Opus Colorado

The Peak Performances Chamber Ensemble: Another World Class Performance: The Seven Last Words

I am always surprised when I attend a performance that is exceptional in every way, but there are so few people in the audience to appreciate it. I attended a performance late Saturday afternoon, May 19, at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, that was so outstanding that it took me completely by surprise, even though I have learned to expect great things from the Peak Performances Chamber Series.

Violist, Matthew Dane, founded the Peak Performances Chamber Series, and at this concert performed the Seven Last Words of our Savior on the Cross, Opus 51, by Franz Joseph Haydn. There are nine sections to this work, and they are as follows:

I. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do
II. Today you will be with me in Paradise
III. Behold your son; Behold your mother
IV. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
V. I thirst
VI. It is finished
VII. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit
The Earthquake

Haydn received a commission to write this orchestral work by the Bishop, José Saluz de Santamaria who was also the Marquès de Valde-Inigo, at the Cathedral of Cádiz in Spain for the Good Friday services. However, it must be realized that this was not to be performed in the actual Cathedral, but in the grotto Santa Cueva built underground as part of the Parrish of Rosario in 1756. Religious services were held in the grotto. (Hoboken, volume 1, page 845). This bishop asked a friend of his to contact Haydn in Vienna, explaining in detail the religious exercises and the part that the music should have in them. The above sections that are prefaced by Roman numerals were to contain the music, and in between each of those sections the seven words (or sentences) were to have a sermon or discourse delivered upon them. As he finished each discourse, the bishop would leave the pulpit and kneel before the altar in prayer, while the music was being performed. If the performance of this composition was not done in the grotto, then the walls, windows, and pillars of the church proper were to be covered with black cloth so as to darken the room for the solemn ceremony.

Haydn began this composition in 1786 while he was enormously busy conducting opera performances – he conducted 125 performances at Eszterháza in 1786 – in addition to writing three of his “Paris” Symphonies. He finished the Seven Last Words in 1787, and its first performance was on April 8th of that year. We also know that Haydn had difficulty maintaining the ten minute time limit given to him by the bishop, and Haydn asked him if he could exceed that, to which the bishop readily agreed. We also know that Haydn’s friend Abbé Stadler (who was with Haydn at the time of the commissioning) later confirmed the truth of the tradition that Haydn himself considered this “the very finest of all his works.” The orchestral music (a small chamber orchestra, to be sure) was arranged for string quartet by Haydn, and for organ by Michael Haydn, Franz Joseph’s brother, as Franz Joseph Haydn did not play the organ well, but Michael was quite a good performer.

The performers Friday afternoon were, of course, Matthew Dane, Viola; Margaret Soper Gutierrez, violin; MinTze Wu, violin; and Silver Ainomäe, cello. I point out that Mr. Ainomäe was performing this incredibly difficult work for the first time, filling in for Ann Marie Morgan who fell ill just a few days before the performance. Dr. Gregory Robbins gave the discourse in between each of the musical sections of this work. Dr. Robbins is Associate Professor of Christian Origins, a sub–discipline of Religious Studies devoted to the study of the history, language, and literature of early Christianity. He also serves as chair of the Department of Religious Studies. Dr. Robbins received his M. Div. Degree from Yale University and his Ph.D. in Early Church History from Duke University. He has taught at the University of Denver since 1988.

Dr. Robbins’ provided the meditation and illumination of the Seven Last Words, and I have no doubt that his elucidation fit the framework of what Haydn had in mind.

It has been a while since I have heard such an amazingly polished performance. Judging by this group’s desire for artistic excellence, I am sure there were things they wished they could have done better: everyone who performs always wants to give that “perfect” performance. But I assure you, that this was as close to that as I have heard in several years. There was a remarkable dynamic range, and no matter whether they were playing as soft as they could, or a good solid fortissimo, the violins had a wonderfully sweet and mellow sound. I was also struck by how matched everyone’s sound was, and that is the hallmark of a very good ensemble. This is one of the reasons that the old Budapest Quartet was so exceptional, and likewise the Beaux Arts Trio. I could not help but notice that Dane and Ainomäe, even though one is a cellist and the other a violist, were both using the same length of the bow on their portato bowings, and seemed to be using the same amount of effort in the beginning of each phrase. Of course their bowings were together (bowing in the same direction), but their manner of approach was the same. That also applies to the first and second violins. Attacks and releases were remarkably together. If I closed my eyes during this performance, it truly sounded as if one person was playing all four instruments.

All seven of these sonatas (and they are all in the sonata form) are extremely dramatic, and there is no question that these four musicians really understood and felt the drama taking place. This was truly performance cooperation and a shared musical desire, the likes of which I have not seen for some time.

The Peak Performance Chamber Series ensemble closed the program with Mozart’s Te Deum in C Major, K. 141. Chrysostom Frank provided an introduction to this work. He is the Pastor of Saint Elizabeth and SS Cyril and Methodius. He has been the pastor of the community since 2002 and the faculty member at the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary for the Archdiocese of Denver since 1999. He received his M. Div. from the Nashotah House theological seminary and his Ph.D. in Ecclesiastical History from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

Mozart wrote the Te Deum shortly before he set off on his Italian journeys, and it dates from the end of 1769. This piece really seems to rely on source material from the Te Deum that Michael Haydn wrote in 1760, though it is certainly a Mozart composition, including the double fugue at the end. Members of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Choir joined the Peak Performances Chamber ensemble for the Te Deum. They were sopranos Cynthia Henning and Ashley Hoffman; altos Jennifer Grotpeter and MB Krueger; tenors Matt Bentley and Brock Ericsson; and basses Eric Angerhofer, and Timothy Krueger.

Mozart’s composition is extremely spirited and joyful. It was a terrific way to end the program, and once again, the ensemble was in perfect balance with entrances and phrasing beyond compare. Timothy Krueger, who conducts the St. Andrew’s Choir, has the same musical enthusiasm, dedication, and passion that the Peak Performances Chamber Ensemble possesses.

This was, without a doubt, a world-class performance. It was polished and secure, and as is typical of the Peak Performances Chamber Series and the Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church Choir, very well prepared and professional. And, I assure you, the effort put in by both groups and their “polish” did not detract from the emotional impact of this music. It was a wonderful performance.

The Clavier Trio: Fomin, Castro-Balbi, and Korevaar, are world-class

Since 1950, there have been two chamber groups that have had a profound impact on the world of chamber music, not only because of their incredibly vast repertoire, but because the members of each group were somehow brought together to perform. The earliest of these two chamber groups was the Budapest String Quartet: Joseph Roisman and Jac Gorodetzky, violins; Boris Kroyt, viola; and Mischa Schneider, cello. If they ever needed a pianist for the group, they often included Artur Balsam.

The other chamber group that has had such a profound impact on the art of chamber music is the Beaux Arts Trio. The founding members of the Beaux Arts Trio were Menahem Pressler, piano; Daniel Guilet, violin; and Bernard Greenhouse, cello. The Beaux Arts Trio members changed from time to time for a variety of reasons, but the center artist has always been Menahem Pressler.

Since Bloomington, Indiana, was my hometown, I have heard the Beaux Arts Trio countless times since I was 15 years old. I was also very fortunate to hear the Budapest Quartet. Sunday afternoon, I heard a performance at the CU Boulder College of Music by The Clavier Trio. Its members include Arkady Fomin, violin; Jesus Castro-Balbi, cello; and David Korevaar, piano. Below, are some short bio statements of the members of this trio:

“Violinist Arkady Fomin was born in Riga, Latvia, where he received his musical training at the Latvian State Conservatory with the legendary Latvian pedagogue, Voldemar Sturestep. A founder of Clavier Trio, Mr. Fomin has collaborated in performances with Pinchas Zukerman, Yefim Bronfman, Emanuel Borok, Shlomo Mintz, Atar Arad, David Korevaar, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Andrew Litton and the late Steven De Groote. As violinist and conductor, Mr. Fomin performs in Russia, Latvia, Europe, Japan, and throughout the United States. A member of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Fomin is also Professor and Artist-in-Residence at The University of Texas at Dallas, Artistic Director of the New Conservatory of Dallas, and Artistic Director of Conservatory Music in the Mountains in Durango, Colorado. Arkady Fomin is recipient of the Cowlishaw Artist-in-Residence Award for artistic achievement and contributions to the City of Dallas.”

“Dr. Castro-Balbi is a graduate of the Conservatoire National Supérieur in Lyon (France), Indiana University at Bloomington, Yale, and of The Juilliard School, where he also served on the Pre-College faculty. He studied cello with Aldo Parisot and Janos Starker and chamber music with Boris Berman, the late Rostislav Dubinsky, Joseph Kalischtein, Fred Sherry and members of the Amadeus, Juilliard, Ravel and Tokyo String Quartets. Together with his wife, pianist Gloria Lin and son Joaquín he resides in Fort Worth, where he is the cello professor at Texas Christian University.

“A passionate chamber musician, Dr. Castro-Balbi is the cellist of the Castro-Balbi/Lin Duo with pianist Gloria Lin and of Clavier Trio with violinist Arkady Fomin and pianist David Korevaar. Dr. Castro-Balbi is the founder and director of the TCU Cello Ensemble and of the Faculty & Friends Chamber Music Series, a showcase of collegiality and excellence at TCU. Festivals include La Jolla SummerFest in California; Mimir in Fort Worth, Texas; Norfolk, Connecticut; Music in the Mountains in Durango, Colorado; Aguascalientes, Mexico; the Bartók Festival in Szombathely (Hungary); the Caracas (Venezuela), Manchester (England), and Beauvais (France) international cello festivals, and the Isaac Stern Third International Chamber Music Encounters in Jerusalem, Israel.”

“David Korevaar began his piano studies at age six in San Diego with Sherman Storr, and at age 13 he became a student of the great American virtuoso Earl Wild. By age 20 he had earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Juilliard School, where he continued his studies with Earl Wild and studied composition with David Diamond. He completed his Doctor of Musical Arts from the Juilliard School with Abbey Simon. Another important mentor and teacher was the French pianist Paul Doguereau, who had been a student of Egon Petri, and who had studied the music of Fauré and Debussy with Roger-Ducasse (a pupil of Fauré’s), and the music of Ravel with the composer.

“Prior to joining the faculty of the University of Colorado in 2000, Korevaar taught for many years at the Westport School of Music in Connecticut, where he was Artist-Teacher. He now lives in Boulder, CO with his family. David Korevaar presented his London debut at Wigmore Hall in 2007, as well as his German recital debut at the Heidelberg Spring Festival. Mr. Korevaar has been heard at major venues in New York including Weill Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Town Hall, and Merkin Concert Hall. He has performed across the United States from Boston, New York and Washington, DC to Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, Dallas and San Diego, and he plays frequently in his home state of Colorado with orchestras, in chamber ensembles and in solo recitals.”

This trio is absolutely without question world-class. No doubt, there will be some of you readers who will say that they cannot be world-class because the pianist is from Boulder, not New York or Paris or Salzburg, and the other two musicians, Fomin and Castro-Balbi, are presently from Texas. I am well aware, as I have written before, of the old cliché, that one cannot be good at anything unless one has to travel from far away. That, I assure you, is utter nonsense.

The Clavier Trio opened their recital with a work by Franz Joseph Haydn: the Trio in C Major, Hob. XV:27 (1797).

Note that instead of an opus number, there is an Hob. number. The Hob. number refers to Anthony Van Hoboken, who was a Dutch engineer. He also studied music in Frankfurt and Vienna, and began collecting additions of music beginning with Bach and (essentially) ending with Brahms. This collection of over 5000 items is now in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. The Haydn works catalogue is entitled Thematisch-bibliographisches Werkverzeichnis (3 vols., Mainz: Schott, 1957-78). The Hoboken catalogue uses a double-numbering system. Works are first grouped by genre and then by number. A Roman numeral is used to indicate the group. It is interesting to note that Haydn, himself, began a thematic catalog of his own works, but it was never completed, and oddly enough, contains a few errors!

During his stay in England in the early 1790s, Haydn composed eleven new piano trios, and he seems to have lavished all of his incredible talents on these remarkable compositions. The instant The Clavier Trio began to perform, I was absolutely struck by the amazingly clear phrasing and pedaling by David Korevaar. The phrases were shaped delicately by dynamics, and each Haydn-esque motive was separated by very adroit pedaling and keyboard touch. In fact, everyone in this trio was remarkable in having the same concept of dynamics and phrasing. I was also struck by the sound of the violin; it was full and warm, and so beautiful, that it fit everything that was performed on the program.

There are some instruments that are better for some composers than others, but that simply does not apply to Mr. Fomin’s violin. (After the program, I asked Arkady Fomin what kind of violin he had, and he said it was new to him, and I believe that he said that it was a Grancino). For those of you who are not familiar with this violin maker, Grancino was a student of Niccolo Amati. Mr. Fomin gladly showed me his violin, which was built in 1690 (!), and it was absolutely beautiful. He also said that this particular violin was noted for being in almost original shape.

What was so striking about the first movement was the sameness of concept and musical ideas that each member exhibited as they played. That is the same thing that sets the Beaux Arts Trio and the old Budapest Quartet apart from chamber groups today. The members of The Clavier Trio truly seemed to be in total mental and musical coordination. I point out that it takes a great deal of musical understanding and skill to perform this way. Yes, it’s true that the more one performs with whatever musical partners one has, the more confidence grows, but I assure you that it is an absolute joy to listen to, and it is instantly recognizable.

The slow movement of this trio is in three parts, and is full of accents where one does not expect them. The center section is somewhat stormy with many surprising key changes. Again, this movement reflected that all three of these musicians had not just mastered their instruments, but they fully understood what to do with Haydn’s humor, and how to allow each other to express their ideas while staying within the scope of Haydn. The cellist was absolutely remarkable in this movement: his tone was clear and lyrical. There was never a hint that one member of the trio might cover up the other two; it just never happened. One was left with the feeling that the audience was being given a presentation on why Haydn is such a great composer, and why The Clavier Trio likes his music so much. All of this is a very difficult thing for a chamber group to express, and it is what made the Beaux Arts Trio and the Budapest Quartet so wonderful to listen to.
The last movement of the Haydn was full of Haydn’s humor and incredible technical demands on each musician. Korevaar, Fomin, and Castro-Balbi played with great energy and spirit, and with intense focus. Every entrance and phrase ending was done impeccably. In fact, their playing was so startlingly good, I must admit that I sharpened my ears just to see if they would make a mistake. They didn’t. Now, if one asks them after the performance if they were satisfied, they may point out the minutest of details that they might change. But, you must understand that musicians of such caliber are always concerned with the smallest detail.

Following the Haydn, was a three movement work by the American composer, Paul Schoenfield. Schoenfield is a native of Detroit, and for a time, the main thrust of his musical life was concertizing on the piano. He studied with Rudolph Serkin. Quoting from his website:

“Although he now rarely performs, he was formerly an active pianist, touring the United States, Europe, and South America as a soloist and with groups including Music from Marlboro. His recordings as a pianist include the complete violin and piano works of Bartok with Sergiu Luca. His compositions can be heard on the Angel, Decca, Innova, Vanguard, EMI, Koch, BMG, and the New World labels. A man of many interests, Paul Schoenfield is also an avid scholar of mathematics and Hebrew.”

Schoenfield’s work is a three movement composition entitled Café Music. This is the first time I have heard this composer’s work, and I was totally unprepared for the surprising character of this piece. It was an absolutely glorious rag, infinitely more sophisticated than the well-known rags of Joplin. It had an overtone of French jazz that was so popular in the 1920s and 30s, but it is infinitely more difficult. It certainly was a tonal piece, but the jazz chords were often infused with modern harmonies and the structure, with modern ideas. Keep in mind, that this was the first time I ever heard this work, but the transitions between themes seem to always employ the most avant-garde harmonies, and then, with the return of the theme, the rag idiom and harmonies would reappear. The first movement is marked Allegro, and The Clavier Trio had a rather quick interpretation of the tempo marking, but it was a very natural sound, I assure you.

The slow movement, marked Rubato – Andante Moderato, was a slow stride, with incredibly sweet sounding string work from the violinist and cellist, whose mellifluous qualities were given emphasis by the slow stride rhythm from the piano. The harmonies were incredibly lush with a little bit of dissonance and deceptive resolutions. The Clavier Trio’s playing is so crystal clear, that every nuance and harmonic change could be heard very easily.

The last movement, marked Presto, was a blindingly fast blues/rag. The tempo taken by The Clavier Trio was absolutely breathtaking, considering the technical difficulties that each of these musicians faced in this last movement. It is extremely difficult writing. They never faltered, their entrances were always together, and the insistence of the driving rhythm never failed. It was exciting to listen to and a joy. David Korevaar’s pedaling was perfect in this last movement (as it was throughout the whole recital), and I bring it up, because clarity in this last movement is absolutely essential, and I think many lesser pianists would have had difficulty. Mr. Korevaar did not, and Mr. Fomin and Mr. Castro-Balbi, even though they were hard at work, were impeccable.

For some time, everyone has known that Brahms was very careful to destroy not only his letters that he did not want anyone else to read, but also early sketches, and even complete works, that he thought were unworthy. The Piano Trio in B Major, Opus 8, is a youthful work which was revised thirty-four years later at the invitation of his publisher, Simrock. It is this revision of the earlier work (which was also criticized by Clara Schumann) that is most often performed today. Like Brahms’ other trios, it is in four movements. The second movement, which is a Scherzo, gives this work an almost symphonic feel. In fact, the first movement has so many themes, that it is easy to consider it symphonic in scope. The Clavier Trio performed this work with the required balance, and the wonderful cello playing supported the very passionate work of Mr. Fomin, the violinist. Throughout this work, The Clavier Trio showed profound musicianship which reminded me of the performances that I have twice heard by the Beaux Arts Trio. Why? Because the concept that The Clavier Trio has of Brahms struck me as being identical to the concept that Pressler, Guilet, and Greenhouse had. The last movement has some very dark and mysterious writing, and Korevaar emphasized this with very subtle changes in tone. I have a recording of this trio with the Beaux Arts Trio performing, though Isidore Cohen has replaced Daniel Guilet as violinist (this recording was done in 1986, and I am not sure what year Daniel Guilet left the trio. I first heard the Beaux Arts Trio perform this trio in 1958). At any rate, the sameness of concept and sound between the Beaux Arts Trio and The Clavier Trio is amazing.

Again, I am sure there will be those who read what I have written, and think that the comparison of  The Clavier Trio to the Beaux Arts Trio is nonsense. I would invite all of those individuals to attend a Clavier Trio performance after spending some time listening to the Beaux Arts Trio recordings.

There was a decent audience in Grusin Hall, but truthfully, it should have been larger. I think that The Clavier Trio should perform regularly in Denver, so that Denver audiences will hear more chamber music that is world class. I say more, because there are already some very good chamber organizations in the city and the Metro area. But The Clavier Trio, and I do not intend to take anything away from any of the other organizations, is absolutely world-class.

The Lamont School of Music shines (again)

I have heard two remarkable concerts this week presented by the Lamont School of Music. I have already written about the choral concert that was presented on Wednesday evening, and it was truly inspired. Thursday night, November 18, was the second remarkable concert, and this one was presented by the Lamont Symphony Orchestra conducted by Steven Byess who is filling in for Lawrence Golan while he is on sabbatical. It was also conducted by the Assistant Conductor, Travis Jürgens. And, this concert also introduced to Denver the new Professor of Clarinet, Dr. Jeremy Reynolds. 

Both of these concerts were outstanding, and Thursday evening as I sat listening to Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger, I could not help but think that Prof. Joseph Docksey who is retiring at the end of this year, must be enormously proud of his faculty, and in addition, that performances such as these must be a very nice conclusion to his years as Director of the Lamont School of Music. 

The program opened with the Wagner that I mentioned above. It has probably been ten years since I’ve heard this performed live, but I must also tell you that this work will always have a prominent place with me. When I was an undergraduate at Indiana University, piano performance majors such as myself, were used to fill out opera choruses. Therefore, I was in the chorus of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, so I know the Opera well. As I recall, Tibor Kozma conducted these performances, and I can remember the members of the choir commenting on the tempos that he took – they all thought it was fast. Travis Jürgens conducted the Prelude on Thursday night, and the tempos that he took reminded me very much of the tempos that Tibor Kozma took, and the tempos Thursday night were perfect. Maestro Jürgens infused the orchestra with a remarkable and urgent sense of direction that I truly haven’t heard since I left Indiana University. This is an incredibley complex piece, as all Wagner is, because of all of the themes (leit motifs) that keep reoccurring, and which are woven like fabric throughout. What this means, of course, is that Travis Jürgens, in spite of his young age (Please don’t be upset with me Mr. Jürgens – I can say that because I’m really old.), has a depth of understanding of music that few individuals his age have. In addition, he has the ability to communicate that depth to the orchestra in front of him, and in addition to that, he has the ability to convey to them the excitement that he feels about the music. Maestro Jürgens truly leads and controls the orchestra with clear, concise, and sharp movements that convey, without question, what the orchestra must do for the sake of good Wagner. It was very exciting to see this orchestra, comprised of students, albeit music majors, work so hard. There was not one person in this orchestra simply sitting in their chair passing the time. It was very easy to recognize the fact that they loved the music they were performing. Mr. Travis Jürgens is going to make a name for himself. 

After the Wagner, the LSO performed the Clarinet Concerto, Opus 57, by Danish composer Carl Nielsen. The soloist was Dr. Jeremy Reynolds, newly appointed to the Lamont faculty this fall of 2010. I will quote from the program notes: “In the fall 2010, Dr. Reynolds joined the faculty of the University of Denver Lamont School of Music as Assistant Professor of Clarinet after serving as the Principal Clarinetist of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra where his performances consistently brought high praise from critics and public alike. As printed in the Tucson Citizen, ‘… Jeremy Reynolds has been one of the TSO’s finest recruits able to infuse his solos with such delicacy, exquisite tone and liquid lines as to draw the listener close enough to touch.’” 

“A native of New York, Dr. Reynolds holds degrees from Ithaca College, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. At the Thornton School he was named Doctoral Student of the Year and was inducted into the Pi Kappa Lambda National Music Honor Society. His principal teachers include Yehuda Gilad, Monica Kaenzig, Michelle Zuovsky, David Howard, Richard Hawley, Bil Jackson, Ted Oien, Michael Galvan, and David Minelli.” 

In the interest of saving space, I have left out many of his awards and much of his professional experience. His remarkable ability to perform is a culmination of all of that. 

Carl Nielsen had enormous success with his six symphonies, and over the course of composing those, gradually changed from neo-classicism to using very progressive harmonies, often switching from one key to a very remote key. The opening theme of the Concerto begins in the cello and bass section of the orchestra, and is then played in the clarinet. The opening theme is in F major, then switches to the distant key of E major. The “B” theme is in C major. The the concerto is in one movement with four distinct sections. Many consider this unusual, and I suppose it is, when applied to concertos. However, the concerto, as a genre, gets its basic form from the sonata-allegro, and this one movement concerto brings to mind the enormous one movement Sonata in B minor (which has three distinct sections) written by Franz Liszt. So, perhaps, it is not that unusual after all. This beautiful piece puts the clarinetist on his mettle right away because of its technical demands. It switches abruptly from low register too high register, and switches tonal demands just as abruptly. The cadenza to the first movement is not so terribly long, but it is terribly demanding. Following a short recapitulation after the cadenza, the second “movement” emerges, which is much more lyrical and warm. In the second movement there is additional support by solo instruments in the orchestra, particularly the French horn, to the point where one initially wonders if this is going to be a double concerto. There is a scherzo section followed by an exchange of ideas between the clarinet and the orchestra. It is in this fourth section that some of the difficulties of this work are noticed, i.e., extremely high pitches for the clarinet. But Dr. Reynolds hit every single one squarely and seemingly without much effort. This left the distinct impression that there isn’t anything on the clarinet that he cannot do. His playing is full of aplomb and grace and consummate musicality. And perhaps the most noticeable aspect of his playing, is the supreme confidence. Make no mistake about it, that confidence comes from hours of work and preparation. As a matter of fact, as I was headed backstage during the intermission, I heard one of the students from the orchestra comment, “Man, can you imagine the hours that he practices.” In hearing Jeremy Reynolds perform, I was left with the thought that he could teach and perform at any institution that he chose, be it Indiana, Juilliard, Curtis, or Eastman. We can all thank our lucky stars that he is here. 

And by the way, for all you doctoral students: sometimes Nielsen’s works are referred to by DF numbers, and sometimes by FS numbers. The “DF” stand for a catalog compiled by Dan Fog and the “FS” numbers stand for Dan Fog and Torben Schousboe. So you see, it’s not quite as complicated as the Vivaldi numbers! 

After the intermission, Travis Jürgens conducted  Strut for String Orchestra, by American composer Michael Daugherty. Daugherty, who was born in 1954, is Professor of Composition at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater & Dance in Ann Arbor. The work is a tribute to Paul Robeson (1898-1976), who was an attorney, an All-American athlete, a vitally important racial activist, linguist, actor, and baritone. Again, Jürgens inspired the orchestra to make the most out of the extremely complex rhythmic motives in this work. The orchestra played with great energy and imbued the piece with great excitement. This is a very exciting piece of music, and it was clear that the orchestra was working very, very hard. 

The Lamont Symphony Orchestra concluded their program with Franz Joseph Haydn’s great Symphony Nr. 104, which is the last Symphony that Haydn wrote and it is the last of the London Symphonies. It was conducted by Steven Byess, a truly fine conductor, who, I hope all of you remember, conducted the final concert of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra last spring. I reviewed that concert as well, and I will quote some biographical information from that review. 

“Steven Byess is Music Director of the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra and the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra, Cover Conductor for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Ohio Light Opera, and Conductor at the International Vocal Arts Institute in Tel Aviv, Israel. 

“He is a former faculty member of the Cleveland Institute of Music and the University of Michigan School of Music. 

“Mr. Byess received his Bachelor of Music Degree in classical performance and jazz studies from Georgia State University, and his Master of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied conducting with Louis Lane and Carl Topilow, bassoon with George Goslee and David McGill, violin with Carol Ruzicka, and piano with Olga Radosavljevich. He also attended the Pierre Monteux Memorial School for Conductors under the tutelage of Maître Charles Bruck. In addition to his conducting studies with Louis Lane, Robert Shaw, and Carl Topilow, he has worked under the auspices of the American Symphony Orchestra League with such noted conductors as Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, and Otto Werner Mueller. Mr. Byess was an assistant to conductor Robert Shaw at the Shaw Institute in Souilliac, France.” 

As I stated above in the first paragraph, Maestro Byess is replacing Maestro Lawrence Golan while he is on sabbatical leave from the Lamont School of Music. The choice was very fortunate. 

Haydn has often been referred to as the Shakespeare of music. And, why not? And before all of you stammer, “But… But… What about Beethoven?”, let us remember, with great reverence, that Haydn was Beethoven’s teacher. And, as Maestro Byess said at the performance, this really is Haydn’s ultimate work. And Maestro Byess proved that he knows Haydn very well. In the third measure of the slow introduction, the violins have some portato notes which recur throughout the slow introduction  – their last occurrence is bar 16 – but every time Haydn wrote them, the orchestra played them exactly the same length. That, folks, is attention to detail that makes one look up and stare at this orchestra which is comprised of students. This fine conductor is helping them be professional musicians, and I do not mean professional in the sense that they belong to a union. The other spot that drew my immediate attention, was the fermata in bar 25 of the Andante movement. Maestro Byess approached it, and then held it with incredible grace and exactly for the right length of time. I know that Haydn had to have been nodding his head in agreement. The tempos of the entire symphony were wonderful. And why is it, do you suppose, that most in the audience were a little afraid to smile at the gently humorous two measures of rest that Haydn writes in the third movement in bars 45 and 46. This is so typical of Haydn, and one can find examples of similar humor in almost everything that he wrote. I have performed a great many of Haydn’s sonatas, and those that I did not perform, I have read through several times. His humor is everywhere. As I have sometimes expressed to my students, if I eventually go to the same place where Haydn is now, he is one man that I would like to have several conversations with: there is just so much to learn from him. In the last movement of this work, Steven Byess was able to bring out an almost pastorale character in the first few measures of the opening theme, even though it is marked Allegro spiritoso – a tempo which is far removed from a pastorale character. Now, that is consummate musicianship. 

Several thoughts ran through my head as I listened to this concert. Number one) I had just attended a marvelous choral recital the night before at the Lamont School of Music. Number two) what must it be like to conduct a student orchestra that works so hard and with such great energy. Number three) what is it like to be the director of a school where even the replacement faculty is as outstanding as the permanent faculty. Incredible.

Arts Attendance and Culture
August 27, 2009, 1:14 pm
Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

In a few weeks the concert season will be officially open and well underway. It will be interesting to see, in these tough economic times, how all of Colorado’s orchestras, ballets, theaters, and art galleries maintain their attendance. Those who have read my articles on outreach must surely realize by now that I have mixed emotions concerning this requirement demanded by funding organizations. But all arts organizations have to deal with the old truth, which is, “You don’t get a grant because you have a need; you get a grant because you fulfill a need.” Many orchestras are even playing short duration concerts at the noon hour in downtown cities where they sell tickets for only $2.50. This low ticket price is sure to draw audience members who are simply tired of walking around on their lunch hour seeing the same old sights, or just trying to get out of the rain. These concerts can be structured so that the entire orchestra does not have to perform. Then of course, in European cities – Prague, for example – volunteers and students from the Prague Conservatory stand on the sidewalk offering concert tickets for sale. I have been told that this technique dramatically increases audience attendance. It certainly worked on me.

Some orchestras are even trying a new kind of membership program. In this instance, there are several paid membership levels, say $25, $50, and $100 that are paid every year. The $50 level allows the concertgoer to purchase tickets anywhere from one hour to nine months before the concert, and allows the purchaser to sit in one section of the auditorium. The higher the membership, the better the seats. The purchaser can even print their own tickets at home using this membership with barcodes that would be scanned by ushers upon arrival at the concert hall.

Orchestras all over the country are becoming very creative in trying to attract audiences, and one would hope that this creativity attracts the admiration from institutions and individuals who donate money. However, not much has been said about creating the kind of artistic cultural society that the United States enjoyed in the 1930s and 1940s, even up to the 1950s. It was not at all unusual to see young people in attendance at concerts or art galleries during those years. And of course, the big reason for this is that music and art were taught more seriously in the public schools by those who were qualified to teach music and art.

I am stating this because I know of one middle school that offered a music course which was taught by someone completely unqualified to teach the course. I say unqualified because I have long been told, and it has also been my opinion, that music learned in the public schools should be music that may not be available to the students in their everyday life. That means learning about serious music written by the great composers. One of my piano students attends this middle school and told me that most of the music discussed in class was music from the pop-culture such as Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, and other rock groups that one hears constantly on radio and television, and, I might add, that appear splashed across even the front pages of our newspapers. The teacher of the class did discuss serious music briefly, making statements that demonstrated his complete lack of knowledge of the subject. I questioned my student carefully in order to make sure that he had accurately understood what the teacher told the class. One statement the teacher made was that Joseph Haydn was an unimportant composer, and that all he really did was to lay the groundwork for Beethoven. He did not mention the fact that Beethoven was Haydn’s student, or are the fact that Haydn had written 104 symphonies or 62 string quartets. Some of the statements by this teacher were so outrageous, that my conclusion is that the principal of the school surely had no idea what was being taught in this classroom.

Many times I have felt compelled to have great sympathy with teachers in the public schools, because I am absolutely convinced that they take the brunt of criticism when it is especially clear that it is the parents who do not provide their children with anything resembling a proper cultural education. But in the case mentioned in the previous paragraph, the irresponsibility lies squarely with the teacher. I wonder how prevalent this is, but I certainly have no way of knowing.

This has a tremendous impact over time on attendance at concerts, at art galleries, not to mention the general understanding and knowledge of quality art.

And it also underscores the need for arts organizations to do outreach simply because our present society and its schools are not fulfilling their obligation. That places the onus on the arts. Shouldn’t the schools have some responsibility?

Another example: In the last several years much has been made of the Suzuki method of teaching music which has proven so successful in Japan. It has been my observation from approximately 50 years of teaching privately and teaching at the university level, that the Suzuki method is not terribly successful in the United States. That is not the fault, necessarily, of the Suzuki teachers in this country. It works well in Japan because the public schools in Japan teach students how to read music. The public schools in the United States do not teach the students how to read music. I have had many students come to me who have been taught by the Suzuki method for a few years, and they have great difficulty reading music, even though they can find their way around the keyboard in a fairly competent manner. Some do not even understand why it is necessary for them to learn to read music.

It is so very clear that audience attendance at concerts, at art galleries, ballet, and theater is the result of what our children are taught in our schools.

If all of the arts are to survive, we need to teach our students how to “see.” I think it was Robert Rauschenberg who said, “The whole progress of an artist, I guess, is to learn what your gravity is, what your language is, what your force field is, how you can draw others in to see as you see, rather than giving in and seeing as others see.”