New CMF music director aims to build a relationship with the audience

With the festival under way, Zeitouni can come into his own

By Peter Alexander

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Jean-Marie Zeitouni is excited about his entire first season as music director of the Colorado Music Festival (CMF).

“I love them all!” he says of the festival concert programs. “These are all concerts that I’m looking forward to. [Over the summer] you have every single genre, and every single period in music. You have solo works, you have chamber music, you have recitals, you have chamber orchestra and big orchestra — everything is covered.”

The festival got underway with Young People’s Concerts June 26 and 27 and an opening concert July 1. The festival now gets going in earnest, with weekly performances of chamber music, pairs of Festival Orchestra concerts Thursdays and Fridays through Aug. 7, and Chamber Orchestra concerts on Sundays through Aug. 9. (All orchestra concerts are at 7:30 p.m. in the Chautauqua Auditorium; chamber music will be at the First Congregational Church, 1128 Pine St.)

Scattered through the summer are solo recitals by pianist Olga Kern, who wowed CMF audiences two years ago with her performances of the Rachmaninoff concertos ( July 3); Music Mash-Up programs, combining classical and popular material, planned and directed by Steve Hackman ( July 7, 21 and Aug. 4); and a performance by musical humorists Igudesman & Joo (Aug. 1).

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

See the full CMF schedule and purchase tickets on their Web page.

Colorado Music Festival opens Zeitouni era with controlled, beautiful performance

Alto Lemieux provides vocal fireworks—even before the Fourth of July!

By Peter Alexander

CMF Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni (Photo by Tessa Berg)

CMF Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni (Photo by Tessa Berg)

The Colorado Music Festival (CMF) opened last night (July 1) with some splash and dash, some exoticism, some vocal fireworks, and a loud, brassy finish. With such ingredients, the audience went away happy.

Conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni chose to begin his very first Festival Orchestra concert as music director—he appeared last year as one of several guest conductors vying for the post he now holds—with a work that ties into his own French-Canadian heritage, Debussy’s La Mer. But as Zeitouni said last week, there is another reason to program La Mer: “because it’s a virtuoso orchestral piece, and it’s my way of showcasing this wonderful orchestra.”

His performance did indeed showcase the players. This was not a lush, Romantic performance of La Mer such as you may have heard before. Zeitouni was more spare in his approach, creating a chamber-music-like sound that revealed every voice in the orchestra. One could hear every individual line, every player in the ensemble, and the players responded with some beautiful playing. This was a transparent ocean, every wave audible—or visible in the listener’s mind.

The performance was also remarkably flexible, with delineating changes of tempo and volume carefully managed. The finale in particular was immaculately controlled and detailed. Zeitouni did not take the easy way of going for big effects; the result was something more subtle, a performance that elicits admiration if not unrestrained exuberance.

Ravel’s Shéhérazade was probably the least familiar work on the program. The score is a set of three imaginative poems based on the Arabian Nights by the composer’s contemporary Tristan Klingsor, performed with colorful orchestral accompaniment. With lines like “I would like to see fine turbans of silk” and “I’d like to see cruel assassins,” the text is a classic expression of Orientalism, the dreamy distortion of Arab and Asian peoples who could not speak for themselves during the age of European colonization.

These Orientalist clichés of the text were in full view, since Timothy Orr of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival was on hand to read the poems before each song. But whether one approves of the texts or no, his dramatic readings greatly enhanced the audience experience.

Alto Marie-Nicole Lemieux

Alto Marie-Nicole Lemieux

Ravel’s music beautifully evokes in sound the images of the text. And when one hears it as well performed as it was by Zeitouni, the Festival Orchestra, and the remarkable alto Marie-Nicole Lemieux, one easily forgets that the text was tainted by the Eurocentrism of the 19th- and 20th-century colonial powers. I particularly enjoyed the playing of principal flutist Viviana Cumplido Wilson in the second song, La flûte enchantée (The enchanted flute).

After intermission, Lemieux came into her own with arias from Rossini operas. She showed why she is known and admired in Europe for her fiery performances in dramatic operatic roles. The first two arias she sang, those listed in the program, were taken from two of Rossini’s serious operas, Tancredi and Semiramide. It was good to hear these arias: they are great music taken from serious operas that are not often taken seriously today, and therefore are seldom heard by most audiences.

My only reservation was that these very dramatic pieces, in which Lemieux was clearly seeing the scene before her eyes as she performed, were largely opaque to most listeners, because the program notes opted for an irrelevant paragraph about the composer and his popularity in Beethoven’s and Schubert’s Vienna, rather than including the texts, or even descriptions of the emotions being portrayed by the singer.

Best of all was the final aria, an encore from Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri (The Italian girl in Algiers), which Lemieux introduced with great verve and humor. She had the audience in her hands—and that was before she began to sing! I suspect that for Colorado audiences, she will be one of the great discoveries of the summer at CMF. Her performances were vocally brilliant, dramatically engaging, and filled with personality.

It was an interesting choice to have Orr return to the stage and set the scene for each of the four scenes of Respighi’s tone poem The Pines of Rome, which closed the program. I enjoyed his introductions, but thought: why was he not employed for the Rossini arias?

Respighi’s brilliant music did exactly what it was written to do: bring the audience to their feet. But that is not to say that their enthusiasm was misplaced. Here Romanticism was in full flower, but with no loss of orchestral clarity.

As in past years, CMF has a Festival Orchestra of remarkable quality, and the musicians played with a fullness of sound and balance that made The Pines of Rome everything it is meant to be. Of the many wind solos, one must single out the work of the principal clarinet, Louis DeMartino, who played his long solo in the third section, “The Pines of the Janiculum,” with remarkable beauty, delicacy and control.

The final “Pines of the Appian Way” emerged from near silence, leading to a long and controlled crescendo that never got out of hand but reached Respighi’s great climax near the ideal moment. When the last powerful brass chord died away, the audience jumped to their feet and cheered—more spontaneously than in many of Boulder’s more dutiful standing ovations—and then left happy.

# # # # #

One parting sour note to the audience: after they were asked to turn all devices off, it was only 5 seconds into the concert that someone’s cell phone jingled in one of the quietest passages of Debussy’s score. I hope the CPR engineers can edit that out of the broadcast—but who in 2015 still doesn’t know to turn their phone OFF, when they have just been reminded?

NOTE: edited for clarity 2 July 2015

Longmont Museum’s new Stewart Auditorium gains musical partners and a piano

Boulder Bach Festival announces “Bach-in-Longmont” performances at the Auditorium in 2015 and ‘16

By Peter Alexander

Interior of the new Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum. Photo by Peter Alexander

Interior of the new Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum. Photo by Peter Alexander

“Build it and they will come.”

Shoeless Joe must have been talking to the people at the Longmont Museum. They did build it, and already they have started to come.

“It” is a new auditorium, the 250-seat Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum, which was just finished and opened earlier this month. And “they” are performers—some from Boulder—looking for an intimate performance space.

View form the Swan Atrium of the Stewart Auditorium. Photo by Peter Alexander.

View form the Swan Atrium of the Stewart Auditorium. Photo by Peter Alexander.

The auditorium is part of an expansion of the museum that doubles its pubic space. In addition to the Stewart Auditorium and its Swan Atrium, the expansion also adds the Kaiser Permanente Education Center, with flexible configurations allowing for three classrooms or one large meeting space seating 115.

The expansion was built with funds from a $4.5 million capital campaign that had the support of more than 300 donors. The largest gift came from the Stewart family for whom the auditorium is named.

Lila Stewart and the Shigeru Kawai piano that she has given to the Longmont Museum's Stewart Auditotrium

Lila Stewart and the Shigeru Kawai piano that she has given to the Longmont Museum’s Stewart Auditorium

“We couldn’t have done it without the generosity of the Stewart family, who made the largest local gift in our community’s history,” Longmont Museum director Wes Jessup said. The Stewart family, including Lila Stewart, her late husband Bill, and their daughter Linda, were members of the Longmont business community for nearly four decades.

Lila Stewart has added to that original gift with the purchase and donation of the piano that was used during the auditorium’s opening event June 14: a 7-foot-6-inch Shigeru Kawai valued at $75,000. Stewart recently announced the gift of the piano, which was on loan from the Boulder Piano Gallery, in the name of her late daughter Linda Stewart.

Among the performers at the auditorium opening was violinist Zachary Carrettin, director of the Boulder Bach Festival, and pianist Mina Gajić, the festival’s director of education and outreach. Carrettin and Gajić have announced that the Bach Festival will hold three concerts at the Stewart Auditorium during the 2015–16 season. These concerts, which will supplement the Bach Festival’s “home season” in Boulder, will be presented under the heading Bach-in-Longmont.

Auditorium manager David Ortolano at the lighting controls of the Stewart Auditorium. Photo by Peter Alexander.

Auditorium manager David Ortolano at the lighting controls of the Stewart Auditorium. Photo by Peter Alexander.

Following the opening weekend, Carrettin commented: “The hall is magnificent! I’m so happy it will be a venue for us, both for the Bach-in-Longmont concerts as well as some of the education events in the Kaiser Permanente Education Center.

“Boulder Bach Festival has developed an audience of Longmont residents through performances in Longmont at the First Lutheran Church and the historic Ryssby Church. With the unveiling of the new Stewart Auditorium, we decided to launch a new series called Bach-in-Longmont. Some programs will be repeated in Boulder or Denver, but the final season concert will only take place in Longmont.”

Carrettin said he was delighted to be bringing some the Bach Festival programs up to Longmont, especially since the opening of the Stewart Auditorium. “Longmont is doing some spectacular things,” he said.

The Bach-in-Longmont concerts scheduled in Stewart Auditorium for 2015–16 will be:

BBF-2014-15-season-brochure-pdf“Italian Roots”: 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16, with harpsichord soloist and Bach scholar Matthew Dirst, Dutch soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, and violinist Michiko Theurer. The performance will offer an antiphonal presentation of pre-Bach Italian works in a variety of genres, followed by works of Bach that feature Italianate writing, including the D-minor Harpsichord Concerto and Cantata No. 82a, Ich habe genug.

“Venice On Fire”: 7 p.m. Saturday, March 19, 2016. The artists for this performance will be the new Boulder Bach core ensemble of flexible string players performing on electric instruments, led by Carrettin and Theurer.

“Bach, Brahms, and a Grand Érard Piano”: 7 p.m. SUNDAY, MAY 15, 2016, with Carrettin, Gajić and horn player Thomas Jöstlein, associate principal horn of the St. Louis Symphony and a member of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra. The featured work on the program will be Brahms’ Horn Trio, played on period of instruments of the composer’s lifetime, to be preceded by works of Bach played on a late 19th-century piano. [Please note: The listed date is a change from the previously announced date of Friday, May 20. Sunday, May 15 is the correct date for this performance.]

The Stewart Auditorium was designed by OZ Architecture, the same firm that designed the Longmont Museum’s original 2002 building. Bassett & Associates of Centennial led the construction team. It was designed to provide performance space for small musical ensembles, films, lectures, theatre and dance. Future programming includes the performances by the Boulder Bach Festival, as well as collaborations with Arts Longmont and the Longmont Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to gifts form the Stewart family, other contributions have been made to the piano and the musical program, including a pledge of $5,000 from the Gretchen Beall Community Fund, which is administered by the Longmont Community Foundation. Those funds will go toward the ongoing care of the piano, as well as performances.