Boulder Phil ends remarkable season with a remarkable concert

CU faculty Charles Wetherbee and Nicolò Spera featured in world premiere

By Peter Alexander

butterman.andorch

Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic

Last night the Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman ended a remarkable season with a remarkable concert, one of the most interesting they have done.

The mostly-Italian program included one of the most brilliant orchestral showpieces of all time, a world premiere, and several pieces that are rarely played. If you love making new discoveries, as I do,  this was a fun program.

First the world premiere—and the one non-Italian piece on the program: Invisible Cities, Double Concerto for violin, guitar strings and percussion by Stephen Goss. The composer is Welsh, although the concerto is based on the fascinating novel of the same title by the 20th-century Italian writer Italo Calvino. Soloists were Charles Wetherbee, violin and Nicolò Spera, guitar.

The novel imagines a series of conversations between Marco Polo and the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan. In an intricate design, the novel has Polo describe 55 cities to the Emperor, all of which turn out to be facets of Venice, his home. Dispersed among the cities are a series of conversations, in which Polo and Kublai Khan are gradually able to communicate more clearly across their linguistic and cultural barriers.

SteveGoss_10

Stephen Goss

In a similarly intricate design, the concerto alternates between orchestrally accompanied movements representing cities and duos without orchestra representing the conversations. Particularly ingenious are the duos, which represent musically the growing accord between Polo and the Emperor through music of growing lyrical beauty.

The musical design is clever but not cryptic, and it is executed without ever seeming forced. The piece as a whole is accessible, expressively convincing and well constructed. This is a work of significance that should be taken up by other guitar-violin duos.

Wetherbee.1

Charles Wetherbee

The style is largely based in conventional gestures of contemporary orchestral music. If not original, the musical elements are used to good effect, as listeners can recognize and enter the expressive realm of each movement. Where the music is more imaginative, as in the interaction between the soloists, the creativity is never originality for originality’s sake; it always serves the expressive goals.

nicolo.spera

Niccolò Spera

The soloists played with sweet expression together, and with greater intensity when required. Their sounds were well balanced, reflecting prior work together as a duo. At their best they rose to all the demands of Goss’s pleasing new work.

The two works preceding the concerto were undoubtedly new discoveries for most in the audience, and both were 20th-century pieces based on older music. The first was Stravinsky’s Monumentum pro Gesualdo, orchestral arrangements of uniquely strange and adventurous Renaissance madrigals by Carlo Gesualdo.

Stravinsky’s setting is strange in its own way, with discontinuous bits of harmonic and instrumental color shifting about the orchestra and managing to sound like both Gesualdo and Stravinsky. This score, nicely played last night, fits the Boulder Philharmonic and its outstanding individual players well.

That was followed by Luciano Berio’s Four Original Versions of Boccherini’s Return of the Nightwatch from Madrid. Sometimes an enfant terrible of modern music, Berio also wrote highly approachable scores built from older music, of which this is one.

Four different versions of a movement by the 18th-century Italian composer Boccherini are arranged for modern orchestra and layered on top of one another. At times they match perfectly, but at other times they do not, creating delicious and unexpected dissonances that pass quickly.

Depicting the approach and departure of the Nightwatch, the score culminates in a rousing setting of the tune, and then dissipates into silence. It was played with verve, as once again the individual contributions of the players fit well into the orchestral mosaic.

After intermission, Butterman and the orchestra gave an invigorating reading of Verdi’s Overture to Nabucco, with all the turns of mood well traversed and quite a bit of excitement for the explosive ending. Puccini’s Chrysanthemums, an ingratiating minor work, was played with expression, if not the plush, ermine-fringed sound one would like to hear.

Respighi

Ottorino Respighi

The concert ended with a sure bet, Respighi’s Pines of Rome, a piece guaranteed to rouse the audience from their seats. In the hands of the Boulder Phil, Respighi’s orchestra worked its magic: it shone when it should shine and sparkled when it should sparkle, the sudden contrasts were contrasting and the abrupt changes of scene were well delineated.

The winds deserve special recognition, from the brass flourishes in “The Pines of the Villa Borghese,” to the delicate woodwind solos of “The Pines of the Janiculum,” to the massive fanfares of “The Pines of the Appian Way.” Once again the Roman Legions advanced, a brass choir sounded from the balcony—although how effectively depended on where you were sitting—and Respighi brought the crowd to its feet.

You could not have a more rousing ending for a season.

“Nature and Music”: one of Boulder Phil’s best performances

Green bandanas waving, the orchestra departs for Washington, D.C.

By Peter Alexander

The concert opened with the swirling, magical sounds of a new score from Stephen Lias, and ended with the players waving green bandanas in the air.

Last night (March 25), the Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman presented “Nature and Music,” the same program they will perform Tuesday, March 28, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in the nation’s capital as part of the first Shift Festival for American Orchestras.

BPO.Macky.3

Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic

The Boulder Phil is one of only four orchestras invited to the festival, and the only regional orchestra. As reported earlier in Boulder Weekly, their application to the festival, based on the orchestra’s programming, community outreach, and collaborative performances, was considered by the festival panel to be the “gold standard” of what they were looking for.

To represent the Boulder Phil’s recent emphasis on music written to celebrate nature, their program for the festival featured a new orchestral score commissioned from Lias as part of the National Endowment of the Arts’ “Imagine Your Parks” initiative, celebrating the 2016 centennial of the National Parks Service. Titled All the Songs that Nature Sings, it was inspired by Rocky Mountain National Park.

Other works on the program were drawn from previous concert programs: Jeff Midkiff’s Mandolin Concerto, with Midkiff as soloist; Ghosts of the Grassland by Steve Heitzig; and Copland’s Appalachian Spring, performed with choreography by Boulder’s Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance company.

IMG_0458

Stephen Lias in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lias took his title from the writings of Enos Mills, “The Father of Rocky Mountain National Park.” Accompanied by slides of the park selected by Lias, the music suggests a cinematic view of the park’s high country, starting with streams and lakes, culminating with rocky crags and ridges, and ending with mountain wildflowers.

Lias has written a thoroughly engaging piece. The almost impressionistic haze of sound of the opening measures pulls the listener into a world of nature at its most lovely and benign. As the music swells, lyrical melodies and powerful chordal passages are enlivened by rippling lines and repeated chords, forming a musical metaphor for scenes in nature that are always in motion: water rippling, leaves fluttering, light flickering.

The score reaches a rugged climax with stark brass chords, accompanied by views of the park’s most impressive peaks. It then ends gently, with a tender violin solo that was ably played by the Phil’s concertmaster, Charles Wetherbee.

Butterman and the Boulder Phil had the music well under control from the beginning to the end. As played last night, the cinematic sweep of the score created a clear outline. This is a thoroughly successful piece that should find appreciative audiences wherever it is performed.

Jeff Midkiff

Jeff Midkiff

Midkff’s Mandolin Concerto, subtitled From the Blue Ridge, is a mix of classical idioms with folk and bluegrass, all of it sounding comfortably American. The lightening lines of the first movement do not have much to suggest music from the Blue Ridge Mountains, other than the folksy sound of the mandolin. The second movement recalls Copland ‘s Americana, filled with a nostalgic sweetness. The finale settles into a jazzy bluegrass groove that fits the mandolin and its natural idioms perfectly.

From the rapid fire opening, to the plaintive slow movement, to the down-home finale, Midkiff was on top of every mood, and his final virtuoso flourish brought the audience to their feet. He rewarded the cheering crowd with his own arrangement of “Monroe’s Hornpipe” by the great bluegrass mandolinist/songwriter Bill Monroe.

It does no dishonor to Heitzig’s Ghosts of the Grassland to say that it has the emotional immediacy of a good film score. It is easy to imagine the dramatic gestures and mood changes representing—what exactly? The dramatic weather of the American prairie, or a primordial scene of bison and prairie grass (both represented in the percussion section)?

But everyone has their own imagination. Once again the Boulder Phil conveyed the musical drama well, and piping squeals notwithstanding, I believe that no prairie dogs were harmed in the performance.

Originally written as a ballet, Copland’s Appalachian Spring is obviously suited to various forms of interpretation, of which Frequent Flyer’s aerial dance represents one of the more original. As realized by Nancy Smith, the choreography has some magical moments that are almost ritualistic in effect, especially the beginning and the end.

AC-3-23-640x401

Frequent Flyers with the Boulder Philharmonic

In between, the dancers, for all their impressive strength and grace, did not always avoid an element of spectacle. What they do is so obviously difficult, so unimaginable to most in the audience, that it becomes hard to translate admiration for the athleticism of the performance into appreciation for its artistry. Nonetheless, their Appalachian Spring is a remarkable achievement.

As impressive as Frequent Flyers were, it would be a mistake to overlook the orchestra. Clearly primed for the festival, they presented just about the finest standard work I have heard them perform. You may hear more splashy performances, but Butterman’s restrained approach is more in keeping with Copland’s original conception, and it brings out all of the score’s considerable tenderness.

This is a very attractive program, and one that fits the orchestra’s strengths. Word is that the Boulder Phil is outselling the other orchestras in the festival, and they stand to make a very solid impression.

As for the green bandanas: The Shift Festival sent bandanas to every orchestra—”because we like bandanas,” Butterman said, sounding bemused. And so as the audience stood and cheered its well wishes to the orchestra for their trip to Washington, the players stood and waved their bandanas in response.

Maybe that’s what they were for: I could not imagine a more cheerful bon voyage than 80 green bandanas waving from the Macky stage. I join all of Boulder in wishing them a safe trip and a great reception at the Shift Festival.

# # # # #

Shift Festival of American Orchestras

Nature & Music
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, music director

All the Songs that Nature Sings by Stephen Lias (world premiere)
Mandolin Concerto, From the Blue Ridge by Jeff Midkiff
Jeff Midkiff, mandolin
Ghosts of the Grassland by Steve Heitzig
Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland
With Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance
Nancy Smith, choreographer

Kennedy Ctr

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Art, Washington, D.C.

8 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington, D.C.
Tickets: 202-467-4600

 

Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra gives worthy performance of important music

By Peter Alexander

Denver and Boulder audiences have much for which to thank Cynthia Katsarelis and the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra.

cynthia-katsarellis-2

Cynthia Katsarelis

Friday night in Denver and last night in Boulder (Jan. 20 and 21) they presented Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14. This somewhat gloomy meditation on death is not often given live, partly because of the difficult assignments facing the soprano and bass soloists, but mostly because of the difficult subject matter. But it is a major statement from a great composer—what Katsarelis calls “a piece that needs to be heard”—and so the rare performances are to be treasured.

For the most part, then, Katsarelis and the Pro Musica gave us a worthy performance of an important piece. The soloists, soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and bass Ashraf Sewailam, sang with deep expression and careful attention to the texts. They ably handled the Spanish, French and German of the original poetry by Garcia Lorca, Apollinaire, Rilke and Wilhelm Kuchelbecker.

bird-7998-copy-6

Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson

Bird-Arvidsson was bright and incisive from her first entrance. She enticed expression from the chant-like phrases, especially in the haunting movement on Apollinaire’s Le Suicidé. Sewailam sang the more brooding texts with great weight and power. At times his notes seemed more placed that phrased, and his sound was rough in the lowest range. Both singers were appropriately dramatic in the dialogue portions of the text.

The orchestral music reflects and amplifies the words of the texts. Katsarelis and the players capably managed the many swings of mood, from deep gloom to poignant sadness to sardonic despair, and provided the singers with expressive and well balanced support.

sewailam-a-headshot

Ashraf Sewailam

The Pro Musica strings provided a meaty and resonant sound, while the two percussionists capably provided the precise punctuation points the score requires. The lower strings were particularly weighty, and the duo between Bird-Arvidsson and the solo cello at the beginning of the fourth movement provided one of the evening’s high points.

Alas, last night’s Boulder performance was marred by what seemed to be noisy air handling at the First United Methodist Church. (I did not hear it in Denver.) The performers did their professional best to not be distracted, but for listeners the noise unavoidably covered musical details and moments that should slowly die into silence. It was equally distracting when the sound suddenly stopped in the middle of a movement. I have never heard this before in the many performances I have attended in this venue; it was most unfortunate for it to happen in any concert, and even more so in a piece that builds so much out of silence.

The concert ended with Schubert’s Fifth Symphony, selected by Katsarelis as a frolicking antidote to Shostakovich’s morbid meditations. For me, this was less successful; whether it was the boomy acoustics in the shoe-box-shaped sanctuary, or the ghost of Shostakovich still haunting the room, the performance was heavy-footed when it should be fleeting. The orchestra, otherwise well balanced, often sounded bottom heavy and murky in the middle register. The winds and upper strings sparkled, but could not always cut through the texture.

Nonetheless, the symphony was played with enthusiasm and a sense of fun. It was well paced from beginning to end, and clearly left the audience in a happier place than where Shostakovich had left them.

# # # # #

As a final thought, the room acoustics and the noisy air handling in the church both serve to point to Boulder’s need for an easily available, acoustically superb, professionally managed concert hall. Many performances take place in churches, and both the performing groups and the churches are to be thanked for their creativity. But such performances are always compromises in one way or another. The performers deserve our gratitude for the musical riches they provide, but they also deserve better performance conditions.

Edited for clarity 1.22.17

Butterman and Boulder Phil shine in Romantic program

Brahms, Schumann and Dame Ethel Smyth were on the bill

By Peter Alexander

bpo-macky-3

Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic

In a program of Romantic and very late Romantic music, the Boulder Philharmonic sounded as good last night (Jan. 14) as I have ever heard them.

Most satisfying were two works from the heart of the Romantic era, Brahms’s darkly brooding Tragic Overture of 1880, and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor from 1851. These are pieces that suit the orchestra and its conductor, Michael Butterman, particularly well, and they both received warm, suitably emotive interpretations. The third work on the program, Ethel Smyth’s stylistically Romantic Concerto for Violin and Horn, composed in the 1920s, was a more complicated case.

The concert began with the Tragic Overture. A work that reflects the composer’s famously dour persona, it was nonetheless an effective opener. The sound was warm and plush from the very first note. The texture was clean and well balanced—a testament to the quality of players and Butterman’s preparation—even in the contrapuntal passages. Butterman controlled the momentum carefully, doing with interpretation what larger orchestras would do with weight of sound.

ethel-portrait-crop

Dame Ethel Smyth

Smyth’s Concerto is an interesting hybrid, a concerto for two instruments that seem not well matched in sound and character. It veers nervously from one musical idea to another, and from concerto to chamber music textures and back. At times one or the other soloist seems relegated to a secondary role, or even blends into the orchestra, while the other takes the spotlight.

Smyth seems to gradually get a handle on the combination. By the final movement they are sharing themes, playing together, and trading motives much more fluidly. Except for an overlong exit from their written-out cadenza, this is the most successful movement.

Frautschi-1-high-res.jpg

Violinist Jennifer Frautschi

Soloists Jennifer Frautschi on violin and Eric Ruske on horn are outstanding players who had their parts well under control. Still, this may be a piece better heard in recordings, where the soloists can be electronically balanced. Certainly that was my experience; I was sitting on the left front of the house, looking straight into the bell of Ruske’s horn. There were times that was all I could hear, and Frautschi’s violin playing was muffled in comparison. I imagine that the balance was better farther back, or in the center of the hall.

Ruske-MattDine2_zps06350226.jpg

Horn player Eric Ruske

Considering that handicap, I hesitate to say more about the performance, except to note that Frautschi, Ruske and orchestra filled Macky with lovely sounds. The end of the slow movement and the shared material in the finale struck me as particularly enjoyable. The audience responded warmly.

The orchestra was again well balanced in the Schumann symphony. Some over-enthusiastic tympani playing in the first movement added punch to climactic moments, but at the cost of hearing full chords. The surging lines in the lower strings, a critical element of the score, were played with great momentum and richness of sound. The beautiful duo between cello and oboe in the slow movement was particularly effective.

Butterman responded well to Schumann’s sometimes mercurial moods, and controlled the musical flow to bring the symphony to a rousing conclusion. The enthusiasm of the audience was well earned.

The symphony was the first Schumann Butterman has programmed with the Phil. On the evidence of last night’s performance, he should do more; perhaps an orchestra that relishes portraying nature through sound will bring us the “Spring” Symphony in a future season.

The Boulder Bach Festival presents a journey of exploration in Longmont

By Peter Alexander

Last night’s concert presented by the Boulder Bach Festival at Longmont’s Stewart Auditorium (Dec. 10, “Journey to Vienna with Mario Aschauer and Friends”) represented an ideal combination of repertoire, instruments and performance space.

mario-aschauer

Mario Aschauer

The concert featured Aschauer, a musicologist and performer on the faculty of Sam Houston State University in Texas, on harpsichord; Zachary Carrettin, the artistic director of the Boulder Bach Festival, playing Baroque violin and the cello da spalla (“shoulder cello,” a small cello played on the shoulder, like a cross between violin and guitar); and the bright, clear voice of soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson. The program comprised music from the late 17th and early 18th Imperial Court in Vienna, including pieces for harpsichord alone, a sonata for violin and harpsichord, and arias from operas written for court occasions,

Most of the music was discovered by Aschauer in Viennese archives. It had been performed at the court and then set aside, making last night’s concert the modern and U.S. premieres of several pieces. The composers included the Hapsburg Emperor Leopold I as well as court composers George Muffat and his son Gottlieb, Attilio Ariosti, Antonio Caldara and Johann Joseph Fux.

The light and transparent sounds of the harpsichord and Baroque strings fit the repertoire perfectly, as did the lively, intimate space of Stewart Auditorium. Textures were clear and the audience was close enough to hear nuances that easily could be lost in larger halls. The program was presented with passion and an almost sensuous care for the sound. In short: this was as good an argument as you will hear for historical performance practice as a gateway to the sound world of the past.

jennifer-bird-arvidsson

Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson

The entire program was both unfamiliar and fascinating. The arias were sung by Bird-Arvidsson with a seamless flow and elegant phrasing that was nicely matched by Aschauer and Carrettin in their obbligato accompaniments. Their committed advocacy for the music suggests that this unknown vocal repertoire is worthy of further exploration.

Of the instrumental works, Georg Muffat’s Sonata for Violin was strikingly strange, with passages of more or less normal Baroque phrases interrupted by sudden and unexpected  harmonic deviations. With the weirdness clearly brought out by the scoring, one wonders: was Muffat showing off for his imperial employer? It is certainly a piece that keeps both performers and listeners engaged.

Aschauer played a Plainte by Gottlieb Muffat in memory of the scholar Allison Dunlop, who tragically died just after completing a groundbreaking study of the composer. He performed this strange little lament with great feeling.

dsc-close-action-spalla-1

Zachary Carrettin with his cello da spalla

Carrettin introduced his cello da spalla to the audience, explaining how it might have been used in Baroque times, and why the instrument disappeared in the later 18th century. Built to order and based on historical models, his is a one-of-a-kind instrument that Carrettin admitted he is still learning. When played with vigor, it produces a gruff, dark sound, but Carrettin showed that it is also capable of more lyrical expression.

With this program, the Boulder Bach Festival has continued its theme using Bach “as a compass,” as Carrettin says, while exploring the musical past with fresh eyes and ears. Aschauer, Carrettin and Bird-Arvidsson made the “Journey to Vienna” one to be relished.

With BCO, comfortably familiar Americana takes many forms

By Peter Alexander

bconew_1

Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

“The Americans,” the current program of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO), offers comfortably familiar Americana in several different guises.

The program, led by conductor Bahman Saless and featuring violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, was performed last night (Nov. 11) in the Broomfield Auditorium. It will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave. (tickets).

The program opens with genteel music from America’s “Gilded Age” of the late 19th century, the Air and Gavotte from Bostonian Arthur Foote’s Serenade for Strings. Here, the American-ness resides mostly in Foote’s careful homage to the music of Europe and avoidance of anything overtly American—characteristic of American high culture at the time, especially in New England.

Tenderly played by the BCO, the Air made a gentle start to the program. The following Gavotte is a Romanticized, drawing-room version of the Baroque dance, but none the less pleasant for that. Both were played with care.

jaffe-003

Composer David Jaffe

Leaping more than 120 years, the BCO followed with the American premiere of David Jaffe’s Violin Concerto, How Did it Get so Late so Soon? This highly personal but unmistakably American work received a vigorous performance from the orchestra and Pollick, for whom the concerto was written, and by whom it was premiered in Lithuania Aug. 27.

A former bluegrass musician, Jaffe has filled the score with quotes and references to American music from the blues to the protest music of the 1930s. You may not hear the Woody Guthrie song he quotes, but the overall tone will be familiar to American audiences. The blues inflections, the outbreaks of Appalachian fiddling, the folk-tune-like melodies all come from a world we recognize.

There are portions of the concerto that sound as American as anything by Copland. But these ideas are always refracted thought a Charles Ives-ian sensibility, so that the music never settles into an extensive folkish groove. To my ears, that makes it all the more interesting: you never know what will happen next, but it all hangs together in a fascinating mélange. Bravo to Saless and the BCO for programming a work that deserves to be heard widely.

k-bentley-large

Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick

The orchestra played with a natural and relaxed understanding of Jaffe’s style. The small string section was always solid, and the second movement in particular featured some outstanding wind playing.

An enthusiastic advocate of the music she performs, Pollick played with great energy and conviction. Disclosure: I have known her since we were both music students in the 1980s, but to my entirely non-objective ear, she handled the concerto with virtuosic ease.

The rest of the program is too familiar to require extensive comment. In these fractious times, the Barber Adagio for Strings could be heard as an expression of sorrow for our broken country, and Copland’s Appalachian Spring as the hope that if we follow our hearts, things can be mended. But I doubt that anyone really wants to hear music as political metaphor.

The Barber was played with warmth and careful dynamic control. When played by a chamber orchestra, Appalachian Spring becomes less rugged, more delicate. There were a few bobbles, but Copland’s tender lyricism and robust energy were well conveyed. When everyone was having as much fun as Saless broadcast from the podium, further criticism seems irrelevant.

Boulder Phil in fine form for Mozart, Beethoven and Adés

Dusinberre and Walther delightful in Mozart Sinfonia Concertante

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Philharmonic was in fine form last night (Nov. 6), as they presented two exquisite soloists as part of a season of duo-solo performances.

ed-geri_ellenappel_04-01

Edward Dusinberre and Geraldine Walther

Violinist Edward Dusinberre and violist Geraldine Walther, members of the Takacs Quartet, played Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola with the orchestra. Conductor Michael Butterman also led the Phil in a fascinating work by British composer Thomas Adés and a bracing performance of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony.

But first things first: Mozart. The interplay of the two soloists is central to the Sinfonia Concertante, and it is here that Dusinberre and Walther elevated their performance to the highest level. They are of course great individual players, but as members of a world-class string quartet, chamber music partners who play together professionally virtually every day, they have honed the ability to respond to one another in tone, mood, phrasing and pitch—all the myriad details that make a great performance.

Of all the delights they offered, I will single out one: There is a joint cadenza in the first movement, with the parts written out for the players. Walther and Dusinberre were so perfectly aligned in pitch and rhythm and the freedom of their phrasing that it sounded like one person on two instruments. I have never heard that passage better.

Their experienced partnership made the performance a pleasure to watch as well as hear. You could see the communication between them, as they shared their enjoyment of Mozart’s playful interchanges between soloists in the outer movements, and the beautiful sharing of extended melodies of the slow movement. And through their interactions, they shared that enjoyment with the audience.

It has to be said that Macky is not a great venue for this work There is a reason that Butterman has programmed more Romantic works than Mozart, in order to achieve what he calls “a sonic size appropriate for Macky Auditorium.” At times the Mozart sounded distant—and if it sounds that way from Row M, what must it sound like from the back or the mezzanine?

The concert began with Adés’s Three Studies from Couperin, orchestrations of harpsichord works by the French Baroque composer François Couperin. Himself a keyboard player, Adés has said that the best day he could imagine would be playing Couperin all day. I expect few in the audience have that degree of enthusiasm for the composer, but last night’s performance may well have boosted the appreciation for his strongly characterized and characteristic works.

Like the originals, Adés’s orchestrations are highly individual, offering a wondrous mix of colors. These are watercolors to the bright paintings of some orchestra arrangements—subtle and subdued hues that were given a well blended and warm interpretation by Butterman and the orchestra.

Buttermn.new

Michael Butterman. Photo by Glenn Ross

Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony was the first orchestral score I ever owned, so the rare performances are always both musical and nostalgic treasures for me. I admit I am prejudiced in favor of anyone who programs the Eighth, but I was definitely not disappointed by last night’s performance. Even though the Eighth is scored for a smaller classical orchestra, without trombones or doubled winds, the Phil’s sound was full enough to create a real presence in the hall.

Butterman’s interpretation was highly energetic, a bit on the muscular side, but none the less enjoyable for that. He found a good balance between Beethovenian outbursts, aided and abetted by a vigorous timpanist, and the more lyrical and light-hearted moments of the symphony. The second movement, marked Allegretto scherzando, was very brisk, more scherzando than allegretto. A slightly slower pace would allow the listener to enjoy Beethoven’s good cheer a bit more in this cheeky, clucking stand-in for a slow movement.

The finale was, as it should be, even faster, but here the tempo worked entirely to Beethoven’s advantage. The Boulder Philharmonic stayed right with Butterman’s galloping pace right to the end. Beethoven’s Eighth is perhaps too light hearted to elicit cheers, but the performance was more than worthy of a hearty “Bravo!”