Dvořák’s “underrated masterpiece”

Boulder Symphony and Boulder Chorale join forces for the Stabat Mater

By Peter Alexander May 9, 2019 at 9:30 p.m.


Photo courtesy of Boulder Symphony

Antonín Dvořák has written some of the most, and least, familiar works in the classical music repertoire.

On the one hand are the “New World” Symphony, the Cello Concerto—both written in the United States—and a handful of other pieces that are immediately recognizable to most concertgoers. And on the other hand are many pieces almost never heard outside of the composer’s native Bohemia, including most of Dvořák’s operas and almost all of his sacred vocal music.

Among the latter is the Stabat Mater, a large-scale religious cantata for chorus, orchestra and four soloists, based on the 13th-century sacred hymn text “Stabat mater dolorosa” (Grieving mother, standing at the cross). Now the Boulder Symphony and the Boulder Chorale have joined forces to bring Boulder audiences a piece that conductor Vicki Burrichter calls “an underrated masterpiece.”

Burrichter, who is artistic director of the Boulder Chorale, will conduct the performances Saturday and Sunday, May 11 and 12.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Boulder Symphony with the Boulder Chorale
Vicki Burrichter, conductor

J.S. Bach: Concerto for oboe, violin and strings
Keynes Chen, violin and leader; Ingrid Anderson, oboe

Dvořák: Stabat Mater
Julianne Davis, soprano; Clea Huston, mezzo-soprano; Jason Baldwin, tenor; and Malcolm Ulbrick, baritone

7 p.m. Saturday, May 11
2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 12
First Presbyterian Church, 1820 15thSt., Boulder


Boulder Symphony evokes “Home” with the Holidays approaching

Nostalgia, a fast ride, and the feeling of the sea are on the program Nov. 17

By Peter Alexander Nov. 15 at 2:10 p.m.

Everyone thinks of home as Thanksgiving approaches.


Boulder Symphony

As it happens, “Home” is the subject of the next concert by the Boulder Symphony, but despite the time of year, it is not about  the holidays. The title refers to one of the pieces on the program, a new work by Sarah Kirkland Snider. The title, Hiraeth, is an untranslatable Welsh word that encompasses nostalgia for home, as well as longing and sadness.


Devin Patrick Hughes

Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor of the Boulder Symphony, first heard Snider’s music when it was played by the Detroit Symphony. “Snider is a really active composer,” he says. “She’s very young but at the same time she’s already been played around the world.”

Snider is currently in Boulder visiting the College of Music at CU.

In addition to Snider’s 26-minute piece, the program will also include John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine, an energetic and stimulating concert opener that has practically become a staple of major orchestras’ repertoire since its premiere in 1986; and one of the best known works for orchestra, Debussy’s La Mer, a three-movement evocation of the sea.

Snider grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, but she wrote Hiraeth when she received a commission from the North Carolina Symphony to write a piece about her family’s historic ties to the state. Her conception of the piece took a darker turn when her father—her living connection to North Carolina—died suddenly after she received the commission.


Sarah Kirkland Snider

“My musical ideas were now refracted through the lens of grief,” she writes in her program notes for the score. “The material grew darker, my thinking about the piece more complex. . . . Ultimately, Hiraeth is both elegy and personal meditation, steeped in the hazy, half-recollected textures and sensations that surround a memory.” (You may read her full program notes here.)

Snider’s score was originally conceived as a partner to a film score. The Boulder Symphony will not show the film, but Hughes believes the music stands well on its own. “I don’t think you need anything to go with it,” he says. “It’s very episodic, it’s very operatic. She brings you into this world and doesn’t let you out—in a good way!”

Hughes says that the Adams fanfare was selected specifically to introduce the Snider piece. “We were, ‘Well, what do you need to get home, fast?’” he says. “You couldn’t be more descriptive in the title [as to] exactly what it’s about. It literally takes you on that ride.”

The Adams score is fast and exciting—and more difficult than it sounds, he says. “John Adams is notoriously difficult in that he sounds so easy, but it’s funny how the simpler you get, sometimes the most difficulty enters with the precision that is needed. It’s hard for the brass placing the rhythms, and especially getting it up to the speed that Adams is asking for.”

The first half of the concert follows the theme of “Home,” but that idea is not evident in La Mer. Hughes says that the concert “needs to have a theme, but then you have the artistic side. You want all the music to be able to stand on its own merits.” And the Debussy, he adds, does fit into the program in a specifically musical way.

“This program is all about precision,” he says. “Debussy has this ethereal, elusive, cloudy, unfocused quality musically, because it’s French and it’s picture painting, but to make that happen, it needs the utmost precision. The colors don’t happen until you line it up, which is easier said than done”.

Because of the “unfocused quality” of the music not everyone hears the same thing in La Mer. Some people may hear the waves, others might hear the wind passing over the sea, and some might not hear the sea at all, but that’s all right with Hughes. “That’s what makes [the music] so great,” he says. “It can mean anything to anybody.

“Debussy is not trying to create sights or sounds. He’s evoking how he feels from the ocean.” And of course, evoking those feelings still requires the precision Hughes was talking about. “It’s a challenge,” he says.

“We’ve done Mahler and full operas and [Stravinsky’s] Rite of Spring, but I’d say this is our most challenging concert.”

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Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor
7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17
First Presbyterian Church, 1820 15thSt., Boulder

John Adams: A Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Sarah Kirkland Snider: Hiraeth (Colorado Premiere)
Debussy: La Mer


Boulder’s holiday musical banquet serves ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful,’ ‘Fire and Ice’

By Peter Alexander


Dianne Reeves will be at Macky Auditorium Dec. 16. Photo courtesy of CU Presents

The musical banquet that is the holiday season this year brings us “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” “Holiday Memories,” “Fire and Ice,” and Diane Reeves.

Read more about Centennial State Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker, and holiday concerts by Ars Nova Singers (“Fire and Ice”), Diane Reeves at Macky Auditorium (“Christmastime is Here”), Boulder Chorale (“All Things Bright and Beautiful”), The Longmont Symphony (Candlelight Concert), and a special performance for dementia patients and caregivers by the Boulder Symphony (“Holiday Memories”) in Boulder Weekly.



Fire and Ice: Christmas with Ars Nova
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, Heart of Longmont United Methodist Church, 350 11th Ave., Longmont
4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10, Sgt. Paul Community of Faith, Denver
7:30 p.m. Thursday & Friday, Dec. 14 & 15, St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder


Centennial State Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker
Centennial State Ballet
7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15
2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16
1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17

Diane Reeves: Christmastime is Here
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16
Macky Auditorium
Tickets, or call 303-492-8008

All Things Bright and Beautiful
Boulder Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, artistic director, with Chamber Singers, Children’s Chorale, and Sheryl Renee, guest artist vocalist
4 p.m. Saturday & Sunday, Dec. 16 & 17, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St, Boulder.

Candles-at-Christmas_W500xH500Candlelight Concert
Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor
4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, Westview Presbyterian Church, 1500 Hoover St, Longmont

Holiday Memories
A Dementia-Friendly Concert
Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, artistic director
3 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 20
First Presbyterian Church, 1820 15th St., Boulder
Free; reserve tickets


Boulder Symphony presents music inspired by Shakespeare

Two standard works and a world premiere are on the program

Opening the door to classical music

World premiere, Berlioz’s fever dream and Liszt’s evocation of doom 

Force of Nature

Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Boulder Symphony offer similar themes for Mother’s Day

By Peter Alexander

Chloe Trevor.Kate-L-Photography

Chloe Trevor. Kate L.Photography

This Mother’s Day weekend it’s all about nature for Boulder’s classical musicians.

The weekend kicks off Friday night with conductor Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra performing a concert titled “Mother Nature” in Broomfield (7:30 p.m., Broomfield Auditorium). The concert, which also features violinist Chloe Trevor, will be repeated Sunday evening in Boulder (7:30 p.m., Seventh-Day Adventist Church).

Between those performances, conductor Devin Patrick Hughes and the Boulder Symphony will offer “Nature’s Voice” on Saturday evening (7 p.m., First Presbyterian Church), with guest soloist Gal Faganel, cello.

Friday and Sunday the Boulder Chamber Orchestra will present, somewhat curiously, the only piece overtly about nature: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastoral Symphony,” depicting an afternoon’s walk through the countryside. The other works on the program—the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, with Trevor playing the virtuoso solo part, and the Pavane by Gabriel Fauré—don’t have any apparent connection to nature.

For the Boulder Symphony Saturday evening, it is the composers rather than the pieces that suggested the title “Nature’s Voice.” The major works will be Sibelius’s Third Symphony and Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Faganel as soloist. Opening the concert will be the world premiere of Everything All at Once by Jonathan Sokol.

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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“Mother Nature”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, music director
Chloe Trevor, violin

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 6, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield
7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 8, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Boulder


“Nature’s Voice”
Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, music director
Gal, Faganel, cello

7 p.m. Saturday, May 7, First Presbyterian Church, Boulder



Boulder Symphony launches “Love’s Arrow” straight at the heart

Concert performance of Bizet’s Carmen is a big undertaking

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Symphony enters new territory this week.

Boulder Symphony conductor Devin Patrick Hughes

Boulder Symphony conductor Devin Patrick Hughes

Under the zingy title “Love’s Arrow,” the orchestra and conductor Devin Patrick Hughes will present a semi-staged performance of Bizet’s Carmen—the first time they have undertaken an entire opera. Featuring a cast of mostly local singers, Carmen will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 9, in Boulder’s Symphony usual home, the First Presbyterian Church in Boulder (see cast list below).

Putting an opera into a church is a challenge, but Hughes has found a way to make it work. “There’s a lower stage and a higher stage, and the lower stage is almost like a pit,” he says. “It’s not low enough (to be a real pit), so balance is a little bit of an issue, but we have a slightly reduced orchestra to account for that.”

The singers, on the higher level, will be dressed mostly in black, with only a few other elements of costume and a few props. There will be minimal stage direction by Michael Travis Ringer, who also has a role in the opera.

“We are focusing on the music and the drama of Carmen, which of course are my favorite elements,” Hughes says. “We’re a small organization made up of mostly volunteers, and this is a big and exciting undertaking. We’re really blessed to have highly seasoned singers who have done (their roles) before.”

Semi-staged and concert performances of operas have become more common for orchestras in recent years, but there have been relatively few in Boulder. The most recent I could find was a concert performance of Ainadamar by Osvaldo Golijov at the Colorado Music Festival in 2007, and the CMF is scheduled to perform Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle July 23 and 24 as part of the 2015 summer festival.

Georges Bizet

Georges Bizet

In case you don’t know the story, love’s arrow is fatal in Carmen. The naive young soldier Don José falls for Carmen, a feisty and independent gypsy woman whom he is supposed to arrest. Instead he lets her escape, and after serving time in jail he joins Carmen and the band of smugglers in their hideout. By then, Carmen has fallen for another man, the handsome torreador Escamillo. In a fit of jealousy, Don José confronts Carmen, with fatal results.

“For me, this opera is all about woman power,” Hughes says. “Carmen gets killed in the end, but she dictates the entire course of events. She’s totally in control of the entire story, to the point that she goes the way that she wants to go and all the male characters are pawns. I think society has been catching up to Carmen for the last 150 years.”

But of course the plot is only one part of the opera. “What drew me to Carmen initially is not the story but it’s how the music conveys the story,” Hughes says. “To me the music is just as powerful as the character of Carmen and Don José.”

The musical appeal makes Carmen an ideal first opera for audiences. Many of the melodies are familiar—such as Escamillo’s “Torreador’s Song” and Carmen’s “Habanera”—and the rest of the score is equally tuneful.

Asheville_Lyric_Opera_Carmen“I would aim (the performance) at people who know these themes, and would like to experience this for the first time and see the entire version,” Hughes says. “That’s what the Boulder Symphony is. We’re trying to build excitement for classical music, which includes opera and orchestral works.”

Hughes believes that opera is a greater challenge for Boulder Symphony than most orchestra programs. “We’re trying to expand on what we’ve done in the past,” he says. “Operatic literature is incredibly difficult for orchestras, because the tempos are changing constantly, you’re having to not only watch the conductor but listen to the singer.”

This expanded challenge to the players is one reason Hughes is wants to perform opera with the Boulder Symphony. Another is what it can mean for the audience: “You hear symphonic music all the time and you hear these cadences and these chord progressions. Opera actually puts a human emotional element (on those sounds). It tells you exactly what that music is saying.”

Hughes and the Boulder Symphony will perform Carmen with spoken dialog between the musical numbers. This is the original version of the opera, which was written for the middle-class audiences of Paris’ Opéra-Comique rather than the aristocratic audiences of the Grand Opera. In this way Carmen is more like a Broadway show, which also enhances its appeal to audiences by making the story easy to follow.

Although Boulder Symphony’s next season has not yet been announced, Hughes lets drop a hint: “Carmen is the first of a planned multi-year operatic exploration,” he says, suggesting there will be other semi-staged operas in the future.

But in the meantime there is Carmen. “When you say Carmen, everybody gets excited,” Hughes says.

To share the excitement, you may purchase tickets here.

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20_event“Love’s Arrow”
Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor
With vocal soloists and chorus

Carmen by Georges Bizet (semi-staged performance)
7 p.m. Saturday, May 9
First Presbyterian Church, 16th & Canyon, Boulder


CarmenErica Papillion-Posey, Carmen
Jason Baldwin, Don José
Mica Dominguez-Robinson, Micaëla
Tom Kittle, Escamillo
Tom Sitzler, Moralès
Darci Lobdell, Mercédès
Molly Kittle, Frasquita
Zachary Garcia, Zuniga
Humberto Barboa, Remendado
Michael Travis Risner, Stage Director, Dancaïre