Variations on a theme

Boulder Philharmonic offers a season of new discoveries and familiar masterworks

Credit: Jamie Kraus Photography

Death, taxes and Butterman. The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra has experienced many changes over the last few years, but music director Michael Butterman is a constant. As he embarks on his 17th season on the podium at Macky Auditorium, the conductor is confident in the successful formula he has developed.  

“It’s the approach that always works for us,” Butterman says. “We have world premieres and Boulder-centric programming, but I always want to include something recognizable and familiar along with new discoveries. Each concert speaks to Boulder in one way or another.”

Describing the five-concert Masterworks Series, Butterman highlighted these elements, beginning with the season opener on Oct. 15. But he also discussed the changes, like the arrival of new executive director Mimi Kruger. 

The most traumatic change for the orchestra and the community was the death of concertmaster Charles “Chas” Wetherbee in January of this year. A Sunday performance honoring the late violinist would become the orchestra’s best-selling post-pandemic concert, feeding the decision to move four of this season’s concerts from the normal Saturday slot. 

The opening concert, titled “Transformation,” features pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, who is perhaps better known for her recital and chamber music performances than for playing with orchestra. She is a longstanding presence in the classical scene at Vail, but makes her Boulder Phil debut with Beethoven’s profound Piano Concerto No. 4. 

“It has a lot of conversational, chamber-like elements, especially the dialogue in the second movement,” Butterman says. “It seems a piece that is well-suited to her strengths.”

“Each concert speaks to Boulder in one way or another,” music director Michael Butterman says of the upcoming Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra season
Jamie Kraus
“Each concert speaks to Boulder in one way or another,” music director Michael Butterman says of the upcoming Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra season. Photo by Jamie Kraus Photography.

‘Visions of a brighter tomorrow’

The program also includes two orchestral showpieces by 20th-Century composers inspired by masters from earlier periods. Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme by Purcell is often used in school music programs to teach the instruments. The work takes a simple theme by the early baroque composer and uses it to explore the colors of the orchestra. Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis does something similar using material from early romantic composer Carl Maria von Weber.

Butterman opens with a tribute to the former composer by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. “You can either go with fireworks or with calm placidity to open a concert,” Butterman says. “Here we go with the latter to set up the Britten work and also the second movement of the Beethoven concerto.”

The second concert on Nov. 12 opens with the world premiere of Beacon by CU composition professor Jeffrey Nytch, celebrating the 75th year of the Boulder Star on Flagstaff Mountain. The central piece is by Argentinian composer Richard Scofano for bandoneon and orchestra called La Tierra Sin Mal, with Scofano himself playing the instrument native to his country. 

“It’s a gorgeous piece that is based on a Guarani legend about a place without evil and a paradise in the mind,” Butterman says. “I felt it would complement Jeff’s celebration of our own Boulder Star and its symbolism.”

Scofano’s piece will be performed with choreography by local contemporary company 3rd Law Dance/Theater. The familiar masterwork on this program is the First Symphony of Johannes Brahms, which progresses from a dark opening to a triumphant breakthrough. All three works fit the concert theme: “Visions of a Brighter Tomorrow.”

. . .

ON THE BILL: Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra season opener with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott. 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, Macky Auditorium, 1595 Pleasant St. Tickets here.

Future vision:Coming in 2024 from Boulder Phil

Jan. 7: ‘Vignettes and Promenades’

The orchestra will join pianist and composer Aldo López-Gavilán for its first program of the new year. Butterman has worked with him before, including in Boulder in 2019, where he played his piano concerto Emporium, which he encores during this performance. 

“It fuses the worlds of classical and jazz, much like Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue,” Butterman says. “[It] reflects the images of his Afro-Cuban heritage.” 

López-Gavilán’s new Clarinet Concerto is also featured, played by Philadelphia Orchestra principal clarinetist Ricardo Morales. Butterman says López-Gavilán does his own orchestrations and has a great ear for instrumental color. That provided the impetus for the large concert work on the program, Maruice Ravel’s brilliant orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Its “gallery” theme also fits with the title of the Emporium concerto.

Feb. 11: ‘Best of Boulder’

The fourth concert on Feb. 11, is titled “Best of Boulder.” CU cello professor David Requiro plays Tchaikovky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, and the Phil’s two oboists, Sarah Bierhaus and Max Soto, join on Extra(ordinarily) Fancy by Vietnamese-American composer Viet Cuong. The Tchaikovsky work looks back to the style of his favorite composer Mozart, and the concert closes with that composer’s t last symphony, the “Jupiter,” No. 41 to complement it.

April 27: ‘Spring Romance’

Tchaikovsky anchors the season finale during the season’s only Saturday concert. His Fifth Symphony is a masterpiece of cyclical form. “He ratchets everything up when he introduces a joyous version of the opening fate motive at the end,” Butterman says. 

Violinist Francisco Fullana, who will also work with Greater Boulder Youth Orchestras that weekend, plays the virtuosic Third Concerto by Camille Saint-Saëns in his Boulder debut, paired on the first half with another French gem, D’un matin de printemps by Lili Boulanger, completed shortly before her death at age 24 in 1918.

. . .

More on the 2023-24 Boulder Philharmonic Season here


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here