Festival finale

CMF closes with some familiar faces and tunes

Olga Kern, pianist, photographed by Chris Lee at Steinway Hall, 12/9/13.
Chris Lee

Peter Oundjian, the internationally recognized artistic advisor of the Colorado Music Festival, will be in residence for the festival’s final days, through Saturday, Aug. 4.

The remaining orchestral concerts, all under Oundjian’s direction, will reflect the theme he selected, celebrating the Leonard Bernstein centennial. Or as Oundjian explains it, the programs will comprise Bernstein’s own music, plus “things Bernstein loved, things he was famous for, and by extension, music written on American soil.”

There will be a series of soloists over the final week-and-a-half, starting tonight (July 26) with violinist Augustin Hadelich, who Oundjian describes as “one of the greatest talents in the history of the violin,” and “an absolutely wonderful human being, too.” The extraordinary singer Michelle DeYoung will be a soloist Saturday, July 28, for a recital with pianist Cody Garrison, and will join Oundjian and the orchestra Sunday, July 29.

The final week of the festival offers two more soloists: Tchaikovsky Competition gold medalist, Armenian cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan on Aug. 2; and popular Russian pianist Olga Kern for the fourth year running, for the Festival Finale concert Aug. 4.

Hadelich, who performs the Barber Violin Concerto July 26, has an impressive international reputation. He began playing violin at age 5, but at 15 he was seriously injured in a fire on his family’s farm. Unable to play for more than a year, he discovered how important music was in his life, and once recovered, he went on to study at Juilliard and win several major competitions.

Oundjian considers him a unique artist. “Listen to his Paganini Caprices,” he says. “It’s the most virtuosic and the most beautiful playing you could imagine.”

On the same program will be Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, a piece not well known to American audiences. “It’s wonderful!” is Oundjian’s verdict. “It’s not a particularly modernist piece, very entertaining, brilliant for the orchestra.”

Filling out the program will be Lyric for Strings by George Walker and Dr. Atomic Symphony by John Adams. Extracted from Adams’s opera Dr. Atomic, currently in production at the Santa Fe Opera, the symphony is a 23-minute musical abridgment of the dramatic work.

DeYoung’s recital on July 28 will include both standard song repertoire and a world premier. In addition to art songs by Brahms, Strauss and Barber, she will premiere Timothy Collins’ Love’s Crusade, which was written specifically for her.

Love’s Crusade is a cycle of four songs, all taken from very different sources, from Shakespeare to Collins’ own texts. “When I put these four songs together, it seemed that there was a common underlying theme of love, the struggle to protect love, and eternal love, so that’s where the title Love’s Crusade came from,” Collins says.

“I’m very excited to hear this for the first time.”

DeYoung will also sing the “Abschied” from Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), one of the iconic works for mezzo-soprano. Oundjian chose that for the program both because it was written in the United States, while Mahler was director of the New York Philharmonic, and because it is a piece with which Bernstein was closely associated. “The ‘Abschied’ is immensely powerful and really a wonderful tribute to Bernstein as well,” Oundjian says.

On the program with the “Abschied” are Made in America by Joan Tower, a one-movement orchestral work based on “America the Beautiful,” and another work that was literally “made in America,” Stravinsky’s spiky neo-classical Pulcinella Suite.

The “Made in American” theme continues on the Aug. 2 orchestral program, opening with Three Dance Episodes from Bernstein’s Fancy Free ballet. Based on a moment in the ballet where three sailors have a dance-off for the attention of two girls, it is, Oundjian says, “very witty music.”

Dvorák’s Cello Concerto, to be performed by Tchaikovsky gold medalist Hakhnazaryan, is yet another work written in America. “The Cello Concerto is absolutely at the peak of anything that Dvorák wrote,” Oundjian says. “It’s just masterful and magical all the way through.”

The Aug. 2 program will conclude with one of the greatest works written on American soil, the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra. Composed in 1943, after Bartók had fled Europe during World War II, it was written while the composer was in a New York hospital suffering from an ultimately fatal blood disorder.

The Festival Finale concert Aug. 4 sees the return of one of CMF’s most popular soloists, pianist Olga Kern, playing one of America’s most popular pieces, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The Rhapsody shares the program with a less well known American masterpiece, Samuel Barber’s First Symphony.

“The Barber Symphony is a very, very intense masterwork,” Oundjian says. “It has one of the most staggeringly beautiful slow movements that I can think of, from any period. It’s one of my favorites.”

On the Bill: Colorado Music Festival, July 26-Aug. 4. All performances at Chautauqua Auditorium. Tickets and a full schedule  at coloradomusifestival.org

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