Opus Colorado

The Boulder Chamber Orchestra gives us a season of Festivity and Excellence

Maestro Bahman Saless of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra added a very nice touch to the season’s concert series by giving each concert a specific title and performing specific composers. On the Boulder Chamber Orchestra’s website, Saless states that: “An artist’s quest to achieve mastery of his or her art is an incredible journey filled with excitement, frustration, hope, despair, and unending challenge. This season’s selection of pieces could readily be packaged in such a way as to portray the stages that artists—indeed all who aspire to master their domain—pass through in their lifetime. Thus, we have titled our season “Road to Mastery”!

So it was that Saturday night, December 17, was the third concert of their season. This particular concert was entitled “Festivity,” and the BCO presented four works from the Baroque period by the composers Rameau, Albinoni, Torelli, and Bach.

The first work on the program was the Orchestral Suite in G minor by Rameau. This French composer was one of the multifaceted musicians of his day. Like Bach in Germany, Rameau was the greatest organist in France. He was a prodigious composer of operas and ballets as well as works for harpsichord, which were primarily written early in his life. He was the most important musical theorist since Gioseffo Zarlino (whose four volume treatise, Istitutioni harmoniche, of 1558, codifies major and minor tonality), and even today, doctoral students are kept quite busy pouring over his theoretical writings.

The Orchestral Suite in G minor is truly an arrangement by the German violinist, conductor, and founder of the Mainz Chamber Orchestra, Gunter Kehr. While this may seem like heresy to any of you readers who are purists, please understand that this was a fairly common practice in the Baroque period, and it was J.S. Bach, among others to practice this on a fairly regular basis, particularly with his own works. As I have said before, the term is self-plagiarism. Granted, the late Gunter Kehr (1920-1989) was not a Baroque composer, but nonetheless there is ample justification for his arrangement of this keyboard work.

As the members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra entered the stage, I noticed that there were several regular members who weren’t there Saturday evening. Though I do not know for sure, I suspect that many of them were involved with the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, as I think both orchestras share members. At any rate, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra performed the Rameau beautifully. In the first movement there were some trills in the strings, which were exceedingly well done (trills on any stringed instrument always seem difficult to me). The fourth movement of this work had a great deal of ornamentation, but the strings were very nicely together throughout and the terrace dynamics were extremely precise.

The second work on the program was the Oboe Concerto in D minor, Opus 9, Nr. 2. There is substantial mystery surrounding this piece; however,  it’s quite possible that the mystery is close to being solved. The mystery concerns Tomaso Albinoni’s authorship of this work. As per the Saturday night’s program notes, Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto, an Albinoni scholar, said that he reconstructed this concerto from a small fragment of the slow movement that he supposedly found in the Saxon State Library after the bombing raids of World War II in Dresden. There is evidence that the adagio may be Giazotto’s composition, even though the fragment that he says he discovered has never been found. According to the research done by Brian Robins, who is a musicologist, we know that, in 1722, a set of concertos labeled Opus 9 were published in Amsterdam by Le Cène. They were published in three separate groups of four each. Number two has a solo part for oboe, and that work contains an Adagio, which bears the unmistakable style of Albinoni. In addition, descriptions by Albinoni contemporaries give evidence to the published Opus 9 concertos of the same powerful lyric and incredibly lush sounds that are typical of Albinoni.

I suppose we will have to wait for a definitive answer after more doctoral students have examined this problem. But, there is absolutely no doubt about the beauty of this remarkable composition and its beautiful performance Saturday night by Max Soto.

Quoting from Max Soto’s biographical statement that I found on the web:

“Max began his musical education with the Orquesta Sinfonica Juvenil de Costa Rica which allowed him to study with Principal Oboist Jorge Rodriguez and helped to cultivate a passion for Classical Music and the Oboe. Max arrived in the USA in 1996 at the Loyola University of New Orleans and received his Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance. Max began his professional career performing a season with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra as Assistant Principal Oboist. Max moved to Denver in 2002 in order to pursue his Masters Degree in Music Performance. He attended the Lamont School of Music at Denver University and graduated in 2004. Max went on a whirlwind tour of the United States and Canada performing The Pirates of Penzance with the London based Carl Rosa Opera Company in 2007. He has performed with the Colorado Ballet, Fort Collins Symphony, Steamboat Springs Orchestra, Emerald City Opera, and Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra and appears at various music festivals with small ensembles all over the state of Colorado. In addition to playing with the Boulder Philharmonic, Max also appears as Assistant Principal Oboist of the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Oboist for the Musica Sacra Chamber Orchestra.”

I add to the above file statement that Max Soto is the principal oboe for the Boulder Chamber Orchestra.

Right away, the oboist is put on his mettle, because this work requires incredible breath control and support. The opening movement of this three movement work is a fairly standard allegro, but if one compares it to Vivaldi, it doesn’t have quite the same forward motion. It is still a wonderful piece, and is very transparent because of its orchestration solely for strings, continuo, and, of course, the oboe. It is the second movement that is one of the most beautiful compositions ever written for oboe. And it is this movement where I was absolutely astonished at Max Soto’s breathing ability.  Make no mistake: Albinoni wrote some incredibly long melodic lines for a Baroque composer. The melodic lines in this Adagio movement are long enough that I sat on the edge of my seat wondering if Soto was going to get to the end of the phrase, but he always did, and his tone never wavered or faltered. This certainly has to be one of the most difficult works for any oboe player but it was so beautifully done, and so skillfully done, that Soto, if one wasn’t looking, seemed to just “play it,” without working hard all. And, of course, Maestro Saless was clearly enjoying himself, and his conducting skills come to him just as naturally as Soto’s breathing.

After the intermission, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra performed a work by Giuseppe Torelli (1658 – 1709). This work, the Concerto Grosso, Op.8, Nr. 6, otherwise known as the Christmas Concerto, is the sixth concerto of a set of twelve which were published in 1709. It is a short piece, but nonetheless delightful, and is called a “Christmas Concerto” because one of the sections is a pastorale. This is a one movement piece in four sections, Grave – Vivace (Pastorale) – Largo – Vivace. The orchestra sounded absolutely superb, and I am always enormously pleased to hear this chamber orchestra perform because they play with so much love for what they do.

Following the fairly short Torelli work, was the famous Bach Orchestral Suite Nr. 2 in B minor, featuring Cobus du Toit, Principal Flute in the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. This orchestral suite is scored for flute strings and continuo, and it is possible that it was written for Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin, who was the Principal Flute in the Dresden Court Orchestra. There is no question that he knew Bach, who was 30 years older. As Maestro Saless pointed out, many people consider this orchestral suite a concerto because the flute is featured so prominently. However, if it were a concerto, the flute would not simply double the violins, as it does, and would have its own separate themes in an exchange with the orchestra. There are moments, particularly in the last movement of the famous Badinerie, where the flute is featured, but that is because Bach chose to allow the flautist to show off a little.

The contrast between the Bach piece in the Torelli was remarkable. The first movement is an overture, as is the first movement of all three orchestral suites, but following the Torelli the Bach seemed quite formal, though it certainly is graceful as well. The second movement, a Rondeau, is in reality, a fugue. The following sarabande certainly has a measured step so that the bourée seems almost rowdy. Keep in mind that all these names are names of dances from the Baroque period that worked their way into the suites of music, not only for orchestral suites, but also keyboard suites as well. And they were used by most Baroque composers as well as Bach.

But, of course, the movement that I was waiting for was the Badinerie (of which, in French, means flirtation). Cobus du Toit is an absolutely astounding flautist. I have heard him several times, and he never ceases to amaze me. I wrote about him two years ago, December 20, 2009. I encourage you to read that review. All you have to do is to go to the left-hand column of this page and click on December 2009, and that will take you to the review of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra.

In this performance, I was again amazed at the ease with which Cobus du Toit plays. It is always musical, his tone is always superb, and his breath control is amazing. In addition, he played some ornaments in this movement that I have not heard any other flautist play. Being familiar with du Toit’s abilities, I am sure that they were authentic, but I must say they sounded incredibly difficult. He is such a fine flute player and the grace with which he exhibited playing the accented appoggiaturas was something to behold. They are not terribly difficult, but they were perfect, and the kind of perfection he exhibits when he plays Bach or anything else, is never pedantic, but it is always beautiful.

The Boulder Chamber Orchestra performed an encore at the end of the program. It had to be one of the most gorgeous performances of Silent Night, Holy Night, that I have ever heard. Cobus du Toit and Max Soto join together, and each proceeded down the aisles from the rear of the church, Soto playing oboe, and du Toit playing the flute. Du Toit performed an improvisation above the familiar melodic line, while Soto doubled the strings of the orchestra. It brought the audience to their feet, and I saw several in the audience wiping their eyes.

I have always been impressed by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Bahman Saless. They never disappoint, and they always surprise. It is quite something to see the joy that the orchestra members take in each other’s playing. The applause by the orchestra given to Soto and du Toit was clearly heartfelt.

The applause from the audience was exultant as well.

The Denver Philharmonic Christmas Concert: Consistency in thought

Friday evening, December 16, I heard the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra perform their annual Christmas concert. In some ways, it was the expected Christmas concert with a large number of carol’s performed and sung by the audience, and a few concert works in addition. But there were several things that set this performance apart from the regular Christmas concerts one expects, and particularly what one has become accustomed to hearing from the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra.

Though this has nothing to do with the actual performance, let me point out right away that I do not think I have ever seen the KPOF Hall so full. There simply weren’t any seats left. That has to be very gratifying, not only for the DPO board and orchestra members, but for Reverend Doctor Robert Dallenbach and his gracious wife, Pauline Dallenbach, who so magnanimously allow the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra to use the KPOF Hall facilities.

In addition, there was an outstanding guest artist on Friday evening’s performance, and that was the soprano, Katie Harman. Please notice that I called her the “soprano, Katie Harman.” In the publicity for this concert, and in the program, much to do is made of the fact that Katie Harman was 2002’s Miss America. There is absolutely no question that Katie Harman, through the Miss America program, has done much good for the United States and the world with her work concerning breast cancer. And after a few sentences, I will put the highlights of her biography in this review, simply because she has done so much good, and it may help inspire others to do the same thing. However, I listed her as a soprano first because I don’t want anybody who reads this to recall the old Miss America competitions with host Bert Parks (I am sure that I am showing my age), where he asks the contestants what they will do for the talent portion of the contest. If any of you recall, and I’m sure many of you do, the contestants would come out and noodle around on the piano, or do a tap dance, or sing When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain, emulating Kate Smith. Of course the Miss America competition has changed a lot since those days, but I would like to make it clear that Katie Harman is truly a musician and a singer first. I was absolutely astonished at the way she sang. She has an incredible sense of pitch, and she has the vocal production technique and ear to always be on pitch. She also has a beautiful soprano voice, and when she sings, she demonstrates the musicianship that accompanies the rest of her ability. And (are you ready for this?), she has great diction.

I will quote from her website:

“…In addition, she aimed the Miss America spotlight at supporting breast cancer patients and championing comprehensive cancer care, converging with patients, medical professionals, health care advocacy groups, pharmaceutical manufacturers, legislators, businesses, students, media entities, and many more. Her work as an advocate was featured by numerous media outlets, including The Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN with Paula Zahn, Late Night with David Letterman, People Magazine and The Washington Post, and was also honored by Fox Chase Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center, Metcalf Institute of Radiation Oncology, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and the Cancer Research Foundation of America, among many others. In September 2002, Katie and her 2001 Miss America Competition sisters published a book detailing their unique and deeply touching perspectives on service in the aftermath of 9/11. Titled Under the Crown, the book remains one of Katie’s proudest accomplishments because it was an unprecedented undertaking by a group of strong young women dedicated to using their titles and crowns to positively affect change in uncertain times.

“…Professionally, Katie now tours nationally and internationally as a sought-after classical vocalist. After her performance on the Miss America stage in 2001, she was invited to sing with the famed Boston Pops Orchestra under the direction of Keith Lockhart, the Shreveport Symphony, the Oregon Symphony, the US Army Band, the USO, and at many other concert events across the nation. In 2003, she made her professional operatic debut with the Gold Coast Opera, and has since appeared in both full-scale productions and concerts with a myriad of opera companies, musical theater companies, symphonies, and private events throughout the nation. Her principal roles have included Marie in La Fille du Régiment, Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, Kathie in The Student Prince, Lily in The Secret Garden, Marian in The Music Man, Lucy in The Telephone, and Yum Yum in The Mikado. In 2007, Katie debuted her first solo album, Soul of Love, in partnership with MAH Records and renowned concert pianist and composer Michael Allen Harrison. The album was met with critical acclaim and Katie was named a “talent to watch.” In February 2010, Katie’s voice was featured on the small screen with a principal role as a singer in an episode of HBO’s dramatic series Big Love.

“…Katie and her husband, an F-15 pilot and instructor for the Air National Guard, reside in Southern Oregon with their two children. Together, they have restored a 1936 farmhouse on five “certified organic” acres and continue to strive for a sustainable life – complete with cows, goats, chickens and a large garden!”

In addition to the packed KPOF Hall and the outstanding guest soloist, the third element that set this performance apart, was the marked improvement of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra under the leadership of Maestro Adam Flatt. I have often taken community orchestras to task for one thing and another, but usually it concerns what I perceive to be a lack of effort on the part of some of the musicians (some just seem to sit and display little industry), and my other concern is when they play out of tune. I am perfectly aware the community orchestra musicians volunteer because they love the music, but I have often been mentally stymied by the fact that in spite of this love, some members don’t seem to know how to convert that love into action (I have written about this before, and received a splendid comment from Maestra Cynthia Katsarelis, who said that community orchestra conductors must also be teachers, and know when to teach, and when to be quiet.). There is no question that Maestro Adam Flatt knows this, and he has enormous experience and musicianship as a conductor (do any of you recall his excellent work for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra for five years?). I certainly have not attended any DPO rehearsals. But after hearing the orchestra Friday night, it is very easy to hypothesize that Flatt is doing everything right in his communications with the orchestra. I was genuinely struck by the improvement Friday night. Over the last couple of years, steady improvement has certainly been made under Maestro Flatt’s direction, but Friday night there was a quantum leap. It was as if the whole orchestra had been awakened to a new musical world. They were in tune, everyone had their eyes on Maestro Flatt, and though, from where I was sitting, it was difficult to see the entire orchestra, I could clearly hear the energy with which they played. Maestro Flatt has been entirely successful in teaching them a consistency in thought (there is a difference between consistency “in” thought and a consistency “of” thought), and that has made a real difference in the performance of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra.

There were several instances in the concert Friday evening, where the orchestra, for example, at the end of a piece, made a decrescendo – in other words, they got softer – but it was absolutely totally in union, and to the same degree. Attacks and releases and phrasing were marvelous.

One of the works performed Friday evening was the Concerto grosso, Opus 6 Nr. 8, in G minor, by Arcangelo Corelli. This is without a doubt one of his most famous pieces. This particular concerto grosso was not published until 1714 (it was published posthumously), but there is evidence that what it was written about 25 years earlier, because it seems to have been first performed in 1690 for his patron, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni.

I mention this little historic anecdote, because, due to its time of composition, you must realize that it was written for a chamber orchestra of strings. The DPO performance of this work was done beautifully, expressively, and the small ensemble revealed no serious deficiencies in the player’s musicianship. It was gorgeous.

The Denver Phil also performed a piece by Georges Bizet, famous for writing the opera Carmen. However, the piece they performed Friday evening was from the incidental music to the play, The Woman from Arles, by French playwright Alphonse Daudet. They performed the Farandole, the last part of the suite from L’Arlesienne, which is an open chain line dance that was popular at the time in Nice. This was extremely well done with very sharp rhythms and everyone together. This dance had a reputation for being quite rowdy, and the DPO performed with a great deal of excitement and energy.

And what winter concert would be complete without a performance of the Skater’s Waltz? Written by Emile Waldteufel, this work is undoubtedly known by everyone. It is, as Maestro Flatt said, one of the most graceful pieces ever written. That is precisely how the DPO performed. It has been years since I have heard this done by an orchestra, and it was great having my mind refreshed. I had completely forgotten how difficult some of the bowing and fingering is for the violins, but they accomplished the piece without any problem at all.

Katie Harman led the audience in a medley of Christmas carols, and she sang Christmas solos with the orchestra which were absolutely beautiful. The audience gave Katie Harman, Maestro Flatt, and the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra a standing ovation, and demanded an encore. Ms. Harman and the orchestra performed a Merry Little Christmas.

There will be some individuals who read this who will say that a community orchestra cannot be as good as this one. But with the leadership that they have in the person of Maestro Adam Flatt, and the outstanding section leaders, I am not surprised at the steady improvement that this orchestra has made. In January, there will be two performances: one on January 7, and one on January 28. On Friday, February 17, there concert will feature the winners of the DPO’s Young Artist Vocal Competition.

For more information, please go to the DPO website, which is listed among the links in the left-hand column of this page.

The Ars Nova Singers: they are beautiful and they are Colorado’s
December 10, 2011, 5:40 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Since I heard the Ars Nova Singers with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra perform the Mozart Requiem, I had been looking forward to their next performance. There always seems to be such a “dry spell” between their performances. It would be wonderful to hear them sing every weekend, but I suppose that is asking too much. Their Christmas concert Friday night, December 9, at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, was another remarkable performance.

The program began with a processional by the Ars Nova Singers down the aisles of the church while they sang Ave Maris Stella, which is an old Gregorian chant hymn, certainly from the eighth century, and possibly even the sixth century. It was often used in later years as a piece of cantus firmus, and thus provided the basis of a polyphonic composition. In this concert,  Maestro Morgan led the audience through several historic periods of music, ending with works from the late 20th century.

Rather than just lead you readers through the program in order, I think that I will begin with the work that the Ars Nova Singers performed immediately after the intermission. If there can be a work pinpointed as the outstanding work of the evening, this is it. They performed a Bach chorale entitled Schaut hin, dort liegt im finstern Stall, which had been arranged by Edwin London. Bach had a history, as I said in my review of the Christmas Oratorio, of plagiarizing himself. Tom Morgan, in his excellent program notes, quotes Ed London as London explains his arrangement of this particular chorale, which, by the way, is from the Cantata Nr. 2, Chorale Nr. 8, in the Christmas Oratorio. London is quoted thusly: “There is a long tradition of making music out of music. Just as J. S. Bach (with true artistry and respect for his sources) used traditional chorales to build a grand series of musical gems, so may we (with humility) utilize his harmonizations as a starting point on the road to new processes and compositions.”

I point out that this is the same Edwin London who taught at the University of Illinois during my last year at that institution. I also point out that he took the music school by storm, because of his compositions, and because he was such a fine teacher. Below is a very short biographical statement for London. It comes from the webpage of the Cleveland Arts Prize for composition.

“After earning a degree in French horn at Oberlin College, he began his performing career with Orquestra Sinfonica de Venezuela and the Oscar Pettiford Jazz Band.

“London continued his education at the University of Iowa, where he completed a master’s degree in conducting and a doctorate in composition. His principal teachers were P. G. Clapp and Philip Bezanson. He also studied composition with Luigi Dallapiccola, Darius Milhaud and Gunther Schuller. London’s music, published primarily by C. F. Peters Inc., has been recorded on several labels and performed by ensembles across the United States and in Europe.

“London taught at Smith College from 1960 to 1969, then joined the faculty at the University of Illinois. There, he founded Ineluctable Modality, a choral ensemble specializing in new music. From 1978 until his retirement in 2004, he was a faculty member at Cleveland State University, where he formed the award-winning Cleveland Chamber Symphony in 1980.

“Widely honored for his work as a composer, conductor, music director and champion of contemporary American music, London has won numerous awards, including the 2001 Ditson Conductor’s Award and the 1982 Cleveland Arts Prize for composition.”

The work began with an almost direct quote (I say “almost” because I’m sure I heard a few added notes in this chorale that were not Bach’s) of Bach’s famous chorale. Then, gradually, notes are added to each chord of the chorale to create intervals of minor and major seconds, which were not at all used by Bach. In addition, the Ars Nova Singers and Maestro Morgan demonstrated their amazing ability to control dynamics. In this particular instance, I promise you that I do not use the word “amazing” lightly. Hearing everyone in the choir sing so very softly that they were almost in audible, even from the ninth or tenth row of the church, had an amazing effect. This brought back many memories of hearing the Ineluctable Modality in Champaign-Urbana. Morgan has an incredible ability to control what a choir does and how they do it. I can promise you that if Edwin London had been in the audience, he would have been enormously pleased with what he heard. The sound from the Ars Nova Singers simply blossomed like a flower, and then diminished, as if the flower was closing its petals for the night. Morgan also used an innovative technique that London certainly would have approved: some members of the Ars Nova Singers slowly rotated, while others continued to face forward, thus making the sound swell and fade. This is the kind of “innovation” in avant-garde music that makes Maestro Morgan stand head and shoulders above a typical choral conductor. There are probably only two other choir directors in the state of Colorado with this kind of insight into sound.

It was also a very interesting work, because London used the melody of the chorale as a cantus firmus (see the second paragraph of this article) which was placed sometimes above the harmony and sometimes below the harmony, which was provided by Edwin London. Unless you were at this performance, it truly is difficult to imagine where some of these sounds came from, because of the dynamic control the Ars Nova Singers demonstrated. The sound simply appeared, blossomed, and then was gone. I sincerely hope that Friday night’s performance was recorded, and that the resultant CD is offered for sale. I will certainly be first in line.

There was a guest artist on Friday’s program: a terrific guitarist, Benjamin Cantú. I will quote from the program notes:

“Ben Cantú has quickly become one of the most sought after young guitarists in Colorado. He has worked with many ensembles including the Playground Ensemble, Ars Nova Singers, Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, and the Pueblo Symphony Orchestra. Cantú received his Bachelor of Music degree from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and his Master of Music degree from the University of Denver’s Lamont school of Music under the tutelage of Stephen Aron and Ricardo Iznaola. He is currently pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder in classical guitar performance with Jonathan Leathwood.”

The 17th work on the program, Christmas Lullaby, written by Jeffrey Van, was a showcase for Cantú to display his musicianship. This was not full of technical daring, but it required great sensitivity and ability to listen to the choir. He was also superb in the following work, the well-known carol, Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella. Cantú never faltered: he was always precisely with Maestro Morgan and the choir, and it was readily apparent that there was a great deal of mutual admiration in each other’s musicianship. However, this should not really be any kind of surprise. Every time I hear the Ars Nova Singers, I am always struck by Thomas Edward Morgan’s ability to choose members of the choir, to choose the pieces on the program, and to choose the guest artist. Of course, those attributes are one of the reasons that the Ars Nova Singers is one of the best choral groups in the United States, and I mean that quite sincerely.

Benjamin Cantú truly took me by surprise when he performed the ninth piece on the program,Villancico de Navidad, by the Paraguayan composer, Augustin Barrios Mangoré. Mangoré’s dates 1885 to 1944. Though he was born in Paraguay, he eventually moved to Argentina, and there he always performed in traditional Paraguayan dress.

The villancico, which is Spanish, but nonetheless related to the Medieval English Carol, eventually became just another Christmas carol. However, this work for solo guitar, to my knowledge at least, has no text whatsoever. But it is beautiful, and Cantú played it with great warmth, and it was truly exquisite.

Friday night’s entire program was full of detail and unbelievably solid musicianship, as one has come to expect from the Ars Nova Singers. Brian Du Fresne proved once again that he is not only a superb member of the choir, but that he can conduct as well, which he did in the work by Jeffrey Nytch, Calm on the Listening Ear of Night.

There were also some wonderful duets and solos by Steve Kientz, Brian du Fresne, Bruce Doenecke, Lou Warshawsky, Evanne Browne, Kim Lancaster, Janet Preloger, Leah Creek Biesterfeld, Paul Munsch, Tara U’Ren, Julie Poelchau, and Steve Winograd. And please understand that some of these solos were on the recorder, not just vocal solos. So, here is another organization that is similar to the Colorado Ballet: everyone in the organization can do something besides “just” sing, and do it extraordinarily well. The Ars Nova Singers has incredible depth.

When I say that Tom Morgan is concerned with detail, I mean just exactly that. If any of you in the audience has noticed, he shifts the singers around on their risers and location during the concert, and sometimes for individual pieces. Why? Because that affects sound production as the audience perceives it. And more importantly, how Morgan perceives it. I say more importantly, because to every artist every detail is important. The artist wants to know, and I can guarantee you that Morgan is one, that the choir (in this case) is doing exactly what he imagines in his mind it is doing. This entails very careful listening and very intense work. But this is why the Ars Nova Singers is one of the best choral groups in the United States.

It is my sincere hope that Maestro Tom Morgan does not uproot them, and take them off to someplace like New York City where they can have unlimited performance opportunities. I am fairly certain that he knows how much the Ars Nova Singers would be missed here in Colorado.

The Music of Hayg Boyadjian: a CD entitled “Vientos”
December 10, 2011, 9:34 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve been fortunate recently, to discover some new CDs, one of which has really kindled my interest for a variety of reasons. The new CD that I will tell you about today is entitled Vientos (named after the seventh work on this CD), which means winds. It is a selection of compositions by the Armenian/Argentine/American composer, Hayg Boyadjian. This CD has allowed me to discover this composer, and his music is quite exciting. In addition, I am also fortunate enough to know one of the outstanding performers on this CD, James Pellerite, who was a Professor of Flute at Indiana University. On this CD, Pellerite performs on the Native American Flute, which has been a passion of his now, for several years.

All of the performers on this CD are truly outstanding, which makes it one of the most enjoyable CDs of chamber music that I’ve heard for a while.

Quoting from Boyadjian’s website:

“Hayg Boyadjian was born in 1938 in Paris, France. At an early age, he immigrated with his family to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he started his musical studies at the Liszt Conservatory. In 1958, he immigrated to the USA, and presently lives in Lexington, Massachusetts. In the USA, he continued his musical studies as a special student first at the New England Conservatory and later at Brandeis University. Among his teachers were Beatriz Balzi (student of Alberto Ginastera, with whom Boyadjian had several consulting meetings), Seymour Shifrin, Alvin Lucier, and Edward Cohen. He has composed a large number of works from chamber to symphonic. Many of his compositions have been performed throughout the world: USA, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Korea, Russia, France, Holland, England, Spain, Armenia and others. A number of his scores are available through the American Music Center, New York, and on the internet through Sibelius Music. Some of his chamber and symphonic compositions are recorded on the following CD labels: Living Music, Society of Composers Recordings, North/South Consonance Recordings, and Opus One Recordings.

“He is a member of the Composers’ Union of Armenia, ASCAP, Society of Composers, the MacDowell Colony, and others. His name is found in the Who’s Who in American Music, the International Who’s Who in Music. He has received awards from ASCAP, Meet the Composer, the Lexington Arts Council-MA, the New England Foundation-Meet the Composer, the Fiftieth Anniversary Commission Project-American Music Center, and others. A number of his writings on music and a number of his poems have been published in various publications.”

Boyadjian is an amateur astronomer, and in the first work on this CD, which is entitled Cassiopeia, he took the shape of the constellation, which is roughly a W, and made a five note cell and traces that letter, and thus the melodic line, in the score. The motive that process creates can easily be heard as it comes back in several sections of the piece. When I hear brand-new works such as this one, I am amazed at so many styles of avant-garde music which I grew up with that have fallen by the wayside. No longer is there an era of experimentalism. And, really, while there may be snippets here and there of serialism, or 12 tone derivation, that, too, is not so prevalent anymore. Most composers have fallen back – or, truly, they have fallen forward – into tonally centered music.

The opening work, Cassiopeia, has some dissonant opening chords and then there is a remarkable driving rhythm, which is irrevocable, it makes you feel as if you get in the way, it will simply run you down. It is performed with great excitement by the clarinetist, cellist, and pianist. Those individuals are Suren Khorozyan, Karen Kocharyan, and Armine Grigoryan, respectively (and before I get e-mails correcting my error, please note that Karen Kocharyan is male, because in Armenia Karen is a man’s name). This is a beautiful piece of music built around snippets of counterpoint, and it is incredibly difficult.

The next work on this program, which is also inspired by astronomy, is entitled Perseus. However, this work has no pianist: it is written for flute, Tigran Gevorgyan, and cello, Karen Kocharyan. There is a marvelous section in this work where the writing for flute is very close to J. S. Bach’s writing for the violin. It is echoed, then, by the cello. It sounds just as difficult for the flute as Bach’s writing has to be for the violinist – and cellist. This work alone is worth the price of the CD. Boyadjian’s fluency as a composer, and his artistic ability, are readily noticeable.

The third work on this CD, which also shows the influence of Boyadjian’s interest in astronomy, is entitled Pleiades. This work is dedicated to James Pellerite, who plays the Native American Flute. The other members of this chamber group are: Kathryn Lukas, flute; Rose Armbrust, viola; Yotam Baruch, cello; Brian Blume, marimba; and Charles Latshaw, Conductor.

As Hayg Boyadjian points out in the notes, the Native American flute is played like a recorder, and it sounds more like a Baroque recorder than a transverse flute. James Pellerite has made improvements in the instrument so that it has a wider range and, one can also play it chromatically so that there is more versatility.

This is an amazingly haunting piece, and the Native American flute has a unusually soothing quality of sound. It is dulcet and warm, and Pellerite is remarkably skilled in bringing out a wide variety of dynamics which help shape the phrasing. Boyadjian has written some very sophisticated rhythm which gives this relatively slow piece a definite forward momentum. There is no question that Pellerite is making the Native American Flute a main-stream instrument. If other flautists perform on this instrument with his ability, perhaps more composers will write compositions for the instrument. Boyadjian and Pellerite deserve much applause.

As Boyadjian says in the program notes, it would be very difficult to dance to Mi Tango, which is the second composition on the CD. In order to give it his own particular flavor, Boyadjian changed the accents in the tango, and also used different meters other than the common 2/4 of the tango. Frankly, though it is an absolutely wonderful composition, I am not sure that I would recognize it as a tango. Aaron Larget-Caplan is the guitarist in this work, and his musicianship seems to be entirely effortless.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth bands on this CD comprise the three-song cycle, De Profundis. The cycle is performed by the soprano, Gayane Geghamyan. She has a wonderful voice quality, though, at least, in the first song, De Profundis, she seems to be more of a mezzo that a soprano. Mind you, now, that is certainly no criticism; it is simply an observation. She has a beautiful voice.

These three songs were inspired by the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Boyadjian uses texts by Georg Trakl and Rainer Maria Rilke. They are dark and unbelievably tragic with no chance of respite. They are beautifully written and performed. The soprano has near perfect technique except for one item: her diction. It could be the recording process, but I found it impossible to understand her words.

The trio, Vientos, is the seventh track on this CD. Remember, as I stated above, Vientos means wind. It is written for guitar, violin, and mandolin: Matt Gould, Beth Schneider-Gould, and Avi Avital. I have listened several times to this composition, and I am still puzzling over how Hayg Boyadjian creates the sound in this work. His writing, and the instrumentation, truly captures the fitful capriciousness of the wind. It is a wonderful example of his compositional ability, and you simply must hear it.

This is an excellent CD which shows the artistry of a composer with whom I was unfamiliar. It is a joy to listen to, and it is firmly on my iPod. The compositions are masterful and so are the musicians – they are truly artists. I have listed them below.

This Cd was recorded in 2010 on the Albany label: TROY1219.

James Pellerite, Native American Flute, served for many years as Professor of Flute at Indiana University, and many of his students now hold prominent university and symphony positions.

Suren Khorozyan, clarinetist, has been principal clarinetist of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra.

Pianist Armine Grigoryan is a Professor of the Yerevan State Conservatory and since 2004, director of Aram Khachaturian house-museum.

Cellist Karen Kocharyan is one of the founding members of the Khachatyryan trio, first solo cellist of the Armenian Chamber Players (ACP), Associate concertmaster of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra.

Soprano Gayane Geghamyan has been a principal soloist with the National Opera Theatre since 1999.

Pianist Anna Mandalyan has been a lecturer on the faculty of the State Conservatory’s School of Training for Concertmasters since 1988.

Duo 46 classical guitarist, Matt Gould, (BM Peabody Conservatory, MM University of Arizona, DMA Arizona State University) has been described by former teacher Manuel Barrueco, as “a guitarist capable of giving performances of great beauty, enthusiasm and control.”

As a member of Duo46, violinist Beth Schneider-Gould (B.M. Indiana University Bloomington, M.M. University of Arizona) made her solo debut at the age of 16 with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

The Israeli mandolin player, Avi Avital, is recognized by the New York Times for his “exquisitely sensitive playing” and “stunning agility.”

Aaron Larget-Caplan is on the faculty of the Boston Conservatory, the New School of Music and has an active private studio in Boston. Aaron is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where he studied with David Leisner and Eliot Fisk.

Charles Latshaw is the Music Director of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Ars Nova Chamber Orchestra in Washington DC.

Rose Armbrust has currently completed her Master’s at Indiana University where she held the merit-based Viola Associate Instructorship while studying with Atar Arad and was a member of The Kuttner Quartet, the University’s quartet in residence.

Yotam Baruch, at the time of this recording, was studying with famed cellist Janos Starker at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.

Brian Blume is also a graduate of Indiana University and is currently percussionist with the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra and has also played with the Lafayette Symphony, Columbus Indiana Philharmonic, Carmel Symphony, and Bloomington Camerata Orchestra.

Tigran Gevorgyan has been a Professor of Flute at the Yerevan Conservatory since 1985.

Composer William Hill’s Symphony Nr. 3 to be given World Premier by Colorado Symphony Orchestra
December 7, 2011, 11:31 am
Filed under: News | Tags: ,

Composer William Hill, who is Principal Timpanist for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, is going to have his Symphony Nr. 3 premiered on January 6 and January 7, 2012. I will state this again, this is a World Premier. I restated that because in the last year, I have attended two other world premieres, and I could not help but notice that the audience was far too small. There are some very fine composers in this state, and so many of the concert audience seems to pay little attention when a new work is performed for the first time.

If it is frustrating for me, who has an interest in music history and things musicological, think how frustrating it is for the composers. They would like to have their pieces heard and appreciated. And, I wonder why the historical significance of a new work seems to escape so many serious music lovers. Think of all the excitement that has happened at world premieres in the past: indignant audiences threw chairs in Paris; and before that, a soprano soloist came to the podium of the deaf composer/conductor, and turned him around so he could see the audience wildly cheering in appreciation of his last symphony. How many of you music lovers know to which concerts and composers I’m alluding?

So you see, if you love music and you want to associate this work with this time, you simply have to come hear a brand new Symphony. Just because the composer has not traveled a great distance to have the Colorado Symphony play his composition (and I know many of you are anticipating what I’m going to say next), please do not take the composer for granted.

So that you may know what to expect from Mr. Hill’s World Premier of his Third Symphony, I am going to include notes on the work, which were written by him and sent to me. The only thing that I have added is a miniature, six word glossary, which may be helpful to those of you who do not have professional music training. I will list the glossary first rather than at the end of the article.

idée fixe – Berlioz’ name for the principal subject of his Symphonie fantastique. It occurs in all the movements, representing the artist at various stages of his life. It is considered an important forerunner of Wagner’s leitmotiv.

12 tone row – The use of all twelve tones in one octave (think chromatic scale) to provide the basis of a composition, rather than the eight notes of a major or minor scale.

modal writing – the use of the Medieval church modes. Modes have no leading tone (and are, therefore, not considered scales) as do major or minor scales; therefore, there is no sense tonality.

bitonality – the simultaneous use of two different keys.

kalimba – The thumb piano is an African musical instrument: a type of plucked idiophone common throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. The thumb piano is most commonly held in both hands with both thumbs being used to pluck tines either simultaneously or in turn.

Fibonacci sequence – In mathematics, the Fibonacci numbers are the numbers in the following integer sequence: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, etc. By definition, the first two numbers in the Fibonacci sequence are 0 and 1, and each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two.

Here are the notes by composer, William Hill:

“The first sketches for Symphony #3 were written in July of 2011, and the score was composed from the middle of August through October, and completed on October 27, 2011. The three movements are through-composed and don’t follow the traditional forms of the 19th Century symphony. Duration is approximately 28 minutes. An idée fixe, with numerous modifications, is used in all movements, and several other motives evolve and repeat throughout the piece. Even these secondary themes have some relation to the idée fixe, so in many ways the form is created by the metamorphosis of one single musical gesture.

“Using one principal idea throughout a large composition is the basis of much of the contrapuntal music of Bach, and, of course, many other composers such as Berlioz, Stravinsky, and Bartok. There are hidden quotes in the symphony from all four of these composers as well as a three chord progression used by Led Zeppelin and other rock groups. Again all of these little musical expressions are secondary to, and closely related, to the idée fixe.

“The outer two movements are large in scale and orchestration, while the middle movement is more intimate. The harmonic and rhythmic languages of the piece contain many of the usual modern devices: mixed meter, off set accents, ethnic rhythms, spatial notation with no time signature, tertian and quartal harmony, clusters, free chromaticism, a 12 tone row, modal writing, and bitonality. Parts of the string sections are equipped with microphones and run through electronic processing to create distortion and delay. The harp, piano, and kalimba are also amplified. Total duration is approximately 30 minutes.

“Here is a brief movement by movement description of Symphony #3.

“Movement I:  Andante, Allegro, Largo, Vivace

“The first notes D#, E, and F, heard in violins and clarinets present the idée fixe, and lead to a chord of rising fourths based on the opening notes of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra. This introduction accelerates into an allegro section with 2 main thematic ideas, the idée fixe, and a motive developed from the 4 note cluster Bb, A, C, and B. Bitonal chords and Stravinsky-like rhythms propel the music relentlessly to a climax that gives way to the largo and a third thematic piece. This section features thick, string harmonies that glissando into other chords, a lyric horn solo, and a horn and oboe duet. Fragments from the introduction lead to the final vivace, which juxtaposes the idée fixe and various other thematic bits from the movement.

“Movement II:  Moderato, Andante, Adagio

“The second movement begins in free notation with a collage of percussion, harp, piano, and strings. Sound effects in the brass and an airy piccolo solo lead to a section in African rhythm and mode, with a lyric flute solo accompanied by kalimba (African thumb piano), marimba, and other African percussion. Each of the principal woodwinds and the entire percussion section are featured in this section of counterpoint with various ostinati and ever changing subdivisions of the meter. The Andante follows beginning with a chorale for brass and winds and moving through solos for horn, clarinet, and trumpet, all abstractions of the idée fixe intervals. The Adagio brings this movement to a close with the chorale, now in strings, one last statement of the idée fixe in solo trumpet, and an almost ghost like reappearance of the kalimba motive.

“Movement III:  Vivace, Allegro, Largo, Allegro

“Symphony #3’s final movement grows organically from a fast percussion and harp rhythmic motive. Instruments join in section by section until the idée fixe motive appears in violins and trombone. Various rhythmic and melodic fragments from earlier movements are reused mostly as secondary ideas to the main theme, but always driving the music forward. This section explodes into a slower Allegro. The Allegro is the one section in the entire piece that purposefully avoids the idée fixe. The music is thinly orchestrated with solo winds, percussion, and piano, and is a working-out of the various permutations of a 12 tone row, with meter based on the first 5 numbers of a Fibonacci sequence. A Largo brass chorale follows with a mix of tertian and quartal harmony, the top note of each chord sounding a repetition of the original form of the tone row. The symphony ends with a gradually building Allegro. The idée fixe, opening fourths, driving rhythm, glissando chords, a statement of the tone row, and previously mentioned quotes, all work their way into this finale, building to a powerful and dramatic ending.”

I sincerely hope that there will be a huge audience at this World Premier. It is, after all, being performed by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra on two different days, so, you see, all of you music lovers will have an opportunity to come hear it.

It may be a very exciting recollection in years to come, when you can tell your grandchildren, “Yes, I was at the world premiere of William Hill’s Symphony Nr. 3.”



Bach’s Christmas Oratorio: Yet another world-class performance!

The concert going public is truly indebted to Cynthia Katsarelis and Timothy Krueger (Which one do I name first?) for having the imagination and the artistic skill and the organizations – St. Martin’s Chamber Choir and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra – to program and perform J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. In the program notes, they state that it is been at least 10 years, and perhaps longer, since this work has been performed in the Denver Metro area. I think it is been much longer. In fact this magnificent Oratorio does not seem to be performed much at all in the United States. I know it has been at least forty years since I have heard it performed.

I was unable to hear the performance Friday evening in Denver, so I drove to Boulder Saturday evening to hear their performance, which was done at the First United Methodist Church on Spruce Street. As the program notes explain, this work is divided into six sections which were intended to be performed on the six major feast days over a thirteen day period from December 25th through January 6th. The six sections of this oratorio are really cantatas, and thus form a cycle of cantatas.

A cantata is a composition that uses soloists and chorus, and, depending upon the facilities available to the composer at the time, it can also use an orchestra or an organ. There are two kinds of cantatas. Almost all of Bach’s cantatas were liturgical and intended to be sung at specific church services during the Lutheran year. These are known as cantata da chiesa. There are also secular cantatas. Bach wrote two well-known secular cantatas: the Coffee Cantata and the Hunting Cantata. Secular cantatas are known as cantata da camera, or chamber cantata.

It was a common practice for Bach to re-use music from past compositions – in other words, self-plagiarism – and the Christmas Oratorio is no exception. He uses themes from three previous cantatas as well as his lost work, the St. Mark Passion (and I point out that the full name of this work, and that of any Passion that Bach wrote is “The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ Upon the Cross According to St. Mark”). However, as is also usual in Bach, the adaptation of these themes is so skillful that many of the themes go unrecognized, and certainly it does not cause any kind of disturbance.

At Saturday night’s performance, an intermission was placed between the first three sections in the last three, with Maestra Katsarelis conducting the first half of the oratorio, and the Maestro Timothy Krueger conducting the second half. As you might imagine, the six sections tell the complete Christmas story beginning with the birth of Jesus, and ending with the Epiphany.

This entire performance was bathed in joy and remarkable detail work from the musicians and both conductors. I thought that in the opening four or five measures the timpani was a little too loud because it covered everything. But after those opening measures, he seemed to get his enthusiasm under control. One of the most important aspects of this entire performance was that it was so well done that it was exultant where it should have been exultant, and it was introspective without being maudlin.

The musicians performed with such great care, attention, warmth, and belief in what they were doing, that this work was revealed as a very personal statement by J.S. Bach. How often do we hear a program where that intangible, yet identifiable aesthetic, is manifest?

Amanda Balestrieri, soprano; Marjorie Bunday, mezzo; Daniel Hutchings, tenor (in the role of Evangelist); Jacob Sentgeorge, tenor; and Robert W. Tudor, bass, were all quite remarkable and excellent. I was struck by the balance of the singers with the orchestra. That can sometimes be a very difficult thing to bring off, especially when one does not get a chance to perform often in the hall. Nonetheless, performance experience pays off quite nicely, and it was clear that the soloists had an abundance of that. Yes, of course, they were singing arias and recitatives (An aria is a vocal solo where the soloist must sing to the rhythm that the composer has written. A recitative is a vocal solo wherein the soloist is governed only by the rhythm of the prose text, with occasional chords from the orchestra or organ, as the case may be, to help the soloists stay on pitch, and provide the audience with a sense of tonality), but they had a sense of musicianship that is sometimes rare. Using a broad brush, realize that there are some singers who seem motivated by the desire to be the most important person on stage. In Bach, there are moments when this is perfectly proper; however, there are times when it is not. Why? Because Bach wrote counterpoint, and he often treats the voice as a member of the contrapuntal line. All of these soloists had the musicianship to realize when to be an “instrument,” and when to be a soloist.

Not only was the balance with the acoustics of the church excellent, but the balance between the musicians in the orchestra and choir and the soloists was well-nigh perfect. The result of this balance made it possible to hear some of the harmonic changes that Bach used in this oratorio. Why is that important? Because there were deceptive resolutions of the harmony that I have never heard in the music of Bach. In the Chorale Nr. 10 of Part III, I heard an augmented sixth chord, known among musicians as a German V 6-5 chord. This chord was not used freely until the 1820’s or so. I apologize for being so technical, but the V is a Roman numeral indicating that the chord is built upon the 5th degree of the scale (do you young people see why it is important to learn scales?); however, in the case of the V 6-5 chord, the root, or base (foundation) of the chord is lowered by a half step. That, in turn, governs how it can resolve or go to the next chord. I have never heard this chord used in Bach. I am sure that if he used it in this Oratorio, he must have used it in other compositions as well, but I must say that it added to the aura that his work is a very personal statement. I certainly have not read of any of Bach’s contemporaries criticizing him for using such harmonies, which would have been considered “avante garde,” in the same way that Beethoven was ridiculed for his advanced rhythms in his Symphony Nr. 7, or his addition of the trombone in his compositions. As I say, I have not heard the Christmas Oratorio for many years, so I sat in the audience relishing all of the “new” sounds.

I would also like to point out that in the Recitative Nr. 9 of the Part II, the cello had a flowing triplet pattern that was reminiscent (but only that) of a Barcarolle rhythm. It gave a very distinct swaying motion that was underscored by the wonderful bass solo.

The orchestra musicians were superb. The woodwinds, Michelle Stanley, Olga Shylayeva, Monica Hanulik, Gina Johnson, Jason Lichtenwalter, and Max Soto were delightful. The trumpets – Bruce Barrie, Andrew Bishop, and Steven Marx – gave me the impression that they had played nothing but Bach for their entire lives. Ditto the French horns – Fritz Foss and Michael Yopp –  whose trills in Part VI were astounding. That has to be hard to do on an instrument with such a tiny mouth piece. I would also like to point out the seemingly easy continuo part performed by Frank Nowell was not so “easy,” but it was done with great aplomb.

In Part IV, there is an “Echo” aria for the soprano soloist and the lead soprano in the choir. Both Amanda Balestrieri and the lead soprano in the choir, who was Cindy Henning, were incredible in their grace, and while one could recognize its seriousness in relation to the Oratorio, it was done in such a way as to emphasize that Bach must have been very pleased with his idea, and continually thinking, “Yes, this idea will work.” If you think that my thoughts on this sound corny, or “unscholarly,” you should have heard this concert.

As I drove home, there were two thoughts that stood out in my mind. One, how fortunate we in the metro area are to have these two musicians, Timothy Krueger and Cynthia Katsarelis, who are so capable of pulling together so many outstanding  colleagues and, two, the ability of all of these musicians involved to shed new light on Bach, and expose the beauty of one of his rarely performed compositions.