Classical News

Playground Ensemble Teaches Denver Students A Unique Musical Language

Denver’s Playground Ensemble, a group that champions modern classical and contemporary composers, is spending this week teaching students an unusual way to create music.

It’s called Soundpainting. A composer guides musicians with a series of hand gestures to create an improvised piece of music in concert. Here’s a video of a Playground Ensemble Soundpainting performance from 2014:

The Playground Ensemble, conducted by Mark Harris, in a Soundpainting performance recorded Sept. 5, 2014, at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Three Playground Ensemble teachers are working with second-through-fifth-graders from El Sistema Colorado, which offers free instrumental and choral music instruction to about 700 students in Denver schools. Megan Moran of El Sistema Colorado called the classes “a launching-pad in musical composition”:

“I wanted to give my students an opportunity to create their own material and be creative in a new way.  I hope that students eventually feel empowered and utilize the skills they learn to think outside of the box and recognize their own artistic ability."

Walter Thompson, who created Soundpainting in 1974 and has presented Soundpainting concerts around the world, helps teach this week’s classes in Denver. Here’s footage of Thompson in action:

A concert by Soundpainting founder Walter Thompson. Recorded October 2013 at Le Triton in Paris.

The students will show off what they’ve learned in their own Soundpainting concert hosted by Friends of Chamber Music. It happens Thursday at Garden Place Academy, 4425 Lincoln St. in Denver.

Check out CPR's recent feature on Playground Ensemble's debut of a unique string quartet by composer Loretta Notareschi.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article said the Playground Ensemble also holds monthly Soundpainting meetups. The group says it no longer host those gatherings.

Take A Virtual Lesson From Theremin Virtuoso Clara Rockmore

Google's Doodle celebrating Clara Rockmore.

(Photo: Google screengrab)

Musician Clara Rockmore, a virtuoso player of one of the world's first electronic instruments, was born 105 years ago today.

Google shared a Rockmore-themed Google Doodle today to give users a sense of what it's like to play the instrument, which inventor Leon Theremin created in 1919. A cartoon version of Rockmore -- standing before a period art-deco backdrop -- guides her student through the opening notes of Camille Saint-Saens' "The Swan."

The theremin is a uniquely unwieldy instrument. A player controls the instrument's pitch and volume by moving her hands without actually touching the theremin during a performance. Rockmore died in 1998 but continues to be the theremin's best-known player. 

After you practice with Google's simulation, compare your progress to this footage of Rockmore herself playing "The Swan":

Theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore plays "The Swan" by Camille Saint-Saens.

The tribute to Rockmore comes a day after a Google celebrated International Women's Day with a video featuring music by composer and tUnE-yArDs singer Merrill Garbus.

Colorado Music Festival In Boulder Rolls Out 2016 Season Schedule

The Colorado Music Festival orchestra performs at Chautauqua Auditorium.

(Photo: Courtesy Colorado Music Festival)

Published 03/04/16
Updated 05/19/16

The Colorado Music Festival in Boulder today released its lineup for the 2016 season.

The schedule includes several pop/classical “Musical Mash-Up” concerts; programs featuring violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Olga Kern; and deep dives into the symphonies of Johannes Brahms and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

(Photo: Courtesy of Colorado Music Festival)

Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni returns to Chautauqua Auditorium for his second year. Highlights:

  • June 30: An opening night concert at Chautauqua Auditorium featuring vioinist Jennifer Koh playing Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Violin Concerto. The program also includes “Symphonie Fantastique” by Hector Berlioz.
  • July 1: Percussion quartet So Percussion performs.
  • July 7-8: The festival orchestra performs all four of Johannes Brahms’ symphonies over consecutive nights.
  • July 12: Jazz trio The Bad Plus performs “The Rite of Spring Deconstructed,” their take on Igor Stravinsky’s masterpiece.
  • July 14: CMF Music Director Laureate Michael Christie returns to conduct pianist Orion Weiss playing Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1.
  • July 24: Zeitouni conducts Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s three final symphonies.
  • July 26: Hip-hop artist and producer DJ Spooky performs on the turntables over pieces by Bach, Beethoven and Mozart at a Musical Mash-Up concert.
  • July 30: Vocal octet Roomful of Teeth performs at the Dairy Center. (UPDATE: This concert has been canceled.)
  • Aug. 2: Another Musical Mash-Up concert: Colorado band Paper Bird performs with the festival orchestra.
  • Aug. 7: The season closes with pianist Olga Kern playing Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto.

View the full CMF schedule, and check out previews of the 2016 summer schedules for Aspen Music Festival and School and Bravo! Vail.

Watch So Percussion in the CPR Performance Studio:

So Percussion plays the "September" movement from member Jason Treuting's composition "Amid the Noise" in the CPR Performance Studio. Recorded March 19, 2015.

Ennio Morricone Wins Best Original Score At Oscars for 'Hateful Eight'

Film composer Ennio Morricone conducts an excerpt from his score for "The Hateful Eight."

Film composer Ennio Morricone -- whose work in cinema spans more than half a century -- won the Academy Award for best original score during Sunday's ceremony in Hollywood.

Morricone received the nod for his work on director Quentin Tarantino's Western thriller "The Hateful Eight." Tarantino filmed much of the movie near Telluride (though it's actually set in Wyoming). 

Watch footage of Morricone conducting an ominous excerpt from the score in the video above, which also contains some of the film's Rocky Mountain scenery.

The 87-year-old Italian composer's previous scores include "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly," "Once Upon a Time in the West" and "The Mission." He received another Oscar, an honorary award for his body of film work, in 2007.

Other nominated composers on Sunday included Thomas Newman, who scored Steven Spielberg's thriller "Bridge of Spies," and John Williams, who composed the music for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Kantorei Unveils New Music By Its Composer In Residence This Weekend

Denver choral group Kantorei performs.

(Photo: courtesy of the artist)

Denver choral group Kantorei performs a concert this weekend featuring new music by its composer in residence.

Norwegian composer Kim Andre Arnesen is in Colorado this week to help Kantorei rehearse his newest pieces. He’s collaborating with the singers for the 2015-16 season.

Composer Kim Andre Arnesen

(Photo: Courtesy Kantorei)

Kantorei performs Arnesen’s music Saturday at Denver’s Montview Presbyterian Church and Sunday at Englewood’s First Plymouth Congregational Church.

The program also includes “Passion Week,” a piece by Lithuanian composer Maximilian Steinberg that was published quietly in the 1920s and rediscovered in 2014.

Audio: David Rutherford on Maximilian Steinberg's Rediscovered 'Passion Week'

The range of different choral styles on this weekend’s program is impressive, Arnesen told CPR Classical's David Rutherford.

“I think I have developed as a composer in this process,” he said. “and realized I have one voice but it can be used in many different ways.”

Check out recordings of two Arnesen pieces Kantorei performed earlier this season. The group debuted “The Lamb” at its December concerts:

And here's "Cradle Hymn," also from the December concert:

Bravo! Vail Music Festival Announces 2016 Season

Violinist Joshua Bell leads the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra.

(Photo: Ian Douglas)

Bravo! Vail, the annual summer classical music festival in the Vail valley, announced its 2016 season today. (It follows recent season announcements by the Colorado Symphony and Aspen Music Festival and School.)

This year the festival adds Academy of St. Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra, led by violinist Joshua Bell, to the schedule. The Dallas Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra and New York Philharmonic also return.

The season runs June 23-Aug. 6. A few highlights:

  • June 25: The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra plays Felix Mendelssohn’s Double Concerto for Violin and Piano, featuring Bell on violin and pianist Jeremy Denk.
  • July 3: The Dallas Symphony -- led by Jaap van Zweden, the New York Philharmonic’s next music director -- plays Bruch’s Violin Concert in G minor with violinist Augustin Hadelich.
  • July 16: The Philadelphia Orchestra plays Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony No. 2 with the Colorado Symphony Chorus.
  • July 19: The Dover String Quartet plays Beethoven's Grosse Fugue and Smetana's Quartet No. 1, "From My Life," at Donovan Pavilion.
  • July 28: The New York Philharmonic plays Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 and Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 with violinist Leila Josefowicz
  • Aug. 3: A chamber music concert at Vail's Donovan Pavilion featuring violinist Ida Kavafian, pianist Christopher O'Riley and Bravo Vail's Anne-Marie McDermott on piano. The program includes music by Paul Lansky and Osvaldo Golijov.
  • Aug. 6: Sixty-six percussionists give an outdoor performance of John Luther Adams' "Inuksuit" in Minturn's Maloit Park.

See the full Bravo! Vail 2016 schedule.

And The 2016 Classical Grammy Award Winners Are...

Some of the classical music winners of the 2016 Grammy awards.

The 2016 Grammy award winners for classical music have been announced.

Winners include the Boston Symphony Orchestra and conductor Andris Nelsons; the Phoenix Chorale and Kansas City Chorale under director Charles Bruffy; and contemporary ensemble Eighth Blackbird. Composer Stephen Paulus, who died in 2014, was also honored twice.

Check out the winners below, read the full list of nominees and compare the Grammy picks with CPR Classical's favorite releases of 2015.

Best Orchestral Performance 

Shostakovich: Under Stalin's Shadow - Symphony No. 10 

Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)

​Best Opera Recording

Ravel: L'Enfant Et Les Sortilèges; Shéhérazade 

Seiji Ozawa, conductor; Isabel Leonard; Dominic Fyfe, producer (Saito Kinen Orchestra; SKF Matsumoto Chorus & SKF Matsumoto Children's Chorus)​

Best Choral Performance 

Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil

Charles Bruffy, conductor (Paul Davidson, Frank Fleschner, Toby Vaughn Kidd, Bryan Pinkall, Julia Scozzafava, Bryan Taylor & Joseph Warner; Kansas City Chorale & Phoenix Chorale)​

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance  


eighth blackbird

Best Classical Instrumental Solo  

Dutilleux: Violin Concerto, L'Arbre Des Songes  

Augustin Hadelich; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony)
Track from: Dutilleux: Métaboles; L'Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, 'Le Double'

Best Classical Solo Vocal Album 

Joyce & Tony - Live From Wigmore Hall  

Joyce DiDonato; Antonio Pappano, accompanist

Best Classical Compendium    

Paulus: Three Places Of Enlightenment; Veil Of Tears & Grand Concerto 

Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Tim Handley, producer

Best Contemporary Classical Composition 

Paulus: Prayers & Remembrances  

Stephen Paulus, composer (Eric Holtan, True Concord Voices & Orchestra)
Track from: Paulus: Far In The Heavens

About That Super Bowl Wager Between The Symphonies...

(Photo illustration: CPR/Brad Turner)

The Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, which means the Colorado Symphony won its side bet with the Charlotte Symphony. 

According to the agreement, the Charlotte Symphony will play Aaron Copland's "Hoedown" while the conductor sports a Peyton Manning jersey.

A little Copland should be a nice consolation prize for Panthers fans in Charlotte.

UPDATE: The Charlotte Symphony has responded to the outcome of the game:

Official statement: Congratulations to the Denver Broncos and Colorado Symphony for winning #SB50 and the #CSOvsCSO...

Posted by Charlotte Symphony on Monday, February 8, 2016


Colorado, Charlotte Symphonies Make A Musical Bet On The Super Bowl

Scott O'Neil, the Colorado Symphony's former resident conductor, wears his Peyton Manning jersey during a January 2013 rehearsal.

(Photo: Colorado Symphony)

As football fans in Denver and Charlotte, N.C., await the outcome of the NFL championship game this Sunday, the cities’ symphonies have announced a friendly football wager.

If the Carolina Panthers win the Super Bowl, the Colorado Symphony will play an arrangement of Neil Diamond’s tune “Sweet Caroline” at an upcoming concert. Associate Conductor Christopher Dragon would wear the jersey of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton during the performance.

If the Denver Broncos win, the Charlotte Symphony will treat its audience to “Hoedown” from Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo” while the orchestra’s conductor wears a Peyton Manning jersey. (“Rodeo” was a highlight of the Colorado Symphony’s recent disc of Copland recordings.)

The Colorado Symphony announced the bet at its Friday concert, which aired live as part of the CPR Classical LIVE! concert broadcast series. They also played a unique version of "Hoedown" as part of the announcement:

Whatever the outcome of the game, at least listeners in the losing team’s city can expect some fun music as a consolation prize.

Aspen Music Festival Reveals Summer 2016 Lineup

Soprano Renee Fleming is set to sing music by Richard Strauss at one of the first concerts of the 2016 season at Aspen Music Festival and School.

(Photo: Decca/Timothy White)

The Aspen Music Festival and School, which returns for its 2016 season June 30 through Aug. 21, today released its summer concert calendar.

The schedule includes what you'd expect from one of the world's biggest summer classical festivals: orchestra concerts, chamber music, solo recitals, three staged operas and other unusual classical performances.

A few highlights:

  • July 3: Soprano Renee Fleming sings Richard Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” in a concert conducted by Music Director Robert Spano.
  • July 15: Violinist Joshua Bell performs Camille Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto accompanied by the Aspen Chamber Symphony.
  • July 19: The Emerson String Quartet plays a 40th anniversary concert featuring music by Joseph Haydn, Johannes Brahms and Alban Berg.
  • July 28: Violinist Sarah Chang, an alumni of the festival’s school, performs Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.”
  • Aug. 7: A performance of John Luther Adams’ “Inuksuit” for 99 percussionists, presented in partnership with the Bravo! Vail music festival
  • Aug. 21: Spano conducts a season-closing performance of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” featuring the Aspen Festival Orchestra, Colorado Symphony Chorus and Colorado Children’s Chorale.

View the Aspen Music Festival's complete schedule. It follows the Monday release of the Colorado Symphony's 2016-17 lineup.

For a snapshot of what music students learn in the Roaring Fork Valley each summer, check out CPR Classical’s conversations with violinist Natalie Hodges from 2015.

Or hear interviews with musicians featured at last year’s festival, including guitarist Sharon Isbin, violinist Daniel Hope and the Pacifica Quartet.