Colorado Music Festival under way with music by living composers

Composer-in-residence John Adams, “Music of Today” are featured in the 2022 season

By Peter Alexander July 6 at 10:30 p.m.

The 2022 Colorado Music Festival (CMF), underway at Boulder’s Chautauqua Auditorium, offers some terrific programs, but if you want to know which ones are most exciting, don’t ask Peter Oundjian. The festival’s music director and conductor loves them all.

Peter Oundjian at Chautauqua

“Since I designed it, there’s nothing I’m not excited about,” he says of this year’s festival. “You’ve got really interesting guests and wonderful artists, the Takács Quartet and John Adams and Mahler’s Fifth and a fanfare by Wynton Marsalis. It’s full of exciting prospects!” (See the complete, updated program for the festival below.)

In fact, there is enough excitement that it’s hard to mention it all in one sentence. Other intriguing prospects for the summer are performances of all five Beethoven piano concertos on three concerts, by rising Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki (July 7–10); a week of “Music of Today” (July 12–17); world premieres of music by Timo Andres (July 17) and Wang Jie (Aug. 4); guest performances by pianist Jeremy Denk (July 17), violinist Randall Goosby (July 21–22) and clarinetist Anthony McGill (Aug. 4).

Here are closer looks into some of the headline events during the summer:

Jan Lisiecki. Photo by Mathias Bothor—DG

Lisiecki’s Beethoven Piano Concerto series opens Thursday. “Jan is a young musician and p pianist, really remarkable, and he just recorded the piano concerti of Beethoven for Deutsche Grammophon [record label].” Oundjian says. “He was supposed to play them two years ago, for Beethoven’s 250th. I really didn’t want to lose that idea for the festival, and he promised that he would come back and play them all.”

Another anniversary, one this year, provided the other idea for programming the three concerts. The year 2022 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose works will open the concerts that conclude with Beethoven’s piano concertos. Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis open the first of the Beethoven-Vaughan Williams concerts (July 7), followed by the Overture to The Wasps (July 8), and the Fifth Symphony (July 10).

“I’ve always been an enormous admirer of Vaughan Williams’s music,” Oundjian says. “It’s the 150th anniversary and I don’t think anybody in this country has acknowledged it, so that’s what we’re doing. The Fifth Symphony is really extraordinary—it’s so evocative, it’s so beautiful and so sad and reflective, but it ends with a great sense of optimism.”

“Music of Today” (July 12–17) is central to Oundjian’s concept of the festival. “I hope to think it’s important to everyone, but it’s certainly important to me,” he says. Music for the week-long mini-festival was selected by Oundjian together with the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams, who is the CMF composer-in-residence. In addition to his works being featured throughout the festival, Adams personally selected some of the composers for the festival, and he will conduct part of the programs July 14 and 17.

At 75, Adams is one of the country’s most revered composers. He is perhaps best known for his operas, including Nixon in China (1987) and Dr. Atomic (2005), but he has also written numerous orchestral, chamber, and solo piano works, several of which will be heard at CMF. His On the Transmigration of Souls, written in commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Centra in New York, won the Pulitzer Prize.

John Adams. Photo by Riccardo Musacchio

All four of the “Music of Today” concert include music by Adams, but they also include younger composers who are, so far, less known. The mini-festival opens with the Attacca Quartet (July 12), a young string quartet who describe themselves as “passionate advocates of contemporary repertoire.” 

In addition to selections from Adams’s John’s Book of Alleged Dances, Attacca will perform music by Flying Lotus, a DJ, producer and rapper from Los Angeles; Anne Müller, a German cellist/composer; American singer-songwriter Louis Cole; Philip Glass; and Caroline Shaw, who at 30 became the youngest-ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize in composition.

A Festival Orchestra concert (July 14) will feature both Oundjian and Adams conducting. The program comprises Adams’s City Noir, an atmospheric and jazzy symphony inspired by the culture of Los Angeles and noir films of the ‘40s and ‘50s; a Chamber Concerto by his son, Samuel Adams; and the world premiere of Dark Patterns by pianist/composer Timo Andres, a CMF commission. In addition to Dark Patterns, Andres has received commissions from Carnegie Hall for the Takacs Quartet, the Boston Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the New World Symphony. 

Surely a highlight of “Music for Today” will be the “Kaleidoscope” concert (July 15), with performances by guest artists Tessa Lark, violin, and Timothy McAllister, saxophone, with members of the CMF orchestra. Using lighting and video to create a theatrical performance as well as a concert, “Kaleidoscope” features, yes, a kaleidoscopic array of different composers—Adams, Glass, John Corigliano, Osvaldo Golijov, and others.

“It’s so much fun!” Oundjian says. “We put a screen up, and cameras everywhere, so you can watch the artists normally, or you can watch them at various different angles. And all of this cool lighting.! It’s like a theater evening rather than a concert.”

Gabriella Smith

“Music of Today” concludes with another concert shared by Oundjian and Adams as conductors of the CMF orchestra, with pianist Jeremy Denk playing Adams’s Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? (July 17).Also on the program is Tumblebird Contrails by Gabriella Smith, a committed environmentalist as well as composer. The score was inspired by an experience Smith had backpacking at the edge of the ocean at Pt. Reyes, Calif. The title, she writes, “is a Kerouac-inspired nonsense phrase.”

The final piece of the “Music of Today” week is also the only piece by a composer who is no longer living, the Symphony No. 6 by Christopher Rouse. “John and Christopher knew each other quite well,” Oundjian says. “(Rouse) basically composes his own final moments—when the gong sounds at the end, that is the final moment of life, and it’s very, very moving. So that’s why I’m ending the whole week with it.”

Later in  the summer, former CMF music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni will return to Boulder to lead two programs (July 18–29 and July 31). The first will feature more or less standard repertoire, including Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero playing Tchaikovsky’s every-popular First Piano Concerto. Known for her brilliant improvising skills, Montero has appeared in Boulder before, most recently with the CMF orchestra in July 2019.

Zeitouni’s second program is more interesting: Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst for strings, Bizet’s youthful Symphony in C major, and Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This very familiar music is rarely heard in its intended context—the play by William Shakespeare. The CMF performance will provide at least a taste of the original idea, with musical passages presented with texts from Shakespeare’s play spoken by actors John de Lancie and Marnie Mosiman. The performance will feature sopranos Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and Abigail Nims.

The Festival Finale Concert (Aug. 7) ends the festival with a bang: the Colorado premiere of Wynton Marsalis’s fanfare Herald, Holler and Hallelujah! a CMF co-commission, and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Ending the summer with a Mahler is symphony is not a convention at CMF, but Oundjian would not mind if it were. 

“I wouldn’t want to call it a tradition yet, because we only did it ‘19.” he says. “There’s nothing quite like Mahler for an orchestra, for a conductor, for the experience to listening as a music lover. So I like the idea. We’re going to try again for ‘23.”

The festival’s mix of audience favorites—Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto and Mahler’s Fifth, for example—with interesting new works by John Adams, Christopher Rouse, and younger composers including Carolyn Shaw, Flying Lotus, Gabriella Smith and Timo Andres, brings Oundjian’s vision of the festival to life.

“You can’t only program for the box office,“ he says. “You have to program for vision, and for maybe down-the-road box office. If you put interesting juxtapositions together, people develop a trust in you, and they’ll buy stuff they wouldn’t have bought two years earlier.

“It’s like when you go into an art gallery: you don’t have to love everything you see. It’s important that you enjoy an incredibly select [portion] that’s just amazing.”

With such wide ranging repertoire, this year’s CMF gives the audience a lot of opportunities to discover something “just amazing.” And perhaps to discover some new favorite composers in the process.

# # # # #

Colorado Music Festival 2022
(Remaining concerts)
All performances at Chautauqua Auditorium

7:30 pm. Thursday, July 7
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major
    —Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor

6:30 p.m. Friday, July 8
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Overture to The Wasps 
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major
    —Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 in D major
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major (“Emperor”)

——-Music of Today——-

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 12
Attacca Quartet

  • John Adams: selections from John’s Book of Alleged Dances 
  • Flying Lotus: Clock Catcher
    Remind U
    Pilgrim Side Eye
  • Anne Müller: Drifting Circles 
  • Louis Cole: Real Life
  • Philip Glass: String Quartet No. 3, “Mishima”
  • Caroline Shaw: The Evergreen
  • Gabriella Smith: Carrot Revolution

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14
Peter Oundjian and John Adams, conductors
With Samuel Adams, composer; Tessa Lark, violin; and Timothy McAllister, saxophone

  • Timo Andres: Dark Patterns (world premiere commission)
  • Samuel Adams: Chamber Concerto 
  • John Adams: City Noir

7:30 p.m. Friday, July 15: Kaleidoscope
Timo Andres, piano; Tessa Lark, violin; Timothy McAllister, saxophone; and members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • David Skidmore: Ritual Music 
  • Stacy Garrop: Reborn in flames (from Phoenix Rising)
  • Osvaldo Golijov: Last Round
  • Valerie Coleman: Red Clay & Mississippi Delta for Wind Quintet
  • Timo Andres: Honest Labor 
  • Roshanne Etezady: Recurring Dreams 
  • John Corigliano: STOMP 
  • Philip Glass: Etude No. 6 
  • John Adams: Road Movie

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17
Peter Oundjian and John Adams, conductors, Jeremy Denk, piano

  • Gabriella Smith: Tumblebird Contrails 
  • John Adams: Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? 
  • Christopher Rouse: Symphony No. 6

—————————

7:30 Tuesday, July 19: Flavors of Russia
Members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • Borodin: String Sextet in D minor
  • Mikhail Glinka: Trio Pathétique in D minor
  • Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence Sextet in D Minor, op. 70

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 22
Ryan Bancroft, conductor, with Randall Goosby violin

  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Ballade in A minor for orchestra
  • Florence Price: Violin Concerto No. 2
  • Saint-Saëns: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, op. 28
  • Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 24
Ryan Bancroft, conductor, with Albert Cano Smit, piano

  • Mozart: Serenade in C minor for winds, K388 
    —Piano Concerto B-flat major, K595 
    —Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K543

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 26
Members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • Mozart: Flute Quartet in D Major, K285
  • Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson: Movement for String Trio
  • Dvořák: Terzetto in C Major, op. 74
  • Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B minor, op. 115

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 28
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 29
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor, with Gabriela Montero, piano

  • Mussorgsky, arr. Rimsky-Korsakov: Night on Bald Mountain
  • Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor
  • Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 31
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor with Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and Abigail Nims, sopranos; John de Lancie and Marnie Mosiman, actors

  • Jessie Montgomery: Starburst 
  • Georges Bizet: Symphony No. 1 in C major 
  • Felix Mendelssohn: Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2
Danish String Quartet

  • Henry Purcell, arr. Benjamin Britten: Chacony in G minor
  • Folk Music from the British Isles, arr. Danish String Quartet
  • Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”)

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Anthony McGill, clarinet

  • Wang Jie: Flying On the Scaly Backs of Our Mountains (world premiere)
  • Carl Maria von Weber: Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor 
  • Debussy: Première Rhapsodie for clarinet and orchestra
  • Stravinsky: Suite from The Firebird (1919) 

6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7: Festival Finale Concert
Peter Oundjian, conductor

  • Wynton Marsalis: Herald, Holler and Hallelujah! (Colorado premiere, co-commission)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor

Colorado Music Festival announces its 2022 festival programs

Takács Quartet, composer John Adams will be among the featured artists

By Peter Alexander Jan. 19 at 3 p.m.

CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian

The Colorado Music Festival (CMF) announced its 2022 festival season last night (Jan. 18) in an event live-streamed from the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

During the hour-long event, music director Peter Oundjian introduced the concerts that are scheduled during the festival, planned for June 30–Aug. 7. “Every festival should be a celebration,” he said by way of introduction. “This is no exception. It’s a very eclectic series of programs.”

John Adams. Photo by Riccardo Musacchio

Also speaking remotely from his home in California was composer John Adams, who will be composer in residence during the festival. He will conduct parts of two concerts that feature his music, and he also helped Oundjian curate the “Music of Today” week, July 11–17, which will feature works by contemporary composers most of whom are still living.

The announced programs for the summer make good on Oundjian’s intention to make the festival a lively event that both honors the great works of the past and recognizes the music and composers of today. There have been times in the past when the CMF seemed unfocused and unadventurous, but under Oundjian’s leadership that has changed. Through thoughtful programming, the participation of figures like Adams and some remarkable young performers, the CMF is becoming an event worthy of broad attention.

Wang Jie

As part of the emphasis on music of today, this year’s festival will include three premieres: the world premiere of a commissioned work by Timo Andres (July 14); the world premiere of Wang Jie’s Flying on the Scaly Backs of Our Mountains (Aug. 4); and the Colorado premiere of a work co-commissioned from Wynton Marsalis (Aug. 7). 

Introducing these works, Oundjian noted that “We always love to have premieres at the festival. It’s so important for us to hear new ideas and to give opportunities to composers.”

In addition to Adams, other composers featured during the “Music of Today” series include Steven Ellison (known as Flying Lotus), Anne Müller, Philip Glass, Caroline Shaw, Stacy Garrop, Valerie Coleman, Osvaldo Golijov, John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse, among others (see the full summer program below).

In addition to the Music of Today, interest in the 2022 festival will be generated by the inclusion of composers who are outside the standard repertoire. African-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor will be represented by his Fantasiestücke for String Quartet (July 5) and Solemn Prelude for orchestra (July 21­–22); and African-American composer Florence Price will be represented by her Violin Concerto No. 2 (also July 21–22). Starburst by the young American composer Jessie Montgomery will be played on July 31, outside of the Music of Today programs.

Danish String Quartet

Concerts of chamber music on Tuesday nights will form the second Robert Mann Chamber Music Series, named for the founding first violinist of the Juilliard Quartet. The series will feature the Takács Quartet playing music by Haydn, Dvořák and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (July 5); the Attacca Quartet in a wide-ranging program of contemporary pieces during Music of Today (July 12); and the Danish String Quartet in a creative program that includes a collection of folk music from Britain. Other chamber concerts will feature members of the CMF Orchestra.

The Takács Quartet will also be featured on opening night, marking their return to the Chautauqua stage for their first live performances at CMF since 2004. They will be soloists with the CMF Orchestra in a performance of Adams’s Absolute Jest. Other works on the opening night program are Fate Now Conquers by Carlos Simon and Dvořák’s Symphony “From the New World.”

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Other featured soloists during the summer will include pianist Jan Lisiecki performing all of Beethoven’s piano concertos in programs that also honor the 150th birthday of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (July 7, 8 and 10); pianist Jeremy Denk playing Adams’s Must the Devil have all the Good Tunes? (July 17); violinist Randall Goosby playing Price’s Violin Concerto No. 2 (July 21–22); pianist Simone Dinnerstein on an all-Mozart program (July 24); pianist Gabriela Montero playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor (July 28–29); and clarinetist Anthony McGill (Aug. 4).

Conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni, former music director of CMF, returns to lead two programs (July 28–29 and 31). The award-winning young American conductor Ryan Bancroft will also lead the orchestra in two programs (July 21–22 and 24).

Reverting to past patterns, there will be three pairs of Festival Orchestra concerts with the same program on Thursday and Friday nights, with the Thursday performance at 7:30 p.m. and the Friday performance at 6:30 p.m. (June 30–July 1; July 21–22; July 28–29). The annual Family Concert will be Sunday, July 3, with Tubby the Tuba and Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.

The 2022 Festival ends on Sunday, Aug. 7, with the Colorado premiere of a fanfare by Wynton Marsalis and Mahler’s massive Fifth Symphony, which Oundjian described last night as “virtuosic for the orchestra, incredibly entertaining for all of us.

“The final moments of Mahler 5 are as exuberant as music can possibly get. There is no greater way to witness a symphony orchestra than to come and listen to a Mahler symphony!”

Single tickets to the 2022 Festival will be available for purchase on the CMF website beginning March 1. You may also email  tickets@comusic.org, or call 303-440-7666. At this time, CMF states that they will follow recommended and required COVID guidelines during the 2022 festival. Any specific rules have not yet been announced.

# # # # #

Colorado Music Festival 2022
All performances at Chautauqua Auditorium

7:30 pm. Thursday, June 30: Opening Night
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 1
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with the Takács Quartet

  • Carlos Simon: Fate Now Conquers (2020)
  • John Adams: Absolute Jest (2012) 
  • Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E minor (“From the New World”)

11 a.m. Sunday, July 3: Family Concert
Maurice Cohn, conductor, with Really Inventive Stuff

  • George Kleinsinger: Tubby the Tuba
  • Benjamin Britten: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 5
Takács Quartet

  • Joseph Haydn: String Quartet in F Major, op. 77 no. 2
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Fantasiestücke for String Quartet
  • Dvořák: String Quartet No. 13 in G Major

7:30 pm. Thursday, July 7
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major
    —Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor

6:30 p.m. Friday, July 8
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Overture to The Wasps 
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major
    —Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 in D major
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major (“Emperor”)

——-Music of Today——-

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 12
Attacca Quartet

  • John Adams: selections from John’s Book of Alleged Dances 
  • Flying Lotus: Clock Catcher
    Remind U
    Pilgrim Side Eye
  • Anne Müller: Drifting Circles 
  • Louis Cole: Real Life
  • Philip Glass: String Quartet No. 3, “Mishima”
  • Caroline Shaw: The Evergreen
  • Gabriella Smith: Carrot Revolution

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14
Peter Oundjian and John Adams, conductors
With Samuel Adams, composer; Tessa Lark, violin; and Timothy McAllister, saxophone

  • Timo Andre: world premiere commission 
  • Samuel Adams: Chamber Concerto 
  • John Adams: City Noir

7:30 p.m. Friday, July 15: Kaleidoscope
Timo Andres, piano; Tessa Lark, violin; Timothy McAllister, saxophone; and members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • David Skidmore: Ritual Music 
  • Stacy Garrop: Reborn in flames (from Phoenix Rising)
  • Osvaldo Golijov: Last Round
  • Valerie Coleman: Red Clay & Mississippi Delta for Wind Quintet
  • Timo Andres: Honest Labor 
  • Roshanne Etezady: Recurring Dreams 
  • John Corigliano: STOMP 
  • Philip Glass: Etude No. 6 
  • John Adams: Road Movie

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17
Peter Oundjian and John Adams, conductors, Jeremy Denk, piano

  • Gabriella Smith: Tumblebird Contrails 
  • John Adams: Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? 
  • Christopher Rouse: Symphony No. 6

—————————

7:30 Tuesday, July 19: Flavors of Russia
Members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • Borodin: String Sextet in D minor
  • Mikhail Glinka: Trio Pathétique in D minor
  • Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence Sextet in D Minor, op. 70

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 22
Ryan Bancroft, conductor, with Randall Goosby violin

  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Solemn Prelude
  • Florence Price: Violin Concerto No. 2
  • Saint-Saëns: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, op. 28
  • Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 24
Ryan Bancroft, conductor, with Simone Dinnerstein, piano

  • Mozart: Serenade in C minor for winds, K388 
    —Piano Concerto B-flat major, K595 
    —Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K543

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 26
Members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • Mozart: Flute Quartet in D Major, K285
  • Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson: Movement for String Trio
  • Dvořák: Terzetto in C Major, op. 74
  • Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B minor, op. 115

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 28
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 29
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor, with Gabriela Montero, piano

  • Mussorgsky, arr. Rimsky-Korsakov: Night on Bald Mountain
  • Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor
  • Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 31
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor with Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and Abigail Nims, sopranos; John de Lancie and Marnie Mosiman, actors

  • Jessie Montgomery: Starburst 
  • Georges Bizet: Symphony No. 1 in C major 
  • Felix Mendelssohn: Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2
Danish String Quartet

  • Henry Purcell, arr. Benjamin Britten: Chacony in G minor
  • Folk Music from the British Isles, arr. Danish String Quartet
  • Schubert: String Quartet No. 15 in G major, D. 887

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Anthony McGill, clarinet

  • Wang Jie: Flying On the Scaly Backs of Our Mountains (world premiere) 
  • Carl Maria von Weber: Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor 
  • Debussy: Première Rhapsodie for clarinet and orchestra
  • Stravinsky: Suite from The Firebird (1919) 
Peter Oundjian with the CMF Orchestra. Photo by Michael Emsinger

6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7: Festival Finale Concerto
Peter Oundjian, conductor

  • Wynton Marsalis: Fanfare (Colorado premiere)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor

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.