CMF presents world premiere of major piece by Joan Tower

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein gives dedicated performance of A New Day

By Peter Alexander July 25 at 11:25 p.m.

The Colorado Music Festival presented a major new piece at their concert in Chautauqua Auditorium tonight (July 25).

The Festival Orchestra, conductor Peter Oundjian and cellist Alisa Weilerstein collaborated in the world premiere of A New Day, a cello concerto by Joan Tower that was a CMF commission. A strong and exciting piece, A New Day should quickly find its way into the repertoire. I have no hesitation recommending this powerful concerto to every cellist, conductor and orchestra that would consider taking it up.

Joan Tower. Photo by Bernie Mindrich

The all-Tower concert opened with four trumpeters playing her Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 5. It was, as the program characterizes her style, “bold and energetic,” boldly and energetically played. The players nailed the cinematic brilliance of the fanfare, one of several responses by Tower to Copland’s World War II-era Fanfare for the Common Man.

Oundjian and Tower came onstage to introduce the next piece, one of Tower’s best known: the Grammy-winning Made in America. Premiered in 2005 and written for 68 orchestras in 50 states, Made in America reflects Tower’s feelings about her home country after living several years in South America. It uses the song “America the Beautiful” “inside the piece,” as Tower aptly described it: not really a set of variations, it returns to the song throughout.

As she also explained, the score reflects both positive and negative feelings about the country. There are many passages of darkness and anger, over which the central theme sometimes prevails. It is a well calculated score that propels the audience through many moods and transitions to an ending of great forcefulness. People around me were shouting “bravo,” “brava” and “bravi” all at once.

The CMF Orchestra, which gets better each week, managed the tricky transitions and sudden tempo changes of the score seamlessly under Oundjian’s leadership. Contrasts between delicate, gentle passages and violent, louder ones were well marked, and the slower crescendi flowed smoothly. Brass and percussion—favorite sounds in Tower’s arsenal—were especially impressive.

Next was Tower’s rarely heard Duets, a kind of concerto for orchestra that contrasts a series of duets within the orchestra with dramatic full orchestra outbursts. Tower said she was grateful to the CMF players for performing Duets, since they made her “like the piece again.“

I will not describe any part of this piece as “angry.” When Oundjian used that word from the stage, Tower firmly corrected him that she was not angry. But I will say that the dramatic full orchestral passages become musically very powerful at times.

CMF artistic director Peter Oundjian

That effect was abetted by nature, as a violent thunderstorm broke over the Chautauqua Auditorium during the performance, sometimes obscuring the players. It is a tribute to the orchestra’s range of dynamics that the most delicate passages could be drowned out by the rain, but elsewhere the storm was decisively covered by the orchestra. 

What will be most remembered from the performance will be the orchestral explosions rather than the duets of individual instruments. Once again it was the brass section, deftly handling all of their complex passagework, and above all the athletic work of the timpanist that most impressed. Alas, the weather covered some of the wind and string duets that I would have liked to have heard better.

To avoid that happening during the following world premiere, the intermission was extended until the storm had passed and the music could be well heard. This was a good decision, as A New Day is a piece worth hearing well.

The piece makes great use of the cello and its characteristic gestures—long slides, string crossings, rapid figuration, shifts to thumb position high on the cello’s top string. This will be a challenge to any cellist, all within an accessible frame that audiences will enjoy. Based on the stations of a single day, it has an expressive profile that reaches out to the listeners and invites them in.

There are four movements, titled “Day Break,” “Working Out” (with the many possible meanings implied), “Almost Alone” and “Into the Night.” Dedicated to her husband, the piece is in part a celebration of their years together.

Alisa Weilerstein. Photo by Paul Stewart

“Day Break” opens gently but has many shifts of mood. Driving fragments in the cello are reinforced by chugging motion in the orchestra. Every mood and musical idea leads to another transition, building in intensity or relaxing back into tranquility. “Working out” might refer as much to the performance of the soloist as any activities in the day of a person or a relationship. It is fast and at time brilliant, never casual.

“Almost alone” is a calm, lyrical cadenza for the cellist, sometimes supported by beautiful chords from the string sections. “Into the Night” provides a strong contrast to the preceding movement, starting almost frantically and maintaining a high pace for most of the movement. The end provides a return to tranquility, with the concerto ending as gently as it began—signifying, Tower says, “hope for another day with my 94-year-old husband.” Her generosity in sharing that hope with the audience was the most touching moment of all.

Weilerstein performed with a focus that was evident in both the intensity of her playing, and visually as she felt the complex passages of her part. This was virtuosity at a high level, a performance totally dedicated to the music at hand. Tower could not have wanted more effective advocates for her new work, either soloist, conductor, or orchestra.

It was good to hear the work of such a remarkable living composer at Chautauqua. Tower’s command of the orchestra is unequalled, her music is both vivid and accessible, and it is performed widely. It should be heard more often.

Indeed, the entire “Music of Today” series at CMF has been a sensational success. Oundjian and the festival are to be commended for their commitment to living musicians.

“Music of Today” at Colorado Music Festival

Music by two living composers and a piece by Beethoven, who “always will be alive”

By Peter Alexander July 23 at 1:10 a.m.

The Colorado Music Festival celebrated the “Music of Today” last night (Jul. 22) with a premiere, a second piece by a living composer, and a new arrangement of music by a composer who, in the words of artistic director Peter Oundjian, “always will be alive”: Beethoven.

The premiere was Forestallings by Hannah Lash, originally planned as part of the 2020 Beethoven 250thanniversary celebration. A CMF co-commission, it was inspired by Beethoven’s Second Symphony.

Hannah Lash. Photo by Karjaka Studios.

Lash was introduced by Oundjian to speak about her piece before the performance. This represented a return to the festival, since Lash played the premiere of her Second Harp Concerto, a CMF “Click” Commission, here in 2016. Last night she chose to let her music speak for itself; she said little more than that she has loved the Beethoven Second since childhood.

Except for the dramatic opening gesture, Forestallings does not quote Beethoven directly. Instead, Lash says, the score has “moments of opening a window between me and Beethoven,” after which she very much goes her own way. That way is likely shaped by Beethoven, however; the music makes use of the classical sound world, and offers a relaxed clarity that is not often heard in more intense new pieces.

This makes the development of ideas easy to follow. Lash briefly returns to the opening Beethovenian gesture, after which the first movement doesn’t so much end as just cease. The second movement begins in a Romantic, almost Mahlerian mood. In spite of lush harmonies, the texture remains open and clear, so that you can hear through the entire orchestra from top to bottom. Here Lash’s lyrical writing is particularly ingratiating.

Oundjian and the CMF players revealed the clarity of the music and brought out the strong profile of the score with a careful, attentive performance. In all, Forestallings proved an enjoyable piece that may well go on to further performances.

The second work on the program, the Marimba Concerto of Kevin Puts, was no less enjoyable. Puts may be known to some in the audience who remember that former CMF music director Michael Christie conducted and recorded Puts’s Pulitzer Prize-wining opera Silent Night at the Minnesota Opera in 2011.

Like Forestallings, Puts’s concerto draws on classical models, in this case the piano concertos of Mozart. According to the composer, that influence is found in the near-equal relationship between soloist and orchestra, but attentive listeners will hear a suggestion of Mozartian lyricism. The very opening could almost be the beginning of a Mozart concerto before Puts, like Lash, goes his own way, into a pastoral world with twittering winds and murmuring strings.

There are moments of great loveliness and gentle beauty through the concerto, qualities that were emphasized by the strong string sound of the CMF players. The final movement becomes more virtuosic, opening with a brilliant, almost epic gesture and driving on to the very fast finish.

Ji Su Jung

The performance featured soloist Ji Su Jung, who is one of those true virtuosos who has the ability to make her performance look simple. (It’s not!) She flew through all the fireworks that Puts asks for, and maintained the greatest delicacy in the exquisitely controlled ending of the second movement. After the accelerating finale the audience, duly impressed, provided a standing ovation—which of course is routine at concerts today.

At Oundjian’s urging, Jung played an encore that turned out to be “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” This sudden change of direction showed Jung’s comfort with varied styles, playing an arrangement that has just enough of the lounge-pianist vibe to entertain. She handled the style with polish, and ended with a deft musical wink to the audience.

The second half of the concert was given over to Oundjian’s arrangement for string orchestra of Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp minor, op. 131. This is undoubtedly one of the great works for string quartet or any medium. Oundjian’s spoken introduction reflected insights gained from more than 150 performances of the quartet as a violinist, and showed the distance between program note analysis and the deep understanding gained inside a piece of music.

The piece, and the opportunity to conduct music he can no longer play, are clearly precious to Oundjian, but I have to admit mixed feelings about arrangements of this, or any string quartet for full string orchestra. In this case, there are definite gains, but also losses. Sometimes the extra heft of the full sections yields expressive rewards, but elsewhere the intimacy of the chamber ensemble captures things that the full orchestra cannot.

The very opening of Op. 131, a chromatic line permeated with despair, is more personal played by a quartet; by full sections, the despair becomes less intimate, a larger landscape of desolation. Is one better, or the other? Is it just different? Each listener must decide.

On the negative side of the ledger are details that get muddied in a full section sound, the rapid gestures than six players cannot play as cleanly as one. The transparency that a good quartet projects, particularly in contrapuntal passages, may get lost.

On the other hand, Beethoven’s stomping fury in the final movement definitely gains from the full section sound. That passage always sounds like it needs more in a quartet performance—although the straining of just four instruments has an expressive quality, too. Full section pianissimo has its own beauty and sense of suspense. The sections where Oundjian’s arrangement alternates solo passages with full section punctuation are very effective.

I have no doubt that every member of the CMF string sections has played this work—possibly excepting the basses—and it is rewarding to see and hear them joining together for something that they all revere. It would be harsh to deny Oundjian, the players and the audience the opportunity to share this performance.

And yet, I cannot escape the thought that the piece is even better played by a great quartet. 

Coming week at CMF will feature new music, commissions, premieres

Commissioned work by Hannah Lash July 22, all Joan Tower program July 25

By Peter Alexander July 20 at 12:10 a.m.

Hannah Lash always wanted to be a composer.

“One of my earliest memories was that the reason I wanted to take violin lessons was that I wanted to be a composer,” she says. “So I had that thought in my head from a very early age.”

Hannah Lash. Photo by Karjaka Studios

Mission accomplished. Lash started on Suzuki violin, later studied piano and harp, and now teaches composition at Yale. Her new piece Forestallings was co-commissioned by the Colorado Music Festival, where it will be premiered Thursday (July 22) by the Festival Orchestra and conductor Peter Oundjian.

The same program will feature Kevin Puts’s Concerto for Marimba with guest soloist Ji Su Jung and Oundjian’s arrangement of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor. The Lash score matches well with Beethoven, since it was originally planned as part of the 2020 Beethoven bicentennial.

In fact, Forestallings was commissioned by CMF and the Indianapolis Symphony to accompany Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2. “I was really happy about that, because I really like that symphony,” Lash says. “It’s underplayed, and I’m really happy when it’s performed. It was fun to find some way of having a relationship to (the symphony).” 

Her score does not quote Beethoven, but “gesturally it has touch points,” she says. “The first gesture of the first movement has a great deal to do with Beethoven. Then it goes in very different directions. These moments of opening a window between me and Beethoven were important to me.”

Ji Su Jung

Puts has written that his Concerto for Marimba “reflects my love for Mozart’s piano concertos,” with the influence “mostly in the relationship between the soloist and orchestra.” Listeners may also hear a strong kinship to lyrical moments of Mozart’s concertos.

Soloist Jung is a rare musician who started studying percussion as a young child. Born in South Korea, she later came to the United States to study at the Peabody Conservatory and Yale University. 

The Lash premiere is part of a concert series that CMF is calling “Music of Today.” The series opens with the St. Lawrence String Quartet on Tuesday (July 20), playing the String Quartet No. 1 by American composer John Adams as well as works by Haydn and Debussy (see full programs below). Adams’s First Quartet was inspired by the St. Lawrence Quartet, to whom it is dedicated. “I was reminded how much the sound of the string quartet is like elevated human discourse,” he wrote. “It’s like speech brought to the highest level.”

Like the Lash, Adams’ quartet was influenced by Beethoven—in this case scherzo movements from two late quartets. While writing the quartet, Adams was also listening to the quartets of Ravel and Debussy, the latter of which closes the St. Lawrence program. 

Friday’s “Music of Today” concert (July 23), titled “Kaleidoscope,” comprises entirely music by living composers, with an emphasis on percussion. Jung will be featured again as soloist, along with pianist Christopher Taylor, along with CMF string players and percussionists. The diverse program ranges from the Piano Quintet No. 2 by William Bolcom to Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert (Part IIC), as well as several pieces for percussion 

The final event of “Music of Today” will be a concert on Sunday (July 25) devoted to the music of American composer Joan Tower, including the world premiere of A New Day for cello and orchestra. This program grew from Oundjian’s long friendship with Tower. “Joan is an old friend of mine,” Oundjian says. “She was really dying to write a cello concerto.” 

Joan Tower. Photo by Bernie Mindrich

To fulfill that wish, CMF commissioned the work that became A New Day, and chose for soloist Alisa Weilerstein, whom Oundjian has known virtually her entire life. Member of a musical family, and another child musician, Weilerstein started playing cello at the age of four. 

A New Day is in part an expression of Tower’s gratitude for every day of life. “As we get older, we begin to treasure and value every day that is given us,” she writes in program notes. “This feeling becomes even stronger when we are able to get past 90. I am not quite there yet, but my husband Jeff is and the closer I get to his passing, the more I treasure every new day.”

Other works on the all-Tower program will be No. 5 in her series of fanfares “For the Uncommon Woman”; Made in America, her setting of “America the Beautiful”; and Duets, an orchestral piece built on duets between individual players in the orchestra.

The next week  at CMF opens with a concert in the festival’s Robert Mann Chamber Music series. The program comprises two works by Beethoven, the Quintet for piano and winds and the Septet, played by members of the CMF Orchestra (Tuesday, July 27). 

Thursday and Friday, July 29 and 30, see the return of CMF resident artist Augustin Hadelich to play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Oundjian and the Festival Orchestra. The program also features two works that are distinctly less known than the Beethoven concerto: Carl Maria von Weber’s Overture to his magic opera Oberon, and the robust and engaging Dances of Galánta by Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály. Both are works I would welcome more often on orchestral programs.

Finally, the concert on Sunday, Aug. 1 will present more underplayed works, as well as two guests of significant interest. Saxophonist Steven Banks will play the Glazunov Saxophone Concerto and the Concertino da Camera for saxophone and 11 instruments by Jacques Ibert; and longtime CMF supporter and Boulder businessman Chris Christoffersen will narrate Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait.

Also on the program are Copland’s popular Fanfare for the Common Man, which inspired Tower’s fanfares; and Oundjian’s arrangement of a movement from the Second String Quartet of Florence Price, an important early 20th-century African-American composer who is being rediscovered today.

This concert is one of Oundjian’s favorites of the 2021 festival. “I love that program,” he says.

“Steven Banks is incredible. He’s a miraculous musician—honestly, every single note he plays, he’s really charismatic.”

# # # # #

Colorado Music Festival
Schedule July 20–Aug. 1
All concerts in Chautauqua Auditorium

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 20
St. Lawrence String Quartet

  • Haydn: String Quartet in D major, op. 20 no. 4
  • John Adams: String Quartet No. 1
  • Debussy: String Quartet in G minor, op. 10

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 22
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Ji Su Jung, marimba

  • Hannah Lash: Forestallings (CMF Co-commission)
  • Kevin Puts: Concerto for Marimba
  • Beethoven: String Quartet No. 14, op. 131 (orchestrated by Peter Oundjian)

7:30 p.m. Friday, July 23
“Kaleidoscope”
CMF Orchestra strings and percussion, with 
Christopher Taylor, piano, and Ji Su Jung, marimba

  • Nebojsa Zivkovic: Trio per Uno
  • Nico Muhly: Big Time for String Quartet and Percussion
  • Peter Klatzow: Concert Marimba Etudes
  • Derek Bermel: Turning
  • Keith Jarrett: The Köln Concert (Part IIC)
  • Leigh Howard Stevens: Rhythmic Caprice
  • William Bolcom: Piano Quintet No. 2

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 25
Music of Joan Tower
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Alisa Weilerstein, cello

  • Joan Tower: Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 5
  • Joan Tower: Made in America
  • Joan Tower: Duets
  • Joan Tower: A New Day for cello and orchestra (world premiere)

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 27
Colorado Music Festival Orchestra members

  • Beethoven: Quintet for piano and winds in E-flat major, op. 16
  • Beethoven: Septet in E-flat major, op. 20

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 29
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 30
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Augustin Hadelich, violin

  • Carl Maria von Weber: Overture to Oberon 
  • Zoltán Kodály: Dances of Galánta
  • Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major, op. 61

6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 1
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Steven Banks, saxophone, and
Chris Christoffersen, narrator

  • Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man
  • Florence Price: String Quartet No. 2 (Movement 2)
  • Alexander Glazunov: Saxophone Concerto in E-flat major, op. 109
  • Jacques Ibert: Concertino da Camera
  • Copland: Lincoln Portrait

The full calendar for the 2021 CMF season can be seen here. Tickets may be purchased through the Chautauqua Web page. Because health restrictions are subject to change over the summer, be sure to check the CMF 2021 tickets FAQ page.

Emerson Quartet appears on CMF’s Mann Chamber Music Series

Program of Purcell, Walker, Shostakovich and Beethoven, plus Dvořák

By Peter Alexander July 14 at 12:50 a.m.

Last night (July 13) the Colorado Music Festival (CMF) hosted one of the most distinguished string quartets as part of the new Robert Mann Chamber Music series.

It was not, however, the quartet that had been announced. The originally listed Juilliard Quartet was unable to make the trip, and the nine-time Grammy-winning Emerson Quartet came to the rescue, making their CMF debut appearance. That was a happy turn of events, as the Emerson gave a terrific program of their own, entirely worthy of a series named for the legendary violinist.

Emerson Quartet. Photo by Jurgen Frank.

The Emerson Quartet opened their program with Henry Purcell’s 17th-centruy Chacony, as edited by Benjamin Britten. This is a curious hybrid piece, one that is neither Baroque nor modern—more of a Baroco-Romantic blend. The performance was lovely, transparent enough to clarify the polyphonic texture but also warm enough to evoke a more Romantic sense of style.

After that brief opener, violinist Eugene Drucker came onstage to talk about the program, providing just enough analysis to give insight into the coming pieces. As he pointed out, the Purcell/Britten established a theme that was carried on by other pieces: music that looks both forward and backward. This applied particularly to the Shostakovich Quartet No. 14, in which the composer pulled serial elements into his personal style, and Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15, op. 132, which uses an old church mode to express the composer’s thanks to the Deity.

But first the Emerson played the string quartet version of George Walker’s Lyric for Strings. Best known as a piece for string orchestra, it was originally written as part of Walker’s String Quartet No. 1. If you are accustomed to the string orchestra version, it sounds more fragile, and also more intimate when played by a quartet. In the Emerson’s performance, you could hear the players’ affection for this gentle piece, as they caressed the chords and carefully shaped the dynamic contours.

As Drucker explained, Shostakovich’s Fourteenth Quartet is permeated with highly chromatic lines that come out of 12-tone compositional styles. And yet, it is unmistakably Shostakovich’s music in its texture, in its rhythmic shape, and equally in its expressive profile.

Like many of his other quartet movements, the opening Allegretto starts as if striking out on a brisk excursion. But soon the chromatic elements  take the music down some strange and unexpected byways. Happily, the Emerson Quartet seemed completely plugged into the composer’s itinerary and never seemed the least bit lost.

The second movement is an Adagio of brooding intensity. Last night the suppressed turmoil of the music seemed to summon the winds outside the Chautauqua Auditorium. This mini mistral rattled the building and seemed to express what Shostakovich had hidden behind the notes, but it did not rattle the players of the Emerson Quartet who carried on with total aplomb.

The final movement is variegated in texture, mood and affect, contrasts that the Emerson Quartet brought out forcibly. Undisturbed by the continuing tempest without, they maintained their focus and intensity. 

I have little to say about the Beethoven, which received a consistent, polished and utterly coherent performance. This is music that the Emerson, like all first-rank quartets, has played many times. They are performers who know the music intimately and know exactly what they want to do. This performance did not confront the audience with the rude and boisterous Beethoven we sometimes hear. Rather, it had the rough edges polished, and however deeply expressive, it was never uncomfortable.

Hearing this quartet is almost an otherworldly experience, especially the central movement titled “Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit” (Holy song of thanks of a convalescent to the Deity). Here Beethoven uses the Lydian mode, a kind of scale used in Medieval Gregorian chant but rarely since, to evoke the sacred realms. The Emerson Quartet played those portions of the score with quiet reverence, and contrasted them well with the surrounding material representing his recovery.

These essential contrasts were brought out in a polished way without resorting to crude exaggeration. Was it too polished? Some may like Beethoven in a more aggressive mood, but you could not say this performance was not convincing. 

For an encore, the quartet played one of Dvořák’s Cypresses, quartet arrangements of a set of love songs, a lovely and gentle way to follow up a widely varied program.

Wonderfully modulated Mendelssohn is star of CMF opening night

Festival premieres a work for our times, gives a driven Beethoven performance

By Peter Alexander July 2 at 12:40 a.m.

The 2021 Colorado Music Festival got off to a splendid start last night (June 1).

After the two-year pause from the pandemic, both the audience and the players on the Chautauqua Auditorium stage were clearly thrilled to be sharing music together again. That joy was briefly expressed by CMF executive director Elizabeth McGuire, and then music director Peter Oundjian strode out to get back to business.

Peter Oundjian and the CMF Orchestra.

The concert opened with the world premiere of the strings, harp and timpani version of Aaron Jay Kernis’s Elegy (to those we’ve lost). Originally written for piano, the music came from a deep well of personal experience on the part of the composer, who contracted COVID-19 himself and lost several friends. (You may hear the piano version together with a film by Esther Shubinski here.)

Aaron Jay Kernis

Elegy is music of relative simplicity and comfort, one that recalls other pieces played for memorial occasions. It is consoling throughout except for a brief moment just before the end, when a tumultuous passage briefly evokes the anguish of the pandemic. Oundjian elicited a sweet and flexible performance that captured well the consoling nature of Kernis’s score which has all the ingredients of a work for these times. 

After Kernis took a bow with Oundjian, the conductor introduced violinist Augustin Hadelich for a performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto in E minor. An increasingly celebrated soloist, Hadelich does not overwhelm with volume or sheer flash, but rather with the beauty, precision and delicacy of his playing.

In a wonderfully modulated performance, Hadelich took an overtly Romantic approach to the concerto. He used tempo, dynamics and tone quality to evoke all the kaleidoscopic moods of the score, and he gave the most dramatic and magically captivating reading of the first movement cadenza I have heard. Throughout the concerto, he brought out the sweetness and delicacy of the solo part to an extraordinary degree. 

Augustin Hadelich

In the lyrical second movement, Hadelich showed his ability to sustain attention and the tension of the longest melodic lines. The finale was quite fast, with no loss of accuracy on the soloist’s part. There was one moment of imprecision with the wind players at the very beginning, but otherwise the movement was exceptionally brilliant, as is intended.

For an encore, Hadelich showed that his skills extend well beyond the Classical/Romantic repertoire, playing the “Louisiana Blues Strut” by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson with an idiomatic and raucous sense of fun that was well appreciated by the CMF orchestra as well as the audience.

The concert concluded with a driven performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony—a holdover from the planned 2020 festival that would have coincided with the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Wagner called the Seventh “the apotheosis of the dance,” and indeed every movement is based on strongly rhythmic ideas. Oundjian—conducting without a score—and the CMF orchestra gave a performance that was always bustling, even if it did not always quite dance.

The pace was brisk from the beginning of the slow introduction, which was precise and efficient, leading to a rushing allegro movement that happily observed the repeats Beethoven expected to hear, but that are often omitted today. Changes of volume or dynamics were used to great effect in the slow movement, although for my taste it has more suspense and pays off better at a slower tempo.

The same was true of the Scherzo and Finale, where the very fast tempos contributed to a loss of detail. Both would dance better with a slightly slower tempo and cleaner texture. The massive ritard in the middle of the Scherzo only emphasized how fast the rest of the movement was. The dynamics were well handled in these movements as well, with one exception. 

Near the end of the finale, for the first time ever Beethoven calls for three f’s in the orchestra, a moment underlined by the full brass section. Clearly intended as the climax of the entire symphony, this moment should startle with its impact. But Oundjian had driven the entire movement so powerfully that Beethoven’s triple-f was just more of the same.

This was an early-summer performance—great players coming together for the first time in nearly two years, playing with great skill and precision, but not yet quite coalescing into a totally polished product. Clearly, the audience caught the excitement of the fast tempos and the joy the players felt at being back on stage. With a little more time together, I expect even more.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that the “Louisiana Blues Strut” is by the Black English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. That is incorrect. The composer is American Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson.

2021 CMF opening night marks return to live concerts

On the program: Beethoven, Kernis world premiere, Hadelich plays Mendelssohn

By Peter Alexander June 29 at 11:30 p.m.

There will be much to celebrate when the 2021 Colorado Music Festival gets underway Thursday and Friday (July 1 and 2) at Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder.

Peter Oundjian and the CMF Festival Orchestra. Photo by Michael Ensminger.

The return to the stage of CMF music director Peter Oundjian and the Festival Orchestra would be special in any music lover’s calendar. Imagine, being at a concert again—in person! with live performers!—after the past 15 months. 

But there’s even more to love. There will be the world premiere of music in memory of those we lost to the pandemic, Elegy (to those we’ve lost) by Aaron Jay Kernis. And there will be a rising superstar performer, violinist Augustin Hadelich.

What more do you want?

Kernis wrote his Elegy, not from a commission but out of his own experience with COVID-19. CMF artistic director and conductor Peter Oundjian says, “He wrote to me and said ‘I’ve written this elegy to those we’ve lost.’ He got COVID and got pretty sick, and he lost friends. I said I’d love to open the festival with it, I think it’s just so perfect. It’s very beautiful, sad but in a way uplifting as well, because it’s so tender.”

The rest of the program will be Hadelich playing the much-loved Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, always among the top two or three orchestral works in popularity. 

Augustin Hadelich

Hadelich gets asked to play the Mendelssohn Concerto often, but he can’t imagine ever saying no “Mendelssohn is a concerto where the violinist is really in charge,” he says. “You start playing right away and it’s a very dramatic role. And also very virtuosic.

“I would say that the Mendelssohn is harder than people think it is. You can’t underestimate it, but it’s very much worth it. Mendelssohn wastes no time, not a single second. It’s just so compact, because it’s not that long as a piece, but every second there’s something exciting or very beautiful going on.”

The Seventh Symphony is the first of several Beethoven pieces on the summer’s program. Later Oundjian will conduct the Third (Aug. 5) and Fifth (Aug. 7) symphonies, there will be a program of Beethoven chamber music (Aug. 7) and Hadelich will return to play the Violin Concerto (July 29 and 30). Oundjian has contributed his own arrangement of the String Quartet in C-sharp minor, op. 131, to the program on July 22.

Oundjian admits that Beethoven is hardly slighted by classical musicians around the world, but the celebration of his 250th birthday planned for 2020 was canceled by the pandemic. “Poor guy, he was going to have about a million performances last year, and they were all cancelled,” he says. Laughing, he adds “nobody knows who he is.

“But the truth is that he’s not 251 until December, so he’s still 250 this year.”

Between his two appearances, Hadelich will spend two weeks in Boulder as CMF artist-in-residence. Not all of his activities have been decided yet, but Hadelich says “I’m going to be doing whatever they have me doing—a masterclass and then some other activities. As long as I’m there I go wherever {the CMF] decides.”

He was in Boulder once before during the 2018 festival, and looks forward to having more time here. “It’s nice to come back and just enjoy for longer,” he says. “It’s a beautiful place, [and] I thought it was a wonderful hall. It sounds really good. I felt great on stage and I really enjoyed it.”

Several other events in the opening two weeks are noteworthy (see full listing below). One that is dear to Oundjian’s heart as a former violinist in the Tokyo String Quartet is the launching of a new Tuesday evening chamber music series named in honor of Robert Mann, founding violinist of the Juilliard Quartet. 

That concert series will open July 6 with a program of string quintets by Mozart and Brahms, played by members of he CMF orchestra, followed by the current iteration of the Juilliard Quartet on July 13. Other chamber performers will appear on Tuesdays through Aug. 3.

Pianist Olga Kern, always a CMF audience favorite, returns to play concertos by Haydn and Shostakovich, the latter also featuring CMF principal trumpet Jeffrey Work playing the prominent trumpet solos (July 15 and 16). Pianist Conrad Tao, scheduled for the cancelled 2020 festival and a soloist with the Boulder Philharmonic in 2015, will play a concerto on an all-Mozart program July 18.

But the collaboration between Oundjian and Hadelich would be the highlight of any season. “I’m thrilled, he’s absolutely remarkable on every level,” Oundjian says of the violinist. “He’s an inspiration, he really is. He’s so thoughtful and he’s also a wonderful teacher and very generous.”

Hadelich is equally complimentary to Oundjian. “I’m thrilled to come back,” he says. “I always love playing with Peter because he’s such a great collaborator and musician, and always so sensitive. He’s just such a great character. 

“I can’t wait to come to Boulder again.”

# # # # #

Colorado Music Festival
Schedule through July 18
All concerts in Chautauqua Auditorium

Peter Oundjian. Photo by Michael Ensminger.

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 1
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 2
Opening Night
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Augustin Hadelich, violin

  • Aaron Jay Kernis: Elegy (to those we’ve lost) (world premiere)
  • Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 64
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 92

11 a.m. Saturday, July 3
Family Concert: The Story of Babar
Really Inventive Stuff, Erina Yashima, conductor

  • Leopold Mozart: Toy Symphony
  • Francis Poulenc: The story of Babar, the Little Elephant

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 6
String Quintets
CMF Orchestra Members

  • Mozart: Viola Quintet in G minor, K516
  • Brahms: Viola Quintet in G major, op. 111

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 8 
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 9
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Stewart Goodyear, piano

  • Jessie Montgomery: Strum
  • Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, op. 22
  • Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 11
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Angelo Xiang Yu, violin

  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Novelletten for string orchestra, nos. 3 and 4
  • Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K216
  • Haydn: Symphony No. 104 in D major (“London”)
Juilliard Quartet. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 13
Juilliard String Quartet

  • Ravel: String Quartet in F major
  • Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la Nuit (Thus the night)
  • Dvořák: String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 (“American”)

7:30 Thursday, July 15
6:30 Friday, July 16
Ludovic Morlot, conductor, with Olga Kern, piano

  • Dvořák: Legends, op. 59 (6, 7 and 9)
  • Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1, op. 25 (“Classical”)
  • Haydn: Piano Concerto in D major, Hob. XVIII:11
  • Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, op. 35

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 18
Ludovic Morlot, conductor, with Conrad Tao, piano

  • Mozart: Ballet Music from Idomeneo, K367
  • Mozart: Piano Concerto in A major, K488
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550

The full calendar for the 2021 CMF season can be seen here. Tickets may be purchased through the Chautauqua Web page. Because health restrictions are subject to change over the summer, be sure to check the CMF 2021 tickets FAQ page.

Colorado Music Festival is back

Live performances, premieres, chamber music mark the 2021 summer season

By Peter Alexander June 24 at 2 p.m.

As the COVID-19 pandemic ebbs, life and music are slowly returning to “normal.”

Artistic director Peter Oundjian and the CMF Festival Orchestra. Photo by Michael Ensminger

For the Colorado Music Festival, that means live concerts in Chautauqua Auditorium. The orchestra is reduced, but the 2021 festival has a full schgedule of performances, July 1–Aug. 7. And as health regulations and recommendations are relaxed, the box office has made more seats available. (The full schedule and latest box office information are available from CMF at coloradomusicfestival.org .)

Two things that distinguish the 2021 festival reflect the personal interests of CMF artistic director Peter Oundjian: an emphasis on new music, including four world premieres; and a new series of chamber music concerts named for Robert Mann, the legendary first violinist of the Juilliard Quartet. Other highlights will be a residency by violinist Augustin Hadelich, who made a notable appearance at CMF in 2018, and a series of Beethoven performances rescheduled from the cancelled 2020 season, celebrating the composer’s 250th birthday.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

Colorado Music Festival expands ticket availability

Danish Quartet replaced with Brooklyn Rider

By Peter Alexander June 11 at 4 p.m.

The Colorado Music Festival has announced that seats in the first five rows of Chautauqua Auditorium are now available for all festival concerts.

Those seats had previously been withheld from sale in order to maintain a safe distance between musicians and audience members. However, it is has now been determined that those seats may be occupied safely. Those rows are now being sold at full capacity.

Brooklyn Rider. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano

Furthermore, the planned “bubble seating” to maintain distance between concert patrons in the auditorium has been removed. This means that you may purchase less than a full bubble, and you may end up sitting next to another patron who is not part of your party. You may read the full health and safety plan for the summer at Chautauqua here.

Those are not the only changes that have been announced for the CMF 2021 season. The Danish String Quartet, previously scheduled for the Robert Mann Chamber Music Series for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3, has now been replaced by Brooklyn Rider. Due to COVID, the Danish String Quartet was unable to travel to the United States. 

Brooklyn Rider will play three works: Schisma (2019 by Caroline Shaw, Tenebrae (2002) by Osvaldo Golijov, and Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14, (“Death and the Maiden”). Known for collaborations with artists from differing musical traditions , Brooklyn Rider appeared at CMF during last year’s virtual festival.

Tickets to the Danish String Quartet performance will be valid for the Brooklyn Rider performance on the same date. If you prefer to exchange your tickets or request a refund, you may contact the Chautauqua box office by email (boxoffive@chautauqua.com) or at their walk-up tickets kiosk at Chautauqua by June 23.

Boulder-area summer festival tickets go on sale

Central City Opera, Colorado Music Festival tickets now available for purchase

By Peter Alexander April 21 at 10:15 p.m.

Two area organizations have now put tickets on sale for their summer festival seasons. Both Central City Opera and the Colorado Music Festival had announced their summer seasons earlier, but now tickets to individual events may be purchased for both. Both festivals will take place more or less as in past years, but with some important changes in access and ticketing brough about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Central City Opera will present all of its performances this summer at outdoor venues. Two mainstage productions—Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel and Verdi’s Rigoletto—will be presented at Hudson Gardens in Littleton, Colorado. There will be three differently-priced seating sections: a “VIP Section” closest to the stage, with seats provided; and two areas on the lawn farther back from the Hudson Gardens Concert Amphitheater where patrons can bring their own chair or blanket. 

Concert Amphitheater at Hudson Gardens

A smaller production of Henry Purcell’s Baroque-era opera Dido and Aeneas will be performed in the Central City Opera House Gardens. Relatively few seats are available for these performances.

For more information and dates of performances, see the previous article on Central City Opera on this blog, or the Central City Opera’s 2021 Festival listing. 

Tickets for all three productions may be purchased through the Central City Web page or or by phone through the Central City Opera box office, at (303) 292-6700. Due to COVID, there are no in-person box office sales. Frequently asked questions (FAQ) for the 2021 Central City Opera summer festival are listed here.  

The Colorado Music Festival will return to their usual home at the Chautauqua Auditorium for all summer programs—a total of 22 performances—but because it is an indoor facility, the auditorium brings its own problems.

Chautauqua Auditorium

The CMF will address health concerns by selling tickets in “bubbles” of 2, 3 or 4 seats, with appropriate distance between the bubbles. All tickets within each bubble will be sold together, so there will be no single tickets available for the summer. Because the orchestra has to expand the stage to maintain safe distances between the musicians, the first six rows of seats will not be available. Most aisle seats will be held back as well.

A full chart of seats available for sale, as well as answers to ticketing FAQs, can be found here. For a description of the 2021 summer festival, you may read the previously published post on this blog, or consult the calendar on the CMF Web page. You may also purchase tickets through the CMF calendar page.

2021 Colorado Music Festival will include in-person and live streaming options

Season will offer 22 performances at Chautauqua Auditorium July 1–­Aug. 7

By Peter Alexander March 29 at 10 a.m.

The Colorado Music Festival’s 2021 summer season will include both live in-person performances at the Boulder Chautauqua Auditorium, and live streams you can view from home.

Chautauqua Auditorium

These will be the first in-person CMF performances at Chautauqua since the end of the 2019 season. Last year, the planned summer season was cancelled and replaced with a series of intimate performances featuring selected guest artists and interviews by the CMF Music Director, Peter Oundjian.

In a release from the festival, CMF executive director Elizabeth McGuire is quoted saying “After moving to a virtual festival in 2020, we look forward to offering safe, socially-distanced concerts, alongside streaming options for several of this season’s concerts. We want these performances to be available to as many people as possible.”

CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian

Oundjian is quoted in the same news release: “In our 2021 season, we wish to commemorate the challenges of the pandemic, while celebrating the return to live, communal music-making.”

The summer’s schedule will parallel previous summers in many ways: Major orchestra concerts will be played on Thursdays at 7:30 (July 1–Aug. 5); four of the six Thursday concerts will be repeated on the following Friday, this year at 6:30 p.m.; chamber concerts featuring renowned guest artists and CMF musicians, will be Tuesday nights (July 6–Aug. 3); and there will be concerts on Sunday evenings featuring smaller orchestral forces (July 11–Aug. 1). 

The annual family concert, this year with Really Inventive Stuff performing Francis Poulenc’s Story of Babar, will be at 11 a.m. on the opening Saturday of the season, July 3. And the season will conclude at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7. Oundjian will lead orchestra concerts the first week of the festival, and weeks three through six, with guest conductors David Danzmayr and Ludovic Morlot picking up weeks two and three (see full schedule below).

Joan Tower. Photo by Bernie Mindich

There will be some notable innovations this year. The Tuesday chamber concerts will be known as the Robert Mann Chamber Music Series. Named for Robert Mann—composer, conductor, founding first violin of the Juilliard String Quartet and mentor to CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian—the series will feature CMF orchestra members, as well as three string quartets making their CMF debut appearances.

The first, on July 13, will be the Juilliard Quartet, which retains Mann’s legacy. The St. Lawrence String Quartet, once coached by Mann, will perform July 20, and the Danish String Quartet will present a strikingly original program, including a collection of dances, loosely modeled on the Baroque dance suites and assembled by the quartet from works by different composers, on Aug. 3.

The 2021 Festival will include four world premieres: commissions from Hannah Lash (July 22), Joan Tower (July 25) and Joel Thompson (Aug. 5), and a new work from Aaron Jay Kernis on opening night that will commemorate victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. The concert on July 25 will be devoted entirely to works by Tower, who plans to attend the performance.

Summer artist-in-residence will be violinist Augustin Hadelich, who appeared at the festival in 2018, and was scheduled for the 2020 Festival. When the latter was canceled, he made a solo appearance from Oundjian’s home as one of the summer’s online presentations. This year he will play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Oundjian and the Festival Orchestra on opening night, Thursday, July 1, and Friday, July 2; and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto Thursday, July 29, and Friday, July 30.

Olga Kern, pianist, photographed by Chris Lee at Steinway Hall.

There will be other Beethoven performances through the summer: Symphony No. 7 on the opening concert (July 1 and 2); an orchestration of String Quartet No. 14, op. 131 (July 22); the Quintet for piano and winds, op. 16 and the Septet, op. 20 (July 27); Symphony No. 3 (Aug. 5) and Symphony No. 5 on the final concert (Aug. 7). Other traditional Classical repertoire will be represented through works by Haydn, Mozart, Brahms and Mendelssohn scattered through the summer.

Other solo artists during the summer will include CMF favorite Olga Kern (July 15–16), pianist Stewart Goodyear, violinist Angelo Xiang Yu, pianist Conrad Tao, marimbist Ji Su Jung, pianist Christopher Taylor, cellist Alisa Weilerstein and saxophonist Steven Banks. Boulder resident and longtime CMF supporter Chris Christoffersen will narrate Copland’s Lincoln Portrait (Aug. 1).

Tickets for the 2021 season will be for sale on the CMF Web page beginning April 20. The CMF release also noted that “guidance for safe social distancing practices will be observed closely in the months to come and will most likely include limiting the number of orchestra members on stage.“The event’s venue, Chautauqua Auditorium, will implement a COVID-19 safety plan throughout the 2021 season, including the latest guidelines for spacing between seats, distance between performers and audience members, and mask requirements for all.” Information and updates to the Chautauqua safety plan will be posted on the venue’s Web site.

CMF is offering a remote viewing experience for the 2021 Colorado Music Festival with a selection of the performances available via live streaming. For a full list of live-streaming performances and to purchase tickets beginning April 20, click here.

# # # # #

Colorado Music Festival 2021
Season programs
All performances in the Chautauqua Auditorium

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 1
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 2
Opening Night
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Augustin Hadelich, violin

Aaron Jay Kernis: Elegy (to those we’ve lost) (world premiere)
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 64
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 92

11 a.m. Saturday, July 3
Family Concert: The Story of Babar
Really Inventive Stuff, Erina Yashima, conductor

Leopold Mozart: Toy Symphony
Francis Poulenc: The story of Babar, the Little Elephant

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 6
String Quintets
CMF Orchestra Members

Mozart: Viola Quintet in G minor, K516
Brahms: Viola Quintet in G major, op. 111

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 8 
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 9
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Stewart Goodyear, piano

Jessie Montgomery: Strum
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, op. 22
Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 11
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Angelo Xiang Yu, violin

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Novelletten for string orchestra, nos. 3 and 4
Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K216
Haydn: Symphony No. 104 in D major (“London”)

Juilliard String Quartet

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 13
Juilliard String Quartet

Ravel: String Quartet in F major
Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la Nuit (Thus the night)
Dvořák: String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 (“American”)

7:30 Thursday, July 15
6:30 Friday, July 16
Ludovic Morlot, conductor, with Olga Kern, piano

Dvořák: Legends, op. 59 (6, 7 and 9)
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1, op. 25 (“Classical”)
Haydn: Piano Concerto in D major, Hob. XVIII:11
Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, op. 35

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 18
Ludovic Morlot, conductor, with Conrad Tao, piano

Mozart: Ballet Music from Idomeneo, K367
Mozart: Piano Concerto in A major, K488
Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 20
St. Lawrence String Quartet

Haydn: String Quartet in D major, op. 20 no. 4
John Adams: String Quartet No. 1
Debussy: String Quartet in G minor, op. 10

Ji Su Jung

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 22
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Ji Su Jung, marimba

Hannah Lash: Forestallings (CMF Co-commission)
Kevin Puts: Concerto for Marimba
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 14, op. 131 (orchestrated by Peter Oundjian)

7:30 p.m. Friday, July 23
“Kaleidoscope”
CMF Orchestra strings and percussion, with 
Christopher Taylor, piano, and Ji Su Jung, marimba

Nebojsa Zivkovic: Trio per Uno
Nico Muhly: Big Time for String Quartet and Percussion
Peter Klatzow: Concert Marimba Etudes
Derek Bermel: Turning
Keith Jarrett: The Köln Concert (Part IIC)
Leigh Howard Stevens: Rhythmic Caprice
William Bolcom: Piano Quintet No. 2

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 25
Music of Joan Tower
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Alisa Weilerstein, cello

Joan Tower: Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 5
Joan Tower: Made in America
Joan Tower: Duets
Joan Tower: Cello Concerto (world premiere)

Augustin Hadelich

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 27
Colorado Music Festival Orchestra members

Beethoven: Quintet for piano and winds in E-flat major, op. 16
Beethoven: Septet in E-flat major, op. 20

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 29
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 30
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Augustin Hadelich, violin

Carl Maria von Weber: Overture to Oberon 
Zoltán Kodály: Dances of Galánta
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major, op. 61

6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 1
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Steven Banks, saxophone, and
Chris Christoffersen, narrator

Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man
Florence Price: String Quartet No. 2 (Movement 2)
Alexander Glazunov: Saxophone Concerto in E-flat major, op. 109
Jacques Ibert: Concertino da Camera
Copland: Lincoln Portrait

Brooklyn Rider

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3
Danish String Quartet
PROGRAM CHANGE: Due to COVID, the Danish String Quartet is unable to travel to the United States. This date will be filled by the Brooklyn Rider string quartet. Their program will be:

  • Carolyn Shaw: Schisma
  • Oswaldo Golijov: Tenebrae
  • Schubert: Styring Quartet No 14 (“Death and the Maiden”)

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5
Peter Oundjian, conductor

Joel Thompson: World Premiere commission
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op. 55 (“Eroica”)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7
Festival Finale
Peter Oundjian, conductor

Giovanni Gabrieli: Canzon septimi toni à 8, arr. R.P. Block
Dvořák: Serenade for Wind Instruments in D minor, op. 44
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op. 67

Conductor Peter Oundjian with the CMF Orchestra (2019)

Tickets on sale beginning April 20 on the CMF Web page