’Tis the seasons

Boulder Chamber Orchestra explores seasons North and South

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Keith Bobo

The next performance of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) will transport listeners to 18th-century Venice and 20th-century Buenos Aires, and several points in between.

The program will feature two of Vivaldi’s Baroque-era Four Seasons and equivalent works from Astor Piazzolla’s tango-inflected Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, as well as music depicting a late-night stroll in Madrid and the hustle and bustle of a Metro stop in Mexico City.

Also on the concert, to be presented at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 in Boulder and Dec. 5 in Broomfield, will be Introduction, Aria and Presto by Italian Baroque composer Benedetto Marcello. The violin soloist for Vivaldi and Piazzolla will be Zachary Carrettin, director of the Boulder Bach Festival.

“We wanted to have some variety,” says Bahman Saless, director of the BCO. “This one will be fun!” 

The Vivaldi and Piazzolla have often been performed together, first in an acclaimed 1998 recording by Gidon Kremer (Eight Seasons, Nonesuch) and in numerous live performances since then, including one in 2014 by Boulder’s Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and violinist Lina Bahn.

“It makes a lot of sense [to program them together],” Carrettin says. “Piazzolla is both contemporary and familiar, so the harmonic language is not shocking, but some of the effects are theatrical. Similarly, with Vivaldi the harmonic progressions were conventional, but some of the melodic turns would have been shocking.”

The two sets of seasons, one from the northern hemisphere and one from the southern, offer many possible combinations. In this case only two seasons from each set will be performed: Autumn and Winter from Vivaldi on the first half of the program, and after intermission the opposite seasons — but representing the same months in the opposite hemisphere — Spring and Summer from Piazzolla.

A common quality of both scores is the incorporation of dance music. “Both pieces are heavily influenced by dance,” Carrettin says. “In Piazzolla it’s not just tango, but other dances and other forms from jazz to klezmer. And in Baroque music there is almost always an under lying dance character.”

The Vivaldi Seasons have a personal meaning for Carrettin. “My father was born and raised in Venice,” he explains. “I’ve experienced all four seasons there, and I’ve never spent time anywhere that has such distinct seasons as Venice. My visceral experiences there definitely impact the way I interpret the music of Vivaldi.”

Carrettin is known for his eclectic approach to the music of the past. He has been known to perform Baroque music on both Baroque violin and electric violin. In this case he had considered performing Vivaldi with his Baroque violin and bow, and Piazzolla with his electric violin, but he decided against it because using a different kind of instrument than the orchestra could disrupt the unity of sound. Instead, he will use a standard concert violin for both works.

In addition to the seasons invoking Venice and Buenos Aires, Saless and the BCO will make a couple of other stops around the world.

Boccherini’s Night Music from the Streets of Madrid originated as one of the composer’s more than 100 string quintets. It comprises seven movements that describe a church bell calling the faithful, a military drum call, street dancers and the retreat of the night watch.

“There’s serenading and group folk dancing in the street — kind of like downtown Boulder,” Saless says, chuckling. “[The piece] has a folk-dance flavor, and lots of guitar or strumming sounds, which are reminiscent of folk music.”

A stop on the other side of the Atlantic will be the Chabacano metro stop in Mexico City. Like the Boccherini, Metro Chabacano by Javier Álvarez was originally a chamber work that has been filled out for full string orchestra.

“It’s about a well-known metro station in Mexico City,” Saless says. “You hear a train, and you expect to hear a very predictable perpetual motion, but he mixes that with crazy odd rhythms. In the background you hear Latino rhythms, which are obviously very dance-like and uneven.

“It’s a tough piece to play, but very cool.”

So many different musical cultures coming together in one concert offers opportunities for the musicians to expand their style of expression. “We have access to a plethora of world musics now,” Carrettin says. “We can embrace so many different notions of sound and timbre and expression.

“I think this would have been thrilling to a composer like Vivaldi. The great composers have always embraced music that they found appealing.”

This thought brings Carrettin to his own appreciation of the current program: “What is most thrilling about [working] with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra is how we can look at all of these influences and put together a performance that is surprising and dramatic and, when appropriate, profound.”