Michael Butterman debuts with Philadelphia Orchestra, in costume

Boulder Phil music director is guest conductor for a family concert

By Peter Alexander

Verizon Hall, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra

Verizon Hall, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra

“When you image your debut with a great orchestra,” Michael Butterman, music director of the Boulder Philharmonic says, “you don’t usually imagine yourself wearing a Jack Skellington costume.”

I certainly don’t. But Butterman recently did just that with the renowned Philadelphia Orchestra—with a concertmaster dressed as the Pope, and other costumes among the players. You will be relieved to know that it was a Halloween family concert.

The event was part of a series of outreach concerts that Butterman conducted throughout the northeastern states over about a 30-day period, including a week of young people’s concert’s with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.; a week of education concerts with the Pennsylvania Philharmonic, a regional orchestra of which he is music director; a family concert in Rochester, N.Y.; and the Oct. 31 “Halloween Costume Party” with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Verizon Hall.

Michael Butterman, not in costume as Jack Skellington

Michael Butterman, not in costume as Jack Skellington

“It’s kind of invigorating to see that you can still make a difference to people when you present things in a fun and attractive way,” Butterman says about the concerts. “I think people are interested in what orchestras are doing. And that makes me feel a little bit optimistic anyway about the future.”

But the culmination was the opportunity to lead one of the nation’s “Big Five” orchestras in their home concert hall in Philadelphia. “It was a nice compliment,” he says. “The audience was great, it was a nice full house and a lot of enthusiastic young people there.”

In addition to Danny Elfman’s Suite from Nightmare before Christmas, Butterman’s program with the Philadelphia Orchestra included music by Khachaturian, Prokofiev and Rimsky-Korsakov; Adam Glaser’s March of the Little Goblins; and Liadov’s Baba-Yaga, from a Russian folk tale about a witch who lives in a hut on chicken’s legs.

Big-name orchestras sometimes have the reputation of being hostile to guest conductors, but Butterman says there was nothing like that in Philadelphia. “Quite the opposite,” he says. “They were very collegial and I really felt great afterwards. I felt appreciated. Being able to work very efficiently and quickly, I think they valued that.

“Obviously there are still things you can work on even with a great orchestra, but whatever it is you’re asking for they just do it immediately and it’s a real pleasure. What was really nice was they had a great attitude, and you wouldn’t necessarily be expecting that, coming in on a Saturday morning and putting something together really quickly, but they really did.”

Butterman was especially pleased and honored that the Pope—that is, the orchestra’s concertmaster—volunteered to play the concert, even though he could have taken the afternoon off. “That just set a really beautiful tone for the whole event,” Butterman says.

As for the Jack Skellington costume: Boulder should ask the maestro to wear it here. It’s something our audience deserves to see.