Concert for the Kennedy Center, duo concertos mark a year with few blockbusters
By Peter Alexander
Forging its own path, the Boulder Philharmonic has announced a season for 2016–17 that is unlike most orchestra seasons around the country.
For one thing, the season marks the Boulder Phil’s tenth year with music director Michael Butterman. Most orchestras would celebrate that with splashy programming, but the Phil is not taking that route. The one semi-splashy event—a concert March 25 that will be taken to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. on March 28—offers an eclectic program that, characteristically for the Phil, reflects Boulder’s close relationship to nature.
Otherwise, the season avoids the blockbuster mentality. There will be world premieres, there will be concertos for pairs of soloists, there will be great local musicians from CU Boulder, there will be lighter symphonies from heavyweight composers, and there will be music from less familiar composers. What there will not be will be are the big-name soloists and spectacular works that most orchestras use to fill the hall.
There is no doubt Butterman’s style of programming has drawn audiences over the past ten years. According to figures provided by the Boulder Phil, they have had 10 successive seasons of increasing sales of subscriptions. The current year is up 25% over the previous season, already setting an attendance record for the orchestra even before the last two concerts of the 2015–16 season.
“Whatever we present, we want to make sure it makes some kind of statement that we’re not just another orchestra but something a little bit different and special,” Butterman says. “For the most part we want to be presenting things that are a little more unique, and not exactly replicating (programming) in other places.”
In that they have certainly succeeded. The season is filled with intriguing offerings, music that adventurous listeners will be excited about, and programs that do indeed reflect Boulder’s personality as a community.
The March 25 concert that will travel to the Kennedy Center follows that pattern. “The capstone to this anniversary season is taking this program that is about who we are and the relationship we have with the community and presenting it on a national stage,” Butterman says.
“This is saying to the (classical music) industry ‘Look, here’s how one orchestra has found a way to be successful, to reflect its community, to do all the things that we need to do to continue to matter in the 21st century.”
The concert will open with the world premiere of a new work by adventurer-composer Stephen Lias, whose Gates of the Arctic opened the 2014–15 season. Commissioned in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and inspired by Rocky Mountain National Park, the new score will be accompanied by “choreographed visuals”—projected photos—of the park. Lias will be working on the score while in residence in the park later this year.
Writing from Tongyeong, South Korea, where he is attending the 2016 International Society for Contemporary Music World Music Days, Lias comments, “My plan is to create a dramatic line for the piece based on my many experiences in the park (including an upcoming one this June), and the extensive photographic collection the park has given me access to.
“I hope to write a piece that will capture the dramatic scope of the place, but also the intimate ‘moments’ that we each take home with us. Through the music and the synchronized images, audiences will have a vicarious wilderness experience that will deepen their relationship with this remarkable national park.”
Other works on the same program will be pieces that reflect the Boulder personality and the city’s relationship with nature. They are also pieces that form part of the orchestra’s history, having been performed in previous seasons: Jeff Midkiff’s Mandolin concerto From the Blue Ridge, with the composer as soloist, previously performed in April 2014; Ghosts of the Grasslands by Steve Heitzeg, performed in March 2014; and Copland’s Appalachian Spring with Boulder’s Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance company, a repeat of a performance from 2013.
As with many orchestras, Boulder Phil announces that “each concert will feature a major symphonic work,” but with the exception of Respighi’s Pines of Rome on the season’s final concert (April 22), they are not orchestral showpieces: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 2 (“Little Russian,” Oct. 8); Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 (Nov. 6); and Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 (Jan. 14). All are first performances by Butterman with the Phil, and all are welcome, but they are not works that most orchestras build seasons around.
There are other familiar works that have broad appeal, including Appalachian Spring (March 25). Rachmaninoff’s lyrical and virtuosic Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini played by pianist Elizabeth Joy Roe will be a draw for the opening concert (Oct. 8). Takács Quartet and CU faculty members Edward Dusinberre and Geraldine Walther will join the orchestra for Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola (Nov. 6).
Those familiar works will share the season with more adventurous programming, including the Concerto for Two Pianos by Francis Poulenc, performed by the young piano duo Anderson & Roe (Oct. 8); the Concerto for Violin and Horn by Ethel Smyth, performed by Jennifer Frautschi and Eric Ruske (Jan. 14); Luciano Berio’s classically-inflected Four Original Versions of Boccherini’s Return of the Nightwatch from Madrid and the world premiere of the Double Concerto for violin and guitar by Stephen Goss, performed by orchestra concertmaster Charles Wetherbee and CU professor Nicolò Spera (both April 22).
Butterman believes that the Boulder audience will continue to embrace the orchestra’s offbeat programming. “People have come to place a certain amount of faith in the choices we make,” he says. “They seem to be willing to trust that we’ll make choices (that) will be interesting and enjoyable and provocative.”
As usual, there will be performances outside the main series of classical concerts. The annual performances of Nutcracker with Boulder Ballet will be Nov. 25–27. There will be a concert Feb. 4 with ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, performing his own original music as well as unusual arrangements for ukulele and orchestra of classical, popular and contemporary music, from Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
December 10 the orchestra will welcome Broadway singing star Alli Mauzey, who rose to fame as Glinda in Wicked, singing songs from that show and other Broadway shows. The program, titled “A Wicked Good Christmas,” will also feature music for the holidays.
“It’s a concert that I think will tread the line between being a holiday concert and a Broadway pops concert,” Butterman says. “It’s one that we hope will offer things for the community that are a little beyond what a typical classical audience might expect, and by virtue of that reach more of a family audience.”
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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Butterman, Music Director
Saturday, Oct. 8: Opening Night
Poulenc: Concerto for Two Pianos, Anderson & Roe, piano duo
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, Elizabeth Joy Roe, piano
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 (“Little Russian”)
Sunday, Nov. 6, 7 p.m.: Mozart & Beethoven
Thomas Adès: Three Studies from Couperin
Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola, with Edward Dusinberre, violin, and Geraldine Walther, viola
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8
Nov. 25–27: The Nutcracker with Boulder Ballet
Performance times tba
Saturday, Dec. 10: A Wicked Good Christmas, with Alli Mauzey
Songs from Wicked and other Broadway shows, plus Christmas classics
Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017: Brahms & His World
Brahms: Tragic Overture
Ethel Smyth: Concerto for Violin and Horn, with Jennifer Frautschi, violin, and Eric Ruske, horn
Schumann: Symphony No. 4
Saturday, Feb. 4: Jake Shimabukuro, ukulele, with the Boulder Phil
Gary Lewis, conductor
Saturday, March 25: Nature & Music—Kennedy Center Kick-Off Concert
Program to be repeated at the inaugural SHIFT Festival in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Stephen Lias: World premiere commemorating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, with choreographed visuals
Jeff Midkiff: Mandolin Concerto, From the Blue Ridge, with Jeff Midkiff, mandolin
Steve Heitzeg: Ghosts of the Grasslands
Copland: Appalachian Spring, with Frequent Flyers® Aerial Dance
Saturday, April 22: Season Finale: The Pines of Rome
Stravinsky: Monumentum pro Gesualdo
Luciano Berio: Four Original Versions of Boccherini’s Return of the Nightwatch from Madrid
Stephen Goss: Double Concerto for Violin and Guitar (world premiere), with Charles Wetherbee, violin, and Nicolò Spera, guitar
Verdi: Overture to Nabucco
Puccini: The Chrysanthemums
Respighi: The Pines of Rome
All Concerts in Macky Auditorium
All concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. unless otherwise indicated.
Tickets and More Information: Five- and six-concert subscription packages are now available. New subscribers save 50% off single ticket prices. Call 303-449-1343 or click here