The gold standard

Boulder Phil previews its Kennedy Center performance

By Peter Alexander

Creative programming, extensive community engagement and thoughtful collaborations have paid off for the Boulder Philharmonic.

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Boulder Phil with Frequent Flyers. Photo by Glenn Ross.

The big reward comes this week. Their next concert, Saturday, March 25, will be repeated Tuesday, March 28, at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., where they will be recognized as one of four orchestras, and the only regional orchestra, chosen for the inaugural Shift Festival of American Orchestras. 

The program for the two concerts reflects several of the Boulder Phil’s recent initiatives, particularly the theme of “Nature and Music” that has informed several recent seasons and the collaboration with other local arts organizations. The program opens with the premiere of a new work by Stephen Lias, All the Songs that Nature Sings, commissioned as part of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) “Imagine Your Parks” initiative and specifically celebrating Rocky Mountain National Park.

Other works on the program represent what Butterman calls “greatest hits of the last five years.” Jeff Midkin’s Mandolin Concerto “From the Blue Ridge” and Steve Heitzig’s Ghosts of the Grasslands were both introduced to Boulder audiences in the spring of 2014 and were highly successful with audiences. And the final work on the concert will reprise one of the orchestra’s most creative collaborations: their 2013 partnering with Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance for Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

The combination of the Shift Festival and the “Imagine Your Parks” commission seemed tailor-made for the Boulder Phil. In fact, the Boulder Phil’s Executive Director Kevin Shuck says, “we had what in the words of the festival’s selection panel members was ‘the gold standard’ of what they were looking for.”

The festival will certainly put a national spotlight on the Boulder Phil, but the same activities that were the basis of the festival application have paid off locally as well. The programming of the past few years, community outreach, collaborations with Frequent Flyers and other arts groups, and educational programs have all helped build local audiences. Since 2009, overall ticket sales for the orchestra have risen 67 percent and subscription sales 44 percent. And Saturday’s concert is on track to be a sellout.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Nature & Music
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, music director

All the Songs that Nature Sings by Stephen Lias (world premiere)
Mandolin Concert, From the Blue Ridge by Jeff Midkin
Jeff Midkin, mandolin
Ghosts of the Grassland by Steve Heitzig
Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland
With Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance

2 p.m. Saturday, March 25
Free concert for community organizations

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Macky Auditorium
Tickets: 303-449-1343

8 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington, D.C.
Tickets: 202-467-4600

Boulder Phil announces 60th anniversary season

Commissioned works, returning guests and works suggested by players are on the schedule

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Philharmonic will present the Colorado premieres of two new works co-commissioned by the orchestra as part of its 2017–18 season.

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Boulder Philharmonic in Macky Auditorium

Other highlights of the coming season will be the return of popular attraction Cirque de la Symphonie for two performances of “Cirque Goes to the Movies” Feb. 3, 2018, and the orchestra’s second season-ending collaboration with Central City Opera, this time for a concert performance of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story April 28, 2018.

The season program, which was announced to patrons and the public yesterday afternoon (March 5), celebrates the orchestra’s 60th anniversary. The celebration includes the return of guest artists who have appeared with the orchestra before, including pianists Jon Nakamatsu for Schumann’s Piano Concerto Sept. 24; David Korevaar for Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, Oct. 14; and Simone Dinnerstein for concertos by J.S. Bach and Philip Glass Jan. 13, 2018.

Other collaborations will be with violinist and Boulder Phil concertmaster Charles Wetherbee for The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams, violinist Stefan Jackiw for Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, and choirs from CU Boulder, Western Illinois University, and Metropolitan State University in Denver.

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Michael Butterman. Photo by Rene Palmer

“What you see [in the 2017–18 season] is a continuation of some of the characteristics of our programing that have worked well for us,” Boulder Philharmonic Music Director Michael Butterman says. “It’s not so much looking back at 60 years as it is looking back at the last eight or nine. There’s the idea of collaborations and of championing successful new music.”

Missing is any season-long programming theme, such as this year’s duo soloists, or recent seasons built around music and nature—although nature is not completely absent next year.

“The music and nature connection is there, in one concert in early April,” Butterman says. The April 8, 2018, concert, titled “A Song for Swans,” includes Sibelius’s Symphony No 5, whose last movement was inspired when the composer saw a flight of 16 swans pass overhead. “One of the great experiences of my life,” Sibelius wrote in his diary. “God, how beautiful!”

Sibelius was one of several composers that members of the orchestra suggested for the season. “We worked with the players early on to get their input, asking what are some pieces that you would like to play,” Butterman says. Among the composers they suggested were Sibelius, who appears on the April 7 concert; Dvořák, whose Seventh Symphony will be performed on the season opener Sept. 24; and Shostakovich, whose Symphony No. 5 will be performed Oct. 14.

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Christopher Theofanidis

The season’s first Colorado premiere will be Dreamtime Ancestors by Christopher Theofanidis, which will open the very first concert. The score was commissioned by a consortium of 50 orchestras, one in each state, that was put together by New Music for America. The world premiere was given by the Plymouth, Mass., Philharmonic Orchestra in October 2015, with other performances around the country following within a roughly two-year period.

“Theofanidis is certainly one of the leading living composers,” Butterman says. “We had  a relationship with him, when we performed his Rainbow Body a few years ago, and trusted the kind of product he was going to provide. So we agreed to take part in that project.”

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Simone Dinnerstein

In a concert titled “Bach Transfigured,” scheduled for Jan. 13, 2018, the orchestra will present the Colorado premiere of Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3, performed by Dinnerstein. Glass admires her playing, and approached her to say he would like to write a concerto for her.

“She approached some orchestras that she had a relationship with, and conductors, and most of us bought into it,” Butterman says. The Boulder Phil raised their share of the commission from local donors and joined a smaller consortium of orchestras, including A Far Cry, a self-conducted orchestra in Boston, who will give the world premiere of the concerto.

Because Dinnerstein is widely known and admired for her performances of Bach, Glass has asked that the concerto be paired in concert with Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in G minor, as it will be in Boulder.

The season will close out with the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth. In collaboration with Central City Opera (CCO) and choirs from Metropolitan State University in Denver, the orchestra will present Bernstein’s 1957 Broadway hit West Side Story. Butterman and the Phil worked with CCO at the end of the 2015–16 season to present a semi-staged performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and they were eager to repeat the collaboration.

“We had such a positive experience doing that,” Butterman said. “Hopefully it’s something we can do in other years.” For West Side Story, he said that Central City will provide the cast and some kind of direction, so that it will be “essentially in concert, but with a certain amount of theatrical elements.”

With the announcement of the anniversary season, the Boulder Philharmonic becomes the second local orchestra to build a season around an anniversary. Earlier this year the Colorado Music Festival announced its 2017 40th-anniversary season, also featuring the return of popular soloists.

The full Boulder Philharmonic program for the 2017–18 season is listed below.

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
2017-2018 Season
All concerts in Macky Auditorium
(Additional outreach events and repeat performances of selected programs
in metro Denver locations will be announced.)

7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017—Opening Night: Boulder Phil at 60
Christopher Theofanidis: Dreamtime Ancestors
(Colorado premiere and Boulder Phil co-commission)
Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, Jon Nakamatsu, piano
Dvořák: Symphony No. 7

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David Korevaar

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017—Music of Resistance
Beethoven: Choral Fantasy, David Korevaar, piano
CU Boulder and Western Illinois University Choirs
Britten: Ballad of Heroes
CU Boulder and Western Illinois University Choirs
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5

November 24 through November 26, 2017
The Nutcracker with Boulder Ballet

 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018—Bach Transfigured
C.P.E. Bach: Symphony in C Major, Wq 182
J.S. Bach: Keyboard Concerto in G minor, BWV 1068, Simone Dinnerstein, piano
Phillip Glass: Piano Concerto No. 3, Simone Dinnerstein, piano
(Colorado premiere and Boulder Phil co-commission)
Arnold Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night)

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Janice Martin

2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018—Cirque Goes to the Movies
Cirque de la Symphonie, with Janice Martin, aerial violinist
Featuring film scores including Harry Potter, Mission Impossible, Pirates of the Caribbean and On the Town.

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 7, 2018—A Song for Swans
Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending with dancers and Charles Wetherbee, violin
Sibelius: Symphony No. 5
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2, Stefan Jackiw, violin

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28, 2018—West Side Story: Bernstein at 100
Bernstein: West Side Story in Concert with Central City Opera and Metropolitan State University of Denver Choirs

Tickets: Subscription packages are now available.
Single tickets go on sale June 1, 2017.

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CORRECTION 3.6.17: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the world premiere of Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3 would be given the Mitteldeutsche Radiofunk Orchester of Leipzig. The world premiere will be given by A Far Cry in Boston.

Butterman and Boulder Phil shine in Romantic program

Brahms, Schumann and Dame Ethel Smyth were on the bill

By Peter Alexander

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Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic

In a program of Romantic and very late Romantic music, the Boulder Philharmonic sounded as good last night (Jan. 14) as I have ever heard them.

Most satisfying were two works from the heart of the Romantic era, Brahms’s darkly brooding Tragic Overture of 1880, and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor from 1851. These are pieces that suit the orchestra and its conductor, Michael Butterman, particularly well, and they both received warm, suitably emotive interpretations. The third work on the program, Ethel Smyth’s stylistically Romantic Concerto for Violin and Horn, composed in the 1920s, was a more complicated case.

The concert began with the Tragic Overture. A work that reflects the composer’s famously dour persona, it was nonetheless an effective opener. The sound was warm and plush from the very first note. The texture was clean and well balanced—a testament to the quality of players and Butterman’s preparation—even in the contrapuntal passages. Butterman controlled the momentum carefully, doing with interpretation what larger orchestras would do with weight of sound.

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Dame Ethel Smyth

Smyth’s Concerto is an interesting hybrid, a concerto for two instruments that seem not well matched in sound and character. It veers nervously from one musical idea to another, and from concerto to chamber music textures and back. At times one or the other soloist seems relegated to a secondary role, or even blends into the orchestra, while the other takes the spotlight.

Smyth seems to gradually get a handle on the combination. By the final movement they are sharing themes, playing together, and trading motives much more fluidly. Except for an overlong exit from their written-out cadenza, this is the most successful movement.

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Violinist Jennifer Frautschi

Soloists Jennifer Frautschi on violin and Eric Ruske on horn are outstanding players who had their parts well under control. Still, this may be a piece better heard in recordings, where the soloists can be electronically balanced. Certainly that was my experience; I was sitting on the left front of the house, looking straight into the bell of Ruske’s horn. There were times that was all I could hear, and Frautschi’s violin playing was muffled in comparison. I imagine that the balance was better farther back, or in the center of the hall.

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Horn player Eric Ruske

Considering that handicap, I hesitate to say more about the performance, except to note that Frautschi, Ruske and orchestra filled Macky with lovely sounds. The end of the slow movement and the shared material in the finale struck me as particularly enjoyable. The audience responded warmly.

The orchestra was again well balanced in the Schumann symphony. Some over-enthusiastic tympani playing in the first movement added punch to climactic moments, but at the cost of hearing full chords. The surging lines in the lower strings, a critical element of the score, were played with great momentum and richness of sound. The beautiful duo between cello and oboe in the slow movement was particularly effective.

Butterman responded well to Schumann’s sometimes mercurial moods, and controlled the musical flow to bring the symphony to a rousing conclusion. The enthusiasm of the audience was well earned.

The symphony was the first Schumann Butterman has programmed with the Phil. On the evidence of last night’s performance, he should do more; perhaps an orchestra that relishes portraying nature through sound will bring us the “Spring” Symphony in a future season.

Boulder Phil in fine form for Mozart, Beethoven and Adés

Dusinberre and Walther delightful in Mozart Sinfonia Concertante

By Peter Alexander

The Boulder Philharmonic was in fine form last night (Nov. 6), as they presented two exquisite soloists as part of a season of duo-solo performances.

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Edward Dusinberre and Geraldine Walther

Violinist Edward Dusinberre and violist Geraldine Walther, members of the Takacs Quartet, played Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola with the orchestra. Conductor Michael Butterman also led the Phil in a fascinating work by British composer Thomas Adés and a bracing performance of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony.

But first things first: Mozart. The interplay of the two soloists is central to the Sinfonia Concertante, and it is here that Dusinberre and Walther elevated their performance to the highest level. They are of course great individual players, but as members of a world-class string quartet, chamber music partners who play together professionally virtually every day, they have honed the ability to respond to one another in tone, mood, phrasing and pitch—all the myriad details that make a great performance.

Of all the delights they offered, I will single out one: There is a joint cadenza in the first movement, with the parts written out for the players. Walther and Dusinberre were so perfectly aligned in pitch and rhythm and the freedom of their phrasing that it sounded like one person on two instruments. I have never heard that passage better.

Their experienced partnership made the performance a pleasure to watch as well as hear. You could see the communication between them, as they shared their enjoyment of Mozart’s playful interchanges between soloists in the outer movements, and the beautiful sharing of extended melodies of the slow movement. And through their interactions, they shared that enjoyment with the audience.

It has to be said that Macky is not a great venue for this work There is a reason that Butterman has programmed more Romantic works than Mozart, in order to achieve what he calls “a sonic size appropriate for Macky Auditorium.” At times the Mozart sounded distant—and if it sounds that way from Row M, what must it sound like from the back or the mezzanine?

The concert began with Adés’s Three Studies from Couperin, orchestrations of harpsichord works by the French Baroque composer François Couperin. Himself a keyboard player, Adés has said that the best day he could imagine would be playing Couperin all day. I expect few in the audience have that degree of enthusiasm for the composer, but last night’s performance may well have boosted the appreciation for his strongly characterized and characteristic works.

Like the originals, Adés’s orchestrations are highly individual, offering a wondrous mix of colors. These are watercolors to the bright paintings of some orchestra arrangements—subtle and subdued hues that were given a well blended and warm interpretation by Butterman and the orchestra.

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Michael Butterman. Photo by Glenn Ross

Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony was the first orchestral score I ever owned, so the rare performances are always both musical and nostalgic treasures for me. I admit I am prejudiced in favor of anyone who programs the Eighth, but I was definitely not disappointed by last night’s performance. Even though the Eighth is scored for a smaller classical orchestra, without trombones or doubled winds, the Phil’s sound was full enough to create a real presence in the hall.

Butterman’s interpretation was highly energetic, a bit on the muscular side, but none the less enjoyable for that. He found a good balance between Beethovenian outbursts, aided and abetted by a vigorous timpanist, and the more lyrical and light-hearted moments of the symphony. The second movement, marked Allegretto scherzando, was very brisk, more scherzando than allegretto. A slightly slower pace would allow the listener to enjoy Beethoven’s good cheer a bit more in this cheeky, clucking stand-in for a slow movement.

The finale was, as it should be, even faster, but here the tempo worked entirely to Beethoven’s advantage. The Boulder Philharmonic stayed right with Butterman’s galloping pace right to the end. Beethoven’s Eighth is perhaps too light hearted to elicit cheers, but the performance was more than worthy of a hearty “Bravo!”

Opening Night: Bracing, energetic, rough

Boulder Philharmonic begins conductor Michael Butterman’s 10th-anniversary season

By Peter Alexander

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Conductor Michael Butterman began his 10th anniversary season with the Boulder Philharmonic

The Boulder Philharmonic gave a mixed performance last night, playing an intriguing program to launch its 2016–17 season.

The selections ranged from the familiar—Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini—to the not quite familiar—Tchaikovsky’s tuneful Symphony No. 2—to the almost exotic—Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos. The dynamic young piano duo of Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe were soloists.

The performance had plenty of energy and many lovely moments, but it also suffered from being the orchestra’s first outing of the season. At times the sound was a little rough, the players not quite together, but in the end the high energy of the performance won out.

Boulder Phil principal cellist Charles Lee introduced the proceedings with announcements of his (20th) and Butterman’s (10th) anniversary seasons with the orchestra. Next, board vice-president Rudy Perez acquitted himself admirably, leading the orchestra in the Star Spangled Banner—not the easiest piece for a non-professional conductor—and then happily turned the musicians over to Butterman.

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Duo pianists Anderson and Roe

To open the actual program, Anderson and Roe gave a bracing performance of Poulenc’s Concerto. Unfamiliar enough that Butterman gave a spoken introduction, with a recording of a Balinese gamelan to illustrate one of Poulenc’s inspirations, the concerto won the audience’s favor and a hearty ovation.

For their part, Anderson and Roe gave a scintillating performance. This is piece that it pays to hear live: the give and take between the players can be seen and enjoyed, but not necessarily heard on a recording. With their exuberant performing style, Anderson and Roe provided a visual element that only enhanced these musical exchanges and the sudden shifts in mood.

The Mozartian slow movement, played with great tenderness and pleasure by the soloists, was a delight to hear, and the spice and energy of the finale were contagious. From beginning to end, the concerto was thoroughly satisfying.

Roe returned alone as soloist for Rachmaninoff’s much loved Rhapsody. She played with great aplomb, from the strongest chords to the most delicate moments. The expressiveness of her playing and the intensity of her commitment to the music were deeply moving.

There was some lovely playing from individual musicians, moments of real beauty, but on the whole the orchestra was not at its best here. The piano forced the players farther back than usual, and the winds, sounding from the deep confines of the narrow Macky stage, were not always clear or well balanced.

Before intermission, Anderson and Roe appeared together again for two encores, giving them the opportunity to show why they are known as such charismatic players. In arrangements of Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango” and Bernstein’s “Mambo” from West Side Story, they gave teasing, saucy performances that delighted the audience. It was sheer entertainment that did not sacrifice one iota of musicality.

After intermission, Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony started with a dramatic chord and impressive horn solo. A faster tempo was momentarily ragged, but as the performance picked up energy from movement to movement, it became more compelling. The finale, a perfect example of Tchaikovsky’s ability to build momentum and excitement, became a showcase for the brass and timpani. Butterman’s careful dynamic control gave great impact to the ending.

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This is an important season for the Boulder Philharmonic, and not just because of Butterman’s anniversary. In March the orchestra has been invited to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., one of four orchestras nationwide to be selected for the inaugural SHIFT Festival of American Orchestras. By then, the orchestra will have had plenty of time to coalesce and work out the little kinks from last night’s performance.

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Geraldine Walther and Edward Dusinberre

In the meantime, the remainder of the season here in Boulder is based on an intriguing notion: collaboration between musical pairs. Anderson and Roe were the first examples of that theme. Later concerts will feature Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, played by Edward Dusinberre and Geraldine Walther of the Takacs Quartet (Nov. 6); Ethel Smyth’s Concerto for violin and horn, played by guests Jennifer Frautschi and Eric Ruske (Jan. 14); and the world premier of Stephen Goss’s Double Concerto for violin, guitar, strings and percussion, played by CU faculty Charles Wetherbee, who is also the Phil’s concertmaster, and Nicoló Spera (April 22).

Like last night’s concert, the programs for these and other concerts on the season range from the familiar to the exotic. You can see the full season listing on the Boulder Phil Web page. There is much to look forward to.

Boulder Philharmonic opens season with ‘joie de vivre’

By Peter Alexander

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Duo pianists Anderson & Roe. Photo by Lisa-marie Mazzucco.

It sounds just like Boulder: “a mixture of cheeky irreverence and sophistication, elegant and raucous.”

It’s actually conductor Michael Butterman describing the first piece of the Boulder Philharmonic’s 2016-17 season. The opening concert, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Boulder and 2 p.m. Sunday in Denver, will begin with Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos.

You may not know the concerto, but Butterman is pretty sure Boulder audiences will enjoy it. “There’s a real joie de vivre about the outer movements,” he says. “The middle movement, though, is a testament to the surpassing beauty that can be conveyed through utter simplicity.”

Soloists for the concerto will be the duo pianists Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe. After the Poulenc, Roe will return to the stage alone to perform Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, one of the most-familiar, and most-beloved works in the piano-and-orchestra repertoire. The program concludes with Tchaikovsky’s tuneful but little performed Symphony No. 2 (“Little Russian”).

Anderson and Roe have made a name for themselves among duo pianists by reaching beyond the classical repertoire and audiences to embrace popular styles as well. They have posted a number of adventurous videos on their web page, including music by Taylor Swift and Coldplay, alongside arrangements of music from Star Wars, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and pieces by Mozart, Stockhausen and Schubert.

“Both of us are just fascinated by the whole realm of music,” Roe says.

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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Anderson & Roe. Photo by Lisa-marie Mazzucco.

Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, music director
Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe, duo pianists
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8
Mack Auditorium, Boulder

2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9
Pinnacle Performing Arts Complex, 1001 W. 84th Ave., Denver

POULENC   Concerto for Two Pianos
Anderson and Roe, duo pianists

RACHMANINOFF   Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini
Elizabeth Joy Roe, piano

TCHAIKOVSKY   Symphony No. 2 (“Little Russian”)

Tickets

Composer Stephen Lias reveals his plan for a new piece for Boulder Phil

Rocky Mountain N.P. provides the inspiration for All the Songs that Nature Sings

By Peter Alexander

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Stephen Lias on the porch of the William Allen White Cabin in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photos by Peter Alexander.

Composer Stephen Lias sits on the porch of the William Allen White Cabin in Rocky Mountain National Park and looks over the Moraine Park meadow.

“It feels right to me to have formed this plan, based on words by Enos Mills, read from a book in this cabin, looking at this scenery,” he says. “Everything about its connectedness to this place feels just right.”

The plan he is referring to is for a new piece that he has been commissioned to write for the Boulder Philharmonic. It will be premiered by the Boulder Phil and conductor Michael Butterman at their subscription concert March 25, 2017, and subsequently performed by them at the SHIFT Festival in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C, March 28.

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The view from the cabin: Lias in front of the Moraine Park meadow

Lias has just spent nearly two weeks in the cabin, which is reserved by the park for artists in residence. Although he was not technically an artist in residence this year, as he was in 2010, the cabin was unoccupied for a few days in early June, and the park invited Lias to stay there while preparing his piece for the Boulder Philharmonic.

Known as an adventurer/composer, Lias has written a number of pieces portraying his experiences in national parks. In 2014, the Boulder Phil opened their season with his Gates of the Arctic, conceived during a National Parks Residency in Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park. It was performed with synchronized images from the park, as will be the piece to be premiered in March.

The Boulder Phil won a National Endowment for the Arts grant to support their participation in the 2017 SHIFT Festival. They chose Lias for the commission because the theme of their participation in the festival is the orchestra’s ongoing celebration of music and nature.

The title of Lias’s new piece will be All the Songs that Nature Sings, which comes from a book by Enos Mills, The Rocky Mountain National Park, that Lias found on the shelves of the William Allen White Cabin. Sometimes called “The Father of Rocky Mountain National Park,” Mills was a naturalist and nature writer in the early years of the 20th century who championed the establishment of the park.

The title “is a beautiful quote in Mills’s book,” Lias says. “He’s talking about how the trails take us to all of these amazing places and scenes and wildlife and it has at its heart ‘all the songs that nature sings.’”

Lias has only written a few musical ideas at this point, but he has formed an overall design for the piece in his mind. Based on visual images taken in the park, the plan is virtually cinematic in nature. “Imagine a camera starting with something small and intimate in nature and then slowly zooming outward, bit by bit until you can see a rock, and then a bush, and then a tree, and then a river, and then a waterfall, and then a mountain, and then a range of mountains,” he explains.

“When we can see this amazing place, the range of mountains that sits here in this park, that will be the climax of the piece, and then it will start panning back in again, zooming slowly, slowly, slowly until we end the piece with another intimate shot of some very small thing. So it’s going to be a slow growth outward, and then a slow growth back inward.”

That visual plan grew out of Lias’s poring through photos of the park. “We knew from the beginning that this commission involved a composition that would have synchronized images with it,” he says.

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Lias working in the William Allen White Cabin in Rocky Mountain National Park

“Back in January I came up to the park and met with the staff and we talked about the imagery that might be used. The park gave me a hard drive of 700 and some images that we had culled from their archives, and so in addition to thinking about what I wanted the musical shape to be, I’ve known that there needed to be visual material.”

With the inspiration strong and the plan firmly in mind, Lias packs up his bags to get on with the rest of his summer plans—including leading a workshop on “Composing in the Wilderness” in Alaska. But none of that, he says, will get in the way of a piece firmly rooted in Rocky Mountain National Park.

“The very beginning notes of the piece have been written here in this cabin,” Lias says. “It will take me many months to complete, but it will still be deeply grounded to this place.”

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Information and tickets for the Boulder Philharmonic’s 2016–17 season may be found here.