Call it “Bahman’s bon-bons.”
That would be Bahman Saless, music director of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO), who usually gives the group’s seasons a theme — such as “Symphonic Alchemy” or “Road to Mastery.” But not this year.
“Yeah, there is nothing,” Saless says when asked about a theme for the current season. “I would say it’s a season about doing Bahman’s favorite pieces.”
In other words, Bahman’s bon-bons?
“Sure!” he says with a big smile. But when pressed, Saless acknowledges that 2013-14 is, in fact, the BCO’s 10th anniversary.
“The season is basically about celebrating our 10-year anniversary doing things that have always been my favorites, pieces that I’ve missed doing, and pieces that I know the audiences have been wanting to come back,” Saless says.
That season opened in September and continues this weekend with “Timeless Simplicity” — the concerts still carry titles — a program of pieces written in the early years of the composers’ respective careers: Mozart Symphony No. 29, written when Mozart was 18; Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, written when Beethoven was 24; and Britten’s “Les Illuminations” for soprano and strings, written when Britten was 26. Performances are Friday, Nov. 8, in Boulder, and Saturday, Nov. 9, in Broomfield (www.boulderchamberorchestra.org/concerts/201311.html).
Featured soloists will be pianist Soheil Nasseri in the Beethoven, making his Boulder debut; and soprano Sylvia Schranz, a regular on the Boulder music scene, in the Britten.
“What these pieces have in common is a simplicity and brightness, a positivity,” Saless says. “I think tunefulness usually goes with optimism and youth. But simplicity and profoundness are literally the two sides of the same coin. Often the simplest [pieces] are the best.”
The least familiar piece on the program is Britten’s “Les Illuminations,” a song cycle based on prose poems by the French symbolist Arthur Rimbaud. A phenomenon of the 19th century literary world, Rimbaud wrote all of his poetry in a three-year period, 1872–75, and then, at the age of 21, gave up writing to travel through Asia and Africa.
It was soprano Sylvia Schranz who introduced Saless to Britten’s settings, composed in England and America on the eve of World War II.
“Sylvia and I have been talking about that for a few years,” Saless says.
“She has been a frequent guest with the orchestra and I love working with her. She said it was one of her all-time favorite pieces, and I love doing things where it makes peoples’ lives more meaningful. So I said, ‘Let’s do it!’”
Rimbaud’s texts, written partly under the influence of hashish, are complex and emotionally intense, but Saless is confident their meanings will come through in performance.
“I had to read them many times,” he says. “We’ll have a translation in the program for the audience to follow, but I think Sylvia is fabulous enough to really portray the essence well.
“One thing I’d love for the audience to leave with is what a great composer Britten was.”
Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto is definitely one of Saless’ favorite pieces. Although published second, it was actually the first piano concerto Beethoven wrote, and it has a playful quality that Saless associates with the composer’s youthfulness.
“Just like any creature as they grow, composers have to play—it’s part of the discovery journey,” he says. “This is probably one of the brightest pieces Beethoven ever wrote.”
Saless especially wants the audience to notice how the seating of the orchestra brings out Beethoven’s humor. “The way that Beethoven wrote was first violins on the left side, seconds on the right side, and they talk to each other,” he explains. “It’s stereophonic writing.
“Beethoven was a very humorous guy. He loved to do these funny things, where firsts talk, seconds answer, firsts talk, seconds answer—then the cellos come in. It’s like two children talking and suddenly the parents go ‘Wait a minute!’
“I love that about Beethoven. It’s really cool.”
In soloist Soheil Nasseri, Saless has found an ideal partner to reveal the “humorous guy” in the young Beethoven. Not that Nasseri treats music flippantly; on the contrary, the pianist has established a serious reputation as a virtuoso performer and earned outstanding reviews in the New York Times. Boulder audiences will relish the chance to hear this accomplished pianist.
But his expressive palette clearly includes all tints. Times critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim made exactly that point, unintentionally promoting him for this very program. “Nasseri revealed a sure eye for drama and the psychologically telling detail,” she wrote on Sept. 4. “There is a full-body expressiveness to Mr. Nasseri’s playing that came through most strongly in the comic moments by Beethoven.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to pianist Soheil Nasseri as Iranian-born. He was actually born in the United States.
The Boulder Chamber Orchestra plays the First Congregational Church (1128 Pine St., Boulder) on Friday, Nov. 8. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. The BCO will also play the Broomfield Auditorium (3 Community Park, Broomfield) on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 7:30 p.m. Visit www.boulderchamberorchestra.org for more info.