Boulder Symphony Opens Season with ‘Passionate Collisions’

By Peter Alexander

A premiere, a concerto and a symphony.

Those are the ingredients in “Passionate Collisions,” the season-opening program of the Boulder Symphony, to be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, at the First Presbyterian Church in Boulder. The largely volunteer orchestra’s music director, Devin Patrick Hughes, will conduct and pianist Toku Kawata will be the soloist for Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto.

Devin Patrick Hughes will lead the Boulder Symphony in their season-opening concert Sept. 20

Devin Patrick Hughes will lead the Boulder Symphony in their season-opening concert Sept. 20

Other works on the program are the premiere of What Trees May Speak by one of Boulder Symphony’s composers-in-residence, Jonathan Sokol, and the Symphony No. 1 of Jean Sibelius. (Purchase tickets here.)

What Trees May Speak continues a trend in Boulder of orchestral pieces that call on natural inspirations, including last week’s season opener of the Boulder Philharmonic (Gates of the Arctic by Steven Lias), pieces performed last season by the Phil (“Formations” Symphony by Jeffrey Nytch and Ghosts of the Grasslands by Steve Heitzig, among others), and other works from Pro Musica Colorado and the Colorado Music Festival in recent seasons.

In his composer’s notes, Sokol describes his score, which incorporates recordings of bird songs, as “a musical investigation into the ever-dwindling bird population. The piece embraces several facets of bird life . . . but ultimately centers on an impending, growing silence as their numbers continue to decrease.”

Jonathan Sokol. © Kelly Rae Griffith

Jonathan Sokol. © Kelly Rae Griffith

This sounds like a kind of avian “Farewell” Symphony, but Hughes believes that it is not a pessimistic piece. “It’s hopeful,” he says. “In a way, his music is very melodically American. It’s got a little of the industrial characteristic, but I really don’t think it’s tragic.”

Hughes sees a link from the Sokol piece to Sibelius. “I’m thinking of Sibelius as an outdoorsman,” he explains. “(He) basically thrived in these remote locations and was inspired by birds but also by the rest of nature.

Jean SIbelius

Jean Sibelius

“Sibelius is one of my favorite composers. It’s my goal to play all of the symphonies that are unknown. I think they’re all just as powerful as the Second and Fifth. To me what’s fascinating about this composer is his music created a national identity” for Finland.

Living in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time that Finland was not yet an independent nation, Sibelius drew on Finnish mythology and literary sources such as the Kalevala epic as subjects for many of his orchestral works. The Finnish people embraced his music as a symbol of their culture and desire for independence from the Swedes and Russians who had long ruled their country. This was expressed most overtly in Sibelius’s tone poem Finlandia, which was conceived in part as a protest against oppressive Russian rule over Finland.

The First Symphony is a little bit of a surprise choice for the program. Written in 1898, when Sibelius was 33, it is not as well known as some of Sibelius’s later symphonies, especially the Second and Fifth. It has many of the characteristics of the composer’s mature style, including use of woodwind solos, a spare orchestral sound that seems evocative of Finland’s landscape, and a highly individualistic, indirect approach to melodic construction.

The Rachmaninoff is another surprise choice for a largely volunteer orchestra whose size is limited by the space available in the First Presbyterian Church where they perform. Most of us are used to hearing Rachmaninoff’s lush, Romantic scores played by a full symphonic contingent of 100 to 120 players and a string section of 60 or more.

“That’s what we have in our ear, these great recordings,” Hughes admits. “It’s difficult— we’re probably at about 70 or 80 musicians right now—so yeah, a lot of people have to give a lot. And maybe get a massage after!”

While the church limits the size of the orchestra, Hughes says it can also be an advantage. “It helps that the performance space is not a real performance hall where you need a much bigger orchestra. At our size you can pretty much fill up the space.”

Toku Kawata

Toku Kawata

Hughes and Kawata met when they were both at Aspen a number of years ago. Having met again when Kawata came to Boulder for doctoral studies, this will be their first opportunity to perform together. It is also Kawata’s first opportunity to play the Rachmaninoff concerto, as well as his first appearance in Colorado.

Kawata is a doctoral piano student of Andrew Cooperstock in the CU College of Music. In addition to holding degrees from the University of North Texas and the University of Central Arkansas, he has studied at the New England Conservatory and the Aspen Music Festival. He is also the winner of several competitions and made a solo debut at Carnegie Hall in 2010.

You may be wondering, what are the “Passionate Collisions” that provide the title for this concert? New and old? Soloist and orchestra? Natural sounds and instruments in Sokol’s score, representing the collision of man and nature?

No to all of those. It turns out Hughes had something more specific in mind with the title: a political collision between cultures and peoples.

“Finland was basically taken over for hundreds of years and (during Sibelius’s lifetime) they were under the thumb of the Russians,” Hughes told me recently. “That’s where you kind of get the passionate collisions between the (Russian) Rachmaninoff and the (Finnish nationalist) Sibelius.”

And then he quietly adds, “You’re the first person I’ve told that to.”

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Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, Music Director
“Passionate Collisions”
Jonathan Sokol: What Tress May Speak (World Premiere)
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2
Toku Kawata, piano
Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 1
7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20
First Presbyterian Church, 15th & Canyon, Boulder

Details and tickets

Boulder Phil’s Season of ‘Legends’ Opens Strongly

By Peter Alexander

From the Arctic tundra to the Arabian sea, the Boulder Philharmonic opened their 2014-15 season in Macky Auditorium with a strong performance of a strong program.

Butterman.2

Michael Butterman, Music Director of the Boulder Philharmonic

Music Director Michael Butterman led the orchestra in the world premiere of Gates of the Arctic by Stephen Lias; the Second Piano Concerto of Camille Saint-Saëns with soloist Gabriela Martinez; and Scheherazade by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which gave the orchestra the opportunity to introduce new concertmaster Charles Wetherbee.

Speaking before the performance, Butterman explained that this is the orchestra’s season of “Legends,” featuring pieces that tell stories drawn from a variety of myths and legends. I have frequently enjoyed Butterman’s programming, and this concert, combining a provocative and intriguing new piece, a highly interesting soloist playing repertoire beyond the usual warhorses, and a virtuoso orchestra showpiece, hit all the right notes for a season opener.

Gates of the Arctic is an unabashedly programmatic piece that describes Lias’ 2012 residency in Gates of the Arctic National Park. He backpacked with a ranger within the park—which is entirely wilderness, without a visitor’s center or even a single road within its boundaries—for 10 days, following a caribou migration. In performance, the music was closely coordinated with photos of the park, some taken by Lias.

Stephen Lias in Gates of the Arctic National Park

Stephen Lias backpacking in Gates of the Arctic National Park

In addition to being visually spectacular, the photos left no doubt what was being portrayed in the music, from the long hours of trekking with a heavy backpack, to sightings of caribou, bears and wolves, and finally a placid lake that mirrored the spectacular mountains in the park. Gates of the Arctic is thoroughly entertaining, especially with the photographic accompaniment. But it is also a well crafted and skillfully designed piece that features strong contrasts and great musical drama, woven into an effective orchestral score.

Some of my more curmudgeonly composer friends might ask, “but is it great music?” In answer I would say, Bach, Mozart and Verdi didn’t sit down to write “great music.” They sat down to write music for their audiences, much of it purely for entertainment. Time will tell us if Lias’ music survives our generation, but it is music that clearly reached the Boulder audience, who gave it a standing ovation.

Gabriela Martinez

Gabriela Martinez

The Saint-Saëns concerto is a piece that comes much more alive in performance than in any recording. Martinez, a Venezuelan who has performed with the famed Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and is now being championed by superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel, was especially convincing in the free, fantasy-like opening movement. I especially liked her dynamic control, and the sense of spontaneity and freedom that she conveyed. Her sparkling runs and bounding arpeggios showed full technical command in the remaining movements, but the piano sound seemed underpowered at times—perhaps a victim of Macky’s inhospitable acoustics?

Charles Wetherbee

Charles Wetherbee

Another piece of program music, Scheherazade is always an audience pleaser—as it was for Butterman and the Boulder Phil. Wetherbee played the extensive violin solos with a sweetness and purity of tone that was exemplary. The solos in the cello and the wind sections were all well played, although coordination between players in the back of Macky’s deep stage and those in front was at times a little rocky.

Tricky acoustics aside, Butterman led a carefully modulated performance. The Boulder Phil strings cannot provide the sound that we hear on recordings by the Philadelphia and other orchestras with 60-plus players in the string sections and more hospitable acoustics, but the orchestra made effective work of all the big moments in the score, once again compelling the audience to their feet. It was, in the end, a satisfying performance of a much-loved piece.

Like Sinbad’s ship, the Boulder Philharmonic is well launched on a season that will feature many “Legends” and other stories in music. Let’s hope that the storm at sea where “The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock” remains confined to Rimsky-Korsakov’s evocative score.

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Author’s Note: I do not plan on reviewing every concert that I preview here, or every one that is worthy of such coverage. But as the beginning of a new season by one of Boulder’s older musical institutions, and with a world premiere, this concert perhaps earned a little more attention—especially since I and the audience enjoyed it so much.

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This post has been edited to correct grammar and typos.

With engineers in the cab, it’s time to fix the tracks

My thoughts and recommendations for the future of the Colorado Music Festival

By Peter Alexander

Boulder’s Colorado Music Festival is now back to full administrative strength. The railroad that is the CMF was not running as smoothly this past summer as it had in the past, largely due to the the lack of a music director  and the need to bring in multiple conductors to try out for the music director slot. But now that there are permanent musical and executive directors back running the railroad, the train can once again get up to speed. But first, it would be a good idea to clear the tracks of any unnecessary obstacles.

So to speak.

Andrew Bradford

Andrew Bradford

Metaphors aside, it is time for the CMF’s two recent hires, Musical Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni and Administrative Director Andrew Bradford, to start shaping the future of the festival. Since they are both new to Boulder, I offer here six suggestions that would draw on what I believe have been the strengths of the festival, as I experienced it over several years.

Reinstate the “Click” Commission. This was one of the most creative approaches to commissioning new music I have seen. If you have not taken part, the festival chose three composers each year, one of whom would be commissioned a new piece to open the next year’s festival. Each composer’s biography and sample works were posted on the CMF Web page, and audience members could vote for their preferred composer—by making donations to the commission. All donations went into a common pot to fund the commission, and the composer who raised the most money in their name received the commission—and the full pot.

This ingenious approach got the audience involved much more than in traditional commissioning schemes, where the festival would say, ‘We’ve selected a terrific composer (whose music you may not have heard). Trust us—it will be wonderful, if you give us some money for the commission.’

With the “Click” Commission, the contributors were part of the selection process, and they felt a great sense of ownership when the piece was premiered the next year. And the CMF received some pretty terrific pieces from composers who knew that they were a popular choice from the audience. Everyone benefited: the composer got a commission from a prominent musical institution, the festival got a new piece written for its opening concert each year, and the audience got the satisfaction of being involved from the choice of composer to the premiere.

Jean-MarieZeitouni

Jean-MarieZeitouni

Treasure the orchestra. Just about all of the guest conductors have I talked to have mentioned the orchestra as one of the strengths of the CMF. The quality of the orchestral performances is the main thing that brings audiences to Chautauqua in the summer. You may disagree about repertoire—more new music, less new music; more Beethoven, less Beethoven; more mashups, fewer mashups—but without first-rate orchestral performances of the repertoire, the discussions are irrelevant. No one travels to hear mediocre performances of their favorite pieces.

The quality of orchestra that we have enjoyed at CMF is extraordinarily high, but it is also very delicate. Such quality can easily be lost very quickly, but it can only be built over a long time. It would represent a long-term setback for the festival if the quality of the orchestra was allowed to slip. Among other things, that means treating the orchestral players as equal partners in the festival. It is not clear whether that was the case over the search process. I have heard many stories, not all reliable, but it appears that players were included in some parts of the search process but not others. But whatever the truth about the search process, everyone at CMF should remember that the trust and confidence of the players is not a commodity than should be spent carelessly.

Going forward, every effort should be made to honor the players in the way they are treated, from consulting and respecting their opinions, to pay and housing and other forms of support.

eTown Hall, Boulder

eTown Hall, Boulder

Speaking of honoring the orchestra, start by expanding the chamber music performances. The chamber concerts at eTown Hall have become one of the great jewels of the CMF. They give audiences access to a wholly different repertoire than the rest of the festival, and they present the musicians in a much more intimate setting. They give the players the opportunity to make their individual contributions as artists, to select what they want to play, and to craft their own interpretations. There is no better way to support and honor the players than giving them opportunities to perform chamber music. The musicians win and the audiences win; what could be better?

Find challenging and intriguing ways to explore music by living composers. I have said this before, but it is worth saying again: Everyone loves to talk about taking risks, but risk means the real possibility of failure. If you have no failures, you have not taken any risks. In music, this means any commissioning or presenting program for new music will include some pieces that don’t find an audience or just turn out to be duds. So it goes. CMF has to decide: does it want to stick to predictable, unexciting programming and watch the audience slowly shrink away, or do they want to find exciting and challenging new ways of engaging with the audience, at the cost of the occasional failure?

Drop the pop-concert portions of the “Musical Mashup” series and return to the kind of diversity that was created by the “World Music” series. The CMF Mashup concerts conducted by Steve Hackman have attracted sell-out crowd and should be continued on both commercial and artistic grounds. The other two concerts on the series this year, however, attracted small audiences and did not meet their projected goals. I see no reason to continue what was, quite frankly, a very conventional approach to programming: presenting pop artists (who may or may not have a significant following in Colorado) with an under-utilized orchestra.

tf3

Time for Three

There are other ways of positioning concerts along the boundaries between Western classical music and other traditions, including jazz, pop, folk, or music of other cultures. Whether you call it “World Music” or “Blurred Lines” or “New Approaches” doesn’t matter. What does matter is the creativity it spawns and the enthusiasm it generates. CMF would benefit from having a way of presenting a group like Time for Three, new music by Chris Brubeck, or collaborations with fiddler Mark O’Connor and the klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, to name a few of the festival’s past endeavors that were not only fascinating and engaging, but performances on the very highest technical and artistic level. The best way to grow the festival is to engage with a wider and more diverse audience, and that should remain a focus for the festival in the future as it was in the recent past.

Incidentally, it should be noted the Zeitouni, a French-Canadian whose father is Egyptian and mother is Belgian, seems well positioned to sell the importance of multiculturalism (or multi-stylism) for creating musical strength and building an audience.

Pianist Olga Kern played all the Rachmaninoff concertos over two nights in 2013

Pianist Olga Kern played all the Rachmaninoff concertos over two nights in 2013

Bring back the concept of the “mini-festival within the festival.” One of the glories of the summer has been past mini-festivals of Beethoven symphonies, violin concertos, and music from the holocaust. And who can forget hearing all of the Rachmaninoff piano concertos in two nights? That was both an amazing feat of musical athletics and a remarkable artistic experience. These are the kinds of themes that distinguish a festival from a subscription season.

But above all, what the festival needs now is imaginative, professional leadership. Let us all hope that with the new Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni working with new Executive Director Andrew Bradford, CMF has the team in place to provide just that. We need to get the trains back on schedule.

Boulder Phil launches ‘Legends’ season with a bang

By Peter Alexander

Stephen Lias in Gates or the Arctic National Park. Photo courtesy of the composer.

Stephen Lias in Gates or the Arctic National Park. Photo courtesy of the composer.

Opening night for the Boulder Philharmonic offers a real triple threat.

The concert under music director Michael Butterman, at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14, in Macky Auditorium, launches the 2014-15 season with three pieces that would each be noteworthy on any program (http://boulderphil.org/concerts/opening-night).

The very opening piece will be the world  premiere of Gates of the Arctic, an avowedly pictorial work portraying the Gates of the Arctic National Park, written by composer Stephen Lias, who describes himself as an “adventurer/ composer.”

Gabriela Martinez

Gabriela Martinez

If that doesn’t capture your imagination, next on the program will be the Second Piano Concerto by Camille Saint-Saëns. That performance will introduce Gabriela Martinez, an emerging pianist from Venezuela whose career has been boosted by Gustavo Dudamel, the young conductor who created a sensation when he moved from Venezuela’s Simon

Charles Wetherbee

Charles Wetherbee

Bolivar Youth Orchestra to the podium of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

And third will be Rimsky- Korsakov’s brilliant Scheherazade, which is not only a crowd-pleaser but also an

opportunity to introduce the orchestra’s new concertmaster, Charles Wetherbee, who will play the prominent violin solos throughout the score.

Read more in Boulder Weekly

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Delayed but not Washed Out in Lyons

At ‘Sounds of Lyons,’ the flood of 2013 is past but not forgotten

By Peter Alexander

MinTze Wu, founder and director of Sounds of Lyons

MinTze Wu, founder and director of Sounds of Lyons

MitTze Wu is modern-day musical Molly Brown.

Brown survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and came back stronger than ever. Wu and her Sounds of Lyons chamber music festival survived the flood of 2013 and have come back with a robust and eclectic series of concerts that are better than ever.

Like Brown, Wu seems to be unsinkable.

The 2014 festival will take place in various venues in Lyons Friday through Sunday, Sept. 12 through 14. This is a displacement from the usual timing of the festival in May and early June, but that slight delay is the only sign that the flood has directly affected the festival.

Indirectly, however, you could say that the flood runs through and under everything in this year’s Sounds of Lyons.

The major events of the festival maintain what has become Sounds of Lyons’ signature: three principal concerts, ranging from world music crossovers to serious classical chamber music. Surrounding the three main concert events are activities for children and families in Sandstone Park, culminating at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14, in an event titled “Celebrating Lyons II.” (For full concert programs and tickets, click here.)

“This has been the same format since the first year,” Wu says. “It will be balanced and dynamic—that’s just the way my brain works.”

Filmmaker Jem Moore

Filmmaker Jem Moore

The Saturday night concert, at 8 p.m. in Rogers Hall (4th and High streets in Lyons), is the festival’s central event, both in the order of events and emotionally in that it is the concert most directly inspired by the flood. Titled “Life True,” the performance will feature movements from string quartets by Haydn and Beethoven interspersed among four short documentary films by Jem Moore, profiling four remarkable characters in Macau, China.

“The flood is very present with everybody here in Lyons,” Wu says. “It is definitely present in the psychic space. Since I do much of the programming in exploration of what is happening in me and around me, I think the flood entered my consciousness of wanting to find strength. And for that I always, always turn to the music of Beethoven, especially the late string quartets.”

Wu likens the four films to the movements of a classical symphony or string quartet. The first film is preceded by a string quartet movement by Haydn, and then each film is followed by a carefully selected movement from a Beethoven quartet.

All four films were made in Macau, a ”special administrative region” within mainland China, similar to Hong Kong, which is right across the bay. Macau is best known for gambling, which is one of its primary sources of income, and as an offshore tax haven.

“It’s a four movement form,” Wu explains. “It goes like film, music, film, music—each film and music pair is grouped to make one large movement.

Coffee Plantation from "Life True" I

Coffee Plantation from “Life True” I

“The first movement is a coffee plantation owner, the second movement is a singer-songwriter. The third movement is a very poignant one about an immigrant massage therapist who left a very poor village in the Philippines to go to work in Macau, which is kind of her salvation (as well as) a place of sin. And the last movement is about a Buddhist calligrapher/chef.”

The musical performances will be by the Sage Quartet, consisting of Wu and Margaret Gutierrez, violin; Chieh-Fan Yiu, viola; and Michael Graham, cello. They are more or less the resident quartet for Sounds of Lyons, except that the personnel varies from year to year. In fact, “Sage Quartet’ Is more of a concept and an approach to music making than a specific collection of players.

“It doesn’t matter to me who is in the Sage Quartet at Sounds of Lyons,” Wu says. “I keep myself anonymous. The quartet is a collective spirit, I would say. And the really beautiful thing is how we work together.”

Flamenco dancer Natalia Perez del Villar

Flamenco dancer Natalia Perez del Villar

It has traditionally been the opening concerts of Sounds of Lyons that have the most eclectic and genre-blending programs. This year’s opener, “Crazy About You,” will continue that pattern at 8 p.m. Friday in

Alfredo Muro

Alfredo Muro

Rogers Hall. As described on the festival’s Web page, it will be “a tapestry woven through classical, flamenco, Brazilian, Spanish, original, folk music, songs and dances.”

Performers will be the Sage Ensemble—a trio of violin, viola and cello from the Sage Quartet joining with the guitar-flute duo of Alfredo Muro and Emma Shubin, vocalist Shannon Johnson, and the Flamenco Underground duo of guitarist/singer Mark Herzog and dancer Natalia Pérez del Villar.

SoL.Emma.Shubin

Emma Shubin

The wide-ranging program includes Brazilian choros—a melancholy style of dance music that often includes extensive improvisation similar to jazz—bossa nova, samba, tango, and Spanish folk dance, as well as more classical compositions by Isaac Abeniz, Heitor Villa Lobos and the 17th-century German composer Heinrich Ignaz von Biber.

But listing the titles hardly does the planned concert justice. “There’s room for each group to present their art form,” Wu says. “Then there will be numbers that we all work together, to bring flamenco, and classical and folk and all that together.’ Even the Biber—a rather strict passacaglia from Renaissance times—will “sort of turn flamenco at the end,” she says.

The final concert, Sunday at 8 in Lyons Community Church at 350 Main Street, will feature a single piece: The Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach. But characteristically, these will be the Goldberg Variations as you’ve never heard them before.

To begin with, the Variations have been transcribed from Bach’s keyboard original into an arrangement for the same string trio that plays on opening night. But the transcribed music is only part of the performance. Wu love to tell stories, and the Goldberg Variations, written to be played late nights for an insomniac German count, gave her all the inspiration she needs. In between the variations, the musicians will engage in a conversation with each other and the audience about insomnia.

“We’ll be kind of bouncing back and forth some quotes and some essays, some thoughts, about insomnia,” Wu says. “Some could be spontaneous and some could be quotes. We’re leaving some space for spontaneity amongst the performers on stage, so I can’t quite tell what’s going to happen.”

Returning to the subject of the flood, Wu is clear that it was never a thought that she would not hold the festival this year. Making and sharing music is too much a part of Lyons to be left behind.

“Lyons is culturally a very spiritual kind of place,” she says. “In one way we are doing absolutely what’s needed to flood recovery—fixing the roads, and raising funds, and doing everything that’s necessary. But you also see that huge need and desire to raise ourselves above that feeling of devastation, to be uplifted and to uplift others.”

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SoundsOfLyonsLOGOSounds of Lyons

Friday–Sunday, Sept. 12–14

Complete program and tickets here.

Zeitouni chosen as music director of Colorado Music Festival

French-Canadian maestro was “consensus choice” of the search committee

By Peter Alexander

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

The board of the Colorado Music Festival and Center for Musical Arts has announced the selection of Jean-Marie Zeitouni as music director for the festival, succeeding Michael Christie. He is the third music director in the festival’s history.

During an initial three-year term, Zeitouni will oversee all artistic planning for the festival, lead five weeks of Festival Orchestra concerts each summer, and be involved in the center’s music education program.

The board’s announcement states that Zeitouni emerged as a consensus choice of the search committee. He was one of three official finalists for the position, along with William Boughton and Carlos Miguel Prieto. Each of the three conducted two programs during the 2014 festival—one with chamber orchestra and one with the full symphony orchestra. These three finalists were selected from a roster of dozens of conductors who were interested in the position.

The decision comes just weeks after the CMF’s new executive director, Andrew Bradford, officially began work. The festival had been without a permanent appointee for either position since August 2013.

zeitouni.3“It is a real honor to join CMF and CMA as music director,” ZeitouniZeitouni said. “In both programs I conducted, the orchestra played sensationally and was a true pleasure to work with. It was the kind of collaboration that every conductor dreams of. With an orchestra of this caliber, an important music school in the center, and a delightful community like Boulder, I could not be more excited for the opportunity to lead this marvelous organization into the future.”

Ted Lupberger, search committee co-chair and a CMA and CMA board member said, “From the very first time the search committee spoke with Jean-Marie during the early stages of the search process, we were thoroughly impressed with his dynamic personality, his understanding of the many roles of the 21st-century music director, his passion for music and music education, and his excitement about the Boulder community.”

Jeffrey Work, CMF principal trumpet who was involved in the search process, added, “With the appointment of Maestro Jean-Marie Zeitouni, the CMF & CMA gains not only a leader of high artistic ideals, but one with a vision for the future of this treasured institution.”

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hsJean-MarieZeitouniOf the three candidates, Zeitouni probably has the lowest profile. Outside of his two concerts at Chautauqua this summer, he remains largely an unknown quantity in Boulder. That is not necessarily a bad thing—Michael Christie was largely unknown when he took the helm at CMF, too. But we have very little to go by in judging Zeitouni’s likely qualities as a festival director.

The two concerts he led this summer offered very solid performances of demanding orchestral works, and he certainly gets high marks for those. I was not entirely convinced by the nuances of the two great Strauss tone poems that he led, Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben (A hero’s life), but two concerts are hardly enough to have an idea of his vision as the director of a major festival. Programming for all conductors this summer was circumscribed by the situation and the requests of the CMF.

Zeitouni’s conversations with the CMF board and search committee may have been extensive and revealing, and we may hope that the board learned about his long-term vision and leadership skills. But those conversations were of course confidential.

Nor does he have a past professional record that reveals much. He was conductor of the Columbus (Ohio) Symphony, a position he relinquished as of Aug. 14 of this year. It is not clear why he left Columbus, except that it was, Zeitouni said, an “amicable” parting. He remains artistic director of I Musici de Montréal and maintains an active schedule as a guest conductor, but these are not professional activities that have yet built a record of achievement.

Still, there should be no doubt about his musical qualifications. In addition to the two first-rate concerts here, Zeitouni has gotten high praise from musicians and critics alike. When he moved to Columbus, he had several strong endorsements.

Laurent Patenaude was head of artistic administration for Les Violons du Roy, a chamber orchestra in Quebec that Zeitouni has conducted. Patenaude was quoted in the Columbus Dispatch saying that Zeitouni “has a real clear idea of the sound he wants, and he’s able to create it. . . . Because he’s such a great leader and listener, he can build something with what he has in front of him and at the same time bring the musicians someplace else.”

In 2012, the Boston Globe critic wrote of Zeitouni’s performance with the Handel & Haydn Society that the conductor’s “punk-tinged ‘Eroica’ was . . . the best live performance of this symphony I’ve heard.” And in 2011 the Seattle Times praised “one of the most memorable ‘Messiahs’ this city has seen.”

So we can be comfortable with his musical skills. But the music director has to do far more than conduct the orchestra. He has to maintain relations with the executive director, the board, major contributors, and other cultural leaders in the community, and of course he has to help raise funds. He has to bring in the audience on the strength of his perceived personality.

Zeitouni.2Zeitouni has a reputation—what maestro doesn’t?—for being prickly, which might not play well in Boulder. When I interviewed him, I did not sense the same level of eagerness to engage Boulder on its own terms that I have found in the other candidates and in musicians who have been successful here. But now that he has been here and met the board, he may well have a better understanding of the town and the audience. He appears to have the kind of quick intelligence that would be up to the task.

Another critical part of the music director’s job is programming for the festival. If the programs do not consistently capture the audience’s interest, the festival cannot remain viable. And here we have very little idea what Zeitouni might bring to the task. He has no record with an event comparable to the CMF.

Concentrated in a short period of time, festivals have different programming needs than an orchestra season that is spread over eight or nine months, so Zeitouni’s tenure with the Columbus symphony is not pertinent. Nor does his record as a guest, conducting individual concerts around the world, tell us what we would like to know: what can we expect from a Zeitouni-led festival?

We will know far more when we see the program for 2015. If Zeitouni and Bradford share a common vision for the festival and work harmoniously to achieve that vision, there is reason to be hopeful. But until they get to work, we will all have to reserve judgment.

The next chapter starts now.

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My previous interview with Jean-Marie Zeitouni can be found here. A further interview will follow when Maestro Zeitouni returns from traveling in France.

Boulder’s rich abundance of orchestra concerts

No fewer than five resident orchestras offer seasons for 2014–15

 By Peter Alexander

Of this you can be certain: there is no shortage of orchestra concerts in Boulder.

With the end of the summer and the departure of the area’s best orchestra—that of the Colorado Music Festival—now’s a good time to look at Boulder’s resident orchestras that perform during the main season, between September and May. In fact, there are no fewer than five of them.

This means there is a remarkable richness of orchestra concerts for a city the size of Boulder. It is one of the true blessings of living here, and with so many different orchestras and conductors contributing to the mix, it also creates a diversity of programming that would be the envy of many larger cities.

The Boulder orchestras vary widely in professionalism and experience, but each offers it own rewards. So before the season gets under way with the opening concert of the Boulder Philharmonic in Macky Auditorium on Sept. 14, here is a quick survey of area orchestras and their pending seasons. (More information on individual concerts will appear here throughout the year.)

Butterman.1

Michael Butterman

The Boulder Philharmonic (BPO) is Boulder’s fully-professional orchestra. Considered a regional symphony, the Boulder Phil has an annual budget just over $1 million. The orchestra has a negotiated contract with its players, who are paid union scale. In these respects, the BPO leads the orchestra pack in Boulder.

The conductor is Michael Butterman, who also conducts the Shreveport (La.) Symphony, and is now the inaugural music director of the Pennsylvania Philharmonic, leading its very first season in 2014-15. It should be noted that regional orchestras are not full-time and do not pay anyone from the director on down through the sections a full-time wage. For example, BPO has six concerts on its 2014–15 season, plus performances of The Nutcracker with Boulder Ballet. This is not full-time work, and members of the orchestra generally have other income, either from teaching, from other orchestras, or from free-lance work—or a combination of all three.

The same is true of the music director: In addition to the three orchestras listed above, Butterman is resident conductor of the Jacksonville (Fl.) Symphony and principal conductor for education and community engagement for the Rochester (N.Y.) Philharmonic. This summer, he was guest conductor for the opening concert of the Colorado Music Festival.

Butterman is a skilled and thoughtful conductor. Under his direction, the Phil presents worthy, professional-quality performances of programs tailored to the Boulder audience. Often that means a careful combination of challenging new works and familiar favorites. Past explorations have included concerts accompanied by aerial artists, music by the original mother of invention Frank Zappa, and the premiere of CU faculty member Jeffrey Nytch’s First Symphony, inspired by Colorado’s geological formations.

Conforming to the pattern, the opening concert of the ‘14–15 season features the world premiere of Gates of the Arctic by Stephen Lias and the perennially popular Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov. Other highlights of the season will include works inspired by birds; a pops concert featuring music by piano men Billy Joel and Elton John; concertos for timpani, violin and piano; and ending with Bartók’s virtuoso showpiece Concerto for Orchestra. (Season information and tickets available here.)

Cynthia Katsarellis and the Pro Music Colorado Chamber Orchestra

Cynthia Katsarellis and the Pro Music Colorado Chamber Orchestra

The Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra is fully professional orchestra, although operating at a more modest scale than the BPO. With only three concerts in a season and a much smaller number of musicians, their budget for the coming year is $63,000. Still, the orchestra, under the direction of Cynthia Katsarellis, presents some terrific performances and offers intriguing repertoire for smaller orchestra. For example, one of last year’s program paired Vivaldi’s much loved Seasons with the fascinating, tango-inflected Four Seasons of Buenos Aires by Astor Piazzolla.

Players in the Pro Musica come from the CU faculty and professional orchestras on the front range. Katsarellis is a first-rate conductor who probably does not get enough recognition locally. She has conducted at the Colorado Music Festival, Rocky Ridge Music Festival and Loveland Opera Theatre. Every year since 2004 she has traveled to Haiti to conduct the Orchestre Philharmonique Sainte Trinité and to teach at the Holy Trinity School of Music in Port-au-Prince.

Katsarellis likes to explore themes in her concerts; building on the success of last year’s “Seasons,” the coming year will include a performance of Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 2, “American Seasons.” There will also be a concert titled “American Voice” featuring Samuel Barber’s idyllic Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and a special performance with the silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. (Season opens Oct. 17; information and tickets available here.)

Bahman Saless with the Boulder Chamber Orcehstra. Photo by Keith Bobo.

Bahman Saless with the Boulder Chamber Orcehstra. Photo by Keith Bobo.

There is another mostly professional chamber orchestra here, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO). This group was established in 2004 by music director Bahman Saless when friends suggested he start an amateur orchestra. Since then, the orchestra has become almost entirely paid (except for a few members who decline payment), and operates a season of seven concerts, a New Year’s Eve performance, and a couple of “MiniChamber” concerts on a budget of about $147,000.

A physicist-turned-conductor with a Ph.D. from CU and experience working for NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratories, Saless is a genial presence at the BCO’s performances. He often speaks to the audience and has built a devoted following in the community. He loves to find key words—often enigmatic—to describe the orchestra’s season and concerts. For example, 2014–15, the BCO’s 11th season, is titled “Mystique” and the opening concert, Sept. 19, featuring Michael Haydn’s Requiem in C minor performed with St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, is titled “Charisma.”

Saless often invites compelling but little known soloists to join the orchestra. The coming year will feature performances by Spanish pianist Victoria Aja playing De Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and presenting a solo “Night of Spanish Piano Masterpieces,” Israeli-American cellist Inbal Segev and American violinist Andrew Sords, among others. (Season information and tickets available here.)

Devin Patrick Hughes

Devin Patrick Hughes

A community orchestra that has mostly remained so is the Boulder Symphony, formerly known as the Timberline Symphony. With an annual budget of $100,000, the orchestra has some paid members, including the string section principals, among volunteer musicians. They present six orchestra programs during the year, also offer four open rehearsals of pending concerts, and participate in educational activities.

Conductor of the Boulder Symphony is Devin Patrick Hughes, a young and dynamic personality who also leads the Arapahoe Philharmonic. He has also recently held conducting positions as Music Director of the Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association, Denver Contemporary Chamber Players, Resident Conductor of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, and Assistant Conductor for the Denver Young Artists Orchestra.

Hughes likes to collaborate with other local groups, such as Denver’s contemporary music Playground Ensemble, and has presented several world premieres—an unusual style of programming for a community orchestra. He has invited a number of young artists to appear as soloist with the orchestra. For example, the current season includes appearances by violinist Phoenix Avalon, a 13-year-old prodigy who has played with the Boulder Symphony in past seasons, and pianist Toku Kawata, a graduate student at CU. (Season opens Sept. 20; information and tickets available here.)

University Symphony

University Symphony in Macky Auditorium

The list of Boulder orchestras is rounded out by the CU University Symphony Orchestra, led by Prof. Gary Lewis, who is also director of Orchestral Studies in the College of Music as well as music director of the Midland-Odessa (Texas) Symphony. Concerts by the University Symphony are held in Macky Auditorium on the CU campus and are free.

Obviously a non-professional, student ensemble, the University Symphony—the top orchestral ensemble in the College of Music—presents fully satisfying performances of major orchestral repertoire. Their first concert of the 2014–15 season, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18, will feature Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and subsequent concerts this year will include Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 (“Rhenish”), Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.

If you look beyond the Boulder city limits, there are still more orchestras in the county. Particularly noteworthy is the Longmont Symphony Orchestra, a semi-professional orchestra with paid principal players throughout the orchestra and volunteer musicians selected by audition filling out the sections. The annual budget for six subscription concerts, two Nutcracker performances, a holiday concert and a community concert on the 4th of July is $240,000.

Conductor of the Longmont Symphony is Robert Olson, known to Boulder audiences as the founding director of Boulder’s MahlerFest. Highlights of the coming season will include yet another performance of Scheherazade, a youth concert featuring music about spies led by Colorado Public Radio’s David Rutherford, an all-Sibelius evening and an all-American concert with Leonard Bernstein’s seldom heard “Jeremiah” Symphony. (Season begins Oct. 4; information and tickets available here.)

There is another community orchestra in the county, the Flatirons Community Orchestra in northeast Boulder County, and youth orchestras in Boulder and Longmont. All of these groups deserve support. I doubt that anyone will get to all of the concerts presented by these orchestras, but if you don’t find an orchestral program that appeals to you, you’re not looking.

With so much to choose from, there’s a limit to what anyone can do, but I will try to preview all the major orchestras of Boulder throughout the year, either here or in the pages of Boulder Weekly.

In the meantime, let the music begin! I’ll see you in the audience.