Boulder Symphony’s “Genius” concert unites Mozart and Einstein

Slightly different programs will be presented Thursday and Friday evenings

By Peter Alexander Jan. 28 at 4:10 p.m.

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Mozart

Mozart, a composer universally acknowledged to be a genius, and Albert Einstein, a scientist universally acknowledged to be a genius, will be brought together, after a fashion, on the next concert of the Boulder Symphony.

The program, appropriately titled “Genius,” will be presented twice, in slightly different forms. Devin Patrick Hughes will conduct.

Both programs honor some of the great geniuses of physics as well as music. Thursday (Jan. 30) at Boulder’s Jewish Community Center (JCC), the program will comprise Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550; Einstein’s Dream by Cindy McTee; the world premiere of And Yet it Moves, an homage to Renaissance astronomer Galileo by Clay Allen; and Fermi’s Paradox by Austin Wintory, inspired by a question the Italian nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi once asked casually over lunch.

A second performance Friday (Jan. 31) at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Boulder will substitute the first movement of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, played by Jessica Zhang, in place of McTee’s score. Zhang was the winner of the Single Movement Division of the Concerto Competition of the 2019 International Keyboard Odyssiad® and Festival Competition, held last summer in Ft. Collins.

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Composer Cindy McTee

A program with music celebrating the work of great scientists has long been a goal for Hughes. “I’ve been wanting to do a program for a long time that brings the arts and sciences together,” he says, “especially now in this world we live in, where sometimes science gets pushed onto the side of opinion. For hundreds of years the arts and sciences were intertwined.”

Both performances open with one of Mozart’s most well known and celebrated works, the Symphony No. 40 in G minor. It was written at a time when Mozart was in dire straits financially and having to beg loans from his close friends. “This is out of tragedy, Mozart looking inside,” Hughes says. “Of course it’s the creative genius Mozart, and every time you play a Mozart symphony, it’s operatic, you’re telling a story.”

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Albert Einstein

Mozart pairs well with McTee’s Einstein’s Dream, because Einstein was devoted to Mozart’s music. An excellent amateur violinist, he often played Mozart’s violin sonatas, and once described Mozart’s music as “part of the inner beauty of the universe.” McTee wrote Einstein’s Dream in 2005, for the World Year of Physics, also known informally as the “Einstein Year” because it was the centennial of some of Einstein’s critical work on the theory or relativity.

The piece is scored for strings and percussion who play with a computer-generated MP3 track that strictly controls the unfolding of the music. It begins with a chorale by Bach, another composer that Einstein admired for the logical construction of his works. The individual movements have titles referring to Einstein’s groundbreaking work as a physicist, including “Warps and Curves in the Fabric of Space and Time,” “Pondering the Behavior of Light” and “The Frantic Dance of Subatomic Particles.”

Clay Allen

Composer Clay Allen

And Yet it Moves was commissioned by the Boulder Symphony for the “Genius” program. Allen is a doctoral composition student at the University of Colorado, where he directs the Pendulum New Music concert series. Hughes suggested the idea of a piece about Galileo to Allen, who embraced the idea.

The title, And Yet it Moves, is a comment attributed to Galileo, after he was placed under house arrest and forced by Catholic authorities to recant his claim that the earth revolves around the sun. Galileo’s ideas were such a threat to the Catholic Church’s theological stance that the earth was at the center of the universe that Galileo was tried by the Inquisition. His books were banned by the church until 1718, and only in 1992 did Pope John Paul II finally admit the church had been wrong to censor Galileo’s work.

Allen’s score includes “sweeping string melodies that [portray] standing up in the face of tyranny or ignorance,” Hughes says. The composer will attend the premiere performances by the Boulder Symphony and will speak about his work at a 6:45 p.m. preconcert talk both nights.

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Enrico Fermi

Enrico Fermi was an Italian nuclear physicist who was part of the Manhattan project developing the atomic bomb during World War II. Once when chatting with fellow scientists over lunch in 1950, Fermi asked if the universe is so vast, with so many galaxies and planets that could hold life, “Where is everybody”?—meaning all the other life forms that should be out there.

This was the origin of “Fermi’s Paradox,” that the universe is vast enough and old enough that we should have made contact with another civilization, but we have not. “Out of Fermi’s Paradox comes a bunch of different solutions,” Hughes says, ranging from the difficulty of interstellar travel to the idea that they are already here in the form of UFOs.

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Composer Austin Wintory

“Wintory doesn’t exactly say this,” Hughes says, “but one of those solutions is that every time a society develops to where they can destroy themselves, they do. You can hear the doom [in the music], so it’s kind of a warning.”

The composer provided his own epigraph for Fermi’s Paradox in his program note, poetically describing the paradox that Fermi saw: “Our eyes turn to the sky and we see a nearly endless sea of stars and galaxies. . . . With eyes and ears aimed outward, it’s logical that we’d catch glimpses of life and peoples everywhere.

“But we see only overwhelming darkness. We hear total silence. Ours is an existence of oppressive loneliness.

“Reality is at once beautiful and terrifying,” he concludes; “lonely, yet of one.”

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Devin Patrick Hughes and the Boulder Symphony

“Genius”
Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan 30, Boulder Jewish Community Center

Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550
Cindy McTee: Einstein’s Dream
Clay Allen: And Yet It Moves (World Premiere)
Austin Wintory: The Fermi Paradox (Colorado Premiere)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, First Presbyterian Church, Boulder

Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550
Clay Allen: And Yet It Moves (World Premiere)
Austin Wintory: The Fermi Paradox (Colorado Premiere)
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2, First Movement, Jessica Zhang, piano

Tickets

Boulder Symphony evokes “Home” with the Holidays approaching

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

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

Everyone thinks of home as Thanksgiving approaches.

BS-2017-OrchestraStanding

Boulder Symphony

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

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Devin Patrick Hughes

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

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

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

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

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Sarah Kirkland Snider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tickets

Boulder Symphony presents music inspired by Shakespeare

Two standard works and a world premiere are on the program

Opening the door to classical music

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

Force of Nature

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

By Peter Alexander

Chloe Trevor.Kate-L-Photography

Chloe Trevor. Kate L.Photography

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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

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

Tickets

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

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

Tickets

 

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

Concert performance of Bizet’s Carmen is a big undertaking

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Symphony enters new territory this week.

Boulder Symphony conductor Devin Patrick Hughes

Boulder Symphony conductor Devin Patrick Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

Georges Bizet

Georges Bizet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To share the excitement, you may purchase tickets here.

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

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

CAST:

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

In the nick of time, Boulder Symphony will bring listeners ‘Out of the Darkness’

By Peter Alexander

Boulder Symphony

Boulder Symphony

It wasn’t really planned that way, but the Boulder Symphony’s next concert arrives just in the nick of time.

Only days after Boulder descended from record highs to record lows, into what feels like the depth of winter, the orchestra and conductor Devin Patrick Hughes are offering to bring listeners “Out of the Darkness” Saturday evening (7 p.m. Nov. 22 in Boulder’s First Presbyterian Church: Tickets).

Beethoven ca. 1804–05. Portrait by Joseph Willibrord Mähler.

Beethoven ca. 1804–05. Portrait by Joseph Willibrord Mähler.

The program features two particularly sunny and affirming works that are ideal antidotes to winter shock: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, and Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, performed in its original version for 13 instruments.

The concert’s title refers specifically to Beethoven’s symphony, written in 1806. At the time, Beethoven was coping with the onset of his deafness and facing the isolation from society that resulted. Considered one of the darkest periods in Beethoven’s personal life, he nevertheless produced a cheerful and uplifting symphony.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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“Out of the Darkness”

Devin Patrick Hughes

Devin Patrick Hughes

Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor

Beethoven: Symphony No. 4
Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring, original version for 13 instruments

7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22
First Presbyterian Church, Boulder

Tickets