In September, there were two the same day; now Boulder will see three ensembles launch their seasons in the city’s crowded classical-music calendar on the same October weekend.
Each of the organizations — Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO), Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and Seicento Baroque Ensemble — have a concert in the Denver area Friday, Oct. 20 and in Boulder on Saturday, Oct. 21. Seicento presents their concert a third time in Longmont on Sunday, Oct. 22.
Conductor Bahman Saless and the BCO will present music of Mozart and Elgar, featuring soloists Sharon Park on violin and Andrew Krimm on viola. The program includes Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola and orchestra, one of his most popular pieces, and Elgar’s lovely Serenade for Strings.
Pro Musica, under conductor Cynthia Katsarelis, will present a program featuring works written between the two World Wars. The music represents the neo-classical style, which used smaller ensembles and borrowed forms, styles and even tunes from earlier times. Guitarist Nicolò Spera will be the soloist in the Guitar Concerto No. 1 of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Other works will be by Ravel and Stravinsky.
Finally, the Seicento Baroque Ensemble will introduce their new conductor, Kevin Padworksi, in a program celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation had enormous impact on the music of Europe, as reflected in music by J.S. Bach and others on the program.
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The program Saless has chosen for the Boulder Chamber Orchestra features two works of the classical period — Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante and his Symphony No. 29 in A major — plus Elgar’s Serenade for Strings. Such normal chamber orchestra repertoire represents a change from recent seasons, which saw the BCO exploring larger works including Brahms’s First Symphony and Beethoven’s Ninth last year.
“We decided to go back to our roots after the last monumental season,” Saless says. “It’s time to remember what brought us here and what made us appreciated by the community.”
Saless has another theme in mind for the coming season: slower tempos. “We’re in this crazy, rushed 21st century, we’re all affected by instant information, we’re running around like mad,” he says. “Everything is a little faster. We don’t have time to really enjoy [anything].”
“What better time, with all the tensions and anxieties, to calm down a little bit. So this year I’m going to perform everything a little slower.”
The lush, warm textures of the Elgar Serenade will encourage listeners to sit back and relax. “It’s a love piece,” Saless says. “It’s a romance in so many ways, and it’s got beautiful, touching, passionate moments.”
Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante is the best known piece on the program, but Saless has very little to say about the score. “It’s one of the those things — it’s perfect!” he says. “Everything: the balance, of course gorgeous melodies, just the way he’s written it.”
The soloists exemplify the remarkable quality of musical talent in Boulder. Both were brought to the area by the CU College of Music, and have chosen to remain. Park is curator of music at the Dairy Arts Center after receiving a doctorate in music, and Krimm is a member of the Altius String Quartet, which came to Boulder to work with the Takács Quartet and also decided to stay.
Saless thinks people will recognize part of the Mozart Symphony, even if they don’t know it by name. “The 29th Symphony is one of the ones that’s very tuneful, everybody’s heard it,” he says. “It’s a little lighter, but it has a lot of little gems that you can pull out.”
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Katsarelis’s program with Pro Musica draws from the chamber orchestra repertoire of a different era. It’s a celebration of the neo-classical movement that arose between the World Wars, born out of both nostalgia for past times and the practical necessity of writing for smaller ensembles in the economic environment of the 1920s and ’30s.
The return to earlier, simpler textures and styles led to some very cheerful music. “I have to say, musically and expressively, this is probably the happiest concert we’ve ever done,” Katsarelis says.
“Happy” particularly applies to the guitar concerto. Although Castelnuovo-Tedesco is not well known in this country, his life characterizes the fate of many musicians in the 1930s. Born in Italy of a Jewish family, he immigrated to the U.S. in 1939, just ahead of the looming European catastrophe, and wrote scores for more than 200 films in Hollywood.
“What you’ll hear and enjoy is the chipperness and the beauty of it,” Katsarelis says. “It’s a beautiful neoclassical work that has a very wistful, slow movement.”
She relishes working with Spera, who teaches guitar at the CU College of Music. “He’s such a wonderfully positive spirit, so sunny and loving,” she says. “You can hear it in the music, you can hear it in the collaboration between him and all the other musicians. It’s a generosity of spirit.”
Another cheerful piece is the orchestral suite from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, a ballet based on music that was attributed to the 18th-century composer Giovanni Pergolesi. The original classical-sounding melodies and harmonies have been spiced with spiky chords that remind us who made the arrangement.
“It’s a colorful orchestration,” Katsarelis says. “You have these features that you would not find in the Baroque era, like a really funky bass solo and a funky trombone solo. So it sounds like both [Stravinsky and Pergolesi] at the same time.”
The final piece will be Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, in homage to the French Baroque composer Françoise Couperin. Written in the style and form of Couperin’s keyboard suites, it imitates the older composer’s style without borrowing specific melodies. In addition to honoring Couperin, every movement of the suite is dedicated to the memory of friends of the composer who died in World War I.
“The Ravel is a really beautiful work,” Katsarelis says. “I think of it as a very poignant homage to the past. We have four movements, and like most Baroque movements they’re dance movements, but highly stylized and set in Ravel’s very colorful way.”
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When Kevin Padworksi was hired to lead Seicento, succeeding founding director Evanne Brown, the theme for the opening concert, a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, had been set, but not the program.
“I’m glad they set it up that way,” he says, “but it was a mighty challenge. The idea was to highlight well-known composers and then some of the lesser ones, and to trace the influence” that Martin Luther had on the music of the church.
One of Luther’s greatest reforms was making the liturgy and scripture accessible to ordinary people — translating it into the language of the congregation instead of Latin, which was only known by the clergy. Similarly, he introduced the congregational singing of chorales, some of which he wrote himself.
This had a tremendous impact on music, from the texts that composers used to the chorale tunes that became the basis of many works, especially vocal works with instruments such as Bach’s cantatas.
“I tired to figure out the thread of the Lutheran chorale, what composers we could use to see that influence carry through,” Padworksi says. “I wanted to be able to trace (Luther’s) influence, either in a big way with a chorale tune, or subtly, maybe Luther penned the text.”
The performance features the Seicento chorus, an ensemble of original instruments, and vocal soloists including soprano Amanda Balestrieri, Seicento’s assistant director; mezzo Leah Biesterfield; and tenor Daniel Hutchings. Bass solos, which span a wide range from very low to very high, will be shared by two soloists: Kenneth Donahue for the very lowest parts, and Aaron Harp, for the higher baritone range.
The best known composers on the program are J.S. Bach, certainly the greatest Lutheran composer, and his predecessor at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau. Among the less-known composers are Dietrich Buxtehude, Ludwig Senfl, Johann Schein — and one that is hardly known even to scholars, Balthasar Resinarius.
“The lesser known composers are why Bach exists,” Padworksi says. “And if you come for Bach, the cantata we’re doing is one of the cool ones, No. 106, referred to as Actus Tragicus. It’s a funeral cantata, written for a funeral in 1707 or 1708, so the beginning of Bach’s career. It only has two recorders and two violas da gamba and continuo; it’s just a haunting sound.”
We should be grateful for the abundance of classical music in our community. It would take planning, and some travel on the Front Range to get to all three concerts, but the fact that you have such choices is a sign of the musical riches available in Colorado today.
Boulder Chamber Orchestra:
Bahman Saless, conductor, with Sharon Park, violin and Andrew Krimm, viola.
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, Broomfield Auditorium, 3 Community Park Road, Broomfield.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder.
Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra:
Cynthia Katsarelis conductor, with Nicolò Spera guitar.
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Ave., Cherry Hills Village.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, Mountain View Methodist Church, 255 Ponca Place, Boulder.
Seicento Baroque Ensemble:
Kevin Padworksi, conductor.
7:30 pm. Friday, Oct. 20, First Baptist Church, 1373 N. Grant St., Denver.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder.
3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22, Stewart Auditorium, 400 Quail Road, Longmont.