premiered until December 8, 1813. The year 1812 was a rather tumultuous year for Beethoven. He was almost completely deaf. With no invitation, he interfered in the romantic affairs of his youngest brother. His delight at finally meeting Goethe was turned sour when he made the discovery that Goethe was so elderly, that he was no longer a rabble-rouser. Beethoven also made the discovery that Goethe did not know so much about music at all, and that was a great disappointment to him. And finally, 1812 was the date placed on the letter to his “immortal beloved” which was not found until after Beethoven had died.
Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis has aptly named this entire concert season of the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra Epic Music. Certainly, this Symphony Nr. 7 is epic, not only because formal structure and harmonic vicissitudes, but because of its technical difficulty. Every symphony that Beethoven wrote contains some kind of milestone. If one looks at an evolutionary line drawn on a piece of paper showing the progress of Mozart and Haydn and their symphonic development, one can see that it progresses at a very steady, if not rapid, rate. Beethoven’s “line of progress” goes off at a tangent, and climbs ever higher. He stretches harmonic rules, and widens the symphonic forms that Haydn and Mozart anticipated. His harmonic progressions are radical for his time period, so much so, that he is clearly pointing to a new era. Some of the rhythms in this symphony are dancelike, and believe it or not, because of that, it inspired Isadore Duncan and Léonide Massine to choreograph portions of this work. That remarkable misstep (pardon the pun) seemed to give license to many others, who completely misinterpreted the fact that this was a symphony.
Friday evening’s performance of this work was exhilarating. It has been several years since I was able to sit so close to the orchestra while this particular symphony was being performed. From the first measure to the last measure, the orchestra is required to work very hard. They did so with great willingness and great energy. As with the two first works on this program, it seemed as though the orchestra truly caught fire. In all four movements, Maestra Katsarelis took perfect tempos, and though they were working very hard, the orchestra seemed to respond to the realization that practice makes perfect.
The performance was exciting, forceful and joyful at the same time, and performed by the orchestra with great precision. Frankly, Maestra Katsarelis’ interpretation of this symphony, reminded me very much of the conducting of János Ferencsik (1907-1984), and the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra. To my mind, that is still one of the best recordings available, because, like Katsarelis, Ferencsik (a protégé of Arturo Toscanini at Bayreuth) provides a sense of irrevocability in his interpretation.
I left the concert Friday evening with the certain knowledge that a city the size of Denver has an extraordinarily large population of really fine musicians that are professional in every sense of the word. One does not have to live in a city the size of Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles to hear a really fine performance. That is what I heard Friday evening from the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Aaron Copland, Cynthia Katsarelis, Daniel Silver, David Diamond, Phliip Glass, Pro Musica Coloardo Chamber Orchestra
The Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra has become one of the most consistent music organizations in the state in a very short period of time. They are consistent not only in the excellence of their performance, but consistent in providing audiences with very good music that is seldom heard. Friday evening, April 12, they presented an outstanding program at the St. Paul Lutheran Church on 16th St. and Grant here in Denver. The composers that Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis chose for the evening’s program were David Diamond, Aaron Copland, and Phillip Glass.
Katsarelis opened the program with David Diamond’s Rounds for String Orchestra, composed as the result of the commission by the conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos. Due to the quality of this work, (keep in mind, that a very good case can be made for David Diamond as one of the greatest symphony composers in America in the twentieth century), it rapidly became a favorite with the American conductors Mitropoulos, Rodzinski, Szell, Bernstein, Reiner, Rudolph, and Aaron Copland. As the title suggests, Diamond relies on the contrapuntal devices of fugue and canon in all three movements of this work which are performed without pause. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Diamond does not use twelve-tone serial technique in this work, but instead relies upon tonality which sometimes seems to be shredded by the use of eleventh and thirteenth chords (go over to your piano and play a chord with the notes C- E- G- B-flat- D- F). That chord will certainly sound dissonant enough so that it confuses the tonal center, but Diamond always puts the pieces back together so there is a sense of finality and arrival.
Katsarelis infused this work with great vigorousness, and the tempo was absolutely perfect. All three of the works on the program Friday were for string orchestra, so there were no brass instruments or percussion. Sometimes that can place a burden on an orchestra to produce tone colors that will imbue the works being played with the drive, emotion, or spirit that the composer is seeking. However, that has never been the case with the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra. Maestra Katsarelis pointed out in the pre-concert talk that she was dealing with nineteen virtuoso performers, and that made her work much easier. In the first movement of the Diamond, there was some extensive spiccato (saltato?) that was absolutely together, and because of its accuracy, added a great deal to the excitement of this first movement. The second movement, which is marked Adagio, was lush and warm with a great deal of chordal playing. After the rapid pace of the first movement, the second movement provided a totally new world for the audience, particularly because of the colors that Diamond calls for in his harmonic writing, but also the ability and care that every member of the orchestra took in concentrating on the tone they were producing. It positively shimmered.
The last movement of the Diamond is as technically demanding as the first two movements, but it was a great experience to be an audience member in front of an ensemble that works so hard and with so much care. The pitches were perfect, the phrases were perfect, and the soaring melodic line certainly added to the passion with which they played. I think that it is necessary to point out, that everyone in the Pro Musica was not only working hard to play their best, but also working very hard to do exactly what Maestra Katsarelis was asking for.
Following the remarkable performance of David Diamond’s Rounds, clarinetist Dan Silver, of the CU School of Music faculty, joined the Colorado Pro Musica and performed Aaron Copland’s monumental Clarinet Concerto. It is monumental because of its quality and because of its importance in the history of music. Every music lover knows this concerto because of those two reasons, and I have written about it in past articles, so I will not spend a great deal of time here.
Copland’s Clarinet Concerto was first performed November 6, 1950, with the NBC Symphony of the Air Radio Broadcast conducted by Fritz Reiner. It is in a two-movement slow-fast format which is similar to his piano concerto. The two movements are linked by a solo cadenza. Since this work was commissioned by Benny Goodman, it is full of jazz elements, and, according to Copland, it has some Brazilian folk tunes in it, because Copland began writing this work while he was in South America. This is an incredibly difficult work for the clarinet, particularly in the cadenza.
Concerning Daniel Silver:
“Mr. Silver has performed with the Baltimore Symphony and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, including Carnegie Hall concerts with David Zinman and Lorin Maazel. He has been a concerto soloist with the Washington Chamber Symphony, The National Chamber Orchestra, the Roanoke Symphony and others. He has played under many of the leading conductors of recent decades, including Seiji Ozawa, Leonard Bernstein, and Andre Previn. His festival credits include Tanglewood and Aspen and he now spends his summers at the Interlochen Arts Camp, where he has been a faculty member since 1991. He has recorded for Marco Polo and CRI.
“A graduate of Northwestern University and the University of Michigan, his teachers have included Thomas Peterson, Robert Marcellus and Deborah Chodacki. Mr. Silver has taught previously at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts, Towson University (MD), and the Baltimore School for the Arts. In demand as a clinician and adjudicator, he has served on panels in the United States, Asia and Australia.”
I have heard the Copland Clarinet Concerto countless times, and, as I recall, the first time I heard it, it was performed at my undergraduate school by Robert McGinnis, a faculty member who had been first clarinet with the Philadelphia Symphony, the Cleveland Symphony, the NBC Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic. It was an outstanding performance, but I must say the performance that I heard Friday night given by Daniel Silver was the best.
The opening slow section was mellifluous and warm, and Silver has what I consider to be the finest tone of any clarinet player I have heard. It is haunting, and he can permeate the sound of his instrument with any mood that he chooses with seemingly no effort. In addition, he is one of the few clarinetists that I have heard capable of announcing his love for the sound of the instrument simply by the way he plays. At the end of the slow, first movement, there is a cadenza, which is performed Attacca into the second movement. Copland wrote the cadenza in a manner which increases the tension from the slow movement to the faster second movement: the tempo slowly changes and becomes more rapid, and the range of the clarinet is slowly expanded. Silver knew exactly what to do with this cadenza, and he filled it with a great anticipation and expectation of what was to come.
The second movement has an incredible pitch range for the instrument. Silver was always dead accurate, and though one could tell that he was imbuing it with great energy, it seemed effortless. Throughout the movement he appeared to be having great fun, and in one instance, he turned to face his faculty colleague, Paul Erhard, who plays the bass, almost challenging him to a duet. I hasten to point out that none of this was done for the sake of “having a show,” but only because Copland wrote such an enjoyable piece of music. It was fantastic to see Silver enjoy performing it so much that he wanted his fellow musicians, as well as the audience, to share in the joy. Daniel Silver’s performance of this work was absolutely sensational, but, then, his playing always is. All of us in in the audience, and in Colorado, should thank our lucky stars that we can hear a performance such as this without having to drive a thousand miles to hear it. I hasten to point out that the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra was a perfect match for the stellar performance of Daniel Silver.
Following the Copland, Maestra Katsarelis and the Pro Musica performed Philip Glass’ Symphony Nr. 3, a four movement work done without pause between the movements. Phillip Glass is now taking on the prominence and popularity that he has deserved for some time. Many audience members still shy away from his “minimalist” style of composition. As Maestra Katsarelis pointed out in a very interesting pre-concert talk, Glass does not care for the term minimalist (It also applies to Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and John Adams, to name a few), but prefers the term “music with repetitive structures.” The keyword, here, is structures, and in his symphonies it is easy to hear how he uses them. If you readers are unsure whether or not you appreciate the music of Phillip Glass, I urge you to buy a recording of his Symphony Nr. 3. I guarantee you, it will change your mind. As Maestra Katsarelis pointed out, the first movement functions as a prelude to the second and third movements, which are the most important two movements of this Symphony. When I hear an orchestral performance, there is usually one instrumental section that catches my attention more than the other sections of the orchestra. This does not mean that the other sections are bad by any stretch; it simply means that, for whatever reason, one section truly caught my ear. Friday evening at St. Paul’s, it was the Viola and Cello sections; they stood out, particularly in the Glass, because of their incredible tone and the artistic precision with which they played. Throughout this entire performance, Maestra Katsarelis’ words, in her pre-concert talk, came back to mind: “I am working with nineteen virtuosos.” This is an incredibly difficult work, and all of the musicians consistently lived up to Katsarelis’ compliment about them. The second movement is full of driving rhythm, but the third movement also has incredibly complex rhythms and changing meters. But the two movements are very different, as the third is dark and mysterious, while the second is agitated and almost frenetic. In addition, the third movement is a chaconne which begins in the cellos and violas. It seems to expand infinitely until everyone in the orchestra is involved. The fourth movement is a very satisfying closing, and its new theme, which brings it to a close, is readily identifiable. It is the ability of the musicians in the orchestra, and certainly the conducting of Maestra Katsarelis, that made the closing theme so easily identifiable, because Mr. Glass’ complicated “repetitive structures” could easily obscure it in the hands of an organization that was not so gifted. It was an absolutely superb performance.
As Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis pointed out Friday evening, the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra is relatively new to the musical scene in Colorado. However, they have established themselves, with extraordinary speed, as one of the preeminent organizations in the state. The Denver/Boulder area is fortunate to have, perhaps, six music ensembles, both orchestral and choral, that are not only the best in Colorado, but could easily be ranked as some of the best in the United States. The artistry of the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra is startlingly fine, and it is startlingly consistent. I have never left one of their concerts thinking that they will “arrive” quite soon. They have already arrived, and done so in a spectacular fashion. They are truly fine.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Cynthia Katsarelis, Daniel Silver, Edward Dusinberre, Jacob Beeman, Mendelssohn, Michelle Stanley, Olga Shylayeva, Paul Erhard, Pro Musica Coloardo Chamber Orchestra
Every musician who has spent his life practicing 4 to 8 hours a day, and who goes out on stage, not only because he wants to perform, but because he has such a love for music that he needs to share it, is always striving for the perfect performance. He may play extremely well, and that is what keeps him at it, but anyone who has given more than ‘X’ number of concerts, is always striving for the perfect performance. Thankfully, in one’s lifetime, one may have twenty or thirty, or maybe more, performances such as that. However, if one has to work full-time, be it as a music faculty member, an orchestra musician, or a house painter, anything that takes away practice time can make the rewards of an “ultimate performance” few and far between.
Nonetheless, I heard an ultimate performance Saturday evening from the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis, and featuring the violinist, Edward Dusinberre, who is on the faculty at CU Boulder, and a member of the Takács Quartet. I have heard hundreds of concerts in the United States and in Europe, and I can tell you that I have been mightily impressed with quite a few. But those concerts where something almost magical occurs on stage have been rare.
The Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra began their concert, subtitled Mendelssohn Goes to Scotland, Saturday evening with the Hebrides Overture in B minor, Opus 26.
Everyone knows who Mendelssohn was, but it still amazes me that when an average concert attendee is asked who the greatest genius of symphonic music was, the first composer that comes to mind is Mozart, and then perhaps Haydn, followed by Beethoven. There is no question that these composers stand at the very top of Mount Parnassus. But for some reason, most, but certainly not all, forget about Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847). Keep in mind that when he was ten years old he began studying counterpoint and composition with Carl Friedrich Zelter. Zelter understood that Mendelssohn wished to write symphonies, so as practice toward that goal, he wrote thirteen string symphonies. Grasp that. When he was sixteen years old, he wrote what is still one of the most monumental chamber pieces the world has heard: the Octet for Strings in E flat Major, Opus 20. It unwraps itself like a Symphony, with counterpoint, and harmonic complexity. Its complexity comes from the fact that he uses all eight voices separately, and does not consider that he is writing for two string quartets. And there is so much more. He was not only a virtuoso composer; he was a virtuoso conductor, pianist, and violinist. And, since there were no cameras in his day, when he traveled, and he did so considerably, to show his family where he had been, he sketched and painted the scenery for the ones at home. See if you can find a book entitled The Early Romantic Era by Alexander Ringer, and look on page 26. There is a watercolor by Mendelssohn that he painted in Italy. He titled it View of Amalfi. With this painting, it is clear that he was also a virtuoso visual artist. Unfortunately, Mendelssohn died at the age of thirty-eight as a result of two strokes. His father and his sister also died of strokes. It would seem that the family had a defective gene that caused strokes.
In the opening Hebrides Overture, the low strings were absolutely superb, and it was abundantly clear that Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis had a concept of this piece which was far different from other live performances that I have heard. She treated it as if it were a huge symphonic work, which, in many ways it truly is. Think of it as a miniature symphonic poem. The crescendos and decrescendos in the phrases were perfectly together, note by note. Everyone in this orchestra is a remarkable musician, and it was obvious that they care very much about music. Their entrances were clean and precise. Every section in this overture, whether they are woodwinds, strings, brass, or timpani, has their moments. The woodwind section was absolutely outstanding. When everyone on stage is so excellent, it makes it difficult to mention them all, but this ensemble under Maestra Katsarelis’ leadership, has become such a cohesive group: there were thirty-seven musicians on stage but it was as if they were playing with a single mind. They all cared, to the same degree, about the particular detail they were trying to accomplish at any given moment. And, because of the counterpoint, there is so much detail work to be brought out. I can guarantee you that the Pro Musica and Katsarelis were supremely aware that this particular overture has some of the most beautiful melodic lines that Mendelssohn ever wrote, and everyone on stage shows the audience how those melodies overlap and are developed from each other. It was wonderful.
Following the Hebrides Overture, Edward Dusinberre joined the Pro Musica to perform Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in e minor, Op. 64. There are so many individuals who referred to this work as the “Mendelssohn Concerto,” without realizing that there were seven other violin concertos. Granted, it has become the one that is most performed. This concerto, which was begun in 1838, was not completed until 1844 because he was so very busy. In fact he was not even available to conduct its premiere; however, it was conducted by the very competent Danish composer, Niels Gade, with Mendelssohn’s Leipzig concertmaster, Ferdinand David, performing on the violin.
The minute Edward Dusinberre began to play I was struck by the beautiful sound of his violin. It was full and rich, and remarkably robust. I have never heard Dusinberre perform as a soloist before this concert, and I was impressed by the amount of passion and its control that infuses his playing of this particular piece. His playing is full of confidence, and the violinist has to truly be on his mettle in this work, because he has to start work in the second measure without any kind of lengthy orchestral introduction. What made this performance so amazing for me, was that this violin concerto is one of the mainstays of violin repertoire, so much so that its performance has become somewhat standardized. In some ways, some violinists approach this as if it were a show vehicle for their technical ability, and they have allowed it to become soulless. However, I can assure you that Edward Dusinberre performed this as if this was the first time he had ever played it, and I know that it was not. And yes, his technique is startling, but, so is his musicianship. The second theme of this first movement is in the flutes and clarinets, and, the Pro Musica has some of the best woodwind players in the state: Michelle Stanley and Olga Shylayeva, flute, and Daniel Silver and Jacob Beeman, clarinet.
It was obvious that Dusinberre was thoroughly enjoying himself in the cadenza: the high notes were never labored, and he reached them with great ease.
I have heard many violinists perform the second movement of this concerto as if they were bored, because they want to go on to the third movement in order to prove to the audience what wonderful technique they have. Being somewhat familiar with Edward Dusinberre’s playing, I would have been thunderstruck if he had fallen into this trap, but, of course, he did not. It was lush and warm with a great depth of tone, and it was a pleasure to hear and see someone truly enjoy what their instrument can produce.
As a pianist, I have often been intensely jealous of violinists, because they can embrace their instrument as they play, and I always had to work hard to embrace the piano just with my fingertips. But, you see, that is precisely how Dusinberre played: he was so obviously close to his instrument, and he was very close to the sound that it produced. He was also causing great effect in the Pro Musica orchestra, for I noticed how many of the orchestra members, when they were taking a few bars rest, were swaying with his phrasing, while smiling and relishing his musicianship. It almost made me think that they were hearing this concerto for the first time themselves. I assure you that this was a very fresh performance.
Mendelssohn begins the third movement of this concerto with the dotted rhythm in the brass, quite similar to a fanfare, except that it lasts only three beats. Following that dotted rhythm, the violin has a very short cadenza that covers an octave, but it goes by in a split second. Once again, Edward Dusinberre was smiling as he played, and it seemed that he was enjoying Mendelssohn’s playfulness.
I was quite startled by the tempo that was taken in the last movement, but, unlike some of the youthful virtuoso violinist’s that abound today, Dusinberre’s performance was full of depth and musicianship. He was proving that the value of musicianship can accompany technical ferocity, and there are so many violinists today, as I said above, who use this concerto as a vehicle for themselves and not the music. Maestro Dusinberre and Maestra Katsarelis received one of the most earnest and enthusiastic standing ovations that I have seen.
Following the intermission, the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra performed Mendelssohn’s Symphony Nr. 3 in a minor, Opus 56. The introduction to this symphony, even though it is not overly long, can be divided into four sections: 1) the violins and oboe state the melody, 2) the violins soar with the clarinet in the center section, and 3) the violas and cellos and bass carry the melodic line, and 4) a short statement very similar to section 1, and then the allegro first movement. In section 2, the violins and sounded so incredibly sweet after the melancholy first section. Again Katsarelis infused this with such passion and intensity, and the orchestra knew exactly what she wanted. The third section was remarkable because the violas and cellos absolutely soared in precisely the same way that the violins had a few measures previously. And I would like to point out that Paul Erhard, who plays bass, made his instrument sound exactly like a cello. After these three sections, the allegro movement truly begins, and it seems rather sudden after the calm and somewhat melancholy introduction. The orchestra was simply excellent. My guess is that this is a difficult symphony to conduct, because it has very dense orchestration. The second movement is quite cheerful, and is marked Vivace non troppo. It is quite a contrast to the first movement, and unlike other scherzos, this one is in a sonata form. Once again Daniel Silver’s playing on the clarinet stood out. It has been several years since I have heard this symphony performed live and it was interesting to see how hard the orchestra members had to work. I stress again how cohesive this orchestra is and how they have united under Katsarelis’ direction. The third movement was plaintive and lyrical and wonderful. The fourth movement was astounding because it is so difficult. But the orchestra was totally together on every entrance and every phrase. It was full of vivacity and charm, and the combination of those two is not as difficult as you might imagine.
This entire performance, overture, concerto, and symphony, was a perfect example of what I was trying to express in the first paragraph of this article. Again, something tangible, and almost magical, took place on the stage Saturday evening, and it truly was as if every member of the orchestra had the same mind as the conductor and soloist. I was able to speak with members of the orchestra following the performance, and it was clear that they had felt it as well. With great confidence, I would put Saturday night’s performance in the stratosphere that belongs to any major orchestra you would care to mention. It was stunning.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Barbara Hamilton Primus, Benjamin Britten, Carole Whitney, Colorado Chamber Players, Cynthia Katsarelis, David Korevaar, Edward Elgar, Johann Christian Bach, Margaret Soper Gutierrez, Mozart, Paul Primus, Pro Musica Coloardo Chamber Orchestra
Friday, November 9, I attended a concert given by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Denver. It was a wonderful evening made even more special by the addition of the Colorado Chamber Players for the performance of an Elgar work for string quartet and string orchestra. But I will talk about that work in detail in due time.
Last concert season, during an intermission of a concert presented by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, I struck up a casual conversation with an individual who is relatively new to Colorado. He had moved here from Chicago, and expressed to me his initial doubts that a city “out of the West” could have concerts comprised of local individuals that were worth attending. He clearly stated that he needn’t have worried, and that he was more than pleasantly surprised at the quality of performance that evening. The point of this little story is that yes, here in Denver we have some of the best musical groups in the nation, if not beyond. I have heard chamber concerts all over the United States and in Europe, and I can promise you that the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and the Colorado Chamber Players would fit quite nicely within any group you care to mention. Judging by the size of the audience, more people in the Denver Metro area need to be made aware of the excellence of the music that was produced Friday evening.
Since this organization is still relatively new, I will introduce you again to Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis:
“Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis is Music Director and Conductor of PMC. She has conducted excellent professional, conservatory, youth and training orchestras. As Conducting Assistant with the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops, Ms. Katsarelis worked with top conductors and guest artists, assisted with recordings for Telarc Records, and worked with James Conlon and the Cincinnati May Festival. Her professional activities include conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic, and the symphonies of Knoxville, Kansas City, Spokane, Flint, Georgetown and the Columbus Women’s Orchestra. She made her international debut leading the Bourgas Philharmonic in Bourgas, Bulgaria. Ms. Katsarelis has served as music director of the Seven Hills Sinfonietta, Antioch Chamber Orchestra, Northern Kentucky Chamber Players, Dearborn Summer Music Festival and Hillman Opera. Critical reviews have praised her work as ‘a model of precision and spirit.’
“In Colorado, Ms. Katsarelis conducted the Colorado Music Festival in June, 2012 in Mozart’s Magnificent Voyage. In 2007, she assisted CMF in conducting the offstage brass in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, the Resurrection. For three summers, she conducted the Young Artist Seminar at Rocky Ridge Music Center. Working with the Loveland Opera Theatre, Ms. Katsarelis led performances of Hansel and Gretel, HMS Pinafore and leads a production of La Bohème in February of 2013. She has conducted the Longmont Ballet in the Nutcracker with the professional Longmont Ballet Chamber Orchestra.
Ms. Katsarelis studied Violin and Conducting at the Peabody Conservatory of Music of the Johns Hopkins University, earning her Bachelors and Masters of Music degrees. She was the first undergraduate ever admitted to the conducting program. At the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, she pursued doctoral studies in Orchestral and Opera Conducting. There she served as assistant conductor for both conservatory orchestras and the Opera Theater. She has studied at the Oregon Bach Festival with Helmuth Rilling and also participated in master classes led by Neeme Jarvi, Michael Tilson Thomas, Kenneth Kiesler, Yoel Levi and Marin Alsop. She began her professional career at the age of 18 as a section violinist in the Florida Orchestra.”
Friday night, Maestra Katsarelis and the PMC opened her program with the Sinfonia in G Minor, Opus 6, Nr. 6, by Johan Christian Bach. All of these Opus 6 Sinfonias are scored for strings, two oboes, two horns, and bassoon. Though there is no definite date for its composition, most scholars agree that it was probably written about 1762 or 1763. We do know that it was published in 1770. The opening allegro movement is extremely energetic, if not driven, and, of course, Katsarelis’ conducting style easily communicates that storminess to the orchestra. Immediately, one notices a certain influence of Haydn in this work by JS Bach’s youngest son. Though they were about the same age (J.C. Bach was born in 1735 and Haydn was born in 1732) they were still pushing their way into the new style of the classical period, and divesting themselves of the Rococo style. In this instance, I am using the word “style” to indicate the (as yet) imperfectly formed aspirations of this age in music. The slow movement of this work allows the orchestra to demonstrate the art of the two note phrase, and, of course, this orchestra is so excellent that they did it beautifully. The two note phrase is one of the signatures in the classical period, and whether one is performing in a chamber orchestra or performing a piano sonata by J. C. Bach or by Haydn, one must always pay strict attention to its performance. The dynamics that helped shape the two note phrases were absolutely perfect. The last movement is just as stormy as the first, and Katsarelis chose an absolutely perfect tempo again. Even though this is a crossover work between the Baroque and the Classical period, Katsarelis easily gave this work a sense of its own identity as a work by one of the Bach sons. It was neither Haydn nor Mozart, nor was it C. P. E. Bach. The orchestra presented this composition as written by someone who has his own feet to stand upon. That is a terrific complement to this composer, and it is well deserved. It was a delight to hear.
Following the Bach Sinfonia in G Minor, David Korevaar, Chairman of Piano at CU in Boulder, performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto in E flat, K. 271. This concerto was written in 1777 for a young French woman, Mlle Jeunehomme, and though it was only his fourth solo-piano concerto, he finally arrived at his ideal of a genuine collaboration between piano and orchestra. This is a three movement work (as all of his concertos are) which displays an amazing sensitivity in the orchestral writing. It is considered to be one of the most original works of Mozart no matter the category. It is in this work that Mozart leaves behind in the influence of the composer Johan Christian Bach.
Make no mistake about it: this concerto is extremely difficult. In addition, this was one of the rare concerto performances where there was a true partnership between the pianist and the orchestra. There was never any point in any of the three movements of where one could say, “Here is the pianist working by himself,” or “Here is the orchestra performing all by itself.” It was truly a very happy united effort in making music. Korevaar played with great ease – he always seems to do that – with absolutely remarkable phrasing emphasized by great dynamic contrast. But, you must understand, that Katsarelis and the orchestra followed suit in every single detail, answering Korevaar’s rhythmic pulse even when this pulse was reversed between soloist and orchestra.
The slow movement, even though I know this work quite well, always takes me by surprise because it is, in my opinion, one of the most tragic utterances ever written by Mozart. It is written in the relative (to the opening movement’s key of E Flat Major) key of C minor. It seems odd to state that the expressive performance of this movement was enchanting, but I’m convinced that is the right word. Neither Katsarelis nor Korevaar lost their partnership. The raised lid of the piano obscured Katsarelis from my view, but as I was watching Korevaar, it was clear that he did not have to overly rely on Katsarelis for her interpretation of this work, or for showing where she was within the beat. That is a clear demonstration of the musical reliability of these two musicians, and, I also stress the reliability of all the musicians in this wonderful orchestra. I do not use the word “wonderful” lightly.
The last movement of this concerto is undoubtedly the most difficult. I was genuinely surprised at the tempo that these two musicians took. It was absolutely ferocious and the orchestra was clearly working very hard, as was Korevaar. I emphasize that the tempo was used purely for music making, and not for grandiose display: 1) one simply doesn’t have time at this tempo for grandiose displays, and 2) these are remarkably accomplished artists, and musicianship is their first calling.
The last movement has a set of variations in the style of the minuet in its center, which is absolutely elegant. The exuberant first theme returns and ends the entire Concerto. This Concerto was written in the same month that Mozart turned 21 years of age. We know nothing about the young lady for whom it was written, but it is clear that if Mozart wrote it for her to perform, her abilities must have been considerable. This performance was memorable from the pianist and from the conductor and orchestra.
Following the intermission, the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra performed Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for String Quartet and String Orchestra. It was so refreshing hearing this work, as I have not heard it for a great number of years, and it clearly demonstrates Elgar’s ability at string writing. The intimate sound of the string quartet greatly complements the sound of the string orchestra, and I will go so far as to say that there are many organizations that could not quite bring this off because of the general character of the work in Elgar’s imaginative sweep. But Friday night, there were two absolutely superb organizations: the Pro Musica Orchestra and Colorado’s own, and I must say, venerable, Colorado Chamber Players. The CCP is, of course, comprised of Paul Primus, violin; Margaret Soper Gutierrez, violin; Barbara Hamilton-Primus, viola; and Carole Whitney, cello. This brings me to a major point, not only in the performance of this piece, but in the entire performance Friday evening. I had the opportunity to speak with Maestra Katsarelis after the performance, and she told me that this particular composition, when it was performed by chamber orchestra and not full orchestra, gave the members of the orchestra a chance to be virtuosos, rather than having to conform to the strictures of a full symphony sized string orchestra. I still think that is a very eloquent way to describe the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and, of course, the Colorado Chamber Players. It was so clear on Friday evening that everyone, and I do mean everyone, on that stage was a virtuoso. The Elgar was turgid and impassioned even though it moves along at a good pace. There is some substantial writing for viola, and Barbara Hamilton played it beautifully (how many of you realize that Barbara Hamilton-Primus is, in reality, Dr. Barbara Hamilton-Primus. Her Doctorate is in Viola Performance from Yale University. But please realize that everyone in the CCP has equivalent experience or degrees. That is why this is such an incredibly outstanding collection of musicians). When I use the word virtuoso, I am not referring to just technical ability alone. Virtuoso encompasses everything musical: technical ability, musical understanding and knowledge, and musical sensitivity. This was another remarkable performance of the evening.
The PMC closed this concert with the Simple Symphony, Op. F, by Benjamin Britten. Note the opus number. Benjamin Britten was 20 years old when he composed this work, which is based on songs and melodies that he had experienced in his preteen years. The work is not only popular because of these melodies; it is popular amongst orchestras because the string writing is so amazingly competent from a composer of that age. It is a short work of four movements named Boisterous Bourée, Playful Pizzicato, Sentimental Sarabande, and Frolicsome Finale. The music is as witty as the titles of these movements, the final movement, offering a disguised recapitulation of themes from the first movement. The work has incredible charm because Britain uses such urbane musical “grammar” to describe relatively unsophisticated melodies from his youth. The result is an absolutely infectious composition, and a work that seems incredibly difficult to a non-string player such as myself. This performance clearly demonstrated the close and genuine connection between the orchestra musicians and the conductor.
This was another performance that I shall remember for a very long time. The performance should have gotten, in my estimation, at least a dozen standing ovations, and I am not ashamed at all to say that I led at least three standing ovations. We are so very fortunate to have these musicians where we can hear them on a regular basis.