Boulder Phil plays world premiere by Billy Childs, Saturday

Gary Lewis substitutes for Michael Butterman with violinist Rachel Barton Pine

By Peter Alexander Feb. 10 at 9:55 p.m.

Billy Childs might think his new Violin Concerto is under a curse.

Commissioned by several groups including the Boulder Philharmonic, it was twice scheduled to premiere at the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago, in 2020 and 2021, and it was twice postponed by COVID. It will finally have its premiere Saturday by the Boulder Philharmonic with violinist Rachel Barton Pine, for whom it was written (7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 in Macky Auditorium).

Gary Lewis will substitute for Michael Butterman with the Boulder Philharmonic

But Boulder Phil music director Michael Butterman is unable to travel to Colorado, so prof. Gary Lewis of the CU College of Music has stepped in at the last minute to conduct the premiere. And it will finally make its way to the Grant Park Festival in the coming summer—hopefully.

Childs’s brand new Concerto shares the program with a very familiar piece, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major. Termed “the apotheosis of the dance” by Richard Wagner, the Seventh has been one of the most performed of all Beethoven’s symphonies, standing at No. 3 on the list of orchestral works performed at Carnegie Hall. It’s standing in Boulder may not be quite third, but it certainly has been performed here several times in the last few years.

Pine appeared with the Boulder Phil once before, in 2015, when she played the Berg Violin Concerto. A musician of wide ranging interests, she has performed heavy metal as well as classical music, and created a foundation to promote the music of Black composers from the 18th to the 21st centuries.

Rachel Barton Pine. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

The concerto, Childs’s Violin Concerto No. 2, is not the first piece he has written for Pine. They met through his work as a board member of Chamber Music America, and he wrote his Four Portraits for solo violin, modeled on the Bach D-minor Partita for solo violin, for her in 2017. That was followed by Incident on Larpenteur Avenue for violin and piano, and now the concerto.

“The pieces have been getting exponentially bigger,” Childs says. “Solo violin, then piano and violin, and then all of a sudden a quantum leap into orchestra and violin.” And what’s next? 

“I would love to write something for her and my jazz chamber ensemble,” he says.

Every bit as much as Pine, Childs is a musician of diverse interests. A jazz pianist who has played with Freddie Hubbard and Wynton Marsalis, he has also written concert music in the classical tradition, including chamber and orchestral pieces. Speaking of his musical training, he says “Jazz was the strongest (influence), but there was no one that I was tethered to.” 

Growing up he heard Bach and Handel at home, but also Nat “King” Cole. This was in the ‘70s, so he also heard the Temptations, the Four Tops and the Supremes. His older sisters introduced him to Bob Dylan, Laura Nyro, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. In school he became acquainted with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis and Yes. “My musical influences were all over the map,” he says.

“I started thinking, what music do I like that dramatically moves me? That’s all I care about. I don’t care about the genre.” 

He approaches each piece he writes in terms of the expressive capabilities of the instruments. “I am concerned with the story of each piece, the dramatic implications of a piece, what instruments I’m writing for and how those instruments express the drama of the piece,” he says.

“There are certain thing that an orchestra does that no other ensemble does, so you listen to the masters of that genre. You check out what they did—people like Ravel, Bartók, Samuel Barber.”

Billy Childs. Photo by Raj Nail.

In terms of musical style, “my aim had always been to marry, or create a hybrid form of Western European classical music and American classical music—jazz—but do that on an organic level,” he says. But don’t listen for specific jazz influences in the concerto. “If you hear Ellington, it’s because you want to,” he says.

”I’m reluctant to describe the music, because that’s impossible. But it’s in the style of the mid-20th century composers. I took a cue from that language. Since it’s orchestra, I tried to do what the great orchestrators do—the Ravels, the Barbers, Stravinsky. How they used the orchestra—I tried to do that.”

The shape of the concerto was partly determined by the fact that Childs wrote the movements in reverse order. “I wrote the last movement first, and the first movement last,” he says. “I don’t know why that happened, I guess because the last movement is a very exciting and angular and difficult movement.

“That was the first thing that I wrote during 2019 and 2020. Especially during 2020 when COVID hit, things were just out of our control. And then I kind of calmed down. There’s a lyricism in all the movements, but the second movement is elegiac, and the first one is celebratory.”

So two years after the planned premiere, is the Concerto really finished? Well, not exactly. “I really like what I wrote, but I know that I will be going in there (to the performance) with a notepad, changing a lot of stuff,” Childs says.

“You never really know until you actually hear it.”

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“Beethoven and Billy Childs”
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Gary Lewis, guest conductor
With Rachel Barton Pine, violin

  • Billy Childs: Violin Concerto No. 2 (World premiere, co-commission)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12
Macky Auditorium
TICKETS

Boulder Phil and Marcus Roberts Trio celebrate the return to live performances

“Gershwin Celebration” at Macky hits the right notes for a festive event

By Peter Alexander Jan. 23 at 12:20 a.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic and the Marcus Roberts Trio both returned to a live stage last night (Jan. 22) for the first time in two years, to present “A Gershwin Celebration” in Macky Auditorium. And it was a celebration for certain.

Two works by Gershwin were on the program: An American in Paris, and the Piano Concerto in F with the trio—Marcus Roberts, piano, Jason Marsalis, drums, and Rodney Jordan, bass—as a solo ensemble with the orchestra. The interpretation of Gershwin’s concerto, which Roberts first did with conductor Seiji Ozawa nearly 20 years ago, has become something of a specialty for the trio. They did it with the Boulder Phil once before, in conductor Michael Butterman’s first season with the orchestra 15 years ago.

We should be grateful that Butterman decided to return to that experience. The program, and especially the performance with the trio, hit all the right notes for a festive event. It was brilliantly creative, it was fun, it was musical art on a very high level.

Mar us Roberts Trio rehearsing with the Boulder Phil. Photo by Peter Alexander.

The performance was live-streamed from Macky to anyone who had bought a ticket. I had the privilege of first attending the rehearsal yesterday morning, so that I could hear how the trio put their interpretation and interpolated solos together with the orchestra, and watching the live stream in the evening to hear how it all fit together.

One advantage of “attending” the concert by live stream is that you can see things that are not easily seen from seats in the hall—the very busy percussionists, for example, and who is playing the solos. That is very much a worthwhile pleasure. Since COVID, streaming is common, since it allows people to take in a concert without being in a crowd. Let’s hope streaming becomes normal, as it gives access to people who otherwise would not be able to attend. 

And it give us all the opportunity to hear performances from around the world, building a larger, shared musical culture.

The program opened with An American in Paris, which has earned a place in the orchestral repertoire—and in American audience’s hearts. It’s not fair to “review” a streamed performance because as a listener I am at the mercy of the sound engineers and the speakers on my desktop. But Butterman and the Boulder Phil clearly gave a fluid, polished performance.

For the Concerto, the orchestra played almost entirely what Gershwin wrote. When playing with the orchestra, Roberts observed, if he did not exactly reproduce, what Gershwin wrote in the piano part. At times he spun off from Gershwin’s line—but Gershwin did the same.

The Marcus Roberts Trio

There were also “breaks” for the jazz trio when the orchestra sat out and turned the performance over to the trio. These moments were, for me, the most joyous parts of the concert, because all three members of the trio are just so darned good. It was delightful to hear Roberts work bits of Gershwin into the multi-hued fabric of his improvisations, and to witness the exchanges among three musicians who know each other so well. Like any tight jazz group, whatever direction Roberts went, the others were with him.

Hearing both the rehearsal and the concert, it was not hard to find the essence of both classical and jazz styles. “We want to make sure that [audiences] understand the grandeur and beauty and structural logic that classical music has,” Roberts told me earlier, “and the freedom of improvisation and the spontaneity of jazz.”

Both were evident in Macky. The “grandeur of classical music” was present in the full orchestral passages of the concerto, which frame and culminate the solo passages. Of course those grandiose passages were the same in the morning and in the evening; that’s classical music. 

The improvised, jazz passages, however, were not the same; in their exuberant unpredictability they showed the “spontaneity of jazz”—and therein lies is the true greatness of the art form. The true greatness of Roberts’s performance of the Concerto in F is in bringing the two together.

As an encore, the trio alone played their version of another Gershwin staple, “I Got Rhythm,” which is both a nod to the composer’s variations for piano and orchestra on “I Got Rhythm” and recognition of the place the tune’s chord progression has taken in jazz history. Here the trio was playful, trading riffs at the beginning and the end, and giving a welcome chance for Marsalis on drums and Jordan on bass to have their own solos.

They all killed it. It was a dazzling demonstration of what we have missed for the past two years, and an exhilarating end to the celebration.

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The Boulder Phil and the Marcus Roberts Trio will repeat their performance of “A Gershwin Celebration” this afternoon, at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 23, at the Lone Tree Arts Center. You may purchase tickets for that live performance here.

Boulder Phil returns to Macky with Gershwin Celebration

Concert with pianist Marcus Roberts Jan. 22 will also be streamed

By Peter Alexander Jan. 20 at 11 a.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra returns to Macky Auditorium Saturday (7:30 p.m., Jan. 22) for the first time in two years, with an all-Gershwin program.

Marcus Roberts Trio

Two works are featured: An American in Paris and the Piano Concerto in F, performed with the Marcus Roberts trio: Roberts, piano, Rodney Jordan, bass, and Jason Marsalis, drums. The same program will be presented Sunday at the Lone Tree Arts Center (1:30 p.m. Jan. 23). Tickets to both concerts, and for a live stream Saturday, are available through the Boulder Phil Web page.

While an all-Gershwin program is a little unusual for a symphony orchestra, “this is a nice way to get back to Macky” conductor Michael Butterman says. “A Gershwin celebration just feels festive.”

The Concerto harks back to a concert early in Butterman’s tenure with the orchestra, when Roberts and his trio played the Concerto in F. “I think it was my very first season,” Butterman says. “I remember that as one of the highlights of my time in Boulder, because it’s exciting to see the musicians of the orchestra so engaged.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Gershwin Celebration
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Marcus Roberts Trio: Marcus Roberts, piano; Rodney Jordan, bass; Jason Marsalis, drums

  • Gershwin: An American in Paris
    —Piano Concerto in F

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, Mackey Auditorium
1:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 23, Lone Tree Arts Center
Masks and proof of vaccination are required.

Live steam 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22

TICKETS

Grace Notes: Reminders of two concerts this coming weekend

By Peter Alexander Oct. 28 at 9:50 p.m.

Boulder Phil presents “The Art of Jazz” Saturday at Mountain View Methodist

The Boulder Philharmonic will perform the second of their two short concerts scheduled for the month of October at 4 p.m Saturday, Oct. 30, in the Mountain View United Methodist  church in Boulder.

Tickets are available through the Boulder Phil Web page. Audience members will be required to present proof of vaccination and wear masks throughout the concert. The short program will be presented without intermission, to reduce interaction among audience members. You may read the orchestra’s full, up-to-date COVID protocols here.  

The program features three pieces for small orchestra that were influenced by American jazz: the Jazz Suite No. 1 by Shostakovich, Darius Milhaud’s Creation of the World, and Little Threepenny Music, an orchestral suite arranged from the music for Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. Michael Butterman will conduct. You may read more about this performance in an earlier post on this blog.

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Takacs Quartet performs music by Mozart, Henri Dutilleux and Smatana

The Takacs Quartet will present the second of their 2021-22 campus concerts at 4 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, in Grusin Music Hall of the CU Imig Music Building.

Masks must be worn inside all buildings on the CU campus. Please note that online streaming tickets for Sunday’s performance are also available, and the stream will remain available for a full week following the Monday performance. Tickets for both in-person attendance at the streamed performance are available through CU Presents.

The quartet will play three works on the concert. One is a familiar part of the standard string quartet repertoire: Mozart’s String Quartet in D minor, K421/417b. The others are less familiar: Ainsi la suit by the French composer Henri Dutilleux, and the String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, “From my Life,” by Smetana. You may read more about this performance in an earlier post on this blog.

Longmont and Boulder orchestras return to live performances for grateful audiences

Abbreviated concerts featured careful COVID protocols, no intermissions

By Peter Alexander Oct. 3 at 11:30 p.m.

For a short time this past weekend, you could have believed that concert life in Longmont and Boulder had returned to normal.

Of course, no one knows what tomorrow will bring. But both the Longmont Symphony and the Boulder Philharmonic presented their first in-person concerts in nearly two years, and sitting in the audience hearing live music was a welcome return to near-normal.

Longmont Symphony Saturday (Oct. 2) with soloist Hsing-ay Hsu and conductor Elliot Moore in Vance Brand Auditorium

Both concerts—the LSO at Vance Brand Auditorium at 7 p.m. Saturday, and the Boulder Phil at Mountain View Methodist Church at 4 p.m. Sunday—had restrictions that for now we might consider the “new normal.” In both cases, patrons were met outside by orchestra representatives checking proof of vaccination and ID, masks were required at all times, and seating was limited to less than full capacity of the respective venues. Conductors and orchestral string players wore masks for the performances as well. Both concerts were presented without intermission, so that the audience did not have the chance to mix and mingle. 

Both conductors, Elliot Moore with the LSO and Michael Butterman with the Boulder Phil, commented on how good it felt to be back, and both were greeted with enthusiasm. I would add that both concerts received standing ovations, but that has long since become normal, so it is not really anything new.

The Longmont Symphony began with a rousing performance of Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture. In his introduction, Moore noted that in spite of its name, the overture is not really academic in nature, because it is actually based on student drinking songs of Brahms’s era. As Moore intended, it started the post-pandemic musical scene with infectious energy. 

Brahms was followed by Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major, K414, featuring soloist Hsing-ay Hsu. She introduced the concerto with heartfelt remarks about the opportunity to perform again before an audience, and played with solid confidence and sensitivity. The concert of orchestral repertory standards ended with Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor. Any minor lapses of intonation or ensemble were easily forgiven for musicians who had not played together for so many months. Shouts of “Bravo” were heard through the standing ovation.

Michael Butterman leads the Boulder Philharmonic in Haydn’s Symphony No. 1 at Mountain View Methodist Church

Butterman chose much less standard works for the Boulder Phil’s return to the stage. Two works by Haydn were featured, none of them among the composer’s better known symphonies or concertos. In fact, the concert started at the very beginning, one could say, with Haydn’s Symphony No. 1 of 1759. A three-movement work of about 12 minutes in length, it has the tunefulness and energy, if not the sophistication, of Haydn’s larger late Symphonies. “If you liked that piece,” Butterman quipped, “there are 100 more like it!” (For the record, current research has identified 108 symphonies by Haydn.)

The symphony was paired with Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante written for London in 1792, a larger and more mature work that features violin, oboe, cello and bassoon soloists with orchestra. The principal players from the orchestra played the solo parts with elan and polish. Using modern instruments, and heard in a church that has only a cement floor due to ongoing renovations, the orchestral sound struck me as a little on the thick side, not as transparent as Haydn would have expected.

Butterman’s final work for the program is one that he particularly loves, the Petite symphonie concertante by the 20th-century Swiss composer Frank Martin. It was a treat to hear this genuine rarity live in concert. It is scored for a double string orchestra with harpsichord, piano and harp soloists, creating an utterly unique sound world. Although written using 12-tone techniques, the music is often consonant, always enjoyable, and unlike any other piece I know. 

Butterman led the orchestra with obvious relish. The size and full-bodied sound of the Phil’s strings was ideal for a 20th-century work. In his analytical introduction to the score, Butterman said that he hoped that the audience would enjoy the Petite symphonie concertante as much as he does. I can’t speak for the rest of the audience, but hearing a committed live performance of an intriguing rarity was the weekend’s highlight for me. 

Like both audiences, I was thrilled to hear live music again, and to be back in the hall with musicians who love what they are doing. More, please!

NOTE: Minor typos and editing errors corrected Monday, 10/4.

Boulder Phil “together again” for two short concerts in October

Performances at Mountain View Methodist will be played without intermission

By Peter Alexander Sept. 29 at 3:40 p.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra will be “together again,” as their first in-person concert since the pandemic is titled.

Two concerts for a reduced orchestra have been scheduled for October, both in the intimate Mountain View United Methodist Church in Boulder. Concerts in Macky Auditorium are scheduled to resume in 2022.

The Boulder Phil’s last pubic performances were recorded for online streaming during 2020-21.

The two October concerts will be “Together Again” at 4 p.m Sunday, Oct. 3, featuring music by Haydn and the Swiss composer Frank Martin; and “The Art of Jazz” at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30, featuring music of Shostakovich, Darius Milhaud and Kurt Weill. (Full programs are listed below.) Tickets for both concerts may be purchased at the Boulder Phil Webpage.

For safety reasons, both programs will be approximately one hour in length and will be played without intermission. In keeping with current COVID protocols in Boulder County, everyone attending these performances must be fully vaccinated, and must wear masks at all times. Consequently, children under the age of 12 cannot be admitted. 

The Boulder Philharmonic’s COVID-19 Health & Safety protocols are listed here

The first October concert, “Together Again,” features intriguing but little known works for small orchestra. Haydn’s Symphony No. 1 in D major was written in 1759 for Karl Joseph Count Morzin, a member of the Austrian nobility, before Haydn went to work for his better known employer Count Esterhazy. The symphony has three movements and lasts only about 12 minutes, making it a miniature precursor of the larger form that Haydn subsequently established over this career. 

The other two pieces on the program are sinfonias concertante, works similar to concertos with multiple soloists. The Sinfonia Concertante by Haydn, composed in London in 1792, features two soprano-bass instrument pairs: violin and cello, oboe and bassoon. Written on short notice near the end of Haydn’s first visit to London, the score treats the soloists as chamber musicians more than virtuoso soloists, and was a hit with English audiences. 

Composer Frank Martin, featured on a Swiss postage stamp

The second such work on the program is Martin’s Petite symphonie concertante (little sinfonia concertante). Composed at the end of World War II, it is scored for double string orchestra and a solo group that loosely corresponds to the Baroque continuo: harpsichord, piano and harp. This unusual combination creates a unique sound world that Boulder Phil music director Michael Butterman describes as “Bach and Stravinsky meet the Addams Family.”

The second concert in October, “The Art of Jazz,” shifts gears fully into the 20th century for three pieces by European composers that reflect, in different ways, the world-wide influence of American jazz. The least serious jazz influence is heard in the Jazz Suite No. 1 by Shostakovich, written in 1934 for a Leningrad dance band. The light and tuneful score, with a waltz, a polka and a foxtrot, is as much central European as jazzy, likely because at the time genuine jazz was either unknown or forbidden in the Soviet Union. 

However, French composer Darius Milhaud was certainly exposed to authentic jazz, during a 1922 trip to the United States that took him into Harlem nightclubs. A year later he wrote a ballet for the modernist Swedish dance company Ballets Suédois titled La Création du monde (The creation of the world) in which he refracted the jazz he had heard in Harlem through his own very French sensibility to create a work that is sui generis

Milhaud was especially impressed with the jazz drummers he heard, playing what he called “a complicated percussion section played by just one man.” He includes a full drum set in the score of Création du monde, as well as a saxophone that takes the place of viola in a string quartet and at times emerges as a soloist. Other echoes of Harlem can be heard in the brass-heavy scoring and the writing for clarinet, string bass and trombone.

Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya in New York in 1942

The final piece on the program refracts American jazz through the decadent cabaret scene in Berlin during the 1920s. Kurt Weill’s Dreigroschenoper (Threepenny Opera), a free translation into German by Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht of the 18th-century Beggar’s Opera, was premiered in 1928. By the time it was banned by the Nazis in 1933, it had been translated in 18 languages and had been performed at least 10,000 times in Europe.

Weill’s music for the Dreigroschenoper was written for a small pit band of doubling players, much like modern Broadway shows. Weill easily made a transition to Broadway when the rise of the Nazis forced him to leave Germany. Among his subsequent American theatrical hits was the posthumous 1956 off-Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera, which earned a Tony Award for the singer Lotte Lenya. Songs from that version, including “Mack the Knife” and “Pirate Jenny,”  became well known in the United States through numerous pop covers.

The orchestral suite from the original show, Little Threepenny Music, was compiled in 1929, capturing the acerbic sound of Weill’s music without the bitter cynicism of Brecht’s lyrics.

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Butterman, music director

Together again
4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3
Featuring soloists from the orchestra

  • HAYDN  Symphony No. 1 in D Major
  • HAYDN  Sinfonia concertante in B-flat Major
  • MARTIN  Petite symphonie concertante, Op. 54

The Art of Jazz
4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30

  • SHOSTAKOVICH  Jazz Suite No. 1
  • MILHAUD  The Creation of the World, Op. 81a
  • WEILL  Little Threepenny Music

Bother performances at Mountain View United Methodist Church
355 Ponca Place, Boulder

TICKETS

NOTE: The second concert listing was corrected 10/28. Oct. 30 is Saturday, not Sunday.

Boulder Phil appoints new executive director

Collaborative pianist Sara Parkinson uses her musical skills in administration, too

By Peter Alexander June 3 at 2:30 p.m.

The new executive director of the Boulder Philharmonic credits her musical training for her success in administration.

Sara Parkinson

Sara Parkinson was recently appointed the Phil’s executive director, following nearly a year as interim director. Before that, she was director of education and community engagement for the orchestra. 

But she was trained in collaborative piano—including what you might call “accompanying”—a field in which she holds a doctorate from CU Boulder.

The job of the collaborative pianist is to solve problems. Whether accompanying a single soloist or playing in a chamber group, they must listen to and respond to the other players. If their collaborators skip a beat or lose their place, they must seamlessly make things right—which is not all that different from the job of directing an artistic organization.

“Absolutely, I have transferred all of my skills that I use as a pianist into the boardroom,” Parkinson says. “Stepping into this role during the pandemic year, seeing an organization through a crisis—I was cut out for situations like that. (As a collaborative pianist) you make things work. And beyond that, you see how to make it better.”

As for the responsibility she has been given to lead the organization, “It’s beyond an honor to see Boulder Phil through a crisis, and now to head into the future that is so bright,” she says.

“This is an exciting time, with (music director) Michael Butterman’s 15th season upon us, and my first season in this role, but we are a team and we are already talking about three years into the future. We have exciting plans in the works.”

One particular challenge for Parkinson was that she steeped into the interim director role during the pandemic. There was literally no guidance for running an orchestra at a time when they couldn’t play for an audience.

“There was no playbook,” she says. “I blazed my own path by bringing people together, which I have done throughout my career. That allowed me to lead in a way that I never had before, and to see the possibilities in the crisis. We continued to connect with our patrons, to build a full virtual season, not only with our main series concerts but with our education program. 

“Our discovery program, a highlight of the year for local schools—we pivoted online and we have reached over 16,000 students throughout the world. That includes 23 states and four different countries. Who knew that we could expand our reach that far?”

Parkinson has made it a priority to support Butterman and facilitate his goals. “My collaborative approach to everything really helps that relationship,” she says. “And I want to focus on our musicians. So many of the musicians in the orchestra are colleagues of mine. I’ve made music with so many of them, and they are the reason why I go to work every day.”

If moving into administration makes use of her skills as collaborative pianist, Parkinson is not giving up her life as performer. “Keeping that passion [for performance] alive—that’s not something I’ll leave behind,” she says.

Parkinson has served on the staff and faculties of University of Colorado at Boulder, Cornell College in Iowa and Metropolitan State University of Denver. She performs with the Colorado Ballet Orchestra and members of the Colorado Symphony, and she is a founding member of the tango ensemble Grande Orquesta Navarre. She made her operatic conducting debut in 2018 leading Mozart’s Così fan tutte for Boulder Opera, and she served as music director at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Boulder 2015–2020. She holds degrees in piano performance from the University of Iowa and the New England Conservatory of Music, in addition to her doctorate in collaborative piano from CU. 

Boulder Philharmonic announces 2021–22 season

Live concerts again at last, and a return to CU Macky Auditorium in January

By Peter Alexander 8 a.m. May 22

The Boulder Philharmonic is taking cautious steps back to the future.

In other words, they will return to full orchestral concerts in Macky Auditorium, suspended for the COVID-19 pandemic, but not all at once. In announcing their 2021–22 season, they have revealed a schedule that will feature four small orchestra concerts in a smaller space in the fall, followed by a return to Macky in January, 2022.

Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman in Macky Auditorium

Those will not necessarily be full capacity concerts. According to a statement from the orchestra, they have “developed health and safety protocols to ensure a safe environment for performers, audience members, staff, and volunteers. Measures will include adjusting venue capacity and seating plans, and wearing masks. Plans will adjust in response to public health measures as they evolve in the coming months.”

The fall portion of the season will take place in Mountain View United Methodist Church in Boulder (355 Ponca Place). There will be two programs, each presented twice without intermission (see full schedule below) and led by the orchestra’s music director, Michael Butterman. The first will be a program of music for chamber orchestra, including Haydn’s very first symphony, composed in 1759, and the second a program of 20th-century music from Europe influenced by jazz, featuring works by the Russian Shostakovich, the French composer Darius Milhaud and the German Kurt Weill.

December will see a return of the evergreen Nutcracker ballet, performed by the Boulder Phil with Boulder Ballet in Macky Auditorium. CU music prof. Gary Lewis will conduct. Tickets to Nutcracker will be available in the fall.

The Marcus Roberts Trio will join the Boulder Phil for their first concert back in Macky Auditorium

After the holidays, the Phil will present a subscription series of six concerts, January through May. These concerts will feature guests soloists and collaborations, starting with the “Opening Weekend” concert Jan. 22, a “Gershwin Celebration.” Renowned jazz pianist Marcus Roberts and his Trio will join the Phil for a performance of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F on a program that also features An American in Paris. This program will be repeated at the Lone Tree Arts Center Jan. 23.

Violinist Rachel Barton Pine returns to Boulder Feb. 12 to play the world premiere of the Violin Concerto by Grammy-winning jazz pianist Billy Childs. Pine was in Boulder in 2014, when she played the Berg Violin Concerto with the Philharmonic. Other soloists through the spring will be pianist Terence Williams, who will play Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto March 19; Philharmonic concertmaster Charles Wetherbee, who will play The Butterfly Lovers Concerto on a program that will also feature Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance, April 30; recent Grammy winner violist Richard O’Neill, who will play William Walton’s Viola Concerto May 14; and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, who will appear with the Phil and his trio, May 28.

Subscription packages of the six concerts in 2022 go on sale Monday, May 24. Subscription purchasers can add any of the concerts at Mountain View Methodist Church at a discounted price. Any remaining single tickets will be available in September, along with Nutcracker tickets. Information and, starting on Monday, subscription purchases will be available on the Boulder Phil Web page

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Butterman, music director
2021-22 Season Schedule

Michael Butterman. Photo by Shannon Palmer

“Together Again”
Michael Butterman, conductor

  • Haydn: Symphony No. 1 in D Major
  • —Sinfonia concertante in B-flat Major
  • Frank Martin: Petite symphonie concertante, op. 54

4 & 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3 (no intermission)
Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder

“The Art of Jazz”
Michael Butterman, conductor

  • Shostakovich: Jazz Suite No. 1
  • Darius Milhaud: The Creation of the World, op. 81a
  • Kurt Weill: Little Threepenny Music

4 & 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30 (no intermission)
Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder

The Nutcracker with Boulder Ballet
Gary Lewis, conductor

2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26, Saturday Nov. 27 and Sunday, Nov. 18
7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27
Macky Auditorium

Opening Weekend: “Gershwin Celebration”
Michael Butterman, conductor
Marcus Roberts Trio: Marcus Roberts, piano; Rodney Jordan, bass; Jason Marsalis, drums

  • Gershwin: An American in Paris
  • —Piano Concerto in F

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022 
Macky Auditorium

1:30 p.m. Sunday Jan. 23, 2022
Lone Tree Arts Center

Rachel Barton Pine. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Michael Butterman, conductor, with Rachel Barton Pine, violin

  • Billy Childs: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (world premiere/co-commission)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

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

Michael Butterman, conductor, with Terrence Wilson, piano

  • Cindy McTee: Circuits
  • Alan Hovhaness: Symphony No. 2, “Mysterious Mountain”
  • Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19, 2022
Macky Auditorium

The Firebird & Frequent Flyers
Michael Butterman, conductor, with Charles Wetherbee, violin
Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance

  • Mason Bates: Undistant
  • He Zhanhao/Chen Gang: The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto
  • Rimsky Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture
  • Stravinsky: Firebird Suite (1919)
Richard O’Neill

7:30 pm. Saturday, April 30, 2022
Macky Auditorium

Michael Butterman, conductor, with Richard O’Neill, viola

  • Anny Clyne: Sound and Fury
  • William Walton: Viola Concerto
  • Elgar: Enigma Variations

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 14, 2022
Macky Auditorium

Jake Shimabukuro, ukulele, and trio, with the Boulder Phil
Michael Butterman, conductor

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 28, 2022
Macky Auditorium

Boulder Phil concludes re-imagined season with all-strings program

Orchestra partners with Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance 

By Peter Alexander April 22 at 4:12 p.m

Collaborations during a pandemic have to come in through the back door, as it were.

Frequent Flyers with the Boulder Philharmonic. Photo by
David Andrews

In the case of the Boulder Philharmonic and Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance, who are joining together for the orchestra’s final concert of the 2020-21 season, the musicians recorded Korine Fujiwara’s Suite from Claudel in one venue, and then the dancers performed to the recorded music in another venue. The resulting performance will be shown online at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24.

Korine Fujiwara is also violist in the Carpe Diem String Quartet

It will remain available until Saturday, May 8. You may access the stream through the Boulder Phil Web page

Originally written for string quartet, the three movements of the Suite from Claudel were arranged for string orchestra by the composer. To simplify COVID precautions, Boulder Phil music director Michael Butterman wanted to have an entire program for strings, who can wear masks while playing. 

In addition to Fujiwara’s Suite, the program features the Lyric for Strings by George Walker and an arrangement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (known as the “Pastoral Symphony”) for string sextet.

Michael Butterman, music director of the Phil, noted that the orchestra has collaborated with Frequent Flyers several times in the past. “In this re-imagined season, I wanted to retain the community collaborations that have been a hallmark of our work as an orchestra,” he says.

Camille Claudel (l) at work in her studio

Fujiwara’s Claudel was originally a ballet celebrating the life and work of Camille Claudel, a pioneering woman sculptor of the early 20th century. Butterman identified three pieces from the larger ballet that he particularly liked, and asked the composer if she would arrange those movements for full string orchestra.

He also shared the music with Nancy Smith, artistic director of Frequent Flyers. She agreed to choreograph the suite, and decided to incorporate some elements of Claudel’s story. The three movements are titled “In the Woman’s Studio,” “Waltz” and “Age of Maturity”; the last two are taken from names of two of Claudel’s best-known works.

Butterman had hoped to record the entire piece together with the dancers, but that proved impractical under pandemic conditions. Instead, the Suite was recorded with the rest of the musical program at Mountain View Methodist Church, and several weeks later the dancers recorded their performance at the Dairy Center. Putting them together, along with the entire musical performance, is being engineered by Michael Quam of Quam Audio.

George Walker

Walker’s Lyric for Strings is one of the most performed string orchestra works of the 20th century. The first African-American composer to win the Pulitzer Prize, Walker was also the father of former Boulder Phil Concertmaster Gregory Walker.

Also titled “Lament,” the Lyric for Strings was composed in 1946 and dedicated to the memory of the composer’s grandmother. “It is a deeply felt work,” Butterman says. 

“It’s a good connection with our current moment, elegiac but [with] a lot of consolation. There’s a lot of sorrow, but also hope and rays of optimism, so it seems like a piece that in addition to being beautiful to listen to, can say something to our current moment.”

For modern audiences, the most unusual piece on the program will be the sextet arrangement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. In Beethoven’s lifetime, arrangements of orchestral works for small ensembles were common. In a time when there were no recordings and orchestral concerts were infrequent, such arrangements were made and sold for home performances of music most people would otherwise not be able to hear.

The Sextet arrangement was made by M.G. Fischer, an organist and composer who was Beethoven’s contemporary. It was published in the composer’s lifetime by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, one of the most important European music publishers. That original edition has now been reprinted, for anyone who wants to try this at home. 

“A German orchestra shared this sextet version very early on in the pandemic,” Butterman explains. “Someone forwarded it to me and said, ‘Isn’t this great?’ And I thought it was.

“This captures quite well a work for full orchestra, but just with these six players. I wanted to have a masterwork or two on our season, and here’s a masterpiece of the full orchestral repertoire.”

Butterman says that the musicians enjoyed playing it, but found it challenging because they know it almost too well. “It’s kind of the same, but enough not that you really have to stay focused,” he says. “They’re busy all the time. They have to handle all of the things that they previously had to handle, but now they’re also given these other things to play, wind parts or whatever. It’s a tiring piece to play.”

Looking back over the past season, Butterman sees some good things that came out of the pandemic. “It’s been a year of experimentation and one that we’ve grown a lot in our understanding of how to share music with the public,” he says.

“There are some aspects that we’re going to take forward and continue to utilize in positive ways.”

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Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance

  • George Walker: Lyric for Strings
  • Korine Fujiwara: Suite from Claudel
    Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68 (“Pastoral”), arr. M.G. Fischer

Stream available at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24
Pre-performance discussion at 7 p.m.

Tickets available here.

Note: Typos corrected 4/22/21.

Boulder Philharmonic continues exploring music for small orchestra

Streamed concert available April 3 will feature Stravinsky’s “Soldier’s Tale”

By Peter Alexander April 2 at 1 p.m.

The past year has been the year of the chamber orchestra.

To respect the need for safe distancing between players, orchestras including the Boulder Philharmonic have presented entire programs of music written, or arranged, for reduced orchestra or chamber ensembles. Each of the Philharmonic’s 2020-21 performances has been recorded and streamed for ticket purchasers to access from the safety of their homes—as most orchestras have done.

That trend continues with the Phil’s next concert, but with a twist. The one piece on the program for Saturday (April 3, available from 7:30 p.m.), Stravinsky’s theater piece L’Histoire du soldat (The soldier’s tale), is ideal for performance during a pandemic—because it was in fact written during the last global pandemic, the Spanish Flu of 1918–19.

Stravinsky sat out World War I in Switzerland. As the war was coming to an end, the production of large-scale works, such as his previous ballets The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring, was no longer possible. Instead, Stravinsky thought of creating a theater piece for a small group of musicians and actors that could be toured to Swiss villages. 

Stravinsky and the Swiss writer C.F. Ramuz collaborated to write L’Histoire du soldat, based on a Russian folk tale and written for seven players (violin, string bass, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone and percussion), three actors and a dancer—ideal numbers for safely distanced performances. In the end, the flu defeated Stravinsky’s plan for a tour, but L’Histoire was premiered in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1918. The music has retained a place in the chamber orchestra repertoire, and the score is important as a bellwether of the transition from the massive musical works of the pre-war period to the neo-classicism of the late 19-teens and ‘20s.

The folktale that provided the plot is one that Stravinsky knew from Russia, but it is found in many different cultures: A lonely soldier engages in a contest with the devil. This is a well known story, from legends of Paganini selling his soul for unnatural fiddle skills, to Blues musicians being in league with the devil, to the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

C.F. Ramuz and Stravinsky

In the story worked up by Stravinsky and Ramuz, the soldier trades his fiddle—representing his soul—to the devil for knowledge that will make him wealthy. The soldier prospers and marries a princess, but the devil returns and triumphs in the end. 

“I think it’s a confusing story to follow,” Michael Butterman, conductor of the Boulder Phil, says. “It helps to have some frame of reference. I’m going to give a brief outline of what’s happening, so that people understand that the devil keeps coming back in different guises and disguises.”

The basic moral of the story, Butterman says, is that the soldier gets lots of stuff, but stuff doesn’t make him happy. “It’s all nothing without the fiddle—that’s your soul,” Butterman says. This is essentially the message of a passage from the Gospel According to Mark, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Butterman suggests.

Although 20th-century modernist in style, the music is easily grasped by listeners. “We have marches,” Butterman explains. “Although they are not totally regular in their march rhythm, they still feel like left, right, left, right. You have three dances that are stylized, but clearly identifiable. And there’s chorales that sound like chorales.”

The dances are a tango, a waltz, and one titled “Ragtime”—but, Butterman observes, “it’s not going to remind anybody of Scott Joplin.” Stravinsky had never heard American jazz performed, although he had some printed copies. He used the rhythms as he saw them on the page and listeners will likely recognize the syncopations.

Michael Butterman. Photo by Rene Palmer.

“Stravinsky sees everything through his own unique prism,” Butterman says. “What’s interesting about the piece to me is that it sounds less complex that it appears on the page. It’s a very complicated piece to put together and to conduct, just technically speaking. Much of the music does not line up at all with the meter that he’s [notated].”

Those are complications for the performers, but not necessarily for the listeners. “There’s enough familiar both in terms of the story and in terms of the musical forms that you know where to glom onto it” Butterman says. “The music is accessible, it’s not highly dissonant, it’s downright tuneful, quite clever, and always given to you in digestible chunks.”

The performance is presented in collaboration with the CU Department of Theater and Dance and the Boulder Ballet. The performance, which has already been recorded, was staged by Bud Coleman, department chair. Theater students fill the roles of four actors—a narrator, the soldier, and two actors to portray the devil. Boulder Ballet has provided the dancer and choreography.

# # # # #

Members of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Butterman, conductor
Staged by Bud Coleman with actors from the CU Dept. of Theater and Danc
Dance from the Boulder Ballet

Stravinsky: L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale)

Available at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 3 (through April 17)

Pre-concert discussion at 7 p.m.

Tickets