Boulder Phil and Marcus Roberts Trio celebrate the return to live performances

“Gershwin Celebration” at Macky hits the right notes for a festive event

By Peter Alexander Jan. 23 at 12:20 a.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic and the Marcus Roberts Trio both returned to a live stage last night (Jan. 22) for the first time in two years, to present “A Gershwin Celebration” in Macky Auditorium. And it was a celebration for certain.

Two works by Gershwin were on the program: An American in Paris, and the Piano Concerto in F with the trio—Marcus Roberts, piano, Jason Marsalis, drums, and Rodney Jordan, bass—as a solo ensemble with the orchestra. The interpretation of Gershwin’s concerto, which Roberts first did with conductor Seiji Ozawa nearly 20 years ago, has become something of a specialty for the trio. They did it with the Boulder Phil once before, in conductor Michael Butterman’s first season with the orchestra 15 years ago.

We should be grateful that Butterman decided to return to that experience. The program, and especially the performance with the trio, hit all the right notes for a festive event. It was brilliantly creative, it was fun, it was musical art on a very high level.

Mar us Roberts Trio rehearsing with the Boulder Phil. Photo by Peter Alexander.

The performance was live-streamed from Macky to anyone who had bought a ticket. I had the privilege of first attending the rehearsal yesterday morning, so that I could hear how the trio put their interpretation and interpolated solos together with the orchestra, and watching the live stream in the evening to hear how it all fit together.

One advantage of “attending” the concert by live stream is that you can see things that are not easily seen from seats in the hall—the very busy percussionists, for example, and who is playing the solos. That is very much a worthwhile pleasure. Since COVID, streaming is common, since it allows people to take in a concert without being in a crowd. Let’s hope streaming becomes normal, as it gives access to people who otherwise would not be able to attend. 

And it give us all the opportunity to hear performances from around the world, building a larger, shared musical culture.

The program opened with An American in Paris, which has earned a place in the orchestral repertoire—and in American audience’s hearts. It’s not fair to “review” a streamed performance because as a listener I am at the mercy of the sound engineers and the speakers on my desktop. But Butterman and the Boulder Phil clearly gave a fluid, polished performance.

For the Concerto, the orchestra played almost entirely what Gershwin wrote. When playing with the orchestra, Roberts observed, if he did not exactly reproduce, what Gershwin wrote in the piano part. At times he spun off from Gershwin’s line—but Gershwin did the same.

The Marcus Roberts Trio

There were also “breaks” for the jazz trio when the orchestra sat out and turned the performance over to the trio. These moments were, for me, the most joyous parts of the concert, because all three members of the trio are just so darned good. It was delightful to hear Roberts work bits of Gershwin into the multi-hued fabric of his improvisations, and to witness the exchanges among three musicians who know each other so well. Like any tight jazz group, whatever direction Roberts went, the others were with him.

Hearing both the rehearsal and the concert, it was not hard to find the essence of both classical and jazz styles. “We want to make sure that [audiences] understand the grandeur and beauty and structural logic that classical music has,” Roberts told me earlier, “and the freedom of improvisation and the spontaneity of jazz.”

Both were evident in Macky. The “grandeur of classical music” was present in the full orchestral passages of the concerto, which frame and culminate the solo passages. Of course those grandiose passages were the same in the morning and in the evening; that’s classical music. 

The improvised, jazz passages, however, were not the same; in their exuberant unpredictability they showed the “spontaneity of jazz”—and therein lies is the true greatness of the art form. The true greatness of Roberts’s performance of the Concerto in F is in bringing the two together.

As an encore, the trio alone played their version of another Gershwin staple, “I Got Rhythm,” which is both a nod to the composer’s variations for piano and orchestra on “I Got Rhythm” and recognition of the place the tune’s chord progression has taken in jazz history. Here the trio was playful, trading riffs at the beginning and the end, and giving a welcome chance for Marsalis on drums and Jordan on bass to have their own solos.

They all killed it. It was a dazzling demonstration of what we have missed for the past two years, and an exhilarating end to the celebration.

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The Boulder Phil and the Marcus Roberts Trio will repeat their performance of “A Gershwin Celebration” this afternoon, at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 23, at the Lone Tree Arts Center. You may purchase tickets for that live performance here.

Boulder Phil returns to Macky with Gershwin Celebration

Concert with pianist Marcus Roberts Jan. 22 will also be streamed

By Peter Alexander Jan. 20 at 11 a.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra returns to Macky Auditorium Saturday (7:30 p.m., Jan. 22) for the first time in two years, with an all-Gershwin program.

Marcus Roberts Trio

Two works are featured: An American in Paris and the Piano Concerto in F, performed with the Marcus Roberts trio: Roberts, piano, Rodney Jordan, bass, and Jason Marsalis, drums. The same program will be presented Sunday at the Lone Tree Arts Center (1:30 p.m. Jan. 23). Tickets to both concerts, and for a live stream Saturday, are available through the Boulder Phil Web page.

While an all-Gershwin program is a little unusual for a symphony orchestra, “this is a nice way to get back to Macky” conductor Michael Butterman says. “A Gershwin celebration just feels festive.”

The Concerto harks back to a concert early in Butterman’s tenure with the orchestra, when Roberts and his trio played the Concerto in F. “I think it was my very first season,” Butterman says. “I remember that as one of the highlights of my time in Boulder, because it’s exciting to see the musicians of the orchestra so engaged.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Gershwin Celebration
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Marcus Roberts Trio: Marcus Roberts, piano; Rodney Jordan, bass; Jason Marsalis, drums

  • Gershwin: An American in Paris
    —Piano Concerto in F

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, Mackey Auditorium
1:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 23, Lone Tree Arts Center
Masks and proof of vaccination are required.

Live steam 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22

TICKETS

Boulder Philharmonic announces 2021–22 season

Live concerts again at last, and a return to CU Macky Auditorium in January

By Peter Alexander 8 a.m. May 22

The Boulder Philharmonic is taking cautious steps back to the future.

In other words, they will return to full orchestral concerts in Macky Auditorium, suspended for the COVID-19 pandemic, but not all at once. In announcing their 2021–22 season, they have revealed a schedule that will feature four small orchestra concerts in a smaller space in the fall, followed by a return to Macky in January, 2022.

Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman in Macky Auditorium

Those will not necessarily be full capacity concerts. According to a statement from the orchestra, they have “developed health and safety protocols to ensure a safe environment for performers, audience members, staff, and volunteers. Measures will include adjusting venue capacity and seating plans, and wearing masks. Plans will adjust in response to public health measures as they evolve in the coming months.”

The fall portion of the season will take place in Mountain View United Methodist Church in Boulder (355 Ponca Place). There will be two programs, each presented twice without intermission (see full schedule below) and led by the orchestra’s music director, Michael Butterman. The first will be a program of music for chamber orchestra, including Haydn’s very first symphony, composed in 1759, and the second a program of 20th-century music from Europe influenced by jazz, featuring works by the Russian Shostakovich, the French composer Darius Milhaud and the German Kurt Weill.

December will see a return of the evergreen Nutcracker ballet, performed by the Boulder Phil with Boulder Ballet in Macky Auditorium. CU music prof. Gary Lewis will conduct. Tickets to Nutcracker will be available in the fall.

The Marcus Roberts Trio will join the Boulder Phil for their first concert back in Macky Auditorium

After the holidays, the Phil will present a subscription series of six concerts, January through May. These concerts will feature guests soloists and collaborations, starting with the “Opening Weekend” concert Jan. 22, a “Gershwin Celebration.” Renowned jazz pianist Marcus Roberts and his Trio will join the Phil for a performance of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F on a program that also features An American in Paris. This program will be repeated at the Lone Tree Arts Center Jan. 23.

Violinist Rachel Barton Pine returns to Boulder Feb. 12 to play the world premiere of the Violin Concerto by Grammy-winning jazz pianist Billy Childs. Pine was in Boulder in 2014, when she played the Berg Violin Concerto with the Philharmonic. Other soloists through the spring will be pianist Terence Williams, who will play Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto March 19; Philharmonic concertmaster Charles Wetherbee, who will play The Butterfly Lovers Concerto on a program that will also feature Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance, April 30; recent Grammy winner violist Richard O’Neill, who will play William Walton’s Viola Concerto May 14; and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, who will appear with the Phil and his trio, May 28.

Subscription packages of the six concerts in 2022 go on sale Monday, May 24. Subscription purchasers can add any of the concerts at Mountain View Methodist Church at a discounted price. Any remaining single tickets will be available in September, along with Nutcracker tickets. Information and, starting on Monday, subscription purchases will be available on the Boulder Phil Web page

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Butterman, music director
2021-22 Season Schedule

Michael Butterman. Photo by Shannon Palmer

“Together Again”
Michael Butterman, conductor

  • Haydn: Symphony No. 1 in D Major
  • —Sinfonia concertante in B-flat Major
  • Frank Martin: Petite symphonie concertante, op. 54

4 & 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3 (no intermission)
Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder

“The Art of Jazz”
Michael Butterman, conductor

  • Shostakovich: Jazz Suite No. 1
  • Darius Milhaud: The Creation of the World, op. 81a
  • Kurt Weill: Little Threepenny Music

4 & 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30 (no intermission)
Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder

The Nutcracker with Boulder Ballet
Gary Lewis, conductor

2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26, Saturday Nov. 27 and Sunday, Nov. 18
7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27
Macky Auditorium

Opening Weekend: “Gershwin Celebration”
Michael Butterman, conductor
Marcus Roberts Trio: Marcus Roberts, piano; Rodney Jordan, bass; Jason Marsalis, drums

  • Gershwin: An American in Paris
  • —Piano Concerto in F

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022 
Macky Auditorium

1:30 p.m. Sunday Jan. 23, 2022
Lone Tree Arts Center

Rachel Barton Pine. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Michael Butterman, conductor, with Rachel Barton Pine, violin

  • Billy Childs: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (world premiere/co-commission)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12
Macky Auditorium

Michael Butterman, conductor, with Terrence Wilson, piano

  • Cindy McTee: Circuits
  • Alan Hovhaness: Symphony No. 2, “Mysterious Mountain”
  • Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19, 2022
Macky Auditorium

The Firebird & Frequent Flyers
Michael Butterman, conductor, with Charles Wetherbee, violin
Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance

  • Mason Bates: Undistant
  • He Zhanhao/Chen Gang: The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto
  • Rimsky Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture
  • Stravinsky: Firebird Suite (1919)
Richard O’Neill

7:30 pm. Saturday, April 30, 2022
Macky Auditorium

Michael Butterman, conductor, with Richard O’Neill, viola

  • Anny Clyne: Sound and Fury
  • William Walton: Viola Concerto
  • Elgar: Enigma Variations

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 14, 2022
Macky Auditorium

Jake Shimabukuro, ukulele, and trio, with the Boulder Phil
Michael Butterman, conductor

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 28, 2022
Macky Auditorium