Zeitouni, Koh and Festival Orchestra dazzle in CMF opener

Dramatic performances highlight a memorable concert

By Peter Alexander


Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Jean-Marie Zeitouni and the Festival Orchestra opened the 2016 Colorado Music Festival (CMF) in dramatic fashion last night (June 30).

The first piece on the program was Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont—literally dramatic music in that it was written to open performances of Goethe’s play of that title. Springing from the same well of passionate idealism as Goethe’s drama of political oppression and martyrdom, Beethoven’s overture adumbrates many of the themes of the play. And from the bold opening unison to the final celebratory coda, Zeitouni squeezed every bit of drama out of the score.

Most impressive were the control of dynamics and phrasing, with carefully placed phrase climaxes and well controlled crescendos throughout. This overture is a bit of a chestnut, but when played as well as it was by the Festival Orchestra, it is a pleasure to hear.


Jennifer Koh

Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Violin Concerto is a work of many extremes, from the most delicate softs of violin harmonics to violent percussion explosions. There were two heroes of last night’s performance: violinist Jennifer Koh, who gave a brilliant, committed performance; and the acoustics in the Chautauqua Auditorium, which accommodated every nuance of the performance and every degree on the dynamic spectrum.

In the most delicate moments—the virtuoso filigree of the opening passages, and the softest violin harmonics that shaded into silence—the hall allowed every note to be heard. And in the moments of manic energy, when the full percussion section opened up at full volume, the wooden walls and roof turned the hall into a vibrating, resonant instrument in its own right. The visceral impact was something that no recording, however powerful, could match.

Of course, even the greatest halls needs great performers, and I don’t want to shortchange Koh’s mastery of this difficult score, or the quality of the Festival Orchestra. The performance was impressive by any standard, and it was one to be remembered.

After intermission, Zeitouni returned to conduct a work from the heart of the French repertoire that is especially close to his heart, the Symphonie Fantastique of Hector Berlioz. Before the concert, Zeitouni had said that the symphony is a kind of a test case for “where an orchestra is as far as its virtuosity and its capacity to express emotional content and color content.”

By those standards, I can only imagine that he was pleased. He was certainly smiling throughout the performance. The Festival Orchestra performed wonderfully, with wide dynamic levels, brilliant orchestra colors, and full-throated fortissimos that filled the hall without distortion.

If a music critic is expected to criticize, I can note that the balance was occasionally less than perfect, as when some lovely horn playing in the introduction covered the first violins. Elsewhere, there was a brief moment of questionable woodwind intonation in the slow movement.

The duo between English horn and oboe at the beginning of the slow movement was magical, with the oboe answers, representing a more distant shepherd, coming from outside the hall. The oboe was not clearly audible at the front of the hall, but there is little else to criticize.

The beautiful playing of the English horn throughout the slow movement was one of the joys of the performance. The unanimity of pitch and articulation within the winds shows what can be accomplished by the best orchestral players. Such purity of intonation led in turn to crystal clear orchestra textures, which reaps benefits for every section.

The multiple timpani of the slow movement evoked distant thunder, and then thundered powerfully for the “March to the Scaffold.” The orchestral outbursts throughout the march were almost shocking in their forcefulness.

Zeitouni’s control of dynamics and tempo led to a nearly crazed “Witches’ Sabbath” movement that Berlioz surely would have loved. The brass, overpowering through sheer volume, earned great applause, but the woodwind parts are just as difficult, and were played equally well. I have never heard a more powerful and convincing close to this symphony, one of the great and original works of the 19th century.

This is Jennifer Koh’s Brain on Music

Between a 2014 CMF cancellation and a scheduled 2016 performance, an fMRI

By Peter Alexander

“The musician’s brain is exquisitely sensitive to all aspects of music, be it listening, reading or imagining playing music”—Tobias Overath,
Duke Institute for Brain Sciences


Jennifer Koh. Photo by Duke University

Jennifer Koh, who will be the soloist for the opening concert of the 2016 Colorado Music Festival, developed an interest in brain science after suffering a concussion in 2014.

The concussion forced Koh to cancel a scheduled appearance at CMF in August of 2014. It affected her speech and memory and temporarily made it impossible for her to practice. Fortunately, she recovered and is back on the performance circuit, but her curiosity about the brain and how it works was stimulated by the experience.

When Koh performed recently at Duke University, Tobias Overath of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences arranged for her to to have a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan—known as an functional MRI, or fMRI—during which she listened to music, read a score of music, and imagined playing music. The results offer insight into how musicians’ brains work, and also play into a Duke course on “Music and the Brain.”

You can read the full story and see a brief video about the experience at Duke Today.


Last-minute change of Soloist at CMF

Jennifer Koh will be replaced by Adele Anthony for Aug. 3 concert

Violinist Adele Anthony. Photo by Marcia Ciriello

Violinist Adele Anthony. Photo by Marcia Ciriello

By Peter Alexander

Violinist Jennifer Koh, who was scheduled to perform Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) for solo violin, strings, harp and percussion at the Colorado Music Festival on Sunday, Aug. 3, has had to cancel her appearance.

She will be replaced by Adele Anthony, a native of Tasmania who studied at the Juilliard School and won the 1996 Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition in Denmark. She has since collaborated with leading artists in concerts and festivals around the world.

Sunday’s performance with the CMF Chamber Orchestra will be led by guest conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni, one of three official candidates for music director of the festival. In addition to Bernstein’s Serenade, the program will feature Carmen Suite by Rodion Shchedrin.

Koh has suffered a concussion in an accident that forced her to cancel her appearance in Boulder. While she is the kind of young and engaging soloist that Boulder audiences would enjoy hearing, the opportunity to hear Anthony, who has a truly outstanding pedigree in the violin world, is also something to relish.

Upon learning of the news and securing Anthony to take over as soloist, CMF released the following statement on its Web page:

Important Update: Due to health issues, Jennifer Koh has had to cancel her appearance for the August 3 concert.  We are thrilled that Adele Anthony has stepped in to replace her. Adele began playing the violin at the age of 2 1/2 in Tasmania. She studied with Beryl Kimber as an Elder Conservatorium Scholar at the University of Adelaide until 1987, and has attended the Aspen Music Festival several times as a Staling Fellow. At New York’s famed Juilliard School, Miss Anthony worked with three eminent teachers: Dorothy DeLay, Felix Galimir and Hyo Kang. She has collaborated with Gil Shaham (to whom she is married, with 3 children) in the United States and Spain in concerts and recordings marking the centenary of the death of legendary Spanish violinist and composer Pablo Sarasate. An active recording artist, Ms. Anthony’s work includes two releases with Sejong Soloists: Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Naxos), and Sejong Plays Ewazen. 

NOTE: This post was updated 7/31/14 when it was confirmed that Koh had a concussion. Her condition is not believed to be serious.