I hasten to point out to all of you who read this that I am still taking a hiatus from reviewing. There are many reasons for this pause in my writing, not the least of which is the extensive remodeling of our house. But, the reason I am taking a break from the hiatus (a hiatus from the hiatus?) is the series of misstatements, the demonstration of lack of caring about serious music as an art, and the attempt to make an art form “fun.” Unfortunately, these statements have come from the local classical music radio station, KVOD, and they have finally reached the point where I feel the necessity to say something. The statements, or misstatements, referred to have reached the point of absurdity; however, they do not come from all of the classical music hosts. I stress that point.
It amazes me that some of the classical music hosts can impugn the art that gives them their job. It is most certainly true that some of these individuals are not trained musicians, though some profess, in their biographical statements on the KVOD website, to performing in orchestras, or having some other association with music. One has to wonder at the quality of instruction they received.
As I have said in other articles, we live in a culture that puts music in the arts and entertainment section of newspapers. And art has never had anything to do with entertainment. I have been a pianist for seventy-two years, and I never had the self-image of being an entertainer, nor did I ever feel that I had to sell anything at any performance.
It is true that most classical music announcers are trained only in radio journalism and not in music. Some time ago, it became apparent to me that the public assumes that classical music announcers have some degree of training in music, or at least have some deep affection for music. The fact that they may not have extensive music training is certainly not a blot on their record. However, I can remember many classical music announcers from my youth, who took the time to do even the most cursory research, let alone in-depth research, before they made their announcements on specific pieces of music they were playing on the air. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case today. There are certainly those on our local KVOD station who do know what they’re talking about, and surely exhibit the perspicacity to check their facts. They also demonstrate a love for the art of music. However, there are those at the station who, as I said above, want to make classical music a “fun thing,” and who believe that everything they read on the CD liner notes as the gospel truth. They look at music as a form of entertainment, and I can assure you that there is a big difference between art and entertainment. How can anyone describe the work of van Gogh or Marc Chagall or J. S. Bach or Igor Stravinsky as entertainment?
Some of their statements are so far-fetched that they are recognizably absurd. It is therefore easy to assume that these announcers feel that humorous comments attract attention to the station and to classical music. However, it also demonstrates the impoverishment of their own imagination in understanding music as an art, and what art is.
KVOD generates occasional announcements proselytizing classical music. I do not know who writes the announcements, but certainly the announcers who read them should double check their accuracy. A few months ago there was an announcement concerning the music of Mozart; and it makes the ridiculous claim that it was the movie Amadeus that brought classical music to the mainstream, which is an absurd thing to say. Classical music has always been in the mainstream. The host did state that the movie was full of errors, such as Salieri poisoning Mozart, however she did not mention that Salieri and Mozart were close friends, and that Mozart’s children took piano lessons from Salieri. She made a gross error when she said that Mozart died of a heart attack, which he did not. He died of an anaerobic infection similar to gangrene. This fact has been known for 12 years or more (please read Daniel Leeson’s book, Opus Ultimum). We know this, because individuals, including his oldest son (who was nine years old at the time), commented (later in life, as an adult) on how the room was so full of the foul odor of the infection, and Mozart’s body was so swollen, that no one could even approach Mozart on his deathbed. Constanze was the only one who did so.
Another classical music host stated that classical music was full of “oddball terms.” She stated that the use of the word “accidental,” which is a term (for the symbol) used to indicate a chromatic alteration in a scale, was an “oddball term” because the composer used it on purpose. The term, accidental, has been in use for centuries. This classical music host professes to perform in an orchestra, so it would seem that fact indicates some knowledge of music must be present, no matter how slim. I would suggest that she purchase the Harvard Dictionary of Music by Willi Apel and look up at the term Accidental.
The same classical music host expressed great surprise over a musical form known as a Trio Sonata. She said she just couldn’t understand this “oddball” term because it was really written for “… now get this… four instruments and not three.” It truly was hard to tell if her expression of surprise was sincere, or if she was trying to make this seeming confusion humorous. In any case a Trio Sonata comes from the Baroque period of music. There are two upper parts which are written in a similar range, and a lower part which is the supporting figured bass. It is supporting because it outlines the harmonic functions that the composer wishes. In addition, the figured bass, which is often written for cello, also includes a harpsichord to assist in the harmonic outlines. Therefore, it has four parts, but the top three parts are the ones that give the Trio Sonata its name because the presence of the harpsichord, in this period of music history, was assumed.
There is absolutely nothing oddball about this, particularly if one has gained intelligence by learning an instrument, and even a small amount of music history. It is hard to tell if this classical music host was attempting to be humorous or was honestly puzzled. This kind of humor does not attract attention to the art of music. It only succeeds in denigrating it. And, in addition, it makes the host look foolish. Therefore, I am puzzled as to who writes these blurbs.
As I said above, I fully realize that classical music announcers are usually trained in broadcasting first and foremost. However, if they care about the art of music enough to have a host position on the radio, then they should have enough good sense to not sound condescending and silly. If they are truly puzzled, they should do a little research, rather than assail the art.
The frightening thing about all of this is that these individuals may be cavalier in their attitudes toward music as an art, because, for whatever reason, they may never have experienced music, or had the ability to place themselves in the mind of the performer or composer. Sometimes, it almost seems as if they are suffering from boredom. And boredom can certainly be a symptom of the fact that we are out of our comfort zone. It sometimes seems as though they are afraid to react to classical music with their hearts just as we do when we meet other forms of art. Since they can’t stand in front of the stage and jump up and down screaming, they just aren’t sure how to behave. Or how to listen.
Filed under: News
Dear readers and fellow musicians:
It has become increasingly obvious that I have much to do with teaching, fundraising, editing and proofing, research, translating, fall yard work, and writing for my blog site, Opus Colorado.
Therefore, I must cut down somewhere. I am taking a hiatus from writing reviews and previews on my blog site Opus Colorado. I will return to this job in full in January 2016.
Many of you have been extremely complementary about my reviews, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that. Please be patient. I will be back.
Filed under: News
Pro Musica Colorado Creates, Celebrates, and Observes Memories
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra (PMC) presents its 2015-16 Season: Remembrance.
Music has incredible power to evoke poignant memories and to create new memories. In this season, PMC presents unforgettable collaborations with pianist Larry Graham and St. Martin’s Chamber Choir. And PMC creates new memories in two commissions, a work by CU Composition Competition Winner, Kurt Mehlenbacker, and another by a rising star, composer D. J. Sparr.
Who: Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, Music Director and Conductor, with guests, Larry Graham, piano, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, CU Composition Competition Winner, Kurt Mehlenbacher, and composer D. J. Sparr.
Friday performances are given at the First Baptist Church of Denver, 1373 Grant St., Denver, 80203
Saturday performances are given at First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder, 80302
PMC has a new home in Denver, performing all Denver concerts at First Baptist Church of Denver. In Boulder, PMC continues to perform at First United Methodist Church.
How Much: Tickets are available online at: http://www.promusicacolorado.org, or by calling 720-443-0565. Season ticket pass $67.50, Single Ticket prices are $25 General seating, $5 Student Tickets.
What: Mozart and Larry Graham
Friday, November 20, 2015 and Saturday, November 21, 2015 – Concert at 7:30 pm, Pre-Concert Talk at 6:30 pm
Wolfgang A. Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491, Larry Graham, pianist
Wolfgang A. Mozart: “Prague” Symphony No. 38, in D Major, K. 504
World Premiere: CU Composition Competition winner, Kurt Mehlenbacher
Colorado legend Larry Graham joins Pro Musica Colorado in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor. “This concerto is one of only two piano concertos that Mozart wrote in the minor key and it is spell binding,” says Cynthia Katsarelis, Music Director and Conductor of PMC. “The minor key opens doors to more interesting colors, harmonies, and key areas, making the listening process and the final resolution even more engaging.” Larry is a Colorado treasure who has won competitions, concertized internationally, and captured the hearts of music lovers in Colorado. Also on the program is Mozart’s Symphony No. 38, The Prague Symphony, premiered in Prague in 1787 and repeated many times there. Prague loved Mozart.
What: Pro Musica Colorado presents Shostakovich: Dedication
January 22 & 23, 2016, Concert at 7:30 pm, Pre-Concert Talk at 6:30 pm
Dmitri Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony for String Orchestra, Op. 110a dedicated to victims of fascism and war
Pavel Haas: Study for Strings
J. S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3
World Premiere: D. J. Sparr based on Brandenburg Concerto No. 3
In January, PMC presents Shostakovich: Dedication. On this program, PMC, features the Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a, by Shostakovich, a work that is “dedicated to victims of fascism and war.” Also on the program is the Study for Strings by Pavel Haas. Haas was a victim of fascism; he was one of many musicians interred by the Nazi’s in Terezin Concentration Camp and ultimately sent to Auschwitz where he perished. “Haas and the other composers at Terezin were writing great music, their fate is a sad ‘lost generation’ of music that would have been embraced by classical music audiences. Fortunately, some of the music survives for us to enjoy today,” says Katsarelis. The program includes Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and a new work by composer D. J. Sparr
that pays homage to the Bach with the same orchestration.
What: Pro Musica Colorado presents Mozart Requiem w/ St. Martin’s Chamber Choir
April 8 & 9, 2016, Concert at 7:30 pm, Pre-Concert Talk at 6:30 pm
Wolfgang A. Mozart: Requiem
Wolfgang A. Mozart: Ave Verum Corpus
In April, Pro Musica Colorado joins with St. Martin’s Chamber Choir in Mozart’s Requiem and Ave Verum Corpus. Mozart’s Requiem was finished by his student, Süssmayr, and has been retouched and virtually recomposed over time. PMC will end with Ave Verum Corpus, to insure that Mozart has the last word! PMC presents a great deal of Mozart’s music and has a point-of-view that blends modern instruments with concepts from the historically informed performance movement.
PMC has a new home in Denver, performing all Denver concerts at First Baptist Church of Denver. In Boulder, PMC continues to perform at First United Methodist Church.
About Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and Cynthia Katsarelis, Music Director and Conductor
Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra is a fully professional chamber orchestra presenting inspirational performances of classic to cutting edge music. Reviews in the Boulder Daily Camera called PMC’s performances of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio “a triumph.” OpusColorado wrote that Pro Musica Colorado’s performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was “electrifying!” Marc Shulgold wrote that the music making was “spot on.” Cynthia Katsarelis has served with the Cincinnati Symphony, Pops and May Festival, the Greensboro (N.C.) Symphony, and has conducted many professional, college, and youth orchestras. For three seasons, she has guest conducted the Colorado Music Festival’s Young People’s Concerts. Katsarelis is a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University, with degrees in both violin and conducting.
Filed under: News
Saturday afternoon, September 26, I attended a rehearsal of the Colorado Ballet’s performance of La Sylphide. The music for this ballet was written by Norwegian composer Herman Severin Løvenskiold (1815-1870) when he was only 21 years old. It was written for the choreographer August Bournonville (1805-1879) whose choreography of the score was done in 1836 for the Royal Danish ballet in Copenhagen. Herman Løvenskiold’s music shows a distinct Russian influence, and indeed, part of his study was at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Bournonville was a Danish ballet master and choreographer who had been trained in France, and his best-known work as a choreographer was without a doubt La Sylphide.
Since it was a rehearsal, the dancers were dancing to recorded music, and occasionally with the music provided by Company Pianist Natalia Arefieva. I hasten to point out that Natalia Arefieva is not just an accompanist. She is the orchestra for most of the rehearsals, and she is an incredibly fine, if not formidable, pianist. Please note that Company Pianist is capitalized.
La Sylphide is a story of a young Scotsman, James, who, on his wedding day, has an encounter with a sylph, or wood nymph. He dreams of her, and when he awakens she is actually there. She eludes him, but James cannot forget her. His future wife’s girlfriends arrive with wedding decorations and gifts, and the wedding celebration begins. However, James notices that in the corner the witch, Madge, is sitting. She tells everyone’s fortune, but when she tells James’s fiancé Effy her fortune, she reveals that Effy will never marry James. James throws the witch out. All of a sudden, the sylph reappears, and she declares her love for James. But, in the following wedding celebration, James forgets all about the sylph, and he declares his love for Effy.
The second act opens deep in the forest where Madge and her allies are preparing a poisonous scarf as revenge against James. Madge gives James the scarf and shows him how to adorn the sylph with the scarf. When he sees the sylph again, he wraps her in the scarf not realizing that it will cause her death. Overcome with grief, he hears a wedding procession approaching and realizes that his fiancé Effy is marrying his rival, Gurn. Participating in the procession, the witch Madge reveals to James that she has gotten her revenge. James, speechless with horror and grief, collapses and dies.
This is a tragic story indeed, and at the rehearsal I was truly astounded by the acting ability, and the communication of that grief, given by the dancers. In the moment of the death of the sylph, her fellow sylphs gather around her and express their extreme sadness. I can promise you that I saw a real tears because the dancers were so moved by the story and by the music.
The dancers in the Colorado Ballet are known for their artistry and for their remarkable enthusiasm and constant demonstration of the love for what they do. It is readily apparent to every member of the audience. But, in the rehearsal on Saturday, I was only feet away from these marvelous dancers, sitting on the mirror side of the studio, the mirrors of which, had been hidden by a black curtain so that the dancers had to imagine an audience, rather than checking their precision in the reflection of the mirror. There were several breaks in the rehearsal where they received comments from the Ballet Mistresses. At one point most of the dancers were waiting for the music to start. There were, perhaps, ten dancers in a line “on stage,” and while they were waiting for the suggestions and comments from the Ballet Mistresses to the main characters, they stood chit-chatting on the floor. But when the music started, within half a beat, they began to complete what I think was a Dessus without a moment of hesitation, all together, with one foot crossing the knee of the supporting leg, with their feet a uniform height from the stage. To me, this was astounding, because after a three or four minute break, they knew precisely where they were in the music, they knew precisely what movement was involved, and there was absolutely no hesitation, and no one made an error. This demonstrated, without a doubt, the kind of memory, related to the movement and music, that these dancers must have. Let me make this clear: I have had many audience members come up to me after a concert, particularly after a performance with an orchestra, where the individual will ask me how I know where I am in relation to the orchestra. I explained that I have my own score to learn, but I explained that it is necessary to also learn the orchestral part. Members of a ballet audience sometimes do not realize that dancers have to learn the same thing, i.e., the music provided by the orchestra, but also the movements, which are charted out, by the choreographer. Their movements require extreme athleticism which is very difficult, and they must have enough control so that they can get their feet back down on the stage in relation to a specific beat produced by the music. It doesn’t matter how tired they get, or how hard they are breathing, it simply has to be done. It is much easier for a pianist to sit on the piano bench. But all of the dancers have to react to the music in the same way all of the orchestra members must react to the music and to the conductor. You readers must also keep in mind that members of an orchestra have the music in front of them to follow during the performance. Pianists, thanks to the precedent set by Franz Liszt and Clara Schuman, generally have to play from memory. But realize this: ballet dancers do not have a musical score in front of them, nor do they have a chart of choreography in front of them. Dwell on that for a while.
Another highlight of Saturday’s rehearsal was two very young ladies, certainly not over the age of ten. Clearly, they had been taking ballet lessons at the Academy since they were three or four years of age. They were dancing with everyone else on stage, and, I assure, you they alone are worth the price of admission on the opening night (October 2 at 7:30 PM in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House) of La Sylphide. Their movements were astonishingly precise and exactly with all of the other dancers – in the Wedding Party – on stage. The performance was so remarkable I could not take my eyes off of them, and I never saw them make a mistake. The investment that their parents are making in their ballet lessons are truly paying off, as I am convinced that these young ladies will make a name for themselves.
I have not mentioned any names in this article because I want you readers to realize (and I know some of you already do) what all of the dancers have to go through, and how they prepare for a performance. Everybody in this ballet company demonstrated at this rehearsal that they are ready for the performance. Yes, the Ballet Mistresses corrected and emphasized the minutest of details to the dancers, but the Colorado Ballet is known for always seeking perfection.
I can assure you readers that this article has only scratched the surface. Rehearsals with a live orchestra are necessary as well so that Maestro Adam Flatt and Maestra Catherine Sailer can make sure the dancers are following the rhythms of the score, and they must also learn to allow the dancers to have a certain amount of input in their interpretation of the choreography. That is to say, subtle nuances in the rhythm caused by the dancers having to lift a partner and other difficult and rhythm consuming steps. Of course, one must never underestimate and undervalue the work done by the choreographer.
This production of La Sylphide will be a remarkable production to see. The Colorado Ballet has not performed it for at least 20 years, and I can guarantee you that it will be breathtaking. Artistic Director Gil Boggs, and ballet Mistresses Sandra Brown and Lorita Travaglia have a magical effect on this wonderful company of dancers.
Filed under: News
For 30 years, Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers has been bringing exceptional choral music to the Colorado Front Range and beyond. Our 2015-2016 season features dramatic, soaring works for voices performed with professional polish, stylish versatility, and a joyous spirit. Founder and Artistic Director Thomas Edward Morgan has assembled a season of some of the world’s most exceptional choral music, ranging from music of the Renaissance to the avant-garde, and traversing the range of human emotion.
The season opens October 9 and 10 with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil”, opus 37 (also known as the “Vespers”), one of the great choral masterworks of the twentieth century. Two performances will be held:
Friday, October 9 – St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant Street, Denver
Saturday, October 10 – First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce Street, Boulder
Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $5 for college students and youth. Tickets are on sale at our website: http://www.arsnovasingers.org.
Composed in just two weeks during January and February of 1915, Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers” was hailed on its premiere as one of the greatest achievements in Russian choral music. However, the effects of World War I and the worsening political and economic environment made further performances in Russia impossible for many decades after the premiere. By the end of 1917, Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) and his family had left his home country, never to return. The Vespers, along with a large percentage of Russian choral music, was suppressed by the communist government.
The literal translation of the Russian title of the work (“Vsenoshchnoye Bdeniye”) is “All-Night Vigil”, and the 15 movements of the work were originally part of the liturgy of three separate services: Vespers, Matins, and Prime. For his source material, Rachmaninoff drew upon the rich tradition of Eastern chant, carried into the liturgy of the Russian Church from the Middle Ages. Ten of the movements are based on these ancient melodies. The themes of the remaining five movements are of Rachmaninoff’s own composition. Though he had a rather tenuous personal relationship with the Church (he had to negotiate a special dispensation in order to have a church wedding in 1903), Rachmaninoff was sensitive to the liturgical and musical traditions, and he often visited the Adroniev monastery, where he listened to the singing of the monks. Many of his instrumental and orchestral compositions contain themes derived from the ancient chants. In keeping with the church traditions, the music is written exclusively for voices.
The composer once described how he introduced the Vespers to two friends, including Nikolay Danilin, the conductor of the Moscow Synodal Choir, who would eventually conduct the premiere performance: “My favorite number in the work…is the fifth canticle, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. I should like this sung at my funeral. Towards the end there is a passage sung by the basses, a scale descending to the lowest B-flat in a very slow pianissimo. After I played this passage, Danilin shook his head, saying, ‘Now where on earth are we to find such basses? They are as rare as asparagus at Christmas!’ Nevertheless he did find them. “I knew well the voices of my countrymen, and I well knew what demands I could make upon Russian basses!”
Upcoming programs in Ars Nova 30th concert season include:
Happiness and Cheer: A Colorado Holiday Tradition, accompanied by harp and oboe – December 12, 13, 17, 18
Renaissance Retrospective: Music for Many Voices, featuring music by Tallis, Striggio, and Gesualdo – February 19-20
The New Art: Shared Visions, new music from Colorado poets and composers – April 29-30, 2016
All programs performed both in Boulder and in Denver. Complete details can be found at http://www.arsnovasingers.org
Ars Nova’s 30th season is made possible in part by grants from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (Boulder County); the Colorado Council on the Arts; the Schramm Foundation; and the Avenir Foundation. The performances in the season are accessible to persons with disabilities. For complete accessibility information, please contact the Ars Nova Singers office at (303) 499-3165.
Specializing in a cappella music of the Renaissance and the 20th and 21st centuries, Ars Nova Singers of Boulder, Colorado celebrates its 30th concert season in 2015-2016. The professional-core ensemble conducted by founding Artistic Director Thomas Edward Morgan is composed of 36 selectively auditioned choral musicians from the Denver/Boulder metropolitan region. In its history, Ars Nova has presented over 300 performances of more than 100 different concert programs.
The ensemble has received national recognition, including being selected as a semifinalist for The American Prize in choral performance (2010). Ars Nova was invited to perform in the studios of National Public Radio on its March 2006 East Coast tour. The ensemble has been funded by the Avenir Foundation, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and the Chorus Program of the National Endowment for the Arts, among others.
Recent collaborative performances include a world premiere of Peter-Anthony Togni’s “Warrior Songs” with legendary jazz percussionist Jerry Granelli (October 2014); a program of music for solo violin and chorus at Macky Auditorium with internationally acclaimed violinist Edward Dusinberre (February, 2014); the U.S. premiere of Arvo Pärt’s “Salve Regina” with Sphere Ensemble (October 2013); an acclaimed rendition of Giya Kancheli’s “Amao Omi” with the Colorado Saxophone Quartet (October 2012); Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna” with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra (April 2011); the Colorado premiere of Carol Barnett’s “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass” with Jake Schepps and Expedition (September 2010); Osvaldo Golijov’s cantata “Oceana”, presented in collaboration with the professional chamber orchestra Pro Musica Colorado (May 2008); and a critically acclaimed performance of Terry Riley’s “Sun Rings” with the renowned Kronos Quartet at the Colorado Music Festival (July 2006). Ars Nova Singers has been heard in radio broadcasts throughout the world, including such National Public Radio programs as Performance Today, The First Art, Music from the Hearts of Space, and locally on Colorado Spotlight and Colorado Matters. Ars Nova has released ten independent recordings on compact disc and performed on seven internationally released recordings with Boulder composer and instrumentalist Bill Douglas.
Thomas Edward Morgan, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Ars Nova Singers, has been acknowledged as a leading interpreter of new music in Colorado. Under his leadership the choir has become one of the premier ensembles in the region. Mr. Morgan received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota and the Master of Music degree in composition from the University of Colorado. In addition to his work with Ars Nova Singers, he serves as Music Director of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, a position he has held for 27 years. Mr. Morgan studied choral and orchestral conducting with Dale Warland, Helmut Rilling, and Giora Bernstein, and has taken master classes with Eric Ericson and Herbert Blomstedt.
As a composer, Mr. Morgan was an artist-in-residence of the Lucas Artists program at the Montalvo Center for the Arts in Saratoga, California (2006-2008). He collaborated with New York visual artist Lesley Dill in the production of “I Heard a Voice”, an extended work for a cappella chorus premiered by the Ars Nova Singers in September 2002. His composition “Psalm 88” for orchestra and chorus received the prestigious BMI Award, and his choral work “Four Poems of e. e. cummings” was presented on the opening program of the eighth Internacional Musica Nueva festival in Mexico City. Several of his works have been performed internationally by the Peiyang Chorus of Tianjin, China.
Filed under: News
Featuring the Valor Symphonics Youth Orchestra, David Rutherford, Music Director and Conductor
October 16 and 17, 2015
Stratus Chamber Orchestra (formerly the Musica Sacra Chamber Orchestra) begins its season with a celebration of Jean Sibelius’s 150th Birthday. Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite and Aaron Copland’s Outdoor Overture begin the program, and then Stratus welcomes Valor Symphonics Youth Orchestra to the stage for a side-by-side performance of Sibelius’s grand and charming Symphony No. 3.
Augustana Arts and Stratus Chamber Orchestra presents Anniversaries: 150th Birthday of Sibelius at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, October 16 at Valor Christian HS, 3775 Grace Blvd., Highlands Ranch, CO 80126 and Saturday, October 17 at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5000 East Alameda Avenue, Denver, CO. Tickets are $25 adult; $20 senior; $15 student; $10 children age 4-17 years and are available online at http://www.augustanaarts.org or by calling 303-388-4962.
The works of Jean Sibelius established a strong sense of national musical tradition in Finland – a tradition that has flourished ever since, especially at the Academy of Music in Helsinki which adopted his name in 1939.
Sibelius’s music grew out of the Romantic tradition of Tchaikovsky, Berlioz and Wagner. The core of his oeuvre is his set of seven symphonies and his symphonic poems. He developed a personal and cogent symphonic style: every symphony has its own individual distinction, the third being known for its good-natured and triumphant sound.
His status as one of Finland’s most important artists comes from his ability to combine his original style with a profound national historical awareness and a strong connection with Finnish nature.
Since 1997, Augustana Arts has been serving the community by presenting the artistry of resident performing groups, internationally renowned touring artists and accomplished locally-based ensembles of many genres. The resident groups, Stratus Chamber Orchestra and the Colorado Women’s Chorale (CWC) perform at a variety of venues in addition to the majestic Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver. Augustana Arts serves educational outreach through the City Strings program, an inspired vision to provide youngsters with great need access to high quality, small group music instruction free of cost afterschool at several metro locations.
Augustana Arts concerts and programs are made possible in part by generous support from the citizens of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, the Colorado Creative Industries, a state agency which is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, the Augustana Foundation, the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and several other community partners.
Augustana Arts and Stratus Chamber Orchestra
Anniversaries: 150th Birthday of Sibelius
Friday, October 16 at 7:30 p.m. at
Valor Christian HS, 3775 Grace Blvd., Highlands Ranch, CO 80126
Saturday, October 17 at 7:30 p.m. at
Augustana Lutheran Church, 5000 East Alameda Ave., Denver, CO 80246
Tickets are $25 adult; $20 senior; $15 student; $10 children ages 4 – 17 years
303-388-4962 or online at http://www.augustanaarts.org
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Brandon Vamos, Daniel Kellogg, Masumi Per Rostad, Pacifica Quartet, Shulamit Ran, Sibbi Bernhardsson, Simin Ganatra
Wednesday evening, September 16, the Friends of Chamber Music hosted the Pacifica Quartet at Gates Concert Hall on the DU campus. Formed in 1994, the Pacifica quartet has rapidly become one of this nations, and most likely the world’s, finest quartets. With Simin Ganatra, violin, Sibbi Rernhardsson, violin, Masumi Per Rostad, viola, and Brandon Vamos, cello, this chamber group truly seems destined to take its place among the all-time great string quartets, such as the Budapest Quartet of the 1950s with members Joseph Roisman, Jac Gorodetzky, Boris Kroyt, and Mischa Schneider. In addition, they are all full-time faculty members at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and that is, without a doubt, the finest music school in the world. As an aside, there are now eight buildings in music.
The Pacifica Quartet opened the program with Mozart’s wonderful Quartet in F Major, K. 590. Evidence, as mentioned in the program notes, points to this quartet of Mozart’s being intended for the King of Prussia, but the dedication was never finalized. The reason for this was that the King of Prussia reduced the amount of the commission he was to give Mozart. He had originally asked for six string quartets along with some easy piano sonatas for Princess Friederike. Mozart finished the first three of the six string quartets, but the easy sonatas for the Princess never materialized. Artaria published the first three quartets after Mozart died in 1791, but there was no dedication in the publication of them. It would be very unusual for Mozart to not mention the King of Prussia in a dedication because of a commission; therefore, it is possible that Mozart was miffed when the commission was reduced, or perhaps the King of Prussia never commissioned them in the first place.
Mozart opens this wonderful quartet with a three measure theme which is symmetrically answered with a slightly modified version. However, it is worth noting that the opening begins softly in the first measure (marked piano), and on the first beat of the second measure, Mozart has marked it forte. In the answer to the first three measures, Mozart does not indicate a forte emphasis. Granted this is a minute detail, but it adds interest to the opening of this quartet, as this is the kind of detail that Mozart never overlooked. It leads one to wonder if Mozart’s style was changing.
The audience Wednesday evening was quite large, and details, such as the above, are easy to hear in Mozart. It led me to wonder how many of the audience heard this subtle change in dynamics called by Mozart, and which the quartet reproduced in such detail. But it is this kind of detail that makes Mozart and his transparency so wonderful to listen to. The Pacifica Quartet performed this first movement in such a remarkably lyrical way that it was sheer joy, and the cello work done by Brandon Vamos was outstanding. The second movement of this quartet truly begins to display the changes in Mozart’s creative style. The texture becomes a little thicker and the harmony becomes more complicated. It has been sometime since I have heard this quartet, and the difference between the first two movements was striking. Mozart was certainly going through a rugged time in his life when this quartet was written: he and his wife desperately needed money, and Mozart seems to have been going through a period of depression. I was left wondering if that had an effect on the sonorities of the second movement. The third movement was full of charm and grace, and the fourth movement was a return to the clarity of a typical Mozart quartet.
At the risk of irritating some of you readers, I must say that in spite of the Pacifica Quartet’s supreme musicianship, two of their members seemed, to me at least, to be making excessive theatrical movements. The accompanying grimaces were extremely distracting from the music. Please do not misunderstand me: I am perfectly aware that it takes great energy to be sincere in the aural reproduction of a printed page of music. In addition, there is much emotion involved, as there should be. But the movements became extreme, and it often seemed as if two of the musicians were trying to convince the audience that they were “feeling” the music. I feel that it is necessary to make a comparison. When one hears the Colorado Chamber Players perform, one hears the music. Certainly the musicians in that organization move as they perform, but it is clear that the music is the first priority. There are no distractions such as lifting one’s feet off the floor, leaning far over in one’s chair, or gazing at the other members of the quartet in rapture or feigned aggression. The composer’s voice always remains unencumbered.
The second work on the program was String Quartet Nr. 3 entitled Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory by Israeli composer Shulamit Ran (b. 1949). This four movement work also bore titles for each movement: “That Which Happened,” “Menace,” “If I Must Perish – Do Not Let My Paintings Die – Felix Nussbaum (1904-1944),” and the fourth movement, “Shards, Memory.” As the program notes, and violist Masumi Per Rostad explained, this work was specifically written for the Pacifica Quartet. The composer found inspiration for her quartet in the work of a German-Jewish painter, Felix Nussbaum who died at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The first movement is a metaphor for one’s “ordinary life” which is shattered by realization of oncoming war. The second movement, entitled “Menace,” depicts the death march; the third, painting and Auschwitz and the execution; and the fourth movement describes all that is left.
Needless to say this was an incredibly moving piece of music, and it was certainly performed that way by the Pacifica Quartet. Obviously, since this is a new work, I have not heard it before; however, it seemed to make rather spare use of 12 tone (serial) composition. It appeared as though the composer was searching for something that was quite new harmonically. In the first movement, it was startling to hear some of the dissonances resolved to a major chord, and that truly seemed to symbolize the contentment of an “ordinary life.” The second movement, as the program notes so adequately detailed, gathers momentum as it becomes unstoppable. The third movement, as stated by the program notes, demonstrates that the act of “creating” must have been for Felix Nussbaum a way of maintaining sanity. I would certainly agree, but I would also hasten to point out that for a painter, or a musician, or a sculptor, that art is not just a source of maintaining sanity: it is a way of life. It is not an occupation or a vocation. The fourth movement, entitled “Shards, Memory,” are all things human, where the only result of the degradation that was suffered by Nussbaum is the dignity provided by death.
If one had no idea of the programme that inspired this work, its sound would still be overwhelming. It was an incredibly powerful piece of music, and everyone in the audience would have ascribed to it various moments of his/her own life. However, knowing what inspired this composition left an indelible focus of one’s attention on an enormous stain in our history. The performance was superb.
After the intermission, the Pacifica Quartet performed a portion of a new work commissioned from Daniel Kellogg, composer on the faculty at the University of Colorado in Boulder. This was not in the program, and I am sorry to say that I missed the title. I am also sorry that I missed the “talkback” session that was offered after the concert. I will say that the movement of the work which was performed was outstanding, and I am quite anxious to hear it again. We are fortunate that Kellogg is on the faculty, for his award-winning compositions have attracted a great deal of attention. This particular work, which was commissioned by the Pacifica Quartet and Richard Replin, seemed quite dramatic upon first hearing. I am fairly confident that I heard some melodic counterpoint, but again this was my first hearing, so I cannot be sure. It is my sincere hope that this work is performed again quite soon.
The last work on the program was the Quartet Nr. 4 in E minor, Opus 44, Nr. 2. Dedicated to the Crown Prince of Sweden, this particular quartet has one of the most captivating scherzos that Mendelssohn wrote: it is lyrical, and yet fast, and also elegant, and only Mendelssohn could have combined all those attributes. Like the other Opus 44 quartets, this one contains fugal passages that give these quartets an incredible sense of richness. It almost seems as though Mendelssohn’s fugal technique had improved over the years. The Pacifica Quartet seems to have a true knack for Mendelssohn – his Mozart-like transparency and his sense of absolute lyricism were easily exposed. This was a breathtaking performance of a marvelous piece which is simply not heard often enough.
The Pacifica Quartet truly deserves its fine reputation. They are excellent. But it is my humble wish that they would not dictate to the audience with gestures and facial expressions what mood the audience must feel. The composer’s intent must always come first.