Opus Colorado


The Denver Philharmonic Orchestra: Exhilarating. James Buswell is truly remarkable.

Friday evening, November 15, I attended the concert given by the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra under the conductor Maestro Lawrence Golan. This was their second performance of the season, and the second performance under the baton of Maestro Golan. He was selected as the DPO’s conductor after the departure of Maestro Adam Flatt, who left because of a heavy schedule.

This is the 66th season for the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, and they have made several new changes this fall, aside from their new logo and program design. There were many new faces in the orchestra, particularly in the violin section. There truly seemed to be a fresh new attitude amongst the musicians of the orchestra Friday evening: one of excitement, and, certainly, one of renewed dedication to the art of making music. In addition, this season marks the fiftieth anniversary of violinist Pauline Dallenbach’s performance with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. She, and her husband, Dr. Robert Dallenbach, have given so much of their lives to the DPO, and they have supported the DPO by allowing the orchestra to use the KPOF Hall as its residence. Ms. Dallenbach was presented with a photograph of her and her husband, Robert, surrounded by signatures of the board and the musicians of the orchestra. She and her husband deserve much recognition for what they have contributed.

The Denver Philharmonic opened their program with Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio, Opus 72c. As most concertgoers know by now, the overture to Fidelio was revised many times by Beethoven, and the particular one used by the DPO on Friday evening is actually the fourth overture that he composed for this opera. None of the four overtures use music that is contained in the opera itself. They were written in order to establish the atmosphere of triumph that is inherent in the opera. The other overtures are known as Lenore 2, and Lenore 3, Lenore 3 being a revision of Nr. 2. Lenore Nr. 1, carries the opus number 138, and was not discovered until after Beethoven’s death. It is widely considered to have been a possible overture to a performance which was to have been given in Prague in 1807.

After the opening chords in dotted rhythm by the orchestra, Beethoven requires the horn section to announce the main theme, followed by another outburst from the full orchestra. The horn section seemed to have some trouble with this opening, and it was burbled several times. But most noticeable in this overture, which uses the sonata-allegro form, was the marked improvement of the violin section from last season. They were in tune, and considerably more precise in their attacks. The woodwind section of this orchestra has always been good, and the oboes, clarinets, and bassoons were outstanding. Maestro Lawrence Golan is clearly leaving his own mark on this orchestra. The general tone was very different, and I think that its fullness and robustness can be ascribed to the changes in personnel. This overture seemed not only to be an opening to the evening’s performance, but an introduction to a new step in the orchestra’s development.

Following the Beethoven, violinist James Buswell joined the orchestra to perform Samuel Barber’s beautiful violin concerto. Buswell has performed the world over, and teaches violin at the New England Conservatory. I will quote from his website:

“Since his solo début with the New York Philharmonic at the age of seven, he has appeared with most of the major orchestras in the U.S. and abroad and also with conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, George Szell, William Steinberg, Leonard Slatkin, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Zubin Mehta, Andre Previn, Erich Leinsdorf, Seiji Ozawa and Michael Tilson Thomas.

“Buswell studied at the Juilliard School, where he was a pupil of Ivan Galamian, and at Harvard University, where his major field of study was Renaissance Art. For more than a decade he was a professor of violin and conductor at the Indiana University School of Music. His instrument is a Leveque Stradivarius of 1720.
“In 1987, Mr Buswell and his family moved to Massachusetts, where his teaching activities are centered at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He is frequently engaged as an Artist-in-Residence and Visiting Professor at Harvard University and Amherst College.

“He has performed nearly one hundred works for violin and orchestra spanning three centuries. Formerly a member of the Chamber Music Society of the Lincoln Centre, Mr Buswell appears frequently as a guest artist at the Lincoln Centre and at other music festivals such as those in Santa Fe, Marlboro and Sarasota as well as events in Italy and Australia.

“James Buswell is as closely associated with new music as he has been with the standard repertoire. World première performances include works by Donald Erb, Charles Wourinen, Gian Carlo Menotti, Ned Rorem, Leon Kirchner, John Harbison, Gunther Schuller, William Bolcom, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Peter Schickele. Presently he is active in reviving lesser-known masterpieces from the 20th century by composers such as Martinů, Weill, Busoni and Respighi.

“He and his wife, cellist, Carol Ou, reside in Boston where he is Professor of Violin at New England Conservatory, and gives an annual recital in NEC’s Jordan Hall. The unanimous praise for his ‘sensitive, evocative, compelling playing’ continues unabated today.”

As the excellent program notes pointed out, there is much erroneous information about the Barber violin concerto that has for many years been taken as the truth. As the program notes stated, whatever gets printed first stays in the mind of the public as “the truth.” This work was commissioned by the soap magnate, Samuel Fels, for his ward, Iso Briselli. If one does the proper research, one learns that the violinist Iso Briselli’s violin coach, Albert Meiff, thought the last movement was “unviolinistic,” and might harm Briselli’s reputation. This does not mean they thought that the last movement was too difficult, as the old story goes. I think it is quite possible that Meiff and Briselli simply didn’t like the work. Therefore, Albert Spaulding gave the premier, and it was a success.

As Buswell began the Barber, I was immediately struck by the remarkable sound of his violin. It was full and it was rich, and his playing was wonderfully lyrical in the opening theme. The lyricism changes to a short and very rhythmical theme which provides a great deal of drama. I might add that in this first movement, the violin section of the orchestra sounded excellent, as did the clarinets. There is no question that James Buswell knows the Barber extremely well. His playing revealed every nuance that Barber intended in this magnificent work: drama and lyricism in the first movement, and moodiness and melancholy in the second movement. The third movement is marked Presto, and Buswell performed it at a blindingly fast pace that left everyone in the audience breathless. The orchestra provided Buswell with exactly the right amount of rhythmic drive in this work, and they performed this last movement with a great deal of confidence.

I must say that Buswell performed this concerto as if he had some special insight into what Barber wished. His musicianship is absolutely extraordinary, and as I have said before about performing musicians whether they are pianists or violinists or percussionists: it is necessary to be a musician first, and Buswell certainly is. I assure you that that musicianship is accompanied by a very powerful technique that seems limitless. I would also like to add that before the performance of the Barber began, Maestro Golan announced that Buswell had been his violin teacher at the New England Conservatory. That knowledge filled in the gap, because it seemed that the personal and musical knowledge these two gentlemen shared in the performance, narrowed their connection to Samuel Barber. It was a fine performance.

After the intermission, the DPO performed Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Nr. 5 in E minor, Opus 64. Tchaikovsky had ambivalent feelings about this symphony, certainly after it was performed, but also while it was being written in 1888. When he conducted the work in Prague, he labeled it a failure. But shortly after, he stated that he “… liked it much better now.” This Symphony is unified by a six measure motive that appears in all the movements, and many listeners and critics found the reiteration of this theme to be annoying, resulting in an overblown effect. And I think that it can certainly be said that Tchaikovsky did not find the symphonic form as satisfying or as friendly as ballet, or even opera.

The Denver Philharmonic Orchestra performed well in this symphony, but seemed to suffer a little, because their playing did not quite equal their performance of the Barber or the Beethoven. It made me wonder what would happen if they performed a concert with no intermission, which sometimes seems to drain the spark of their excitement. I hasten to point out, however, that there were moments in the Tchaikovsky where the orchestra sounded absolutely terrific. But, even in the first movement, the violins began to go out of tune as did the violas and cellos. The second movement of this work has a marvelous horn solo, and David Wallace performed it very nicely. Different sections of the orchestra seemed to be, alternatively, in and out of tune throughout the entire symphony, with the exception of the woodwinds. They were outstanding for the duration of the entire concert, and in the third movement of the Tchaikovsky, the oboes, Kim Brody and Loren Meaux, were superb. Please be aware that when I say that the orchestra vacillated in its tune, it was not terribly extreme, but it was noticeable. This was still one of the best performances that I have heard the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra give. The second movement of this symphony was done extraordinarily well, because Maestro Golan did not imbue it with the familiar maudlin and weepy quality that seems to say “hard Russian winters have kept old pathos fresh.” He conducted it with a very beautiful and lyric fashion, at a proper andante tempo, which provided it with an excellent, but unhurried forward momentum. It was very much like a slow ballet. The same was true for the third movement, which Tchaikovsky labeled Valse – Allegro moderato. As I was sitting in the audience listening, I thought to myself, “Finally, someone has some insight into this particular Tchaikovsky Symphony.”

I must emphasize how much the violins have improved in this orchestra.

Even though I continually nag about the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra having problems with tune, there is no mistaking their excitement with what they play, and their desire to continually improve. There is no question in my mind that they are the best community orchestra in the state.



Final concert of the season at Lamont: Consistent Excellence

The Season Finale by the Lamont Symphony Orchestra, entitled “Adventures at Sea,” was not only a fitting end to their concert season, it was very well attended as it should have been. Because it was a mix of two orchestral works and one work for chorus and orchestra, it clearly defined the progress that the students have made, not only during the school year, but in their careers as students. The confidence that they demonstrate always changes greatly. And when one performs difficult works as they did on Thursday, May 31, that confidence was clearly noticeable in the way they responded to Maestro Golan and Maestra Sailer. You must understand that these students are so good, and they work so hard when they perform, that sometimes the smallest mistake can be noticeable, but please do not take that as any kind of harsh criticism. This orchestra is so much better than many of the university orchestras in the US that I have heard, let alone most of the community orchestras in the state, that very tiny errors become apparent. I wish some of the community orchestras in Colorado performed to the standard of the Lamont Symphony Orchestra. And the same applies to the Lamont Chorale, Lamont Women’s Chorus, and the Lamont Men’s Choir. These groups are delightful to listen to.

The Lamont Symphony Orchestra opened the program with the overture to The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner. As everyone must know by now, this is the story of a Dutch sea captain who is cursed to sail the earth forever, only coming ashore every seven years to see if he can find the unselfish love of a woman. At the very beginning of this overture, there are open fifths and a tremolo which clearly remind one of Beethoven whom Wagner admired as the ultimate composer. There is a constant juxtaposition of themes: the dramatic Dutchman theme, and a milder, gentler theme which suggests the Dutchman’s liberation and release.

I’ve always admired the tempos that Maestro Golan takes when he performs Wagner with this orchestra. They are always a little quicker than I anticipate, and certainly The Flying Dutchman was taken at a faster tempo than the recording I have of this work, which is done by the Budapest Symphony. I certainly did like Golan’s tempos better, because, in the opening, it gives the French horns more momentum, especially with their hard-driving two-note-phrase that is repeated so often. Against this insistent, almost terror driven theme, the violins have sweeping glissandos, which accurately describe the waves, and the bow wave of the red ghost ship becoming visible through the fog. I know that I have commented on this before, but it is amazing for me to watch these students working so hard on their instruments. None of them sits in his chair, and simply moves his bow arm. Of course, unlike community orchestras, the students are working for a grade, but, nonetheless, they always impress me with the sincerity of their effort. Even in the quieter moments of this overture, the LSO and Golan provided tension. I thought that it was an absolutely marvelous performance, particularly when you consider all of the technical difficulties inherent in this work. It was exciting and it was driven.

After the Wagner, the LSO continued its seafaring theme with a work by American composer, Peter Boyer, entitled Titanic. I will quote very briefly from his website:

“Boyer was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1970, and began composing at the age of 15. His first major composition was a large-scale Requiem Mass in memory of his grandmother, composed while only a teenager. He was named to the first All-USA College Academic Team, comprised of “the 20 best and brightest college students in the nation,” by USA TODAY in 1990. Boyer received his Bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College, which awarded him an honorary Doctor of Music degree in 2004. He received Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from The Hartt School of the University of Hartford, which named him its 2002 Alumnus of the Year. There his teachers included Larry Alan Smith and Harold Farberman. Following his doctoral work, Boyer studied privately with John Corigliano in New York, then moved to Los Angeles to study film and TV scoring at the USC Thornton School of Music, where his teachers included the late Elmer Bernstein. In 1996, Boyer was appointed to the faculty at Claremont Graduate University, where he holds the Helen M. Smith Chair in Music and the rank of Full Professor.”

Peter Boyer is an excellent composer who has a marvelous understanding of orchestration. His ability to orchestrate was certainly demonstrated in Titanic, where he so skillfully uses the strings to create the tension of impending doom. He uses cascading glissandi, which almost seem to be “stacked” on top of each other so that the sound created is almost microtonal. To that, he adds gongs and bells, that truly sound like the voices of fate. As he points out in the program notes, it has been recorded by Titanic survivors that there were at least two pieces performed by the ships orchestra: Alexander’s Ragtime Band, and the hymn, Nearer, my God, to Thee. Hearing these two popular pieces in the middle of the tension really does give the piece a sense of humanness, a startling contrast to the mood that has been set before.

Of his work, Peter Boyer states (and I quote from the program notes):

“The final section of this work contains the most complex music I have ever written, and it was inspired by a specific moment, the ship’s very last. Just before the liner broke in two, so much water had flooded its bow that the steel behemoth literally stood upright in the water, its stern fully elevated a few hundred feet above the water’s surface. (This is recreated with frightening accuracy in James Cameron’s film.) At this moment, all the contents of the ship—from enormous boilers to grand pianos, furniture, china, passengers, luggage—came crashing down atop one another, and for one brief moment, things which were never meant to occupy the same place did just that. This inspired me to attempt the same phenomenon musically, and so all of the musical themes of the work, both original and ‘borrowed,’ return simultaneously in their original keys and tempos, like ‘ghosts’ crashing into one another. One by one, these ‘ghosts’ fade, engulfed by the ‘sea music,’ until it alone remains eternal. An offstage trumpet plays the hymn a final time, like a spectral benediction, and the sea fades to silence.

“The score’s dedication reads: ‘In memory of the 1,517 lives lost in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912.’”

I have not seen the score to this work, but Maestro Golan and the Lamont Symphony Orchestra seemed to play the glissandi with almost scratching noises of the bows on the strings. Mind you, I’m not sure that’s what they did; perhaps I was hearing overtones caused by all of the “stacked” glissandi. But it would be interesting to see if Boyer indicated some kind of special effect aside from just the straight sound of the violins. Wherever that sound came from, it was marvelously effective, for it not only created tension, but it conveyed the sensation of very cold water. It also conveyed a great feeling of tragedy, particularly, when, in the background, Irving Berlin’s famous tune was played. It was interesting to watch the orchestra members, because as the piece progressed, their demeanor seemed to change and become more serious. Clearly, they were being moved by the emotion of the music, and it was very definitely conveyed to the audience. I point out, that this is one of the irreplaceable facets of musical education that these students are learning through Maestro Golan and their other professors: how to convey and portray what the composer wishes. And, learning how to respond precisely to what a conductor wishes. That is one reason this orchestra is so excellent.

I was truly stunned by this work: not only its quality, but the quality of the performance. I know that the orchestra reached the audience in every way possible, because they were extremely attentive, and there was no movement in their seats whatsoever.

Following the intermission, the Lamont Symphony Orchestra was joined onstage by the Lamont Chorale, the Lamont Women’s Chorus, and the Lamont Men’s Chorus, in a performance of Ralph Vaughn Williams’ enormous work, A Sea Symphony. This is a striking work, not only because of its innate beauty, but because it was Vaughn Williams’ first attempt at writing a symphony, and he chose to write this symphony with a large choir in every movement. Throughout his life he was motivated by the poetry of the American, Walt Whitman. In this instance, Vaughn Williams, who was a declared agnostic, used Whitman’s decidedly non-ecclesiastical concept of life’s journey as a sea voyage through all of the uncharted corners of the earth. In the first movement, A Song for All Seas, All Ships, Vaughn Williams outlines the themes which will be used throughout the entire work.

The combined choirs sat behind the orchestra, which is the normal position, but they were so far back from the audience that I was initially a little apprehensive about the projection of their sound. But I must say that that length, plus the closeness of the walls, projected the sound forward almost like it was coming out of the broad end of a funnel to the audience. The sound was fantastic, and, I must say, so was the diction. This work was conducted by Maestra Catherine Sailer, and she is a profound musician, as well as a very good choral conductor. She certainly knows how to coach a choir in diction, and how to get them to use small, but forceful breaths, in order to accent the syllables in the text. That same skill is certainly shared with Maestro Paul Smith who’s Lamont Men’s Choir. I can easily assure you that the words the choir was singing could be understood at least ninety-five percent of the time, and that is excellent, when you consider the size of the choir and the size of the orchestra. The balance between the two was also excellent.

I must say, that I have never seen Maestra Sailer be so emphatic and commanding in her conducting as she was in A Sea Symphony. I left the performance wondering how many times she has conducted this work, for she seemed totally familiar with it, and extremely comfortable and precise in her cues to the orchestra and the soloists (how much of this score did she memorize?). The orchestra followed her every indication, and, as is her customary technique, she used huge sweeping motions to pull the orchestra and the chorus along. She cued the soloists with casual glances in their direction, and it was very effective. Keep in mind, that I am not a conductor, but I was so impressed with her ability to get so many different emotions from not just the orchestra, but from the choir as well, even when one group was anticipating emotions for the other group. The orchestra never covered the choir, nor did the choir ever cover the orchestra, no matter what the dynamic level.

This work is written for soprano and baritone solos. The soprano was Michelle Mendoza, and I have written about her before. She has an absolutely enormous voice that is full of power and emotion. Her voice has a certain transparent quality, which is well-suited for the Vaughn Williams, because it lends a certain innocence to the work. But, I must say, that I was a little disappointed in her diction Thursday evening. It was a difficult sometimes to understand the words that she was singing. This is an unusual criticism because, when I have heard her before this performance, her diction has been excellent. The baritone was Benjamin Wood. He, too, has a huge voice with a quality very close to a heldentenor (heroic tenor). It is the exact quality of voice that Wagner calls for in his operas. Mr. Wood’s diction was well-nigh perfect. So was his phrasing and breath control.

It is always enjoyable hearing the Lamont Symphony, and all of the Lamont choirs, whether they are combined or performing separately. They are so consistent, which, of course, means that as music students, their learning processes are consistent. They are being taught excellence and how to achieve it, which is what they will need if they are to be performers.



Samuel Barber and Jürgens plus Jürgens

The performance given Thursday night, March 8, by the Lamont Symphony Orchestra was, in many ways, a very memorable experience. It marked the debut performance of a new graduate student in Orchestral Conducting, Ms. Breanne Cutler. In addition, it was, at least to my knowledge, the first time that the Lamont Symphony – keep in mind they are students – performed Mahler’s Symphony Nr. 1 in D Major, which has been nicknamed “Titan.” These performances were exciting; there is no question about it. However, for me, the highlight of the evening, and perhaps, one of the highlights of the entire concert season, was watching and listening to the performance given by the Lamont Symphony’s Associate Conductor, Travis Jürgens, and his pianist wife, Kristen Jürgens, in their performance of Samuel Barber’s monumental Piano Concerto, Op. 38.

Maestra Breanne Cutler opened the program conducting Beethoven’s Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus.

Ms. Cutler is now a graduate student studying with Dr. Lawrence Golan at University of Denver’s prestigious Lamont School of Music. The 2011-2012 season will mark the beginning of Breanne Cutler’s position as Apprentice Conductor with the Helena Symphony Orchestra and her mentorship from Maestro Allan R. Scott. A Montana native, she is a graduate of Montana State University- Bozeman where she was the Assistant Conductor of the MSU Symphony. Ms. Cutler is also a noted classical and jazz vocalist. As a vocal major at Montana State University, she studied with Dr. Jon Harney. Along with winning the 26th MSU Concerto and Aria Competition, she has taken 1st place in both the Lower Division in 2008 and Upper Division in 2010 for the Montana state competition of the National Association for Teachers of Singing. Not only is she an active performer, but also a distinguished leader in the collegiate music community. Her term as Montana State CMENC President has just come to an end, where she was the head of the Montana collegiate division for the National Association of Music Education. She has regularly contributed columns to the Montana music education publication, The Cadenza, which is distributed to music educators across the northwest. At Lamont, she teaches undergraduate courses in conducting. Ms. Cutler has also served as assistant conductor for various productions with Bozeman’s Intermountain Opera.

The Creatures of Prometheus, Beethoven’s only ballet, was begun in the summer of 1800. It is interesting to conjecture why the work had been given to Beethoven by Salvatore Vigano, a ballet dancer and choreographer, because Beethoven was relatively unknown at the time. I can well imagine that Beethoven was eager, not only to accept commissions that came his way, but also to try his hand at dramatic music. At any rate, the ballet was an enormous success, and the premier in 1801 was followed by 15 performances the same year. In 1802, it had 13 performances. However, after that, its popularity dwindled because some dancers and choreographers felt that the score was “too learned” for ballet. The overture did retain its popularity, and has been performed on a fairly regular basis ever since. It is interesting to note that one of the full performances of the ballet was attended by Haydn, and he expressed great pleasure with the ballet, even though he had a few critical remarks. The story of the ballet, as most of you surely realize, regards the Greek God Prometheus and his efforts to have the two creatures he has brought to life instructed in the arts.

I must say that Maestra Cutler entered the stage with a good deal of authority, and that she was absolutely beaming with pleasure as she mounted the podium. It is clear that she likes what she does. This overture begins with some widely spaced chords that require sharp attacks. Cutler’s energy and precision were readily apparent, as she raised herself on her toes, and gave the orchestra some very sharp jabs as cues. The orchestra responded with these forte chords with such precision, that several in the audience, who may not have heard the piece before, were taken by surprise and jumped in their seats. And really, Cutler’s ability at communication, even though she has had conducting experience before she came to Lamont, gave the entire audience a predilection for the style of her conducting. It is energetic and demanding, and it is clear that she knew precisely what she wanted, and was not going to be shy about demanding it from the orchestra. In the performance of this piece, it seemed to me that the outstanding section of the orchestra was the violin section which sounded quite good all the way through the piece. Ms. Cutler did give one late cue which resulted in the woodwinds not together with the strings, but a few beats later everything was back to the way it should have been. And, I must say, that if this performance had been my debut as a conductor, I would have been a little nervous myself. I am most sure that the funny cue resulted from nerves not from inability to conduct, and it was very good to see that the orchestra was doing their best for her, because after all, they are comrades. I, for one, think this was an outstanding debut of a young conductor who shows a great deal of intelligence and composure on the podium. It will be very interesting to watch her develop as she proceeds through the program at the Lamont School. And yes, it was excellent Beethoven.

The Barber Piano Concerto, Op. 38, was the next work performed on Thursday evening’s performance. This Concerto, commissioned by Barber’s publisher, G. Schirmer, for their 100th anniversary, is one of the most important pieces of the 20th century. I am constantly surprised that in spite of its eminence, its beauty, and its incredible difficulty, that it is not mentioned in many books whose main topic is piano literature. This is doubly surprising, because Samuel Barber was known as a very gifted composer which was evident from the very start of his career. His First Symphony, Op. 9, was written when he was 26. The Concerto was commissioned in 1959, and Barber began working on it in March of 1960. However, his work on the piece was partially delayed by a period of depression following the death of his sister. Barber worked very closely with John Browning (Browning was Barber’s favorite pianist at the time, and was one of three American pianists including Rosalyn Turek and Byron Janis, who achieved great prominence in the world as pianists, and whose study was accomplished in the United States without attending any of the great European conservatories.)

Barber engages in a little self-plagiarism in this work, for he elaborates and orchestrates themes from his Elegy for Flute and Piano, which was written in 1959. But even so, there is no question that he shaped this work around his own style, and the incredible technical ability possessed by the pianist John Browning. In fact, one of the reasons this work is seldom performed live, is because of its extreme difficulty.

The performance of the Barber Concerto was conducted by Maestro Travis Jürgens with his wife, Kristen Jürgens, performing on the piano. Ms. Jürgens was the winner of the 2012 Lamont Solo Honors Competition. And it is a small wonder. She is an absolutely amazing pianist. According to the program notes, she has been a pianist since the age of four. She graduated with High Distinction from the world renowned Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, where she received her Bachelor of Music and Piano Performance. While there, she studied with Edward Auer and Luba-Edlina Dubinsky, of the distinguished Borodin Trio. She has also studied Philosophy of Music at St. Peter’s College, at Oxford University. She is now a graduate student studying with Alice Rybak for her master’s degree in Piano Performance.

I have written about Travis Jürgens in other articles, but to refresh your memory, I will quote from his website:

Travis Jürgens is currently the Music Director and Conductor of the Philharmonia of Greater Kansas City, and the Associate Conductor of the Lamont Symphony Orchestra and Opera Theatre in Denver. In 2011, Jürgens received 2nd place from The American Prize in Orchestral Conducting.

Jürgens has performed in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Musicians who have played under his baton have commented on his exceptional talent, dynamic musicianship, imagination, and strong leadership. He has conducted the Denver Philharmonic, Bohuslav Martinu Philhamonic, Illinois Valley Symphony, Rose City Chamber Orchestra, South Carolina Philharmonic, and musicians from the Orquestra de Cadaqués. He earned his Bachelor’s in Piano Performance with High Distinction from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and his Master’s in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Illinois. Additionally, he studied at the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien and the Institut für Europäishe Studien in Vienna, Austria. He also made his Viennese debut as guest conductor of the IES Vienna Chamber Orchestra.

This was a truly remarkable performance of the Barber Concerto. It was remarkable because both the conductor and the pianist are already outstanding artists. It was also remarkable, because they are husband and wife, and it is a very moving experience to see them perform together, especially when they are of such even musicianship. The Barber Concerto, for both orchestra and piano, is one of the most difficult. I have never performed this concerto, but I have performed two Prokofiev concertos, and I honestly believe that the Barber exceeds the Prokofiev in difficulty. From the outset Ms. Jürgens demonstrated a great deal of forcefulness. By that, I mean that she sat down at the piano and truly took charge with her astonishing finger work that was always very clear and very articulate. One of the aspects of this Concerto is difficult rhythms with demanding accents throughout the entire work, her accents were perfect and even in the most difficult rhythmic spots, her tone was scintillating, yet rich. And, of course, Maestro Jürgens conducting was above reproach. I must also say that the orchestra seemed to be enjoying this partnership between conductor- pianist-husband-wife, because it is been some time since I have seen the Lamont Symphony (they always work very hard) work so hard at making music and responding to what the conductor demands. There are so many words that typify this performance: exciting, passionate throughout, lyrical, and beautiful. And every note could be heard. It was also a pleasure to watch Ms. Jürgens play, because there were no extraneous theatrical movements. She simply sat at the piano and got to work. In truth, I would challenge anyone to make theatrical movements while playing this piece, because I simply don’t think they would have the time.

I truly enjoyed the second movement, because it gives the pianist and the orchestra a chance to blossom in the incredible lyrical sections that must sound so expansive. I assure you that Kristen Jürgens performed it just that way. I could not help but think of the words that I believe come from Omar Khayyám: “Ephemeral light, ephemeral life!” The two Jürgens made such incredible music – both seemed very comfortable in their roles, and very assured.

The last movement, which is so full of rhythmic difficulties, demonstrated the thorough knowledge and understanding that both of these musicians possess. In a piece like this it is not enough to simply memorize: it must be conceived in the mind in order to bring it to life. Both of these musicians have that ability. They are outstanding: Kristen Jürgens has amazing technique and amazing ability to concentrate with ease. Their ability to communicate with each other as they performed was so incredibly personal, and full of knowledge as to what the other was going to do. It truly became a musical conversation between piano and orchestra, for all the questions were answered and all statements were in agreement. It was an electrifying performance because both are such superior musicians. They are of graduate student age, but in this instance, age has nothing to do with ability. These two are excellent musicians, and one wonders where their artistic ability will take them.

Following the Barber Concerto, Maestro Lawrence Golan conducted the Mahler Symphony Nr. 1 in D Major. This is an absolutely enormous piece of music that, like the Barber, is extremely difficult. This symphony is known to all regular concert audiences, so I will not go into great detail about its history. In the performance of this piece, Lawrence Golan easily demonstrated what a partnership there was between him and the Lamont Symphony Orchestra, which obviously admires and respects him. I mention that because it is so necessary for orchestra members to have some sense of symbiosis with their conductor, and it is most noticeable when that does not exist.

The pastorale opening of the first movement with all the bird calls and distant fanfares was absolutely beautiful as it develops into a standard sonata form. There were moments in this first movement that seemed absolutely mysterious, and I am not sure at all that I have heard the Lamont Symphony change their mood, which they created with such depth, so easily and quickly. That, again, is a demonstration of Golan’s ability to motivate the students. The second movement was lusty and full of vigor with a slower trio section which was incredibly lyrical and graceful. It was a pleasure to sit and listen for a while without taking any notes on the performance. I was once again struck by the fact that this was a student orchestra performing a Mahler symphony. If any of you readers are orchestra members or professional musicians, you will understand what I mean. Performing a Mahler symphony is not at all like playing an early Mozart or an early Haydn symphony. While those works are gems that will live forever, the Mahler is fraught with rhythmic difficulties, changes of tempo, and harmonies which can be difficult because they require excellent tune and attention to sound. It is hard work to play the notes, and to make those notes beautiful.

I have written about this Symphony before, and every time I hear it, I become divided in my thoughts about the third movement. Mahler uses the French folk song, Frère Jacques, in a minor key, slows the tempo, and changes it to a funeral march. Its motivation was a woodcut depicting animals carrying a hunter to his grave. Its tone is one of deadly seriousness, and yet its irony almost overcomes that seriousness. I have often wondered if Mahler wasn’t inserting his own brand of humor in this very serious symphony, but I have been assured by Mahler-ites that he never laughed much during his entire life, and this certainly was not the spot. Nonetheless, the orchestra performed it beautifully, with great solemnity, and yet with a certain lightness that did not bog things down.

The last movement had some fine lyricism which belied the difficulties of the work. The brass section in the performance of this symphony was outstanding, and considering the difficulties of this work, and considering that these are students still in the learning process, this was a remarkable performance.

The Lamont Symphony Orchestra members are very fortunate to have Maestro Lawrence Golan show them Mahler and lead them through the learning process of such a difficult work so that they perform it truly well. As they received their well-deserved applause, one could observe how tired some of the orchestra members looked, and yet, sense the pleasure they felt in their performance. I am sure that made it very satisfying for the audience as well.

Some of you readers may consider that this review is overly complementary. I assure you that it is not. Every superlative was well deserved. Every performance has spots where the performers wish they could have done better. But the ultimate goal was most certainly achieved: they made music worth listening to.



The Phoenix Youth Symphony and The Lamont Symphony give students a unique gift

It has been a very long time since I have heard Also Sprach Zarathustra in a live performance, and all the way through, so I was quite interested to hear the Lamont Symphony Orchestra perform this work on Sunday, January 15. In addition, it was to be the yearly performance with the Phoenix Youth Symphony, which means that the orchestra would be absolutely enormous. I haven’t heard the Phoenix Youth Symphony since they performed The Planets by the English composer, Gustav Holtz, and that was in 2010.

The Phoenix Youth Symphony has a new conductor, Maestro Keitaro Harada, and I will briefly quote from his website:

“Keitaro Harada is increasingly recognized as a conducting luminary of the next generation. A student of Lorin Maazel at Castleton Festival and recipient of the Seiji Ozawa Conducting Fellowship at Tanglewood Music Festival, Harada’s credentials are exemplary. At Tanglewood he assisted Christoph von Dohnanyi in the production of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos and conducted the closing performance garnering this praise from The Boston Musical Intelligencer: ‘perfect timing, dramatic dynamics, and unerring coordination of the musical stagecraft.’ And, this review from Opera News: ‘For the third and final performance of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos … rising young Japanese conductor Keitaro Harada, a student in the TMC program, got his turn to lead the forces prepared by Christoph von Dohnányi. Harada’s command of the score was total, from the uncommonly beautiful legato and sweep of the opening orchestral phrases, hinting at the inspired, ecstatic melodies created by the character known as the Composer, to the carefully controlled climaxes of the final duet, in which Ariadne and Bacchus join in uncomprehending ecstasy.’

“Harada is currently the Principal Guest Conductor for the Sierra Vista Symphony Orchestra, Assistant Conductor for Arizona Opera and Music Director for Phoenix Youth Symphony, an organization internationally recognized as one of the premiere youth orchestras in the United States. He previously served as Conductor of Arizona Symphony, UA Philharmonic Orchestra, and Mercer/Macon Symphony Youth Orchestra, and Assistant Conductor of the Tucson Symphony and Macon Symphony Orchestras.”

The Phoenix Youth Symphony performed first, Sunday, playing the Sleeping Beauty: Suite, Opus 66a, by Tchaikovsky. After the Tchaikovsky, they joined with the Lamont Symphony Orchestra and performed the Strauss Also Sprach Zarathustra.

Maestro Harada introduced the orchestra to the audience (which were far too few), then turned to his orchestra and began the Tchaikovsky. It has been a very long time since I have seen such an animated conductor on the podium. In addition, his movements were very angular and very sharp, but nonetheless, he was able to guide the orchestra through the flowing phrases of this ballet suite.

Keep in mind that this orchestra is comprised of high school students, so the Tchaikovsky couldn’t have been all that easy for them, even though they are one of the best youth orchestras in the United States. They’re playing was very impressive, and their woodwind section was outstanding. In addition, there was some fine work from the harp, which I could not see from where I was sitting.

As I listened to this excellent young orchestra, I wondered how many of them will go on to become professional musicians. All of them were working very hard, and were truly concerned with making music. Occasionally, an individual member’s enthusiasm would get the better of him, and there would be an incorrect dynamic or an incorrect entrance. Nonetheless, it was very enjoyable to listen to, and it was also quite enjoyable watching these young people play their hearts out.

Maestro Lawrence Golan then led the combined Lamont Symphony Orchestra and the Phoenix Youth Orchestra in the performance of Richard Strauss’ well-known Also Sprach Zarathustra. Except, is it really well known? Everyone knows the introduction, because it is that which was used in Stanley Kubrick’s famous movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. But how many of you readers have heard it all the way through? I have spoken to many students who were unaware that this was a tone poem that contains such wonderfully beautiful music. Therefore, I applaud the choice of this piece of music for I think the students learned a great deal from it.

On the chance that some of you readers may be from Phoenix, and therefore a little unfamiliar with Dr. Lawrence Golan, I will quote from his website:

“Lawrence Golan is currently in his second season as the Helen N. Jewett Music Director of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra, central Washington’s premier professional orchestra. During his highly successful inaugural season, Golan helped to dramatically raise the artistic level of the orchestra. In addition, he spearheaded efforts to grow the organization financially as well. In just one year, the YSO increased its budget by 27%, its concert season by 33%, its private donations by 23%, its total ticket revenue by 39%, and single ticket sales more than doubled. Golan and the YSO also won an ASCAP Award for the Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music. Golan’s appointment in Yakima comes on the heels of an equally successful four-year term as Resident Conductor of The Phoenix Symphony. That orchestra’s President and CEO Maryellen Gleason stated that Lawrence Golan was ‘unequivocally the best Resident Conductor The Phoenix Symphony ever had.’ Music Director Michael Christie said that Golan ‘is a programmer of virtually unprecedented creativity and scope.’ Several of the concerts that Golan programmed, conducted and narrated with The Phoenix Symphony turned out to be the most financially successful and well-attended performances in the history of the orchestra, completely selling out triple concert sets in a 2200-seat hall. Golan continues to guest conduct professional orchestras, opera, and ballet companies in the United States and around the world. Having conducted in 25 U.S. states and 15 countries, recent engagements include performances in Boulder, Macon, Memphis, and Tucson as well as the Czech Republic, Italy, Korea, and Taiwan.

“Following in the footsteps of his father Joseph Golan, longtime Principal Second Violinist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lawrence Golan is also an accomplished violinist. He was Concertmaster of the Portland Symphony Orchestra for eleven years, has appeared as soloist with numerous orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony, and has made several commercially available recordings as a violinist. His recording entitled Indian Summer: The Music of George Perlman, is treasured by young violin students and their teachers and is regarded as a very helpful and inspiring pedagogical aide.”

Before I continue with this review, you must understand that the Phoenix Youth Symphony arrived in Denver on Saturday, January 14. That means, that since this performance was given on the 15th, there was one day for these two orchestras to merge and have some rehearsal time. Think of that. The Strauss work is very difficult, to say the least, and here, you have a youth orchestra and a university orchestra trying to work out all of the difficulties caused by the merger (the logistics are mind-boggling) in one day. I think that everyone involved, in any way with this concert, deserves a lot of praise.

There is a world of difference (and why shouldn’t there be) between Maestro Harada and Maestro Golan. Golan’s movements, in comparison to Harada’s, are smooth and almost liquid. When I make such a statement, please understand that I’m not criticizing either conductor, I am simply describing the difference between the two. It must be interesting, to say the least, to conduct an orchestra with such mixed abilities and experience. However, Maestro Golan did it, and it is my opinion that he did it extremely well. It was amazing to sit in the audience, in the seventh row, and watch this entire orchestra work so very hard and be so incredibly moved by the music and the fact that they were giving birth to it. You must understand that some of the students in this orchestra, and they were all students, had never played in such a large ensemble, and I am certain, that some of them had never played a piece of music similar to the Strauss. Any musician, who is rewarded by teaching, will tell you that one of those rewards is seeing the students moved by the music itself. Were there mistakes in this performance? Yes, but you must not hold it against any of these performers, especially when you consider their age, and the lack of rehearsal time. Was the performance exciting? Yes, without a doubt, it was. It is very gratifying to see young students so tremendously moved by the power of the music, and there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that these students were. They were also trying as hard as they could to make this a successful performance. In spite of the mistakes, it was a successful performance, because it was clear that the students were having a marvelous learning experience.



The new Lamont Symphony season

The University of Denver’s Lamont Symphony Orchestra has several interesting programs this season, as well as several interesting performers and conductors. This season we will get to hear the seldom performed work by Vaughn Williams entitled the Sea Symphony, which is written for orchestra and chorus. I encourage all of you to come to this particular performance because this is an absolutely beautiful piece of music. This work will be conducted by Catherine Sailer. We will also get to hear Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s pictures at an exhibition. This is a great piece, but I do wish pianists would not seem to be so fearful of it, and perform the original version on the keyboard. Actually, the original version was done for two pianos, and then Mussorgsky’s rewrote it for one piano. It sounds just as perfect on the keyboard as Ravel’s orchestration.

We will also get to hear program conducted by Rin Jong Yang, Travis Jürgens, and Breanne Cutler. In addition, we will hear David Wetherill perform the Mozart horn Concerto on a Natural Horn, that is to say, a French horn with no valves (or keys).

The season schedule follows:

Fall 2011

October 11, 7:30 pm

Opening Night with David Wetherill, former Principal Horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra
Strauss: Overture to Die Fledermaus, Travis Jürgens, Conductor
Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 3, David Wetherill, Natural Horn
R. Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1, David Wetherill, Horn
Sibelius: Symphony No. 5
 
David Wetherill, long-time first-horn player with the Philadelphia Orchestra, began his professional career as Principal Horn with the renowned opera house, “Teatro alla Scala” in Milan, Italy, playing the greatest operas with the finest singers and conductors in the world. In 1976, Pierre Boulez asked Mr. Wetherill to come to Paris to work with the “Ensemble InterContemporain,” as a founding member of that cutting-edge chamber orchestra. During this period, he performed literally dozens of premieres by the leading contemporary composers of the day, including Berio, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Boulez, and Messiaen. At the invitation of Maestro Eugene Ormandy, Mr. Wetherill returned to Philadelphia, where he played for nearly 30 years. Now retired from full time performing, he is active with teaching and conducting, and occasionally performing on the horn if the stars line up properly. Mr. Wetherill is the Associate Conductor of the Lower Merion Symphony, where he conducts regularly. He also has conducted the Orchestra Society of Philadelphia.

November 3-5, 7:30 pm & November 6, 2:30 pm

Fall Opera
Gounod: Faust
 
November 17, 7:30 pm

Travis Jürgens, Artist Diploma Recital
Mozart: Overture to Le nozze di Figaro
Copland: Appalachian Spring Suite (Original 13 Instrument Version)
Handel: Overture to Solomon
Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Steven Mayer, Piano
 
Travis Jürgens has performed in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Musicians who have played under his baton have commented on his exceptional talent, dynamic musicianship, imagination, and strong leadership. He earned his Bachelor’s in Piano Performance with High Distinction from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and his Master’s in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Illinois. Additionally, he studied at the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien and the Institut für Europäishe Studien in Vienna, Austria. He also made his Viennese debut as guest conductor of the IES Vienna Chamber Orchestra.

He has served as Graduate Assistant Conductor and General Manager of the University of Illinois Philharmonia Orchestra, and as a cover conductor for the University of Illinois Orchestras. He was also the Assistant Conductor for the University of Illinois Opera Theater production of Hansel and Gretel by Neely Bruce. While in Illinois, he founded the United Orchestra of Urbana.

The soloist, Steven Mayer, is Professor of Piano at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College of Music. He has served as Visiting Lecturer in Piano at UCLA, Professor of Piano at the Manhattan School of Music, and is currently Associate Professor with Tenure at University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music.

Winter 2012

January 15, 3:00 pm

Side-by-Side with the Phoenix Youth Symphony
Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra
 
February 9, 7:30 pm

Rin Jong Yang, Guest Conductor
Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D Major
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition
 
Maestro Rin-Jong Yang, one of the most prominent conductors of South Korea, has extensive experience conducting orchestras in various countries and has a vast repertoire ranging from Baroque music to contemporary music.

He was Visiting Professor at the University of British Columbia and Professor of Yeungnam University. In Korea he conducted the Suwon Philharmonic Orchestra for seven and half years. Internationally he has been Guest Conductor of Brasov Philharmonic conducting festival programs of Brahms, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky. In addition, he has been the guest conductor of orchestras throughout Russia, Jerusalem, and South America. As a Professional Violinist and Violist, Dr. Yang has performed at Carnegie Hall with Pianist Raymond Dudley, Suntory Hall in Japan, and Third International Viola D’Amore Congress.

March 8. 7:30 pm

Titans!
Beethoven: Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, Breanne Cutler, Conductor
Concerto TBD (DU Honors Competition Winner)
Mahler: Symphony No. 1 “Titan”
 
The 2011-2012 season will be the beginning of Breanne Cutler’s position as Apprentice Conductor with the Helena Symphony Orchestra and her mentorship from Maestro Allan R. Scott. A Montana native, she has recently graduated from Montana State University- Bozeman where she was the Assistant Conductor of the MSU Symphony.  She is now a graduate student studying with Dr. Lawrence Golan at University of Denver’s prestigious Lamont School of Music.  There, she is the Assistant Conductor of the Lamont Symphony Orchestra while she pursues a Master of Music in Orchestral Conducting.

Ms. Cutler is also a noted classical and jazz vocalist.  As a vocal major at Montana State University, she studied with Dr. Jon Harney. Along with winning the 26th MSU Concerto and Aria Competition she has taken 1st place in both the Lower Division in 2008 and Upper Division in 2010 for the Montana state competition of the National Association for Teachers of Singing.
She received the Lamont School of Music Endowed Scholarship for her pursuit of graduate study.    This past spring, she graduated with honors with her Bachelor of Music Education from MSU.

Spring 2012

April 19-21, 7:30 pm & April 22, 2:30 pm

Spring Opera
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro
 
May 1, 7:30 pm

New Music Concert, Breanne Cutler, Conductor
 
May 31, 7:30 pm

Season Finale with the Lamont Chorale, Women’s Chorus, and Men’s Choir
Adventures at Sea
Wagner: Overture to The Flying Dutchman, Travis Jürgens, Conductor
Boyer: Titanic 1997, Colorado premiere
Vaughan-Williams: Symphony No. 1, “A Sea Symphony,” Catherine Sailer, Conductor

 



Lamont Symphony Orchestra and Choirs: A fitting tribute to Dircetor Joseph Docksey

Thursday night, May 26, Gates Hall was absolutely jammed. There was an enormous line for those waiting to get tickets, who, like myself, did not have the presence of mind to get a ticket in advance. This was the Season Finale of the Lamont School of Music, a concert dedicated to Director Joseph Docksey, who is retiring in July after 34 years of commitment to the University of Denver and the Lamont School of Music. The fact that Gates Hall was completely full, with people standing around the edges, at least in the balcony level, speaks volumes about his impact on the University. If it were not for him, there would be no Newman Center most likely, and I am sure that the faculty would not be so excellent. You must understand that it is rare for a Director of Music to hold the position for such a long time. The fact that Joe Docksey did, is ample evidence of what he accomplished for the University and the Lamont School of Music, and the trust and admiration that was given him by his faculty and his superiors. 

This concert was given by the Lamont Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Lawrence Golan; the Lamont Chorale and Lamont Women’s Chorus, conducted by Dr. Catherine Sailer; the Lamont Men’s Choir, conducted by Paul Smith; the Arizona State University Chorale, conducted by Dr. Gregory Gentry; and the Young Voices of Colorado, conducted by Jena Dickey. 

There were two works on the program, the first, Jericho, written by American composer, Jesse Ayres, born in 1951, who has been performed in Japan,New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, and over 100 U.S. cities, and has twice been selected to represent the United States at the ISCM World Music Days. His awards include a MacDowell Fellowship, an Individual Creativity Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, annual awards from ASCAP, and grants from Meet the Composer and the American Music Center. He is Professor of Music at Malone University in Ohio. 

Jericho is a composition for orchestra, choir, narrator, and musicians surrounding the audience, and a considerable use of audience participation. The work tells the story of the Battle of Jericho. The audience joined the choir in singing and shouting during the performance, simulating Joshua’s army and the people of Jericho. The narrator in this work was Kenneth Cox, Chairman of the Voice Department at the Lamont School, and frankly I cannot imagine a better choice. Cox has a well-nigh perfect voice. Most of you know that Kenneth Cox received his MM degree from Indiana University. (I don’t know what year he received his degree, but he would have been perfect in the role of Klingsor in Wagner’s Parsifal which the Music School at Indiana produced every Good Friday for 17 years. Unfortunately, a devastating fire wiped out the costumes and scenery for Parsifal, and many other operas, in 1976.) 

At Thursday night’s performance, the moment he began to speak, several people in the audience around me were so startled by the size and power of his voice that they jumped. This was really a very good piece, and I must say that Jesse Ayers, the composer, really knows how to use instrumental sections scattered around the audience. I have heard this kind of composition before, but this was by far the most successful use of what Ayers calls, quite accurately, “surround sound.” His orchestral writing is as excellent as his use of voices, and he is certainly remarkably skilled in his use of percussion. But it certainly says something about his skill in the placement of these instruments. When you consider the fact that each hall where this piece is performed is different, and since Mr. Ayres was present for this performance, I came to the conclusion that he placed the instruments just to suit Gates Hall. The Lamont Symphony, as usual, was superb, and they once again played with incredible excitement and energy. I am always tremendously impressed with Lawrence Golan’s ability to get so much out of student orchestra. In addition, it is very plain what the students think of him and his leadership. They make that known in their response to him and by the smiles on their faces before and after a performance. Yes, occasionally, there is a fuzzy entrance, but I still am forced to compare this orchestra to my old alma mater, Indiana University, which has, of course, one of the finest symphony orchestras of any music school in the world. 

The second work on the program was the Carmina Burana, composed in 1936 by Carl Orff. As soon as it was written, this composition became a  famous piece to be included in concert repertoire. It has also been used, especially the opening poem of the 24 (the 25th is a repeat of the first poem) in several films made in the US and Europe. As most of you know, Carmina Burana is a collection of poems which were found in 1803 in a Bavarian Benedictine monastery. The poems are from all overEurope, and modern research has still not identified, and might never identify, the person who collected them or how they arrived at this particular monastery. The poems themselves encompass topics on morals, drinking, and love, with the love poems being far more numerous than the other two categories. 

The presentation of this work was another masterful combination of resources, similar to the Lamont School’s concert of The Planets, which was done in January of last year. The Arizona State University Chorale, conducted by Gregory Gentry, was the guest choir at Thursday’s concert. They were augmented by the Lamont Chorale, the Lamont Women’s Chorus, both under the direction of Dr. Catherine Sailer, and the Lamont Men’s Choir under the direction of Paul Smith. In addition, the Young Voices of Colorado were used in the chorus and conducted and prepared by Jena Dickey. I would like to make it clear that this very large choir bore the imprint of all four of these choir conductors, even though Maestro Lawrence Golan conducted the concert. Maestros Sailer, Smith, Dickey, and Gentry had to prepare these choirs, and I point out that that takes a lot of time and preparation, of course. Diction in such a large choir is always a problem, but in Thursday night’s performance, while I could not understand every single word, I understood most. There must have been at least a small amount of teeth gnashing to get this choir together when it was finally assembled. 

Ellen Leslie, soprano; Hunter Hall, tenor; and Brady Lloyd, baritone were the soloists. All three were quite good, and I could understand all three. Hunter Hall has an amazing high range, and I thought that Brady Lloyd, the baritone, could almost be classified as a Heldentenor. Ellen Leslie has an absolutely beautiful voice, and she gave a very emotional performance. 

I really think the word, emotion, captures the spirit of the entire performance of the Carmina Burana. It is such a terrific experience to see student musicians be so excited about the music they are performing. While their performance was certainly disciplined, they imparted a great sense of spontaneity and excitement about the music. That spontaneity and excitement is abundantly clear to the audience and it has a great effect on how the audience listens and responds to a performance. Gentry, Sailer, Smith, Dickey, and Golan, are all quite gifted at infusing students with enthusiasm and the love for what they do. I was sitting next to a couple of music students in the audience Thursday night, and it was clear that they felt this same excitement as the musicians on stage. That was exciting in itself. 

There was, of course, a very well-deserved standing ovation. It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that Professor Joseph Docksey was absolutely beaming with great appreciation and pride. There is no question that the audience was applauding him with great sincerity as well.



Lawrence Golan and Alice Rybak: The joy of music
April 30, 2011, 3:27 pm
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As part of the Lamont Subscription Concert Series, violinist Dr. Lawrence Golan, and pianist Alice Rybak presented a duo recital last evening, Friday, April 29, in Hamilton Hall at DUs Lamont School of Music. This concert was also a fundraiser for the Lamont Symphony Orchestra. 

This was certainly a unique concert in that the first half of the program consisted of two marvelous violin sonatas: the Sonata in A Major, K. 305, by Mozart, and the Sonata in C Minor, Opus 45, by Grieg. The second half of the program after the intermission were showpieces that, according to the program, were to be announced from the stage. In this instance, do not think of show pieces as being exclusively from Broadway shows or musical theater. Show pieces, in this instance, meant pieces that were “showy” because of the virtuosity demanded from the performers, either technically or musically. And yes, virtuosity does encompass musicality, not just technical flash and daring. 

Golan and Rybak opened the program with the Mozart, K. 305, which Mozart completed at the end of 1778 while he was in Mannheim. This is a delightful work of only two movements, the second of which, is a theme and variations. This sonata is very different from his other A major Sonata, K. 526, which is a very serious work, and often considered to be Mozart’s best sonata for violin and piano. Straight away, it was clear that both Golan and Rybak were able to infuse this sonata with a great deal of Viennese charm. I have heard this sonata performed many times, and often the performers do not take the repeat of the exposition section (and why not, for this is not a huge work), but certainly, Golan and Rybak did. Golan’s performances are always very interesting to watch, and, of course, quite remarkable to listen to. He simply stands on stage and plays with great assuredness and conviction. There is none of the extraneous motions say, that Joshua Bell might make. In this sonata, he played with a light airiness that fit the piece beautifully. Always on pitch, always with perfect tone no matter what the dynamic level, his love for the music comes across instantly. Musically, Ms. Rybak’s playing was gorgeous as well. Her use of the pedal is exceptional, and she is not “afraid” of all the minute periods of silence that occur in Mozart’s writing. Her portato notes (portato notes are notes that are longer than staccato but shorter than legato) were all of equal length. And, I still feel it necessary to remind some of the audience members that Alice Rybak is not an accompanist. This was a collaboration between the two artists that were on stage. Both piano and violin parts are equal: again, the pianist does not accompany. The pianist is an equal partner. I bring this up, because some individuals at the reception following the performance were overheard to say, “Alice Rybak has always been a good accompanist.” 

The second movement of this sonata is a wonderful theme and variations. There are many examples in this movement of Mozart’s charming (again, that is the only word that fits) question-and-answer interchange that goes on between the violinist and the pianist. Each “question” and each “answer” had the same phrasing and the same delicate balance. Of course, one can easily say, “Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” but that does not make it any less delightful to hear. 

The Grieg Sonata in C minor, Opus 45, is a huge Sonata, especially compared to his first two sonatas for violin and piano which were written in a matter of weeks. The C minor Sonata was begun in 1886 and completed in 1887. It was premiered on December 10, 1887, with Grieg at the piano and Adolph Brodsky playing the violin. Almost immediately all of the other violinists of the generation were performing this piece, and one of my favorite recordings of the Sonata is with Fritz Kreisler and Sergei Rachmaninoff. 

To my way of thinking, the opening of this is very symphonic because it is so expansive and so incredibly passionate. And that is exactly the way, Golan and Rybak performed it, both producing an incredibly rich sound. It was difficult, in the first movement, for me to concentrate on taking notes so that I could write this review, because listening to what was going on between these two musicians was so terrific. The first movement is not at all like the second movement where the violin and piano seemed to go their own way and not rely so much on each other. The second movement has a remarkable opening in the piano, and the opening key of E major is a startling contrast to the C minor of the first movement. But again, I was struck by the “comradeship” exhibited by Golan and Rybak, not because it was in existence, but because it was so natural and constant. Certainly, Alice Rybak kept a close eye on Lawrence Golan, but again, there was no theatrical motion made by either musician. They simply made beautiful music, and in the case of the second movement, they were more or less on their own, because Grieg did not write in any “dialogue” between the two instruments. On occasion, this can make it a little more difficult for each musician. But Golan and Rybak simply went about the task of making gorgeous music. 

The last movement of this sonata has the architectural form of ABAB-coda, which some individuals have said is really a Sonata Allegro form without the development section. Just between you and me, I think that’s nonsense. Why not just call it what it is: ABAB-coda (for those of you who may not be quite sure what a coda it is, think of it as a closing section built upon thematic material that has previously been heard. In Italian, coda means tail). Again, what was most noticeable to me about the playing of this piece was the richness of tone and the incredible passion that both musicians gave this work. Each in their own way, seemed to fulfill the incessant rhythmic drive that the last movement of this sonata has. I must say that it seemed that this sonata meant something entirely different to each of the musicians on stage, and while each held their own deeply personal conception of this piece, they both produced a wonderfully memorable performance. Keep in mind that Alice Rybak has 88 keys with which to deal, and one can see how she shapes each phrase with her hands, or gives more weight to her hands from her shoulders in order to maintain tone. Even though Golan is almost motionless as he plays, one cannot escape the difficulty of this piece, and his concern with phrase endings and difficult fingerings. 

The second half of the program was as terrific as the first half, and I must say that it took a great deal of confidence to present the second half of the program and the way that Rybak and Golan did. The program actually said that the second half would be showpieces to be announced from the stage. And again, I’m quite sure what they meant by showpieces was technically difficult pieces, and not show tunes. At any rate, Dr. Golan explained to the audience that they had several genres in mind such as works in the Viennese style, Latin style, Broadway melodies, works composed by Golan, etc., and they would take requests from the audience for each genre. 

The first piece on this half of the program was from the movie Fiddler on the Roof used during the opening credits, and was originally performed by the late Isaac Stern. The original music was compsed by Jerry Bock with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. The version used by Golan and Rybak was an arrangement by John Williams. Among the following pieces performed was Fantasia, a work composed by Golan which is full of double stops and technical intricacies. Golan, of course, makes all of this looks very easy. It isn’t. As I have said before, Golan always has a distinct musical goal not only in what he plays but in what he composes and, by the way, this work is available on a recording on the Entrata label. The next request from the audience was Latin music so Golan and Rybak performed a very well known tango, which is translated as Corn on the Cobb. It was written and dedicated (as I recall Golan explaining) to a club in Argentina. 

Performed next were three works by Fritz Kreisler, Liebesfreud, Liebesleid, and Schon Rosmarin (I think!) which were instantly recognizable to everyone in the audience. Again, these pieces were infused with an incredible Viennese charm. I might add that since performance styles have changed so drastically since these were performed by Fritz Kreisler, that Golan did not scoop his pitches the way Kreisler used to do when he played. He was always squarely on pitch. Then, of course, a member of the audience suggested that he repeat the performance of last Tuesday night of his arrangement of Charlie Daniels’ The Devil Went Down to Georgia. He invited four individuals from the audience to be a “percussion section,” by sitting on the stage and clapping on the offbeat and on the beat. There was a beautiful piece composed by a teacher of his, George Perlman, entitled Indian Summer, which was written for his father Joseph Golan, and premiered by his father when he was eight years old. Golan and Rybak also performed the theme from the movie Schindler’s List, which, of course, is one of the better themes to come out of Hollywood, and is heartrendingly beautiful. They also performed a Chassidish which is full of fireworks and technical difficulties. While the piece was instantly recognizable, I missed the name of the composer, sorry to say. And yes, Golan performed all of these works from memory. 

This was a wonderful program presented by two fine musicians. As a pianist, I have performed the Mozart and the Grieg sonatas on more than one occasion, so I am extremely familiar with both pieces. And it brings me to a point that I will have a tough time making. That is, that while there is no question that Alice Rybak is a superior musician, and while her performance musically was far above reproach, there were many wrong notes. Please understand that every pianist, myself included, has hit wrong notes. However, it seemed that Ms. Rybak was not quite prepared for the performance. Clearly, Golan was. I have heard Rybak before, and her playing has been exquisite in every respect. Did it detract from the overall quality of the recital? Well, that depends on the sophistication of the ears of those in the audience. Those who know these two sonatas intimately may have noticed, especially if they were pianists. The audience at large probably did not notice, but as a fellow musician, I feel that it must be mentioned. I can guarantee you that Ms. Rybak wished to do better.




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