7 Interesting Facts About The Grieg Piano Concerto

Grieg at the Piano

This May, DU Lamont School of Music’s Heidi Leathwood will join the Parker Symphony in performing Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. It’s one of the composer’s most popular works and one of the most loved and performed of all piano concerti. Whether you recognize the opening notes or have heard the whole thing numerous times, chances are you don’t know all there is to this to this stunning piece. Here are 7 interesting facts about the Grieg Piano Concerto.

  1. It was Grieg’s only completed concerto. When he was just 25, Grieg wanted to make his mark on the world. This was his first work to employ an orchestra and it was an instant success. Many expected the composer to write a second, but one never came. He began work on a second concerto in B minor, but he never completed it. Several pianists have recorded the sketches and in 1997 the Oslo Grieg Society held a competition in which one contestant elaborated a full concerto from the sketches. Grieg also started work on a violin concerto that also was not completed.

  2. It is often compared to Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Not only did Grieg and Schumann each write only one piano concerto, they both wrote theirs in A minor. Both works also begin on a similar descending flourish on the piano. Schumann wrote his first and Grieg heard Clara Schumann perform it about 10 years before writing his own. It is said that Grieg was greatly influenced by Schumann’s style having been taught piano by Schumann’s friend.

  3. Grieg did not perform it at the premiere. Some sources say that Grieg was the intended soloist but he was unable to attend the premiere due to previous commitments in Christiania (now Oslo). Anton Rubinstein, however, was in attendance and he even provided his own piano for the occasion. Danish composer Niels Gade (who wrote the Hamlet Overture which the PSO is also performing in May) was also in the audience.

  4. It was the first piano concerto ever recorded. German pianist Wilhelm Backhaus recognized the importance of the gramophone. His 1909 recording of the Grieg Piano Concerto was not only the first recording of that work, but the first time any concerto had been recorded. Due to the technology of the time, however, it was a heavily abridged performance that lasted only 6 minutes.

  5. A pianist died while performing it. On April 2, 1951, pianist Simon Barere collapse on stage while playing the first few bars of the Grieg Piano Concerto. The performance was with conductor Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York. Unfortunately he died backstage shortly after collapsing.

  6. Grieg revised the work at least 7 times. Most of the updates were subtle, but they add up to over 300 differences from the original orchestration. The final version was completed only a few weeks before Grieg’s death and this is the version we know today.

  7. The concerto contains Norwegian folk music influences. This isn’t surprising since Edvard Grieg was from Norway and like other composers including Dvorak and Sibelius, he sought to pay tribute to his homeland in much of his music. The opening flourish of the concerto is a motif typical in Norwegian folk music while the last movement contains imitations of the Norwegian folk fiddle and halling (a Norwegian dance).


Don’t miss Heidi Leathwood’s performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor along with other Scandinavian pieces at the Parker Symphony Orchestra concert on May 11 at PACE. Tickets are on sale now.


Heidi Leathwood Joins The PSO For A Denver Area Mother’s Day Weekend Concert

Parker Symphony May Concert Grieg Piano Concert - Denver Mothers Day EventThe Parker Symphony and Parker Arts present the final concert of the 2017-2018 season on Friday May 11 (Mother’s Day Weekend) at 7:30 PM at the PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker. The concert is titled “Grieg Piano Concert and Other Scandinavian Favorites” and will feature Heidi Brende Leathwood from the University of Denver Lamont School of Music on the piano.

Ms. Leathwood has performed with members of the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the Colorado Symphony. Since moving to Colorado in 2001, she has performed regularly with leading musicians in the Front Range area. She was a prize winner in the Stravinsky Awards International Piano Competition and the Ruth Slenzynska National Piano Competition among others. She is currently part of the Lamont School faculty teaching the Alexander Technique and Piano.

In addition to Ms. Leathwood’s performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, the Parker Symphony will also be playing Sibelius’ “Karelia Suite”, Alfven’s “Midsommarvaka”, and Gade’s “Hamlet Overture”.

Tickets for this Denver area May concert are available now at the PACE Center online box office (https://parkerarts.ticketforce.com/), by phone at 303-805-6800 or in person at the PACE Center. And they make excellent Mother’s Day gifts!!


Established in 1994, the mission of the Parker Symphony Orchestra is to perform orchestral music that will educate, entertain, and inspire the people of Parker, Colorado and the surrounding communities. Under the direction of René Knetsch, the PSO is an all-volunteer orchestra, seventy five members strong, dedicated to continual excellence and growth. They perform with the goal of offering interesting and entertaining performances to tempt everyone’s musical palate.

Karelia Suite Captures The Spirit of Finland



Karelia, Finland

Since the Karelia Suite was composed by Jean Sibelius, a Finnish composer, you can imagine he infused a lot of his homeland into the piece. What you may not know, however, is that the piece is more than just inspired by Finland – it is entirely all about Finland. From the title, which refers to a region made up by southeast Finland and parts of Russia, to the premiere in Vyborg, this work captures the spirit of Sibelius’ country and was not only popular during his time, but remains one of his most performed works today.

The Karelia Suite is actually music that was commissioned by students from the Helsinki University in Vyborg for a historical tableau – a set of scenes from the history of Karelia. The original work was called Karelia Music and was an intensely patriotic work, incorporating Finland’s main folk legends from the Kalevala (a 19th century work of epic poetry based on Finnish mythology). It consisted of an overture, 8 tableau movements, and two intermezzo movements. Sibelius created the suite we know today using 3 of the movements.

The three movements of the Karelia Suite are:

  • Intermezzo: Sibelius borrowed the brass theme from the middle of the 3rd tableau to create this lively movement. It is a jaunty movement intended to depict the procession of Karelian laborers paying taxes to Duke Narimont of Lithuania.
  • Ballade: This was based on tableau 4 of the original music. It tells the story of 15th century Swedish king, Karl Knutsson, feeling reminiscent while listening to his bard singing in the castle.
  • Alla Marcia: This exhilarating march is very similar to the last half of the 5th tableau in the original music. The original tableau, however, depicted a violent city siege. This movement in the suite, however, is light, sunny, and jolly.

When the original Karelia Music premiered in 1893, it was not performed in the best of circumstances. The audience, made up of students from the university, was so loud that many could not hear the music at all. Sibelius himself remarked, “You couldn’t hear a single note of the music – everyone was on their feet cheering and clapping.”

Finnish author Ernst Lampén, who was in the audience, recalled:

The noise in the hall was like an ocean in a storm. I was at the opposite end of the hall and could not distinguish a single note. The audience did not have the patience to listen and was hardly aware of the music. The orchestra was actually there, behind the pillars. I thrust my way through the crowd and managed to reach the orchestra after a good deal of effort. There were a few listeners. Just a handful. I arrived just when they were playing the march. What a extraordinarily charming and varied melody! What a springy rhythm!

Despite this initial performance, Sibelius went on to conduct a very popular concert that included the Overture plus the three movements that would become the Karelia Suite and thanks to its wonderful reception, the composer decided to sell the pieces for printing. Many of the original tableaus may have been lost to fire (Sibelius burned many of his manuscripts in 1945), but the Karelia Suite survived.

Today, critics note that this suite combines rustic melodies with grand, noble moments to reflect both the rough, simple life and the deep patriotism of the Karelian people. Listening to the various movements (particularly the opening of the Intermezzo and the Alla Marcia), one cannot help but think of the beautiful wilderness, the vast tundras, and the proud people of Finland.

If you’d like to hear the Karelia Suite performed live, join the Parker Symphony on May 11 at the PACE Center when we perform this and other Scandinavian works.


Legends of The Abduction from the Seraglio

Abduction from the Seraglio
Mozart was just 26 years old when he was commissioned to write the opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail or The Abduction from the Seraglio and it was not only a huge success, but also a trendy work the likes of which hadn’t been seen before. Everything Turkish was all the rage and not only did Mozart set the opera in a Turkish harem, but he also flavored the music with unconventional instruments like cymbals, triangles, and big drums to evoke the Janissary bands of Turkey. The poet Goethe said that it “knocked everything else sideways.” But it was the words of the Emperor Joseph II (who commissioned the work) that are forever associated with the opera.

In the movie “Amadeus”, the Emperor said of the opera, “Too many notes. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.” While there are many aspects of the film that are at the very least, exaggerated, this quote is actually based somewhat in truth (although disputed). Reportedly, the Emperor complained to Mozart that the work was “too fine” for his ears, remarking that “there are too many notes” to which Mozart replied, “There are just as many notes as there should be.” The exchange was recorded in Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes, but some scholars doubt the authenticity of the story because the reference book contained the original German and the translation was dubious. Still, whether true or not, the legend has stuck with the work and certainly comes to mind when listening to even just the overture (which you can hear us perform on February 23!).

Another interesting legend around “Abduction” is the similarity between the story in the opera and Mozart’s personal life, almost like he purposely infused his own experiences into the work. At the time he was commissioned to compose it, Mozart was trying to take his life into his own hands. He had just moved to Vienna after being dismissed by his employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg Hieronymus Colloredo, a man he was said to have “hated to the point of madness”. He rented a room from the Weber family, and fell in love with the family’s daughter Constanze. Much like the the opera’s female protagonists who wish to be rescued from their harem, Mozart himself knew the feeling of being confined and wishing for freedom.

During this time, Mozart was also waging a battle via letters with his father. His father continued to try to exert influence over him while he attempted to convince his father to agree to his marriage with Constanze Weber. This is very much like the hero, Belmonte, who struggles against Pasha Selim to win freedom and the right love Konstanze. It’s also worth noting that the opera’s heroine bears the same name as the composer’s love interest (and future wife). Perhaps the composer was making a statement about his own life in writing “Abduction” or maybe he was just drawing on it for inspiration.

The Abduction from the Seraglio was a triumph from its opening night, becoming Mozart’s most popular and legendary work in his lifetime. It greatly raised Mozart’s standing with the public as a composer. The first two performances brought in a large sum and the work was repeatedly performed in Vienna throughout the rest of his life. It is firmly ensconced in the opera repertoire today and there are at least 52 complete recordings in circulation.

Be sure to hear us perform the Overture from The Abduction from the Seraglio on February 23 at 7:30 PM.

Who Is Peter Warlock?


Peter Warlock Composer

Who is Peter Warlock? The name is probably not familiar to you, even if you are a self-proclaimed classical music buff. The short answer is Peter Warlock is Philip Heseltine.

Born in London in 1894, Heseltine was a music critic (and a combative one at that), editor, and founder of the musical journal The Sackbut. His critical writings were all listed with his given name, but he took on the pseudonym Peter Warlock for his music compositions.

Keep reading and you’ll also see, this wasn’t his only pseudonym!

Why the name Peter Warlock?

As a music critic, Heseltine had become known as a controversial figure, regarded with suspicion and hostility in the London music circle. So in 1918 when he sent seven recently composed songs to a publisher, he used the pseudonym Peter Warlock. The name is said to have originated from his involvement and interest in the occult.

Peter Warlock’s Music

Unlike many well-known composers, Peter Warlock was not formally trained in the area of music composition. He was largely self-taught, but he received encouragement from fellow English composers like Frederick Delius. His body of work consists mainly of songs for solo voice and piano and song cycles (150 of them) like The Curlew and Candlelight, but his Capriol Suite, in particular, stands out and remains his most popular composition.

The Capriol Suite is a set of dances originally written for piano duet. Warlock later scored it for both string and full orchestras. Written in 1926, it was based on tunes in Renaissance dances and in today’s world would be recognized as a sort of “throwback” piece with a few modern harmonies incorporated. It isn’t surprising that he would be inspired to write in an early English music form. Over his lifetime, he made well over 500 transcriptions of early works including compositions from Henry Purcell, John Dowland, and Thomas Ravenscroft. Though the work has six movements, it only takes about 10 minutes to perform. Be sure to check out our performance of it on February 23!

Warlock’s music generally well-received by the public and critics. Ralph Vaughan Williams was reportedly “delighted” with the reception of Warlock’s Three Carols which Vaughan Williams conductor in 1923. Heseltine/Warlock conducted a performance of the Capriol Suite in August 1929 – the only public conducting engagement of his life. The audience recalled him four times after that performance.

Peter Warlock’s Legend

The legend of Peter Warlock is surrounded by controversy and rumor. In addition to his combative and argumentative nature and his interest in the occult, he was said to have experimented with a variety of unconventional practices including cannabis tincture and flagellation. He was also said to enjoy composing obscene limericks and he even edited an anthology in praise of drinking under a new pseudonym, “Rab Noolas” which is “Saloon Bar” backwards.

Although the early 1920’s, particularly 1925-1929, were a fruitful time for Warlock, he found his creativity waning in 1929. Life became even bleaker in 1930 when there was little demand for his songs and he turned to music criticism and transcription again to support himself. He suffered from severe depression and in December 1930, he was found dead in his flat from gas poisoning. The coroner determined that there was insufficient evidence on whether it was suicide or an accident.

His life has inspired numerous characters in both literature and film. D.H. Lawrence based his character, Julius Halliday, on Warlock in the novel Women in Love. Warlock also inspired characters in Aldous Huxley’s Antic Hay and Jean Rhys’ short story “Till September Petronella”. His life was depicted in the films Voices From a Locked Room and Peter Warlock, Some Little Joy, although it was highly fictionalized in the former.

In 1963, the Peter Warlock Society was created and interest in his works began to increase. While some music experts acknowledge that his music today is often regarded as “programme filler” and encore items, his Capriol Suite is still performed frequently to this day. In fact, you can hear the Parker Symphony Orchestra perform it on February 23.

11 Amazing Facts About Porgy and Bess

Photo courtesy of The New York Times – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/13/theater/reviews/audra-mcdonald-in-the-gershwins-porgy-and-bess-review.html

Porgy and Bess is one of George Gershwin’s best-known works (along with Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris). It is an English-language folk opera featuring a cast of African-American singers based on a play and a book named “Porgy”. When it debuted in 1935, it was a daring artistic choice given the racially charged theme, but despite some controversy, it gained popularity especially after the 1970’s and is now a frequently performed opera. Even if you’ve never seen it performed (or seen the movie adaptation), chances are you’ve heard some of its songs like “Summertime” which is frequently recorded separately.

There’s more to this American opera, though, than “Summertime”, “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin'”, and racial controversy. Here are 11 cool facts about Porgy and Bess to keep in mind the next time you see it or hear its amazing music (you can hear the Parker Symphony perform selections from Porgy and Bess on February 23).

“and Bess” was an afterthought: The opera was originally named “Porgy” throughout its creation. The “and Bess” portion was added to avoid confusion with the novel and play it was based on. The thought was also that the “and Bess” made it sound more operatic.

It was a box office flop: Porgy and Bess debuted on Broadway in 1935 (after its world premiere in Boston). Its original run included 125 performances which by opera standards is a huge success. However, for Broadway, that’s a theatrical failure.

Its performance resulted in an integrated audience: After the Broadway run, the opera went on tour to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and, finally, Washington DC. In Washington, the cast, led by lead actor Todd Duncan, staged a protest of segregation at the National Theater. The theater intended to offer a special “blacks only” performance, but Duncan and the cast said they would never perform in a theater that prevented them from purchasing a ticket because of race. Management gave into their demands and the result was the first integrated audience for a performance of any show at that venue.

It has faced racial controversy over the years: Duke Ellington was said to have objected to its depiction of African Americans, although he later said the opposite. Harry Belafonte turned down the role of Porgy in the film version and the role when to Sidney Poitier. It is thought, however, that Gershwin never meant to insult African Americans. On the contrary, he insisted that it could only be sung by a black cast, a tradition upheld by Ira Gershwin that has launched the careers of several prominent black opera singers. George Gershwin sought to write a true jazz opera and he felt that the Met staff singers couldn’t master the genre.

Robert McFerrin sang the role of Porgy: Bobby McFerrin’s father, Robert, sang the role of Porgy in the 1959 film version. His voice was dubbed over Sidney Poitier’s.

The libretto was co-written by a former insurance agent: The libretto (the text used in the opera) was written by both Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. Heyward was the co-author of the original “Porgy” novel which he wrote with his wife while he was working as an insurance agent.

The setting is fictional, but the inspiration is real: Porgy and Bess is set in the fictional neighborhood of Catfish Row, South Carolina. However, the setting and the story were inspired by the James Island Gullah community in South Carolina. In fact, most of the characters speak in the Gullah dialect. George Gershwin moved to Folly Beach, an island near Charleston, South Carolina, to draw inspiration from the Gullah community while composing the score.

It has been on Broadway seven times: Despite its initial failure, Porgy and Bess has been produced on Broadway seven times to date – 1935, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1953, 1976, 1983, and 2012. The 2012 production had the longest run at 321 performances.

It was a “first” for La Scala: Porgy and Bess was the first opera by an American-born composer to be performed at the famous opera house in Milan. The performance took place in 1955 and Maya Angelou was among the cast.

It was referenced in Sesame Street: The opera has undeniably made its mark in American music and culture, so much so that it was referenced in an episode of Sesame Street’s 36th season. Hoots the Owl sang a parody version of “A Women Is A Sometime Thing” to Cookie Monster called “A Cookie Is A Sometime Food”.

“Summertime” may be more popular than you know: Not only is it a memorable aria, but it has also been covered over 33,000 times by groups and solo performers.


Join the Parker Symphony Orchestra on February 23, 2018 to hear selections from Porgy and Bess and more. Tickets for Gone Too Soon are on sale now.

Vasily Kalinnikov – Russian Master, Gone Too Soon



Kalinnikov - Russian Composer Master Gone Too SoonChances are you’ve never heard the name Kalinnikov. Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov…of course. But Kalinnikov’s name should be among these other Russian giants. It is estimated that had he lived longer, he most certainly would have had a very successful career and, as a result, would be more well-known internationally today. Unfortunately, he died at a very young age from tuberculosis and we’ll never know what amazing music could have been. Still, he left the classical music world with some beautiful melodic pieces, including two symphonies with obvious Russian character and several piano, vocal, choir, and orchestral pieces.

Kalinnikov was born in 1866 in Voina to a police officer. His father, who played the guitar and sang in the local choir, encouraged him to pursue music. He started violin lessons at an early age. The family moved to Oryol and thanks to his family’s ecclesiastic ties, he attended seminary, becoming the director of the seminary choir at the age of 14.

Though he entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1884, he was forced to quit after a few months due to his inability to pay tuition. However, he did win a scholarship as a bassoon player for the Moscow Philharmonic Music School where he studied bassoon and composition.

Poverty throughout his life caused Kalinnikov to find work as much as he could. He played violin, bassoon, and timpani with theater orchestras. He also worked as a copyist and his teacher, Kruglikov, also provided financial help.

His talent, however, did not go unnoticed. Tchaikovsky recognized his potential and in 1892, recommended him as conductor for the Maly Theater and, later, the Moscow Italian Theater. Unfortunately, his health took a turn for the worse just a year later in 1893 and he had to resign. He had contracted tuberculosis.

Kalinnikov moved to the warmth of South Crimea in search for a cure and it was there that he completed both of his symphonies and a variety of instrumental works. Through his music, he strove to portray rural Russian life and its scenery. He created colorful orchestrations and relied on melodies and rhythm to evoke traditional folk songs. His symphonies, in particular, show influence of the Russian masters like Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, but his Second Symphony also includes sudden and obscure modulations reminiscent of Borodin.

The Symphony No. 1 (written between 1894-1895) was dedicated to Kruglikov, his teacher who also helped him financially. Kruglikov was thoroughly impressed by the score and sent it to leading conductors in Russia. The work was premiered at the Russian Musical Society in Kiev in 1897 to an audience that gave both the second and third movements an encore. If you’re curious why, come hear the Parker Symphony Orchestra perform the second movement in February!

Unfortunately, Kalinnikov would spend his remaining days in Crimea. He received some financial relief from Rachmaninoff who visited and saw his poor living conditions. Rachmaninoff also contacted his publisher who paid for three of Kalinnikov’s songs and offered to publish the Second Symphony. Rachmaninoff also arranged for the publication of the piano arrangement of his First Symphony.

Sadly, Kalinnikov died before he was able to benefit from most of these arrangements, around the time of his 35th birthday. The publisher offered Kalinnikov’s widow an unexpectedly high payment for the remaining manuscripts because the composer’s death multiplied the value of his works by ten.

In Russia, his First Symphony remains in the repertory and his place in Russian musical history is secure. And hopefully with more performances in the US and elsewhere, his name will become more familiar with music fans worldwide.

If you’d like to hear the second movement from his First Symphony, come hear the Parker Symphony Orchestra in February.

Obscure & Uncommon Classical Christmas Music


Tired of the usual Christmas carols on the radio? Have you heard Sleigh Ride or Winter Wonderland one too many times this season? Then check out our list of uncommon classical Christmas music including rare choral pieces and obscure symphonic compositions.

Past Three O’Clock

Past Three O’Clock is loosely based on the traditional cry of the city night watchman. It was written by George Ratcliffe Woodward and published in 1924. Although it has been recorded by a number of choirs including the Choir of King’s College and Cambridge, it doesn’t typically make the cut among popular music artists.




In Terra Pax – Gerald Finzi

In Terra Pax was one of the last pieces British composer Gerald Finzi wrote. It was composed in 1954 and was set to the words of a poem entitled “Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913” by Robert Bridges. Finzi explained that the work is the Nativity story becoming a vision seen by “a wanderer on a dark and frosty Christmas Eve in our own familiar landscape”. Like his other works, it has hints of inspiration from other British composers like Elgar and Vaughan Williams.




Riu Riu Chiu

Although it has crossed into some popular music recordings, Riu Riu Chiu remains relatively unknown by most. Sometimes attributed to Mateo Flecha the Elder who died in 1553, the basic theme of the song is the nativity of Christ and the immaculate Conception. The words “ríu ríu chíu” are nonsense syllables that represent the call of the kingfisher.




Christmas Overture – Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a British composer of African descent. His father was a Sierra Leone Creole physician. His mother, an Englishwoman. He showed promise at an early age as a violinist and then as a composer. He became fairly well-known in England as well as in the US where he was dubbed the “African Mahler”. His Christmas Overture was derived from The Forest of Wild Thyme and arranged by Sydney Barnes after Coleridge-Taylor’s death. In it, you’ll hear familiar tunes like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Good King Wenceslaus”, and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.




Gaudete

Another medieval carol, Gaudete or Gaudete, Christus est natus is a sacred Christmas song that was published in 1582. When it was published, no music was given for the verses, but it is typically sung to a tune that comes from older liturgical books. The title translates as “Rejoice, rejoice! Christ has born”.




Carol Symphony – Victor Hely-Hutchinson

Victor Hely-Hutchinson was a British composer born in Cape Town, Cape Colony (now South Africa). His best known work is his Carol Symphony – a four movement work that incorporates several well-known Christmas carols. The first movement is based on O Come All Ye Faithful. The second is a scherzo on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. The third is a slow movement loosely based on both the Coventry Carol and The First Noel. And the finale incorporates Here We Come A-Wassailing and O Come All Ye Faithful again.




Sleigh Ride (Winter Night) – Frederick Delius

Another English composer, Delius is best known for lyrical music influenced by other European composers like Edvard Grieg and Richard Wagner as well as music he heard while in America. His Winter Night is an atmospheric portrayal of a moonlit, snowy sleigh ride complete with sleigh bells.




Wassail Song – Ralph Vaughan Williams

The “Wassail Song” is part of Vaughan Williams’ Five English Folk Songs, a transcription of melodies from England’s vast vocal tradition of folk music. It was written in 1913 with cheer and charm to end the collection of five songs.




Santa Claus Symphony – William Henry Fry

William Henry Fry holds the distinction of being the first composer born in the United States to write for a large symphony orchestra. His Santa Claus Symphony was written in 1853 and was very well received by audiences. It may be the first orchestral use of the saxophone which was invented just barely a decade before.


Parker Symphony Orchestra Celebrates 24th Season

Small version of Parker Symphony Orchestra - all members

2017-2018 marks the 24th season for what we now know as the Parker Symphony Orchestra. However, for the first 17 years of its existence, the orchestra was known as the South Suburban Community Orchestra. Founded by Denver resident Alan Long in 1994, the SSCO started as a small orchestra which performed in various churches around Denver and Centennial. Joe Larkin, a graduate of DU, led the orchestra as its Music Director from its inception in 1994 until 2006. René Knetsch has been the Music Director of the orchestra since the Fall of 2006.

The 2010-2011 season was a turning point for the orchestra. SSCO was performing at Grace Presbyterian Church in Centennial that year. The building was sold, which left the orchestra without a venue for performances. As luck would have it, the magnificent PACE center was being built in Parker at that time. René contacted the Executive Director of the PACE, pointing out that we had an orchestra without a performance venue, and PACE was a performance venue without an orchestra. Two of the staff members from PACE attended one of the last concerts at Grace. Liking what they heard, they graciously invited the orchestra to perform on the PACE stage, later naming the orchestra as one of the PACE’s Artistic Partners. The orchestra changed its name to the Parker Symphony Orchestra before the first concert at PACE in November 2011.

Highlights from the past 6 seasons at PACE include: collaborations with the Legend High School choir, annual holiday concerts with the Parker Chorale, children’s concerts with the Young Voices of Colorado children’s choir, a Veteran’s Day concert featuring the Mormon Chorale, several professional guest soloists, a high energy concert of Latin music featuring the amazing tango group “Extasis”, and, of course, performances of many of the greatest classical music compositions ever composed.

Our current season opens with the October 27 concert titled “Sounds of the Deep”. A collection of classical music masterpieces that have a “Halloween-esque” feel to them, including the overture to “Die Fledermaus” (the bat), and the very famous “Orpheus in the Underworld” (think – “Can-Can”). December 1, 2, and 3 will be our traditional “Classic Parker Holiday” with the Parker Chorale, which always includes may well-known holiday favorites. February 23, 2018 we will present a concert we are calling “Gone Too Soon”, which will be music composed by composers who passed away at a much too early age including composers like Mozart, Gershwin, and Bizet. The final concert for the season is May 11 and will feature Heidi Leathwood, piano professor at DU’s Lamont School of Music, performing the gorgeous “Piano Concerto in A minor” by Edvard Grieg.


Handel’s “Messiah” FAQs



Handel's MessiahHandel’s “Messiah” is one of the most widely played pieces during the Christmas season and certainly the most popular oratorio (a musical composition for orchestra, choir, and soloists). It’s also, however, the subject of a wide variety of myths, misconceptions, and questions ranging from things as simple as its title to why we stand during the famous “Hallelujah” chorus.

Let’s take a moment to explore answers to these key frequently asked questions about “Messiah”.

What is Handel’s Messiah?

Handel’s “Messiah” is a large work for orchestra, choir, and solo singers called an oratorio. It was composed in 1741 and is typically performed around Christmas. The most famous part is the “Hallelujah” chorus which has been used in popular culture in movies, cartoons, and even commercials. While many people refer to it as “The Messiah”, its official name is just “Messiah”.

What is the story of Handel’s Messiah?

It doesn’t tell story. Instead, the libretto, written by Charles Jennens, is a series of contemplations on the Christian theme of redemption through the life of Christ. The work is in 3 parts: the first part foretells Jesus’ birth and the Christmas story, the second part leads up to and includes the crucifixion, and the third part talks about the spread of Christianity and eternal life. Interestingly, despite its Christian message, most of the text is from the Old Testament.

Where was Handel’s Messiah first performed?

Contrary to myths about London, it was actually first performed on April 13, 1742 in Dublin, Ireland as a charity concert benefiting three charities: prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercers Hospital and the Charitable Infirmary. Handel sought and was given permission from St. Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals to use their choirs and he even had his own organ shipped to Ireland for the performance. To ensure that the audience would be the largest possible, gentlemen were asked to remove their swords and women were asked not to wear hoops in their dresses. The takings from the concert were around £400 and each charity received about £127 which secured the release of 142 indebted prisoners.

Why do you stand for Handel’s Messiah?

Audiences typically stand only during the “Hallelujah” chorus. The reason for this has its origins in a legend that may or may not be true. The often repeated story is that King George II was so moved by the chorus during the London premiere that he rose to his feet. Because of protocol, the audience in attendance also stood and thus the tradition was born. However, many experts agree that there is no evidence that King George II was even in attendance at the premiere. Newspapers of the time did not mention his attendance and it would be unlikely they would leave out the detail of a royal presence. The first written documentation of this story was a letter written 37 years after the London premiere. The London premiere also received a rather cool reception unlike the Dublin premiere which was a hit. All of this has led to numerous debates and countless passive-aggressive battles between sitters and standers.

Why is Handel’s Messiah so popular at Christmas?

The premiere in Dublin was held in April and Handel himself associated “Messiah” with Lent and Easter. In fact, only one-third of the piece deals with Jesus’ birth and the Christmas story. So why is a piece that’s really an Easter work so popular during Christmas? Laurence Cummings, conductor of the London Handel Orchestra, once told Smithsonian Magazine that the custom may have come out of necessity stating that while there is so much fine Easter music like Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, there is little great sacral music written for Christmas. Regardless of the reason, “Messiah” has been a regular December staple since the 19th century, especially in the US.

How long is Handel’s Messiah?

Handel wrote the original version of “Messiah” in three to four weeks. Some accounts estimate just 24 days. We say “original version” because Handel rewrote parts to better meet the abilities of specific soloists and depending on availability of instruments. In 1789, Mozart re-orchestrated it to give it a more modern sound.

The time it took Handel to write the work is amazingly short when you consider the score is 259 pages. NPR music commentator Miles Hoffman estimated that there are roughly a quarter of a million notes in it which means Handel had to keep a continuous pace writing 15 notes per minute.

Typical performances of the entire “Messiah” are usually around 2 1/2 to 3 hours long.