As the falling leaves decked in autumnal colors flurry down to chase the scorching heat away, many of the travelers and tourists who have come to Boulder for the large summer festivals dissipate with them, and our local festivals kick it in high gear. Such is the case with the always delightful Boulder Symphony, which launched its 2011/12 season not with a full symphony performance, but with a small, intimate evening of chamber music, a real treat for locals who have shared their city over the summer months.
Boulder Symphony’s first Chamber Music performance (in what is to be a continuing program for the Symphony) had a few high notes countered with a few flat ones. A Trio Triad by composer Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) for Flute (Ginger Hedrick), Clarinet (Jack Chen), and Bassoon (Sarah Wise) was skillfully played, and the duet for Viola (Cassandra Mueller, Andrea Dobbs) admirably captured both the intense and the blithe in a composition titled “Tributaries” composed by local CU Faculty member Carter Pann in 1972. There were sections with a sparkling percussive quality marking the ululation of river rapids. I found some documentation hinting that “Tributaries” may have been inspired by the two beautiful rivers that meet in confluence in The Roaring Fork Valley, The Crystal and The Roaring Fork Rivers.
The flatter notes during this evening of chamber music came, sadly, from the brass—Trumpets 1 and 2, Horn, Euphonium, and Tuba, playing various works, many of them with that familiar AmericanTa Rah Rah BOOM de YAAY sound —and though the gentlemen playing did so with a sincerity and palpable sweetness…at times it hurt.
Why would a full symphony orchestra start up a Chamber Music program at all? Deborah Marshall, Boulder Symphony Chamber Music Director answers the question: “My experience, having played for decades in a major European orchestra and taught at the Hochschule fur Musik in Munich, is that playing chamber music definitely improves all kinds of tangible things like intonation and rhythmic precision, but it also causes people to listen more, to discuss things like articulation and dynamics. Chamber music is a micro cosmos of full orchestra, so all these benefits will carry over to orchestral playing. And, of course, an added bonus is that it’s simply fun.”
One of the cooler things about writing my column, aside from the obvious—oodles of comp tickets—is the position it places me, smack in the middle of flying press releases, affording the chance to see what new things are unfolding in our musical midst. I like getting glimpses of stars in the making and enjoy giving credit where talent is revealed.
But that’s an aside.There are, in Boulder, stars already burning bright, and one of them is Deborah Marshall. Not just Boulder Symphony but all our resident music lovers benefit from her talents. Recently married to local author Douglas Penick, Marshall is a clarinetist of some renown. She has performed with Peter Serkin and Yo-Yo Ma and has coached, given master classes, made recordings, and served on various faculties all over Europe. Plus she brings a bit of class to a bevy of Boulder beauties swimming in broomstick skirts and pashmina wraps.
Boulder Symphony presented the full orchestra, in collaboration with Cherry Creek Chorale on October 14, with a special appearance by the Longmont Youth Symphony. Cherry Creek Chorale, once one got past the over-shimmer of the women’s matching, gold-sequined jackets, was very impressive. Conducted by Brian Patrick Leatherman, the singers gave confident, precise entrances and exits and lovely round tones all around. Very nice.
The delight of the evening was hearing Composer-in-Residence Austin Wintory’s World Premiere of his composition “Gray Rain.” It is a gorgeous piece that does in fact remind one of a susurrus and dreamy gray rain.
I have been attending music festivals since…well, forever, and I have to admit that a stubborn streak held me fast to the works of the classical composers we all know: Vivaldi, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Bach (for a few). The notes match up in my mind in a tidy, clean way that soothes. The more modern compositions, post 1950s, stretch my preconceived notions of classical music. Finally, though, my ear has begun to stretch with them and find interest, even beauty in their occasional discordance and modern rhythms. But it has taken a lot of listening and ongoing education to learn appreciation for newer works. I have come to understand (probably quite late to the party!) that new musical infusion is vital to the art, that we cannot go on repeating the same pieces indefinitely and keep the stories alive.
Annie McDermott, Artistic Director for Bravo! Music Festival in Vail, Colorado, told me in an interview a few weeks ago that “new music is and should be, incredibly compelling story telling.”
In a recent conversation with Devin Patrick Hughes, Director and Conductor of Boulder Symphony, I asked him to share some of his thoughts about ‘new music’ with me. “Well these are works incredibly relevant to the appreciation of music as art,” he said. “The audience is on the journey with us as we explore the transformative nature of music both old and new. Fresh infusion is as necessary to music as fresh breath is to our bodies.”
Hughes segues to Boulder Symphony’s current programming, titled “A Season of Transformation.”
“The bigger journey here is the chance for the audience to hear what they don’t typically in a classical performance, so for 2012, with that overall arch of Transformation, we enter a new era where hopefully we will move forward as a species. I like the idea of focusing on one composer for both the Orchestra and the audience. This season we look at Brahms, (interspersed through the season’s performances) whose music moves us to a spiritual realm, utterly transporting us. His music has all things to do with significant transformation. 60+ years is a long time to live for a creative composer.”
It seems that great musical minds are thinking along a meme: Ms. McDermott is implementing this same idea, which she calls “immersion concepts” for Bravo! Vail Music Festival. Bravo! will be focusing on the same one or two composers throughout each season…and as it betides, the upcoming season (their 25th!) will center on none other than…Brahms.
This speaks to a somewhat mystical musical pondolurum, this Brahms on Brahms; it will be exciting to follow its auspicious path…
Mr. Hughes himself is another brilliant star in our community musical compendium. He spent the blistering summer months in the cooler clime of Aspen, as a newlywed (felicitations!) and participating in The Aspen Music Festival and School. He was also appointed as Music Director and Conductor of the Youth Symphony Association in Santa Fe over the summer. (Nice work, if you can get it…)
In telling me more about Brahms, Hughes said that Schuman declared him (Brahms) the heir to Beethoven and the Germanic Style of classical music. Brahms was a classicist and progressive at the same time. He was the first composer to take one theme with its constrictions–the four-bar phrase that we hear in music from Mozart to the Beatles, and most everything in between written in the four-bar phrase—and introduce the idea of writing in other meters, such as his five-bar phrase. “This was remarkable,” Hughes told me, “and a hint at the genius of Brahms. It was unprecedented and is still rarely seen.
You would not know it as you listen to Brahms. Every variation has the exact same theme. But he has morphed the structure in to a new entity to make the symphony more organic.”
So the music of Brahms is one of this season’s themes for Boulder Symphony, and the introduction of newly composed works, too. In the Symphony’s next concert, “Seasons of Change,” Johannes Brahms will indeed be played: Serenade No. 1 in D Major, as well as Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring: Suite, among other pieces.
The next performance is Friday, November 18 at 7:00 p.m., at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder. For tickets go to Boulder Symphony’s website, and let them play for us!