The Scene: Why do people think that Classical music is an acquired taste? Is it because of the music itself? Most musicians would tell you that an appreciation for Classical music is integral to understanding the elements of musical composition, and we all know that it is the foundation of modern music as we know it. In Denver, it seems likely that Classical music is not a regular genre in our live music repertoires due to the highfalutin qualities that we think we must possess to appreciate it. If you are the type of guy who wants to explore the vast world of Classical music but does not own a tie, much less a tux, or the type of gal who is afraid to ask your significant other to take you to the symphony for fear of being shot down (because let’s face it, it’s not uncommon), we have a little secret for you. It’s called Beethoven and Brews, and it is perfect for the jean-wearing, sneaker bearing business-casual Denver that we all call home. As if that were not enough reason to expand your musical horizons, the geniuses at The Colorado Symphony have added one more feature to entice the residents of our fine city: beer.
Each Beethoven and Brews is co-hosted by a local microbrewery and a regular admittance ticket includes a complimentary beer tasting. The series is ongoing and is held at the magnificent ballroom at the Magnolia Hotel, but don’t worry, the dress code is casual, jeans and polos are admitted regardless of the decadence of the venue. There are two performance periods at each Beethoven and Brews. The first always consists of a Beethoven sonata with piano, and the other is a surprise and can run the gamut of composers. There is no stage; musicians are positioned in the center of the ballroom so audience members can get an up-close view of the performance.
It’s not surprising that Beethoven and Brews sold out on Friday; it was co-hosted by Odell Brewing Company out of Fort Collins. If you are a local, you know the name well. Four tasting bars were set up around the perimeter of the ballroom where brewers served guests; of course 90 Shilling and their traditional IPA were available, but they also were offering their seasonal Isolation Ale and their newest offering, Mountain Standard, a double black IPA packing a hefty 9.5% ABV. After you drank your allotted tastes, you were welcome to step over to the full bar and buy yourself another. Needless to say, it was not your average night at the symphony. Fortunately, hors d’oeuvres are also included in the ticket price, so things didn’t get too rowdy. As the room filled in the beginning of the evening, the crowd munched on gourmet lamb meatballs and artichoke dip, sending it down with gulps of delicious ale in preparation for the performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Trio Opus 70, No. 1 in D Major, a piece made for a trio of musicians, namely, a pianist, a cellist and a violinist. The middle part of the piece, referred to as the Largo, is commonly referred to as “Ghost.”
The Performance: The musicians at the performance included Michael Tilley (piano), Charles Lee (cello) and John Hilton (violin). The trio provided a haunting performance for the audience–”Ghost,” no doubt, was chosen to coincide with the Halloween season, but there is a story has more depth than that. As pianist Tilley explained to the audience in the first break on Friday, it is believed that Beethoven wrote the piece while contemplating an opera based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and it is also supposed that the darker Largo is possibly in reference to the three sister witches in the play. The first part is more rhythmic, it sets the stage for the stranger second part, it is beautiful in it’s own right, but pales in comparison to the Largo. He tells us that tremolando, a rumbling element, is one of the key components of the piece. The Largo begins and string instruments offer a haunting element while the low rumbling of the piano sometimes mournful, but builds at times, making one think of a giant maelstrom, and then bursts into a several unpredictable explosions, only to quickly subside again into it’s quieter more sorrowful tones and even moments of silence. It is slow and eerie at first and then it is suddenly dark and spooky, it creeps up on you, like a bad dream. It was stunning. The crowd sat silent for a moment, and then burst into applause.
During the next break, the cellist decided to take his hand at announcing, and he told the crowd that the next segment was particularly quiet, the audience was asked to be silent. There was no question, the acoustics in the room did not provide an atmosphere that was conducive to anything more than the occasional whisper, but after the second piece, the crowd was rumbling like the piano had been just moments before. What happened from there was both beautiful and sombre, it was indeed quiet, but well worth shutting up for a moment. The tempest was dying, a light was on the horizon. It smoothed out more and more until the song came softly and peacefully to an end. A perfect story: an exciting and attention catching beginning, a crazy ass climax, and then a return to peace and happiness. The musicians made a bow and the crowd returned to its rumble, individuals dashing for the beer lines, a few made their way to the chafing dishes to see what was left of the appetizer buffet.
No complaints, but after the amazing performance Op 70., the second half of the show seemed more of an encore. The violinist and pianist proceeded to play Fritz Kreisler’s “Praeludium and Allegro,” an exciting and boisterous piece. Though it was not as powerful as the first half, it was a tremendous cherry on top of an already outstanding performance. Once finished, the musicians again made their bows and waved goodbye. The show was over, but Tilley, Lee and Hilton lingered within the crowd, happily discussing the show with attendees. It was a cheery end to a fantastic evening, and at $40 for a ticket, it was also an incredible value–beer, snacks and live music in a beautiful setting, what more could you ask for?
If you didn’t get a chance to grab a ticket before they sold out for last Friday’s performance, here’s another secret: tickets for the next Beethoven and Brews on February 7, 2014 are already on sale, it will be hosted by Funkwerks brewery of Fort Collins. Make sure you check out the VIP tickets–for $15 more, you get a commemorative pint glass and a free fill at the bar. Cheers!
Stage Presence: A-
Set/Light Show: B