Wonderfully modulated Mendelssohn is star of CMF opening night

Festival premieres a work for our times, gives a driven Beethoven performance

By Peter Alexander July 2 at 12:40 a.m.

The 2021 Colorado Music Festival got off to a splendid start last night (June 1).

After the two-year pause from the pandemic, both the audience and the players on the Chautauqua Auditorium stage were clearly thrilled to be sharing music together again. That joy was briefly expressed by CMF executive director Elizabeth McGuire, and then music director Peter Oundjian strode out to get back to business.

Peter Oundjian and the CMF Orchestra.

The concert opened with the world premiere of the strings, harp and timpani version of Aaron Jay Kernis’s Elegy (to those we’ve lost). Originally written for piano, the music came from a deep well of personal experience on the part of the composer, who contracted COVID-19 himself and lost several friends. (You may hear the piano version together with a film by Esther Shubinski here.)

Aaron Jay Kernis

Elegy is music of relative simplicity and comfort, one that recalls other pieces played for memorial occasions. It is consoling throughout except for a brief moment just before the end, when a tumultuous passage briefly evokes the anguish of the pandemic. Oundjian elicited a sweet and flexible performance that captured well the consoling nature of Kernis’s score which has all the ingredients of a work for these times. 

After Kernis took a bow with Oundjian, the conductor introduced violinist Augustin Hadelich for a performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto in E minor. An increasingly celebrated soloist, Hadelich does not overwhelm with volume or sheer flash, but rather with the beauty, precision and delicacy of his playing.

In a wonderfully modulated performance, Hadelich took an overtly Romantic approach to the concerto. He used tempo, dynamics and tone quality to evoke all the kaleidoscopic moods of the score, and he gave the most dramatic and magically captivating reading of the first movement cadenza I have heard. Throughout the concerto, he brought out the sweetness and delicacy of the solo part to an extraordinary degree. 

Augustin Hadelich

In the lyrical second movement, Hadelich showed his ability to sustain attention and the tension of the longest melodic lines. The finale was quite fast, with no loss of accuracy on the soloist’s part. There was one moment of imprecision with the wind players at the very beginning, but otherwise the movement was exceptionally brilliant, as is intended.

For an encore, Hadelich showed that his skills extend well beyond the Classical/Romantic repertoire, playing the “Louisiana Blues Strut” by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson with an idiomatic and raucous sense of fun that was well appreciated by the CMF orchestra as well as the audience.

The concert concluded with a driven performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony—a holdover from the planned 2020 festival that would have coincided with the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Wagner called the Seventh “the apotheosis of the dance,” and indeed every movement is based on strongly rhythmic ideas. Oundjian—conducting without a score—and the CMF orchestra gave a performance that was always bustling, even if it did not always quite dance.

The pace was brisk from the beginning of the slow introduction, which was precise and efficient, leading to a rushing allegro movement that happily observed the repeats Beethoven expected to hear, but that are often omitted today. Changes of volume or dynamics were used to great effect in the slow movement, although for my taste it has more suspense and pays off better at a slower tempo.

The same was true of the Scherzo and Finale, where the very fast tempos contributed to a loss of detail. Both would dance better with a slightly slower tempo and cleaner texture. The massive ritard in the middle of the Scherzo only emphasized how fast the rest of the movement was. The dynamics were well handled in these movements as well, with one exception. 

Near the end of the finale, for the first time ever Beethoven calls for three f’s in the orchestra, a moment underlined by the full brass section. Clearly intended as the climax of the entire symphony, this moment should startle with its impact. But Oundjian had driven the entire movement so powerfully that Beethoven’s triple-f was just more of the same.

This was an early-summer performance—great players coming together for the first time in nearly two years, playing with great skill and precision, but not yet quite coalescing into a totally polished product. Clearly, the audience caught the excitement of the fast tempos and the joy the players felt at being back on stage. With a little more time together, I expect even more.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that the “Louisiana Blues Strut” is by the Black English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. That is incorrect. The composer is American Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson.

2021 CMF opening night marks return to live concerts

On the program: Beethoven, Kernis world premiere, Hadelich plays Mendelssohn

By Peter Alexander June 29 at 11:30 p.m.

There will be much to celebrate when the 2021 Colorado Music Festival gets underway Thursday and Friday (July 1 and 2) at Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder.

Peter Oundjian and the CMF Festival Orchestra. Photo by Michael Ensminger.

The return to the stage of CMF music director Peter Oundjian and the Festival Orchestra would be special in any music lover’s calendar. Imagine, being at a concert again—in person! with live performers!—after the past 15 months. 

But there’s even more to love. There will be the world premiere of music in memory of those we lost to the pandemic, Elegy (to those we’ve lost) by Aaron Jay Kernis. And there will be a rising superstar performer, violinist Augustin Hadelich.

What more do you want?

Kernis wrote his Elegy, not from a commission but out of his own experience with COVID-19. CMF artistic director and conductor Peter Oundjian says, “He wrote to me and said ‘I’ve written this elegy to those we’ve lost.’ He got COVID and got pretty sick, and he lost friends. I said I’d love to open the festival with it, I think it’s just so perfect. It’s very beautiful, sad but in a way uplifting as well, because it’s so tender.”

The rest of the program will be Hadelich playing the much-loved Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, always among the top two or three orchestral works in popularity. 

Augustin Hadelich

Hadelich gets asked to play the Mendelssohn Concerto often, but he can’t imagine ever saying no “Mendelssohn is a concerto where the violinist is really in charge,” he says. “You start playing right away and it’s a very dramatic role. And also very virtuosic.

“I would say that the Mendelssohn is harder than people think it is. You can’t underestimate it, but it’s very much worth it. Mendelssohn wastes no time, not a single second. It’s just so compact, because it’s not that long as a piece, but every second there’s something exciting or very beautiful going on.”

The Seventh Symphony is the first of several Beethoven pieces on the summer’s program. Later Oundjian will conduct the Third (Aug. 5) and Fifth (Aug. 7) symphonies, there will be a program of Beethoven chamber music (Aug. 7) and Hadelich will return to play the Violin Concerto (July 29 and 30). Oundjian has contributed his own arrangement of the String Quartet in C-sharp minor, op. 131, to the program on July 22.

Oundjian admits that Beethoven is hardly slighted by classical musicians around the world, but the celebration of his 250th birthday planned for 2020 was canceled by the pandemic. “Poor guy, he was going to have about a million performances last year, and they were all cancelled,” he says. Laughing, he adds “nobody knows who he is.

“But the truth is that he’s not 251 until December, so he’s still 250 this year.”

Between his two appearances, Hadelich will spend two weeks in Boulder as CMF artist-in-residence. Not all of his activities have been decided yet, but Hadelich says “I’m going to be doing whatever they have me doing—a masterclass and then some other activities. As long as I’m there I go wherever {the CMF] decides.”

He was in Boulder once before during the 2018 festival, and looks forward to having more time here. “It’s nice to come back and just enjoy for longer,” he says. “It’s a beautiful place, [and] I thought it was a wonderful hall. It sounds really good. I felt great on stage and I really enjoyed it.”

Several other events in the opening two weeks are noteworthy (see full listing below). One that is dear to Oundjian’s heart as a former violinist in the Tokyo String Quartet is the launching of a new Tuesday evening chamber music series named in honor of Robert Mann, founding violinist of the Juilliard Quartet. 

That concert series will open July 6 with a program of string quintets by Mozart and Brahms, played by members of he CMF orchestra, followed by the current iteration of the Juilliard Quartet on July 13. Other chamber performers will appear on Tuesdays through Aug. 3.

Pianist Olga Kern, always a CMF audience favorite, returns to play concertos by Haydn and Shostakovich, the latter also featuring CMF principal trumpet Jeffrey Work playing the prominent trumpet solos (July 15 and 16). Pianist Conrad Tao, scheduled for the cancelled 2020 festival and a soloist with the Boulder Philharmonic in 2015, will play a concerto on an all-Mozart program July 18.

But the collaboration between Oundjian and Hadelich would be the highlight of any season. “I’m thrilled, he’s absolutely remarkable on every level,” Oundjian says of the violinist. “He’s an inspiration, he really is. He’s so thoughtful and he’s also a wonderful teacher and very generous.”

Hadelich is equally complimentary to Oundjian. “I’m thrilled to come back,” he says. “I always love playing with Peter because he’s such a great collaborator and musician, and always so sensitive. He’s just such a great character. 

“I can’t wait to come to Boulder again.”

# # # # #

Colorado Music Festival
Schedule through July 18
All concerts in Chautauqua Auditorium

Peter Oundjian. Photo by Michael Ensminger.

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 1
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 2
Opening Night
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Augustin Hadelich, violin

  • Aaron Jay Kernis: Elegy (to those we’ve lost) (world premiere)
  • Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 64
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 92

11 a.m. Saturday, July 3
Family Concert: The Story of Babar
Really Inventive Stuff, Erina Yashima, conductor

  • Leopold Mozart: Toy Symphony
  • Francis Poulenc: The story of Babar, the Little Elephant

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 6
String Quintets
CMF Orchestra Members

  • Mozart: Viola Quintet in G minor, K516
  • Brahms: Viola Quintet in G major, op. 111

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 8 
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 9
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Stewart Goodyear, piano

  • Jessie Montgomery: Strum
  • Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, op. 22
  • Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 11
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Angelo Xiang Yu, violin

  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Novelletten for string orchestra, nos. 3 and 4
  • Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K216
  • Haydn: Symphony No. 104 in D major (“London”)
Juilliard Quartet. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 13
Juilliard String Quartet

  • Ravel: String Quartet in F major
  • Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la Nuit (Thus the night)
  • Dvořák: String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 (“American”)

7:30 Thursday, July 15
6:30 Friday, July 16
Ludovic Morlot, conductor, with Olga Kern, piano

  • Dvořák: Legends, op. 59 (6, 7 and 9)
  • Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1, op. 25 (“Classical”)
  • Haydn: Piano Concerto in D major, Hob. XVIII:11
  • Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, op. 35

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 18
Ludovic Morlot, conductor, with Conrad Tao, piano

  • Mozart: Ballet Music from Idomeneo, K367
  • Mozart: Piano Concerto in A major, K488
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550

The full calendar for the 2021 CMF season can be seen here. Tickets may be purchased through the Chautauqua Web page. Because health restrictions are subject to change over the summer, be sure to check the CMF 2021 tickets FAQ page.

2021 Colorado Music Festival will include in-person and live streaming options

Season will offer 22 performances at Chautauqua Auditorium July 1–­Aug. 7

By Peter Alexander March 29 at 10 a.m.

The Colorado Music Festival’s 2021 summer season will include both live in-person performances at the Boulder Chautauqua Auditorium, and live streams you can view from home.

Chautauqua Auditorium

These will be the first in-person CMF performances at Chautauqua since the end of the 2019 season. Last year, the planned summer season was cancelled and replaced with a series of intimate performances featuring selected guest artists and interviews by the CMF Music Director, Peter Oundjian.

In a release from the festival, CMF executive director Elizabeth McGuire is quoted saying “After moving to a virtual festival in 2020, we look forward to offering safe, socially-distanced concerts, alongside streaming options for several of this season’s concerts. We want these performances to be available to as many people as possible.”

CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian

Oundjian is quoted in the same news release: “In our 2021 season, we wish to commemorate the challenges of the pandemic, while celebrating the return to live, communal music-making.”

The summer’s schedule will parallel previous summers in many ways: Major orchestra concerts will be played on Thursdays at 7:30 (July 1–Aug. 5); four of the six Thursday concerts will be repeated on the following Friday, this year at 6:30 p.m.; chamber concerts featuring renowned guest artists and CMF musicians, will be Tuesday nights (July 6–Aug. 3); and there will be concerts on Sunday evenings featuring smaller orchestral forces (July 11–Aug. 1). 

The annual family concert, this year with Really Inventive Stuff performing Francis Poulenc’s Story of Babar, will be at 11 a.m. on the opening Saturday of the season, July 3. And the season will conclude at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7. Oundjian will lead orchestra concerts the first week of the festival, and weeks three through six, with guest conductors David Danzmayr and Ludovic Morlot picking up weeks two and three (see full schedule below).

Joan Tower. Photo by Bernie Mindich

There will be some notable innovations this year. The Tuesday chamber concerts will be known as the Robert Mann Chamber Music Series. Named for Robert Mann—composer, conductor, founding first violin of the Juilliard String Quartet and mentor to CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian—the series will feature CMF orchestra members, as well as three string quartets making their CMF debut appearances.

The first, on July 13, will be the Juilliard Quartet, which retains Mann’s legacy. The St. Lawrence String Quartet, once coached by Mann, will perform July 20, and the Danish String Quartet will present a strikingly original program, including a collection of dances, loosely modeled on the Baroque dance suites and assembled by the quartet from works by different composers, on Aug. 3.

The 2021 Festival will include four world premieres: commissions from Hannah Lash (July 22), Joan Tower (July 25) and Joel Thompson (Aug. 5), and a new work from Aaron Jay Kernis on opening night that will commemorate victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. The concert on July 25 will be devoted entirely to works by Tower, who plans to attend the performance.

Summer artist-in-residence will be violinist Augustin Hadelich, who appeared at the festival in 2018, and was scheduled for the 2020 Festival. When the latter was canceled, he made a solo appearance from Oundjian’s home as one of the summer’s online presentations. This year he will play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Oundjian and the Festival Orchestra on opening night, Thursday, July 1, and Friday, July 2; and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto Thursday, July 29, and Friday, July 30.

Olga Kern, pianist, photographed by Chris Lee at Steinway Hall.

There will be other Beethoven performances through the summer: Symphony No. 7 on the opening concert (July 1 and 2); an orchestration of String Quartet No. 14, op. 131 (July 22); the Quintet for piano and winds, op. 16 and the Septet, op. 20 (July 27); Symphony No. 3 (Aug. 5) and Symphony No. 5 on the final concert (Aug. 7). Other traditional Classical repertoire will be represented through works by Haydn, Mozart, Brahms and Mendelssohn scattered through the summer.

Other solo artists during the summer will include CMF favorite Olga Kern (July 15–16), pianist Stewart Goodyear, violinist Angelo Xiang Yu, pianist Conrad Tao, marimbist Ji Su Jung, pianist Christopher Taylor, cellist Alisa Weilerstein and saxophonist Steven Banks. Boulder resident and longtime CMF supporter Chris Christoffersen will narrate Copland’s Lincoln Portrait (Aug. 1).

Tickets for the 2021 season will be for sale on the CMF Web page beginning April 20. The CMF release also noted that “guidance for safe social distancing practices will be observed closely in the months to come and will most likely include limiting the number of orchestra members on stage.“The event’s venue, Chautauqua Auditorium, will implement a COVID-19 safety plan throughout the 2021 season, including the latest guidelines for spacing between seats, distance between performers and audience members, and mask requirements for all.” Information and updates to the Chautauqua safety plan will be posted on the venue’s Web site.

CMF is offering a remote viewing experience for the 2021 Colorado Music Festival with a selection of the performances available via live streaming. For a full list of live-streaming performances and to purchase tickets beginning April 20, click here.

# # # # #

Colorado Music Festival 2021
Season programs
All performances in the Chautauqua Auditorium

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 1
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 2
Opening Night
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Augustin Hadelich, violin

Aaron Jay Kernis: Elegy (to those we’ve lost) (world premiere)
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 64
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 92

11 a.m. Saturday, July 3
Family Concert: The Story of Babar
Really Inventive Stuff, Erina Yashima, conductor

Leopold Mozart: Toy Symphony
Francis Poulenc: The story of Babar, the Little Elephant

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 6
String Quintets
CMF Orchestra Members

Mozart: Viola Quintet in G minor, K516
Brahms: Viola Quintet in G major, op. 111

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 8 
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 9
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Stewart Goodyear, piano

Jessie Montgomery: Strum
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, op. 22
Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 11
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Angelo Xiang Yu, violin

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Novelletten for string orchestra, nos. 3 and 4
Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K216
Haydn: Symphony No. 104 in D major (“London”)

Juilliard String Quartet

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 13
Juilliard String Quartet

Ravel: String Quartet in F major
Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la Nuit (Thus the night)
Dvořák: String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 (“American”)

7:30 Thursday, July 15
6:30 Friday, July 16
Ludovic Morlot, conductor, with Olga Kern, piano

Dvořák: Legends, op. 59 (6, 7 and 9)
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1, op. 25 (“Classical”)
Haydn: Piano Concerto in D major, Hob. XVIII:11
Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, op. 35

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 18
Ludovic Morlot, conductor, with Conrad Tao, piano

Mozart: Ballet Music from Idomeneo, K367
Mozart: Piano Concerto in A major, K488
Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 20
St. Lawrence String Quartet

Haydn: String Quartet in D major, op. 20 no. 4
John Adams: String Quartet No. 1
Debussy: String Quartet in G minor, op. 10

Ji Su Jung

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 22
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Ji Su Jung, marimba

Hannah Lash: Forestallings (CMF Co-commission)
Kevin Puts: Concerto for Marimba
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 14, op. 131 (orchestrated by Peter Oundjian)

7:30 p.m. Friday, July 23
“Kaleidoscope”
CMF Orchestra strings and percussion, with 
Christopher Taylor, piano, and Ji Su Jung, marimba

Nebojsa Zivkovic: Trio per Uno
Nico Muhly: Big Time for String Quartet and Percussion
Peter Klatzow: Concert Marimba Etudes
Derek Bermel: Turning
Keith Jarrett: The Köln Concert (Part IIC)
Leigh Howard Stevens: Rhythmic Caprice
William Bolcom: Piano Quintet No. 2

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 25
Music of Joan Tower
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Alisa Weilerstein, cello

Joan Tower: Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 5
Joan Tower: Made in America
Joan Tower: Duets
Joan Tower: Cello Concerto (world premiere)

Augustin Hadelich

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 27
Colorado Music Festival Orchestra members

Beethoven: Quintet for piano and winds in E-flat major, op. 16
Beethoven: Septet in E-flat major, op. 20

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 29
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 30
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Augustin Hadelich, violin

Carl Maria von Weber: Overture to Oberon 
Zoltán Kodály: Dances of Galánta
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major, op. 61

6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 1
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Steven Banks, saxophone, and
Chris Christoffersen, narrator

Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man
Florence Price: String Quartet No. 2 (Movement 2)
Alexander Glazunov: Saxophone Concerto in E-flat major, op. 109
Jacques Ibert: Concertino da Camera
Copland: Lincoln Portrait

Brooklyn Rider

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3
Danish String Quartet
PROGRAM CHANGE: Due to COVID, the Danish String Quartet is unable to travel to the United States. This date will be filled by the Brooklyn Rider string quartet. Their program will be:

  • Carolyn Shaw: Schisma
  • Oswaldo Golijov: Tenebrae
  • Schubert: Styring Quartet No 14 (“Death and the Maiden”)

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5
Peter Oundjian, conductor

Joel Thompson: World Premiere commission
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op. 55 (“Eroica”)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7
Festival Finale
Peter Oundjian, conductor

Giovanni Gabrieli: Canzon septimi toni à 8, arr. R.P. Block
Dvořák: Serenade for Wind Instruments in D minor, op. 44
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op. 67

Conductor Peter Oundjian with the CMF Orchestra (2019)

Tickets on sale beginning April 20 on the CMF Web page