Pro Musica in “Cyberspace”
A review by Marc Shulgold
Cynthia Katsarelis could barely contain her joy, as she began the concert by her Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra on Saturday. “We are so, so excited to be playing music together,” she told the small crowd gathered in Broomfield Auditorium.
Half her face was concealed by a Covid mask, yet Pro Musica’s leader was doubtless all smiles as she began to conduct an actual concert before an actual audience. Just like in the good old days.
OK, so many of her listeners (including yours truly) attended the event via Zoom – or, as she called it, “cyberspace.” Still, in these (hopefully) waning days of the pandemic, how refreshing it was to enjoy music by Vivaldi, Copland and a bright young composing talent from Boulder named Jordan M. Holloway – all of it played live in a concert hall.
Beyond the specialness of the proceedings, it was musical business as usual for Pro Musica. Mixing the familiar – we could say super-familiar – works by Vivaldi and Copland with a world premiere by Holloway, Katsarelis and her masked band performed with their usual degree of professionalism and agreeable ensemble blend.
Holloway, a composition student at CU Boulder who sports a massive head of hair that would make Beethoven jealous, gave a brief introduction to his colorful three-movement work, Three Coloradan Snowscapes, heard in its world premiere. Described by the composer as a set of “snowy memories,” these miniatures for string orchestra depict scenes drawn from our wintery world: a cold, wind-swept hike in Rocky Mountain National Park (Flurries), a fog-enshrouded drive along Independence Pass (White Abyss) and a brief, dizzying ride alongside an alpine skier (Downhill). Played by a dozen members of Pro Musica, the piece represented Holloway as winner of the 7th CU/PMC Composition Competition.
In its 12 intriguing minutes, Snowscapes displays Holloway’s confident command of string textures, transitions and contrasts. In its opening movement, we heard tonal episodes of broadly shaped melodies that soared over an agitated, galloping accompaniment. White Abyss offered some eerie harmonies and plenty of dramatic tremolos, while the concluding race down an imaginary mountain unfolded in rhythmically complex fashion, featuring an attractive viola solo (played with warmth and precision by Barbara Hamilton). Holloway’s musical voice is an original one, and worthy of attention. Clearly, he has the ambition to make a go of it – heck, he’s already written a symphony!
The remainder of the program featured two of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with the always-dependable Yumi Hwang-Williams as soloist. Spring was sprung nimbly, while Summer served as a fine display for the violinist’s rich, creamy tone and faultless technique. Nice contributions from the continuo of cellist Beth Vanderbrough and harpsichordist Wesley Leffingwell.
Expanding to 16 players, Pro Musica concluded the intermission-less concert with Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Katsarelis presided over a loving rendition, choosing tempos that emphasized the intimate sweetness and charm of the score. Particularly effective was the slow, detailed handling of the work’s post-Simple Gifts concluding pages. Fine playing by clarinetist Kellan Toohey and flutist Michele Stanley.