Opus Colorado

Boulder Chamber Orchestra announces new 2011-2012 season

The Boulder Chamber Orchestra and Maestro Bahman Saless have announced their new concert season for 2011-2012. Each concert has its own title which reflects the general spirit of the compositions performed for that particular concert. 

“Liberation” – September 30th & October 1st, 2011

Mozart    Abduction from the Seraglio, Overture

Mendelssohn    Violin Concerto, Lindsay Deutsch, violin

Beethoven     Symphony No. 7

Concert 1: First Congregational Church, Boulder

Concert 2: Montview Boulevard Presbyterian, Denver

 “Piety” – October 28th & 29th, 2011

With Ars Nova Singers

1st piece   To Be Announced

Mozart   Requiem

Concert 1: St. John’s Cathedral, Denver

Concert 2: First United Methodist, Boulder

 “Festivity” – December 16th & 17th, 2011

Rameau   Suite in G/g (La Poule)

Albinoni   Oboe Concerto in d, featuring Max Soto, oboe

Torelli   Christmas Concerto

Bach   Suite No. 2 in b, featuring Cobus du Toit, flute

Concert 1: First Congregational Church, Boulder

Concert 2: Jefferson Unitarian, Golden

 New Year’s Eve Concert – December 31st, 2011


Waltzes and more (still working on details)

Note: This concert will be performed in the Glenn Miller Ballroom, UMC (?)

 “Joy” – February 10th & 11th, 2012

Biber   Battalia

Mozart   Divertimento, K.136

Diamond   Rounds for String Orchestra

Tchaikovsky   Serenade

Concert 1: Broomfield Auditorium

Concert 2: First Congregational Church, Boulder


“Reverence” – April 13th & 14th, 2012

Saint-Saens   Piano Concerto #2, featuring Claire Huangci, piano

Stravinsky   Pulcinella Suite

Prokofiev   Classical Symphony

Concert 1: First Congregational Church, Boulder

Concert 2: Broomfield Auditorium

 “Mastery” – May 11th & 12th, 2012

Rossini   L’Italiana in Algeri, Overture

Hummel   Trumpet Concerto, featuring John King, trumpet

Mendelssohn   Symphony No. 3, Scottish

Concert 1: First Congregational Church, Boulder

Concert 2: Broomfield Auditorium

This is a very good series of programs. The title of the entire season is “Road to Mastery.” And indeed, even though several of the pieces could be included in the last program, which is entitled Mastery, there is a sort of natural progression. And I point out that the titles for each program are quite apt. For example, take a look at the concert entitled Reverence. Here are three works which are truly “revered” because they are absolute masterworks.

Lindsay Deutsch, a young violinist who has taken the United States by storm will be the featured artist for the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto on the first program of the season. Ms. Deutch received her Bachelor’s Degree, and continues to study at the Colburn Conservatory of Music, where she studies with Robert Lipsett. She has performed with orchestras throughout the United Statesand Canada, in addition to performing the violin soundtrack for the 2006 movie, The Good Shepherd.

In addition to her many awards and concert credits, she and her sister, Lauren, have co-founded a non-profit organization, Classics Alive (www.ClassicsAlive.org), dedicated to building classical music audiences. I think this is a fantastic idea that more young musicians who are on the concert stage need to become involved with.

Another young American artist will perform with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra this coming season. She is Claire Huangci of Rochester,New York, and she will perform the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto Nr. 2.

Born in 1990, Claire became a student of Eleanor Sokoloff, a piano professor of the Curtis Institute of Music. In 2003, she was formally accepted by the Curtis Institute with a full scholarship from the Hirsig Family Foundation and continued her piano study under Eleanor Sokoloff and Gary Graffman. From there, she went on to win the Philadelphia Orchestra Competition and performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Wolfgang Sawalisch, one of dozens of American orchestras she has appeared with. Several of her performances were aired on music radio stations in 2006 and 2007. In May 2007, Curtis Director Gary Graffman honoured her with the Most Promising Student Award. She is continuing her work with Professor Arie Vardi in Germany at the Hanover Hochschule für Musik as she continues to perform throughoutEurope.

The Boulder Chamber Orchestra’s own Max Soto, principal oboe, will perform Albinoni’s Oboe Concerto in d minor. Max Soto has a Masters Degree in Performance from the Lamont School of Music, and has performed throughout the United States. 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 as the Assistant Principal oboist with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra.

John King, principal trumpet with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra, will perform the Trumpet Concerto by Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Since moving to Coloradoin 2004 John has performed with all major arts organizations including Colorado Symphony and Colorado Ballet.  Before moving here he was in the San Francisco Bay area for many years, and during this time he held the position of Second Trumpet in San Jose Symphony and was Principal Trumpet in Californiafor eighteen seasons.  In addition, he worked extensively with the San Francisco Symphony including numerous national tours and recordings. 

Another amazing musician from the BCO, Cobus du Toit, will perform the Bach Suite Nr. 2 in b. Cobus held the principal position in the National Youth Orchestra of South Africa which toured to Germany for the Beethoven Festival in Bonn. While in Germany, Cobus also performed at noted venues such as the Berlin Philharmonie under conductor Herbert Blomstedt. Other orchestral experience includes the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of South Africa, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, University of Pretoria Symphony Orchestra and the University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

Certainly, no one will want to miss the October concert. Thomas Edward Morgan and the Ars Nova Singers will perform the Mozart Requiem. I have stated before, and I mean this in all sincerity, that the Ars Nova Singers is one of the best choral groups in the United States. If any of you readers have not heard them, you must come to this performance. The pairing of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra and the Ars Nova Singers will be a performance that you absolutely must hear.

The artists involved, and the difficulty of the programming, are indicative of the quality of this organization. The Boulder Chamber Orchestra continues to set a new standard for itself. Maestro Bahman Saless has established a real criterion for this young organization which was founded in 2004. Their website says that they have become Boulder’s premier chamber orchestra. I truly think that should be changed to read one of the region’s premier chamber orchestras.

The Boulder Chamber Orchestra presents “All Unique”

Saturday evening, February 12, I drove up to Broomfield to hear the Boulder Chamber Orchestra do a program of Stravinsky, Martinu, Copland, and Rossini. The Broomfield auditorium is really a perfect place for chamber music of any kind. It seats about 400 people, and the acoustics are quite adequate. 

Maestro Bahman Saless, who founded the Boulder Chamber Orchestra in 2004, opened the program with Igor Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto in E Flat Major, known as Dumbarton Oaks. Its nickname, Dumbarton Oaks, comes from the fact that it was commissioned in 1937 by Mr. Robert Woods Bliss and his wife who were totally devoted to the avant-garde arts. Mr. Bliss and his wife had just bought an estate in the Georgetown area of Washington DC, upon his retirement from the diplomatic corps. It is an impressive place with ten acres of gardens and a Federalist style mansion which had been built in 1801. The commission of this work was to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. The Blisses had the mansion renovated extensively before their deaths in the 1960s, and that renovation included a new library for the benefit of scholars, but it was not completed until 2005, after the estate had been given to Harvard University, which was the alma mater of Robert Bliss. 

At the time Stravinsky wrote this concerto, he was renewing his acquaintance with, and studying the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, and Stravinsky himself wasn’t quite sure (and this is what was related to me by his son, Soulima Stravinsky at the University of Illinois) that thematic material, which is quite similar to Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto, was an unconscious borrowing of Bach’s theme. Yet, similar it certainly is. And there is no question that it is written in the Baroque concerto grosso style. That is to say the movements are fast, slow, fast. At the time the work was premiered, Stravinsky was recovering from tuberculosis which had claimed the life of his wife and oldest daughter. He was able to reach his friend, Nadia Boulanger, and she premiered the work on May 8, 1938, at Dumbarton Oaks. As a matter of fact, the original score is in the library at Dumbarton Oaks, where it is available to scholars, thus fulfilling Robert Bliss’ desire to fulfill “… a need in this country, we thought, of a quiet place where the advanced students and scholars could withdraw, the one to mellow and develop, the other to write the result of a life’s study.” 

To be quite truthful, I was somewhat disappointed in the performance of this work. It seemed to lack the sharpness of Stravinsky’s rhythms and the energy that so characterize the works from his neo-Classical period. And if one wants to make a comparison, and why not, with Bach’s Concerto Grossi, it seemed to lack even the rhythmic drive of even those compositions. It was not until the last movement that I began to hear the rhythmic angularity which brings much of Stravinsky’s works to life, and helps to emphasize the harmony that he used. I have always enjoyed listening to the Boulder Chamber Orchestra, so I was a little disappointed at this almost lackluster performance – and this, in spite of the fact that the flute, clarinet, and bassoon gave stellar performances in all three movements. 

During the 1920s, there were so many different styles of music literally being invented by composers, that it is very difficult to decide just which genre the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu belongs to. He began his music career at the Prague Conservatory, but was soon asked to leave because he was considered to be an incorrigible student, because he was interested in too many subjects. He left Prague and went to Paris where he began to flourish, writing ballets, and truthfully, compositions in every genre. When the Germans invaded France he left for the United States and taught and wrote at the Mannes College of Music in New York City, as well as Princeton University. He became an American citizen, but he spent a great deal of time in Europe, and was made Professor of Music at the Prague Conservatory. In my way of thinking, he remains one of the most uncelebrated, but one of the most important composers of the 20th century. 

The work of his which was performed Saturday evening is the nonet which was finished in 1959 (its origins come from his stay in Paris before the German invasion) while he was ill with cancer. He died in Switzerland on August 28, a month after its premiere which was July 27, 1959. 

Make no mistake about it: the Boulder Chamber Orchestra truly seemed to identify with this marvelous piece. It had energy, dynamism, and they seemed to revel in the fact that this was a very difficult piece. I would also like to point out that this was one of two pieces on the program which they performed without the conductor, Bahman Saless. The instrumentation for this work is flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and bass. I really do believe that the Boulder Chamber Orchestra members identified with this work far more than they did the Stravinsky. It was so full of vivacity and spirit, that the contrast between the two composers was marked. Cobus du Toit, Max Soto, Adele Mayne, and Kent Hurd were truly exceptional. But, the whole ensemble was exceptional in this work. Yes, it is more lithe then the Stravinsky (whom Martinu admired), but there is no mistaking the fact that these musicians were more enthusiastic about this work than they were the Stravinsky. And while the Stravinsky is a difficult piece, it seemed to me that its difficulties were outshone by the Martinu. And it also seemed to me, that the musicians, for whatever reason, seem to relish the difficulty which was inherent in the Martinu. 

The program stated that after the intermission, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra would perform Aaron Copland’s suite from the ballet Appalachian Spring. This was to be followed by the Rossini work, Seranata, which, if truth be told, is one of his lesser-known compositions. But I must point out a two items, one of which I found inexcusable, and the other, which I just found annoying. The program stated that Rossini’s dates were 1653 to 1713. In truth, Rossini was born February 29, 1792, and died November 13, 1868. Mistakes like this are evidence that the program was not properly proofread, which is a shame considering the stature of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. 

The item that I found annoying (and I stress that this is not the only organization to be guilty of last-minute changes) was the fact that, unannounced, the decision was made to begin the second half of this concert with the Rossini rather than the Copland which was stated in the program. I recognized the fact that the opening piece after the intermission was not Copland, but many in the audience did not, and I heard one audience member ask another who wrote the piece of music that was just performed. That audience member was assured that what he had just heard was Copland’s Appalachian Spring. In this day and age when serious music is suffering many slings and arrows, this kind of error is troublesome. While these two errors may seem like nothing, those of us who have been involved in serious music all of our lives need to guard against errors like these. After the Rossini was played, Maestro Saless came out on stage (the Rossini was played without a conductor) and explained that that had been the Rossini and not the Copland. But it is a shame that he did not make the announcement before the performance. 

The Rossini nonet, which is from 1823, was written specifically for Vincenzo Bianchi for violins, viola, flute, oboe, English horn, and cello. It really is a delightful set of variations on an original theme, and as the program notes explain, each instrument is given its own solo in turn. It is a difficult piece, and again I was particularly struck by the excellent playing by Cobus du Toit, Kim Brody, Adele Mayne, and Aniel Cabán. This piece is certainly not performed enough, perhaps because it is not as weighty as other woodwind nonets. But it certainly is worth programming, and I was delighted to hear it. 

The last work on the program hardly needs any introduction at all as it is one of the most famous pieces of American music written by one of the most famous American composers, Aaron Copland. As Maestro Saless explained before the performance, everyone the world over can identify this as a piece of American music, and I think it is because of the expansive themes, not to mention the inclusion of the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts. Copland used his trademark harmonies which theorists have labeled white key diatonicism. To make a very long story short it involves the use of key signatures and enharmonic equivalence taken as points of departure for the expression of the diatonic-chromatic relationship. I apologize if that sounds circuitous, but without room for a lengthy explanation that’s about the best I can do. It results in very spare harmonies, and sometimes cadences that involve a leap, rather than step-wise motion, to resolve. It is what sets Aaron Copland’s music apart and makes it so recognizable. There was no question that everybody on stage was in love with this piece of music, and it was readily apparent on their faces as they performed. And of course, there is good reason for that because it is an outstanding piece of 20th century music literature. There were a few places where the orchestra wasn’t quite together, but there was a remarkable rhythmic flow to the entire piece especially the seventh and the eighth section of this piece, which Copland calls Calm and Flowing followed by the tempo indication of Moderate which identifies the coda. 

This was a good performance, but there were some errors that were unusual for an ensemble of this ilk. I do hope that future programs will be more carefully proofread, and believe me, I do understand that errors like that can occur. But I also point out that similar errors are the most easily corrected. I am truly looking forward to their April 8 and April 9 concert, because they are going to perform the Dvorák Serenade for Strings which is one of his most beautiful pieces. I also am of the opinion that Dvorák, like Martinu, is a well-known, but highly underrated composer. If you are unfamiliar with this composition you must attend the April concerts.

Denver’s own Katie Mahan performs with the Denver Philharmonic
March 27, 2010, 1:53 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , ,

Friday, March 26, the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra performed its penultimate concert of the season at the King Center on the Auraria campus. The final performance of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra will be Friday, May 7, when they will perform works by Verdi, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky.

Still in search for a permanent conductor, Friday’s performance was conducted by Brandon Stephen Matthews who was recently appointed Music Director of the Metro State College Symphony Orchestra as well as coordinator of string studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver. A vibrant and versatile conductor, he is equally comfortable directing ensembles on the concert stage or in the theatre pit. Matthews obtained a doctor of musical arts degree in orchestral conducting at Arizona State University, studying with Timothy Russell and William Reber. While at ASU, he served as a co-music director of the ASU Sinfonietta and was an assistant conductor for the ASU Symphony and Chamber Orchestras. He also conducted fully staged operatic performances of Gianni Schicchi, Suor Angelica, Don Pasquale, Luisa Fernanda, as well as the musical Nunsense II.

Friday’s concert began with Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide, a two act opera that Rossini finished in 1823. The title role was written for his wife, Isabella Colbran. Today, the opera is seldom performed, but the overture has won a place in standard concert repertoire, and it is certainly a rousing opening piece. Dr. Matthews took a good tempo for this overture and the horn section was excellent, as was the piccolo. For several years now, the brass and the woodwind sections of the DPO have really been outstanding. Matthews is sometimes very angular in his conducting (which is a reflection of his style, not his ability) and occasionally conducts phrases rather than a specific beat. The violin section sounded much better in this overture than I’ve heard them for the last few concerts, but tonight it was the viola section that seemed to be a little out of tune. I point out that is a little unusual because the violas usually do extremely well.

Following the Rossini, the Denver Phil performed Chopin’s Concerto in E minor, Opus 11, with Denver’s own Katie Mahan as the soloist.

Katie began her piano studies at the age of four with her mother, Bobette Mahan, and gave her first solo recital at the age of six. She made her orchestral debut in the summer of 1999 with the Breckenridge Symphony Performing Gershwin’s Concerto in F, and was subsequently invited for performances of Brahms Concerto in D minor and Ravel’s Concerto in G Major. Katie received her Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance Degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder where she was a student of Robert Spillman, graduating with highest honors. Katie was also a protégé of the late Howard Waltz, himself a pupil of the legendary French pianist, Robert Casadesus and has participated in masterclasses by such musicians as Stanislav Judenitch, Lang Lang, Lori Simms, Nancy Roldan, Simon Trpceski, and Robert McDonald. She has also studied with the renowned French pianist Michel Béroff.

The program notes, which were written by Dr. Suzanne Moulton-Gertig (and she is exactly right) state that “Much has been said in music literature of Chopin’s consummate artistry at the keyboard and the sensitivity that he brought to the piano and its literature at a time when thundering virtuosos like Liszt were touring Europe.” It isn’t that Liszt was not a consummate artist, but it is certainly the case that Chopin and Liszt were very different pianists just as they were very different individuals. One of the reasons for this difference in pianism is that Chopin’s favorite composer was Mozart because he admired the inherent clarity and the fact that everything was so exposed. And we can certainly hear that clarity reflected in Chopin’s compositions.

There is a fairly lengthy orchestral introduction to this concerto, and at the outset it is unfortunately the case that some of the violins were inconsistent in their tune. It also seemed that they were just a nano second late in their entrances on occasion. But it also seemed as though the conductor, Dr. Matthews, gave down beats of which were not readily prepared so that the orchestra could sense the downbeat was imminent. I have not seen the score for this concerto, or heard it, for quite some time, but it did seem that some of the sections were a little bit on the slow side. Ms. Mahan certainly has a good set of fingers, and she seemed very well prepared, but her playing of Chopin was a little on the heavy side without the expected lightness and finesse that I have come to associate with this composer. When I say finesse, I am referring to subtle dynamic shaping in the phrase work and difference in dynamics between the left-hand and right-hand. There did not seem to be, in this first movement, a great deal of nuance and subtlety. In the second movement, the violins improved considerably. I thought that the tempo in this movement was also a little slow, but I hasten to point out that this could be a difference in personal taste. I would have enjoyed a more personal interpretation of this movement, that is to say more introspection, for again it seemed to lack a certain subtlety of tone. The third movement was a little heavy in its opening, and unfortunately some of the violins were a little more consistent in their lack of tune. And in a few instances, some of the sections of the orchestra did not seem to be quite together.

Nonetheless, I would certainly have to say that this was a good performance, and I point out that Miss Mahan did receive a standing ovation. There was very good communication between conductor and soloist, and Miss Mahan certainly demonstrated that she is comfortable in front of an audience. I make that statement because as often as she has played with an orchestra, she is still a young artist, and every time she plays with an orchestra she gains more and more of the experience required. On occasion, it seemed that she was not concentrating as fully as necessary on some of the more delicate nuances that are innate in Chopin’s style.

After the intermission, members of the violin and viola sections of the Denver Philharmonic performed a touching arrangement of the Pie Jesu from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem. This was in tribute to, and in memory of, Clark Robinson, who for several years was principal violist and member of the viola section in the orchestra. He passed away unexpectedly, far too early, at the age of forty-one. He was very well-liked and a good friend to everyone in the orchestra.

The final work on the program was Beethoven’s Symphony Nr. 5. I think that it is safe to say that hardly anyone on the face of the earth would not recognize the first movement of this tragic symphony. I say tragic, because not only was Europe in the grip of the Napoleonic wars, but on a personal level, Beethoven was faced at this time (he began sketching this symphony in 1806) with the reality of his growing deafness. He was also in emotional turmoil because of the litigation to gain custody of his nephew from an alcoholic brother. Matthews’ opening tempo was very good, but the opening famous theme, if one is counting, begins on the second half of the first beat with a meter signature of 2-4 time. That means there is an eighth rest followed by three eighth notes, then comes a half note which gets two beats, but it has a fermata written above it (a fermata is a ‘hold’ or suspension of time whose duration is up to the conductor). Matthews’ fermatas were so short that it distorted the downbeat for the following measure, so that the preparation for that downbeat was barely discernible. It certainly required that the orchestra keep a sharp eye on the conductor. I must say that in this opening the whole orchestra was unfailingly in tune and performed with great excitement. I was quite disappointed that Matthews decided not to take the repeat of the exposition section. I was puzzled by this, because the exposition is very short and the repeat would not have added much time to the overall length of the performance. Though the entire orchestra seems to be genuinely enthused with this work (and who could not be), I thought that in the coda, the timpanist’s enthusiasm came pretty close to covering up the whole orchestra.

Matthews began the second movement with a tempo that I thought might be just a little on the quick side. It was in this movement that the woodwinds were absolutely exceptional, especially the clarinet and bassoon. In the third movement, which is a Scherzo, much to my surprise, the low strings were a little out of tune. More noticeable perhaps, was that the eighth notes that the cellos have in the trio were not articulate and each measure of these eighth notes sounded slurred together rather than as individual notes. The last movement was taken at a very fast tempo, and I must say that after a good deal of thought, I think that Dr. Matthews was absolutely correct in the tempo that he chose. It certainly did place a heavy burden on the orchestra, for the last movement of this symphony is very difficult. However, I’m not sure that any Beethoven symphony is easy – that was never a consideration of Beethoven’s. He simply wrote what had to be. This was a very exciting performance of a very popular symphony that simply refuses to grow old, and every time it is heard, something new arises.

I still think that the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra is the best community orchestra in our state. It is my sincere wish that they find a conductor with whom they will be happy and who is capable of bringing to fruition the potential that they display.