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Love Changes Everything with Colorado Chamber Players

Preview Article by Betsy Schwarm

Given the troublesome events of the past two years, one can scarcely find a person who doesn’t know someone recently affected by worries.  From pandemics to wildfires, it gets to all of us, even through second-hand news.  However, encouraging signs might be appearing around the periphery.  As the Colorado Chamber Players remind us, ‘love changes everything.’

That slogan is the title of a series of concerts the Colorado Chamber Players (CCP) will be giving February 16-20 from Lone Tree to Broomfield.  The program’s theme grew out of the lifelong friendship shared by Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann, both of whom are featured.  Moreover, as violist and CCP Executive Director Barbara Hamilton observes, “But it’s also about how the pandemic has transformed us all, and how much we rely on our loved ones to get through all this… Love changes everything – and sometimes results in amazing music.” 

In this case, the genuinely amazing music includes the second of Clara Schumann’s Romances, op. 22, for violin and piano, dating from 1853 and written for master violinist Joseph Joachim.  That work will be preceded by Brahms’ Two Songs, op. 91, from 1884, dedicated to Joachim – and his wife Amelie.  The Joachims were friends of both Clara and Brahms, though in the years between Clara’s composition and Brahms’, the Joachim marriage had become troubled.  The texts Brahms set are a reminder of the power and depth of love, and were scored for alto voice, viola, and piano.  Alas, the Joachims parted company, though the poignant music survives.

Duke Ellington

The center of CCP’s program features three African American composers in recognition of Black History Month.  Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood is arranged for violin and piano.  Its soulful text will play only in listeners’ memories; nonetheless, its message – “I never dreamt that you’d be loving sentimental me” – is still present in the graceful flow of the phrases.

Composer Jessie Montgomery

Of more recent origin is African American Composer Jessie Montgomery’s (b.1981) Loisaida, My Love, for mezzo-soprano and cello.  Based on the poem Loisaida by Bimbo Rivas (1939 – 1992), the song is, as Montgomery attests, an “ode to the community he [Rivas] loved,” in this case, the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Kathryn Radakovich will be the mezzo, with cellist Beth Vanderborgh.  Radakovich describes it as “a complex emotional landscape” with feelings that evolve in a “stream-of-consciousness” manner.  Both the style of the music and the technique that Radakovich will bring to the performance reflect a world newer than that of Brahms:  not strange per se, but decidedly current.

George Walker

The third African American composer is George Walker (1922 – 2018).  Dating from 1953, his Variations on a Kentucky Folk Song is the second movement of his Piano Sonata no. 1 and is based upon “O Bury Me Beneath the Willow.”  Some readers might find the title unfamiliar, though the song is a staple in country circles, and when Dolly Parton sang a verse to television host Stephen Colbert, she brought him to tears.  Pianist Andrew Cooperstock will be in the spotlight and describes the variations as “modern yet thoroughly accessible.”  Walker’s music is of particular significance to Cooperstock, whose teacher Walter Hautzig, an old classmate of Walker’s at the Curtis Institute of Music, used to speak admiringly of Walker.  Cooperstock attests that “it is a particular pleasure for me to be able to bring this music to our audiences.”

Kathryn Radakovich

By this point in CCP’s program, Kathryn Radakovich will have already appeared as alto (for Brahms) and as mezzo (for Montgomery).  However, she also possesses a soprano range and compositional ideas.  By Radakovich’s account, her own song It’s Love began life in 2015 “as a melodic motif… while catching my breath at the top of a peak in our beloved Colorado mountains.”  She says she had recently fallen in love again after earlier heartbreak and hoped to give musical voice to “that unexpected and beautiful resurgence of feelings.”  In its first incarnation, It’s Love was for soprano and piano, Radakovich accompanying herself at the keyboard.  With CCP, there’s a new arrangement by Paul Primus, in which voice and keyboard are joined by strings.  Having a deep fondness for early Ella Fitzgerald recordings, in which strings sometimes provided a lush underscoring, Radakovich asserts that the addition of strings suggests an “aesthetic” she admires.

Andrew Cooperstock

CCP’s program will close with the largest scaled composition, perhaps not in number of performers, but certainly in the scope of the work itself:  Brahms’ Piano Quartet no. 3 in c minor, op. 60 (1875).  Brahms was a superior pianist, his dear friend Clara Schumann an even better one.  They were dearest friends for all 40 years of Clara’s widowhood, but never became a romantic couple.  The piano quartet has been interpreted as an expression of Brahms’ enduring love for Clara, particularly, as pianist Andrew Cooperstock suggests, in “the dramatic key, “sighing” figures, and particular themes.”   Cooperstock adds, “any pianist relishes the opportunity to perform works by Brahms, who wrote for our instrument in such an expressive and effective way, and it is a particular joy for me to collaborate with old friends.”

 The Colorado Chamber Players’ Love Changes Everything concert will have four performances, though only three will include the entire program.  These will be Thursday February 17, 7 pm at Schmitt Music; Saturday, February 19, beginning at 3pm, at Denver’s First Universalist Church on Hampden near Colorado Boulevard.  The following day, the venue shifts to Broomfield Auditorium, 3 Community Park Road, and begins at 1pm.   February 19 and 20 performances will also be available via livestream, though livestream tickets for February 20 will only be available until 7 pm the evening before the concert. The February 16 concert at Lone Tree Arts Center will be a shortened program, beginning at 1:30 pm.

Tickets, including livestream passes, are available at the CCP website:  https://www.coloradochamberplayers.org/calendar/ or through On The Stage for February 20.

Just click on the event of your choice.  Please note that, in accordance with local COVID protocols, attendance at all the live performances requires proof of vaccination and face coverings (covering nose and mouth). 

Indeed, life these days has complications, though surely live music is worth it.  As CCP pianist Andrew Cooperstock observes, “It would not be an exaggeration to say that we love each other’s company and the opportunity to share through music, an activity sadly curtailed during the height of the pandemic. What better time to celebrate the expressive wonders of chamber music than now?”  Rediscover those wonders with the Colorado Chamber Players!

CCP quartet: Vanderborgh, Hamilton, Fadial, Primus

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