Boulder Phil announces 60th anniversary season

Commissioned works, returning guests and works suggested by players are on the schedule

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Philharmonic will present the Colorado premieres of two new works co-commissioned by the orchestra as part of its 2017–18 season.

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Boulder Philharmonic in Macky Auditorium

Other highlights of the coming season will be the return of popular attraction Cirque de la Symphonie for two performances of “Cirque Goes to the Movies” Feb. 3, 2018, and the orchestra’s second season-ending collaboration with Central City Opera, this time for a concert performance of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story April 28, 2018.

The season program, which was announced to patrons and the public yesterday afternoon (March 5), celebrates the orchestra’s 60th anniversary. The celebration includes the return of guest artists who have appeared with the orchestra before, including pianists Jon Nakamatsu for Schumann’s Piano Concerto Sept. 24; David Korevaar for Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, Oct. 14; and Simone Dinnerstein for concertos by J.S. Bach and Philip Glass Jan. 13, 2018.

Other collaborations will be with violinist and Boulder Phil concertmaster Charles Wetherbee for The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams, violinist Stefan Jackiw for Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, and choirs from CU Boulder, Western Illinois University, and Metropolitan State University in Denver.

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Michael Butterman. Photo by Rene Palmer

“What you see [in the 2017–18 season] is a continuation of some of the characteristics of our programing that have worked well for us,” Boulder Philharmonic Music Director Michael Butterman says. “It’s not so much looking back at 60 years as it is looking back at the last eight or nine. There’s the idea of collaborations and of championing successful new music.”

Missing is any season-long programming theme, such as this year’s duo soloists, or recent seasons built around music and nature—although nature is not completely absent next year.

“The music and nature connection is there, in one concert in early April,” Butterman says. The April 8, 2018, concert, titled “A Song for Swans,” includes Sibelius’s Symphony No 5, whose last movement was inspired when the composer saw a flight of 16 swans pass overhead. “One of the great experiences of my life,” Sibelius wrote in his diary. “God, how beautiful!”

Sibelius was one of several composers that members of the orchestra suggested for the season. “We worked with the players early on to get their input, asking what are some pieces that you would like to play,” Butterman says. Among the composers they suggested were Sibelius, who appears on the April 7 concert; Dvořák, whose Seventh Symphony will be performed on the season opener Sept. 24; and Shostakovich, whose Symphony No. 5 will be performed Oct. 14.

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Christopher Theofanidis

The season’s first Colorado premiere will be Dreamtime Ancestors by Christopher Theofanidis, which will open the very first concert. The score was commissioned by a consortium of 50 orchestras, one in each state, that was put together by New Music for America. The world premiere was given by the Plymouth, Mass., Philharmonic Orchestra in October 2015, with other performances around the country following within a roughly two-year period.

“Theofanidis is certainly one of the leading living composers,” Butterman says. “We had  a relationship with him, when we performed his Rainbow Body a few years ago, and trusted the kind of product he was going to provide. So we agreed to take part in that project.”

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Simone Dinnerstein

In a concert titled “Bach Transfigured,” scheduled for Jan. 13, 2018, the orchestra will present the Colorado premiere of Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3, performed by Dinnerstein. Glass admires her playing, and approached her to say he would like to write a concerto for her.

“She approached some orchestras that she had a relationship with, and conductors, and most of us bought into it,” Butterman says. The Boulder Phil raised their share of the commission from local donors and joined a smaller consortium of orchestras, including A Far Cry, a self-conducted orchestra in Boston, who will give the world premiere of the concerto.

Because Dinnerstein is widely known and admired for her performances of Bach, Glass has asked that the concerto be paired in concert with Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in G minor, as it will be in Boulder.

The season will close out with the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth. In collaboration with Central City Opera (CCO) and choirs from Metropolitan State University in Denver, the orchestra will present Bernstein’s 1957 Broadway hit West Side Story. Butterman and the Phil worked with CCO at the end of the 2015–16 season to present a semi-staged performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and they were eager to repeat the collaboration.

“We had such a positive experience doing that,” Butterman said. “Hopefully it’s something we can do in other years.” For West Side Story, he said that Central City will provide the cast and some kind of direction, so that it will be “essentially in concert, but with a certain amount of theatrical elements.”

With the announcement of the anniversary season, the Boulder Philharmonic becomes the second local orchestra to build a season around an anniversary. Earlier this year the Colorado Music Festival announced its 2017 40th-anniversary season, also featuring the return of popular soloists.

The full Boulder Philharmonic program for the 2017–18 season is listed below.

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
2017-2018 Season
All concerts in Macky Auditorium
(Additional outreach events and repeat performances of selected programs
in metro Denver locations will be announced.)

7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017—Opening Night: Boulder Phil at 60
Christopher Theofanidis: Dreamtime Ancestors
(Colorado premiere and Boulder Phil co-commission)
Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, Jon Nakamatsu, piano
Dvořák: Symphony No. 7

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David Korevaar

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017—Music of Resistance
Beethoven: Choral Fantasy, David Korevaar, piano
CU Boulder and Western Illinois University Choirs
Britten: Ballad of Heroes
CU Boulder and Western Illinois University Choirs
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5

November 24 through November 26, 2017
The Nutcracker with Boulder Ballet

 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018—Bach Transfigured
C.P.E. Bach: Symphony in C Major, Wq 182
J.S. Bach: Keyboard Concerto in G minor, BWV 1068, Simone Dinnerstein, piano
Phillip Glass: Piano Concerto No. 3, Simone Dinnerstein, piano
(Colorado premiere and Boulder Phil co-commission)
Arnold Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night)

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Janice Martin

2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018—Cirque Goes to the Movies
Cirque de la Symphonie, with Janice Martin, aerial violinist
Featuring film scores including Harry Potter, Mission Impossible, Pirates of the Caribbean and On the Town.

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 7, 2018—A Song for Swans
Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending with dancers and Charles Wetherbee, violin
Sibelius: Symphony No. 5
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2, Stefan Jackiw, violin

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28, 2018—West Side Story: Bernstein at 100
Bernstein: West Side Story in Concert with Central City Opera and Metropolitan State University of Denver Choirs

Tickets: Subscription packages are now available.
Single tickets go on sale June 1, 2017.

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CORRECTION 3.6.17: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the world premiere of Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3 would be given the Mitteldeutsche Radiofunk Orchester of Leipzig. The world premiere will be given by A Far Cry in Boston.

Colorado Music Festival announces its 2017 40th-anniversary season

Beethoven’s Ninth, tributes to the festival’s history will be highlights

Guest artists include CMF founder Giora Bernstein, pianist Olga Kern, Time for Three

By Peter Alexander

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CMF Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni

The Colorado Music Festival will celebrate its 40th anniversary this summer, and music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni has been looking at the festival’s history.

His programs for the coming summer recall the Roman god Janus, looking backward and forward at the same time. “If you look at every series, you will see that they have a commemoration of the past, but at the same time they are moving in a new direction,” Zeitouni says. “I think almost every single work on the program has to do with the history of CMF.”

The full 2017 schedule, opening June 29 and closing Aug. 4, was announced to festival patrons last night (Jan. 22). The season includes Thursday Festival Orchestra concerts, Saturday chamber music concerts, and Sunday Chamber Orchestra concerts, as in past years. In one change from recent seasons, all concerts this summer will be in the Chautauqua Auditorium. With a few exceptions that are noted below, all will begin at 7:30 p.m.

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Olga Kern, photographed by Chris Lee at Steinway Hall, 12/9/13.

As part of Zeitouni’s homage to festival history, long-time  CMF patrons will recognize several guest artists who have been here before:

  • Pianist Olga Kern, who played all the Rachmaninoff piano concertos in two nights during the 2013 Festival, will return to perform with Zeitouni and the Festival Orchestra on opening night, June 29. She will also present a solo recital July 1.
  • The festival’s founder, Giora Bernstein, will return to conduct Mozart and Bach July 2.
  • The popular Time for Three string trio will return to collaborate with Steve Hackman, who led the festival’s “Music Mashup” series for two summers, performing on that series’ successor, now called “Happy Hour @Chautauqua,” July 18.

The summer’s Festival Orchestra lineup is dominated by two massive ninth symphonies:

  • A sure audience favorite, Beethoven’s Ninth will be presented July 13. It will come right in the middle of the CMF calendar, as “a way to mark a certain Apex” of the festival, Zeitouni says. Soloists for the performance will be soprano Mary Wilson, mezzo-soprano Michelle De Young, tenor Jason Baldwin and bass-baritone Keith Miller.

On the same program, De Young will perform Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, and the orchestra will present the North American premiere of A Little Summer Suite by Betsy Jolas.

  • Mahler’s Ninth, the composer’s last completed symphonic work, will form the entire Festival Orchestra program Aug. 3. This concert completes a cycle of Mahler symphonies that was begun by former CMF music director Michael Christie. “The idea is that for the last week of the festival we would do something for the orchestra, and believe me this is a piece that they’ve all been dying to play,” Zeitouni says.

In addition to returning artists listed above, there are a number of notable visiting artists. These include:

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    Elina Vähälä

    Finnish violinist Elina Vähälä playing John Corigliano’s “Red Violin” Concerto July 6;

  • Pianists Christopher O’Riley, the host of NPR’s “From the Top,” and Pablo Ziegler playing tangos on the “Happy Hour@Chautauqua” series July 11;
  • Pianist Stewart Goodyear playing Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 for piano, trumpet and strings, July 16; and
  • Italian Van Cliburn Competition medalist Benedetto Lupo, playing two Ravel piano concertos July 20. Lupo will be the CMF artist-in-residence for 2017. In addition to the Ravel concertos, he will play a solo/chamber concert with CMF musicians July 22, and a concert with the CMF Chamber Orchestra July 23.
  • Clarinetist Boris Allakhverdyan, a former member of the CMF orchestra and now principal clarinet of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will perform chamber music with current members of the orchestra July 29, and the Copland Clarinet Concerto on a chamber orchestra concert July 30. The latter, titled “Classically Jazz,” will also feature music by Kurt Weill, Scott Joplin, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin and Darius Milhaud.
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    Gil Shaham

    To round out the summer, superstar violinist Gil Shaham will perform with Zeitouni and the Festival Orchestra for the Festival Finale concert, Aug. 4. One of the most recognized classical artists today, Shaham performs in recital and with orchestras worldwide. In addition to a violin concerto yet to be determined, the program for the Festival Finale will include Beethoven’s joyful and boisterous Seventh Symphony.

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Kern’s performances fit nicely into Zeitouni’s plan of commemorating the old alongside the new. On the Opening Night program June 29, Kern will reprise her 2013 performances of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, but that will be paired with a completely new work for the festival, Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto.

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Olga Kern

The two concertos are part of an all-Russian program, opening with Shostakovich’s brash and colorful Festive Overture and ending with Rachmaninoff’s lushly Romantic Symphony No. 2 in E minor. Both works are part of the festival’s history, but neither has been heard at CMF since the 1990s.

Another example of joining commemoration with new directions will be the CMF’s “mini-festival.” The idea of a series of concerts arranged around a single theme and performed in the same week was started by Christie. Zeitouni brought the model back last year with a Brahms mini-festival. This year, the mini-festival will reflect Zeitouni’s background and specialty: French music.

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Jean-Marie Zeitouni

“I grew up with the Montreal Symphony playing Ravel and Debussy, so I have a special love for it,” Zeitouni says. “It is repertoire with which I have intimate affinities, but it is also repertoire in which the orchestra is allowed to shine.”

The mini-festival of French music comprises three concerts, July 20–23:

  • A Festival Orchestra concert July 20, featuring Debussy’s impressionist scores Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Iberia; Lupo playing Ravel’s Concerto in G and Concerto for the Left hand; and the orchestral showpiece La Valse.
  • A chamber music concert July 22 will feature Lupo playing a half-recital of Debussy’s music for solo piano, followed by Fauré’s Quartet No. 1 for piano and strings with CMF musicians.
  • The July 23 chamber orchestra concert will present some little known works by Fauré, Dukas, Saint-Saëns and Cecile Chaminade, with orchestra members as featured soloists. The concert will end with music from Offenabch’s saucy comic opera Orpheus in the Underworld.

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One new feature of the festival will be “Symphony Sampler” concerts, a series of abridged repeats of Thursday night Festival Orchestra programs presented Fridays at 6:30 p.m. July 14, 21 and 28. These informal concerts will offer only one or two major works from the previous night’s full program, with Zeitouni presenting an introduction to the music for people who might be new to classical performances. The early start time and shortened program leave time for a post-concert dinner, either at the Chautauqua Dining Hall or elsewhere in Boulder.

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Christopher O’Riley

Another modification of past summers appears with the “Happy Hour@Chautauqua” events, Tuesdays July 11, 18 and 25. An outgrowth of previous Music Mashup events, these concerts are designed to bring classical and popular music together. Presented without intermission, each concert will be preceded by a “happy hour” offering complementary food and drinks.

After performances by pianists Christopher O’Riley and Pablo Ziegler July 11, and Time for Three July 18, the series culminates with Hackman conducting an all-new mashup with the orchestra July 25. Unlike Hackman’s previous scores for CMF, this will not feature just one classical work or pop group, but under the title “Classicalapalooza” it will being together music by various artists from both genres.

The 2017 Click Commission winner by composer Julian Wachner will be performed on the Festival Orchestra concert July 27, along with Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy (1908) and The Planets by Gustav Holst (1914–15). There will be little other new music during the summer, however: Corigliano’s Red Violin Concerto from 1997 will be performed on an American program July 6 and Jolas’s Little Summer Suite will precede Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony July 13, but no other works later than the middle of the 20th century are on the schedule.

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This is only a summary of the full 2017 CMF calendar. A complete listing of the summer’s concerts and ticket information can be found on the CMF’s newly redesigned Web page. Tickets will go on sale to the general public March 20, including season subscriptions, ticket packages and single tickets.

Surveying a year of losses

A list of some of who will be long remembered for their contributions to music

By Peter Alexander

Compiling the annual list of musicians we lost in this past year reminded me of a headline from a book of “Flubs from the Nation’s Press”: “Lucky Man Sees Pals Die.”

All of life is kind of like that: if you survive, you have the dubious privilege of watching others die. But 2016 raised that to a higher level, as we lost many great musicians, actors, and other public figures, including literal as well as the figurative nobility of the music world. Most of us didn’t know them personally, and yet we felt personally touched by their work.

Here is my annual list of classical musicians who have passed, and some great popular figures as well. As always, it is a list that reflects my personal interests; you are more than welcome to remember in the comments any others whose loss you will feel.

Dec. 31, 2015: Natalie Cole, the daughter of Nat King Cole and a great singer in her own right, who died at the very end of 2015, after last year’s survey was published, 65

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David Bowie, in one of his many incarnations

Jan. 5, 2016: Pierre Boulez, one-time enfant terrible of the musical avant-garde who called for the destruction of all art from the past, but later became one of the most distinguished conductors of the time, 90

Jan. 10: David Bowie (aka “Ziggy Stardust”), the chameleon man of popular music, a songwriter, singer and actor who released his last album two days before his death, 69

February 4: Leslie Bassett, American composer and distinguished professor at the University of Michigan, 93

February 14: Steven Stucky, Pulitzer-Prize winning composer and composition teacher at the Aspen Music Festival, Cornell University, and the Juilliard School, 66

March 5: Nikolaus Harnoncourt (born Johann Nikolaus Graf de la Fontaine und d’Harnoncourt-Unverzagt), founder of the period-instrument ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien and highly respected conductor, 5 March, 86

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Sir George Martin

March 8: Sir George Martin, the record producer who recognized the potential of the Beatles when others had turned them down, sometimes called “The Fifth Beatle,” 90

March 14: Peter Maxwell Davies, English modernist composer, openly gay and an avowed environmentalist who lived for many years in the remote Orkney Islands, 81

March 20: Keith Emerson, English keyboardist known for his rock arrangements of classical music, one third of the progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 71

April 6: Merle Haggard, one of the mainstays of an entire generation of country singers, known for “Okie from Muskogee” (among other songs), who once sang “If God doesn’t live in Colorado/I’ll bet that’s where He spends most of His time,” 79

April 21: Prince Rogers Nelson, flamboyant American singer/songwriter who was one of the most eclectic and prolific musicians of his lifetime, 57

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Jane Little

May 15: Jane Little, diminutive (4’ 11’’) bass player with the Atlanta Symphony for an amazing 71 years, who collapsed onstage during a performance, 87

June 4: Phyllis Curtin, American soprano long associated with the New York City Opera, who also sang at the Chicago Lyric, the Metropolitan, and major houses world wide, 94

July 12: Gregg Smith, choral conductor who championed the work of American composers and director of the Gregg Smith Singers, 84

July 27: Einojuhani Rautavaara, Finnish composer of works in most classical genres, including operas, symphonies, choral works, and chamber music, 87

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Patrice Munsel on the cover of Life, 1944

August 4: Patrice Munsel, coloratura soprano who was the youngest singer ever to appear in a leading role at the Metropolitan, at the age of 17, 91

August 22: Toots Thielemans (born Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor, Baron Thielemans), Belgian-American jazz musician, known for playing harmonica and guitar, and whistling, 94

October 2: Sir Neville Marriner, famed conductor and founder of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra, 92

October 8: Peter Allen, for 19 years the voice of the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts, 96

November 6: Zoltán Kocsis, Hungarian virtuoso pianist and conductor, 64

November 7: Leonard Cohen, Canadian poet and novelist, later a singer and songwriter as well as painter, composer of the iconic and often covered song “Hallelujah,” 82

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Pauline Oliveros

November 24: Pauline Oliveros, American composer and accordionist, an influential figure on the West-coast experimental and electronic music scene, 84

November 26: Russell Oberlin, American countertenor and founding member of the pioneering early-music group New York Pro Musica Antiqua, 88

December 15: Karel Husa, Czech composer who lived and taught in the U.S. for many years, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Grawemeyer Award, among other honors, 95

December 21: Weston Noble, renowned music educator, conductor of the Luther College Nordic Choir for 57 years and the Luther College Band for 25 years, 94

December 23: Heinrich Schiff, a highly distinguished Austrian cellist and conductor, 65

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The Alexandrov Ensemble

December 24: Valery Khalilov and 63 other members of the Alexandrov Ensemble Russian Army Chorus, killed in a crash of a Tu-154 jet off the coast of the Black Sea

December 25: George Michael (born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou), English popular singer, songwriter and record producer, 53

NOTE: Edited to correct typos, 1 Jan. 2017.

Composers go into the wild and come home transformed

By Peter Alexander

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Composers in the Wilderness, Denali National Park and Preserve

There is a wildness in the natural world that most of us never meet. But when we do, we are likely to be transformed.

“I definitely feel changed as a person,” Alondra Vega says after brushing against the Alaskan wilderness. “The experience almost seems like it was too extraordinary to have happened,” Cassie To writes.

13690752_594538287385367_7602763590110916242_nFor Sam Young, an ex-Boulderite living in Los Angeles, touching the wild was an epiphany: “Whenever I come to a place like this, I re-evaluate my entire life and think, ‘Is it all wrong, what I’m doing?’”

Vega, To and Young were three of nine participants in “Composing in the Wilderness,” a workshop led by composer Stephen Lias in Alaska this past summer. The goal of the workshop, Lias says, is to give composers the transformative experience that comes from stepping into the natural world.

“Going into the backcountry of Alaska, I know the experience will change people,” he says. “I wouldn’t presume to guess in what way, but the art that they create will be a manifestation of whatever the change was.

“My favorite thing is putting these composers in that environment and just watching Alaska do its thing on them.”

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Composer Stephen Lias

Lias is known to Boulder audiences for his orchestral piece Gates of the Arctic, premiered by the Boulder Philharmonic in 2014 — a product of Alaska doing its thing on him. He will be back this year, when his All the Songs that Nature Sings will be premiered by the orchestra and conductor Michael Butterman March 25, 2017, and subsequently performed by them at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., March 28.

Working in cooperation with Alaska Geographic, the National Park Service and the Fairbanks Arts Festival, Lias has presented the workshop every year since 2012. It is designed as both an outdoors and an artistic adventure. The composers gather in Denali National Park, where they hike and explore the backcountry. They learn about the wilderness environment from rangers and naturalists.

After Denali, the composers transfer to the remote Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, where they have four days to compose a new piece inspired by their experiences. Written for performers from the Fairbanks Arts Festival, the pieces are all trios or quartets, but adding to the musical adventure, the composers don’t know in advance what instruments they will write for.

The pieces have to be fairly short and simple, because they have to be written quickly and learned even more quickly by the performers. That forms the third and final segment of the workshop: in just a few days the completed pieces are rehearsed and performed, first in Denali National Park, and then as part of the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.

The workshop takes nine participants on a first-come, first-served basis. This year there were five women and four men, ranging in age from early 20s to AARP-eligible. They came from all over: two from Australia, one from New Zealand by way of New York, one from Cuba by way of Canada, the rest from around the U.S.

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The author in Alaska with sons Michael (l) and Ivan (r): Kenai Fjords National Park

As it happens, I had my own Alaskan adventure this summer, driving, hiking and flightseeing in the state with my two oldest sons. I timed my trip to hear this year’s workshop concert, “Sounds of Nature: Alaska Premieres,” July 26 at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. I saw glaciers larger than counties, and stretches of boreal forest larger than several states. And like the composers in the workshop, the vast land profoundly moved me.

When you face such an overwhelming immensity of nature, full of life but devoid of visible human presence, it’s hard not to be affected.

. . . . .

We are often told that nature is cruel, but that is not really true. Nature understands neither kindness nor cruelty; it is indifferent. That is the great lesson of the wilderness, as I was reminded in Anaktuvuk Pass and the composers, well cared for as they were, encountered in Denali: When we leave our well insulated lives to venture into the real world of nature, we have to be prepared to take responsibility for ourselves.

13718714_594543404051522_4074485623699253369_nWashington, very much a city-dweller from New York, had an experience that captures just what Lias hopes the composers will discover in their brush with nature. “We hiked up this high mountain pass and we were given space to go out on our own and just sit quietly and reflect,” she recalls. “I felt like an intruder in some ways — like my breathing was too loud.

“A moth came and landed on my hand, and I didn’t want to move because I was interrupting its space. It was really peaceful, and really real because everything has been undisturbed for so long. Being able to trespass there for a couple of days has been really calming.”

13718623_594538980718631_7012257335267384579_nOf all the participants, David John Lang may have captured the power of wilderness most eloquently. After returning to his home, in Adelaide, South Australia, he writes: “I took my journal, in which I often write letters to God, but I was surprised at how little I wrote while I was in Alaska. It was like I was too busy being a listener for once, hearing and seeing and loving God’s creation.

“I felt really, really small, and it was awesome.”

Read the entire article in Boulder Weekly.

Central City Opera reaches out for new audiences

A conversation with general director Pat Pearce

By Peter Alexander

Central City Opera Opening Night 2006- Page 2 of Book

Opening Night at Central City Opera. Featured in Central City Opera’s 75th anniversary book, “Theatre of Dreams, The Glorious Central City Opera- Celebrating 75 Years.”

Central City Opera opens its 2016 Summer Season tonight (July 9) with their 60th anniversary production of Douglas Moore’s Ballad of Baby Doe, which premiered at the Central City Opera House July 7, 1956. (A review will appear in Boulder Weekly July 14).

Other works on the summer season will be Puccini’s Tosca and two shorter works—The Impresario by Mozart and Later the Same Evening by John Musto—which will be performed both in Central City and on the road in Boulder and Colorado Springs, respectively. Those shorter works take the place in the company’s schedule of a third production in Central City, and they represent an effort to reach out and build new audiences for opera.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Pelham (Pat) Pearce, general/artistic director of Central City Opera, about the motivations for taking those shorter works on the road, and on the condition of opera in American today. Here is part of that conversation, lightly edited for clarity:

Alexander: Over the past few seasons, you have been looking for the right menu for Central City Opera—is that fair to say?

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Pelham “Pat” Pearce

Pearce: I think so. These days, everybody is having to adjust and in many cases, shift and change for the environment we’re living in. But ultimately everything we’ve done over these past oh-so-many-years has been about finding and developing new audiences for this art form. That’s really what it’s been about.

Some of it involved taking a show that we were doing up here (in Central City) down to Denver. Other things involved us actually creating down in Denver in the music theater vein. And what we’ve done in the last year, and what we’re doing this is year, is taking one of our slots and devoting it to an effort to find and drive new audiences for this art form.

We’ve come up with a list of things that we felt were barriers for people, and we think we’re right about this. One of them is price, and opera tickets everywhere can run to be fairly expensive, mostly because it’s the most expensive art form in the world—and even with those expensive tickets that’s still only a small percentage of what it actually costs to do it. But for something that you either don’t know or don’t think you’re going to like in the first place, you’re hesitant to spend a lot of money to try something out. So price was a deal.

Length was a deal—perceptions about how long opera is, how long the sit is, so we created things that were around an hour in length.

The fact that it’s in a foreign language is another perception, and so we tried to basically focus on things that were written in English. This year we have one piece, the Mozart Impresario, that we will be doing in translation, from its original German to English.

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Historic Central City Opera House, interior

And the other thing is making people come to you. Doing opera in spaces that were created for doing that is the easiest way to do it. We have everything we need—dressing rooms, lighting, pit—all of those things we need to produce the art form. But we find that crossing that threshold is problematic for some people. So, we have said that we will do these pieces in non-traditional places, so that any pre-conception about what you have to be, who you have to be, what you have dress like—all of those things are shifted to the side and we’ll do these pieces in nontraditional places.

So those four things are sort of the drivers for us, in addressing how we take this third of our offerings in the summer and translate it into something we think will address all of those barriers. So this year that happens to be Mozart’s Impresario and John Musto’s Later the Same Evening. That was a long answer to your question, but I think that’s absolutely the correct answer in the end.

This fascinates me, because there are areas of opera that are thriving right now. For example, I’ve been to some very successful premieres in the past year: Manchurian Candidate by Kevin Puts at the Minnesota opera; Cold Mountain by Jennifer Higdon at Santa Fe; and The Shining by Paul Moravec, again at the Minnesota Opera. And we had Scarlet Letter by Lori Laitman at Opera Colorado this spring.

 People do seem to respond to new work, at least the first time. There’s always a cachet with a world premiere, especially these days. It becomes an event, a “thing” that everybody feels like they need to be there, which is great, especially for the original commissioner and presenter. The subsequent productions of it, in other places, (are another matter).

In the 1980s and ‘90s Opera America and the National Endowment for the Arts gave out money for people to commission new work. And what they found was that people were willing to commission new work, but the work was not really going anywhere because there weren’t subsequent productions. It didn’t have the opportunity to grow and to evolve, and for more people to see it. And so in the next couple of decades they gave money to encourage people to take the risk of that second production of the work.

In many cases these days, people have co-commissioned new works and they’ve set up, like they did with Moby Dick (by Jake Heggie), and like they did with Cold Mountain, multiple presenters. That cuts down on the risk and the cost of the original commission. As part of doing that, they have first dibs (on subsequent productions in other places). And so Cold Mountain went from Santa Fe last summer to Philadelphia over the course of this past season. The largest one in recent memory was Moby Dick, which started off in Dallas and it took it almost two and a half years to get through all of the co-commissioners.

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Dead Man Walking execution scene. Photo by Mark Kiryluk. Central City Opera, 2014.

Today, some pieces do go on to have real success around the country. Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, which you produced in 2014, is a good example.

 Dead Man Walking is a really wonderful piece. It works, and nine times out of ten, new work is not going to work. I mean, that’s the reason most people don’t present new productions of works after the premiere—because having everything come together and have a piece actually work is hard, and it’s rare. Even back in the heyday of opera, there were lots of operas written, but the ones that we still see today are the ones that rose to the top.

There are many operas we’ve never heard of, for good reason.

 There are a lot of different ways to develop a new audience. And in addition to people that are commissioning these new works, in big houses, and doing them in their home theaters, there are also a plethora of new, very small opera companies that are popping up in larger cities, usually, that do work in non-traditional places—in warehouses, that sort of thing. Nobody gets paid much and they don’t charge much for the tickets, but people show up to see it. And so far they’ve managed to do it.

So everybody’s trying a lot of different things, and we’re all trying to learn as quickly as we can, from other people’s risk-taking, about what seems to work, and we try to adapt our offerings to that. Or at least a portion of our offering, so that at the same time we’re producing standard repertoire and interesting repertoire for our current audiences, we’re also working to develop new audiences. We set out a goal last year of having at least 50% of the people that bought tickets to the shows be new audience. We actually did 55%, so we did really well with that last year.

My concern was that our current audiences would want to see everything that we were doing, and would fill up all of the seats—which is a wonderful thing, but ultimately wasn’t the reason specifically we were doing it. Which is why we’ve taken at least a few of these performances off the hill, away from here. Last year we went up to Ft. Collins and down to Colorado Springs. This year, we’re going to go down to Colorado Springs and to Denver with Later the Same Evening, and to Boulder with two performances of The Impresario. So we’re taking it off the hill on purpose, and that’s often where we get the new audience.

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Central City Opera
2016 Summer Season

CCOperaLogoPreferredThe Ballad of Baby Doe by Douglas Moore
2:30 p.m. July 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 27, 31; Aug. 2, 4
8 p.m. July 9, 29; Aug. 2, 6
Central City Opera House

Tosca by Giacomo Puccini
2:30 p.m. July 20, 24, 26, 30; August 3, 5, 7
8 p.m. July 16, 22
Central City Opera House

The Impresario by W.A. Mozart
12 noon July 27 and Aug. 3, William’s Stables Theater, Central City (sold out)
6 and 8 p.m. Thursday, July 28, Nomad Playhouse, 1410 Quince Ave., Boulder

Later the Same Evening by John Musto
7 p.m. Thursday, July 28, Pikes Peak Center Studio Bee, 190 S. Cascade Ave., Colorado Springs
8 p.m. Saturday, July 30, Denver Art Museum, Denver
7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5, Gilman Studio, Lanny and Sharon Martin Foundry Rehearsal Center, Eureka St., Central City

Tickets

Edited 7/10/16 to correct typos

 

Composer Stephen Lias reveals his plan for a new piece for Boulder Phil

Rocky Mountain N.P. provides the inspiration for All the Songs that Nature Sings

By Peter Alexander

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Stephen Lias on the porch of the William Allen White Cabin in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photos by Peter Alexander.

Composer Stephen Lias sits on the porch of the William Allen White Cabin in Rocky Mountain National Park and looks over the Moraine Park meadow.

“It feels right to me to have formed this plan, based on words by Enos Mills, read from a book in this cabin, looking at this scenery,” he says. “Everything about its connectedness to this place feels just right.”

The plan he is referring to is for a new piece that he has been commissioned to write for the Boulder Philharmonic. It will be premiered by the Boulder Phil and conductor Michael Butterman at their subscription concert March 25, 2017, and subsequently performed by them at the SHIFT Festival in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C, March 28.

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The view from the cabin: Lias in front of the Moraine Park meadow

Lias has just spent nearly two weeks in the cabin, which is reserved by the park for artists in residence. Although he was not technically an artist in residence this year, as he was in 2010, the cabin was unoccupied for a few days in early June, and the park invited Lias to stay there while preparing his piece for the Boulder Philharmonic.

Known as an adventurer/composer, Lias has written a number of pieces portraying his experiences in national parks. In 2014, the Boulder Phil opened their season with his Gates of the Arctic, conceived during a National Parks Residency in Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park. It was performed with synchronized images from the park, as will be the piece to be premiered in March.

The Boulder Phil won a National Endowment for the Arts grant to support their participation in the 2017 SHIFT Festival. They chose Lias for the commission because the theme of their participation in the festival is the orchestra’s ongoing celebration of music and nature.

The title of Lias’s new piece will be All the Songs that Nature Sings, which comes from a book by Enos Mills, The Rocky Mountain National Park, that Lias found on the shelves of the William Allen White Cabin. Sometimes called “The Father of Rocky Mountain National Park,” Mills was a naturalist and nature writer in the early years of the 20th century who championed the establishment of the park.

The title “is a beautiful quote in Mills’s book,” Lias says. “He’s talking about how the trails take us to all of these amazing places and scenes and wildlife and it has at its heart ‘all the songs that nature sings.’”

Lias has only written a few musical ideas at this point, but he has formed an overall design for the piece in his mind. Based on visual images taken in the park, the plan is virtually cinematic in nature. “Imagine a camera starting with something small and intimate in nature and then slowly zooming outward, bit by bit until you can see a rock, and then a bush, and then a tree, and then a river, and then a waterfall, and then a mountain, and then a range of mountains,” he explains.

“When we can see this amazing place, the range of mountains that sits here in this park, that will be the climax of the piece, and then it will start panning back in again, zooming slowly, slowly, slowly until we end the piece with another intimate shot of some very small thing. So it’s going to be a slow growth outward, and then a slow growth back inward.”

That visual plan grew out of Lias’s poring through photos of the park. “We knew from the beginning that this commission involved a composition that would have synchronized images with it,” he says.

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Lias working in the William Allen White Cabin in Rocky Mountain National Park

“Back in January I came up to the park and met with the staff and we talked about the imagery that might be used. The park gave me a hard drive of 700 and some images that we had culled from their archives, and so in addition to thinking about what I wanted the musical shape to be, I’ve known that there needed to be visual material.”

With the inspiration strong and the plan firmly in mind, Lias packs up his bags to get on with the rest of his summer plans—including leading a workshop on “Composing in the Wilderness” in Alaska. But none of that, he says, will get in the way of a piece firmly rooted in Rocky Mountain National Park.

“The very beginning notes of the piece have been written here in this cabin,” Lias says. “It will take me many months to complete, but it will still be deeply grounded to this place.”

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Information and tickets for the Boulder Philharmonic’s 2016–17 season may be found here.

Four finalists chosen for Longmont Symphony position

The candidates will be guest conductors in the orchestra’s 2016–17 season

By Peter Alexander

The Longmont Symphony Orchestra (LSO) has announced the four finalists for the position of music director of the orchestra.

The four candidates were selected by the LSO’s search committee from a field of 60 applicants. Each will conduct one concert during the 2016–17 season, which will be the orchestra’s 50th-anniversary year. These concerts will be part of the orchestra’s regular season of concerts in the Vance Brand Auditorium at Skyline High School in Longmont, held Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.

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The four candidates and the dates of the concerts with the LSO will be:

  • Elliot Moore: Nov. 12, 2016
Moore is music director of the Detroit Medical Orchestra, the Blue Period Ensemble, and the Five Lakes Silver Band. He holds a master’s degree in cello performance from Lausanne Conservatory in Switzerland, a master of music in orchestral conducting from Manhattan School of Music, and a doctorate in orchestral conducting from the University of Michigan.
  • David Handel: Jan. 28, 2017
Handel currently resides in the Tampa, Fla., area. He holds a bachelor’s degree in violin and a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from the University of Michigan. His international conducting experience includes orchestras in Russia, Chile and Bolivia; and within the U.S. in Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, California and New York.
  • David Rutherford: Feb. 25, 2017
Rutherford has been the Longmont Symphony’s rehearsal and guest conductor since 2010. He is music director and conductor of the Stratus Chamber Orchestra (formerly Musica Sacra) of Denver and the Valor Symphonics Youth Orchestra in Highlands Ranch. A string bassist, he performs regularly with orchestras along the Front Range. An on-air personality with Colorado Public Radio, he can currently be heard weekday afternoons and Sunday mornings.
  • Zachary Carrettin: April 8, 2017
Carrettin is the music director and conductor of the Boulder Bach Festival and interim director of the Early Music Ensemble at University of Colorado, Boulder. Before moving to Colorado he was the director of orchestral studies at Sam Houston State University in Houston, Tex. He pursued doctoral studies in viola at Rice University and holds master’s degrees in orchestral conducting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and violin from Rice University.
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Recently retired music director Robert Olson

The new director will be selected from among these four conductors, and will announced in May, 2017. He will succeed Robert Olson, who was music director of the LSO for 33 years until his retirement at the end of the soon-to-be concluded 2015–16 season. Olson will return to conduct the opening concert of the 50th-anniversary season, Saturday, Oct. 1.

In a statement released  by the LSO, executive director Kay Lloyd made the following comments: “The selection committee has chosen four very strong candidates that represent high musical values as well as the ability to engage our community. We look forward to their concerts this season and the final selection of a conductor that will lay the groundwork of continuing to provide quality, diverse concerts and outreach programs for another 50 years in this community.”