Gary Lewis and Boulder Philharmonic perform live to popular film scenes

“Pixar in Concert” features music from Toy Story, Incredibles, Finding Nemo and more

By Peter Alexander March 21 at 4:15 p.m.

You have probably seen the films, even if you don’t know who composed the music.

pixarinconcert_previewThe Boulder Philharmonic is presenting “Pixar in Concert” Saturday (March 23), with music from a baker’s dozen films, including Toy Story, Cars, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, among others. The composers of these well known film scores are Randy Newman, Michael Giacchino and Thomas Newman.

Recognize those names?

Only the first of them is well known, as much for his career as a recording artist as for his numerous film scores, including Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc. and Cars. Giacchino and Thomas Newman, however, are much less known by name, even though they have scored some of the most popular films of recent times, including Cars 2, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo.

The music will be performed live with clips from these Pixar films. Principal guest conductor Gary Lewis will conduct the Philharmonic.

Orchestral concerts of film music are more and more common. That is partly because of the quality of the composers writing today, and also the popularity that their music has achieved. “John Williams and others like him have really brought symphonic music to the masses, in a way,” Lewis says. “Now that has sort of turned around where symphony orchestras are latching onto that popularity to help bring people into the concert hall.”

The composers for this program are some of the best, Lewis says. Randy Newman is “just one of the great talents of our generation—an amazing pianist and songwriter and composer, sort of all in one package.” And Giacchino and Thomas Newman “are the new generation that is writing and scoring these Pixar films. They’re quite talented, and it’s really interesting music.”

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Conductor Gary Lewis

Keeping live music synchronized with the film excerpts is not an easy task. “In fact this is one of the most challenging concerts or programs that I have conducted, and I do a lot of this kind of stuff,” Lewis says. “The tempos, the techniques required, the size of the orchestra with guitarists and rhythm section and saxophonists and a large percussion section, harp, piano, and synthesizers—it’s complex!”

We are all used to seeing these films and having the music flow seamlessly along with the action—the outcome of compositional skill and the technical magic that is applied in postproduction. Coordination between film and music can be achieved with great precision through digital editing. But it’s a different matter when 80 or 100 musicians sit down onstage and have to play live with film events that can be measured in fractions of a second.

“For me, that is just another aspect of [conducting] that I enjoy the challenge of,” Lewis says. He has been doing it for some time, and he has managed to deal with several different ways of achieving some degree of synchronization.

“The most challenging thing that I’ve ever conducted was a Wizard of Oz, which was before everything was digitized,” he says. “The synchronization of that was with a sweep hand on an analog clock. I had to be able to start and stop with no other method of synchronization.

“With things that have singing or musical accompaniment that you had to accompany with the orchestra, there were all sorts of little anomalies in the [film] editing process where they would rush or drag. It was like nailing Jello to the wall.”

Happily, those days are past. Today, there are several forms of synchronization of which the most precise are “click tracks”—a sort of digital metronome signal that is created to exactly match with the film. Performers wear headsets so they can hear the clicks to keep together with one another and the film.

“This show has click tracks, [which] will be exceptionally helpful,” Lewis says. “Some of the tempo changes are just immediate and not particularly organic.” In this case, Lewis and some of the percussionists will hear the click tract, while the rest of the orchestra players will follow Lewis in a more or less normal way.

But while it’s fascinating to know the details of how the performance comes about, and what’s going on when you are there, Lewis doesn’t want the audience to sit there thinking about the technical details. When there was singing, as in The Wizard of Ozˆ, “if you didn’t line up, it was quite obvious,” he says. But for “Pixar in Concert,” it will be “just the orchestra, so if something doesn’t quite line up, most people wouldn’t even notice.”

Apart from the technical aplomb that it takes to pull off the performance, Lewis has a slew of other reasons why you should go this concert. “The animation is brilliant, as with all Pixar productions,” he says. “And the music is engaging as well. There’s everything from hard driving jazz to Latin, to Americana.

“There’s a lot of variety and it’s all really, really fun stuff.”

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra

Pixar in Concert
Boulder Philharmonic, Gary Lewis, conductor

Randy Newman: Music from Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Monsters University and Cars
Michael Giacchino: music from Coco, Ratatouille, UP, The Incredibles, Cars 2 and Inside Out
Thomas Newman: music from Finding Nemo and WALL-E

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23
Macky Auditorium

Tickets

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Boulder Philharmonic pairs ‘complementary’ composers Beethoven and Elgar

Program highlights cellist Astrid Schween, new work by Boulder native Kristin Kuster

By Peter Alexander Feb. 28 at 12:40 p.m.

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Astrind Schween will play the Elgar Cello Concerto with the Boulder Philharmonic. Photo by Steve Sherman

Michael Butterman, music director of the Boulder Philharmonic, thinks that Beethoven and the English composer Sir Edward Elgar go well together, but he’s not quite sure why.

“I always think of Beethoven and Elgar as complementary,” he says. “It’s a gut sense, and I can’t put my finger on it.”

Finger on it or not, when the guest soloist for Saturday’s concert, cellist Astrid Schween, was selected to play the Elgar Cello Concerto, Butterman picked Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony for the same program. Also on the program is the first Colorado performance of Dune Acres, a new work by Boulder native Kristin Kuster.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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“Elgar and Beethoven”
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, music director
With Astrid Schween, cello

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Composer Kristin Kuster

Kristin Kuster: Dune Acres (Colorado premiere)
Edward Elgar: Cello Concerto
Beethoven: Symphony No. 4

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 2, Macky Auditorium
Tickets

There will a free pre-performance program at 6:30 p.m. in Macky Auditorium, hosted by Marilyn Cooley of Colorado Public Radio, with Michael Butterman, Astrid Schween and Kristin Kuster.

Soprano Mary Wilson sings songs about childhood with Boulder Phil

Samuel Barber’s Knoxville, Summer of 1915 and Maher’s Symphony No 4

By Peter Alexander Feb. 7 at 4:15 p.m.

Soprano Mary Wilson is looking forward to her appearance with the Boulder Philharmonic Saturday (7:30 pm. Feb. 9 in Macky Auditorium). “It’s a real dream program for soprano,” she says.

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Soprano Mary Wilson

Under the title “The Heavenly Life,” the program includes two pieces with soprano solo that reflect the voice of a child, but with deeper currents: Samuel Barber’s nostalgic Knoxville, Summer of 1915 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. The program also features portions of Mark O’Connor’s Strings and Threads with the Phil’s concertmaster Charles Wetherbee as soloist.

“It is a good concert for those of us who just take in the beautiful sonorities,” says Boulder Philharmonic music director Michael Butterman. “I’m looking forward to it.”

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Michael Butterman Photo by Jiah Kyun.

Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is the most familiar of the three works on the program. It is the shortest of Mahler’s ten symphonies, and has the smallest orchestra. Lacking the emotional stress and angst of some of Mahler’s larger symphonies, the Fourth is “audience-friendly,” Butterman says. “It’s a lighter, more transparent work and one you can hear without pre-concert study. It’s rejuvenating to listen to.”

The Fourth marks the end of Mahler’s first group of symphonies that share the common feature of being related to the composer’s songs written on texts from a single collection of poetry, Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The boy’s magic horn). The finale is a setting of one of the Wunderhorn texts, a song that Mahler called “Das himmlische Leben” (The heavenly life), from which the concert takes its title.

Originally conceived as a possible finale to his previous symphony, the movement was written before the rest of the Fourth. As he worked his way toward the already completed finale, Mahler anticipated its themes and mood of gentle lyricism in the earlier movements.

The entire symphony has a cheerful cast, from the very opening with flutes and sleigh bells through to the end. Even the second movement’s macabre fiddle solo that represents “Freund Hein,” a medieval German symbol of death, is mostly lighthearted in nature.

The finale, with its lovely melodies and its text describing a child’s view of a heavenly feast in which “the angels bake the bread” is the shortest. “It is not an apotheosis,” Butterman says. “It’s a benediction.”

There are darker moments. The text describes how “we lead an innocent, dear little lamb to its death” for the meal, and “St. Luke slaughters an ox.” But in this childlike heaven, even the animals seem happy to become meals.

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Mary Wilson

“What this piece has so beautifully [is] a sense of wonder, but there’s a definite pensiveness to it,” Wilson says. “In that respect it’s very honest. Not everything is wonderful, and I think the way that Mahler gives it balance is really beautiful.”

Knoxville, Summer of 1915 is a setting for soprano and small orchestra of a prose piece by James Agee, published as a preamble to his Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Death in the Family. As such, it is both a nostalgic remembrance of an idyllic moment in Agee’s childhood and a poignant prelude to a family tragedy.

The text describes a lingering summer evening on the porch and in the backyard of Agee’s family home, where the child is surrounded by a loving family. It is presented from the perspective of both a five-year-old child and an adult looking back on his lost innocence.

In her performance, Wilson aims to capture both the child and the adult. “My goal is to get the background in the way I can shape a word, to give the idea that it’s not one dimension,” she says. “I don’t want to be histrionic and melodramatic. Agee does such a good job of spinning the poetry that my job is just to add color and zero in on the important words at the important times.”

She finds that living in Tennessee the past 11 years has given her an extra appreciation for Agee’s description of summer nights. “I live in Tennessee now and I hear the cicadas, which I didn’t have growing up in Minnesota,” she says.

“That first-person relationship to sitting on your front porch on a summer evening, I really do feel that. I find it so comforting and so homey anymore, the sound of the cicadas on a hot summer night.”

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Chalres Wetherbee

O’Connor’s Strings and Threads is a set of 13 short movements written to trace a thread of American folk music, and reflecting the history of his own family, moving from Ireland to Appalachia and westward across the continent. “The work is for string orchestra and violin solo, you might call it fiddle solo, because the pieces are written in this kind of folk idiom,” Butterman says.

Wetherbee will only play a selection of O’Connor’s complete work. “We’ve chosen a few movements that are appealing and ordered them in a way that contrasts slow and fast,” Butterman explains. “We’re treating them more as stylistic references to other parts of the program, the Appalachian locale of Knoxville, and also the reference to fiddling in the second movement of the Mahler, rather than a travelogue as a chronological presentation.”

The combination of O’Connor, Barber and Mahler is an unusual variation on the usual orchestral program of overture, concerto and symphony, but Wilson has no doubts. “It’s brilliant programming!” she says.

“It’s really stunningly beautiful.”

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The Heavenly Life

Boulder Philharmonic in Macky

Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Mary Wilson, soprano, and Charles Wetherbee, violin
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, Macky Auditorium

Mark O’Connor: Strings and Threads
Samuel Barber: Knoxville, Summer of 1915
Mahler: Symphony No. 4

Tickets

With 80 to choose from, Garrick Ohlsson will play only one in Boulder

Rachmaninoff First Concerto shares Boulder Phil concert with other Russian works

By Peter Alexander Jan. 17 at 11:30 a.m.

Pianist Garrick Ohlsson has, at last count, at least 80 concertos in his repertoire.

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Garrick Ohlsson. Photo by Dario Acosta.

Yes, eight-zero, 80. “It’s absolutely possible,” Ohlsson says. “It’s probably more by now, but it doesn’t mean that I play them all, all the time.”

He admits that there are fewer than 10 that he could play at the drop of a hat — one of which, Rachmaninoff’s First Piano Concerto, he will perform with the Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman on Saturday (Jan. 19) in Boulder and Sunday (Jan. 20) in Federal Heights. Other works on the all-Russian program will be Alexander Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia and Sergei Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Garrick Ohlsson, piano

Borodin: In the Steppes of Central Asia
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 1
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan 19, Macky Auditorium, Boulder
2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20, Pinnacle Performing Arts Center, Federal Heights

Tickets

 

Violinist Midori comes to Boulder as a concerto soloist and much, much more

Week-long residency includes teaching, master classes and a public lecture

By Peter Alexander Nov. 1 at 12:15 p.m.

Sometimes a soloist is more than a soloist.

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Midori will be soloist with the Boulder Phil. Photo by Timothy Greenfield Sanders.

The next concert of the Boulder Philharmonic, at the unusual time of 7 p.m. Sunday, features the violinist Midori Goto (who performs under the mononym Midori) playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto. That’s Midori appearing as a traditional concerto soloist, but it’s only one part of a week-long residency in Boulder that includes teaching students from grade school through college as well as community outreach to adults.

The Boulder Philharmonic and the Greater Boulder Youth Orchestras (GBYO) were selected for the residency — one of only two in the 2018–19 year — through a competitive process administered by the Midori Orchestra Residencies Program in New York.

Sunday’s concert will feature two other works along with the Sibelius Concerto: Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds by Tan Dun, an atmospheric piece that includes an mp3 file that audience members can download and play on their cell phones during the concert; and Brahms’ Third Symphony.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Midori Plays Sibelius
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman director
With Midori, violin
7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4

Macky Auditorium

Tan Dun: Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds
Sibelius: Violin Concerto
Brahms: Symphony No. 3

Tickets

Midori Orchestra Residencies Program events

Citizen Artist Talk
Saturday, Nov. 3, 1 PM
Naropa University Performing Arts Center, 2130 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
Free and open to the public

Community Play-Along
Sunday, Nov. 4, 12-1:30 PM
Naropa University Performing Arts Center, 2130 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
Free and open to the public

Greater Boulder Youth Orchestras Concert with Midori
Monday, Nov. 5, 6 PM
Macky Auditorium, Boulder

More information on all events, registration for the Community Play-Along and tickets for the GBYO performances can be found here.

Infinite Space: Boulder Phil plays music about stars and astronomers and planets

New video by artist Gary Kelley will accompany The Planets by Gustav Holst

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Philharmonic calls their 2018–19 season “Open Space,” and they will begin their classical programming Saturday (Oct. 13) focusing on the openest space of all. Under the title “Infinite Space,” they will perform music about stars and astronomers and planets.

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Artwork by Gary Kelley for The New Live, from “The Planets Re-imagined”

You might guess one of the pieces: The Planets by Gustav Holst, one of the best loved and most programmed pieces for orchestra. The other two are completely new to Boulder audiences, having both been written in this century: Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst and James Stephenson’s Celestial Suite.

“To take something well loved and surround it with music that is a discovery for people—that is the formula we have followed for a while,” Michael Butterman, the Boulder Phil’s music director says.

Holst’s Planets will be accompanied by a video, “The Planets Re-imagined,” created by artist Gary Kelley, who is known for his posters and illustrations, and The New Live, a company specializing in multimedia productions for the concert stage.

Kelley created more than 25 separate images, from large oil paintings to small illustrations, that are combined in video imagery. The subject of the images is World War I and the time after the war, rather than the physical planets themselves.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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“Infinite Space”
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor

Jessie Montgomery: Starburst
James Stephenson: Celestial Suite
Gustav Holst: The Planets

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13
Macky Auditorium, Boulder

2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14
Pinnacle Performing Arts Center, Denver (without video projections for The Planets)

Tickets

Related events:

“Meet the Planets” Musical Hike
Dave Sutherland, leader
7:15 p.m. Oct. 11 CANCELED (weather)
7:15 p.m. Oct. 12 and Monday, Oct. 15 (weather permitting; clear skies are forecast))
Boulder Valley Ranch Trailhead
Free

Free Pre-Concert Talk
Hosted by CPR’s Marilyn Cooley with Michael Butterman, astronomer Kyle KremerandDavid Brainof CU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics
6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13
Macky Auditorium

 

Boulder Phil opens 2018–19 season with music of John Williams

Music from Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., and more

By Peter Alexander Sept. 25 at 10:15 p.m.

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra

From Jaws to Harry Potter and Star Wars, John Williams has written some of the most familiar music of the past 45 years, across generations, social classes and all varieties of musical taste.

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Composer John Williams

“I dare say that Williams is a well known entity” Michael Butterman, music director of the Boulder Philharmonic, says with a smile. And so he admits that the orchestra is not breaking new ground when they perform “A Tribute to John Williams” as their opening event of the 2018–19 season, Saturday (Sept. 29) in Macky Auditorium.

“This (concert) is more in the camp of wanting to create experiences that are broadly appealing to as wide a swath of the community as possible,” Butterman says. “Williams’s music has an appeal to people who love great orchestral sonorities, as well as people who love any of the great movies that he’s scored.”

To reach that broad audience, he and the orchestra are presenting music from some of Williams’s best known films, including Jaws—his first big hit, from 1975—Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), Jurassic Park (1993), and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2004). He also selected music from some less familiar films, including The Cowboys (1972), The Terminal (2004) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005).

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Michael Butterman

Butterman’s aim in choosing music for the concert was to showcase the wide variety of styles that Williams can adopt in his scores. “There’s really just no end to the variety that this guy is capable of,” he says. “If there is a discovery to be made here, or at least a reminder, it’s that he has an ability to write in a huge variety of styles, and do it really effectively in each one.”

If Williams is known for anything to students of film music, it’s not his originality, but his ability to assimilate many different styles, and to create a mood in just a few notes. For example, it is no secret that the “Imperial March” from Star Wars has a striking resemblance to “Mars the Bringer of War” from Holst’s Planets. Nor is it disputed that it perfectly creates the impression of grandeur and menace that the forces of The Empire require.

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John Williams with one of his Oscars

That ability to capture exactly the right style to pull the movie audience into the scene is the essence of great film music. And John Williams has it to such a degree that he has been nominated for no fewer than 50 Academy Awards, and has won five of the golden statuettes.

“The music is there to nonverbally transport the listener to a time and place, and he can do that with just a few notes or a couple of chords,” Butterman says. “There are works where he channels a particular culture, like Memoirs of a Geisha where he’s writing in a style that is evocative of Asian music, or Angela’s Ashes where there’s an Irish or British Isles feel to the music, or “Viktor’s Tale”from The Terminal where he’s channeling a sort of folksy central European feel.”

The concert will open with the “Superman March”—in case you forgot, Williams wrote music that was used in all four of the Christopher Reeves films (1978–87). Early on you will hear what is likely the most famous and terrifying two-note theme ever written, and the program ends with one of the greatest opening fanfares of any film—but I don’t have to identify those, do I?

Hint: Both scores won an Academy Award.

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A Tribute to John Williams
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
7:30 pm. Saturday, Sept. 29
Macky Auditorium

Music from Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Jurassic Park, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and other films

Tickets