Final bow

Pro Musica Colorado ends its 17-year run with last concert from departing conductor Cynthia Katsarelis

Photography by Glenn Ross.

Editor’s note: This performance has been rescheduled for 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 5.

Cynthia Katsarelis, music director and founder of Boulder-based Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, says the organization of top-tier professional players always strove for two major objectives. 

“We wanted to be a chamber orchestra that plays like a string quartet on steroids, with intense visceral expression,” the conductor reflects ahead of the orchestra’s final concert at Mountain View United Methodist Church in Boulder on April 6. 

The other goal was to present new and diverse music alongside the traditional. “I’ve been doing works by women and African-American composers of the past and present for a while,” she says.

According to Katsarelis, the performance of new works can open a window and allow fresh air to revive the classics we love so well. 

“Those classics existed in their time and place, but something universal lifted them beyond that space,” she says. “Doing music of our time and place can reset our imagination and our ears when we hear established masterworks, and I think the new makes the old more relevant.”

To balance this, she says it’s helpful to give the audience something they know. 

“When you ask people to go on an exploratory journey with you, you should also give them favorite pieces and soloists along the way.”

After 17 seasons, the journey will come to an end with the orchestra’s upcoming farewell concert. Katsarelis — who recently completed her Doctorate of Musical Arts at CU Boulder — accepted a position at the University of Notre Dame as a professor of conducting in the Sacred Music Program in March of last year. After losing its executive director and taking a staffing hit during the pandemic, the board decided the already-planned 2023-24 season would be its last.

“I was the glue that held us together and allowed us to keep going,” Katsarelis says. “We all thought it would be wise to end on our own terms, to celebrate the time we have left and all that we have accomplished.”

Alessandro De Pasquale
Local soloist Nicolò Spera performs Fantasía para un gentilhombre (1954) by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo as part of the upcoming Pro Musica Colorado farewell performance. Courtesy: Pro Musica Colorado

Ending strong

Katsarelis says Pro Musica Colorado’s last concert will provide a strong ending in terms of the orchestra’s mission. Two works — one new and one old — by female composers will frame a more familiar composition featuring beloved local soloist Nicolò Spera.

“The new frontier for diverse and underrepresented music is to do a major multi-movement work,” Katsarelis says. “The tendency when programming new or diverse music has been to do a short concert opener or perhaps a concerto with a well-known soloist to champion it. Something like a symphony has got to be the next level.”

To that end, she is closing the program with the Third Symphony (1847) by early romantic French composer Louise Farrenc. “She was a contemporary of Mendelssohn and Schumann, and a virtuoso pianist who was also a musicologist, resurrecting a lot of early keyboard music,” Katsarelis says.

Farrenc, a professor at the Paris Conservatoire, went in a more abstract direction compared to the program music championed by her French contemporary Hector Berlioz. “There is an aspect of her rich counterpoint and harmonies that is like J.S. Bach meeting Beethoven,” Katsarelis says. “It is deeply engaging music that deserves to be heard.”

The concert opens with Starburst (2012), a short piece by contemporary American composer and 2024 Grammy winner Jessie Montgomery. Spera plays Fantasía para un gentilhombre (1954) by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo, one of the most famous concerto-type works for classical guitar.

“We like to work with local soloists from local faculties, and Nicolò is one of our favorites. He was on sabbatical last year, and we were looking for an opportunity to work with him once more,” Katsarelis says. “As we have always done on our programs, we are going out with an evening of great music with wonderful discoveries that you won’t hear anywhere else … [to] warm the heart with both the comfort of the familiar and the refreshing delight of the new.”  

ON THE BILL: Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra with guitar soloist Nicolò Spera. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6, Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place. $25


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