The Lively Arts (redux)

Art and Music in Denver and Beyond

A Lasting Partnership: Eanger Irving Couse and Joseph Henry Sharp

Eanger Irving Couse with models from Taos Pueblo

Writer B.K. Loren described the New Mexico sky when he wrote, “the bright blue sky and the white clouds ended abruptly, and a precise line of silver-gray intersected the blue.” In 1893, Joseph Henry Sharp  (1859 – 1953) visited Taos and took his memory of its crystalline sky to Paris to share with Ernest Blumenschein and Bert G.Phillips. The three artists joined Eanger Irving Couse, W. Herbert Benton and Oscar E. Berninghaus to form the Taos Society of Artists in 1915. Six more artists, including Victor Higgins and Walter Ufer, expanded the Society to twelve.  

Like many artists, Eanger Irving Couse (1866-1936) photographed his models before picking up a paintbrush, and then he developed the film without modern equipment. Visitors to the Couse-Sharp Historic Site can view Couse’s darkroom and atelier where an expansive shingle glass window, inspired by the ateliers of Paris, allowed the Northern New Mexico light to blanket his studio. In 1888, his work was accepted into the Paris Salon. Two years later he was invited to participate in the Paris International Exposition. At the behest of Blumenschein, Couse relocated to Taos in 1906 to paint mainly portraits and landscapes of Taos. Many were reproduced in Santa Fe Railway promotions and calendars.

Shelves in Couse’s studio display his spectacular collection of Pueblo pots. One of his many nocturne paintings sits on an easel. Beside the easel is the grand oversized pot from the painting.  According to Couse’s granddaughter, Virginia Couse Leavitt, many of the objects seen in his paintings, such as a pair of handmade deer hide moccasins and an exquisitely preserved Butterfly Maiden Kachina, were acquired through a curio shop owned by Taos Society painter Bert Phillips.

Couse’s Atelier

Couse and Sharp conjoined their personal and creative lives.  The families were so close, Ginnie Couse called their neighbor ‘Uncle Henry.’ Sharp’s hearing deteriorated after a swimming accident at a young age. He moved to Cincinnati to live with his aunt and enrolled in art classes at Mcmicken University.  Later, he studied in Munich where he learned “direct painting, wet on wet.”  The Parisian Impressionists influenced his ability to contrast light and shadow. When Sharp returned from Europe he followed his interest in American Indians to Santa Fe and Taos and Crow Agency, MT to paint Native life on the reservation. Patrons supported him by buying entire collections. One patron reportedly bought 150 paintings.  After multiple visits to Taos, Sharp purchased the 1835 Luna Family Chapel adjacent to the Couse family home. When a bank failed that Sharp partly owned he installed the bank’s vault in the chapel.

Couse-Sharp Historic Site Curator and Executive Director, Davison Koenig, remarked that preservation was key, especially with the Couse house. The dining room was kept exactly as it was when the artist died in 1936. The two-and-a half-acre site listed on the National Register of Historic Places includes gardens designed by Virginia Couse and Ben Lujan, Couse’s favorite model from the Pueblo.  Virginia creeper grows and the handbuilt stone terraces still stand. Private tours of the gardens, the homes and studios of E.I. Couse and J.H. Sharp are available by appointment only. Two galleries will rotate exhibits of portraits and landscapes by Society artists and works by contemporary Native artists.

The Couse- Sharp Historic site will expand in June 2020 to include the Lunder Research Center for the Taos Society of Artists.  Contemporary artists and researchers will have access to archival materials and objects relating to the Taos Art Colony. The Lunder Foundation of Colby College donated an unprecedented $600,000. An additional $1.1 million was raised to purchase an adjacent building to be converted to a museum. A Gala and Auction on June 15th will support programming at the site.


For more information about these artists read Virginia Couse Leavitt’s 2019 book, Eanger Irving Couse: An American Artist 1836- 1936.

Couse-Sharp Historic Site

Craft: Tetzlaff-Tetzlaff-Vogt Trio

photo by David Spira

The superb violinist Christian Tetzlaff led the Tetzlaff-Tetzlaff-Vogt Trio with the cellist Tanja Tetzlaff and pianist Lars Vogt in a breathtaking performance Tuesday, April 30th at the Newman Center. Christian Tetzlaff was at once a craftsman exhibiting his craft. He swayed with his violin coaxing the exact notes he needed from his instrument, but he dismissed attention. He deferred to Vogt to introduce the encore, a single movement from Dvořák’sPiano Trio No. 4 Op. 90, ‘Dumky.’ When questioned later about talking to audiences he proposed that peformers can shift the focus to the music and the composers.

Indeed the performer is just one participant in a piece of music. Music is heard in a composer’s head, then perhaps a slightly different piece is written down. The manuscript is then interpreted by a performer, and what is heard by each audience member may be altered again. The shifts from composer to performer to the listener’s ear is constant in each hall with its particular nuances. Attendees at Tuesday’s Friends of Chamber Music concert could note the finely tuned acoustics of Gates Hall.

photo by David Spira

The program featured two Romantic era piano trios.  The first by Robert Schumann was both birthday present and one upmanship.  Clara wrote her first piano trio with a final fugue six months earlier. According to Elizabeth Bergman’s program notes, Schumann accepted her effort as a challenge and wrote his Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 63 with a far more intense final fugue.  The supposed competition and the key’s dark tones paled beside the rich romantic melodies. The third movement, Langsam, mit inniger Empfindung – Bewegter, was played as if the musicians were master painters with precise amounts of color on the tips of their brushes.

After the intermission, the trio performed Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 65 with tremendous control. Lucky for Christian’s sister Tanja and the audience, Dvorak loved cellos. The Allegretto grazioso was laced with a Moravian folk dance. The Poco adagio began with the violin and the cello pairing their intensity into a bewitching rhapsody. Written just two years before his Symphony No. 7, the Trio built a big symphonic sound, at once heroic and ruminating, and then tender and evocative. Brahms’ influence was recognizable.  The final pianissimo from Vogt and Christian Tetzlaff’s pizzicato faded into a void.

Christian Tetzlaff recent recording of the Bartok Violin Concertos with the Helsinki Philharmonic and Hannu Lintu was selected as the Gramophone Concerto Recording of the Year.  In 2017, he released his solo recording of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas on Ondine. Cellist Tanja Tetzlaff has recorded cello works by Sibelius, Grieg and Brahms. She founded the Tetzlaff Quartet in 1994 which will also tour this year. Lars Vogt is both impressario and pianist. He launched a chamber music festival for international artists in Heimbach, Germancy called Spannnungen in 1997. The venue is an art nouveau hydroeclectric power plant. He released a solo Schubert recording that includes the four Impromptus on Ondine in 2017.

Bang on a Can

“the composers at the heart of Bang on a Can have sustained what may be the most convivial vanguard in modern music history.” Alex Ross,The New Yorker

The eclectic music ensemble Bang On A Can invaded the Newman Center for Performing Arts for their first performance in Denver on Friday, April 12th.  In 2017, the organization celebrated 30 years of performing and composing contemporary music.

At a postconcert talk, guitarist Mark Stewart commented that the evening was “Sonic Dim Sum.” There was plenty of wasabi served up with the group’s decision to begin big and loud with Julia Wolfe’s Big Beautiful Dark and Scary, conceived after 9/11.  If anyone in the audience wanted to settle in for a nap he chose the wrong performance. The piece began with Ken Thomson’s bass clarinet. The fireball kept hurtling across the seats from Vicky Chow’s piano, Mariel Roberts’ cello, Robert Black’s stand up bass and David Cossin’s varied percussion. When the music dictated a break from the bass clarinet to the standard clarinet, the assault decelerated to an odd state of comfort.

Next up was Pulitzer Prize winning co-founder David Lang’s Sunray with theme and variations representing the sun. According to Stewart, he was inspired by a ‘Sun’ sign that he saw illuminated by rays of light. The piece began as a shimmer and exploded to a burn when drummer David Cossin lit up the five piece drumset with a jarring solo.

To end the concert’s first half was co-founder Michael Gordon’s composition Big Space which premiered in 2017 at the BBC Proms. With an assembly of 24 brass and percussion students from DU’s Lamont School of Music grouped in threes in the mezzanine and on stage, it was the only conducted piece on the program. Percussionists kept the prevalent beat with blocks, glockenspiels and tambourines while six sliding trombones keened in my ears. Ken Thomson aptly said the sound was like hearing multiple sirens blaring around your head. The music from the Bang on the Can All Stars and the students was so immersive that at the final note the audience rose to their feet. Applause and shouting filled the hall.

After the concert when an audience member questioned the slower tempo of Philip Glass’ work Closing, Thomson answered that their rendition allowed the listeners to relax into the tempo maintained by the vibraphone and piano and cello, played by Denver’s own Mariel Roberts. The resultant melodies exuded a warm glow.

The group turned to Saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s piece I haven’t been where I left in three movements with jazzlike variations. A 2015 Paris Review tribute described Coleman as “saintly as he could be, he was not without his thorns, and there was often a gentle—there’s that word again—malice that lurked below the surface..”

Steve Martland’s 1994 composition Horses of Instruction closed the concert with a gale force winds. It blew in Gates Hall like psychedelic rock. Sax player Thomson rocked back and forth on his feet and jumped in the air as if he couldn’t contain the energy of the music. Watching the forearms of pianist Chow I couldn’t dismiss the comment from writer and pianist Siwan Rhys that playing the piece “was also seductive as a difficulty that had to be surmounted” as there was “ample opportunity to throw the whole ensemble off kilter with the slightest hesitation.”

This performance from thirty-year old Bang on a Can added to the conversation of defining classical music. Their answer blended jazz and classical traditions in contemporary music. Bassist Robert Black noted Bang on a Can was “breaking down barriers of what is expected from a piece of music.” He added with Martland’s inclusion of an electric bass and an electric guitar Horses of Instruction was “concert music!”

The $475 Million Shed

The widely anticipated Arts Center  – The Shed – opened April 5th in Hudson Yards at the north end of the Highline in New York. The building is anything but a shed with a cost of $475 millon. Michael Bloomberg donated $75 million for the center dedicated as the Bloomberg Building.   Michael Cooper of the New York Times shared that the telescoping shell “can roll back and forth on rails. When extended, it doubles the footprint of the Shed, creating a huge indoor space.” Credit for the architecture goes to Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio and Charles Renfro – Diller Scofidio + Renfro.  The firm designed an expansion of the MOMA for 2019 and redesigned the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in 2014.  Elizabeth Diller is being honored by Bang on a Can for her Mile Long Opera. For details on that project and upcoming projects see the link below.

A five day concert series, ‘Soundtrack of America’ (conceived by filmmaker Steve McQueen and Quincy Jones) celebrates the influence of African American musicians. Tamar-kali, Braxton Cook, Victory and Phony Ppl were slated to perform. Jon Batiste opened the series with the Howard University Marching Band playing James Reese Europe’s band music from 100 years earlier. In one of the five performance spaces designed for simultaneous performances, Reich Richter Pärt – part exhibition and live performance – will continue with scheduled performances through June 2nd. An accompanying film by Corinna Belz suggests the connections between Reich’s pulsing music and Ricter’s pattern paintings.

According to the architect’s website The Shed “will be an arts center dedicated to commissioning, producing and presenting all types of performing arts, visual arts and popular culture.” To insure the mission of bringing the arts to the community, Artistic Director Alex Poots guaranteed $10 tickets will be available for those who can’t afford full price tickets.  In addition the Shed sponsors ‘Open Call’ to provide commissions to artists from New York’s five boroughs. 52 artists were selected out of 900 to receive funding, support and space to exhibit. The next deadline to apply is May 1.

Ready for Ragtime?

Ragtime music is coming to Denver. On April 9th at 7:00 pm Reginald Robinson an “antiquarian” of our generation will take over the Steinway for a solo concert in the historic Baur’s building.  The self-taught ragtime pianist out of Chicago will be presented by MAS Eclectic concerts on the Chandelier stage at Dazzle. Ragtime music was a precursor to jazz and rock. In 1973, The Entertainer by Scott Joplin (1902) from the movie The Sting was in everyone’s ears.  In 1996, audiences raved about the Tony award winning musical, Ragtime.

Longtime Denver audiences might recall “Mr. Ragtime” Max Morath who hosted the 1960’s KRMA series The Ragtime Era. After being elected to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in 2016, Morath said he was “a white kid from Colorado who lucked into an interesting line of work and I wouldn’t be there with that music without a lot of forgotten African Americans who had it very tough…”

Reginald Robinson found ragtime at age 13 and was trapped by the late 19th century music that descended from jig and march music played by African American bands. He learned to play the piano by comparing note by note transcriptions of ragtime sheet music to piano rolls of the same rags. Jon Weber, jazz pianist from Milwaukee, mentored Reginald for his 1992 demo that earned him his first record contract.  

In 2004, Robinson was awarded the MacArthur Genius grant for “his ragtime compositions, his ingenuity as a pianist and his unyielding advocacy of an otherwise unjustly overlooked art form.” Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune 12/17

In addition to his scholarly study of ragtime music and a discovery of an unknown Scott Joplin fragment in the archives of Fisk University, Robinson has composed “dozens of harmonically daring, structurally complex works.”  He received a commission in 2018 to compose the first left hand only ragtime piano work. Later in 2018 at Chicago’s Symphony Hall on the SCP Jazz series he premiered his composition, A Tribute to the Great James Reese Europe. Europe was a composer and conductor of The Clef Club, an all black orchestra that performed at Carnegie Hall in 1912. According to Keith Gerbosi from Splash Magazines, Robinson’s Chicago performance was  “lively and fun, but none more than at the end when his entire band got up, while still playing, marched around and eventually marched right off stage.”

The 2015 recording, Music of Reginald R. Robinson live in concert, captured a live performance by the River Raisin Ragtime Revue.  Listeners can hear Robinson’s virtuosity as a composer in William Hayes’ orchestration. The liner notes name the record as the “first major collection of ragtime works composed and orchestrated by African Americans since the ragtime era.”  

Reginald Robinson’s appearance at Baur’s is a unique opportunity to hear classic music performed as it was written. Reserve your tickets soon as seats are limited for the April 9th show at 7:00 pm at

“Revitalizing this early twentieth century musical form while taking it in contemporary and unanticipated directions.” MacArthur Grant Foundation.

Now at Denver’s Robischon Gallery – May 4th

The pressure on contemporary artists is unrelenting.  They must possess technique and an excellent field of vision, as well as absorb and project color.  In 2019, exhibiting visual artists have an additional responsibility to create art that provides social or political commentary.  The impact of urbanization on the environment is presented at Denver’s Robischon Art Gallery in a show that runs through May 4th. Featured are photographer David Maisel: Atlas, photographer Kevin O’Connell: Petrichor and videographer James Benning: small roads.

Maisel trained at California College of the Arts where he now serves on the board.  Without reading Maisel’s artist statement or his biography, a viewer might interpret his media as oil instead of archival pigment prints. In one of his aerial images, great abstract swaths of blue and copper collect and disperse.  Maisel reinvents the world atlas by framing his subject with the distance provided by his aerial gaze. In an interview with Mark Alice Durant, Maisel states, “We expect photographs to render some kind of truth but they’re actually very hard to read, and embody the kind of difference between subjective looking and objective data.”  Numbers may speak but his Butte, Montana photos show the grim effects from years of mining since 1864. Another image from the Atacama Desert in Chile reports on the damages from mining.  The hole seems to bore through to the center of the earth.

Photo by

Maisel studied architecture at Princeton and found photography a good bedfellow. In the Saint Lucy interview with Durant, Maisel said “What fascinated me was how…buildings sit in the landscape.”  He took a photography class with Emmet Gowin and changed his major to visual art and continued at Princeton. After his move to the Bay Area he enrolled in a weekend poetry workshop with Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz.   Milosz “spent his life dealing with words and images and history and trying to find a form. And here he was this sort of elderly man at that point, but still trying to find form, that was incredibly inspirational to me.”  Maisel choice of subjects is comparable to the poet’s careful selection of words.

While art activism is seen on the walls of the Robischon Gallery, Kevin O’Connell’s technique and attention to Western landscapes is what holds the viewer’s gaze.  Without defining the space with a specific geographical location he envelops the viewer with scents of forests and the “scorching heat of summer…not far off.” The artist goes on in his notes, “I long for the experience of being in the land.”  He has had solo shows at the MCA and the Aspen Art Museum and group exhibitions at the Denver Art Museum. His contributions to the Robischon show are pigment prints that make a record of the prairie, the high plains and Oregon beaches. His photographs reveal an artist who understands his assignment of recording what can be seen in the West now.

Photo by Robschon Gallery

Be certain to visit the viewing room at the gallery to see Benning’s video small roads.

Americano Live at the Vilar

photos by David Spira

Music is for people and auditoriums are sacred temples where music and magic happen and time is dismissed, according to Nacho Arimany, percussionist with the Americano Trio. The audience on a snowy night, March 11th, in Beaver Creek, Colorado was treated to an evening of Americana by a very Spanish trio: classical guitarist Pablo Villegas, Pedro Giraudo on double bass and Nacho Arimany on percussions.The warm Beaver Creek’s Vilar Theatre hosted a celebration of the 2015 release of Americano by Pablo Villegas, a native of La Rioja region of Spain.  The three musicians exchanged nods and grins like volts of electricity.. Pablo’s joy was infectious as he led the trio through a program much like the CD with tangos, a bit of Villa Lobos, Bernstein and bluegrass. Villegas’ tremulo on his ethereal solo ‘Un Sueno en la Floresta” (a dream in a forest) suggested the serene occupation of resting beneath fir branches.  

Giraudo won two Grammys in 2014 for best Tango album and best Latin Pop album. More often he is heard at the Blue Note and other preeminent jazz clubs in New York performing his arrangements and compositions.  He is principal bassist for Můsica de Cámara String Orchestra which commissioned him to write a piece for string orchestra in 2013.

Percussionist Nacho Arimany sat barefoot on the floor surrounded by the tools of his trade: a gourd from Mali, a clay pot and a wooden block that doubled as his perch while he drummed on its sides.  Arimany began his musical training at the piano at age 6 and as a teen he sang with Spain’s famed opera singer Montserrat Caballe. His vocals added an another layer of lucious sound to the trio’s performance. He claimed that he turned to the drums after hearing street drumming in Spain.

The American selections featured an arrangement of three songs from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, a tribute to Pablo’s adopted West Side neighborhood.  His Maria was heartfelt and his rendition of America meant more for this adopted son. While it was highly entertaining to hear Pablo strumming on a banjo for three classic bluegrass songs, the highlight of the evening was a cool arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight for double bass and guitar that may have been inspired by Jim Hall’s transcription from 1975.

Pablo Villegas has collaborated on albums with violinist Augustin Hadelich and the opera singer, Placido Domingo.  He performs classical guitar repertoire often with symphonies around the world. Earlier in March Villegas offered a tribute to Segovia at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.  He will make his debut with the Chicago Symphony May 23rd.

World Music at Gates Hall

Gates Hall, on Wednesday night March 6th, was filled with tongue trilling, drumming, and strumming from a buzuq (a long -necked fretted lute), an oud (lutelike with a bent neck) and a qanun (a string instrument like a zither). Two old world music groups collaborated for a theatrical presentation that celebrated the tradition of music in coffeehouses in Leipzig and Damascus. Trio Arabica performed traditional songs from Syria and Egypt and Iraq. The Canadian Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra played music from the 18th century. Images of 18th century art from both Leipzig and Damascus were projected behind the musicians. The blending of the period strings and woodwinds with the Middle Eastern instruments and drums created a contemporary feel to the evening that was narrated by Alon Nashman. The sum of the whole exceeded the parts.

Both Leipzig and Damascus were diverse centers for trade and learning that attracted Muslim, Jewish and Christian merchants. The Collegium Musicum, founded by Georg Philipp Tellemann in 1720, performed weekly public concerts at Leipzig’s Zimmermans’ coffee house.  Johann Sebastian Bach took over and directed these free performances from 1729 – 1739. During this period coffeehouses in Damascus offered  traditional Arabic music to their patrons. This link was the foundation for the Tales of Two Cities program presented by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Trio Arabica for Friends of Chamber Music, Denver.

While the performance delighted the ears and entertained, it was the blending of Arabica and Germanic flavors that intrigued me to learn more about Alison Mackay, double bass player with Tafelmusik and originator of the multimedia concept of Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House. Other conceptual programming by Mackay included J.S.Bach: The Circle of Creation, The Galileo Project and Four Seasons, a Cycle of the Sun.  She created these programs for Tafelmusik to “turn a different lens on our music.”   A 2012 production, House of Dreams, moved the listener from the images of a house at the end of the Grand Canal in Venice to the Palais Royale in Paris and further yet to a bookshop in Leipzig.  A member since the inception of Tafelmusik, Ms. Mackay will retire at the end of the 2019 season.

Bartok, Janacek and Schiff: Men in Search of a Country:

Composers Bartok and Janacek and the pianist Sir Andras Schiff could not escape the politics that surrounded their lives.  Schiff, known for his virtuoustic performances at the keyboard, is Hungarian like Bartok. Janacek, from Czechoslovakia, and Bartok were heavily influenced by the folk music of their respective countries.

Bartok played the piano before he could complete sentences and according to Wikipedia he could play 40 pieces by age 4.  He became one of Hungary’s most celebrated composers, but the treatment of the Jews by the occupying Nazis compelled him to leave for the U.S. in the fall of 1940.  He did not return to homeland. In 1988 his remains were returned to Budapest to be buried beside his wife Ditta, who died in 1982.

Janacek, whose career overlapped Bartok’s, began choral studies although he had exemplary pianistic ability.  He went to Prague to study organ and piano and then left again to study composition in Leipzig. His subsequent efforts to win a studentship with Saint-Saëns in France failed. Again looking away from Czechoslovakia he found inspiration in Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata for his first string quartet. Despite a defined admiration for other nations his music was rooted in Moravian folk songs. His  personal tragedy of his daughter Olga’s death at 12 in 1903 led to his 1904 opera Jenûfa that he dedicated to Olga.  The following year he composed the piano sonata – 1.X 1905 after seeing a young man killed by local police.

On Wednesday, February 20, Friends of Chamber Music audiences were treated to Schiff’s performance of Janacek’s 1.X 1905 on a Bosendorfer piano, Schiff’s preference over a Steinway.  Those who did not know the tragic roots of the piece heard the pianist declare his personal connection to the piece written after Janacek saw a “peaceful demonstration” turn bloody. The two movement sonata was written purposefully in Eb minor to elicit the feeling of loss and disillusionment.  The first movement is titled Foreboding and the second is Death. Schiff’s program that included Schumann was something that Schiff admitted to labor over. He stated that the two European composers were linked by their ‘diversity’ and ‘rich language.’  While the Janacek Sonata of the second half was a very public revolution by the composer, Schumann’s Piano Sonata No.1 in F# Minor, Op. 11, according to Schiff, was a “personal revolution” against Clara’s father, “a dictator” that sent Clara away from Schumann.   Sir Andras Schiff posed his own rebellion in 1987 when repelled by Hungarian politics he embraced Austrian citizenship which he abandoned in 2001 for British citizenship.  He has reported that he will not return to perform in Hungary.

Tim Franks of BBC World Service remarked in a 2013 interview with Sir Andras Schiff, “Art and politics cannot be disentangled.”  The careers of the virtuosic Bartok, Janacek and Schiff prove this point. They were not just performers but musicians that continue to create a dialogue with their audiences. – Bartok’s 10 Easy Pieces/15 Hungarian Peasant Songs – Janacek’s Piano Sonata 1.X 1905 – Schiff’s 2017 performance of Beethoven’s Sonata 32 in C Minor

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