Valentine’s will be a day for heart-shaped candies; lacy greeting cards; special dinners with your sweetheart; and—thanks to the Boulder Philharmonic—music about a red violin.
Violinist Philippe Quint will join conductor Michael Butterman and the orchestra Saturday evening (7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 in Macky Auditorium) to perform John Corigliano’s Red Violin Concerto. The concert, titled “Legendary Love,” will also feature the Prelude and Liebestod (Love Death) from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy-Overture Romeo and Juliet.
As part of a season of musical “Legends,” a concert on Valentine’s Day suggests obvious possibilities. “Fortunately for us, there is no shortage of good pieces that have dealt with this particular topic—literary couples and so on,” Butterman says. “We thought the date was a mixed blessing (but) we hope that people will choose to make it an evening out and make it part of their Valentine’s plans.”
If you don’t know Corigliano’s Red Violin Concerto, Quint thinks you are in for a treat. “Expect the unexpected,” he says.
“Prepare for an emotional roller coaster. It will really take you from a space of meditation into an absolute emotional frenzy and back, and back again.”
The concerto had its origin in the Academy Award-winning score that Corigliano wrote for the 1998 film The Red Violin. The story of tumultuous and passionate events in the 300-year history of a violin that has literally been varnished with blood, the film featured music played by virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell.
While using music from the film score, the concerto is at least one step removed, since ideas from the film are reworked for a completely different genre. After finishing the film score, Corigliano, whose father was the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, created several concert pieces for violin from the film music. When he pulled the Red Violin music into the concerto, he was thinking of the performances he had heard his father give in Carnegie Hall.
“This is my first (concerto) for my first love, the violin,” he has written. “It is an ‘in the great tradition’ kind of concerto, because I wrote it in an attempt to write the piece my father would love to play.”
Quint concurs. “This work is mostly a throwback into the Romantic period of great violin writing,” he says. “It’s a very substantial work, where Corigliano takes it to the next level by adding these really unbelievable effects. There are going to be some sounds that you never heard.”
He particularly points to the concerto’s final movement, which the composer describes as “a rollicking race” between soloist and orchestra. Quint compares that movement to a famous scene from another film: “You remember those Indiana Jones movies, with the huge rock that’s running, and you’re running away. The last movement is really like that rock, it’s coming at you at this crazy speed and you’re trying to get away from it.”
By coincidence, Quint himself plays a violin that is known for the reddish tint of its varnish—although there is no blood involved. It is a Stradivarius violin from 1708—near the age of the red violin of the film—that is known as “The Ruby Strad.”
“I love to speculate that this is the violin that inspired the film,” Quint says. “But it’s a fictional story, so any such claim is false.” Noting that the violin belongs to the Stradivari Society of Chicago, Quint adds, “I feel very, very fortunate to have an opportunity to play on this violin.”
The two pieces that comprise the second half of the concert program are about legendary lovers—Tristan and Isolde, and Romeo and Juliet. Both works date from the second half of the 19th century, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde from 1859, and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet from 1870 (revised in 1880). But though they both celebrate famous love stories, they are in many ways very different.
Often described as the beginning of modernism in music, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is famous for the use of chromatic harmonies to extend a feeling of musical tension across an entire 5-hour opera. Even before it had been premiered, Wagner himself made an arrangement pairing the Prelude—the opera’s opening section, today studied in detail by all music students—and the closing passage, Isolde’s Liebestod (Love death).
“What we have in this piece in particular is, not so much the soaring high moments that one feels in romance, but the longing, the anticipation, the tension, the bittersweet aspects,” Butterman says. “That is wholly the function of Wagner’s ability to create tension and almost never quite give it resolution.”
If Wagner’s score lacks the “soaring high moments that one feels in romance,” as Butterman says, that’s just what Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet offers in its “rhapsodic, passionate melody” representing the lovers.
“The tension that Tchaikovsky creates is not so much with this use of chromatic harmony,” Butterman says, “but with his ability to bring in elements of the conflict between the families with the introduction of brass and percussion.
“You have this soaring theme and all of a sudden (brass and percussion interruptions) and then it goes back to the soaring theme. It’s not a piece where you can follow the story in a linear fashion from beginning to end. I think it is more just ideas from the drama that have gotten mixed together in a 20-minute piece.”
In addition to the Valentine’s Day performance, there will be other events leading up to the concert. From 7:30 to 10 p.m. Wednesday evening (Feb. 11), the Dairy Center in Boulder will present Café Phil—a free open rehearsal of the orchestra with Butterman. This is very much a working rehearsal, and will be without the soloist, but will be a revealing glimpse into the inner workings of the orchestra. Wine, beer, coffee, juice, snacks and pastries are available for purchase until 9:30 p.m.
There is also the opportunity to see the film of The Red Violin, which will be screened at the Dairy Center’s Boedecker Theater. Showings will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, Feb. 11 and 13, and at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 12.
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Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor Philippe Quint, violin
John Corigliano: Red Violin Concerto
Wagner: Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14
Information and tickets
Café Phil open rehearsal
Boulder Philharmonic and Michael Butterman, conductor
7:30–10 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 11
Dairy Center for the Arts Free
Screenings of The Red Violin
4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 11
7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 12
4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13
The Dairy Center for the Arts
Information and tickets