Boulder Philharmonic selected for a brand new festival at the Kennedy Center

One of only four orchestras nationwide chosen for the inaugural event

By Peter Alexander

11215713_10153195763195865_3630514800314949666_nThe Boulder Philharmonic is one of only four orchestras from across North America chosen to participate in a new festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

The new weeklong SHIFT Festival will take place at the Kennedy Center March 27–April 2, 2017. The other groups participating will be the Atlanta Symphony, the North Carolina Symphony, and the Brooklyn-based ensemble The Knights.

The selection was announced today (May 28) by the Kennedy Center and Washington Performing Arts. Michael Butterman, music director of the Boulder Phil, commented: “I am thrilled and honored that we’ve been selected to perform in our nation’s capital alongside some of the finest orchestras in the country.

Michael Butterman

Michael Butterman

“For several seasons, we’ve been fine-tuning our new mode for programming, called ‘The Spirit of Boulder,’ which reflects our community’s own values, creativity, and sense of place. By connecting people to orchestral music, the Boulder Phil strives to be an essential part of our community’s cultural fabric. We couldn’t be more delighted to share what’s working so well in Boulder with those involved in the first SHIFT Festival.”

The Boulder Phil’s performance at the Kennedy Center will be at 8 p.m. March 28, 2017. Butterman will conduct the program, “Nature and Music,” which was also the theme of the orchestra’s 2013–14 season. The concert will feature one world premiere and three pieces from the 2013–14 season:

Composer Stephen Lias

Composer Stephen Lias

A new work by Stephen Lias, commissioned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, performed with photography by Colorado photographer John Fielder. Lias has won several National Park artist-in-residence grants, and the Boulder Phil presented the world premiere of his orchestral work Gates of the Arctic at the opening concert of the 2014–15 season. Other works by Lias celebrating national parks include Denali for string orchestra; Glacier Bay for orchestra; Ghosts of Mesa Verde for two flutes; Kings Canyon for trumpet ensemble; Sequoia for trombone choir; and The Timberline Sonata for trumpet and piano, written following Lias’ 2010 residency in Rocky Mountain National Park.
• Jeff Midkiff’s Mandolin Concerto: From the Blue Ridge, performed by the Boulder Phil in April, 2014. Midkiff will be the soloist for the Kennedy Center performance, as he was in 2014.
• Ghosts of the Grasslands by Steve Heitzeg, performed in Boulder in March, 2014.
• Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, performed with Boulder’s aerial dance troupe Frequent Flyers. Boulder Phil and Frequent Flyers presented Appalachian Spring in Macky Auditorium in November, 2013.

Boulder Phil with Frequent Flyers. Photo by Glenn Ross.

Boulder Phil with Frequent Flyers. Photo by Glenn Ross.

As part of their involvement in the SHIFT Festival, each participating orchestra will engage in a mini-residency, interacting with the surrounding community through educational and outreach activities, symposia, and community events in venues throughout Washington, D.C. Proposed festival activities for the Boulder Phil include nature hikes in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek, led by naturalist Dave Sutherland from Boulder’s Open Space & Mountain Parks, and outdoor performances by Boulder Phil ensembles.

These events draw on the activities of the 2013–14 season, which capitalized on local residents’ love of the outdoors by exploring the many ways that composers have been inspired by nature. Among other activities, the orchestra offered guided musical hikes, with the aim of bringing concert audiences outside, and enticing nature lovers into the concert hall.

“The SHIFT Festival showcases how America’s orchestras have shifted their visions to reflect the music and programming that’s unique to their own communities,” Butterman said. “We couldn’t be more honored to share our vision of the Boulder Phil, The Spirit of Boulder, with other orchestras across the country, doing the same thing.”

SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras is the first significant collaboration between the Kennedy Center and Washington Performing Arts in their shared history. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $900,000 grant for the collaboration, of which $700,000 will be leveraged as matching funds for new gifts to support the program. Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter and Washington Performing Arts President & CEO Jenny Bilfield made the announcement May 28 in Cleveland at the League of American Orchestras’ annual conference before an audience of nearly 1,000 orchestra administrators, musicians, trustees, and volunteers.

Collectively, the participating orchestras will offer repertoire by nine living composers, two world premieres, and numerous D.C.-area premieres during the festival, inspired by themes of nature, Americana, creation and creativity, and choral influences.

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You may read the Boulder Philharmonic’s press release here.

Information on the SHIFT Festival from the Kennedy Center can be seen here.

Boulder Phil’s Season of ‘Legends’ Opens Strongly

By Peter Alexander

From the Arctic tundra to the Arabian sea, the Boulder Philharmonic opened their 2014-15 season in Macky Auditorium with a strong performance of a strong program.

Butterman.2

Michael Butterman, Music Director of the Boulder Philharmonic

Music Director Michael Butterman led the orchestra in the world premiere of Gates of the Arctic by Stephen Lias; the Second Piano Concerto of Camille Saint-Saëns with soloist Gabriela Martinez; and Scheherazade by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which gave the orchestra the opportunity to introduce new concertmaster Charles Wetherbee.

Speaking before the performance, Butterman explained that this is the orchestra’s season of “Legends,” featuring pieces that tell stories drawn from a variety of myths and legends. I have frequently enjoyed Butterman’s programming, and this concert, combining a provocative and intriguing new piece, a highly interesting soloist playing repertoire beyond the usual warhorses, and a virtuoso orchestra showpiece, hit all the right notes for a season opener.

Gates of the Arctic is an unabashedly programmatic piece that describes Lias’ 2012 residency in Gates of the Arctic National Park. He backpacked with a ranger within the park—which is entirely wilderness, without a visitor’s center or even a single road within its boundaries—for 10 days, following a caribou migration. In performance, the music was closely coordinated with photos of the park, some taken by Lias.

Stephen Lias in Gates of the Arctic National Park

Stephen Lias backpacking in Gates of the Arctic National Park

In addition to being visually spectacular, the photos left no doubt what was being portrayed in the music, from the long hours of trekking with a heavy backpack, to sightings of caribou, bears and wolves, and finally a placid lake that mirrored the spectacular mountains in the park. Gates of the Arctic is thoroughly entertaining, especially with the photographic accompaniment. But it is also a well crafted and skillfully designed piece that features strong contrasts and great musical drama, woven into an effective orchestral score.

Some of my more curmudgeonly composer friends might ask, “but is it great music?” In answer I would say, Bach, Mozart and Verdi didn’t sit down to write “great music.” They sat down to write music for their audiences, much of it purely for entertainment. Time will tell us if Lias’ music survives our generation, but it is music that clearly reached the Boulder audience, who gave it a standing ovation.

Gabriela Martinez

Gabriela Martinez

The Saint-Saëns concerto is a piece that comes much more alive in performance than in any recording. Martinez, a Venezuelan who has performed with the famed Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and is now being championed by superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel, was especially convincing in the free, fantasy-like opening movement. I especially liked her dynamic control, and the sense of spontaneity and freedom that she conveyed. Her sparkling runs and bounding arpeggios showed full technical command in the remaining movements, but the piano sound seemed underpowered at times—perhaps a victim of Macky’s inhospitable acoustics?

Charles Wetherbee

Charles Wetherbee

Another piece of program music, Scheherazade is always an audience pleaser—as it was for Butterman and the Boulder Phil. Wetherbee played the extensive violin solos with a sweetness and purity of tone that was exemplary. The solos in the cello and the wind sections were all well played, although coordination between players in the back of Macky’s deep stage and those in front was at times a little rocky.

Tricky acoustics aside, Butterman led a carefully modulated performance. The Boulder Phil strings cannot provide the sound that we hear on recordings by the Philadelphia and other orchestras with 60-plus players in the string sections and more hospitable acoustics, but the orchestra made effective work of all the big moments in the score, once again compelling the audience to their feet. It was, in the end, a satisfying performance of a much-loved piece.

Like Sinbad’s ship, the Boulder Philharmonic is well launched on a season that will feature many “Legends” and other stories in music. Let’s hope that the storm at sea where “The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock” remains confined to Rimsky-Korsakov’s evocative score.

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Author’s Note: I do not plan on reviewing every concert that I preview here, or every one that is worthy of such coverage. But as the beginning of a new season by one of Boulder’s older musical institutions, and with a world premiere, this concert perhaps earned a little more attention—especially since I and the audience enjoyed it so much.

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This post has been edited to correct grammar and typos.