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: Bahman Saless, Beethoven, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, David Korevaar, K. 425, K. 467, Mozart
The Boulder Chamber Orchestra, under the leadership of Maestro Bahman Saless, gave the second performance of their opening season at the Broomfield Auditorium Saturday evening, September 29. David Korevaar, Professor and Chairman of Piano at CU in Boulder, performed the Mozart Piano Concerto, K. 467 in C major, and the Beethoven Rondo in B flat Major. After the intermission, the orchestra performed Mozart’s Symphony Nr. 36 in C Major, K. 425.
This performance was completely fresh in so many ways: the clarity and transparency in the way the BCO performed these classical period pieces was absolutely breathtaking. Their phrasing was meticulous, as were their attacks, which were quite stunning because there were no ill-defined entrances whatsoever. The entire orchestra seemed very excited to get the season underway after all of the rehearsals, and there was a marked vigorousness and uniformity of purpose in the way they played.
Korevaar and Saless opened program with the Beethoven Rondo in B flat Major. Though I have known of this work for several years, this is the first time that I have heard it performed live. There is a certain amount of speculation concerning this piece: some consider that it was probably intended to be a movement for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Nr. 2 in B flat Major (This concerto is really the first of the five piano concertos that Beethoven wrote, but it is called number two because of the order of publication. The Concerto in B flat was published in 1801 by Hoffmeister.) The problem arises from the fact that this Rondo carries no date of completion, but scholars generally agree, based on handwriting analysis, that it was completed by Beethoven, minus the cadenzas. Those seem to have been completed by Carl Czerny. It is interesting to note that a similar situation also involves a Rondo in D, K. 382, by Mozart; however, the Mozart Rondo is performed considerably more often than the Beethoven. I do not know why the Beethoven is so seldom performed, because it is an absolutely delightful piece of music.
Korevaar’s performance of this work was as charming as the piece itself. The piece goes very quickly with all kinds of scale-like passages and difficult finger work in the right-hand commented by octaves in the left-hand. Keep in mind that this is an early Beethoven piece, and while it does show Haydn influence, it certainly shows that Beethoven is rapidly developing his own style of composition and keyboard playing. (Beethoven studied with Haydn for a time, but later in his life professed to have learned absolutely nothing from his studies. I have always found that remark rather puzzling.) I was struck from the outset of how comfortable Korevaar seemed to be with the orchestra, and in turn, how comfortable Saless was with Korevaar. There is always give-and-take between soloist and conductor, but these two gentlemen seem to be in complete agreement about how this piece should be performed. I have heard Korevaar perform several times, and I am always struck by the seeming ease of his concentration. It is clear that he is totally at ease when he performs with an orchestra, and keep in mind, that the soloist has to learn the orchestra part in addition to what they must play (in this instance) at the keyboard, because they depend on cues from the orchestra and the conductor. From the outset, I was delighted with the precision exhibited by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. It wasn’t just clean entrances and exits; it was very musical precision, and it matched what Korevaar was doing at the piano. One can shape a phrase and basically three ways: dynamics, rubato, and inflection of tone. The orchestra was answering Korevaar’s phrasing beautifully, and there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Saless and Korevaar shared the same musical idea of this piece.
Following the Beethoven, the BCO and Korevaar performed the Mozart Piano Concerto Nr. 21 in C Major, K. 467. This is arguably one of Mozart’s most famous Piano Concertos, and it was the first performed during the Lenten season at the Burgtheater on March 10, 1785. One of the most notable aspects of the performance Saturday night was the fact that David Korevaar wrote the cadenzas for this concerto. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with just what a cadenza is: it usually appears in the concerto form at the end of the first, second, or third movements. The orchestra stops playing and the soloist begins to play the cadenza which, in the Classical Period, gave the soloist the opportunity to display his prowess at improvisation. However, many artists chose to write the cadenzas out and then memorize them. The cadenzas are usually based on themes heard in that particular movement, and it certainly gives the soloist a chance to display his virtuosity. Though based on themes from the movement, the rhythm is free, but it usually contains enough strict rhythm so that the origination of the themes can be recognized. In modern times, very few concert artists write their own cadenzas, so it was a special treat to hear fresh cadenzas for this concerto Saturday evening.
Korevaar exposed the full range of expression in all three movements of this concerto. I phrase it in those terms, because this is one of the Mozart piano concertos that has, by some scholars, been referred to as one of the first “symphonic” concertos. The reason for that is, 1) it is written for a large orchestra, and 2) as the program notes stated, “The scope and range of expression exhibited in the C Major Concerto are simply astounding.” I was quite surprised by the tempo that Korevaar and Maestro Saless took in the opening movement. I’m not sure that I have ever heard this first movement played so quickly, but I stress that the tempo fit, and Korevaar had no difficulty demonstrating Mozart’s own ability to play the piano which was one of the reasons that this concerto became so famous. In 1785, Mozart was certainly at the apogee of his success as a pianist. The cadenza was absolutely pure Mozart, and it contained just enough rubato in spots to make it sound like one of Mozart’s opera arias. The second movement of this concerto was the perfect example of the lyricism, transparency, and phrasing that I mentioned in the second paragraph of this article. Every instrument in the orchestra and certainly every section could be heard. Mozart’s skill at creating a soaring melodic line is done through irregularities in the phrasing and unusual (for that time) use of register. It truly seemed as though Korevaar were somehow in communication with Mozart as he performed this movement. The phrasing was superb, and the orchestra and soloist seemed to be in genuine partnership as they were able to sustain a pitch as it was transferred from strings, then to the piano, then to the winds.
Korevaar and Saless took a very fast tempo in the third movement, but again, it fit, and I can guarantee you that nothing musically suffered whatsoever. It was almost a typical Mozart opera buffa in spirit, and there is a remarkable “question and answer” between the piano and the orchestra. Saless was very careful in making sure that the orchestra had exactly the same inflection as the piano. The cadenza to this movement displayed the same character as the movement as a whole, and there was a humorous “false start” which I am sure caught the audience’s attention. The cadenzas that Dr. Korevaar wrote for this concerto were absolutely marvelous and so well conceived that Mozart himself could have written them.
In 1783, Mozart and his new wife, Constanze Weber, left Vienna for Salzburg so that he could introduce his wife to his father. He had hoped to reconcile with his father who did not approve of their marriage, but, unfortunately, the marriage only deepened the split between him and his father. It did, however, give Mozart his final freedom from being led around and displayed as a maturing prodigy. In the Weber family, he found solace and shelter from the growing rift between himself, his father, and his sister. On the way to Salzburg Mozart and his wife, Constanze, stopped in the city of Linz where they stayed with Count Johann Joseph Anton Thun-Hohenstein. In order to return the favor of staying with them, Mozart gave a concert which featured his new Symphony in C Major, K. 425. Since Mozart had not brought a symphony with him on this trip, he had to write this symphony in Linz, and he completed it in four days. Though written in such an unbelievable space of time, this symphony is regarded as Mozart’s finest to this point in his life.
This is the first Mozart Symphony that begins with a slow introduction (something that he borrowed from Haydn, and Haydn borrowed some of Mozart’s lyricism) that is immediately impressive because of its solemnity. Maestro Saless and the orchestra gave this such a serious flavor, that it appeared to be almost Beethoven-ian. Even though the allegro that follows certainly contrasts with the seriousness of the introduction, and even though I’m quite familiar with the symphony, I was on the edge of my seat in expectation. Saless and the orchestra brought out the contrasts that are inherent in this first movement. The contrast of the descending line in measure five of this slow introduction was absolutely something to behold. It was unbelievably sweet and emotional, and yet pure Mozart. The second movement, even though it is in a 6/8 meter, is almost identical to a minuet which is always in a 3/4 meter. However, unlike a minuet, this movement has a pronounced development section which was very subtly outlined by the orchestra and helped emphasize the form. The woodwinds in this movement were spectacular, and helped to give this 6/8 time signature a great deal of grace. When the minuet of the third movement was played, there was no question that we were hearing a minuet, but it emphasized Mozart’s skill in writing similar, but contrasting, themes. The idea of contrasting themes is continued by Mozart in the last movement. He certainly was not the first to use the idea of contrasting themes, but in this symphony they are so pronounced – it is almost as if one is listening to early Beethoven. Maestro Saless and the orchestra gave each of these contrasting themes its own clear character, and it was done in a very easy way that was absolutely perfect and natural.
The “Linz” Symphony is a popular work, as it should be, but it is very refreshing to hear it done in such a wonderfully clear, and, if you will pardon me for using the same word again, transparent way. Everything that the Boulder Chamber Orchestra performed Saturday night was so very clean. The performance was light and airy where it should have been light and airy, and while there were certain portions that were dark, and perhaps a little mysterious, they were never heavy and ponderous. I have written about this orchestra many times, and I have often said that they are remarkably consistent in their improvement from season to season. I have never heard them give a bad performance. Saturday’s performance underscored the fact that we have a great deal to look forward to in the 2012-2113 season. That is exciting.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: .Matt Bentley, Ashley Hoffman, Brock Erickson, Chrysostem Frank, Cynthia Henning, Erik Angerhofer, Gregory Robbins, Haydn, Jennifer Grotpeter, Margaret Gutierrez, Matthew Dane, MB Krueger, Mintze Wu, Mozart, Silver Ainomäe, St. Andrew's Epsicopal Church Choir, Te Deum, The Peak Performances Chamber Series, The Seven Last Words, Timothy Jrueger
I am always surprised when I attend a performance that is exceptional in every way, but there are so few people in the audience to appreciate it. I attended a performance late Saturday afternoon, May 19, at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, that was so outstanding that it took me completely by surprise, even though I have learned to expect great things from the Peak Performances Chamber Series.
Violist, Matthew Dane, founded the Peak Performances Chamber Series, and at this concert performed the Seven Last Words of our Savior on the Cross, Opus 51, by Franz Joseph Haydn. There are nine sections to this work, and they are as follows:
I. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do
II. Today you will be with me in Paradise
III. Behold your son; Behold your mother
IV. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
V. I thirst
VI. It is finished
VII. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit
Haydn received a commission to write this orchestral work by the Bishop, José Saluz de Santamaria who was also the Marquès de Valde-Inigo, at the Cathedral of Cádiz in Spain for the Good Friday services. However, it must be realized that this was not to be performed in the actual Cathedral, but in the grotto Santa Cueva built underground as part of the Parrish of Rosario in 1756. Religious services were held in the grotto. (Hoboken, volume 1, page 845). This bishop asked a friend of his to contact Haydn in Vienna, explaining in detail the religious exercises and the part that the music should have in them. The above sections that are prefaced by Roman numerals were to contain the music, and in between each of those sections the seven words (or sentences) were to have a sermon or discourse delivered upon them. As he finished each discourse, the bishop would leave the pulpit and kneel before the altar in prayer, while the music was being performed. If the performance of this composition was not done in the grotto, then the walls, windows, and pillars of the church proper were to be covered with black cloth so as to darken the room for the solemn ceremony.
Haydn began this composition in 1786 while he was enormously busy conducting opera performances – he conducted 125 performances at Eszterháza in 1786 – in addition to writing three of his “Paris” Symphonies. He finished the Seven Last Words in 1787, and its first performance was on April 8th of that year. We also know that Haydn had difficulty maintaining the ten minute time limit given to him by the bishop, and Haydn asked him if he could exceed that, to which the bishop readily agreed. We also know that Haydn’s friend Abbé Stadler (who was with Haydn at the time of the commissioning) later confirmed the truth of the tradition that Haydn himself considered this “the very finest of all his works.” The orchestral music (a small chamber orchestra, to be sure) was arranged for string quartet by Haydn, and for organ by Michael Haydn, Franz Joseph’s brother, as Franz Joseph Haydn did not play the organ well, but Michael was quite a good performer.
The performers Friday afternoon were, of course, Matthew Dane, Viola; Margaret Soper Gutierrez, violin; MinTze Wu, violin; and Silver Ainomäe, cello. I point out that Mr. Ainomäe was performing this incredibly difficult work for the first time, filling in for Ann Marie Morgan who fell ill just a few days before the performance. Dr. Gregory Robbins gave the discourse in between each of the musical sections of this work. Dr. Robbins is Associate Professor of Christian Origins, a sub–discipline of Religious Studies devoted to the study of the history, language, and literature of early Christianity. He also serves as chair of the Department of Religious Studies. Dr. Robbins received his M. Div. Degree from Yale University and his Ph.D. in Early Church History from Duke University. He has taught at the University of Denver since 1988.
Dr. Robbins’ provided the meditation and illumination of the Seven Last Words, and I have no doubt that his elucidation fit the framework of what Haydn had in mind.
It has been a while since I have heard such an amazingly polished performance. Judging by this group’s desire for artistic excellence, I am sure there were things they wished they could have done better: everyone who performs always wants to give that “perfect” performance. But I assure you, that this was as close to that as I have heard in several years. There was a remarkable dynamic range, and no matter whether they were playing as soft as they could, or a good solid fortissimo, the violins had a wonderfully sweet and mellow sound. I was also struck by how matched everyone’s sound was, and that is the hallmark of a very good ensemble. This is one of the reasons that the old Budapest Quartet was so exceptional, and likewise the Beaux Arts Trio. I could not help but notice that Dane and Ainomäe, even though one is a cellist and the other a violist, were both using the same length of the bow on their portato bowings, and seemed to be using the same amount of effort in the beginning of each phrase. Of course their bowings were together (bowing in the same direction), but their manner of approach was the same. That also applies to the first and second violins. Attacks and releases were remarkably together. If I closed my eyes during this performance, it truly sounded as if one person was playing all four instruments.
All seven of these sonatas (and they are all in the sonata form) are extremely dramatic, and there is no question that these four musicians really understood and felt the drama taking place. This was truly performance cooperation and a shared musical desire, the likes of which I have not seen for some time.
The Peak Performance Chamber Series ensemble closed the program with Mozart’s Te Deum in C Major, K. 141. Chrysostom Frank provided an introduction to this work. He is the Pastor of Saint Elizabeth and SS Cyril and Methodius. He has been the pastor of the community since 2002 and the faculty member at the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary for the Archdiocese of Denver since 1999. He received his M. Div. from the Nashotah House theological seminary and his Ph.D. in Ecclesiastical History from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.
Mozart wrote the Te Deum shortly before he set off on his Italian journeys, and it dates from the end of 1769. This piece really seems to rely on source material from the Te Deum that Michael Haydn wrote in 1760, though it is certainly a Mozart composition, including the double fugue at the end. Members of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Choir joined the Peak Performances Chamber ensemble for the Te Deum. They were sopranos Cynthia Henning and Ashley Hoffman; altos Jennifer Grotpeter and MB Krueger; tenors Matt Bentley and Brock Ericsson; and basses Eric Angerhofer, and Timothy Krueger.
Mozart’s composition is extremely spirited and joyful. It was a terrific way to end the program, and once again, the ensemble was in perfect balance with entrances and phrasing beyond compare. Timothy Krueger, who conducts the St. Andrew’s Choir, has the same musical enthusiasm, dedication, and passion that the Peak Performances Chamber Ensemble possesses.
This was, without a doubt, a world-class performance. It was polished and secure, and as is typical of the Peak Performances Chamber Series and the Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church Choir, very well prepared and professional. And, I assure you, the effort put in by both groups and their “polish” did not detract from the emotional impact of this music. It was a wonderful performance.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Annamaria Karacson, Bahman Saless, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, David Diamond, Gyongyver Patheo, Heinrich Biber, Mozart, Tchaikovsky
This concert season, there have been four or five ensembles that have been consistently excellent, and there is no doubt that the Boulder Chamber Orchestra under the directorship of Maestro Bahman Saless is one of those ensembles. Friday night, February 10, they presented an outstanding program at the Broomfield Auditorium, in which they performed works by Biber, Mozart, Diamond, and Tchaikovsky. The only disappointing aspect of this performance was that the audience attendance was much smaller than it should have been.
The program Friday evening consisted of works for strings only, but I did notice some new faces in the group. The Boulder Chamber Orchestra is so excellent, that it made me wonder what the audition process was like for the new faces. It must be as exciting as it is worrisome.
Maestro Saless opened program with Heinrich Biber’s Baroque tone poem (yes, there is such a thing as a Baroque tone poem) Battalia. Biber (1644 -1704) was a Moravian composer who was born in the eastern half of what is now the Czech Republic. At the time, that area of Europe was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Biber was quite possibly the best violinist of the 17th century, and his virtuosity provided him immense renown throughout all of Europe. He was also a very inventive and highly skilled composer. Perhaps, owing to his periodic isolation as a composer, he felt himself free to experiment with polytonality and special effects on the violin, such col legno. Col legno playing indicates that the performer taps the wooden part of the bow, or its back, against the strings, producing a percussive sound in addition to the pitch. Keep in mind that Biber lived in the Baroque period: this is an astounding example of his forward thinking. As memory serves, the only other composer to use this technique after Biber was Frederic Chopin, who indicates its use it in his Piano Concerto Nr. 2.
Biber’s Battalia is a programmatic piece, hence, tone poem, about a group of soldiers and their trials and tribulations. It is most noticeable for one section, in which the soldiers sing their native folk tunes, all in different keys and all at the same time (some sources say these are marching songs). The result is the aforementioned polytonality, which would not be heard again until the 20th century.
The Boulder Chamber Orchestra performed this piece beautifully with an incredible sense of Baroque clarity, and its originality was displayed simply through the music itself: There was no artificial emphasis whatsoever. Even though this work is written for a small ensemble, it has to be very difficult for the musicians involved. Can you imagine playing eight different folk tunes, all with different rhythms and melodies and keys, all the while staying together (and that means ending together)? It certainly requires some very intense listening to one’s self and to all of the other performers. I must say that the Boulder Chamber Orchestra is very fortunate to have Annamaria Karacson as concertmaster, and Gyongyver Petheo as Principal Second Violin. As the Biber is not written for conductor, these two individuals held the ensemble together, and they’re playing was absolutely superb. That is what comes from extensive experience. It was terrific.
The excellent program notes state that the next work, Mozart’s Divertimento, K. 136, truly has an unknown purpose, and that is accurate. The title, “Divertimento,” is not in Mozart’s handwriting, and in addition, it does not seem to fit the pieces of the day which were used solely for entertainment. Mozart certainly wrote pieces for entertainment; divertimenti, cassation, or nocturne, but the K. 136 shows a wealth of material that the earlier pieces do not display, and as the program notes point out, this seems to be at a time when Mozart (he was sixteen when he wrote the work) was truly developing into the composer that he was to become.
I have heard this work performed live at least twice before Friday evening but it has been quite a while. Friday evening’s performance was absolutely beautiful, and there were many aspects that made it so. The dynamics were absolutely perfect in their unison, and everyone performed this piece as if they were validating the fact that this work is discernible evidence that this young composer was on his way to becoming such an incomparable giant. Throughout the three movements, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra and Maestro Saless displayed such graceful precision in the phrasing and dynamics, let alone, the entrances and phrase endings, that I was left spellbound. This early work demands a certain transparent approach simply because of the way it was written. The Boulder Chamber Orchestra never failed in this. They generated such a warm tone in the slow movement, while maintaining the transparency, that it was quite similar to a pastorale. Maestro Saless has an uncanny ability to pick members of the orchestra who all think alike, or so it seems to me. The third movement of the Mozart is very difficult, but truly, that did not seem to deter the members of this orchestra. The BCO makes it appear, especially since I am not the one doing all the work on stage, that it is the easiest thing in the world to stay absolutely together in difficult passage work. It is not. But, that also displays the level of musicianship inherent in the organization.
The third work on Friday evening’s program was by American composer, David Diamond. I strongly feel that David Diamond is an underrated composer: he is well-known to musicians, but not to the public at large. This is truly a shame, because he belongs to the milieu of composers who survived the upheavals of World War II, and who left their exciting imprint on American music. Like Aaron Copland, he eventually studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, where he met Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel, both of whom, but particularly Ravel, had a profound impact on his writing. He became a prolific composer, and his Rounds for String Orchestra, which was performed Friday evening, became one of his most enduring and endearing works. Listening to this piece of music, one can hear Walter Piston, Howard Hanson, Aaron Copland, and Virgil Thomson, but I assure you that David Diamond has his own voice. Understand that these composers have their own style of composition, yet reflect the influence of all the others, much the way Mozart and Haydn and the Bach sons influenced each other.
I first heard this work when I was an undergraduate student at Indiana University. It was considered to be very avant-garde at the time, and, I really believe, by the conservative frame of mind – at the time – of this particular school. All three movements reflect canonic and fugal devices as the title suggests, but with much use of 20th century harmony. In fact, the second movement reminded me of Aaron Copland, because the harmonies seem to be based on Copland’s use of white key diatonicism (Please excuse me if I do not go into detail concerning white key diatonicism. I will simply say that it involves key signatures and enharmonic equivalence which are taken as points of departure in diatonic-chromatic relationship.).
This is a delightful piece of music, and Maestro Saless and the Orchestra performed it in an incredibly delightful way. Make no mistake about it: it is difficult. But, again, the musicianship of everyone in this orchestra is such that, only occasionally, did they seem to be working hard. It is my hope that this piece will be performed again in a couple of years. Even though it is one of Diamond’s most famous works, David Diamond, himself, is not as well-known as he should be.
The last work on the program really does not need any introduction at all. It was the Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings. When Tchaikovsky wrote this work, he must’ve been in a very “classical” frame of mind because it is in a classical shape, with four contrasting movements, but they really are not contingent upon each other as the movements of a classical symphony are. It has always amazed me that this work, solely for strings, can have such brilliant intensity, whether it is the waltz movement or the passion of the slow movement. It simply displays Tchaikovsky’s ability as a composer.
The Boulder Chamber Orchestra, as I said above, performed this with unbelievable intensity. The phrase endings were immaculate, and the entire first movement had a sense of momentum that I have not heard before in a live performance. As the program notes correctly stated, the second movement could have come from any of Tchaikovsky’s ballets, and it truly seemed to me that everyone in the orchestra had a ballet in mind as they played it: they were not mimicking a ballet, they created one. The viola section was superb in the third movement, and in the fourth movement, the entire orchestra displayed the capability for producing an incredible depth of tone. However, I have come to expect that every time I hear the Boulder Chamber Orchestra perform.
One wonderful aspect of this entire performance was the imaginative programming. There were four incredibly fine pieces of music put together that one simply does not get to hear on a regular basis. For those of us who were in the very sparse audience, it was an evening that will not be easily forgotten.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: César Franck, Christina Jennings, Debussy, Erica Eckert, frank bridge, Lina Bahn, Margaret Soper Gutierrez, Matthew Dane, Mozart, Peak Performances Chamber Series, Ravel, Silver Ainomäe, Thomas Heinrich
Saturday evening, January 14, the Peak Performances Chamber Series performed again at the Saint Andrews Episcopal Church on Glenarm Place. As I have said before, this is an absolutely marvelous venue for chamber music – it is large enough for a decent sized audience, and yet, the surroundings are quite intimate, and the acoustics are excellent.
Matthew Dane and Christina Jennings founded the Peak Performances Chamber Series, and in this, their second performance, the ensemble performed two string sextets. Because of that, we did not get to hear Christina Jennings, who is a flautist, but she will perform next weekend, Saturday, January 21, at Augustana Lutheran Church with guitarist Jonathan Leathwood.
The musicians in Saturday’s performance were founder and violist, Matthew Dane; Lina Bahn, violin; Margaret Soper Gutierrez, violin; Erica Eckert, viola; Silver Ainomäe, cello; and Thomas Heinrich, cello. Of the two sextets that were performed, the first was an arrangement of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364, and the second was the Sextet in E flat Major, by English composer Frank Bridge.
The Mozart was first on the program, and I wish that the German–American musicologist, Alfred Einstein, could have heard it. He often said that he thought the most perfect work ever written was Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik. I think he would have been amazed if he could have heard the performance Saturday evening. Yes, it was an arrangement, but it was enormously well done, and had I not known it was an arrangement, it would have been very easy to believe that that was the original form of the work. Alfred Einstein was certainly aware, I’m sure, that there was an arrangement of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante. Please do not confuse Alfred Einstein with the physicist, Albert Einstein, which is done quite often. As a matter of fact, if you Google Alfred Einstein, you will get pictures of Albert Einstein with Alfred’s name above them. At any rate, Alfred Einstein was a Mozart scholar, and in 1936, published the first major revision of the Köchel Thematic Catalogue of Mozart’s Works. Aside from that monumental task, and writing several books on the history of music, he did spend part of his life demonstrating that he was not related to the physicist Albert Einstein.
As stated above, the individual who arranged the Mozart for string sextet is unknown, but it certainly preserves the expansiveness and the warmness of the original version. It was also quite wonderful watching the performance Saturday night, because once again, Dane and Jennings have put together an ensemble that was matched in ability and in enthusiasm. It was a spellbinding performance that began with an absolutely enormous sound and was very authoritative, and I assure you that this arrangement was full and rich. There was some marvelous divisi writing between each of the cellos and each of the violas that produced the most remarkable textures. I am sure that those in the audience who were familiar with the original K. 364, had a moment of epiphany when the B theme of the first movement was played. As the (well-written) program notes stated, it is quite easy to have the feeling as this piece is performed, that one is hearing something new, and yet, something very familiar.
The second movement was sheer bliss. Lina Bahn obtains an incredibly sweet sound from her violin, and it was complemented by the full richness of the two cellos. The second movement was technically perfect by all six members of the sextet: their dynamics were absolutely superb individually, and as a group. Again, I was struck by the ability of Matthew Dane and putting together such a remarkable ensemble.
The musicians gave the third movement the typical Mozart ambiance of playfulness. This work was written on the cusp of a period of time where the Viennese public was beginning to think that Mozart’s music was too dense and difficult to understand. Yes, there are some dense textures in the third movement, but it is not quite as dense as the first movement, particularly when one takes into consideration that Mozart almost always provided music theorists with two hundred years’ worth of problems upon which to write dissertations. This is a beautiful piece, and these musicians gave it an absolutely wonderful performance. They played with great enthusiasm for what they were doing, and they were so astoundingly skilled at playing their instruments, and so musical, that they actually had time to acknowledge the joy they felt by smiling to each other.
It is always refreshing, I think, when a group of musicians performs a composer that is not heard frequently. And, I might add, frequently enough. I also admit that even though I am familiar with the composer, this was the first time I have ever heard this particular work. I am speaking about the Sextet in E flat Major by English composer, Frank Bridge, which the Peak Performances Chamber Series performed Saturday afternoon.
Frank Bridge (1878-1941) was from Brighton, England, and he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music where he proceeded to lead an almost Renaissance in the composition of English music. And, likewise with his fellow students Ralph Vaughn Williams, John Ireland, and Gustav Holst. He also became a prominent violist and conductor, even though composition remained his major interest. Throughout the course of his life, his works changed from almost Brahms-ian romanticism to works which embraced the world of Alban Berg, Webern, and Schoenberg. Certainly, these three composers from the Second Viennese School proved to be quite radical for the English audience, and I don’t know if it was because of that, but, after he died in 1941, his works received few performances.
The sextet that was performed was written between 1906 and 1912. It is a remarkably lush piece, and shows far more influence than the above mentioned Brahms-ian style romanticism. It shows much influence, harmonically, from the French Impressionists, Debussy and Ravel, in addition to influence from Debussy’s teacher, César Franck. Truly, it was much more French than English. It was full of deceptive resolutions, and made much use of common tones in order to affect the resolution. For example, a G sharp might be rewritten as an A flat, thus changing the destination of the chord. The opening movement was incredibly lush and full of tension, and its darkness reminded me very much of the first movement of Franck’s formidable Piano Quintet in F minor in that respect. But there were many instances where the influence of Debussy and Ravel were unmistakable. This led me to wonder why scholars don’t refer to Bridge as an Impressionist composer, rather than, simply, a romantic composer.
Of course, the really important consideration about Saturday’s performance is the performance itself. And, it was lush, it was passionate, and it was full of tension. This was such a successful performance of such a beautiful piece, that I am puzzled about the lack of performances, not only of this piece, but of the music of Frank Bridge. I am absolutely convinced that if the public at large was aware of this composer, he would be performed considerably more often.
I can assure you with all enthusiasm and confidence, that the Peak Performances Chamber Series is composed, not just of consummate musicians, but of consummate artists, and I mean that with all sincerity. These performers (and performances) are absolutely stellar. They’re the kind of performers that one would hear in any major venue in the world. It gives me great pleasure to encourage all of you readers to attend these performances. I also encourage you to go back to the first three paragraphs of this article. Read the names of these musicians and remember them.
I know that you will run across their names again and again, for they represent what music is all about.