CMF announces six virtual summer concerts, June 25–July 30

Compilation orchestra performances and composers from marginalized communities

By Peter Alexander June 19 at 2 p.m.

The Colorado Music Festival (CMF) announced a series of six virtual, online concerts, featuring the Takács Quartet and other guest artists, members of the CMF orchestra, and music director Peter Oundjian.

The performances will be presented free of charge, on demand through the CMF Website.  The performances will be made available at 7:30 p.m. on six consecutive Thursday evenings, June 25 through July 30. Each performance will be available for some time after the time they are first posted.

CMF’s usual summer home, the Chautauqua Auditorium

A letter from CMF music director Peter Oundjian places the virtual festival in the current times, and particularly issues of racial justice in the United States. “It is no secret to any of us that the story of this country is riddled with the murder and mistreatment of non-white races,” Oundjian writes. “I am committed to doing everything in my power to make this festival an instrumental platform for musicians who come from marginalized communities.

CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian

“This summer’s festival will include only a fraction of what our programming will look like next summer, and the summers that follow. We will be featuring the music of a number of composers, both living and deceased, who come from different marginalized communities all across the country and the world.

“This is just the beginning.”

For the abbreviated 2020 virtual festival, the inclusion of minority and marginalized musicians includes works by, among others, Florence Price, Agustin Barrios Mangoré, Keith Jarrett, Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank, Jessie Montgomery and George Walker. The festival will conclude with performances by the current quartet-in-residence at CU Boulder, the Ivalas Quartet, a multi-cultural group with members from Hispanic and Black communities.

Takács Quartet

The six performances and their full programs will be:

June 25: Festival Orchestra and the Takács Quartet, featuring the debut of the quartet’s newest member, violist Richard O’Neill. The program will feature a previous Festival Orchestra performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide; and the Takács Quartet on the Chautauqua stage playing Schobert’s Quartettsatz and movements from Florence Price’s String Quartet No. 2; Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 2, and Beethoven’s String Quartet in C major, op. 59 no. 3.

Sharon Isbin. Photo by J. Henry Fair.

July 2: A celebration of women in music. Guitarist Sharon Isbin will play works by Enrique Granados, Antonio Lauro, Leo Brouwer, Nanomi Shemer and Agustin Barrios Mangoré. Percussionist Jisu Jung will play works by Howard Stevens and Keith Jarrett. Framing their performances, CMF musicians will play virtual compilation performances of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and two marches by John Philip Sousa. 

July 9: Violinist Augustin Hadelich will join Oundjian in his home to perform music by J.S. Bach, Eugène Ysaÿe and Francisco Tarrega.

July 16: Pianist Jan Lisiecki will perform cadenzas from the Beethoven piano concertos nos. 1 through 4,  and join Oundjian in a discussion of those pieces.

July 23: Brooklyn Rider string quartet will share a performance from their “Healing Modes” repertoire, which features works by Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank and Kinan Azmeh. The program will open with a virtual compilation of Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 5, performed by members of the CMF Orchestra brass section.

Ivalas Quartet

July 30: CU’s Ivalas Quartet will perform movements from quartets by Joseph Haydn and Jessie Montgomery, and the piano duo of twin sisters Michelle and Christina Naughton will perform music by Ravel, Debussy, George Walker, Rachmaninoff, and Conlon Nancarrow. CMF orchestra members will open the program with Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, and close the virtual festival with the second and fourth movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Except for the Overture from Candide, all the performances by CMF orchestra musicians will be virtual compilation performances, assembled from separate videos submitted by the players. These individual video will be compiled by the festival’s recording and sound engineer Michael Quam and CMF staff.

Other performances will be recorded in advance for broadcast at the stated program times.

You may register for the virtual festival performances here

Taking a summer festival apart: Colorado Music Festival

Home hosts and more than 125 visiting artists add to the complications

By Peter Alexander May 10 at 1:40 p.m.

Putting together a six-week festival of concerts is complicated. So is taking one apart.

In the case of the Colorado Music Festival, which recently joined summer festivals worldwide in announcing the cancellation of the 2020 season, that decision came down to an issue of safety.

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Elizabeth McGuire

“In terms of social distancing backstage at Chautauqua, it’s very tight,” says Elizabeth McGuire, the executive director of CMF. “That’s part of what’s charming about Chautauqua, it’s not a traditional concert hall. The musicians are standing outside, but when you’re inside you’re inches from each other.

“Even with our chamber orchestras, even with the smallest version of the orchestra that we could present, we couldn’t space people apart.”

The audience is an important consideration, too. “Our audience is typically over the age of 65,” McGuire says. “We thought [if we held concerts] we were putting them at risk.”

She also pointed out the difference between a resident orchestra and a festival orchestra. “You’re bringing in probably 125 artists—orchestra musicians and guest artists,” McGuire says. “They’re coming from all over north America, a couple form Europe. Guest artists, depending on their contract, are either housed with a local host, or they’re in a hotel. Orchestra musicians are mixed between host homes and one apartment complex that houses up to 75 musicians that come and go during the summer.

“The proximity of our housing hosts to people coming in from outside” was definitely a concern she says. “It got to the point that we realized that it just wouldn’t be possible to do [the festival] safely. Not with what we know today, and assuming that not much was going to change between now and the last week of June, so far as vaccines or treatments.”

The timing of the decision and announcement of the cancellation was based largely on one issue: tickets. “It was mostly administrative and how much time did we need to sell this number of tickets” if the festival went ahead, McGuire explained.

“A couple of our marketing contracts were going to come to fruition on May 1. We could have canceled them and then like re-upped them two weeks later if we wanted to have the festival. The contracts with the players didn’t have that kind of timeline.

“We considered all of that in our timing, but the health and safety piece was much more in the forefront. We didn’t think [going ahead with the season] was the right thing to do.”

This year’s cancellation will inevitably affect future programming, but it’s too soon to know how. “There are so many artists that we want to invite back,” McGuire says. “The first thing that’s happening is that we’re trying to re-engage people. It may not work out with everyone’s schedule, because the musicians that we’re bringing in are booked out years in advance. I think you’ll probably see them at some point in the coming years.

“What remains to be seen is what the repertoire will be. There may be some duplications, but not every artist is going to have the same repertoire ready to go next summer. A violinist might have the repertoire under his fingers this summer, because he’s playing it in a few other places in the world, and then next year is a different story.”

There was one way that McGuire and the CMF staff was ahead of the game when the Coronavirus struck: They were already moving to do more work from home. “We have our network set up to offer remote access to our shared files,” she says.

“Our office space is limited, and we have a couple of people who share desk space. A lot of people were able to focus on certain kinds of tasks at home, and so we had already adopted a modern philosophy on work hours. We think about productivity and result. We have a lot of conversations, so on the virtual work front we were prepared.”

online-piano-lessons-1The other side of the CMF organization is the Center for Musical Arts, the music school in Lafayette that merged with the festival several years ago. Coincidentally, they had already started offering online lessons.

“We had people who wanted makeup lessons—parents like me. My child was available for a lesson, but I couldn’t get him there physically. I wanted to be able to offer people the option to have an online makeup lesson We did not see [the pandemic] coming, of course, but we responded quickly.”

McGuire has one more thing she wants to say. Many of the CMF patrons who already bought tickets for the 2020 festival have willingly donated the value of their tickets back to the CMF musician fund. While not everyone can afford to make that donation, McGuire is grateful to those who can.

“Our festival musicians and some of our season staff have been hit very, very hard,” she says. “I appreciate that people are, to the extent that they are capable, willing to donate back their tickets for the musician fund.

“I would just say how much I appreciate their thoughtfulness.”

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Colorado Music Festival Orchestra on the crowded Chautauqua stage

COMING NEXT: Pelham (Pat) Pearce on the cancellation of the Central City Opera season.

 

Colorado Music Festival on Coronavirus

Executive Director Elizabeth McGuire: No changes yet 

By Peter Alexander March 16 a 3:15 p.m.

Elizabeth McGuire, executive director of the Colorado Music Festival, issued a statement today (March 16, 2020) concerting the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic currently affecting the world. The bottom line: nothing for the summer of 2020 has been canceled—yet.

Here is McGuire’s statement in its entirety:

I am deeply saddened to witness the impact of the coronavirus on many of our own Festival musicians and peer institutions throughout the world, yet heartened to see so many individuals offering support to those impacted. Like me, many of you have undoubtedly made the decision to donate your ticket refunds. On behalf of the industry, I thank you for your kindness and consideration.

The Colorado Music Festival 2020 season is scheduled to open on June 25, over three months away. We are not making any changes to our planned program at this time, but the Board of Directors and I are paying close attention to the situation and standing by to make appropriate decisions if and when necessary. The health and well-being of our patrons, staff, musicians, and community is of primary importance to us.

Here’s what you need to know about the 2020 Colorado Music Festival:

      • We continue to prepare for our summer season at Chautauqua Auditorium.
      • Single tickets are currently on sale. We want you to purchase with confidence, so have adjusted our 2020 ticket policies to allow for full refunds of any concerts that may be subject to cancellation (excluding ticketing fees). We will continue to allow for ticket exchanges within the Festival season.
      • We have created a list of FAQs to provide answers to common questions.
      • We will keep a close eye on alerts from our local authorities regarding public gatherings, and as we get closer to concert dates will have a better grasp on potential impact on Festival activities.

My sincere hope is that our Festival can serve as a much-needed respite from this large-scale social and cultural void, in which case we will celebrate our time together even more. In the meantime, I will keep you updated about any changes.

We will send updates via email, though you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram or bookmark this page on our website. For any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us at info@comusic.org.

Elizabeth McGuire
Executive Director

Colorado Music Festival announces 2020 summer season

Beethoven celebration, living composers, chamber music series are scheduled

By Peter Alexander Feb. 6 at 2 p.m.

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Chautauqua Auditorium, site of Colorado Music Festival performances

The 2020 Colorado Music Festival (CMF) will include concerts celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, works by living composers throughout the summer, a chamber music series named in honor of Robert Mann, first violinist of the famed Juilliard String Quartet for more than 50 years, and two Sunday concerts devoted to the music of Mozart. (See the full summer schedule and programs below.)

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Juilliard String Quartet. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

The current Juilliard Quartet will launch the Robert Mann Chamber Music Series, June 30. Other prominent guests during the summer will include composer John Adams, conducting his Third Piano Concerto Must the Devil Have all the Good Tunes with pianist Jeremy Denk, July 19; the St. Lawrence String Quartet, July 7; the Brooklyn Rider String Quartet, July 14; and 24-year-old Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, playing all of the Beethoven piano concertos on three concerts, July 23–26.

The season was unveiled to the festival contributors and board members Tuesday (Feb. 4). In introducing the concert schedule, the festival’s music director, Peter Oundjian, said “The festival is an inspiration to me. It’s been great fun putting together this season.”

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CMF music director Peter Oundjian

This is Oundjian’s second year as music director. He noted that this was the first time that he could plan the entire festival from the very beginning. Consequently, the season reveals his vision for the festival, particularly the inclusion of music by living composers. The emphasis on chamber music reflects the fact that Oundjian was first violinist of the Tokyo String Quartet for 14 years.

The attention to music by living composers includes two world premieres of works commissioned by the CMF. The first concert (June 25–26) will open with Forestallings by Hannah Lash, who was a CMF “Click Commission” composer in 2016, when she performed the premiere of her Second Harp Concerto. The second world premiere, a new work by Chinese-born American composer Wang Jie, will be performed by Oundjian and the Festival Orchestra July 16.

The opening concert combines two main themes from the summer: the Beethoven anniversary and music by living composers. Lash’s score was inspired by Beethoven’s Second Symphony. It will be followed by John Adams’ Absolute Jest, a score that quotes and reshapes music from Beethoven’s late quartets. The performance will feature Boulder’s and CU’s Takács Quartet as guest artists, with the Festival Orchestra. And officially launching the Beethoven celebration, the concert will end with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

At the opposite end of the season, the Festival Finale concert on Aug. 1 will feature a single work, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor. Oundjian will conduct.

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Composer John Adams. Photo by Vern Evans.

John Adams’ music will be heard throughout the festival. In addition to Absolute Jest on the opening concert and his appearance July 19 conducting Must the Devil Have all the Good Tunes, his String Quartet No. 2 will be played July 7 by the St. Lawrence String Quartet; and City Noir will be performed on a Festival Orchestra concert conducted by Oundjian July 16. Extending the Adams’ family presence in the festival, a Chamber Concerto by his son, Samuel Adams, will be performed July 16.

In a welcome contrast to previous years and most orchestras around the country, another trend that emerges from the festival program is the inclusion of women composers. As noted, the entire festival opens with a new piece by Hannah Lash.

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Brooklyn Rider

The July 14 program by Brooklyn Rider includes works by no fewer than five women: Caroline Shaw, Gabriela Lena Frank, Du Yun, Matana Roberts and Reena Esmail. Wang Jie’s world premiere will be July 16; “Kaleidoscope,” an inventive program of unusual instrumental combinations will open with Joan Tower’s “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman” No. 5 July 17; and the July 19 orchestra program will open with Tumblebird Contrails by Gabriella Smith.

Maintaining a pattern from previous festivals, major concerts by the Festival Orchestra will be Thursday nights. Three of those programs, including the Festival Opening Night June 25, will be repeated the following Friday. The second and third Festival Orchestra programs will be repeated as well: July 2 and 3, with guest conductor Andrew Grams, featuring guitarist Sharon Isbin and music by Aaron Copland; and July 9 and 10, a program of Russian Masters conducted by former music director and principal guest conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni.

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Jean-Marie Zeitouni

In addition to Oundjian and Zeitouni, two guest conductors will lead Festival Orchestra concerts during the summer: Andrew Grams, who has been part of the CMF in the past, July 2 and 3; and Gemma New, a young conductor from New Zealand, making her CMF debut July 5. Colorado Symphony associate conductor Christopher Dragon will lead the Family Concert July 11.

In addition to those already named, a number of guest soloists will appear during the summer. Some of them will be returning after previous performances at CMF, but others will be appearing at the festival for the first time. These guest artists are the piano duo of Christina and Michelle Naughton, June 28; pianist Conrad Tao July 5; pianist Nareh Arghamanyan July 9 and 10; violinist Angelo Xiang Yu and actor John de Lancie July 12; violinist Tessa Lark and saxophonist Timothy McAllister, July 16; pianist Christopher Taylor and marimbist Jisu Jang July 17; and violinist Augustin Hadelich, July 30.

Colorado Music Festival subscription renewals are now available for those who have subscribed in the past. Single tickets will go on sale Monday, March 16. For information on tickets, call 303-440-7666, or click here.

# # # # #

2020 Colorado Music Festival Schedule
All performances in the Chautauqua Auditorium
All performances at 7:30 p.m. unless otherwise specified

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Photo by Michael Quam (2019)

Opening Night
Thursday, June 25, and Friday, June 26
Festival Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, conductor
Takács Quartet

Hannah Lash: Forestallings (World premiere; Colorado Music Festival commission)
John Adams: Absolute Jest (2012)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7

Sunday, June 28
Festival Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, conductor

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Christina and Michelle Naughton

Christina and Michelle Naughton, piano duo

Mozart: Overture to Così fan tutte
Mozart: Concerto for Two Pianos, K365 (316a)
Mozart; Overture to The Magic Flute
Mozart: Symphony No. 36 in C Major, K425 (“Linz”)

Tuesday, June 30
Robert Mann Chamber Music Series: Juilliard String Quartet

Beethoven: String Quartet in F Major, op. 18 no. 1
Benjamin Britten: String Quartet No. 3
Brahms: String Quartet in A Minor, op. 51 no. 2

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Sharon Isbin. Photo by Henry Fair.

Thursday, July 2, and Friday, July 3
Festival Orchestra, Andrew Grams, conductor
Sharon Isbin, guitar

Ravel: Alborada del gracioso
Joaquín Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez
Chris Brubeck: Affinity (2016)
Copland: “Buckaroo Holiday” from Rodeo
Copland: Suite from Our Town
Copland: “Party Scene” and “The Promise of Living” from The Tender Land
Copland: “Hoe-Down” from Rodeo

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Gemma New. Photo by Roy Cox.

Sunday, July 5
Festival Orchestra, Gemma New, guest conductor
Conrad Tao, piano

Mozart: Chaconne and Pas seul, ballet music from Idomeneo
Mozart: Piano Concerto in A Major, K488
Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550

Tuesday, July 7
Robert Mann Chamber Music Series: St. Lawrence String Quartet

Haydn: Quartet in D Major, op. 20 no. 4
John Adams: String Quartet No. 2 (2014)
Debussy: String Quartet in G minor, op. 10

Thursday, July 9, and Friday, July 10
Russian Masters
Festival Orchestra, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor
Nareh Arghamanyan, piano

Mussorgsky: Night on Bald Mountain
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major

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Christopher Dragon

Saturday July 11 at 11 a.m.
Family Concert
Christopher Dragon, guest conductor
Really Inventive Stuff, guest artists

Bizet: “Les Toreadors” from Carmen
Leopold Mozart: “Toy Symphony” (formerly attributed to Joseph Haydn)
Francis Poulenc: The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant

Sunday, July 12
Festival Chamber Orchestra, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor
Angelo Xiang Yu, violin; John de Lancie, actor

György Ligeti: Concert Românesc (1951)
Ravel: Tzigane, Rapsodie de concert for violin and orchestra
Brahms: Hungarian Dances Nos. 1 and 6
Pablo de Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen
Mendelssohn: Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Caroline Shaw. Photo by Kate Moreno.

Tuesday, July 14
Robert Mann Chamber Music Series: Brooklyn Rider String Quartet

Caroline Shaw: Schisma (2018)
Gabriela Lena Frank: Kanto Kechua #2 (2018)
Du Yun: i am my own achilles’ heel, a form that would never shape (2018)
Matana Roberts: borderlands (2018)
Reena Esmail: Zeher (Poison) (2018)
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, op. 132

Thursday, July 16
Festival Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, conductor
Tesssa Lark, violin, and Timothy McAllister, saxophone

Wang Jie: World premiere (Colorado Music Festival commission)
Samuel Adams: Chamber Concerto (2017)
John Adams: City Noir (2009)

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Jisu Jung

Friday, July 17
“Kaleidoscope”
Festival Orchestra members, Christopher Taylor, piano, and Jisu Jung, marimba

Joan Tower: Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 5 (1993)
Nico Muhly: Big Time for string quartet and percussion (2012)
Eric Ewazen: Northern Lights (1989)
Derek Bermel: Turning (1995)
Nebojsa Zivkovic: Trio per Uno (1995/1990)
William Bolcom: Piano Quintet No. 2 (2011)
Keith Jarrett: The Köln Concert (Part IIC) (1975)
Leigh Howard Stevens: Rhythmic Caprice (1989)

Sunday, July 19
Festival Orchestra, Peter Oundjian and John Adams, conductors

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Jeremy Denk. Photo by Dennis Callahan.

Jeremy Denk, piano

Gabriella Smith: Tumblebird Contrails (2014)
John Adams: Piano Concerto No. 2,  Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? (2019)
Christopher Rouse: Symphony No. 6 (2019)

Tuesday, July 21
Robert Mann Chamber Music Series: Festival Orchestra members

Mozart: String Quintet in G minor, K516
Brahms: String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, op. 111

Thursday, July 23
Beethoven Piano Concerto series
Festival Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, conductor
Jan Lisiecki, piano

Beethoven: Overture to Fidelio
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, op. 19
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, op. 15

Friday, July 24
Beethoven Piano Concerto series
Festival Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, conductor
Jan Lisiecki, piano

Beethoven: Coriolan Overture, op. 62
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, op. 37
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, op. 58

Sunday, July 26
Beethoven Piano Concerto series
Festival Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, conductor
Jan Lisiecki, piano

Beethoven: String Quartet in C-sharp minor, op. 131 (arr. Peter Oundjian)
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, op. 73

Tuesday, July 28
Robert Mann Chamber Music Series: Festival Orchestra members

Beethoven: Quintet in E-flat Major for Piano and Winds, op. 16
Beethoven: Septet in E-flat Major, op. 20

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Augustin Hadelich

Thursday, July 30
Festival Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, conductor
Augustin Hadelich, violin

Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 61
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op. 67

Saturday, August 1
Festival Finale
Festival Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, conductor

Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor

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Peter Oundjian conducting the CMF Orchestra (2019)

 

CMF ends 2019 with spectacular performance

Sold out Chautauqua Auditorium cheers orchestra, conductor, choirs and soloist

By Peter Alexander Aug. 4 at 12:23 a.m.

The Colorado Music Festival ended its 2019 season in spectacular fashion last night (Aug. 3).

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Peter Oundjian

Music Director Peter Oundjian led the Festival Orchestra in a wonderful performance of a wonderful symphony, Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 for large orchestra, alto soloist, women’s chorus and children’s chorus. At the end of this very long work—about 100 minutes of music—the sold-out Chautauqua Auditorium was cheering, and no doubt already looking forward to Oundjian’s next season with the festival.

Many factors made this a splendid performance, but two in particular should be mentioned. The first was Oundjian’s management of the sprawling work. His control of sound and dynamics across long stretches of music gave impact to every climax of orchestral sound—and there are many. The performance was more than a series of splendid moments—though it could also be heard that way. More than that, it was a whole, each phrase driving to a destination and the whole driving to the end.

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Peter Oundjian. Photo by Sian Richards.

In particular, Oundjian and the players maintained near perfect balance among the parts across long crescendos, so that the orchestra swelled and subsided, bloomed and retracted as one. This is a specially great achievement since so many phrases started from near silence, with remarkably controlled pianissimo phrases that grew over long, long spans of time.

Particularly in the final movement, a long slow movement, he kept careful control as the sound grew to a high point, then fell back to near silence, ascended to an even higher point and fell back again, all with the goal of making the final cadence, with timpani pounding and brass sustaining almost to the point of collapse, the true destination and end point of the entire symphony.

Oundjian exercised a similar control of dynamics and tempo in the other movements, with their many moods from a dawn-like awakening, to a jubilant march, to a pastoral delicacy, The fourth movement’s portent of doom and the fifth movement’s simple joys were equally well achieved.

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Concertmaster Calin Lupanu

The second factor is the quality of the individual players in the orchestra, not only to play individual solos beautifully, but to give and take with others in chamber music fashion, and then to play in a section with unanimity of pitch and phrasing and dynamics. There were many wonderful solos, by trombone, by horn, by clarinet and piccolo and on through the wind sections, and including the concertmaster, Calin Lupanu.

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CMF Principal Trumpet Jeffrey Work

One solo needs special notice, the long offstage posthorn solo that lends a note of nostalgia and melancholy to the third movement. Principal trumpet Jeffrey Work floated the high notes beautifully, while shaping the individual phrases with exquisite control.

I should also mention the wonderful CMF percussion section, who were in my direct line of sight. Parts of the symphony were a masterclass in soft percussion playing. Everyone noticed the loud climaxes, but who knew that a bass drum could be heard at such a soft level, and make such a delicate musical effect?

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Janice Chamdler-Eteme

The outstanding vocal soloist for the fourth and fifth movements, Janice Chandler-Eteme, is generally billed as a lyric soprano, even though Maher asks for an alto. Clearly the lower range is no obstacle. She found the right sound and expressive palette for both movements, bringing an ominously dark tone to the fourth movement, appropriate for a text that begins “O Man! Take Heed!” And then her sound was enjoyably bright and more forward for the cheerful fifth movement.

The women of the St. Martin’s Festival Singers were solid in their small part, and the Boulder Children’s Chorale rang out bravely with their “Bimm Bamm” imitations of church bells.

But it is the final movement that is the key to the symphony. Under the title “What Love Tells Me,” it is one of Mahler’s longest and most beloved slow movements. Oundjian and the CMF orchestra achieved what everyone aims for, a long arc of sheer beauty leading to an overwhelming finish.

After that, what can we expect next year? You will have to wait for the announcement of the CMF 2020 season after the first of the year to answer that question. In the meantime, there are many fine musical groups in Boulder who would welcome your support.

Oundjian returns to CMF for memorable concert

Pieces by Shostakovich and Berlioz are not to be missed

By Peter Alexander July 26 at 12:30 a.m.

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Peter Oundjian with the CMF Orchestra. Photo by Michael Quam.

Music Director Peter Oundjian has been absent from the Colorado Music Festival podium for the past two weeks, but last night (July 25) he returned for a memorable concert with music by Shostakovich (Cello Concerto No. 1 with soloist Kian Soltani) and Berlioz (Symphonie Fantastique).

The concert will be repeated tonight. If you love those composers as I do, you will not want to miss it.

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Vivan Fung

The program began with a little known piece by Vivian Fung, a Canadian composer of mixed heritage who combines western and various Asian and other folk musical idioms. Dust Devils begins with bright, whirling sounds built from fragments and outbursts of sound that do indeed recall a progression of dust devils. A central section of static chords, marked by slowly changing colors and eerie wails rises to a clouded culmination in the brass.

This entertainingly descriptive piece was played with verve and energy by the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra, who were all smiles at the end. So were many in the audience.

Born in Austria to a family of Persian musicians, Soltani has recently risen to prominence as a soloist with Daniel Barenboim’s West Eastern Divan Orchestra. I had not heard him before, but Oundjian has described him as “an extraordinary talent and a very intense player,” which was evident in his performance of the Shostakovich Concerto.

One of the most demanding pieces in the cello repertoire, the concerto is far more powerful when heard live. The spatial element, separating the voices and putting the cellist full view of the audience, makes both the musical textures and the virtuoso demands of the concerto visible.

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Kian Zoltani. Photo by Juventino Mateo.

Soltani attacked the Concerto with confidence and élan from the very first solo introduction. His playing was full of fire when it needed to be, particularly throughout the intense first movement.

For the second movement Soltani, Oundjian and the orchestra slipped into an entirely different world—one of calm and beauty, with meditative moments bordering on melancholy. The warmth of the cello sound and the delicacy of Soltani’s phrasing made this a high point—at least until the written out cadenza of the third movement, where Soltani’s perfect sense of drama kept the audience rapt. Here the most delicate pianissimos drew the audience in, lest they miss a single nuance.

The finale went off in a burst of energy, ending with an almost shocking series of timpani strokes followed by silence. Soltani’s mastery of the Concerto’s demands was unmistakable throughout, and earned a standing ovation that for once seemed more than routine.

Parts of the Concerto, particularly in the first movement, are virtually a double concerto for cello and horn. Special mention should be made of the orchestra’s outstanding principal horn Catherine Turner, whose clarion calls rang out repeatedly. With no place to hide, she was splendid.

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Hector Berlioz

In introducing Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Oundjian noted that it was written only three years after Beethoven’s death. What orchestra players in 1830 could have made of Berlioz’s psychedelic masterpiece with its revolutionary instrumental colors, its unprecedented demands on the players, its startling syncopations, the sheer buildup of orchestral sound, its fantastic story of love, death and insanity—much less how they could have played it—is hard to imagine.

The list of innovation in the score is long—violins using the wood of the bow, multiple timpani, two harps, enlarged wind sections, use of the piercing E-flat clarinet—and a testament to Berlioz’s unconstrained imagination. This is a work of staggering originality when it was premiered.

Whatever the players thought then, the Symphonie Fantastique is well within players’ experience and ability today, and I can only believe that Berlioz would have been thrilled with last night’s performance. To mention only a few high points, the introduction was beautifully dreamy and delicate, with Oundjian finding all the momentary outbursts of intensity that needed emphasis.

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Conductor Peter Oundjian

Once the movement got moving, the rhythmic momentum became irresistible, carrying everyone with it. Oundjian perfectly managed the flow and pauses of the second movement waltz. The solo oboe and English Horn of the third movement (“Scene in the country,” the movement with the most obvious precedents in its time) were played beautifully. Throughout the movement, the quietest and most delicate moments were carefully balanced and nuanced.

From the beginning of the “March to the Scaffold” through the following “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath” the momentum grew inexorably to the final chord. Oundjian carefully controlled both volume and tempo, so that the final, culminating crescendo never became distorted and the final accelerando was achieved without loss of clarity or precision.

The program will be repeated tonight (July 26) at 7:30 p.m. at the Chautauqua Auditorium. Tickets are available though the Chautauqua Box Office.

Clean and businesslike, Danzmayr leads CMF orchestra

Pianist Gabriella Montero plays Grieg Concerto and spectacular improvisation

By Peter Alexander July 19 at 12:30 a.m.

Guest conductor David Danzmayr teamed with an impressive Gabriela Montero last night (July 18) at the Colorado Music Festival for an utterly enjoyable Grieg Piano Concerto. Also on the program were Sideriusby Osvaldo Golijov and the Sixth Symphony (Pathétique) of Tchaikovsky.

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David Danzmayr

Danzmayr is a very clear, very business-like conductor. He does not emote on the podium, leaving the emotion largely to the players, which the CMF Festival Orchestra for the most part provided. Like his manner, his performances were distinctly business like—professional, very direct in their interpretation, but not always refined or carefully balanced. At times, he allowed the middle of the texture to become muddy, to the detriment of his interpretations.

The concert opened with Siderius, an eight-minute “Overture for Small Orchestra,” as the composer’s subtitle calls it. Starkly contrasting material—dark menacing chords from the brass and fluttering, repetitive passages in strings and woodwinds—were well delineated. The performance was clean and solid, if cut and dried in effect.

For Grieg, Danzmayr was an attentive accompanist, taking cues from Montero’s Romantic approach to the score. Throughout the first movement, she was at her best in the lyrical, more gentle passages. I heard lovely parts and pieces, but not a whole.

The slow movement opened with gorgeous string sounds and a lovely horn solo, preparing Montero’s delicate, sparkling piano entrance. Long passages of distilled Romantic dreaminess, effectively evoked by the soloist, dominated the movement, with a lively middle interruption.

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Gabriela Montero

In the dance-like finale, Danzmayr found the drama to support Montero’s energetic performance. Except for another lovely, dreamy interlude at the center of the movement, her playing was infectiously buoyant and bouncy, full of contained energy. Here it all added up, making for a delightful performance.

But for Montero, one suspects that the concerts are merely an excuse for what she most likes to do, which is to play improvised encores. Entirely on her own ground, she was spectacular, taking a suggestion from the audience to improvise on “Blue Moon.” After a delicate opening, where she was finding her footing and no doubt thinking of possibilities, she gave first an impressively contrapuntal Bach/Liszt version, followed by a raggy Scott Joplin variation that was breathtaking.

The second half of the concert was taken with the Tchaikovsky symphony. In the first movement, Danzmayr led the orchestra through the shifting sands of Tchaikovsky’s many contrasting musical episodes with a clear sense of the road map. From the beginning the orchestra pulsed with a nervous energy that paid off as the movement continued; many delicate moments were beautifully shaped. But once again a murky texture marred many passages.

The five-beat “waltz” of the second movement was workmanlike, elevated by moments of great grace and flow. The third movement march was brisk, with a lot of compelling forward motion but an absence of careful balance among sections. The movement built impressively to the climactic ending, with the usual result—a burst of applause from the audience.

The finale was rough-hewn but passionate. Danzmayr was attuned to the tragic impulses and suggestions in the music. With careful attention to the destination, Danzmayr let symphony end, as it must, fading mysteriously and fatally into silence.

The program will be repeated tonight (July 19) at 7:30 p.m. at the Chautauqua Auditorium—most likely with an all new, unique, one-time-only improvisation by Montero. Tickets are available though the Chautauqua Box Office.

Jean-Marie Zeitouni, David Danzmayr return to CMF

Guest conductors will lead orchestra concerts for the next two weeks

By Peter Alexander July 11 at 4 p.m.

The Colorado Music Festival hosts the return of two guest conductors for the central portion of the six-week festival, July 11–23.

For orchestral concerts July 11-12 and July 14, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, principal guest conductor of the festival, returns to lead the Festival Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra. David Danzmeyer, who appeared as guest conductor in 2015 and 2018, will lead the CMF orchestra July 18-19 and 21.

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Jean-Marie Zeitouni. Photo by David Curleigh

“I’m excited about coming back” says Zeitouni, who was the festival music director 2015–17. “I share so much beautiful music making with the CMF orchestra, that it’s really heartwarming for me. And I have my favorite spot for good coffee, a good meal, a good hike, a good sunset, so this is fun.”

Zeitouni opens his CMF visit with a pair of concerts titled “Romantic Duos,” Thursday and Friday (July 11–12. Three of the pieces have romantic couples in their titles: Pelleas et Mélisande by Gabriel Fauré,Romeo and Julietby Tchaikovsky, and Bacchus et Arianeby Albert Roussel. Also on the program is Brahms’s Double Concerto for violin and cello, played by the real-life romantic duo of Mira Wang and Jan Vogler, who are married.

Zeitouni’s second CMF concert is part of the summer series tracing Beethoven’s reach into the future. Titled “Beethoven’s Path to Neoclassicism,” it will feature Beethoven’s First Symphony and Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements played with alternating movements. Completing the program is Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto played by pianist Lilya Zilberstein.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Colorado Music Festival
July 11–23
All performances at 7:30 p.m. in the Chautauqua Auditorium

Thursday & Friday July 11 & 12, 7:30 PM
ROMANTIC DUOS
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor, with Mira Wang, violin, and Jan Vogler, cello

Fauré: Pelleas et Mélisande Suite
Brahms: Concerto for Violin and Violoncello
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet Overture
Roussel: Bacchus et Ariane, Suite No. 2

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Lilya Zilberstein

Sunday, July 14
BEETHOVEN’S PATH TO NEOCLASSICISM
Conductor: Jean-Marie Zeitouni, with Lilya Zilberstein, piano

Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 and Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements (movements played alternately)
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3

Tuesday, July 16
QUINTESSENTIAL HARP
CMF Chamber Players

Arnold Bax: Quintet for Harp and String Quartet
Ravel: Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet
Ravel: String Quartet
Brahms: String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major

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Gabriela Montero. Photo by Colin Bell

Thursday & Friday, July 18 & 19
TCHAIKOVSKY’S SYMPHONY NO. 6 “PATHETIQUE”
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Gabriela Montero, piano

Golijov: Sidereus
Grieg: Piano Concerto
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”)

Sunday, July 21
MAGNIFICENT MOZART MINI-FESTIVAL I
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Stefan Jackiw, violin

Mozart: Symphony No. 32
Violin Concerto No. 5 (“Turkish”)
Overture from Don Giovanni
Symphony No. 38 (“Prague”)

Tuesday, July 23
RUSSIAN MASTERS
CMF Chamber Players

Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor
Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio in A Minor

Tickets from the Chautauqua Box office.

 

CMF: Jazz, pizzazz, patriotism and a lot of fun

Pianist Jon Kimura Parker performs Gershwin, plus Billy Joel

By Peter Alexander July 6 at 12:25 a.m.

The Colorado Music Festival offered a concert titled “Revolution and Freedom” for its not-quite-the-Fourth of July concert last night (July 5). The program offered equal bits of jazz, pizzazz and patriotism, and a whole lot of fun.

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Peter Oundjian

After starting with a brisk performance of the National Anthem, conductor Peter Oundjian and the Festival Orchestra took up the more serious parts of the program, starting with Aaron Copland’s Outdoor Overture. The performance was bright and forceful, with more vigor than clarity in the opening section. The following lyrical passages were enhanced by lovely solos from flute and clarinet.

Oundjian delineated the contrasting sections well, and brought precision and a welcome energy to the performance. Though Canadian-English-Scottish by ancestry, Oundjian shows that he understands American styles of music—or at least how to unleash an American orchestra.

The American theme continued with Gershwin’s Concerto in F for piano and orchestra, with the assured and spirited Jon Kimura Parker as soloist. From the very beginning, he made the concerto his with a strong and sure interpretation. Listening, you might think, “This is what Gershwin wanted his Concerto to sound like!”

Oundjian was an attentive accompanist, finding both playful moments and powerful climaxes in the score. He maintained a truly precise connection between soloist and orchestra: I did not hear a single moment when they were not right together. Several times he and Parker—friends since their student days at Juilliard—exchanged beaming smiles.

The bluesy second movement offers its own challenge. The CMF performance was nicer than real blues—but was it a cautious interpretation, or Gershwin’s desire to write concert music that created that result? It was atmospheric, expressive, but stayed well away from anything that could be mistaken for dirty blues.

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Jon Kimura Parker. Courtesy of Colorado Music Festival.

The final movement was all energy and (that word again!) precision. Parker commanded attention with every entrance, driving the performance as a soloist should. After a rapturous ovation, he played a virtuosic version of Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” as an encore, while a beaming Oundjian stood beside the piano.

The second half of the concert was all dessert, starting with a bouncy and bumptious Overture to La Gazza Ladra by Rossini. From the multiple snare drums trading off the solos that open the overture, it was all a good show, with great individual playing through the wind sections—horns, piccolo, and clarinet being especially noticeable—and as loud as it needed to be at climaxes. It was all, Rossini would agree, “stupendo!”

If any piece in the repertoire can be called a potboiler, it is Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Played for Independence Day concerts everywhere, it is an easy piece for orchestras and conductors to toss off thoughtlessly, but Oundjian took pains to say that it is “always a joy to play this piece! It is remarkable and beautiful, even before the canons come in.”

His interpretation lived up that statement. He showed great attention to musical details from the very opening hymn played by solo cellos and violas through to the end. While parts of it were “very noisy,” as the composer himself once said, with occasional blare in the brass sound, it was never less than thrilling.

The remainder of the program comprised three marches by John Philip Sousa, Washington Post, The Liberty Bell  and of course, Stars and Stripes Forever. All were spirited and great fun to hear in the concert hall, if a little toned down from the best band performances. Stars and Stripes was faster than I am used to hearing it, but did not suffer from the tempo.

A word about the central march: Oundjian selected an enthusiastic audience member from the back of the hall, to conduct The Liberty Bell. A young percussionist with some band experience, the impromptu conductor showed that he had played the piece before. He gave appropriate cues throughout, including offbeat chimes near the end, and got the orchestra to follow a dramatically slower tempo for the very final strain.

Loud cheers followed the final, conclusive “stinger.” Did I say it was a lot of fun? Clearly a good time was had by all. What more could you want for a holiday concert?

Colorado Music Festival gets off to a festive beginning

First concert has everything you could want for opening night

By Peter Alexander June 28 at 12:25 a.m.

The Colorado Music Festival got off to a genuinely festive start last night (June 27).

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CMF Festival Orchestra—photo by Michael Quam

The opening night concert, conducted by Peter Oundjian with pianist Natasha Paremski as soloist, had everything you could want for opening night: spectacular orchestral fireworks, a virtuosic concerto with a virtuoso soloist, and not one but two exciting overtures.

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CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian

To judge by the performance, Oundjian is not afraid to let loose the horses—meaning the impressively solid and forceful brass section of the CMF Festival Orchestra—when called for. More on that later, but the entire orchestra made a very strong impression. Let us hope that Oundjian has steadied the festival after several awkward transitions, and will carry CMF forward on a consistent and high artistic level.

The program, which will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. tonight (June 28) in the Chautauqua Auditorium, began with a clean, solid performance of Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont. Oundjian paced the performance well, bringing out the contrasts of dynamics and tempo leading to a powerful “Victory Symphony” to end the overture.

Egmont’s presence on the program reflects the summer’s theme, “Beethoven’s Path to the Future,” wherein many of the concerts will include a work by Beethoven, and then pieces that in some way reflect Beethoven’s foreshadowing of later musical developments.

The meaning of that theme was best described by Oundjian in his remarks at the concert. It’s not that Beethoven directly influenced every composer that came after him; rather, he said, “Beethoven gave license to future composers” to follow their inspiration in unexpected directions.

The short overture was followed by a very long break while the piano was brought on stage and chairs repositioned for Paremski and the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto. The break was too long; however awkward it might look, I would prefer to have the piano onstage during the overture, with the lid down, than to have so much dead time between pieces.

As a great and much-loved Romantic concerto, the Rachmaninoff Second fit this program’s theme, “Beethoven’s Path to Romanticism.” Paremski played with an appropriately big sound without crossing into an abrasive tone quality, and from the very beginning was in total command of the score. Oundjian brought out the surging orchestral climaxes, although there were moments when the pianist’s efforts were more seen than heard.

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Natasha Paremski

Best of all was the second movement, especially the chamber-like passages, including some lovely woodwind solos that are essentially accompanied by rippling arpeggios in the piano. All the shifting moods of the Romantic palette were effectively expressed in this movement, and Paremski’s fleet passagework and sparkling trills were the icing on a very fine cake.

The finale was impressive from pianist and orchestra, fast, exciting and well controlled. Once again the CMF horses came blazing out of the corral, this time without obscuring the soloist, and the brilliant ending garnered the expected ovation.

After intermission, the orchestra returned for the Overture to Verdi’s melodramatic opera La forza del destino (The force of destiny). Oundjian steered the orchestra successfully through the overture’s many shifting moods. All the drama, pathos and nervous energy of the highly episodic piece were present and well expressed. This overture is not often heard in the concert hall, so it was a real pleasure to hear it so well performed by Oundjian and the CMF players.

Respighi’s Pines of Rome, which ended the concert, is the perfect piece to show off the Festival Orchestra’s strengths. The scintillating first movement (Pines of the Villa Borghese) was a brilliant explosion of orchestral colors. The second and third movements (portraying pines near a catacomb and on the Janiculum, respectively) featured beautiful solo wind playing—a haunting, lyrical trumpet in the second, a delicate and utterly exposed clarinet, along with flute, and oboe plus a solo cello in the third.

But it is the final movement, the grand and forceful crescendo of the Pines of the Appian Way, portraying the inexorable advance of a Roman Legion, that everyone remembers from Respighi’s colorful score. Here it was relentless and loud and utterly exciting—just what is wanted to start a season. You have one more chance to hear this program: don’t miss it.

Tickets to tonight’s concert are available through the Chautauqua Box Office.