Grace Notes: DeVotchKa in Boulder, ‘Turandot’ in Denver, choruses everywhere

Season-ending performances provide broad choices for audiences

By Peter Alexander May 2 at 10:40 p.m.

The Longs Peak Chorus, the Longmont chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), will end their 2022–23 season of performances with a concert titled “Celebration.”

“Barbershop Harmony,” or “Barbershop Quartet” singing, is four-part a-capella singing for male voices. The most common format is to have individual quartets of four singers, although the music is also performed by larger groups of male voices, such as the full Longs Peak Chorus. Barbershop quartets have been featured in popular entertainment, such as The Music Man by Meredith Willson. 

Artistic License Barbershop Quartet

The occasion for the celebration is the 75th anniversary of the group, which was chartered with the BHS in 1948. Their concerts Friday at Saturday at Niwot High School (7 p.m. and 2 p.m.; details below) will also feature the quartet Artistic License and mixed choirs from local high schools.

Barbershop quartets are often associated with the “Gay Nineties,” or the 1890s, as was the case in The Music Man. Quartets usually wear coordinated outfits, often in a Gay Nineties style with straw hats and vests.

The visit by Artistic License and the inclusion of high school choirs are part of Long Peaks Chorus’s outreach to local music educators and students. Artistic License will visit local schools and spend time with choirs and their directors for clinics and coachings.

The program for the performances will feature classic four-part harmony as well as larger a-capella arrangements. 

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Longs Peak Chorus,  Ron Black, director
With Artistic License quartet and local high school choirs

7 p.m. Friday, May 5
2 p.m. Saturday May 6

Niwot High School Theater


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Boulder’s Cantabile Singers and artistic director Brian Stone will end the concert season this weekend (May 5 and 7; details below) with a tribute to the culture of the Chickasaw Nation.

The main work on their concert program will be Ilhoba”by the Chickasaw composer and pianist Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate. Subtitled “The Vision,” Ilholba’ is based on a Chickasaw garfish dance song and will be performed in the Chickasaw language to a text by the composer.

Tate is an American Indian composer and pianist who has written symphonic music, ballet and opera. His works have been commissioned by major orchestras and performed around the world. He has gained a reputation as a composer who can successfully express American Indian culture through classical orchestral music.

Three other works complete the program. “Stomp on the Fire” by Andrea Ramsey uses the voice and percussive sounds of the body together. Chante Waste Hoksila (My kind-hearted boy) is a traditional Lakota lullaby that has been arranged by Lakota spiritual leader and composer Linthicum-Blackhorse in honor of the children of Uvalde, Texas. Finally, the “Wichita Baptist Hymn” uses two melodies from the Southern Plains Wichita tribe as transcribed by tribal member Tracey Gregg-Boothby.

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“Ilhloba’: The Vision”
Cantabile Singers, Brian Stone, artistic director

  • Jerod Tate: Ilholba’
  • Andrea Ramsey: “Stomp on the Fire”
  • Lakota trad., arr. Linthicum-Blackhorse: Chante Waste Hoksila (My kind-hearted boy)
  • Andrew Marshall, arr.: “Wichita Baptist Hymn”

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 5
3 p.m. Sunday, May 7

First Congregational Church, Boulder


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The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra will enter new territory Saturday when they team up with Colorado Indie rock band DeVotchKa (Russian for “girl”).

The four members of DeVotchKa

For one thing ,it will be their first appearance with the unique group that combines four acoustic performers with a wide variety of instrumental possibilities, including theremin, bouzouki, guitar, accordion, sousaphone, double bass, flute and percussion—among others. For another, the orchestra’s executive director, Sara Parkinson, will take a step beyond her usual administrative duties to conduct the performance—at the request of DeVotchKa member Tom Hagerman with whom she has collaborated in the tango quartet Grande Orquestra Navarre.

While this is a new role for Parkinson with the Phil, it is not really new for her. She has conducted opera, choirs, and orchestras in Boulder and with the Dallas Opera’s Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Women Conductors.

DeVotchKa has a distinctive sound that derives largely from the inclusion of the sousaphone, accordion and the electronic theremin, along with more traditional instruments including guitar, flute and trumpet, along with a solid rhythm section. They have a passionate following in Colorado, and gained wider recognition after their music was featured in the Academy Award-winning film Little Miss Sunshine in 2006.

DeVotchKa describes their sound as a “blend of various musical genres, including Romani music, punk rock, and Eastern European folk music.” Their four key members are Hagerman, Nick Utra, Jeanie Schroder and Shawn King. The band was formed in 1997.

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Devotchka with the Boulder Philharmonic
Sara Parkinson, conductor

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6

Macky Auditorium


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Opera Colorado’s upcoming production of Puccini’s popular Turandot is selling rapidly. 

The two-thousand-plus capacity Ellie Caulkins Opera House is already sold out for two performances (May 6 and 24) and two other performances are currently listed as “limited availability” (details below).

Based on a play by Carlo Gozzi, Turandot is the tale of a cruel princess who seeks revenge on all men for the death of an ancestor. Besieged by suitors, she poses three riddles to the men who attempt to woo her; if they fail to answer correctly, they will be killed. After seeing the Prince of Persia fail and go to his execution, Calaf, Prince of Tartary, impulsively declares his suit.

Calaf successfully answers the three riddles, but offers to face execution anyway if Turandot can guess his name before dawn. Liú, a servant girl in love with Calaf, kills herself rather than reveal his name. Calaf himself reveals his name, but Turandot, rather than have him killed, declares that his true name is love.

Puccini died before completing Turandot. The score was completed by the composer Franco Alfano in time for the opera’s premiere, April 25, 1926, but the conductor of the premiere, Arturo Toscanini, chose to end the performance where Puccini had stopped writing. Subsequent performances generally use the Alfano completion, although it has never been highly regarded. Other completions have been attempted, but none have caught on.

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Giacomo Puccini and Franco Alfano: Turandot
Opera Colorado
Ari Pelto, conductor; Aria Umezawa, stage director

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6 SOLD OUT
7:30 Tuesday, May 9 (limited availability)
7:30 p.m. Friday, May 12 (limited availability) 
2 p.m. Sunday, May 24 SOLD OUT

Ellie Caulkins Opera House, Denver


Boulder Phil boldly goes to Orion Nebula for Saturday’s concert

Program centers on piano-and-orchestra works by Ravel, Rachmaninoff, with pianist Angela Cheng

By Peter Alexander April 20 at 5:10 p.m.

Conductor Michael Butterman, pianist Angela Cheng and the Boulder Philharmonic will visit France and Russia for their concert Saturday (7 p.m. April 22 in Macky Auditorium; details below).

Image taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the sharpest view ever taken of the Orion Nebula, including more than 3,000 stars of various sizes. Image from 2006.

Those are the native countries of composers Ravel and Rachmaninoff, whose works are featured. But if you add in the subjects of the other programmed works by Tchaikovsky and Boulder native Leigha Amick, the itinerary expands to Shakespeare’s Verona and the Orion Nebula as seen by the Hubble telescope.

The concert will open with the world premiere of Amick’s Gossamer Depths, the 2022 winner of the “Resound Boulder” composition competition. Now a graduate student at the Curtis Institute, Amick grew up in Boulder, where she began her composition studies with CU faculty member Daniel Kellogg. One of her earlier pieces was played at a Boulder Phil Discovery Concert when she was still in high school.

Gossamer Depths was inspired by a photo taken from the Hubble Telescope. “I saw that and thought it needed to be depicted in an orchestra setting,” Amick says. Her music portrays different elements that can easily be seen in the photo: “The different (harmonic) layers of the piece represent the different layers of color within the photograph,” she says.

Boulder native and composer Leigha Amick

On top of those layers of chords that move independently of one another, Amick explains, “swirls of dust and space gasses are represented by 16th-note runs throughout the orchestra. And then there are stars on top of all this, and those are accented notes, mostly in winds, brass and percussion.”

Amick’s evocative score will be followed by two separate piano solo works with orchestra, played by Angela Cheng: first Ravel’s Concerto in G major before intermission, and then Rachmaninoff’s popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini opening the second half. Although both works were written around 1930, Ravel’s restrained, jazz-influenced concerto contrasts strongly with Rachmaninoff’s deeply romantic Rhapsody.

Angela Cheng

“They are such different kinds of music—different sonorities, different kinds of touch required of pianists,” Cheng says. “The one similarity is the orchestra is fully an equal partner. In the Ravel Concerto, the orchestra part is just as difficult for some of the wind instruments—it’s almost like concerto for orchestra and Piano. And the same thing with the Rachmaninoff, you really feel like the orchestra is a full partner.

“Of course the sound that needs to come out of the piano is completely different—the (Ravel Concerto) is much lighter, much more transparent. In the Rachmaninoff, the lushness, the richness of the sonorities in the writing and what is required of the pianist, is great in the piano.”

Beyond the differences in playing technique, Cheng struggles to find just the right metaphor to describe the two pieces. Clearly she loves both, each in its own way. “I don’t know very much about wine, but what I know, how whites can be a little bit lighter, maybe that’s Ravel? And a richer red for the Rachmaninoff.

“Or you could compare it to food, even Chinese cooking: Cantonese, where there’s a lot of steaming, lightness, fresh vegetables, would be the Ravel. Rachmaninoff has heavier sauces, maybe northern cooking where it’s richer. Something like that, but they’re both delicious.”

Michael Butterman. Photo by Jiah Kyun

The Rhapsody is a series of variations on a theme used by the violin virtuoso Paganini for his own set of challenging variations in his Caprice No. 24 for solo violin. A simple harmonic outline, it is so well suited for creating variations that dozens of composers have used the same framework for their own variations. 

The most familiar of Rachmaninoff’s variations is No. 18, in which the melodic outline is inverted—turned upside down—and turned into a dreamy, Romantic tune out of character with the dramatic nature of other parts of the score. “It seems to come from a completely different world than the rest,” Butterman says. “It’s marvelous!”

The combination and contrast of Ravel and Rachmaninoff was the starting point of the program, Butterman says. “Originally this was going to be a French and Russian thing,” he says. “I have always thought (there were) color similarities between French and Russian music.”

The concert will conclude with Tchaikovsky’s well known Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy-Overture, which Butterman describes as “an example of music that has made its way into the popular awareness of filmmakers and more. I find it a really effective piece that doesn’t attempt to trace the narrative arc, but gives you the emotional arc of the play, from tragedy, of course, to the overwhelming sense of being head over heels in love. You can go through this whole gamut of emotions in 20 minutes.

“It’s marvelous, and people will love it and I think it pairs well with the Rachmaninoff.”

The concert will be dedicated to the memory of violist Megan Edrington, a member of the Boulder Philharmonic who died March 16 at the age of 43.

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Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor 
With Angela Cheng, piano

Concert dedicated in loving memory of Megan Edrington (1979–2023)

Leigha Amick: Gossamer Depths (World premiere; Resound Boulder Commission)
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy-Overture

7 p.m. Saturday, April 22
Macky Auditorium


CORRECTIONS: The original post was incorrectly dated April 22. April 22 is the date of the concert, not of the blog post. April 20 is the correct date.
The correct title of Leigha Amick’s piece is Gossamer Depths. And earlier version of this story misstated the title as Gossamer Depth.

Stefan Jackiw plays Bruch with the Boulder Phil

Violinist returns for third round in Boulder, second with the Phil

By Peter Alexander March 23 at 6:40 p.m.

Stefan Jackiw (STE-fahn ja-KEEV) last performed in Boulder pre-Covid, when he was part of a Mozart mini-festival at the Colorado Music Festival in the summer of 2019.

Conductor Michael Butterman with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra

Leaping a century and across several borders, he returns to Boulder Saturday to play the Scottish Fantasy composed in 1880 by Max Bruch with the Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman. This will be his second appearance with Butterman and the Phil, after a 2018 performance of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto.

Max Bruch

Maintaining the British flavor, Saturday’s program also includes The Banks of Green Willow by English composer George Butterworth. And in observance of the 150th anniversary of Rachmaninoff’s birth, the program concludes with that composer’s Symphonic Dances, his last completed composition, written around 1940.

In the 19th century, Scotland and the Romantic novels of Sir Walter Scott captured the imagination of composers across Europe. Mendelssohn visited Scotland in 1829 and wrote his Hebrides Overture and his “Scottish” Symphony (Symphony No. 3 in A minor). Operas based on Scott’s novels are legion, including Rossini’s La Donna del Lago (The Lady of the Lake) and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, and many others less well known.

Among the composers enchanted by Scott’s stories was the German Max Bruch, who conducted the Liverpool Philharmonic for three years (1880-83). Bruch paid homage to the wild beauty and romance of Scotland by writing his Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra. Bruch studied and incorporated Scottish folk melodies into his score, which soon became just about his most popular piece.

Based on two folk songs that he collected in 1907, Butterworth’s Banks of Green Willow has been popular as a musical representation of the English countryside. The songs tell a sad, and even shocking, tale about an English country girl who runs away to sea to cover up an illegitimate pregnancy, but the music nevertheless remains mostly cheerful. Known for only a handful of works, Butterworth was tragically killed in World War I at the age of 31.

Sergei Rachmaninoff was born just about 150 years ago, on April 1, 1873 (Gregorian calendar; March 20 O.S.). In honor of the 150th anniversary of his birth, the Boulder Phil will perform his Symphonic Dances. 

Rachmaninoff had long wanted to write music for a ballet when he composed the Dances. He had shown the score to the great Russian choreographer Michel Fokine, who unfortunately died before he could realize them as a ballet. Rachmaninoff himself died in 1943, not long after the 1941 premiere of the score by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Today the score is known primarily as concert music, although it has been set by Peter Martins on the New York City Ballet (1994), and by other choreographers.

Stefan Jackiw

Jackiw himself is nearly as multicultural as the program. The grandson of one of Korea’s greatest poets, Pi Chun-Deuk, he is of both Korean and Ukrainian descent. A native of Boston, he attended Harvard and the New England Conservatory. In addition to his international touring as a solo violinist, he has played with Ensemble Ditto, a popular Korean chamber music group that also features CU faculty member Richard O’Neill. 

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“Jackiw Plays Bruch”
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Stefan Jackiw, violin

George Butterworth: The Banks of Green Willow
Max Bruch: Scottish Fantasy
Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances

7 p.m. Saturday, March 25
Macky Auditorium


Boulder Phil dedicates concert to the late violinist Chas Wetherbee

Performance will be Sunday at 4 p.m.

By Peter Alexander Jan. 19 at 9:25 p.m.

Chas Wetherbee, late concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic

The Boulder Philharmonic will dedicate its next performance to the memory of their late concertmaster, Charles “Chas” Wetherbee, who died Jan. 9.

The concert was to have featured Wetherbee as soloist, playing Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto. The program, which also includes Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7, remains unchanged. Violinist Alex Gonzalez, who joined the CU College of Music faculty in August, will substitute for Wetherbee, both as soloist and as the orchestra’s concertmaster.

Titled “Afternoon with Bruckner,” the concert will be presented at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22, in Macky Auditorium. This is a change from the orchestra’s usual schedule of Saturday evening concerts. The Phil’s music director, Michael Butterman, will conduct.

Butterman had always wanted to feature Wetherbee for this concert. In looking for a piece to pair with the Bruckner, which alone takes 70 minutes, he thought the relatively short and cheerful Mozart Concerto would be suitable.

“Something about that combination (of Mozart and Bruckner) works,” he says. While not technically an overture, Butterman says he thinks of the concerto as “an aperitif” before the main course. “And a quick Google search revealed that I was not the first person to bring those (two composers) together,” he adds.

As both soloist and guest concertmaster, Gonzalez sees his role as honoring Wetherbee. “This concert is quite special, because I’m stepping in for Chas,” he says. “I want to honor him as much as I can.

Violinist Alex Gonzalez

“He was such a generous, open musician. Particularly In the Mozart I want to bring that feeling to the concerto, and bring the freshness and open-heartedness that I’m sure he would have brought. And the piece lends itself to that.”

Gonzalez says he will bring the same respect to his role as concertmaster. The music he has received has all of the bow markings that Wetherbee had planned for the Bruckner Symphony, which is a completely new piece for Gonzalez. Normally, as concertmaster he would make his own bow markings as he learned the music, but in this case he intends to keep Wetherbee’s choices.

“While I’m given permission (as concertmaster) to change what I need to, I’m hoping to facilitate more than to change much, just because of the circumstances of this performance,” he says. “I’m really interested in playing the concert as (Wetherbee) would have.”

While the Bruckner is new for Gonzalez, it’s not for Butterman. “It’s my favorite Bruckner symphony,” he says. “Most people tend to agree that this and maybe the Ninth are his best symphonies, if one can say such a thing.”

Like most of Bruckner’s music, the symphony moves at a leisurely pace that is different from the fast pace that characterizes our world today. “It’s a slow burn,” is how Butterman puts it. “It’s not for our short-attention-span world. It’s the perfect antidote for contemporary society. But if you can relax with it, it’s incredible rewarding.”

The first two movements are especially expansive and expressive. “I just love some of the glories of the first movement,” Butterman says. 

Michael Butterman. Photo by Jiah Kyun.

The second movement was written in homage to Richard Wagner, whom Brucker idolized and who died soon after the symphony was completed. Although not a literal funeral march—Wagner was still alive when it was written—Bruckner did intend it as a tribute and it has a definite elegiac quality.

One interesting feature is the inclusion of instruments known as “Wagner tubas”—a tenor instrument that Wagner commissioned for his Ring cycle of four music dramas to fill the gap in the brass section between French horns and trombones. Their inclusion may be another homage to Wagner’s music. The Phil borrowed instruments from the CU College of Music, since few people own Wagner tubas.

Several typical characteristics of Bruckner’s style are evident in the symphony. For one, it may be a sign of his training and career as an organist that the orchestra is often used in blocks, like changing stops on the organ. The music is often built from highly regular units of four or eight measures. This can be heard particularly in the third movement, a vigorous folk-dance, and the finale, a collection of energetic ideas that each seems to stand on its own. In contrast, the first two movements are much more expansive and flexible.

Because of their length and orchestral size, Bruckner symphonies have not often been heard in Boulder. “There were a number of reasons this was important to do,” Butterman says. “Not the least is that it’s a chance for the brass to play with a roundness and warmth, and more bloom to the sound.”

While playing a less familiar symphony provides challenges for the players, Butterman concedes that Bruckner poses him a challenge as well. “Just managing the rehearsal will be a challenge,” he says. “The first two movements are so long I have to be conscious of not getting too deep in the weeds and running out of time.

“That’s my challenge.”

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“Afternoon with Bruckner”
Dedicated to the memory of the orchestra’s late concertmaster, Charles Wetherbee
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Alex Gonzalez, violin

  • Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K219 (“Turkish”)
  • Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E major

4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22
Macky Auditorium


Charles (Chas) Wetherbee (July 14, 1966–Jan. 9, 2023)

Violinist, CU faculty member, father of three dies after battle with cancer

By Peter Alexander Jan. 11 at 12:45 p.m.

Some few special musicians go beyond the ability to reach listeners with their performances, and touch people with their generous and kind personalities. One of those was Charles (Chas) Wetherbee, concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, first violinist of the Carpe Diem String Quartet, and faculty member of the University of Colorado, Boulder, College of Music.

Wetherbee died Monday (Jan. 9) following a battle with cancer. He was 56.

Many tributes have been stated for Wetherbee, and a common theme has been going beyond his his great musical skills to recognize his human qualities. Korine Fujiwara, violist of the Carpe Diem Quartet, described him as “my best and most trusted friend . . . and a beautiful example of all that is good in the world.” Pianist David Korevaar, with whom Wetherbee collaborated on CU faculty concerts and other chamber music performances, wrote “You were a generous, open-hearted, wise, and patient friend. You were the best colleague anyone can have.”

Announcing that the next concert of the Boulder Philharmonic on Jan. 22 would be dedicated to Wetherbee’s memory, conductor Michael Butterman wrote that Wetherbee “brought out the best in everyone. . . . He radiated generosity, kindness and a selfless spirit that anyone in his presence could feel. The impact of his legacy is impossible to overstate.”

CU College of Music dean John Davis noted that “Chas brought a wealth of expertise and experience from his varied career as a soloist, chamber musician, orchestral concertmaster, teacher, coach and collaborator. . . . He was also a consummate mensch, widely known and loved for his kindness, enthusiasm, unwavering optimism and overall graciousness.”

A GoFundMe campaign that was started in December to support Wetherbee’s family has raised more than $200,000 from 1,200 donors, indicating both the breath and the depth of affection Wetherbee had in the local community of music lovers. Donations have ranged from $20 to $15,000.

Charles Tyler Wetherbee was born in Buffalo, New York, July 14, 1966. He made his debut with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under Semyon Bychkov, and since then has performed with the National Symphony under Mstislav Rostropovitch, as well as the Japan Philharmonic, the Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia, the Philharmonic Orchestra of Bogota (Columbia), the National Repertory Orchestra, the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Mexico, the Symphony Orchestra of the Curtis Institute, the Buffalo Philharmonic, and the Virginia Symphony, among others.

A devoted chamber musician, Wetherbee was first violinist of the Carpe Diem String Quartet and performed in recital with pianist David Korevaar of the CU College of Music faculty. Wetherbee’s first orchestral appointment was as principal second violin with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. Following five years at the NSO, he served as concertmaster of the Columbus Symphony for 16 years. He joined the faculty of the CU College of Music in 2012 and became concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic in 2014. He directed the Snake River Music Festival in Dillon, Colorado, for many years 

Wetherbee is survived by his wife, Karina, a professional photographer and writer, and their three children, Tristan, Sebastian and Tessa. After Wetherbee’s death, Karina wrote on the GoFundMe page, “Chas composed his final note last night. . . . I know now that his life’s work was a symphony, of the most grand and sweeping and lyrical beauty, and each note of that music was made up of all the millions of interactions he had with every person who entered his life.”

From Nutcracker to a sing-along Messiah

A listing of Holiday performances by area musical organizations

By Peter Alexander

‘Tis the season, and the halls are alive with the sounds of Christmas.

The 2013 Holiday Festival by the College of Music in Macky Auditorium (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

In the coming weeks, area musical organizations will offer performances ranging from The Nutcracker to Messiah, from Gregorian chant to Judy Collins, and from the Bach Christmas Oratorio to A Charlie Brown Christmas

In fact, the first Nutcrackers have already been completed, with more performances coming this weekend in Longmont (Dec. 3–4 with the Longmont Symphony and Boulder Ballet; see below for details, including links for tickets for all performances mentioned in this article). The Longmont performances include a “gentle Nutcracker,” an abridged, “sensory friendly” performance that welcomes neurodiverse audience members, their families and caregivers.

Boulder Ballet Nutcracker. Image by Amanda Tipton Photography

Other dance companies in the area offer The Nutcracker well into December and can easily be found on the Web; here I am listing the many musical groups in our area. This weekend the very popular CU Holiday Festival, with CU orchestras, bands and choirs starts the festivities on Friday at 7:30 in Macky Auditorium, with additional performances Saturday and Sunday (Dec 2–4). Check the Web page soon; some performances are close to selling out.

If you get enough “Rudolph” and “White Christmas” in the mall, several organizations offer alternative Holiday fare. Seicento Baroque Ensemble will present ”Noel: Christmas in the late Renaissance and early Baroque” over the coming weekend, Friday through Sunday (Dec. 2–4), in Denver, Boulder and Longmont. Ars Nova Singers will present their usual eclectic fare in the same cities over the following week (Dec. 9 & 11, 15 & 16). Their program, titled “Solstice,” includes Gregorian chant, Renaissance music based on chant, contemporary works for the time of solstice, and the premiere of director Tom Morgan’s own arrangement of the French carol “Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella” (“Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella”).

The most wide-ranging program is surely that of The Boulder Bach Festival’s CORE (COmpass REsonance) Chamber Choir. Their “Christmas Across the Ages” program (Dec. 16 in the Broomfield Auditorium) offers exactly that, with selections from J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas, music by early American composer William Billings and songs by John Denver and Judy Collins. 

With their familiar penchant for embracing musical cultures around the world, the Boulder Chorale and conductor Vicki Burrichter will present “A Celtic Winter,” a program of traditional music performed with a Celtic ensemble led by Jessie Burns. The Boulder Chamber Orchestra offers “The Gift of Music” Dec. 17 (Boulder’s Seventh Day Adventist Church), including Handel arias sung by soprano Szilvia Schranz. Instrumental pieces will include Bach’s “Double” Violin Concerto in D minor, and Holiday selections.

If you wanted to hear Handel’s Messiah in Longmont, you will have to bring a score and sing along. The Longmont Symphony’s performance Dec. 17 is already sold out, but the Sing-Along Messiah Dec. 18 still has tickets available. The Boulder Philharmonic Brass will perform traditional songs of Christmas and Hanukkah at Mountain View Methodist Dec. 18. And with that, the musicians that I know about will pack up their cases and likely enjoy some eggnog. There are surely other events out there that have not come to my attention. With a little enterprise you can find those performances online, too.

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CU Holiday Festival
CU College of Music orchestras, bands and choirs

  • Traditional music of the Holiday season

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2
1 and 4 p.m. Saturday, Dev. 3
4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4
Macky Auditorium


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“Noel: Christmas in the late Renaissance an early Baroque”
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Evanne Browne, artistic director
With Wesley Leffingwell, organ; and Joseph Howe, Baroque cello

  • Program includes music by Palestrina, Victoria, Sweelinck and Rossi.

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, St. Paul, Lutheran Church, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3. First United Methodist Church, Boulder
3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, First Congregational Church, Longmont


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The Nutcracker ballet
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With the Boulder Ballet

  • Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker

1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 (“Gentle” Nutcracker: abridged, “sensory friendly” performance))
4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3
2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4


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Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director
With John Gunther, saxophone

Program includes:

  • Gregorian Chant, Vox clara Ecce Intonat
  • Gabriel Jackson: Vox clara Ecce Intonat
  • Tomás Luis de Victoria: Ave regina caelorum
  • Bob Chilcott: The Shepherd’s Carol
  • Tom Morgan, arr: Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella (premiere)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, First Congregational Church, Longmont
4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Denver
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder
7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, First United Methodist Church, Boulder
LIVESTREAM: 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11


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Christmas Across the Ages”
Boulder Bach Festival CORE Chamber Choir
With Claire McCahan, mezzo-soprano, and Jeremy Reger, keyboards

Program includes:

  • John Tavener: “A Christmas Round”
  • William Billings: “A Virgin Unspotted”
  • —“Bethlehem” (While shepherd watched their flocks by night)
  • Jamaican folk tune: “An’ She Rock de Baby”
  • John Denver: “Aspenglow”
  • Judy Collins: “The Blizzard”
  • J.S. Bach: Selections from Christmas Oratorio
  • Vince Guaraldi: “Christmastime is Here” (From A Charlie Brown Christmas)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16
Broomfield Auditorium


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Longmont Symphony
Elliot Moore, conductor, with chorus and soloists

  • G.F. Handel: Messiah

4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17
Westview Presbyterian Church, Longmont


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“The Gift of Music”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Szilvia Schranz, soprano, and Kevin Sylves, double bass

  • G.F. Handel: Selected arias
  • Henry Eccles: Sonata in G minor for double bass and strings
  • J.S. Bach: Concerto in D minor for two violins and orchestra
  • Holiday selections

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17
Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Boulder


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“Singalong Messiah
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With vocal soloists

  • G.F. Handel: Selections from Messiah

4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Westview Presbyterian Church, Longmont


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“Holiday Brass”
Boulder Philharmonic brass and percussion
Brian Buerkle, conductor

  • Program includes traditional songs of Christmas and Hanukkah.

4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder


Boulder Phil features two living composers Saturday

Jennifer Higdon and Xavier Foley share concert program with Dvořák and Bottesini

By Peter Alexander Nov. 10 at 2:53 p.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra will perform two new pieces born from the drama of American history on Saturday (7 p.m. Nov. 12 in Macky Auditorium; details below).

Boulder Philharmonic and Michael Butterman in Macky Auditorium

Both are by living composers: the orchestral Suite from Jennifer Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain, based on the popular Civil War novel by Charles Frazier; and For Justice and Peace, music by Xavier Foley written to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves in the United States. Other works on the program will be the Gran Duo Concertante for violin, double bass and orchestra by Giovanni Bottesini; and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major.

Boulder Phil music director Michael Butterman will conduct the concert, which also features violinist Eunice Kim, Foley playing double bass, and a quartet of singers from the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus.

Jennifer Higdon

Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain had its premiere at the Santa Fe Opera in 2015. The opera was so popular that an additional performance was scheduled. Since then there have been performances in North Carolina and Minnesota, as well as Higdon’s home town of Philadelphia, where it sold out five performances in the 2,400-seat Academy of Music. 

The Boulder Philharmonic is one of 37 co-commissioners for the Suite from Cold Mountain, which has been performed several places since its premiere by the Delaware Symphony in September, with many more performances scheduled. “I’m looking forward to doing it,” Butterman says. “I’m sure (the suite) will allow (music from Cold Mountain) to be more widely heard than if it just all remained within the opera.”

When she returned to the opera score to create the suite, Higdon re-discovered her own music. “I had to really go back in,” she says. “It surprised me when I opened the score and started looking. I kept saying, ‘I can’t believe I wrote this!’

“I went through all the emotions of the characters, which is what I used to guide me in picking music for the suite. I took it from the viewpoint of what would be the most interesting progression of pieces, what would stand strongly on its own, and how to vary the music so it’s not always intense. I looked for the biggest variety, really contrasting quiet and loud, and agitated and dissonant and soft and melodic.”

Xavier Foley

You don’t need to read the book or know the story to enjoy the music. “That’s one of the things people have been asking me,” Higdon says. “The music is set up in a way to speak to you even if you don’t have a clue what this novel is about. It will stand on its own.”

A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Foley has become known both as a virtuoso bass player and a composer. He won First Prize in the 2014 Sphinx Competition, a national award for young Black and Latinx string players, and the 2016 Young Concert Artists Auditions. As a player, Butterman says, “his virtuosity is amazing! I became intrigued about working with him as soloist, and then got to know that he was also a composer.”

For Justice and Peace was commissioned by the Sphinx Organization to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival the slave ship “White Lion” in Jamestown, Virginia. It is a small-scale concerto for violin, double bass and strings, with two additions that link the music to the subject: the sounds of a gavel, representing the auction of slaves, and a brief text sung by a vocal quartet that asks “Your Honor, where is my freedom?”

Giovanni Bottesini

To pair with that piece, Butterman selected another work for the same players, the Gran Duo Concertante for violin, double bass and strings by Giovanni Bottesini. Once widely celebrated, Bottesini is largely unknown today except to bass players. Known as “The Paganini of the Bass,” he was the first celebrated virtuoso of the instrument. Also an opera composer and conductor, he was selected by Verdi to conduct the premiere of Aida in 1871.

The Gran Duo seems to reflect Bottesini’s career in opera. Parts of the score resemble an operatic scene between a soprano and a bass—represented by the violin and double bass. “I do think of a dialog between me and the violin,” Foley says. Butterman hears the piece in the same way, describing it as an “operatic showcase for a couple—almost like a couple of singers.”

All of that occurs before intermission, and the second half of the concert will be occupied by one piece, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major. “Everybody should love that piece!” Butterman says. “It’s always successful because of it’s tunefulness and the optimism and energy of that last movement (which) is one of the more joyful things in the repertoire. I love it!”

But the final words about the concert go to Foley, who says, “I hope people get their money’s worth and enjoy the show.”

# # # # #

“Gran Duo”
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Xavier Foley, contrabass, and Eunice Kim, violin
Vocal quartet from the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus

  • Jennifer Higdon: Suite from Cold Mountain (Colorado premiere)
  • Xavier Foley: For Justice and Peace
  • Giovanni Bottesini: Gran Duo Concertante for violin, double bass and strings
  • Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 in G major, op. 88

7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
Macky Auditorium


Varied program, mixed results for Boulder Phil

Season opening concert features world premiere

By Peter Alexander Oct. 9 at 12:15 a..m.

The Boulder Philharmonic opened their 2022-23 season last night with a carefully curated and varied program that brought Colorado Governor Jared Polis to Macky Auditorium.

Governor Jared Polis (c) congratulates the Boulder Phil on its 65th anniversary season before last night’s concert. With him are Jonathan Koehn (l), Boulder’s chief sustainability and resilience officer, and Boulder Phil executive director Sara Parkinson (r).

Speaking from the stage before the concert, Governor Polis honored the orchestra for its 65th anniversary season and thanked the players for their artistry during the COVID pandemic. Polis was there with Jonathan Koehn, Boulder’s chief sustainability and resilience officer, also to recognize the concert’s environmental theme, “Hymn to the Earth.”

Michael Butterman then led the orchestra through a program designed to consider climate change as a challenge and a result of hubris and heedlessness. That message was most conspicuous in the world premiere of Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet by composer Drew Hemenger. Identified as an “environmental oratorio,” the score calls for orchestra, chorus and tenor soloist. The music encompasses a wide range of moods, so that the transition from one movement to the next is often dramatic.

Drew Hemmenger

In five movements it traverses an arc from coexistence with nature to the damage done by the industrial revolution, to a portrait of a society on the verge of collapse, the current state of the environment and finally, a warning of a potential apocalypse to come. The first movement, “Spring is Come,” uses a text from Chief Sitting Bull. This movement essentially an environmental anthem, declaring that “our animal neighbors [have] the same right as ourselves to inhabit the land.” This movement could easily stand alone as an effective choral/orchestral piece with a benign environmental message. 

This jaunty and affirming movement is followed by a setting of Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much With Us,” an impassioned plea to recognize that “we are out of tune” with the natural world, written at the outset of the industrial revolution. Here tenor Matthew Plenk made a strong impression, managing well transitions from intense anguish to quiet despair. His voice has a penetrating quality that gets edgy when pushed too far, but is otherwise effective.

I had to step out for a moment and so missed the rhythmically charged third movement for orchestra alone, but caught the rest of the oratorio. The third movement incorporates a pedantic UN panel report on the environment (“Oceanic uptake of CO2 has resulted in acidification”), spoken by the chorus. This academic verbiage is effectively combined with words from environmental activist Greta Thunberg and saddened words from Chief Tecumseh. 

Alas, this movement cannot avoid pounding away at the moral, and it casts a didactic shadow over the rest of the piece. The final movement, a setting of Shelley’s darkly prophetic sonnet, Ozymandias, is again very emphatic. 

Hemenger employs a loosely tonal/modal style that speaks directly to the audience with no difficulty. He translates the message of the text directly into musical expression, but the preachy message will not be to everyone’s taste. A few people walked out during the fourth movement and at the end, but whether it was a political or aesthetic protest is uncertain. A handful in the audience stood at the end, and their numbers grew with each curtain call by Butterman and Plenk.

On the whole I judge Ozymandias to be a skillful score that accomplishes just what it aims at. The message will be welcome in some venues, but whether the piece as a whole will go on to more extensive familiarity remains to be seen. It was played well by the Phil and sung with conviction by the newly formed Boulder Philharmonic Chorus.

Boulder Phil. Music Director Michael Butterman

The concert had begun with Global Warming by Michael Abels, a piece infused with folkish-tunes and intricate rhythms. The solos in the wind section and percussion were notable, and the opening and ending exchanges between concertmaster Charles Wetherbee and assistant principal cellist Ethan Blake were played with elan. This is a pleasing, short piece that made an ideal opening for the program.

The second half of the concert began with an aptly dark reading of the Overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the first of two pieces that expressed the dangerous heedlessness of the legendary Don Juan figure.  The performance was a little muddy where lightness and clarity are called for, leaving some of the inner voices unclear.

Next up was Siegfried’s Trauermusic (Funeral march) from Wagner’s music drama Götterdämmerung. Here the Philharmonic’s brass section shone, playing with great depth and darkness of tone. The Phil does not have the number of strings to match the weight of the brass, but this was a well paced and pleasing performance.

Butterman saved the best for last with Richard Strauss’ orchestral tone poem Don Juan. The outstanding quality of the performance showed that the Phil’s wind players will rise to the challenges of a virtuoso orchestral score. Individual solos were outstanding, and the horn section clearly relished playing the soaring theme that portrays Don Juan’s charismatic presence—a ringing tune all horn players know from student days and truly love to perform, just as audiences love to hear it.

For the most part, Butterman’s construction of the program worked well. His pacing and control of each piece seemed convincing. Nevertheless, the extreme variety of styles on the program was double-edged: the wide range of moods was always interesting, but it created a slightly fractured effect overall.

Boulder Phil opens 22–23 season with ‘Hymn to the Earth’

World premiere and first appearance of the Boulder Phil Chorus Oct. 8

By Peter Alexander Oct. 6 at 7:10 p.m.

Conductor Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra will open their 2022–23 season Saturday evening (7 p.m. Oct. 8, Macky Auditorium) with a program aimed straight at Boulder’s social and environmental heart.

The Boulder Philharmonic with conductor Michael Butterman

Titled “Hymn to the Earth,” the program includes the world premier of Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet by Drew Hemenger, an environmental oratorio for orchestra, chorus and tenor co-commissioned by the Phil and the Rogue Valley Symphony of Oregon. Its five movements create an arc leading from a vision of unspoiled nature, through the industrial revolution to the current global climate crisis and culminating with Shelley’s dire warning about human arrogance in his great poem “Ozymandias.”

Composer Michael Abels. Photo by Eric Schwabel

The program opens with Global Warming by Michael Abels, a composer best known for his scores for the films of Jordan Peele. Not referring to climate, the title refers to the warming global relations at the end of the Cold War, and in in this context suggests the planetary unity required to face an environmental crisis. 

Works on the second half of the program have the theme of hubris and the consequences of humans’ heedlessness: the Overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Siegfried’s funeral music from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung; and Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Juan.

Gregory Gentry

The concert will be the first appearance of the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus, the newly-formed choral partner of the Phil, under the direction of Gregory Gentry. Tenor Matthew Plenk, a faculty member at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, will be soloist for Ozymandias.

Ozymandias is a score of remarkable diversity, of both textual sources and musical style. The text draws on poetry by Shelley and William Wordsworth, as well as texts from Native Americans, speeches by climate activist Greta Thunberg, and a definitively unpromising text for music, the 2014 Fifth Assessment Report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (Trust me; Hemenger makes it work.)

The commissioning of Ozymandias started with Butterman, who remembers reading Shelley’s poem many years ago. “I’ve loved that poem since I was a kid,” he says. “It’s short, but the irony of it smacks you in the face. He wrote this not thinking of climate change, but it’s the same hubris.”

Composer Drew Hemenger

The first movement of Hemenger’s score is titled “The Spring is Come,” and is taken from the words of Chief Sitting Bull in 1877, describing a time when the Lakota people lived in harmony with the earth. The second movement is a setting of Wordsworth’s poem from around 1802, “The World Is Too Much with Us.” At the beginning of the industrial revolution, Wordsworth is pointing out that man’s greed is leading to the loss of a connection to nature: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;/Little we see in Nature that is ours.”

The rhythmically driven third movement is entirely orchestral. The title is a Shawnee word, “Migeloti” (pronounced mah-jee-lo-ta), “which means a person who goes around disrespecting and destroying,” Hemenger says. Representing a society of decadence, “it’s like (Ravel’s) La Valse, filled with ecstasy and then collapse at the end.”

The fourth movement contains the chorus speaking text from the IPCC report and Thunberg’s speeches (“all you can talk about is money . . . how dare you!”), and sung texts from Shawnee Chief Tecumseh in 1810, “To Sell a Country.” “That is a preachy movement,” Hemenger admits, but “when you’re going to put that clear language (of the report), there didn’t seem to be any way around it.”

The finale is the setting of “Ozymandias,” ending with the forlorn words “the lone and level sands stretch far away.” The music, Hemenger writes in his program notes, “like the poem, fades away like the blowing dust in the desert.”

Michael Butterman. Photo by Shannon Palmer.

In spite of this message, Butterman hopes the program is not a downer. “I worry that the pieces are saying when you act as if things have no consequences, it doesn’t end well,” he says. “But since climate change is a huge issue that the world needs to pay attention to, and it’s something that many people in Boulder are sensitive to, it strikes me as a natural fit for this orchestra.”

He admires the music that resulted from his initial suggestions to the composer. “The fact that he went into Native American texts, the middle movement which is a latter-day La Valse, all of that was his idea, and I think it’s brilliant. There’s a lot of stuff in a relatively short piece, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out.”

The second half of the concert comprises pieces by Mozart, Wagner and Strauss that are known to classical audiences. While their composition had nothing to do with environmental issues, Butterman hopes the context can add meaning to those works. Particularly the Strauss will add brilliance to the overall program. “It’s so cinematic,” he says. “You get a very good image of this character (Don Juan), his personality, his swagger. Whether you like him or not, there might be something about him that you almost envy.”

For the concert, the Boulder Phil has partnered with the City of Boulder Climate Initiative Department. Members of the city’s climate team will be present at the performance to share climate action ideas and resources, and to collect submission to heir climate audio collage report.

Please note that the Boulder Phil has changed the starting time of their concerts for the season to 7 p.m., instead of 7:30 p.m.

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“Hymn to the Earth”
Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Matthew Plenk, tenor, and the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus, Gregory Gentry, chorus master

  • Michael Abels: Global Warming
  • Drew Hemenger: Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet (world premiere)
  • Mozart: Overture to Don Giovanni
  • Wagner: Trauermusik from Götterdämmerung
  • Richard Strauss: Don Juan

7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8
Macky Auditorium


CORRECTION: The original version of this post gave the start time of Boulder Phil concerts as 8 p.m. The correct time this season will be 7 p.m.

Violist Richard O’Neill gives stunning performance with Boulder Phil

All-English program features Walton Viola Concerto, works by Elgar and Anna Clyne

By Peter Alexander May 15 at 12:10 a.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic finished the 2021–22 classical concert series with sound and fury last night (May 14).

Conductor Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic in Macky Auditorium. Photo by Glenn Ross.

No, that is not a criticism. The first piece listed on the program was Anna Clyne’s Sound and Fury, inspired in part by Macbeth’s soliloquy featuring that phrase. In practice, though, Clyne was preceded by an “off-menu special,” in the words of conductor Michael Butterman: Elgar’s familiar “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1, in honor of the region’s recent graduates.

The performance was led by an honorary guest conductor, Boulder’s outstanding arts patron Gordon Gamm. Looking dapper in a fedora, Gamm did a creditable job of getting things started and holding the orchestra together. Indeed, the only audible error—one out-of-place note—cannot be laid to the conductor. 

Butterman preceded Clyne’s Sound and Fury with a helpful music-appreciation style introduction, with an explanation of it’s connection to “The Scottish Play” and illustrations from a Haydn symphony quoted in the score. The performance was strongly profiled, with contrasting sections nicely characterized and distinguished, lacking only the precision necessary for clarity in the skittering string parts and the full depth of sound that a larger orchestra could provide. 

The recorded voice speaking the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” soliloquy near the end was not always intelligible, but it did show how those words fit into the scheme of the piece. This is a new piece (2019) that is definitely comprehensible and enjoyable for the classical audience, and I would welcome hearing it again.

Violist Richard O’Neill

A friend told me about this concert, “The Walton Concerto won’t sell any tickets.” If that’s right, I’m sorry for anyone who was not sold a ticket because they don’t know Walton’s music. They missed a fun piece, and a stunning performance by violist Richard O’Neill, the newest member of the Takács Quartet. Where is their sense of fun, of adventure, interest in new things? This is not difficult music.

Composed in 1929, the Viola Concerto shows the composer’s quirky style to good advantage. At times lush, at times shifting, surging and dying away, its kaleidoscopic episodes and unexpected turns provide an ideal palette for an instrumental soloist of O’Neill’s qualities.

His performance was glittery (and no, I don’t mean his shoes) and perfectly assured. Visibly reacting to every twist and turn of the orchestra part, he showed in both gesture and musical interpretation his connection with the players. Utterly at ease playing all the virtuoso material the concerto throws at the soloist, O’Neil gave a solo performance of the highest caliber. 

Here the issues were of balance, both within the orchestra and (from where I was sitting) with the soloist. The boisterous second movement was my favorite, but the more gentle moments were equally well played. Two profound tributes to O’Neil: he held the audience in silence for at least 20 second at the end of the concerto, and it was the orchestra, stamping their feet, that brought him back for his final curtain call. 

Again channeling his inner Leonard Bernstein, Butterman gave an insightful introduction to Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations, showing how the variations brought their subjects—the composer’s friends—to life. This to me is a better preparation for the audience than program notes about “the return of the subsidiary theme” or “remote tonalities.”

Elgar’s “Enigma,” one of the greatest sets of orchestral variations of the Romantic or any period, received the best orchestral performance of the evening—maybe because it is a piece well known to all orchestral pros. Rehearsal time then can be devoted to details of interpretation, of unity, of sound. Butterman found the telling elements in each variation and brought out their individual characters. 

As one hopes and expects, the familiar “Nimrod” variation swelled calmly from shimmering pianissimo strings to a rich, full orchestral climax before falling back. Other variations had the sparkle, or the weight, to communicate character and meaning. This is a fun piece for brass, who enjoyed their moments of grandeur, and for the timpanist, who brought both visual and aural flash to the performance. 

Finally, this program had many of the ingredients of a successful concert: some exploration, a dazzling soloist, a great piece of music. I happily note the inclusion of a living female composer in the stew. It’s a recipe musical organizations should follow.