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rights activities were viewed as ‘subversive’ by J. Edgar Hoover, director of the F.B.I. Robeson’s American passport was revoked by the U.S. Government in 1950, forcing his political, film and concert career to a virtual stand-still.”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.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Christina Jennings, Cindy McTee, Cynthia Katsarelis, Pro Musica Coloardo Chamber Orchestra
One aspect of the performance of music that is so difficult – and I am quite sure that individuals as well as orchestras would agree with me – is consistency. Individuals and organizations always want to be good, but the trick is to be good all the time. In order to be consistent, for example, an orchestra must be comprised of individuals who have performing experience, and who have experience performing together. They must also be equally concerned with all of the aspects of musicality, and they must also share, as obvious as this sounds, a genuine love for what they do. Then, the organization must have enough wherewithal to have an outstanding conductor.
The Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra is one of these organizations that does everything to make sure they adhere to the art of music and its performance. They are amazingly consistent.
They gave their final performance of the year Saturday night, May 5, in Boulder. It was an outstanding program in every way: the music that was performed, and the genuinely artistic way that they performed the music.
I have written about this organization in past articles. The Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra is led by Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis, who has conducted orchestras and opera all over the world. In Colorado, she conducts the Colorado Music Festival. She is also involved in the Rocky Ridge Music Center.
Maestra Katsarelis opened the program with a work by American composer Cindy McTee, entitled Adagio. McTee is a composer who should be more well-known than she actually is, because she is quite outstanding, and she also studied with one of the finest composers of new music today, Krzysztof Penderecki.
I will briefly quote from her webpage: “McTee (b. 1953 in Tacoma, WA) has received numerous awards for her music, most significantly: the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Third Annual Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award; a Music Alive Award from Meet The Composer and the League of American Orchestras; two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; a Guggenheim Fellowship; a Fulbright Fellowship; a Composer’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts; and a BMI Student Composers Award. She was also winner of the 2001 Louisville Orchestra Composition Competition.
“In May of 2011, she retired from the University of North Texas as Regents Professor Emerita, and in November of 2011 she married conductor, Leonard Slatkin. Their principal place of residence is in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.”
Adagio is adapted from McTee’s work Agnus Dei for organ which she wrote in reaction to the disaster of 9/11. This work also became the second movement of her first Symphony, and proved so popular that it was arranged for string quartet. This is an interesting and instructive example of how many concepts of a work that a composer has to deal with. McTee also uses a theme from the Polish Requiem, which was composed by her teacher, Krzysztof Penderecki.
In listening to this work Friday evening, I was struck by McTee’s ability to concentrate on the sound that just a string orchestra can produce. The program notes state that the harmonic language suggests that of Samuel Barber, and a good case can be made for that. But for me, it suggested Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, because of its quiet anguish and understated dynamics. This is a beautiful work of very intense emotion, and I hope that the Pro Musica performs it again next season. This was the first time I have heard this work, and it is the sort piece that one needs to hear several times. Once again, I was absolutely struck of how carefully this orchestra follows Maestra Katsarelis. The dynamic range that the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra is capable of always astonishes me. They are always in tune (and why not?), and their entrances are always incredibly precise. That is what makes performing a piece such as this so incredibly difficult. It is often much harder to play slowly, with carefully shaded dynamics and perfect phrasing, then it is to play fast and loud.
Following the McTee, the Chamber Orchestra performed Mozart’s Concerto for Flute in G Major, K. 313. Christina Jennings, a remarkable flutist in every way, performed this Concerto. I will quote briefly from Jennings webpage:
“Flutist Christina Jennings is praised for virtuoso technique, rich tone, and command of a wide range of literature featuring works from Bach to Zwilich. The Houston Press declared: ‘Jennings has got what it takes: a distinctive voice, charisma, and a pyrotechnic style that works magic on the ears.’ Ms. Jennings is the winner of numerous competitions including Concert Artist’s Guild, Houston Symphony’s Ima Hogg, and The National Flute Association Young Artists.
“Active as a concerto soloist, Ms. Jennings has appeared with over fifty orchestras including the Utah and Houston Symphonies, Orchestra 2001, Park Avenue Chamber Orchestra, Flint Symphony, Spokane Symphony, Orchestra de Camera (Mexico), and Pro Musica (UK). In 2009 she premiered concertos written for her by Carter Pann and Laura Elise Schwendinger. Recent chamber music festivals include Strings in the Mountains (CO), Cascade Head (OR), OK Mozart (OK), Chamber Music Quad Cities (IA), and the Bowdoin International Festival (ME).
“In great demand as a teacher, Ms. Jennings is Assistant Professor of Flute at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and on the summer faculty of the Texas Music Festival. In 2008 she founded with Leone Buyse, The Panoramic Flutist Seminar, in Boulder. Trained in the Dalcroze Eurhythmics method, Christina’s teaching incorporated movement and dance. In recent seasons she has presented masterclasses at The Juilliard School, Rice University, University of Wisconsin Madison, the Peabody Institute, the Longy School of Music, and the flute associations of Seattle, Utah, and Texas. She received her Bachelor and Master’s degrees at The Juilliard School, and her principal teachers include Carol Wincenc, Leone Buyse, George Pope, and Jeanne Baxtresser. Ms. Jennings lives in Boulder with her husband, violist Matthew Dane, and their twin sons.”
There was a period of time when it was common practice for musicologists and those “in the know” to say that Mozart did not like the flute. I don’t know if this was a reaction to what the musicologist Alfred Einstein (do not confuse him with the physicist, Albert Einstein) stated in his book on Mozart, but I, for one, have never seen any evidence that Mozart disliked the flute. It is true that Alfred Einstein says of the Flute Concerto, K. 313, that as the work progresses, the listener can find less evidence that Mozart disliked the flute. He also states that Mozart approached the composition of this work without pleasure since he disliked the instrument. Where is the evidence? I have never been able to find any substantiation that Mozart approached this work with dislike. It is true that he was phenomenally busy at this time of his life – he was 22 years old when he wrote it – because he was teaching several students not only for money, but also in exchange for lodging, wood for his fireplace, and light. Nonetheless, even in Einstein’s book, I can find no verification for such statements. Even if it is true, he certainly wrote all four of his flute concertos with typical imagination and creativity.
At the outset, Maestra Katsarelis took what I consider to be an absolutely perfect tempo. But, you readers who are not experienced in the necessary cooperation between soloist and conductor must realize that that tempo was chosen after discussion between the two. Jennings has absolutely remarkable breath control, which is necessary if one is going to play with such marvelous phrasing, as she does, on a wind instrument. I was also struck by the fact, that when she plays, her flute is always held that a perfect 90° angle with the tilt of her neck. Now this may sound like an obvious statement to flute players, but only in the last few years have I seen another flutist do the same thing, and that is Cobus du Toit, who plays with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. It was also clearly evident that Christina Jennings was totally comfortable on stage: performance experience tells. And likewise, Cynthia Katsarelis, was confident not only in her own ability, but in that of Jennings. They simply shared a few casual glances back and forth to produce an absolutely incredible performance. It has been a while since I have seen a concerto performed where the soloist and the conductor were so visually calm. Jennings was breathtaking in the cadenza to the first movement. This excellence continued in the second movement. The dynamics from the orchestra and from the soloist were stunning, and Jennings shaped her phrases so wonderfully with dynamics, not just her breath control. And again, her technique and tone control were readily apparent in the cadenza to the second movement.
The third movement of this Concerto is marked Rondo: Tempo di Menuetto. Do any of you readers know how many times Mozart used a minuet for the last movement of a concerto? If you don’t, read the book Mozart’s Concerto Form by Denis Foreman. There, you will discover that all of Mozart’s concertos display a varied approach, and the third movement of this flute Concerto, K. 313, is delightful. And, that is the way it was performed: the tempos were perfect, and it was marvelously playful, and technically perfect. The last movement of this concerto is very difficult, but it was readily apparent that Jennings and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra are accustomed to working hard while displaying effortless ability and technique. Jennings, Katsarelis, and the orchestra received a well-deserved standing ovation.
After the Intermission, the Chamber Orchestra performed the Haydn, Symphony Nr. 48.
It is always a revelation to hear a Haydn Symphony performed by an orchestra that is roughly the size of the orchestra that Haydn had at the Esterházy palace. Much of the detail work becomes very clear, and it is certainly a more intimate sound. This symphony is probably one of Haydn’s most cheerful; it is rumored to have been written on the Empress Maria Theresa’s visit to Eszterháza (note the difference in spelling between Esterházy, the family, and Eszterháza, the palace). There is no doubt now that this Symphony was written in 1769. Six years after the Maria Theresa left Eszterháza in 1773, there was a fire at the Castle which destroyed many instruments and music except for some of the autographs which Haydn happened to have in his actual possession in his quarters, which did not burn. Up to this time it was assumed that the Esterházy archives for the most accurate, but we know at least 70 works were destroyed in this fire. A copy of this symphony was found in the possession of Haydn’s copyist, Joseph Elssler, and it was clearly dated 1769, so there is absolutely no doubt as to when this work was written. It is also interesting to note that in the manuscript that Elssler had completed for Haydn, that there is no timpani part, so it would seem that the timpani part was perhaps added by some of the copyists in Vienna (other than Haydn’s official copyist, Elssler) who had been pirating his music for several years. But that is material for yet another doctoral dissertation. (Speaking of dates, someone needs to check Haydn’s birth and death dates in the program!)
The performance of this piece by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra was sensational. Every section of this orchestra is very strong, and the horns were terrific in the opening, playing with great energy and providing superb rhythmic direction at the behest of Maestra Katsarelis. I was struck by the fact that everything in the performance of this Symphony Nr. 48 could be heard: the balance between sections was perfect. Haydn can be a very difficult composer to play because of all of the detail work and phrasing. One does not have the liberty to take a lot of rubato, because that is simply not in the style of the classical period. One has to create Haydn’s style by adhering to the score religiously in shaping the phrases with the dynamics rather than little gushes of emotion. That is precisely what Katsarelis and this orchestra did. The slow movement was warm and mellow, and as the program notes stated, hearkened to the Storm and Stress ideal of that particular portion of the classical period.
Playing Haydn the way it should be played obviously involves a thorough knowledge of the style which includes the tempos that the conductor takes. Katsarelis’ tempos were excellent, and it was clear that the orchestra members were working quite hard, but enjoying every moment of it.
I have said in other articles that we in Colorado are fortunate because there are so many good ensembles and soloists performing. The Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra is an ensemble that is rapidly making a name for itself, and very deservedly so. The musicians are excellent, the conductor is excellent, and they play with an enthusiasm and professionalism that is unrivaled. You simply must hear their concerts.