Pianist Sara Davis Buechner will play both Chopin concertos over two concerts
By Peter Alexander Oct. 22 at 9:50 p.m.
The Boulder Chamber Orchestra is offering an unusual and intriguing choice of programming as they open their 16th season Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 26-27).
The concert programs are parallel but different each evening: Conductor Bahman Saless and pianist Sara Davis Buechner will present Chopin’s First Piano Concerto and Beethoven’s First Symphony on Saturday, and successive works by both composers—Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto and Beethoven’s Second Symphony—on Sunday.
“We like to torture ourselves by doubling the repertoire with the same number of rehearsals,” Saless says, tongue firmly in cheek.
In addition to the separate programs, both concerts will include the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream—added to the program at the request of the BCO’s principal flutist, Cobus du Toit. Noting that this movement is included in most orchestra auditions, for just about every instrument, Saless told du Toit “I suppose the orchestra already knows it, so let’s just throw it in. I’ll just do it.”
The idea of paired programs came about when Saless engaged Buechner. She was already scheduled to appear with the Ft. Collins Symphony Nov. 2, and Saless asked her what she would like to play in Boulder. She suggested the two Chopin concertos, and rather than do both on one program, Saless had the idea of splitting them over two concerts.
His choice to go with Chopin’s concertos 1 and 2 was Beethoven’s symphonies with the same numbers, also spilt over the two concerts. “We’ve done our cycle of all nine Beethoven symphonies in 15 years,” Saless explains. “It’s time to restart the cycle, and I wanted to do these two symphonies again for a few years, so I figured, let’s just go with that!”
Both pairs of works—the two Chopin concertos and the two Beethoven symphonies—were written when the composers were just getting started. At the same time, there are considerable differences, too.
The concertos were written when Chopin was still a student in Warsaw, before his fateful move to Paris in 1832. They were the only concertos he wrote; in Paris he was known for individual pieces for solo piano, including his waltzes, nocturnes, polonaises, etudes, and other short works. The conertos were not published in the order they were written—in other words, the Second Concerto was actually the first written and vice-versa.
In both concertos, Chopin’s focus was clearly on the piano part, and the orchestral writing is considered only partly successful. They were written at almost the same time, around 1830, and there is little stylistic difference between them.
Nevertheless, Saless favors the second concerto—the first one written. “Number 2 is in many ways a better piece than Number 1,” he says. “The first one (Number 1) is more of a showpiece. The second one is a lot more internal, it’s more personal, it’s more intimate.”
Beethoven wrote his First and Second symphonies after his 1792 move to Vienna. They were written under the influence of Haydn, and are considered a continuation of the Classical symphonic style. The big change in Beethoven’s style came with the Third Symphony, written a few years later.
But unlike the concertos, the two symphonies do reveal the composer’s growing sophistication and expanding understanding of the genre. “Number 1 is so much getting your feet wet, as a symphony,” Saless says. “It’s got so much humor and spontaneity in it. Then with the second, there is just a turbo-charged travel from Number 1.”
The BCO has titled the programs “Classical Mavericks,” a reference to the independent stance taken by both Beethoven and Chopin as they launched their careers, respectively in their early concertos and symphonies. “Beethoven and Chopin both were very passionate about their values,” Saless says.
He extends the same description to the soloist for the concerts. Sara Davis Buechner already had a successful solo piano career as David Buechner, winning major prizes at several piano competitions. In 1998, at the age of 39, she came out as a transgender woman, and made her “second debut” (her words) as Sara Buechner playing the two Chopin concertos with New York’s Jupiter Symphony.
When she made the change, opportunities to perform dried up. She has reported that conductors would not return her calls, and in one case she was sent a check not to perform. “She had to deal with dents in her career for a few years,” is how Saless described that period of her life. Today she teaches at Temple University, and is once again earning appearances as soloist
“I think that Boulder should know about her, because it’s important to us that people should be judged by their talent and not anything else,” Saless says. “I’m excited to work with her.”
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Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Sara Davis Buechner, piano
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26:
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major
Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 in C major
7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27:
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor
Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D major
Both performances at Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder
CORRECTIONS: Minor typos corrected Oct. 23.