“A Night on the Danube” will channel European New Year’s celebrations
By Peter Alexander
Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra offered their first New Year’s Eve concert two years ago. Saless saw an open niche and decided to fill it.
“I always felt like on New Year’s Eve, the only game in town in classical music is the Colorado Symphony,” he says, speaking of the CSO’s annual “Night in Vienna” (6:30 p.m. New Year’s Eve in Boettcher Concert Hall). “I thought, it’s kind of a far thing to go all the way to Denver. Why don’t we have something around here?”
Because of the difficulty of finding an available space in Boulder on New Year’s Eve, Saless decided to perform in the attractive Lakewood Cultural Center (470 S. Allison Pkwy. in Lakewood). Timed not to interfere with later New Year’s Eve events, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra’s concert, “A Night on the Danube,” will begin at 6:30 p.m.
That is same time as CSO’s “Night in Vienna,” and no, the similarity of names is not accidental, either. Musically, the New Year celebration is widely associated with Viennese music—especially waltzes and polkas from the Strauss family—because of the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual New Year’s Day concert. That event has become so popular that tickets are distributed by lottery and the television broadcast is seen in 90 countries.
Saless says such European concerts are an inspiration for the BCO. “You know, in Europe all the countries have some interesting New Year’s Eve event, which we don’t,” he says. “We have the New York Times Square type of thing and we sit in front of the TV.
“At some point I’d love to just get people out of the house, and go do something else.”
Apparently he is succeeding, since the BCO New Year’s Eve concerts have nearly sold out each year. The only problem Saless sees is that most of the sales come from Lakewood and Denver.
“I would love for more Boulder people to come,” he says. “It’s set up at a good time so you’re out by 8 o’clock.”
To further help people with their celebrations, the BCO will have what Saless calls “a wall of wine” on sale during intermission. “People can actually buy their wine for the evening right at the concert, and then head home and celebrate,” he says.
Of course, people mostly come to the concert for the music. This year, the BCO will perform music from countries that border on the Danube River as it flows through central Europe. From Austria there will be Johann Strauss Jr.’s Pizzicato Polka and—inevitably—The Blue Danube.
Hungary will be represented by two composers: Johannes Brahms with his Hungarian Dances and Franz Liszt with the popular Second Hungarian Rhapsody. And Slovakia comes in with two of the Slavonic Dances of Antonín Dvořák.
“The program is sort like my favorites,” Saless says, “It’s stuff that I would always love to do but can’t do with a chamber orchestra.”
Announcements of the concert promise all that, “and much more.” But when asked about the “much more,” Saless just says, “I’m not going to say. We are doing some surprise pieces, which may or may not include one of our favorite singers.”
The singer at least is not a secret: soprano Szilvia Schranz, who has impeccable Danubian credentials, is listed on the program. In keeping with the theme of the concert, she will sing—well, “some Hungarian pieces” is all Saless will admit to.
Schranz was born in Budapest—on the banks of the Danube—and moved to Boulder when her father, second violinist of the Takacs Quartet, came to CU with the other members of the ensemble.
The playing style of music from Central Europe has some challenges for players who have not grown up with the different national traditions. The Viennese waltz, for example, gets its lilt from a slight displacement of the second beat, which is played a fraction early and lightly stressed in the accompanying parts. Think of the first “pah” as just ahead of the beat in the “Oom-PAH—pah” parts.
As a conductor, Saless is prepared for the waltzes. “There a trick to it,” he says. “I have been fortunate enough to have a teacher that showed me how to do it, because he does a lot of Viennese waltzes.
“What you do is you add a new dimension to the baton. You actually move the orchestra on the second beat by moving the baton toward them. And they’ll do it naturally. It’s a really cool thing.”
NOTE: This article was originally published in the Dec. 25 edition of Boulder Weekly.
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“A Night on the Danube”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
Szilvia Schranz, soprano
6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 31
Lakewood Cultural Center
470 S. Allison Pkwy., Lakewood