Monday, November 07, 2011

Nirvana Boulder

It's wonderful to live in Boulder and have so much access to classical music. Lots and lots and lots of live classical music. Granted, two performances were live broadcasts of the Metropolitan opera, live classical music is alive and well in Boulder, Colorado. In the past two weeks I've seen 3 operas, one requiem, a Beethoven symphony and chamber music galore, 11 performances in all, and, yes, I'm a glutton when it comes to classical music.

Starting out on a Sunday afternoon, the University of Colorado's School of Music put on a very solid "Marriage of Figaro". Two singers stood out: Wei Wu as Figaro and Meagan Mahlberg as the countess. Each opera performance demonstrates the rising quality of the singers being attracted to Boulder.

Leon Fleischer played Prokofiev's 4th piano concerto with the Irish Chamber Orchestra. This is the first time I've heard that concerto live and never understood that it was for the left hand only. I never realized how many left-hand only piano pieces there were. Wikipedia lists 41, including compositions by Strauss, Hindemith, Martinů, Britten and a raft of others. For reasons known only to pianists, there don't appear to be any written for the right hand. I wonder why?

The university's Pendulum series was up next. A monthly concert of music written by faculty and graduate students, it's always appealed to me. The music is varied, some accessible, some not, but always worth the short trip to the music school. One particular piece, a piano quintet by Steve Sachse, was the best of the lot.

I went from Mozart's "Marriage" on Sunday to the Met's "Don Giovanni" on Saturday. While it's not fair to compare a university performance to the Met, there's something about a live performance that's hard to beat. Musically and vocally the Met is hard to beat. The Met had just been forced to replace the ailing Gary Lehman in their upcoming "Siegfried" with a young Jay Hunter Morris from Paris, Texas. He was interviewed by Rene Fleming at the "Don Giovanni" intermission and had a wonderful observation. When asked if he was wary or star-struck by a role at the Met, particularly one as difficult as that of Siegfried, he replied with something like "When the lights go down and I get into character, I don't know if it's the Met or a high school gym". Great response. The next Saturday he sang his heart out and was a Siegfried to remember.

More Mozart was on the agenda that Saturday. After listening to "Don Giovanni", my wife and I went with friends to a performance of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra's Mozart "Requiem". The Ars Nova Singers and soloists provided the vocals for a packed house. It was a solid performance and got a rousing ovation. Interestingly, after we left the church we saw a flash mob dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" on the Pearl Street Mall. From the religiosity of Mozart to strangely dressed dancers and zombies in a short block's walk. Only in Boulder.

Next up was a performance by the Takács String Quartet. Janacek's "Kreutzer" and Ravel's only quartet preceded a Dvorak String Quintet with Paul Erhard on String Bass. I particularly like the quintet. Erhard's instrument looked larger than any I had seen before, probably an illusion.

The next night I attended one of the Tuesday Colorado faculty performances, this time featuring music written by Carter Pann, composition and theory professor. It's hard to select a favorite here. Janet Harriman played a delightful harp piece "Emerald's on Artemis" and Joel Hastings, coming to Boulder from Florida State University, played 8 selections from Pann's "The Piano's 12 Sides ... for Joe Hastings". I had a great view and found it interesting to watch Hasting's facial expressions as he played. Back in high school I had a good friend who went to Julliard for keyboard studies. My friend and Joel both showed the same concentration and intensity and passion. It's a piano thing that I'll never understand. The graduate student quartet studying with the Takács this year, the Tesla Quartet, played Pann's 1st String Quartet. This was my favorite for the evening. I liked the quartet so much that I came back and ordered a recording the next day. I hope this recording is as good as the Tesla's performance though a live performance always wins out.

After attending a graduate student viola recital on Wednesday, we went to the Cantabile Singers performance later that night. The featured work was Ralph Vaughan Williams's "Flos Campi". The violist was Gerry Walther from the Takács String Quartet. This was a first for me, both for the piece and for the soloist stopping shortly into the work with a technical problem on her viola. With the problem fixed, Gerry finished the work flawlessly and got a standing ovation.

Following the endurance test of Wagner's "Siegfried" on Saturday, my wife and I attended a performance of a new group of 13 string musicians, Sphere. Founded this past spring, this time they granted me an earlier wish: another performance of Jeffrey Nytch's "Epilogue". I had heard it performed in September by the Tesla Quartet and now a performance by a small string ensemble. While the composer said he favors the ensemble version, I'm a bit partial to the string quartet version. The Sphere's performance of the young Shostakovitch's "Prelude and Scherzo" was dazzling.

Finally, yesterday afternoon I heard the Clavier Trio (Arkady Fomin, Jesus Castro-Balbi and David Korevaar) perform works by Haydn, Paul Schoenfeld and Brahms. I had convinced myself that I would recognize the Brahms Opus 8 Trio in D Major, but I was very wrong. This was completely new to me and I really responded as they played the scherzo.

Enough for now. Classical music is abundantly available here in Nirvana, a.k.a Boulder, Colorado.

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