Paired programs open Boulder Chamber Orchestra season Oct. 26–27

Pianist Sara Davis Buechner will play both Chopin concertos over two concerts

By Peter Alexander Oct. 22 at 9:50 p.m.

The Boulder Chamber Orchestra is offering an unusual and intriguing choice of programming as they open their 16th season Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 26-27).

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Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra.  Photo by Keith Bobo.

The concert programs are parallel but different each evening: Conductor Bahman Saless and pianist Sara Davis Buechner will present Chopin’s First Piano Concerto and Beethoven’s First Symphony on Saturday, and successive works by both composers—Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto and Beethoven’s Second Symphony—on Sunday.

“We like to torture ourselves by doubling the repertoire with the same number of rehearsals,” Saless says, tongue firmly in cheek.

In addition to the separate programs, both concerts will include the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream—added to the program at the request of the BCO’s principal flutist, Cobus du Toit. Noting that this movement is included in most orchestra auditions, for just about every instrument, Saless told du Toit “I suppose the orchestra already knows it, so let’s just throw it in. I’ll just do it.”

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Sara Davis Buechner

The idea of paired programs came about when Saless engaged Buechner. She was already scheduled to appear with the Ft. Collins Symphony Nov. 2, and Saless asked her what she would like to play in Boulder. She suggested the two Chopin concertos, and rather than do both on one program, Saless had the idea of splitting them over two concerts.

His choice to go with Chopin’s concertos 1 and 2 was Beethoven’s symphonies with the same numbers, also spilt over the two concerts. “We’ve done our cycle of all nine Beethoven symphonies in 15 years,” Saless explains. “It’s time to restart the cycle, and I wanted to do these two symphonies again for a few years, so I figured, let’s just go with that!”

Both pairs of works—the two Chopin concertos and the two Beethoven symphonies—were written when the composers were just getting started. At the same time, there are considerable differences, too.

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Frédéric Chopin. Portrait by Maria Wodzinska.

The concertos were written when Chopin was still a student in Warsaw, before his fateful move to Paris in 1832. They were the only concertos he wrote; in Paris he was known for individual pieces for solo piano, including his waltzes, nocturnes, polonaises, etudes, and other short works. The conertos were not published in the order they were written—in other words, the Second Concerto was actually the first written and vice-versa.

In both concertos, Chopin’s focus was clearly on the piano part, and the orchestral writing is considered only partly successful. They were written at almost the same time, around 1830, and there is little stylistic difference between them.

Nevertheless, Saless favors the second concerto—the first one written. “Number 2 is in many ways a better piece than Number 1,” he says. “The first one (Number 1) is more of a showpiece. The second one is a lot more internal, it’s more personal, it’s more intimate.”

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Beethoven. Portrait by Christian Horneman.

Beethoven wrote his First and Second symphonies after his 1792 move to Vienna. They were written under the influence of Haydn, and are considered a continuation of the Classical symphonic style. The big change in Beethoven’s style came with the Third Symphony, written a few years later.

But unlike the concertos, the two symphonies do reveal the composer’s growing sophistication and expanding understanding of the genre. “Number 1 is so much getting your feet wet, as a symphony,” Saless says. “It’s got so much humor and spontaneity in it. Then with the second, there is just a turbo-charged travel from Number 1.”

The BCO has titled the programs “Classical Mavericks,” a reference to the independent stance taken by both Beethoven and Chopin as they launched their careers, respectively in their early concertos and symphonies. “Beethoven and Chopin both were very passionate about their values,” Saless says.

He extends the same description to the soloist for the concerts. Sara Davis Buechner already had a successful solo piano career as David Buechner, winning major prizes at several piano competitions. In 1998, at the age of 39, she came out as a transgender woman, and made her “second debut” (her words) as Sara Buechner playing the two Chopin concertos with New York’s Jupiter Symphony.

When she made the change, opportunities to perform dried up. She has reported that conductors would not return her calls, and in one case she was sent a check not to perform. “She had to deal with dents in her career for a few years,” is how Saless described that period of her life. Today she teaches at Temple University, and is once again earning appearances as soloist

“I think that Boulder should know about her, because it’s important to us that people should be judged by their talent and not anything else,” Saless says. “I’m excited to work with her.”

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“Classical Mavericks”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Sara Davis Buechner, piano

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26:

Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major
Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 in C major

7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27:

Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor
Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D major

Both performances at Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder
Tickets

CORRECTIONS: Minor typos corrected Oct. 23.

Boulder Chamber Orchestra performs concert of instrumental colors for Mother’s Day

“Earthly Delights” program includes music of Debussy, Ravel and Mozart

By Peter Alexander May 9, 2019, at 2 p.m.

The next concert by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra is titled “Earthly Delights,” but it’s not about the famous painting by Hieronymus Bosch.

“This is more of an atmosphere concert,” BCO conductor Bahman Saless says. “You’ve got Debussy and Ravel in a concert and their music conjures up impressions rather than emotions. So, I thought that was nice title to put there.”

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Cobus do Toit

The full program, to be performed Friday in Lone Tree and Sunday afternoon in Boulder (see details below), features Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Ravel’s Ma mere l’Oye (Mother Goose) Suite. Also on the program are Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro and Concerto for flute and harp, featuring BCO principal flutist Cobus du Toit and harpist Jennifer Ellis.

The keystone to the program is the Mozart concerto. “The main theme of the concert was the musical colors that are portrayed with harp and flute,” Saless says. “It’s not performed very often, and you have to have an excellent flautist and harp player. Then the question comes, what will I program it with?

“That’s really tough because you have to think, well, I’d better use the flute and harp maybe somewhere else. That’s where I decided that it might be good to putThe Afternoon of a Faun in there.”

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Jennifer Ellis

Even that did not solve all the problems, though. Debussy’s atmospheric score is usually performed by a large orchestra with two harps, but the BCO’s venues did not have space for that many players. Saless found a version with the two harp parts combined into one, and with that version and the players squeezed into a tight space, they can make it work.

Afternoon of the Faun has always been one of my ultimate pieces to conduct,” he says. Saless has never conducted a performance although it is, he says. “a staple of conducting aptitude tests,” and he has studied it in workshops. “If you can conduct The Afternoon of the Faun you are in a class of people that probably should say, ‘Hey, I conducted it.’”

“I’ve conducted it in workshops before, but I haven’t dared to do it in public,” he adds.

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Marurice Ravel

Ravel’s Ma mere l’Oye is another piece Saless learned in a conducting workshop “I really did not know anything about it until last summer, where I also got exposed to it in a workshop,” he says. “It’s one of the most delightful pieces that I know, and we’ve never performed Ravel. He doesn’t have many pieces you can perform with a chamber orchestra. This is one of them, and I’m totally excited about performing it.”

Apart from it’s musical pleasures, Saless chose Ravel’s score—“Mother Goose Suite”—in a punning tribute to Mother’s Day, the date of the Boulder performance. “It does have five movements that are like little stories that we know. It fits a family concert atmosphere, which I was planning to put out there for Mother’s Day. So I’m hoping that if mothers come with their kids, they will enjoy the ‘Mother Goose Suite’ as much as the mothers do.”

The five movements of Ma mere l’Oye, all derived from better or lesser known fairy tales, are “Pavane of Sleeping Beauty,” “Tom Thumb,” “Empress of the Pagodas,” “Conversation of Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Fairy Garden.”

“The last movement is a gorgeous piece of music,” Saless says. “Ravel is an amazing composer, but he doesn’t usually touch you so deeply emotionally (as this movement), just because of the style of impressionist music. The last movement is just so beautiful!

“And the colors! The whole concert is colors. The conductor has the biggest challenge in that every few bars have to show a different color, and that’s just really fabulous.”

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“Earthly Delights”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor
With Cobus do Toit, flute, and Jennifer Ellis, harp

Mozart: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro
Mozart: Concerto for flute and harp
Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Ravel: Ma mere l’Oye (Mother Goose)

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 10, Jubilee Christian Church, Lone Tree
3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 12, Boulder Adventist Church

Tickets

Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra celebrate all the holidays

Music from a Mexican beach and a crazy Brazilian conductor

By Peter Alexander

Conductor Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) have a couple of holiday traditions.

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Guitarist Chaconne Klaverenga will be featured soloist with the BCO

Every year they honor the December holidays as ecumenically as possible with a concert titled “A Gift of Music,” performed mid-month in Broomfield and Boulder. After that they present a New Year’s Eve concert in Lakewood featuring Viennese and other light classical selections.

This year’s “Gift of Music” doesn’t have any traditional holiday music on the program, “because we want it to be multi-denominational,” Saless says. Instead, the program reflects the holidays through music of lighthearted beauty and good cheer.

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Flutist Cobus du Toit is a member of the BCO

Saless selected three works for the program: the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo, featuring young guitar virtuoso Chaconne Klaverenga as soloist; Pastorale Suite for flute and strings by Gunnar de Frumerie, with the BCO’s Cobus du Toit as soloist; and Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 5.

With all the Nutcrackers, Messiahs and other traditional musical performances in December, New Year’s almost gets overlooked by classical musicians in this country. But in Europe, it is the focus of many performances, particularly the annual New Year’s Day concert of the Vienna Philharmonic.

It is that tradition that the BCO channels every year with its New Year’s Eve concert.

This year, Saless steps aside for guest conductor Claudio Cohen, director of the National Orchestra of Brasilia in Brazil. He and Saless are doing a “podium exchange,” with Cohen conducting here New Year’s Eve, and Saless traveling to Brazil in October.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Boulder Chamber Orchestra

The Gift of Music
Bahman Saless, conductor, with
Chaconne Klaverenga, guitar, and Cobus du Toit, flute
7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, Boulder Adventist Church, Boulder

A New Year’s Eve Celebration
Claudio Cohen, guest conductor
6:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 31, Lakewood Cultural Center, Lakewood

Information and tickets