Grace Notes: Reminders of two concerts this coming weekend

By Peter Alexander Oct. 28 at 9:50 p.m.

Boulder Phil presents “The Art of Jazz” Saturday at Mountain View Methodist

The Boulder Philharmonic will perform the second of their two short concerts scheduled for the month of October at 4 p.m Saturday, Oct. 30, in the Mountain View United Methodist  church in Boulder.

Tickets are available through the Boulder Phil Web page. Audience members will be required to present proof of vaccination and wear masks throughout the concert. The short program will be presented without intermission, to reduce interaction among audience members. You may read the orchestra’s full, up-to-date COVID protocols here.  

The program features three pieces for small orchestra that were influenced by American jazz: the Jazz Suite No. 1 by Shostakovich, Darius Milhaud’s Creation of the World, and Little Threepenny Music, an orchestral suite arranged from the music for Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. Michael Butterman will conduct. You may read more about this performance in an earlier post on this blog.

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Takacs Quartet performs music by Mozart, Henri Dutilleux and Smatana

The Takacs Quartet will present the second of their 2021-22 campus concerts at 4 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, in Grusin Music Hall of the CU Imig Music Building.

Masks must be worn inside all buildings on the CU campus. Please note that online streaming tickets for Sunday’s performance are also available, and the stream will remain available for a full week following the Monday performance. Tickets for both in-person attendance at the streamed performance are available through CU Presents.

The quartet will play three works on the concert. One is a familiar part of the standard string quartet repertoire: Mozart’s String Quartet in D minor, K421/417b. The others are less familiar: Ainsi la suit by the French composer Henri Dutilleux, and the String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, “From my Life,” by Smetana. You may read more about this performance in an earlier post on this blog.

Longmont and Boulder orchestras return to live performances for grateful audiences

Abbreviated concerts featured careful COVID protocols, no intermissions

By Peter Alexander Oct. 3 at 11:30 p.m.

For a short time this past weekend, you could have believed that concert life in Longmont and Boulder had returned to normal.

Of course, no one knows what tomorrow will bring. But both the Longmont Symphony and the Boulder Philharmonic presented their first in-person concerts in nearly two years, and sitting in the audience hearing live music was a welcome return to near-normal.

Longmont Symphony Saturday (Oct. 2) with soloist Hsing-ay Hsu and conductor Elliot Moore in Vance Brand Auditorium

Both concerts—the LSO at Vance Brand Auditorium at 7 p.m. Saturday, and the Boulder Phil at Mountain View Methodist Church at 4 p.m. Sunday—had restrictions that for now we might consider the “new normal.” In both cases, patrons were met outside by orchestra representatives checking proof of vaccination and ID, masks were required at all times, and seating was limited to less than full capacity of the respective venues. Conductors and orchestral string players wore masks for the performances as well. Both concerts were presented without intermission, so that the audience did not have the chance to mix and mingle. 

Both conductors, Elliot Moore with the LSO and Michael Butterman with the Boulder Phil, commented on how good it felt to be back, and both were greeted with enthusiasm. I would add that both concerts received standing ovations, but that has long since become normal, so it is not really anything new.

The Longmont Symphony began with a rousing performance of Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture. In his introduction, Moore noted that in spite of its name, the overture is not really academic in nature, because it is actually based on student drinking songs of Brahms’s era. As Moore intended, it started the post-pandemic musical scene with infectious energy. 

Brahms was followed by Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major, K414, featuring soloist Hsing-ay Hsu. She introduced the concerto with heartfelt remarks about the opportunity to perform again before an audience, and played with solid confidence and sensitivity. The concert of orchestral repertory standards ended with Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor. Any minor lapses of intonation or ensemble were easily forgiven for musicians who had not played together for so many months. Shouts of “Bravo” were heard through the standing ovation.

Michael Butterman leads the Boulder Philharmonic in Haydn’s Symphony No. 1 at Mountain View Methodist Church

Butterman chose much less standard works for the Boulder Phil’s return to the stage. Two works by Haydn were featured, none of them among the composer’s better known symphonies or concertos. In fact, the concert started at the very beginning, one could say, with Haydn’s Symphony No. 1 of 1759. A three-movement work of about 12 minutes in length, it has the tunefulness and energy, if not the sophistication, of Haydn’s larger late Symphonies. “If you liked that piece,” Butterman quipped, “there are 100 more like it!” (For the record, current research has identified 108 symphonies by Haydn.)

The symphony was paired with Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante written for London in 1792, a larger and more mature work that features violin, oboe, cello and bassoon soloists with orchestra. The principal players from the orchestra played the solo parts with elan and polish. Using modern instruments, and heard in a church that has only a cement floor due to ongoing renovations, the orchestral sound struck me as a little on the thick side, not as transparent as Haydn would have expected.

Butterman’s final work for the program is one that he particularly loves, the Petite symphonie concertante by the 20th-century Swiss composer Frank Martin. It was a treat to hear this genuine rarity live in concert. It is scored for a double string orchestra with harpsichord, piano and harp soloists, creating an utterly unique sound world. Although written using 12-tone techniques, the music is often consonant, always enjoyable, and unlike any other piece I know. 

Butterman led the orchestra with obvious relish. The size and full-bodied sound of the Phil’s strings was ideal for a 20th-century work. In his analytical introduction to the score, Butterman said that he hoped that the audience would enjoy the Petite symphonie concertante as much as he does. I can’t speak for the rest of the audience, but hearing a committed live performance of an intriguing rarity was the weekend’s highlight for me. 

Like both audiences, I was thrilled to hear live music again, and to be back in the hall with musicians who love what they are doing. More, please!

NOTE: Minor typos and editing errors corrected Monday, 10/4.

Boulder Phil “together again” for two short concerts in October

Performances at Mountain View Methodist will be played without intermission

By Peter Alexander Sept. 29 at 3:40 p.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra will be “together again,” as their first in-person concert since the pandemic is titled.

Two concerts for a reduced orchestra have been scheduled for October, both in the intimate Mountain View United Methodist Church in Boulder. Concerts in Macky Auditorium are scheduled to resume in 2022.

The Boulder Phil’s last pubic performances were recorded for online streaming during 2020-21.

The two October concerts will be “Together Again” at 4 p.m Sunday, Oct. 3, featuring music by Haydn and the Swiss composer Frank Martin; and “The Art of Jazz” at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30, featuring music of Shostakovich, Darius Milhaud and Kurt Weill. (Full programs are listed below.) Tickets for both concerts may be purchased at the Boulder Phil Webpage.

For safety reasons, both programs will be approximately one hour in length and will be played without intermission. In keeping with current COVID protocols in Boulder County, everyone attending these performances must be fully vaccinated, and must wear masks at all times. Consequently, children under the age of 12 cannot be admitted. 

The Boulder Philharmonic’s COVID-19 Health & Safety protocols are listed here

The first October concert, “Together Again,” features intriguing but little known works for small orchestra. Haydn’s Symphony No. 1 in D major was written in 1759 for Karl Joseph Count Morzin, a member of the Austrian nobility, before Haydn went to work for his better known employer Count Esterhazy. The symphony has three movements and lasts only about 12 minutes, making it a miniature precursor of the larger form that Haydn subsequently established over this career. 

The other two pieces on the program are sinfonias concertante, works similar to concertos with multiple soloists. The Sinfonia Concertante by Haydn, composed in London in 1792, features two soprano-bass instrument pairs: violin and cello, oboe and bassoon. Written on short notice near the end of Haydn’s first visit to London, the score treats the soloists as chamber musicians more than virtuoso soloists, and was a hit with English audiences. 

Composer Frank Martin, featured on a Swiss postage stamp

The second such work on the program is Martin’s Petite symphonie concertante (little sinfonia concertante). Composed at the end of World War II, it is scored for double string orchestra and a solo group that loosely corresponds to the Baroque continuo: harpsichord, piano and harp. This unusual combination creates a unique sound world that Boulder Phil music director Michael Butterman describes as “Bach and Stravinsky meet the Addams Family.”

The second concert in October, “The Art of Jazz,” shifts gears fully into the 20th century for three pieces by European composers that reflect, in different ways, the world-wide influence of American jazz. The least serious jazz influence is heard in the Jazz Suite No. 1 by Shostakovich, written in 1934 for a Leningrad dance band. The light and tuneful score, with a waltz, a polka and a foxtrot, is as much central European as jazzy, likely because at the time genuine jazz was either unknown or forbidden in the Soviet Union. 

However, French composer Darius Milhaud was certainly exposed to authentic jazz, during a 1922 trip to the United States that took him into Harlem nightclubs. A year later he wrote a ballet for the modernist Swedish dance company Ballets Suédois titled La Création du monde (The creation of the world) in which he refracted the jazz he had heard in Harlem through his own very French sensibility to create a work that is sui generis

Milhaud was especially impressed with the jazz drummers he heard, playing what he called “a complicated percussion section played by just one man.” He includes a full drum set in the score of Création du monde, as well as a saxophone that takes the place of viola in a string quartet and at times emerges as a soloist. Other echoes of Harlem can be heard in the brass-heavy scoring and the writing for clarinet, string bass and trombone.

Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya in New York in 1942

The final piece on the program refracts American jazz through the decadent cabaret scene in Berlin during the 1920s. Kurt Weill’s Dreigroschenoper (Threepenny Opera), a free translation into German by Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht of the 18th-century Beggar’s Opera, was premiered in 1928. By the time it was banned by the Nazis in 1933, it had been translated in 18 languages and had been performed at least 10,000 times in Europe.

Weill’s music for the Dreigroschenoper was written for a small pit band of doubling players, much like modern Broadway shows. Weill easily made a transition to Broadway when the rise of the Nazis forced him to leave Germany. Among his subsequent American theatrical hits was the posthumous 1956 off-Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera, which earned a Tony Award for the singer Lotte Lenya. Songs from that version, including “Mack the Knife” and “Pirate Jenny,”  became well known in the United States through numerous pop covers.

The orchestral suite from the original show, Little Threepenny Music, was compiled in 1929, capturing the acerbic sound of Weill’s music without the bitter cynicism of Brecht’s lyrics.

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Butterman, music director

Together again
4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3
Featuring soloists from the orchestra

  • HAYDN  Symphony No. 1 in D Major
  • HAYDN  Sinfonia concertante in B-flat Major
  • MARTIN  Petite symphonie concertante, Op. 54

The Art of Jazz
4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30

  • SHOSTAKOVICH  Jazz Suite No. 1
  • MILHAUD  The Creation of the World, Op. 81a
  • WEILL  Little Threepenny Music

Bother performances at Mountain View United Methodist Church
355 Ponca Place, Boulder

TICKETS

NOTE: The second concert listing was corrected 10/28. Oct. 30 is Saturday, not Sunday.

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

Boulder Phil concludes re-imagined season with all-strings program

Orchestra partners with Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance 

By Peter Alexander April 22 at 4:12 p.m

Collaborations during a pandemic have to come in through the back door, as it were.

Frequent Flyers with the Boulder Philharmonic. Photo by
David Andrews

In the case of the Boulder Philharmonic and Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance, who are joining together for the orchestra’s final concert of the 2020-21 season, the musicians recorded Korine Fujiwara’s Suite from Claudel in one venue, and then the dancers performed to the recorded music in another venue. The resulting performance will be shown online at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24.

Korine Fujiwara is also violist in the Carpe Diem String Quartet

It will remain available until Saturday, May 8. You may access the stream through the Boulder Phil Web page

Originally written for string quartet, the three movements of the Suite from Claudel were arranged for string orchestra by the composer. To simplify COVID precautions, Boulder Phil music director Michael Butterman wanted to have an entire program for strings, who can wear masks while playing. 

In addition to Fujiwara’s Suite, the program features the Lyric for Strings by George Walker and an arrangement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (known as the “Pastoral Symphony”) for string sextet.

Michael Butterman, music director of the Phil, noted that the orchestra has collaborated with Frequent Flyers several times in the past. “In this re-imagined season, I wanted to retain the community collaborations that have been a hallmark of our work as an orchestra,” he says.

Camille Claudel (l) at work in her studio

Fujiwara’s Claudel was originally a ballet celebrating the life and work of Camille Claudel, a pioneering woman sculptor of the early 20th century. Butterman identified three pieces from the larger ballet that he particularly liked, and asked the composer if she would arrange those movements for full string orchestra.

He also shared the music with Nancy Smith, artistic director of Frequent Flyers. She agreed to choreograph the suite, and decided to incorporate some elements of Claudel’s story. The three movements are titled “In the Woman’s Studio,” “Waltz” and “Age of Maturity”; the last two are taken from names of two of Claudel’s best-known works.

Butterman had hoped to record the entire piece together with the dancers, but that proved impractical under pandemic conditions. Instead, the Suite was recorded with the rest of the musical program at Mountain View Methodist Church, and several weeks later the dancers recorded their performance at the Dairy Center. Putting them together, along with the entire musical performance, is being engineered by Michael Quam of Quam Audio.

George Walker

Walker’s Lyric for Strings is one of the most performed string orchestra works of the 20th century. The first African-American composer to win the Pulitzer Prize, Walker was also the father of former Boulder Phil Concertmaster Gregory Walker.

Also titled “Lament,” the Lyric for Strings was composed in 1946 and dedicated to the memory of the composer’s grandmother. “It is a deeply felt work,” Butterman says. 

“It’s a good connection with our current moment, elegiac but [with] a lot of consolation. There’s a lot of sorrow, but also hope and rays of optimism, so it seems like a piece that in addition to being beautiful to listen to, can say something to our current moment.”

For modern audiences, the most unusual piece on the program will be the sextet arrangement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. In Beethoven’s lifetime, arrangements of orchestral works for small ensembles were common. In a time when there were no recordings and orchestral concerts were infrequent, such arrangements were made and sold for home performances of music most people would otherwise not be able to hear.

The Sextet arrangement was made by M.G. Fischer, an organist and composer who was Beethoven’s contemporary. It was published in the composer’s lifetime by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, one of the most important European music publishers. That original edition has now been reprinted, for anyone who wants to try this at home. 

“A German orchestra shared this sextet version very early on in the pandemic,” Butterman explains. “Someone forwarded it to me and said, ‘Isn’t this great?’ And I thought it was.

“This captures quite well a work for full orchestra, but just with these six players. I wanted to have a masterwork or two on our season, and here’s a masterpiece of the full orchestral repertoire.”

Butterman says that the musicians enjoyed playing it, but found it challenging because they know it almost too well. “It’s kind of the same, but enough not that you really have to stay focused,” he says. “They’re busy all the time. They have to handle all of the things that they previously had to handle, but now they’re also given these other things to play, wind parts or whatever. It’s a tiring piece to play.”

Looking back over the past season, Butterman sees some good things that came out of the pandemic. “It’s been a year of experimentation and one that we’ve grown a lot in our understanding of how to share music with the public,” he says.

“There are some aspects that we’re going to take forward and continue to utilize in positive ways.”

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Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance

  • George Walker: Lyric for Strings
  • Korine Fujiwara: Suite from Claudel
    Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68 (“Pastoral”), arr. M.G. Fischer

Stream available at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24
Pre-performance discussion at 7 p.m.

Tickets available here.

Note: Typos corrected 4/22/21.

Boulder Philharmonic continues exploring music for small orchestra

Streamed concert available April 3 will feature Stravinsky’s “Soldier’s Tale”

By Peter Alexander April 2 at 1 p.m.

The past year has been the year of the chamber orchestra.

To respect the need for safe distancing between players, orchestras including the Boulder Philharmonic have presented entire programs of music written, or arranged, for reduced orchestra or chamber ensembles. Each of the Philharmonic’s 2020-21 performances has been recorded and streamed for ticket purchasers to access from the safety of their homes—as most orchestras have done.

That trend continues with the Phil’s next concert, but with a twist. The one piece on the program for Saturday (April 3, available from 7:30 p.m.), Stravinsky’s theater piece L’Histoire du soldat (The soldier’s tale), is ideal for performance during a pandemic—because it was in fact written during the last global pandemic, the Spanish Flu of 1918–19.

Stravinsky sat out World War I in Switzerland. As the war was coming to an end, the production of large-scale works, such as his previous ballets The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring, was no longer possible. Instead, Stravinsky thought of creating a theater piece for a small group of musicians and actors that could be toured to Swiss villages. 

Stravinsky and the Swiss writer C.F. Ramuz collaborated to write L’Histoire du soldat, based on a Russian folk tale and written for seven players (violin, string bass, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone and percussion), three actors and a dancer—ideal numbers for safely distanced performances. In the end, the flu defeated Stravinsky’s plan for a tour, but L’Histoire was premiered in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1918. The music has retained a place in the chamber orchestra repertoire, and the score is important as a bellwether of the transition from the massive musical works of the pre-war period to the neo-classicism of the late 19-teens and ‘20s.

The folktale that provided the plot is one that Stravinsky knew from Russia, but it is found in many different cultures: A lonely soldier engages in a contest with the devil. This is a well known story, from legends of Paganini selling his soul for unnatural fiddle skills, to Blues musicians being in league with the devil, to the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

C.F. Ramuz and Stravinsky

In the story worked up by Stravinsky and Ramuz, the soldier trades his fiddle—representing his soul—to the devil for knowledge that will make him wealthy. The soldier prospers and marries a princess, but the devil returns and triumphs in the end. 

“I think it’s a confusing story to follow,” Michael Butterman, conductor of the Boulder Phil, says. “It helps to have some frame of reference. I’m going to give a brief outline of what’s happening, so that people understand that the devil keeps coming back in different guises and disguises.”

The basic moral of the story, Butterman says, is that the soldier gets lots of stuff, but stuff doesn’t make him happy. “It’s all nothing without the fiddle—that’s your soul,” Butterman says. This is essentially the message of a passage from the Gospel According to Mark, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Butterman suggests.

Although 20th-century modernist in style, the music is easily grasped by listeners. “We have marches,” Butterman explains. “Although they are not totally regular in their march rhythm, they still feel like left, right, left, right. You have three dances that are stylized, but clearly identifiable. And there’s chorales that sound like chorales.”

The dances are a tango, a waltz, and one titled “Ragtime”—but, Butterman observes, “it’s not going to remind anybody of Scott Joplin.” Stravinsky had never heard American jazz performed, although he had some printed copies. He used the rhythms as he saw them on the page and listeners will likely recognize the syncopations.

Michael Butterman. Photo by Rene Palmer.

“Stravinsky sees everything through his own unique prism,” Butterman says. “What’s interesting about the piece to me is that it sounds less complex that it appears on the page. It’s a very complicated piece to put together and to conduct, just technically speaking. Much of the music does not line up at all with the meter that he’s [notated].”

Those are complications for the performers, but not necessarily for the listeners. “There’s enough familiar both in terms of the story and in terms of the musical forms that you know where to glom onto it” Butterman says. “The music is accessible, it’s not highly dissonant, it’s downright tuneful, quite clever, and always given to you in digestible chunks.”

The performance is presented in collaboration with the CU Department of Theater and Dance and the Boulder Ballet. The performance, which has already been recorded, was staged by Bud Coleman, department chair. Theater students fill the roles of four actors—a narrator, the soldier, and two actors to portray the devil. Boulder Ballet has provided the dancer and choreography.

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Members of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Butterman, conductor
Staged by Bud Coleman with actors from the CU Dept. of Theater and Danc
Dance from the Boulder Ballet

Stravinsky: L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale)

Available at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 3 (through April 17)

Pre-concert discussion at 7 p.m.

Tickets

“A CELLO-BRATION”: THE CELLO TAKES THE SPOTLIGHT

Soloist Zuill Bailey joins the Boulder Phil for an intimate, cello-centric program. 

By Izzy Fincher March 11 at 9:35 p.m.

“Why write for violin when there is cello?” Rachmaninov asked. 

There is something particularly captivating about the cello, with its sonorous tenor and subtle grandeur. It is wildly expressive—lyrical, passionate and romantic, yet also mournful and solemn, and profound in a way that captures the heart and soul.

Zuill Bailey

To celebrate this instrument, the Boulder Phil will present “A Celebration of Cello” with soloist Zuill Bailey, streamed from 7:30 p.m., on Saturday, March 13.

The cello-centric program includes a reduced instrumentation of Schumann’s Cello Concerto and a double-cello concerto by contemporary Italian composer Giovanni Sollima. Other works on the program are a violin trio by the Phil’s own Paul Trapkus, plus works by Debussy and Wagner.

Bailey, a Grammy-award winning cellist, will lead the “cello-bration.” He will appear on two contrasting concertos, which displays the cello’s multifaceted personality. In Schumann’s Concerto in A minor, the cello’s sensitive lyricism is shown, while Sullima’s double- concerto, to be performed with Boulder Phil principal cellist Charles Lee, exhibits more of the cello’s boldness and virtuosity.

“In Schumann’s concerto, the cello is refined and elegant,” Boulder Phil conductor Michael Butterman says. “Whereas in Sollima’s (double concerto), the cello is an outgoing, extroverted rebel. The cadenza feels like rock’n’roll—it shreds. It’s crazy, with a lot of flash, energy and edginess.”

Lee believes the energetic double-cello concerto, titled “Violencelles, Vibrez!” (Cellos, vibrate!), will be a highlight of the program. Sollima, an Italian cellist and post-minimalist composer, juxtaposes the cello’s different moods, moving from brooding, dark echoes to a sweet, lyrical duet to a brisk, vivacious cadenza. 

Charles Lee at rehearsal with the Boulder Phil

“It starts very mysterious and lyrical with long, romantic lines, using lots of vibrato, sustaining sounds,” Lee says. “The added element of two cellists alternating gives it a special effect, like an echoing cave.” 

In the opening, the two cello lines weave together, nearly indistinguishable from each other. “At first, it’s not so striking that there are two cellos when you don’t focus on the visuals,” Lee says.

Later, the distinct cello parts emerge in captivating musical dialogue, riffing off each other’s energy in a virtuosic display. Lee described the cadenza with Bailey as exciting but very challenging to play. 

The rest of the program focuses on orchestral works, adapted for a smaller chamber setting, including Debussy’sPrelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll,” an intimate musical love letter to his wife Cosima. 

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun has been arranged for chamber orchestra, created by Schoenberg’s student Benno Sachs during World War I. It was first played for Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances, a chamber concert series held in Vienna from 1918 to 1921. 

During the war and the 1918 Flu Pandemic, chamber series like this one were popular in Europe due to limited financial resources and available musicians. Now, in our current pandemic, the reorchestration is once again ideal for a smaller, socially-distanced orchestra. 

Though the cello isn’t directly in the spotlight in either work, it still plays a more prominent role than usual. “When you adapt a large work for a smaller ensemble, the cellos become even more noticeable and exaggerated,” Lee says.

“We usually aren’t the go-to melody instrument (in larger works). When the cellos take the melody, it’s a treat.”

The violin, however, does snatch back the orchestral spotlight with Trapkus’ Trio for 3 Violins. Trapkus, a former violinist for the Boulder Phil, is also an active composer, who has written four works for string quartet and string ensemble. “Trio for 3 Violins,” written in 2012, features the three violins as equal soloists, and its energetic, minimalistic aesthetic is similar to Sullima’s Violencelles, Vibrez!.  

Paul Trapkus

Butterman is excited for the Boulder Phil to perform Trapkus’s trio for the first time. He believes the Boulder Municipal Airport’s hangar, where the concert was filmed last fall, is an ideal setting for the trio, far more intimate than Macky Auditorium.  

“(The trio) is a work that I found interesting, tuneful and appealing on first hearing,” Butterman says. “It uses a lot of repeated, minimalistic patterns. There’s a lot of interplay, exchanges of ideas and taking turns between the three equal violin parts.”

Despite the brief violin interlude, the concert is still a “cello-bration” through and through. For cello lovers, it should be a special treat—a musical extravaganza with two talented soloists.

As Bailey comments, “I always say the only thing better than a cello is two cellos.”

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“A Celebration of Cello”
The Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor. with
Zuill Bailey and Charles Lee, cellos

Debussy, arr. Schoenberg: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Schumann, arr. Philip Lasser: Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129
Paul Trapkus: Trio for 3 Violins
Giovanni Sollima: Violencelles, Vibrez!
Wagner: Siegfried Idyll

Tickets can be purchased for $40 here. The concert can be streamed starting at 7:30 p.m., on Saturday, March 13. 

Boulder Phil season takes flight from Boulder Airport

First concert of an all-online season

By Peter Alexander Oct. 18 at 1 a.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic successfully launched their 2020-21 season of online concerts, “2020-21 Reimagined,” last night (Oct. 17).

Or should I say the season took flight, since the performance was recorded in an airplane hangar at boulder Municipal Airport? The stream, which premiered at 7:30 p.m., will remain available for the next two weeks to people who hold tickets.

Screenshot: The Boulder Philharmonic streaming from the Brungard Aviation hangar at Boulder Municipal Airport

To allow for responsible safety precautions, the program was entirely music for strings—string players can wear masks—and a small ensemble—if too many are spaced too far apart, the players cannot see and hear one another. Music director Michael Butterman lead the group in three pieces: Strum by Jesse Montgomery; the Simple Symphony of Benjamin Britten; and Max Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons,

In addition to being written for strings, the pieces have another feature in common: like the season, each work has been reimagined in some way. Strum was first written for string quintet, then string quartet, and lastly for string orchestra. Britten mined pieces he wrote as a child for the themes of his Simple Symphony. And post-minimalist composer Richter has created a striking tapestry of music taken from one of the most popular works of the Baroque era, sometimes played as Vivaldi wrote it, sometimes manipulated rhythmically, harmonically, or in other more subtle ways.

Screenshot: Michael Butterman

The performances were what we would expect from the Boulder Phil: all at a professional level, played with commitment and expression. I don’t want to go much beyond that in reviewing the performance, however, since so much of what you hear depends on the equipment you use. Just like a play that is turned into a film, this product represents a separate medium from a live concert, one that that meets the viewer/listener on both the visual and aural levels.

I experienced the concert from a desktop iMac with Logitech Z4 speakers, including a woofer. These are moderately good speakers, certainly much better than what you will hear from built-in sound sources on most desktop or laptop computers, much less tablets or (God forbid!) your smartphone. 

Screenshot: Cellist Charles Lee

I was surprised that the lower pitches came through very well. A short passage by principal cellist Charles Lee was the richest and warmest sounding solo of the program. The sound of the violins, and particularly concertmaster Charles Wetherbee as soloist for Richter/Vivaldi, thinned out as it got higher on the instrument. While not precluding full enjoyment of the music, this does point to the limits of the online concert medium.

A word about the visual presentation: as the Phil’s first online production, I thought the concert was very successful. There were strategically placed cameras giving good visual variety, with closeups of individual players as well as longer shots that made good use of the props available in an airplane hangar (pun intended; I promise, no more aviation jokes).

For the Britten performance, there were closed captions available with information about the piece being played. This was presented as an experiment; I hope it is one that will be repeated with more sophisticated captions. Perhaps a little more explanation of the musical terms would be useful for the many members of the audience who do not have the advantage of years in music school. How many, for example, know the significance of the relative major key? Maybe online music theory lessons will be next.

Screenshot: Closed captions during the online performance

The introductions by Butterman, a conversation between Butterman and Wetherbee, and an introduction to her piece by composer Jesse Montgomery were nice supplements to the performance. Here, the video medium has the advantage over the concert hall: the communication seems more intimate and more personal than in Macky Auditorium.

Montgomery opened the program by introducing her piece, which is, as she said, full of rhythmic drive and clear melodies. Strum is enjoying a run of popularity, likely because it is a well crafted and enjoyable piece to hear, because it can be played by the kind of small ensemble that is easily featured in streaming concert, and—let’s be honest—because as an African-American woman, Montgomery is a composer that orchestras are happy to add to their repertoire in 2020.

Britten’s Simple Symphony—which is not, as Butterman said in spoken program notes, all that simple to play—is infrequently played on symphony programs. It was refreshing to hear it instead of the usual orchestral fare. 

Screenshot: Charles Wetherbee sports the Boulder Phil’s custom face mask

Richter/Vivaldi is both familiar and disorienting. There is much pure Vivaldi, or almost-Vivaldi. But then there are sudden turns, with unexpected harmonies, or most fun to hear, uneven meters. Wetherbee seemed too have mastered his part, although he said it takes extra concentration, because it is often so close to music that is familiar to his fingers.

This concert was definitely up my lonely little alley. I’m the kind of listener who would rather hear something new and unexpected than another familiar classical piece. I am looking forward to both the repertoire, and the visual production of the remainder of the Boulder Phil season. 

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Season listing with links to purchase tickets can be found here.

BOULDER PHIL’S OPENING CONCERT IN SPIRIT OF REIMAGINED SEASON

Program features works by Vivaldi/Richter, Britten and Jesse Montgomery

By Izzy Fincher Oct. 14 at 3 p.m.

A reimagined season for the Boulder Philharmonic will begin with a night of reimagined music, recorded in a hangar at the Boulder Municipal Airport.

The first concert, “Vivaldi Recomposed,” will feature modern composers’ reworkings of iconic compositions and their own works. The concert will be available beginning at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17.

Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman rehearsing in the Brungard Aviation hanger at Boulder Municipal Airport. Photo by Peter Alexander

“[This concert] is really emblematic of everything we are doing this year,” Michael Butterman, music director of the Boulder Phil, says. “We have an unusual season that is reimagined, reinvented and adapted.”

The program is centered around Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons, a 13-movement work inspired by Vivaldi’s famous set of concertos. Using about one-quarter of Vivaldi’s original material, Richter develops short, iconic motifs through looping and phasing, showing his minimalistic and postmodernist style. The re-composition is “very familiar but with a twist that is new and fresh,” Butterman says.  

“Richter takes the same music, but he rescores it and repeats it with different harmonies and accompaniment,” concertmaster Charles Wetherbee says. “Sometimes he takes blocks of music that we know very well and suddenly throws in a bar of 7/8. That can be really mind-bending. It is very familiar yet completely not.”

Charles Wetherbee. Photo by Peter Alexander

The rest of the program also links to the theme of reimagining. Jesse Montgomery expanded her own composition Strum, originally written for the Catalyst Quartet, to a version for string orchestra. In Strum, the orchestra builds dynamic textures through pizzicato, layered rhythms and ostinatos.

Strum is really attractive. It’s rhythmically driven with just enough tunefulness to be very listenable and fascinating,” Butterman says. 

In his Simple Symphony, Britten expanded eight short themes, which he composed as a child, into a piece for string orchestra. The four movements, “Boisterous Bourrée,” “Playful Pizzicato,” “Sentimental Saraband” and “Frolicsome Finale,” have nostalgic titles, reminiscent of childhood. Simple Symphony is one of Britten’s more conservative works stylistically, showing his early neoclassical influences.

Vivaldi Recomposed was the first concert the Boulder Phil recorded at the airport in late September. After two rehearsals the first day, they had a dress rehearsal and recording session the next day. Over the next two weeks, they recorded five more concerts with equally quick turnaround. 

“You just got through this recording session, but you know you need to be back the next morning with a brand new program that would be recorded in less than 48 hours,” Butterman says. “It was a lot to stay on top of.”

Michael Butterman. Photo by Peter Alexander

“It was not easy to have that many programs in your fingers, in your brain, in your heart,” Wetherbee says. “It takes a lot to assimilate that much all at once and to play it with conviction. It was a very compressed way to work.”

While recording Vivaldi Recomposed, Wetherbee found it challenging to maintain the energy of a live performance without an audience, in the middle of an airport hangar.

“We didn’t have the energy of being in the hall like a live concert,” Wetherbee says. “You hear the audience move around in their seats, applaud or draw their breath in at the end of an exciting movement. When you are playing for cameras, there is none of that energy. 

“I had to guard against the feeling that it is sterile, that you are just in a studio. In a recording, you worry about every note being perfect. In a live performance, you don’t have to worry about every note. You have to worry about the energy and about what you want to say.”

For the Boulder Phil’s first virtual concert, Butterman and Wetherbee hope the audience will enjoy the visual experience, which will be more immersive than a live concert. “I am pretty excited about the visuals,” Butterman says. 

“The setting of the airport with the different camera angles and close ups is going to be fun. Through the use of the cameras, people are going to feel like they are in the mix. I hope they feel that they are drawn into the concert.”

“There’s no way [a virtual concert] replaces the live experience,” Wetherbee adds. “Yet, we are moving toward slightly different art form, to be enjoyed for its own ends.”

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Vivaldi Recomposed
Michael Butterman, conductor
Charles Wetherbee, violin

Jesse Montgomery: Strum
Benjamin Britten: Simple Symphony
Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons

Stream available from 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17
You may purchase access here.

Boulder Philharmonic has a full season for 2020-21—all of it online

Players are currently rehearsing and recording six of the eight programs

By Peter Alexander Sept. 21 at 10:30 a.m.

There were airplanes coming and going at the Boulder Municipal Airport last week, there were mechanics working on airplanes, pilots picking up brake fluid for airplanes—all the activity you would expect.

And there was an orchestra.

Members of the Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman rehearse in the Brungard Aviation hangar at Boulder Municipal Airport Sept. 15.

In fact, the Boulder Philharmonic was busy rehearsing their fall 2020 season in the Brungard Aviation hangar. It’s not usual activity at the airport, but if the pilot picking up brake fluid was taken aback, he didn’t show it.

This is part of the Boulder Phil’s answer to keeping the music alive during the pandemic. As conductor Michael Butterman explains, he and the orchestra spent several months looking for a way to have a 2020–21 season.

“This is probably the 40th iteration of ‘20–‘21,” he says. “Throughout the summer we kept changing our thoughts about what we’re going to be able to do.”

They finally found a way to stream the season online. Seven of the eight concerts will be available individually or by subscription through the Boulder Phil Web page. The eighth concert, the holiday program, will be available free with voluntary contributions. Each concert will be available for a limited time after its online premier. (See the full schedule below.)

Who are those masked violinists? Rehearsals in the time of COVID.

To rehearse and record, Butterman realized, the players would have to be safely distanced and most playing with a mask. For that to be possible, they would have to use a reduced orchestra, mostly strings, and they would have to have a large space. For the former, there is a lot of available repertoire, but where would they find an appropriate space?

Michael Butterman at rehearsal in the Brungard Aviation hangar, Sept. 15

“It occurred to me that we have had galas at an airplane hangar at Rocky Mountain Airport,” Butterman says. “We ended up locating an opportunity at Boulder Municipal Airport, at Brungard Aviation’s hangar, and we’re grateful to them for that.”

Over a two week period—Sept. 15–20 and Sept. 22–27—players from the orchestra will rehearse and record for later streaming six of the eight concerts scheduled for the season. There will be three rehearsals and one three-hour recording session for each program.

The last two concerts—one a collaboration with the CU-Boulder Department of Theatre and the other with Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance—will be recorded later. That gives flexibility in working with the collaborating organizations and keeps open the possibility that some kind of live performance might be possible by the end of the season.

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Two artists who have appeared with the Boulder Phil in the past—pianist Simone Dinnerstein and cellist Zuill Bailey—were invited to collaborate in chamber or chamber orchestra performances. “Zuill and Simone are wonderful to work with,” Butterman says. “The fact that we’ve had them both to Boulder already, and that they’ve been very popular with our audience, they were obvious choices.”

Zuill Bailey

To make the video recordings, the Boulder Phil recruited the service of sound and video engineer Michael Quam. There will be 10 cameras recording each piece, providing a wide variety of camera angles for the streamed performances.

Streamed concerts offer both a challenge and an opportunity. “This season may offer opportunities for greater access for some people,” Butterman says: “anybody who has problems with transportation, who has a schedule conflict Saturdays at 7:30, who lives far enough from Boulder that they don’t want to drive in.” And of course the hope is that the convenience of being able to see concerts on demand will attract new audiences 

The necessity of limiting the number of performers led to some thoughtful  programming. For example, during the years after World War I and during the Spanish flu, Stravinsky and other composers did not have access to large orchestras. Instead, they wrote music for smaller groups, including Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat for seven players, which is ideal for the pandemic year. It will be on the April 3 program. 

Other works will be performed in arrangements for reduced ensembles, such as Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony on April 24, arranged for a string sextet, and Ellen Taaffe Zwillich’s Cello Concerto, which the composer re-arranged for chamber ensemble, on March 13.

In fact, Butterman says, “the idea of this being a re-imagined season is embodied in each of the programs. We’re presenting pieces that themselves have undergone some amount of transformation. In the case of Vivaldi (recomposed by Max Richter, on the Oct. 17 concert), that’s obvious. The least obvious example is the Bach concert (Nov. 14), but any time you’re playing Bach on piano, that is a bit of a re-imagining.

“We’re obviously retooling the concert experience. I think there’s some very, very strong upsides to that, including bringing you inside the experience, and making the access wider.”

And if they find new fans among the mechanics at Brungard Aviation, or pilots that need brake fluid, so much the better.

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Boulder Phil 2021: Reimagined
All performances streamed online
Tickets available through the Boulder Phil Web page

Vivaldi Recomposed
Michael Butterman, conductor
Charles Wetherbee, violin

Jesse Montgomery: Strum
Benjamin Britten: Simple Symphony
Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons

Available from 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17

The Beauty of Bach
Simone Dinnerstein, pianist and conductor
Christina Jennings, flute, and Charles Wetherbee, violin

J.S. Bach/Philip Lasser: Erbarm’ Dich
J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor
Keyboard Concerto in D minor
Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D major

Available from 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14

Happy Holidays from the Phil
No tickets required; contributions welcomed
Available from 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13

Zuill and Zwillich
Zuill Bailey, cello, with Michael Butterman and Jennifer Hayghe, piano

Rachmaninoff: Vocalise  for cello and piano
Ellen Taaffe Zwillich: Cello Concerto (chamber version)
Schubert: Piano Quintet in A major (“The Trout”)

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23

Mozart and Mendelssohn
Simone Dinnerstein, piano

Scott Joplin: “Solace” and “Bethena”
Mozart/Ignaz Lachner: Piano Concerto in C major, K467
Mendelssohn: Octet for Strings

Available from 7:30 Saturday, Feb. 13

A Celebration of Cello
Michael Butterman conductor, with Zuill Bailey, cello

Debussy/Schoenberg: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Schumann/Philip Lasser: Cello Concerto in A minor
Paul Trapkus: Trio for Three Violins
Giovanni Sollima: Violencelles, Vibrez!
Wagner: Siegfried Idyll

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 13

The Soldier’s Tale
Michael Butterman, conductor 
CU Department of Theatre and Boulder Ballet

Stravinsky: L’Histoire du soldat (The soldier’s tale)

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 3

Beethoven 6 and Frequent Flyers
Michael Butterman, conductor
Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance

George Walker: Lyric for Strings
Korine Fujiwara: Suite from Claudel
Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F major (“Pastoral”; arr. for string sextet by M.G. Fischer)

Available 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24