Boulder Chamber Orchestra will present the “Eroica” Symphony Saturday
By Peter Alexander Oct. 21 at 4:40 p.m.
Bahman Saless says that performing Beethoven is like reciting Shakespeare.
“There are so many ways to say something that it never ends,” he says. “You can say it 50 different ways, and the way you phrase everything will make it a little bit different.” In other words, Beethoven is so protean that every performance reveals something new.
Saless is talking about the next concert he will conduct as music director of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 23), he and the orchestra will perform an all-Beethoven concert at the Boulder Seventh Day Adventist Church. Pianist Jennifer Hayghe from the CU Boulder College of Music will be the soloist for Beethoven‘s Fourth Piano Concerto, and the orchestra will perform the Third Symphony, known as the “Eroica.”
The in-person audience will be required to show either proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID test in the past 72 hours before the concert. All audience members 2 and older will be required to wear a mask; children 2 to 12 will be admitted with proof of a negative COVID test. (See details here.) Tickets are available on the BCO Web page.
Saless said that Beethoven, and particularly the “Eroica” Symphony, were chosen to honor the heroes of the past year who worked on the front lines of the battle against COVID. The comparison to Shakespeare certainly illustrates the composer’s iconic stature: his music is often chosen for special occasions, such as the return to the stage after a pandemic.
Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto is not as well known as his Fifth—the “Emperor” Concerto—but it is equally esteemed by pianists and other musicians. “It is definitely the most intimate of Beethoven’s concertos, especially the first movement,” Saless says.
That intimacy is signaled at the very beginning as the concerto begins, not with the traditional orchestral introduction, but with a gentle chordal gesture by the piano that is answered by the orchestra, creating a pattern of intimate dialog for the rest of the concerto.
“Beethoven sets up a conversation, and literally the entire movement is the dialog between the orchestra and piano,” Saless says. “It’s very personal. It’s his softest first movement, I would say gentlest, and absolutely just gorgeous.
“The slow movement is the most intriguing movement of the three. It starts with the orchestra dominating the scene, and the piano has the meeker answer. Then gradually the piano takes over. It’s really an amazing piece of music.”
The “Eroica” is one of the best known works in the orchestral repertoire. But Saless wants you to know that this performance will have its own individual character. “You’re going to hear a chamber orchestra version, rather than a full symphonic version,” he says.
He points out two things to listen for in the chamber orchestra performance. The first is that the winds will be more prominent than with a larger string section. “They will be a lot more prominent, and they have a much bigger role,” he says. Where they “have the really important parts, we’re going to make sure that you can hear all the detail.”
The other is that as a smaller and more agile orchestra, the BCO can come closer to the fast tempos that Beethoven marked in his score. Those tempos are regarded as so extreme that they are rarely observed, but “we’re going to try to take the first movement close to Beethoven’s tempo marking,” Saless says.
“It’s going to be really fun. And it’s scary! It’s very scary to do this symphony. The ‘Eroica’ is a Titanic, but [the players and I] have a bond when it comes to Beethoven. I know the orchestra is looking forward to it, and they are aware of what it means to me.”
Saless is happy to be returning to live performances after the past two years. In fact, the experience of the pandemic has led him, like many musicians, to be reflective about returning to the music he loves.
“After COVID, you know that we could be dead tomorrow,” he says. “When you’re doing the Beethoven Third, you have to realize this could be the last time you’re dong it. You need to be really thankful that you can be up there and present this work of art to the public. There’s nothing like it. It’s the ultimate experience.
“I’m the luckiest person alive.”
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Boulder Chamber Orchestra
Bahman Saless, music director
Fall 2021 concerts
“Celebrating the Heroes:” All-Beethoven Concert
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op. 55 (“Eroica”)
- —Concerto for Piano No. 4 in G major, op. 58
Jennifer Hayghe, piano
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021
Boulder Seventh-Day Adventist Church
“A Gift of Music:” Celebrating the Season with BCO Stars.
- Maxime Goulet: Symphonic Chocolates
- Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme
Joey Howe, cello
- Mozart: Concerto in A for clarinet and orchestra
Kellan Toohey, clarinet
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec.11
Boulder Seventh-Day Adventist Church