“Reflections: The Spirit of Boulder” will offer soloists, dance, visiting composers, photography, and a great choral work
By Peter Alexander
Next year will be a season of collaborations for the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra and music director Michael Butterman.
The 2015–16 season, which has just been announced, will include a broad array of collaborative work, from the usual appearances of renowned visiting soloists to the season finale, a semi-staged performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion presented in conjunction with Central City Opera, the Boulder Bach Festival, and choruses from the CU College of Music.
In between, there will be two visiting composers, a performance enhanced by the photography of John Fielder, two joint performances with Boulder Ballet, and a return of the aerial and stage performers of Cirque de la Symphonie. (Unless otherwise noted, performances mentioned below are at 7:30 p.m. in Macky Auditorium.)
Billed as “Reflections: The Spirit of Boulder” (see full schedule below), the season gets underway at 7 p.m. Sept. 13—a Sunday evening performance—with a program featuring two soloists. Charles Wetherbee, the orchestra’s concertmaster will perform The Storyteller, a piece based on Japanese folk tales that was written for him by Korine Fujiwara; and Gabriela Montero will perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
Montero is sometimes remembered for her participation in President Obama’s first inaugural, when it was notoriously too cold to play live outside and a recorded performance was substituted, but she is also renowned as a virtuoso pianist who performs to acclaim around the globe. But Butterman is looking forward to her visit for another reason.
“The thing that’s so amazing about her, and quite unique, is her ability to improvise—it’s straight out of another era,” he says. “I‘ve heard her do this a number times and it’s just remarkable— everything from what seems like perfectly worked out Bachian counterpoint to ragtime, to impressionistic, Debussy-esque sort of things.
“What’s so amazing about it is that it seems so beautifully worked out, through all these different styles.”
The November subscription concert (Nov. 14) will offer the world premier of a new work for piano and orchestra by Denver composer/pianist Charles David Denler, who will also play the solo part. Inspired by the nature writing of American author Henry David Thoreau, Denler’s Portraits in Seasons will be presented with projections of images selected by Colorado photographer John Fielder.
“I would describe the music as certainly tuneful, pictorial, a little bit atmospheric,” Butterman says. “I thought this would be really nice with something to look at and to read. It occurred to everybody that Fielder is so well known and is such a fine artist that we approached him with this particular proposition.”
Fielder has said that to illustrate the seasons, he will choose photographs that are more intimate in scale than many of the large-scale mountain landscapes that he is well known for.
Following the traditional Nutcracker performances over Thanksgiving weekend—this year with new scenery—and the return of the popular “Christmas with the Phil” concerts in December, January will see the orchestra sharing the stage with the Boulder Ballet for a subscription concert. Titled “Dance, American Style,” the Jan. 16 performance will feature the full ballet of Rodeo by Aaron Copland.
Filling out the program will be orchestral performances of the New England Triptych by William Schuman, Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, and three excerpts from Copland’s Billy the Kid.
February brings a Friday concert (Feb. 12), with another acclaimed guest soloist, Anne Akiko Meyers playing Mendelssohn’s much loved Violin Concerto in E minor, and the season’s second visiting composer, in the form of an artistic residence by Missy Mazzoli.
Dubbed “the coolest thing to happen to the violin since Stradivari” by the Denver Post, Meyers is one of the leading violin soloists of her generation. Her playing has been featured on practically everything from CBS “Sunday Morning” to “The Good Wife” on television, many CDs, and countless radio broadcasts.
Missy Mazzoli may not be well known in Colorado, but she is, Butterman says, “a pretty hot composer in the New York scene in particular.” Her week-long residency will include educational activities and chamber performances, as well as the Boulder Phil’s premiere of a new version of her Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres).
The title refers, Butterman explains, not to planets but “the idea of circularity and cycles.” The title takes the 18th-century term “Sinfonia,” in reference to ideas from Baroque music and ornamentation that the composer used.
“It’s not exactly a neo-Baroque piece, but it certainly has some connections to earlier periods,” Butterman says—which led him to the other pieces on the concert program: Shostakovich’s Haydn-esque Symphony No. 9, Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana and the classically inspired Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.
Cirque de la Symphonie will make its third appearance with the Boulder Philharmonic with two performances, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 2. Building off the famed Cirque du Soleil and other cirque programs, the troop presents aerial flyers, acrobats, contortionists, dancers, jugglers, balancers and strongmen choreographed to classical music.
“What I like about them is their ability to appeal very, very broadly to an audience, but to do so while allowing us to present just great classical music,” Butterman says. Based on their previous appearances in Boulder, he says that the audience will “know the basic concept of what they’re going to see, but their repertoire will be different enough that it will be fresh and people will enjoy it.”
The success of the previous sold-out performances led the Boulder Phil to expand to two performances in 2016, adding the 2 p.m. matinee the same day as the evening concert.
The season-ending semi-staged performance of the St. Matthew Passion will also have two performances, 7 p.m. Saturday, April 23, in Macky Auditorium, and at a time and place to be determined on Sunday, April 24. Although it was written as a sacred oratorio, in modern times the St. Matthew Passion has sometimes been staged. One recent notable production, directed by Peter Sellars with conductor Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, was imported into the U.S. for performances in New York City last year.
“This piece is positively operatic in its sweep and pacing,” Butterman says. “However, I don’t think its been done (in a staged performance) in Colorado.”
The idea originated with a proposal from Central City Opera for some kind of collaboration with Boulder Phil. After various ideas were discussed, the two groups, along with the Boulder Bach Festival and the CU College of Music, settled on the St. Matthew Passion.
“We’re going to do it at Macky, but we’re going to be able to use the space creatively,” Butterman says. “(Central City Opera General/Artistic Director) Pat Pearce said Central City was looking for was some kind of immersive experience, where the audience feels enveloped in the drama.
“The Bach repertoire is delicate for us, because we are not a chamber orchestra, and there is already an entity in town that has laid claim to that. So if we were ever going to tackle something like this, we had to have a reason that was unique enough and compelling enough, and this potential four-way collaboration would be just that.”
In addition to Butterman and players from the Boulder Philharmonic, the performance will feature choruses from the CU College of Music and the Bach Festival Chorus, specialized instrumentalists from the Bach Festival, and stage direction by Central City Opera. The Macky stage will be modified, similar to what the CU does every year for their Holiday Festival.
In addition to the subscription concerts, the Boulder Philharmonic will have an evening with the Boulder-based singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov (Oct. 10), Discovery Concerts for local elementary students, free “Cafe Phil” open rehearsals at the Dairy Center, and “Nature & Music” guided hikes with the cooperation of Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks.
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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
2015-2016 Season—Reflections: The Spirit of Boulder
September 13, 2015 (Sunday): Opening Night
Maurice Ravel: Mother Goose Suite
Korine Fujiwara: The Storyteller, with Charles Wetherbee, violin
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No.2, with Gabriela Montero, piano
October 10, 2015: Gregory Alan Isakov with the Boulder Phil
Gregory Alan Isakov, singer-songwriter, guitar
November 14, 2015: Portraits in Season
Johannes Brahms: Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), with Boulder Chorale
Charles Denler: Portraits in Season, with Charles Denler, piano; photography by John Fielder
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 2
November 27 through November 29, 2015: The Nutcracker with Boulder Ballet
December 20, 2015: Christmas with the Phil, Venue TBD, Boulder
December 21, 2015: Christmas with the Phil, Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek
December 22, 2015: Christmas with the Phil, Lone Tree Arts Center, Lone Tree, with Boulder Bach Festival Chorus
January 16, 2016: Dance, American Style (with Boulder Ballet)
January 17, 2016: Dance, American Style, St. Luke’s, Highlands Ranch (without dancers)
William Schuman: New England Triptych
Leonard Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Aaron Copland: “Prairie Night,” “Waltz” and “Celebration Dance” from Billy the Kid
Aaron Copland: Rodeo (complete ballet), with Boulder Ballet
February 12, 2016 (Friday): Spheres of Influence
Missy Mazzoli: Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres), a Music Alive Composer Residency
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9
Pyotr Tchaikovsky: Mozartiana
Felix Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, with Anne Akiko Meyers, violin
April 2, 2016: Cirque de la Symphonie (2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.)
April 23 & 24, 2016: Season Finale
Bach: St. Matthew Passion
Semi-staged production with Central City Opera, Boulder Bach Festival & CU Choruses