2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Southern Colorado’s finest 24 hours of music begins with a beautiful bang

Published: June 29, 2014, 7:18 pm, by David Sckolnik

Three tambourines heralded the start of things shortly before 5 p.m. on Saturday at Packard Hall. The final cadence from a Dvorak Symphony completes the music and the festival shortly before… 5 p.m. on Sunday.

While the Colorado College Summer Music Festival won’t be going non-stop for its final 24 hours, its dose of superior sounds should leave everyone satiated for a long time to come.

The tambourines were manned by festival students Andrew Ferdig, Bryce Leafman and Seth Miller who caught the shimmering edge of Eugene Novotney’s “Intentions” to begin the free Pre-Concert Recital. Having students perform, where faculty artists might have been expected in past seasons, has become a frequent sighting. Leafman was then handed the most compelling role for Bartok’s ” Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion.

Really a rare treat. Festival stalwarts John Novacek and Sue Grace were at the keyboards and John Kinzie, heard mostly on timpani, completed the percussion compliment. For this 1938 work which set the stage for decades of experimentation to come, Leafman shuttled between snare drum, xylophone, bass drum, triangle and gong while the pianists maintained the fabric of the sound. The ensemble conquered the composition’s universe of soundscapes with intelligence and incisiveness.

After a brief recess, the final Faculty Artists Concert began. Grieg’s “Four Songs for Wind Octet” were charming arrangements of some of the best-known music by the Norwegian. Performed by equal parts faculty and students, the unusual scoring produced a highly-exotic, almost oriental sound. It was beautiful. Robert Walters on oboe and Bil Jackson on clarinet were asked to and managed to produce sounds at the perilous top of their instruments’ registers. Michael Kroth gave a demonstration of the “belcanto” bassoon so sweet was his sound. Most impressive: the ensemble’s shared vision to keep its sound intimate while rich in individuality.

Debussy’s “Sonata for flute, viola and harp” always had the look of one the festival’s highlights. The New York power trio of Elizabeth Mann, flute; Toby Appel, viola; and Nancy Allen, harp made sure this was a musical moment to cherish. With guest artist Allen spinning a web of texture and harmony, Mann and Appel pulled at our heartstrings to sublime effect. This was a performance that succeeded through gentleness and nuance; the shared sigh that ended the first movement was a magical and profound interruption of time. Thanks to these musicians the greatness of Debussy, who was soon to succumb to cancer after composing this trio, was powerfully present.

Predictable? Well, yes. The tradition of these penultimate concerts is to have violinist Scott You and Sue Grace perform a masterpiece of the repertoire. And each year, they manage to top what has come before. This time the duo took on Brahms’ “3rd Violin Sonata” to transfixing results. Yoo, as usual, lived the music in the moment and spoke the words of Brahms without the assistance of the printed music. Grace, although out of the spotlight, met and conquered the composer’s fiercely difficult keyboard complexities assuring the essence of the music was communicated.

Mann and Allen were back again after intermission to hurl themselves at Jacques Ibert’s “Entr’acte.” We can only hope that these two brilliant artists find their way back to the Springs for a joint recital outside of the boundaries of the festival.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold is probably not known by name to many music lovers. But his soundtracks were cornerstones of the Hollywood blockbusters of the 1930s and 40s. 1938’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood” is justly his most recognizable work and his concert concluding “Suite for 2 violins, cello and piano left hand” from 1930 foreshadows this later music through its theme and variation finale. Otherwise, this delightful work is forged from the art form’s time-honored traditions.

It’s the audience who’s supposed to enjoy these performances the most but the quartet of violinists Steven Copes and Toby Appel, cellist Bion Tsang and pianist John Novacek seemed to be having the time of their lives. The “sunburnt” post-Romanticism of the first movement gave the ensemble the chance to totally cut loose. As fine a player as Novacek is, he squeezed extra expression out of the opportunity to perform with only one hand.

As an anachronism of the turn-of-the-century European salons, the second movement occurred as an intelligent conversation highlighting the free-singing quality of Copes’ violin. After a wild Scherzo-like ride for the third movement, Korngold granted us a “lied” or song which could have easily been composed by Gustav Mahler. The quartet never was less than authentic in the purveying of this majestic beauty. The finale topped off a great concert as it projected a sense of unity even while heavily abstracting its theme and utilized daring harmonies

The music shifts across the street to the Cornerstone Art Center today at 3 p.m. Don’t hesitate. Come and grab a seat. I can’t imagine this Festival Orchestra concert to be comprised of anything less than great performances.