Boulder Phil opens 22–23 season with ‘Hymn to the Earth’

World premiere and first appearance of the Boulder Phil Chorus Oct. 8

By Peter Alexander Oct. 6 at 7:10 p.m.

Conductor Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra will open their 2022–23 season Saturday evening (7 p.m. Oct. 8, Macky Auditorium) with a program aimed straight at Boulder’s social and environmental heart.

The Boulder Philharmonic with conductor Michael Butterman

Titled “Hymn to the Earth,” the program includes the world premier of Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet by Drew Hemenger, an environmental oratorio for orchestra, chorus and tenor co-commissioned by the Phil and the Rogue Valley Symphony of Oregon. Its five movements create an arc leading from a vision of unspoiled nature, through the industrial revolution to the current global climate crisis and culminating with Shelley’s dire warning about human arrogance in his great poem “Ozymandias.”

Composer Michael Abels. Photo by Eric Schwabel

The program opens with Global Warming by Michael Abels, a composer best known for his scores for the films of Jordan Peele. Not referring to climate, the title refers to the warming global relations at the end of the Cold War, and in in this context suggests the planetary unity required to face an environmental crisis. 

Works on the second half of the program have the theme of hubris and the consequences of humans’ heedlessness: the Overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Siegfried’s funeral music from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung; and Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Juan.

Gregory Gentry

The concert will be the first appearance of the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus, the newly-formed choral partner of the Phil, under the direction of Gregory Gentry. Tenor Matthew Plenk, a faculty member at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, will be soloist for Ozymandias.

Ozymandias is a score of remarkable diversity, of both textual sources and musical style. The text draws on poetry by Shelley and William Wordsworth, as well as texts from Native Americans, speeches by climate activist Greta Thunberg, and a definitively unpromising text for music, the 2014 Fifth Assessment Report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (Trust me; Hemenger makes it work.)

The commissioning of Ozymandias started with Butterman, who remembers reading Shelley’s poem many years ago. “I’ve loved that poem since I was a kid,” he says. “It’s short, but the irony of it smacks you in the face. He wrote this not thinking of climate change, but it’s the same hubris.”

Composer Drew Hemenger

The first movement of Hemenger’s score is titled “The Spring is Come,” and is taken from the words of Chief Sitting Bull in 1877, describing a time when the Lakota people lived in harmony with the earth. The second movement is a setting of Wordsworth’s poem from around 1802, “The World Is Too Much with Us.” At the beginning of the industrial revolution, Wordsworth is pointing out that man’s greed is leading to the loss of a connection to nature: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;/Little we see in Nature that is ours.”

The rhythmically driven third movement is entirely orchestral. The title is a Shawnee word, “Migeloti” (pronounced mah-jee-lo-ta), “which means a person who goes around disrespecting and destroying,” Hemenger says. Representing a society of decadence, “it’s like (Ravel’s) La Valse, filled with ecstasy and then collapse at the end.”

The fourth movement contains the chorus speaking text from the IPCC report and Thunberg’s speeches (“all you can talk about is money . . . how dare you!”), and sung texts from Shawnee Chief Tecumseh in 1810, “To Sell a Country.” “That is a preachy movement,” Hemenger admits, but “when you’re going to put that clear language (of the report), there didn’t seem to be any way around it.”

The finale is the setting of “Ozymandias,” ending with the forlorn words “the lone and level sands stretch far away.” The music, Hemenger writes in his program notes, “like the poem, fades away like the blowing dust in the desert.”

Michael Butterman. Photo by Shannon Palmer.

In spite of this message, Butterman hopes the program is not a downer. “I worry that the pieces are saying when you act as if things have no consequences, it doesn’t end well,” he says. “But since climate change is a huge issue that the world needs to pay attention to, and it’s something that many people in Boulder are sensitive to, it strikes me as a natural fit for this orchestra.”

He admires the music that resulted from his initial suggestions to the composer. “The fact that he went into Native American texts, the middle movement which is a latter-day La Valse, all of that was his idea, and I think it’s brilliant. There’s a lot of stuff in a relatively short piece, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out.”

The second half of the concert comprises pieces by Mozart, Wagner and Strauss that are known to classical audiences. While their composition had nothing to do with environmental issues, Butterman hopes the context can add meaning to those works. Particularly the Strauss will add brilliance to the overall program. “It’s so cinematic,” he says. “You get a very good image of this character (Don Juan), his personality, his swagger. Whether you like him or not, there might be something about him that you almost envy.”

For the concert, the Boulder Phil has partnered with the City of Boulder Climate Initiative Department. Members of the city’s climate team will be present at the performance to share climate action ideas and resources, and to collect submission to heir climate audio collage report.

Please note that the Boulder Phil has changed the starting time of their concerts to 7 p.m., instead of 7:30 p.m.

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“Hymn to the Earth”
Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Matthew Plenk, tenor, and the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus, Gregory Gentry, chorus master

  • Michael Abels: Global Warming
  • Drew Hemenger: Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet (world premiere)
  • Mozart: Overture to Don Giovanni
  • Wagner: Trauermusik from Götterdämmerung
  • Richard Strauss: Don Juan

7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8
Macky Auditorium

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CORRECTION: The original version of this post gave the start time of Boulder Phil concerts as 8 p.m.. The correct time this season will be 7 p.m.

Violist Richard O’Neill gives stunning performance with Boulder Phil

All-English program features Walton Viola Concerto, works by Elgar and Anna Clyne

By Peter Alexander May 15 at 12:10 a.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic finished the 2021–22 classical concert series with sound and fury last night (May 14).

Conductor Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic in Macky Auditorium. Photo by Glenn Ross.

No, that is not a criticism. The first piece listed on the program was Anna Clyne’s Sound and Fury, inspired in part by Macbeth’s soliloquy featuring that phrase. In practice, though, Clyne was preceded by an “off-menu special,” in the words of conductor Michael Butterman: Elgar’s familiar “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1, in honor of the region’s recent graduates.

The performance was led by an honorary guest conductor, Boulder’s outstanding arts patron Gordon Gamm. Looking dapper in a fedora, Gamm did a creditable job of getting things started and holding the orchestra together. Indeed, the only audible error—one out-of-place note—cannot be laid to the conductor. 

Butterman preceded Clyne’s Sound and Fury with a helpful music-appreciation style introduction, with an explanation of it’s connection to “The Scottish Play” and illustrations from a Haydn symphony quoted in the score. The performance was strongly profiled, with contrasting sections nicely characterized and distinguished, lacking only the precision necessary for clarity in the skittering string parts and the full depth of sound that a larger orchestra could provide. 

The recorded voice speaking the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” soliloquy near the end was not always intelligible, but it did show how those words fit into the scheme of the piece. This is a new piece (2019) that is definitely comprehensible and enjoyable for the classical audience, and I would welcome hearing it again.

Violist Richard O’Neill

A friend told me about this concert, “The Walton Concerto won’t sell any tickets.” If that’s right, I’m sorry for anyone who was not sold a ticket because they don’t know Walton’s music. They missed a fun piece, and a stunning performance by violist Richard O’Neill, the newest member of the Takács Quartet. Where is their sense of fun, of adventure, interest in new things? This is not difficult music.

Composed in 1929, the Viola Concerto shows the composer’s quirky style to good advantage. At times lush, at times shifting, surging and dying away, its kaleidoscopic episodes and unexpected turns provide an ideal palette for an instrumental soloist of O’Neill’s qualities.

His performance was glittery (and no, I don’t mean his shoes) and perfectly assured. Visibly reacting to every twist and turn of the orchestra part, he showed in both gesture and musical interpretation his connection with the players. Utterly at ease playing all the virtuoso material the concerto throws at the soloist, O’Neil gave a solo performance of the highest caliber. 

Here the issues were of balance, both within the orchestra and (from where I was sitting) with the soloist. The boisterous second movement was my favorite, but the more gentle moments were equally well played. Two profound tributes to O’Neil: he held the audience in silence for at least 20 second at the end of the concerto, and it was the orchestra, stamping their feet, that brought him back for his final curtain call. 

Again channeling his inner Leonard Bernstein, Butterman gave an insightful introduction to Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations, showing how the variations brought their subjects—the composer’s friends—to life. This to me is a better preparation for the audience than program notes about “the return of the subsidiary theme” or “remote tonalities.”

Elgar’s “Enigma,” one of the greatest sets of orchestral variations of the Romantic or any period, received the best orchestral performance of the evening—maybe because it is a piece well known to all orchestral pros. Rehearsal time then can be devoted to details of interpretation, of unity, of sound. Butterman found the telling elements in each variation and brought out their individual characters. 

As one hopes and expects, the familiar “Nimrod” variation swelled calmly from shimmering pianissimo strings to a rich, full orchestral climax before falling back. Other variations had the sparkle, or the weight, to communicate character and meaning. This is a fun piece for brass, who enjoyed their moments of grandeur, and for the timpanist, who brought both visual and aural flash to the performance. 

Finally, this program had many of the ingredients of a successful concert: some exploration, a dazzling soloist, a great piece of music. I happily note the inclusion of a living female composer in the stew. It’s a recipe musical organizations should follow.

Grammy-winning violist to play with Boulder Phil

Richard O’Neill of the Takacs Quartet will play Walton Concerto Saturday

By Peter Alexander May 12 at 1:20 p.m.

Richard O’Neill

It was in the middle of the pandemic and a massive blizzard when Richard O’Neill won a Grammy award. 

The Grammy awarded in 2021 was for his recording of the Viola Concerto by American composer Christopher Theofanidis—during the same year that he joined the Takács Quartet, moved to Boulder and joined the CU faculty. “This has been a long haul,” he said at the time. 

Hopefully, things are closer to whatever can be called normal for a performing musician/recording artist, as O’Neill takes the stage Saturday (May 14) to perform William Walton’s Viola Concerto with the Boulder Philharmonic and conductor Michael Butterman (concert details below; tickets here).

A demanding and dramatic work. Walton’s concerto was composed in 1929, when the composer was 27 years old, and premiered that year by the composer/violist Paul Hindemith. Since then it has become one of the landmarks of the viola repertoire.

Composer Anna Clyne has drawn on a variety of sources for inspiration in her compositions, from the paintings of Mark Rothko to music by Beethoven. Her Sound and Fury was inspired by Shakespeare’s soliloquy for Macbeth and by Haydn’s unusual and quirky six-movement Symphony No. 60, Il distratto (The distracted one), which began as incidental music for a comic play.

Anna Clyne. Photo by Jennifer Taylor.

In a program note, Clyne wrote: “My intention with Sound and Fury is to take the listener on a journey that is both invigorating—with ferocious string gestures that are flung around the orchestra—and reflective—with haunting melodies that emerge and recede.”

Sir Edward Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme, known as the “Enigma Variations” from the word Elgar wrote at the top of the score, remains one of the most popular works in the orchestral repertoire, more than 120 years after its premiere. Each of the 14 variations has an inscription that refers to one of Elgar’s friends. 

Those subjects of the individual variations have been identified. The larger enigma, however, is what Elgar wrote in his program note: “The Enigma I will not explain. Its ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed. . . . Over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes,’ but is not played.”

Whether that “larger theme” is a musical or a philosophical one is one of the many mysteries that surround the piece. Guesses as to the musical theme have ranged from “Rule Britannia” to “Pop Goes the Weasel” to Luther’s “A Might Fortress is Our God,” to Liszt’s Les Preludes, none of which have convinced a majority of musical scholars.

And so that enigma remains unsolved. Feel free to go to the concert and devise your own solution.

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Richard O’Neill, viola

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

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

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Frequent Flyers join Boulder Phil for ‘Butterfly Lovers’

Concert April 30 includes music celebrating rebirth and reconnection

By Peter Alexander April 27 at 5 p.m.

Two years ago, conductor Michael Butterman had drafted a program to celebrate the return of spring with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra.

That program, originally planned for April 2020, had to be postponed, due to COVID. But now the long-planned concert celebrating renewal and rebirth has itself been resurrected for performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (April 30) in Macky Auditorium (tickets here).

A previous performance by Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance with the Boulder Philharmonic

“This was a program that was originally intended to reflect the notion of rebirth that happens in springtime,” Butterman says. “It still reflects that, but it has an additional layer of meaning for us—our own emergence from our pandemic isolation.”

The starting point for the program was The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto by Chinese composers He Zhanhao and Chen Gang, which the Philharmonic will perform with violin soloist Claude Sim and Boulder’s Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance Company. Before that performance the concert will open with Undistant by Mason Bates, which addresses our return to human interaction after the recent period of widespread self isolation.

Original costume design for Stravinsky’s Firebird by Léon Bakst (1913)

Filling out the program will be first Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, which has obvious seasonal significance. The final piece will be Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, which Butterman selected because it ends with the rebirth of knights and 13 princesses who have been under a magic spell—another connection to the idea of renewal.

The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto was written by two Chinese students of Western music at the Shanghai Conservatory and premiered in 1959. Written for a Western orchestra, it is based on a Chinese legend of lovers who are separated by death, but reunited as butterflies. “It works very well for Western audiences,” Butterman says. “It’s extremely relatable on first hearing.”

Butterman and the Phil have done a number of performances with Frequent Flyers. He thought that The Butterfly Lovers would be a good piece for further collaboration and suggested it to Nancy Smith, Frequent Flyers’ artistic director. “It strikes me that it has a narrative arc, and certainly has potential as a work for visual interpretation,” he says.

“(Smith) agreed and they really embraced the thing. They constructed this large wing-like structure that will be hung above the stage. It acts as one fixed structure for most of the piece, but it also has hinges and it can bend like butterfly wings. It will be quite something to see!”

Violinist Claude Sim

The soloist, Claude Sim, is associate concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony. The Phil’s concertmaster, Charles Wetherbee, was first scheduled to perform the concerto, but when he became unavailable Sim stepped in to serve as soloist and as concertmaster for the concert.

The one piece that was not in the original program Butterman conceived two years ago is Bates’s Undistant. That is the piece on the program that best connects with the idea of people re-emerging from isolation as the pandemic abates—at least a little. “Undistant is a piece that (Bates) wrote in 2020, and it is a work that mirrors in some ways our separation,” Butterman says.

Michael Butterman. Photo by Jiah Kyun.

“There are two groups of musicians that are placed away from the rest of the orchestra. (Bates) has written an electronica part that incorporates static, sounds of Zoom and other communication platforms that we came to use a great deal during the pandemic. Over about seven minutes he brings these different elements back together, and there are little wisps of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy,’ just enough that it’s recognizable. That begins to coalesce until we have an affirming and positive ending.”

Apart from the theme of rebirth and renewal, there is one thing that joins all four pieces musically, and that is their uplifting endings. It’s there in all four pieces. In Bates’s Undistant, it is the transformation from separation and static to hints of the “Ode to Joy.” In the Butterfly Lovers, it’s the overcoming of first separation and then death through the transformation of the lovers into butterflies, gently portrayed in music.

In the second half, the Russian Easter Overture opens with the solemn tones of two Russian Orthodox hymns, “Let God Arise!” and “An Angel Cried.” Rimsky-Korsakov wrote in an autobiography that “the gloomy colors of the Andante lugubre seemed to depict the holy sepulcher . . . [and] the solemn trumpet voice of the Archangel is then displaced by a tonal reproduction of the joyous, dance-like tolling of the bells.”

The progress of Stravinsky’s Firebird is no less joyous, with “The Infernal Dance of Katschei” being followed by the “Berceuse”—a tender lullaby that lulls Katschei’s demonic minions to sleep—and the “Finale” that portrays in music the return of Katschei’s prisoners to life.

You might say these are four variations on the theme of life returning after a long winter—or a pandemic.

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“The Firebird and Frequent Flyers”
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Claude Sim, violin, and Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance

  • Mason Bates: Undistant
  • He Zhanhao and Chen Gang: The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto
  • Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture
  • Stravinsky: Firebird Suite (1919)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 30
Macky Auditorium

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Boulder Phil announces its 65th anniversary season

Masterworks concerts for 2022-23 will all be in Macky Auditorium

By Peter Alexander April 27 at 12:15 a.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic announced programming for its 2022–23, 65th anniversary season Tuesday evening (April 26). All subscription concerts for the coming year will be once again in Macky Auditorium

Pianist Angela Cheng returns to Boulder to perform with the Phil April 22, 2023

The season introduced by music director Michael Butterman includes some warhorses— Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Richard Strauss’ Don Juan—some less familiar standard works—Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G—and a healthy dose of new and unfamiliar works (see full programs below). Particularly noteworthy will be two world and one Colorado premiere of commissioned works.

Some features of the season will be familiar to current and past Boulder Phil patrons. One will be the return to Macky. The annual Nutcracker performances with Boulder Ballet are scheduled for Nov. 25 and 27. There will be a seasonal special event, “Holiday Brass with the Phil,” Dec. 18. The Phil’s Executive Director, Sara Parkinson, announced the resumption of the educational Discovery Concerts for school students.

Long-time concertgoers will welcome the return of former CU faculty member and audience favorite Angela Cheng April 22, who has not appeared in Boulder since 2009. Other soloists during the season will include tenor Matthew Plenk, on the opening night concert Oct. 8; double bassist Xavier Foley and violinist Eunice Kim Nov. 12; and violinist Stefan Jakiw March 25. 

Concertmaster Charles Wetherbee will solo with the Phil Jan. 22, 2023

Boulder Phil concertmaster Charles Wetherbee has been on medical leave, but is expected back next season and will play Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 with the orchestra Jan. 22.

One prominent change for the season is that the Saturday evening concert time has been moved to 7 p.m. from 7:30 p.m., in response to feedback from ticket buyers. That change affects all the masterworks concerts except “Afternoon with Bruckner,” at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22. In conjunction with the change of curtain time, the Phil will try different forms of related programming for its concerts, including pre-concert lectures, intermission features and post-concert talk-back sessions.

One special event in the season will bring the popular Denver-based multi-instrumental band DeVotchKa to Macky Auditorium to perform with the Phil. That performance will take place at the “old” time of 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6, 2023. Further details of that concert are pending.

The opening night concert Oct. 8, titled “Hymn to the Earth,” includes the first of the season’s premieres, a Boulder Phil co-commission that was postponed from a planned earlier season due to COVID: Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet. This musical alarum for threats to the planet was composed by the American composer Drew Hemmenger and uses Percy Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” as well as texts from native American sources, United Nations climate reports and speeches by Greta Thunberg. 

The Colorado premiere of another co-commission, Jennifer Higdon’s Suite from Cold Mountain, follows on Nov. 12, and another world premiere of a new work by Boulder High School graduate Leigha Amick will be presented April 22, 2023.

Season tickets will go on sale Monday, May 2, and tickets to individual concerts will be available Monday, Aug. 22. Purchases can be made by calling the box office at 303-449-1343, or through the Boulder Phil web page.

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Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Butterman, music director
2022-23 Season
All performances in Macky Auditorium except as otherwise noted

Conductor Michael Butterman with the Boulder Phil in Macky Auditorium

Opening Night: Hymn to the Earth
Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Boulder Phil Chorus and Matthew Plenk, tenor

  • Michael Abels: Global Warming
  • Drew Hemenger: Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet (Co-Commission & World Premiere)
  • Mozart: Overture to Don Giovanni
  • Wagner: Trauermusik from Götterdämmerung
  • Richard Strauss: Don Juan

7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8

Gran Duo: Higdon and Foley
Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Xavier Foley, double bass, and Eunice Kim, violin

  • Jennifer Higdon: Suite from Cold Mountain (Co-Commission & Colorado Premiere)
  • Xavier Foley: For Justice and Peace
  • Giovanni Bottesini: Gran Duo Concertante
  • Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 in G major

7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12

The Nutcracker with Boulder Ballet
Boulder Philharmonic, Gary Lewis, conductor 

2 and 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 25
2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27

Special Event: Holiday Brass with the Phil

4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Mountain View United Methodist Church, Boulder

Afternoon with Bruckner
Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Charles Wetherbee, violin

  • Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5
  • Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E major

4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023

Jackiw Plays Bruch
Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Stefan Jakiw, violin

  • George Butterworth: The Banks of Green Willow
  • Max Bruch: Scottish Fantasy
  • Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances

7 pm. Saturday, March 25, 2023

Ravel and Rachmaninoff
Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Angela Cheng, piano

  • Leigha Amick: “Resound Boulder”” Commission 
  • Ravel: Piano Concerto in G
  • Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
  • Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy Overtur

7 p.m. Saturday, April 22, 2023

Special Event: DeVotchKa + Boulder Phil

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6, 2023

Boulder Phil presents videos and Terrence Wilson plays Rachmaninoff

Saturday at Macky sees Michael Butterman’s return to lead the orchestra

By Peter Alexander March 18 at 12:10 a.m.

The next concert of the Boulder Philharmonic will feature a co-commission by the orchestra, but none of the music will be new.

Instead, the co-commission is a video created by Stephen Lias to accompany the performance of a work composed in 1955, the Symphony No. 2, “Mysterious Mountain,” by American-Armenian composer Alan Hovhaness. 

Stephen Lias in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Peter Alexander

That is one of two videos that will be presented as part of the concert, which will open with a performance of Circuits by Cindy McTee with video by Aleksi Moriarty. Finishing the program is Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, performed by pianist Terrence Wilson. The performance will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19, in Macky Auditorium (tickets available here).

Lias is better known as a composer than a videographer. The Boulder Phil premiered his Gates of the Arctic in 2014 and commissioned his All the Songs that Nature Sings, which they premiered in 2016. In this case the Boulder Phil’s music director, Michael Butterman, wanted to perform the Hovhaness score, and to feature a video with it.

Butterman is back in Boulder to lead the concert, after having to miss the orchestra’s last performance in March due to a health concern.

“When we played (Lias’s) works before, he created visuals that would accompany the music,” Butterman explains. “I approached him about creating a video not for his own music this time, but for someone else’s. And he really ran with it.”

One of Stephen Lias’s composite images for Mysterious Mountain.

By “ran with it,” Butterman really means that Lias worked tirelessly to learn video techniques that he had never used before. “The learning curve was extremely steep for me, because I had no background in visual art or complex video effects,” Lias says. ”A lot of what I learned was very useful and fascinating, but boy it was a big investment! I had to learn to use a collection of high-end applications (and) packages of software that animators use.”

The more complex video techniques were important, Lias says, because—unlike pieces that he created videos for before—Hovhaness’ score is not about a specific location. In fact, the title Mysterious Mountain was added after the music had been written. “The title simply suited the mysterious atmospheric, meditative nature of the music,” Lias says.

Image by Stephen Lias for Mysterious Mountain

“This feels like it needs to be more amorphous and ambiguous (than Lias’s earlier video creations). My concept was to create virtual mountain ranges comprised of (pictures) from all over the world. There are animated, floating lines in space that reveal the mountain range, and then they are transformed before your eyes and you realize these are (different photos) laying over top of one another. 

“Later various virtual environments float around you, and then you end up in a place that is entirely real, but you’re not sure it’s real. The goal is a lingering ‘where are we?’ question. We are clearly not in real life, but the things from real life are mixed with things that make it clearly artificial. You’re in an invented world.”

Image by Stephen Lias for Mysterious Mountain

This fits the spiritual qualitied of Hovhaness’ music, Lias says. He describes the music and video together as “a musical and visual journey through all the things that mountains can be and might become.”

Some people in the audience may recognize some of the locations in the video. “Certainly anyone from Boulder will recognize the places that Longs Peak sticks its head out,” Lias says. “There’s some Banff, Glacier (National Park), and the Great Wall of China.”

Butterman describes the concert’s other video, accompanying McTee’s Circuits, as “entirely abstract,” but in an entirely different way. There are no concrete images at all, but rather abstract patterns.

“(Moriarty) went through the piece in an analytical way,” Butterman says. “He broke it down into a motive for a bar and a half, and then three bars, and then later on it comes back upside down. He identified these musical kernels and created a graphic representation for each one. Once he created the video translations of the musical ideas, he followed the template that the music itself played out. So theoretically, it’s a video representation of the structure and thematic content of the music.”

Butterman warns the audience that the video moves very fast, as does the music. “I would say (it’s) very fast paced,” he says. “If you are bothered by flashing, you would be wise to at least be aware of that. It’s only about five and a half minutes, but it’s very intense. I’m hoping that if anybody feels that’s a difficulty, they can simply look away.”

Both video works are engineered so that the length can be adjusted to fit individual performances. Moriarty works with a program developed by Ion Concert Media of Minneapolis, and Lias developed his own system using a sound, video and lighting control application for the Mac called QLab. Both result in a system where the conductor does not have to follow a click track or any other pre-established speed in the performance.

That’s an important issue for Butterman. “The real bane of (performing with video) is the tyranny of the click track,” he says. “Whenever you’re doing a Hollywood movie for example, you have a screen in front of you and time codes and little bars sweep across (the screen), and you have an earpiece where you can hear clicks, and it’s maddening.”

Terrence Wilson. Photo by J. Henry Fair.

While the videos will be the most unusual aspects of the March 19 concert, the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto will certainly be the most familiar. It is beloved by audiences, but as a virtuoso showpiece it should never be thought to be routine. It was Rachmaninoff’s favorite of his four piano concertos, but also has the reputation of inspiring fear in pianists.

“I’m delighted to have Terrence Wilson joining us,” Butterman says. “He’s someone I’ve enjoyed collaborating with.”

Wilson performed the Grieg Piano Concerto with Boulder Phil in 2007 and has had an impressive performing career in the intervening years, including a 2011 Grammy nomination and a 2015 appearance at the Colorado Music Festival. A graduate of Juilliard, he has also received an Avery Fisher Career Grant and appeared on NPR’s “Performance Today.”

“Closing with Rachmaninoff is a little unusual,” Butterman says, “but at 43 or 44 minutes, it certainly has the heft of a symphony!”

The heft, and I would add, all the fireworks you could want for a rousing concert closer.

# # # # #

Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Terrence Wilson, piano
Videos by Aleksi Moriarty and Stephen Lias

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

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

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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

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.