Butterman flavors an intriguing program with fiery expression
By Peter Alexander Nov. 4 at 12:15 a.m.
Last night (Nov. 3), conductor Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic brought their audience a remarkable piece of music that is likely unlike anything they had heard before.
The piece in question is Emporium: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra by the Cuban composer/pianist Aldo López-Gavilán. Butterman first heard Emporium on the radio and was captivated. His description of the piece as having bits and pieces of Philip Glass, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Prokofiev, and the Downton Abbey theme music, among other things, is both intriguing and apt.
As the title suggests, Emporium contains many things, all presented with a Cuban accent. With so much going on, it expands most listeners’ understanding of what a piano concerto might sound like. Last night it was performed by Phil with the composer as the engaging soloist.
The opening movement is dramatic and powerfully scored for both orchestra and piano. At one point I was thinking, ‘are we supposed to hear the piano?’ As the music built to a crashing climax, López-Gavilán, for all his obvious strength as a pianist, disappeared into the overall sound, only to emerge again as the music subsided toward a gentle close.
The impressionistic second movement blends, according to the composer’s notes, a Cuban revolutionary song with American country music as a symbol of peace between peoples. It is a beautiful, impressionistic movement and was beautifully played with lyrical exchanges between pianist and orchestra. The driven, exciting finale got an incisive performance from orchestra and soloist, and elicited raucous approval.
López-Gavilán is an exciting and energetic performer of stunning technical ability, and he is a composer of imagination. He returned to hold the audience spellbound with an astonishing, dense, intricately rhythmic encore that again was unlike anything you are I have likely heard. More cheers, whistles and shouts followed.
The concert opened with Ryan Alaniz, a 9-year-old 4th-grader, delighting the audience as guest conductor while the orchestra played “America the Beautiful.” The audience was invited to sing along, but no one in my section took up the invitation.
Next was Astor Piazzolla’s Tangazo, a piece that Butterman likes to perform. It is one of the few pieces he has repeated with the Phil, but this time there was a twist: dancers Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne of the Boulder Tango Studio performed their own choreography in the narrow space between the orchestra and the edge of the stage.
Their performance was a free dance that responded to the changing moods and tempos of Piazzolla’s music. Like the score, the dance had tango elements throughout. I am not a dance critic, and I am not going to prove it by writing more, except that it was fun to see how artists from another medium responded to Piazzolla’s music. I and the rest of the audience enjoyed their dramatic flair.
After intermission, the orchestra performed Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes. With each variation devoted to specific solo instruments, it gives the orchestra’s section leaders an opportunity to display their virtuoso skills.
From the opening soulful theme presented by harp and solo cello, through the sequence of variations for woodwinds, strings and brass soloists, the players responded to the challenge. Every solo dazzled. The final variation for full orchestra, set in the style of the high-voltage gaucho dance the malambo, was particularly dynamic.
The concert concluded with Ravel’s ubiquitous Bolèro. Everyone has heard this, in concert, in films and TV, in ice-skating competitions, and almost anywhere else music is used. The Phil’s performance provided what it is called for: a long, slow, carefully controlled crescendo, from the whisper of snare drum at the beginning until the sudden key change that is now so familiar it no longer surprises. Butterman and the players paced the performance nicely, never letting tempo or volume get out of control.
After the appropriately noisy conclusion, Butterman brought forward the snare drummer—who was stationed center stage throughout—for his own bow. After alternating two variations of the same one-measure rhythmic pattern for 15 minutes (or 16 or 17 depending on tempo), he deserved to be applauded.
The Boulder Philharmonic sounded as good last night as I have heard. The strings sound was smooth and warm and at times glossy. The winds played with precision and all the necessary flair in their solos. Butterman brought out the colors and the fiery expression of this intriguing program, which made for a fascinating and enjoyable evening.
CORRECTED Nov. 4 to add the name of the guest conductor, Ryan Alaniz.