Boulder Phil guest pianist/composer López-Gavilán elicits cheers and applause

Butterman flavors an intriguing program with fiery expression

By Peter Alexander Nov. 4 at 12:15 a.m.

Last night (Nov. 3), conductor Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic brought their audience a remarkable piece of music that is likely unlike anything they had heard before.

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Aldo López-Gavilán

The piece in question is Emporium: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra by the Cuban composer/pianist Aldo López-Gavilán. Butterman first heard Emporium on the radio and was captivated. His description of the piece as having bits and pieces of Philip Glass, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Prokofiev, and the Downton Abbey theme music, among other things, is both intriguing and apt.

As the title suggests, Emporium contains many things, all presented with a Cuban accent. With so much going on, it expands most listeners’ understanding of what a piano concerto might sound like. Last night it was performed by Phil with the composer as the engaging soloist.

The opening movement is dramatic and powerfully scored for both orchestra and piano. At one point I was thinking, ‘are we supposed to hear the piano?’ As the music built to a crashing climax, López-Gavilán, for all his obvious strength as a pianist, disappeared into the overall sound, only to emerge again as the music subsided toward a gentle close.

The impressionistic second movement blends, according to the composer’s notes, a Cuban revolutionary song with American country music as a symbol of peace between peoples. It is a beautiful, impressionistic movement and was beautifully played with lyrical exchanges between pianist and orchestra. The driven, exciting finale got an incisive performance from orchestra and soloist, and elicited raucous approval.

López-Gavilán is an exciting and energetic performer of stunning technical ability, and he is a composer of imagination. He returned to hold the audience spellbound with an astonishing, dense, intricately rhythmic encore that again was unlike anything you are I have likely heard. More cheers, whistles and shouts followed.

The concert opened with Ryan Alaniz, a 9-year-old 4th-grader, delighting the audience as guest conductor while the orchestra played “America the Beautiful.” The audience was invited to sing along, but no one in my section took up the invitation.

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Michael Butterman

Next was Astor Piazzolla’s Tangazo, a piece that Butterman likes to perform. It is one of the few pieces he has repeated with the Phil, but this time there was a twist: dancers Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne of the Boulder Tango Studio performed their own choreography in the narrow space between the orchestra and the edge of the stage.

Their performance was a free dance that responded to the changing moods and tempos of Piazzolla’s music. Like the score, the dance had tango elements throughout. I am not a dance critic, and I am not going to prove it by writing more, except that it was fun to see how artists from another medium responded to Piazzolla’s music. I and the rest of the audience enjoyed their dramatic flair.

After intermission, the orchestra performed Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes. With each variation devoted to specific solo instruments, it gives the orchestra’s section leaders an opportunity to display their virtuoso skills.

From the opening soulful theme presented by harp and solo cello, through the sequence of variations for woodwinds, strings and brass soloists, the players responded to the challenge. Every solo dazzled. The final variation for full orchestra, set in the style of the high-voltage gaucho dance the malambo, was particularly dynamic.

The concert concluded with Ravel’s ubiquitous Bolèro. Everyone has heard this, in concert, in films and TV, in ice-skating competitions, and almost anywhere else music is used. The Phil’s performance provided what it is called for: a long, slow, carefully controlled crescendo, from the whisper of snare drum at the beginning until the sudden key change that is now so familiar it no longer surprises. Butterman and the players paced the performance nicely, never letting tempo or volume get out of control.

After the appropriately noisy conclusion, Butterman brought forward the snare drummer—who was stationed center stage throughout—for his own bow. After alternating two variations of the same one-measure rhythmic pattern for 15 minutes (or 16 or 17 depending on tempo), he deserved to be applauded.

The Boulder Philharmonic sounded as good last night as I have heard. The strings sound was smooth and warm and at times glossy. The winds played with precision and all the necessary flair in their solos. Butterman brought out the colors and the fiery expression of this intriguing program, which made for a fascinating and enjoyable evening.

CORRECTED Nov. 4 to add the name of the guest conductor, Ryan Alaniz.

‘Bamboozling’ piece anchors Boulder Phil concert

Cuban composer Aldo López-Gavilán performs his ‘Emporium’

By Peter Alexander Oct. 31 at 3:15 p.m.

Michael Butterman, conductor of the Boulder Philharmonic, was sitting in his driveway, thinking “What on earth is going on?”

“It was just an amazing mix,” he says of the music he was hearing on American Public Media’s radio program Performance Today. “I was trying to guess what it was. Whatever it was, it was exciting and intriguing.”

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Aldo Lopez-Gavilán

It turned out to be Emporium for piano and orchestra by Cuban pianist/composer Aldo López-Gavilán, and Butterman decided he wanted to perform the piece with the composer on the Boulder Phil’s season.

The title gave Butterman the key to the wildly eclectic style of the piece. “When they said that the title was Emporium,” he says, “I thought, OK, it’s a cornucopia. It has influences from every possible genre and place that I could imagine.”

The title also suggested to Butterman that one could play almost anything with it, but he settled on music that had a stylistic relationship to López-Gavilán’s Latin American roots: Tangazo by Astor Piazzolla, the Variaciones Concertantes by Alberto Ginastera and Ravel’s Boléro.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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“Latin Fire and Boléro”
Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Aldo Lopez-Gavilán, pianist/composer
Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne, tango dancers

Astor Piazzolla: Tangazo
Lopez-Gavilán: Emporium for piano and orchestra
Alberto Ginastera: Variaciones concertantes
Ravel: Boléro

7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3 [PLEASE NOTE: SUNDAY AT 7, not Saturday]
Macky Auditorium
Tickets

 

Unexpected and unfamiliar

Boulder Phil opens with music by Rock & Roll Hall of Famers

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra somewhat unexpectedly opens its 2019-20 season Saturday, Oct. 12, with music by two members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead and Jon Lord of Deep Purple.

Michael Butterman conducts the Boulder Phil - Glenn Ross Photo

Michael Butterman with the Boulder Phil. Photo by Glenn Ross.

Or maybe it’s not unexpected. “That sense of experimentation, of providing something offbeat — that is part of our identity,” Boulder Phil music director Michael Butterman says. “This program adheres to the approach that we’ve taken of presenting well-known works from the classical canon along with pieces likely to be a surprise.”

The work from the classical canon in this case is Schubert’s Fifth Symphony. Written when the composer was only 19, it is a lively and pleasant work that reflects Schubert’s admiration for Mozart.

In other words, it is worlds away from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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Flutist Elizabeth Sadilek-Labenski

The program is titled “Gritty/Pretty,” of which the gritty part is the suite from Greenwood’s score for the brutal film epic There Will Be Blood. “I didn’t come up with the [“Gritty/Pretty” title], Butterman says. “That’s marketing, but I kind of like it. I think it’s appropriate.”

If Greenwood is gritty, Lord’s suite for flute, strings and piano, To Notice Such Things, is pretty. The suite comprises six movements that range from sweetly lyrical to fast and virtuosic in the flute part, which will be played by the Boulder Phil’s principal flutist, Elizabeth Sadilek-Labenski.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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“Gritty/Pretty”
B.Phil logoBoulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, director
With Elizabeth Sadilek-Labenski, flute

Johnny Greenwood: Suite from There Will Be Blood
Jon Lord: To Notice Such Things, Suite for flute, piano and strings
Schubert: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, Macky Auditorium

Tickets

Boulder Phil unveils new season, new motto, new logos

2019–20 season, labelled “Let’s play,” features pop elements throughout

By Peter Alexander April 7 at 3 p.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra—now officially aka “Boulder Phil”—unveiled their coming season, a new logo, and a new motto at an event for friends and supporters of orchestra Thursday evening, April 4.

B.Phil logoAcknowledging popular practice, the name “Boulder Phil” has been incorporated into the official logo. The logo itself is actually three related symbols, all of them playfully swirling swoops and curls. And in the same spirit, the new motto, for the orchestra and for the season, is “Let’s play.”

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Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead

All of that reflects the 2019–20 season’s programming, which includes some familiar classical masterpieces and also elements popular in the culture at large and with Boulder audiences: Music by Jonny Greenwood of the alt-rock band Radiohead and by Jon Lord of Deep Purple; the return to the Boulder Phil of the piano duo Anderson & Roe, a Boulder audience favorite since their 2016 performance with the orchestra; a screening of the popular film Raiders of the Lost Ark with the John Williams score performed live onstage; and a concert of “The Music of Queen.”

The mixture of popular and classical ingredients is obvious from the very first concert, titled “Gritty/Pretty” (Oct. 12–13). Two of the works on the program are by Greenwood and Lord, two successful rock musicians who have turned to classical composition. Greenwood has written several orchestral scores for film, including the Academy Award-winning There will be Blood. The Phil will perform a suite from Greenwood’s score for the film, which suggested the “Gritty” part of the concert’s title.

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Jon Lord

Lord, who was both a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and honorary Doctor of Music, was a composer of orchestral scores for more than 30 years, alongside his work with Deep Purple. Boulder Phil music director Michael Butterman says that he heard Lord’s To Notice Such Things, a six-movement suite for solo flute, piano and strings, while driving, and was so taken with the music that he stopped to find out what it was.

Not being up on rock performers, he admits that he thought “who?” when the piece was announced, but he went on to learn about Lord, and the piece, which was written in memory of one of Lord’s close friends. The Phil performance will feature the orchestra’s principal flutist, Elizabeth Sadilek-Labenski.

Also on the same program is Schubert’s Fifth Symphony which, along with Lord’s score, suggested the “Pretty” part of the title.

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Anderson & Roe. Photo by Ken Schles.

Other nods to popular music in the program will be obvious: “Raiders of the Lost Ark in Concert” (Oct. 27) and “The Music of Queen” (Feb. 15, 2020) from Windborne Music, the same organization that produced “The Music of David Bowie” for the current season (May 4). Not directly from the pop music canon, but certainly popular with Boulder audiences will be the return of the piano duo Anderson and Roe (Jan. 25), whose highly entertaining performance style captivated Boulder Phil audiences in 2016.

Two pieces on the program will be arrangements by Greg Anderson, half of the duo: Ragtime alla Turca, based on Mozart’s “Rondo all turca” for piano, and Danse macabre bacchanale, based on music by Saint-Saëns. The same program will see Butterman join Anderson and Roe for Mozart’s Concerto for Three pianos, and a performance of Mozart’s joyful “Haffner” Symphony.

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Zuill Bailley

Other returning guest soloists during the season will be cellist Zuill Bailey, playing Michael Daugherty’s Tales of Hemingway for cello and orchestra (Feb. 22) and violinist Jennifer Koh, playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (April 25). The latter concert will feature two pieces with accompanying visuals. Circuits by Cindy McTee will have visuals by computer graphics artist Aleksi Moriarty; and Alan Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain, will have visuals by adventurer-composer Stephen Lias, whose compositions Gates of the Arctic and All the Songs that Nature Sings were premiered by the Boulder Phil in past seasons.

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Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance with the Boulder Phil (2013)

Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance will appear with the Boulder Phil for the first time since their joint performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in 2017, providing aerial choreography for the Butterfly Lovers Concerto by Chinese composers He Zhanhao and Chen Gang. The violin solo will be played by the Phil’s concertmaster, Charles Wetherbee.

 

The concert—rather hopefully titled “Rebirth of Spring”—will be presented March 21 and 22. Other works on the program will be Resurrexit by Mason Bates, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture and Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird.

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Aldo López Gavilan

“Latin Fire & Boléro,” the concert scheduled Nov. 3, will introduce a new soloist to Boulder audiences, Aldo López Gavilán. The Cuban-born composer/pianist will play his own Emporium, a concerto for piano and orchestra, on a program that also features two works by Argentinian composers: Astor Piazzolla’s Tangazo, and Alberto Ginastera’s virtuoso orchestral piece Variaciones concertantes, which assigns each of nine variations to a different solo instrument from the orchestra. Closing out the program will be Ravel’s Boléro.

Other events that will be part of the season will be the annual Nutcracker performances with Boulder Ballet, Nov. 29–Dec. 1; and a new Holiday concert, “Christmas with the Phil,” Dec. 21–23. The latter will feature the Christmas section of Handel’s Messiah, and other seasonal music. Performances will be in more intimate venues than Macky Auditorium, including Boulder’s Mountain View United Methodist Church.

The full 2019–20 season of the Boulder Phil is listed below. Season tickets are currently on sale here.

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Boulder Phil 2019–20 Season
All concerts at Macky Auditorium unless otherwise specified

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“Gritty/Pretty”
Michael Butterman, conductor, with Elizabeth Sadilek-Labenski, flute

Jonny Greenwood: Suite from There Will Be Blood
Jon Lord: To Notice Such Things
Schubert: Symphony No. 5

2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 13, 2 p.m. at Pinnacle PAC

51K8ouYrHeL._SY445_“Raiders of the Lost Ark in Concert”
Film screening with live orchestral performance of John Williams’s score
Gary Lewis, conductor
4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27

“Latin Fire & Boléro”
Michael Butterman, conductor, with Aldo López Gavilán, piano

Astor Piazzolla: Tangazo
Aldo López Gavilán: Emporium
Alberto Ginastera: Variaciones concertantes
Ravel: Boléro

7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3

Nutcracker Ballet by Tchaikovsky
With Boulder Ballet
Gary Lewis, conductor

Photo-by-Eli-Akerstein

Boulder Ballet’s Nutcacker. Photo by Eli Akerstein

2 p.m. Friday, Nov.29
2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30,
2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1

“Christmas with the Phil”
Gary Lewis, conductor

Handel: Messiah (Part I: Christmas section) and other works

7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek, Colo.
2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, Mountain View United Methodist Church, Boulder
7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 23, Lone Tree Arts Center, Lone Tree, Colo.

“Anderson & Roe Return!”
Michael Butterman, conductor, with Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe, duo-pianists

Gabriel Fauré: Masques et Bergamasques
Mozart: Concerto for Three Pianos, K242
Mozart/Anderson: Ragtime alla Turca
Mozart: Symphony No. 35 (“Haffner”)
Saint-Saëns/Anderson: Danse macabre bacchanale

Saturday, Jan. 25, 7:30 p.m.

“The Music of Queen”
Brent Havens, conductor
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15

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Michael Daugherty

“Hemingway Portraits & Sibelius”
Michael Butterman, conductor, with Zuill Bailey, cello

Michael Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway
Sibelius: Symphony No. 2

Saturday, February 22, 7:30 p.m.

“Rebirth of Spring”
Michael Butterman, conductor, with Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance and Charles Wetherbee, violin

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Mason Bates. Photo by Lydia Danmiller

Mason Bates: Resurrexit,
He Zhanhao and Chen Gang: Butterfly Lovers Concerto
Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture
Stravinsky: Suite from The Firebird (1919)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 21
2 p.m. Sunday, March 22, at Pinnacle PAC

“Beethoven & Beyond”
Michael Butterman, conductor, with Jennifer Koh, violin

B.Phil logo.2Cindy McTee: Circuits, with visuals by Aleksi Moriarty
Alan Hovhaness: Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain, with visuals by Stephen Lias
Beethoven: Violin Concerto

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April

Tickets and more information: Five- and six-concert subscription packages are now available; click here or call 303-449-1343. Single tickets go on sale June 1, 2019.

 

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

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

Kristin Kuster_preview

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