Timeless and Today in a Single Program: Pro Musica Colorado
Preview article by Betsy Schwarm
The greatest music is timeless, still speaking to us generations later. The best of current music acknowledges that timelessness, while also bringing something new to the mix. Past and present can still co-exist: in Pro Musica Colorado’s upcoming January 28 concert, it’s Mozart, Haydn, and Caroline Shaw.
The last of those names is the new one, and also the one that gives the concert its name: Through the Looking Glass. That it’s an Alice in Wonderland reference is clear; that it also links to current composer Caroline Shaw is perhaps less obvious. Nonetheless, it’s what Shaw herself – winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 – says about her Entr’acte (2011).
Shaw recalls having heard a performance of the Haydn String Quartet in G, op. 77, no. 2, and being struck by the Viennese master’s transition between themes in the second movement Menuetto. The shift from light and prancing to smooth and graceful, though not abrupt per se, is certainly a distinct step into an utterly new place. Shaw says she was reminded of how some music “suddenly takes you to the other side of Alice’s looking glass,” and sought to capture that sense – in more modern terms – in Entr’acte.
Originally for string quartet, Entr’acte was rescored for string orchestra in 2014, and it is the latter version that Pro Musica Colorado will perform. Shaw says, “It is structured like a minuet and trio, riffing on that classical form but taking it a little further.” Haunting and mysterious moods are punctuated with outbursts of passion and/or restlessness. Varying performance techniques, including different uses of the bow, pizzicato, strumming, and harmonics, create a kaleidoscopic new world. Shaw’s Entr’acte both acknowledges a debt to the Viennese masters and imagines different ways to employ their approaches.
Shaw’s work serves as the appetizer to Pro Musica Colorado’s program, with main dishes provided by Haydn and Mozart. Both gentlemen occupy the conventional side of the looking glass, which is not to say that they haven’t something new to offer, even two centuries after their music was written. In his Cello Concerto in C major (1765), Haydn takes a solo instrument known for moods of passion and sorrow, and chooses instead to let it sweetly sing and nimbly dance. Soloist will be Meta Weiss; on the music faculty of CU Boulder, she also has a strong international reputation. Expect nuance and fine details in her playing, bringing out aspects of Haydn’s concerto that one might have previously overlooked.
Then there’s Mozart. That unsurpassed genius can never entirely be just an addendum to any program, particularly in a concert given the day after his birthday. Nonetheless, there are familiar masterworks most of us have heard countless times; then there are works that don’t often get the attention they merit. Such is the case with his Symphony no. 29 in A major, K. 201 (1774). One of Mozart’s Salzburg works, it predates his move to Imperial Vienna, and has what might seem a lighter touch than his later works. The Salzburg court orchestra possessed no clarinets and not much in the way of brass. Those facts did not prevent Mozart from taking a theme and giving it a rather different flavor in one portion of a work than in another. However, it does mean that changes may be more subtle, and that one may need to listen more closely to catch exactly what the composer is doing to keep the music ever new, from one line to the next.
Pro Musica Colorado’s Through the Looking Glass program will be given Saturday, January 28, beginning at 7:30pm. The venue will be Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place in Boulder, in the triangle between US 36, Foothills Parkway, and Baseline Road.
Click here for a map link to 355 Ponca Place, for the January 28th concert.
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The old masters will always be with us, but newer names also have much to offer. Pro Musica Colorado invites you to join in this venture through the looking glass. Hearing old and new in context with one another makes the contrasts and comparisons that much more vivid. Timeless and Today can harmoniously co-exist, especially in company with Pro Musica Colorado.