When the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra kicked off its 65th season last October, it had the whole world in mind. Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet, the world-premiere collaboration between music director Michael Butterman and composer Drew Hemenger, incorporated U.N. climate reports, Indigenous texts and speeches by activist Greta Thunberg into a stirring evening of music that brought planetary peril into sharp focus across its five movements.
“We want to make sure we are being responsive to the world around us and speaking to what’s happening now,” says Sara Parkinson, executive director at the Boulder Phil. “So whether the music is old or new, that’s one of the most important parts of keeping orchestral music relevant and vibrant.”
Parkinson says this involvement in the larger conversation is a big part of what has kept the organization a vital part of cultural life in Boulder since 1957. For the former director of education and community engagement who joined the team in 2019, that was underscored during this watershed season’s climate-focused debut by the participation of city and state government officials — not always a common sight at local arts events.
“It was so wonderful to start the 65th anniversary season with Governor Polis and City of Boulder leaders, to show how important arts and culture remain in our society,” says Parkinson, a pianist by training. “I have a deep connection with this music, and I know that’s true for [others] in this community.”
But as streaming services and social media algorithms dictate more and more of our listening habits, Parkinson says the work of sparking interest in an artform that’s hundreds of years old is about more than dwelling in the here-and-now. It also requires a forward-focused vision.
“I’m always looking to the future. I think that’s how the arts remain alive, with leaders of arts organizations keeping the vision moving forward at all times while remaining responsive to the community,” she says. “That is one of my biggest goals in this position. … [it’s] a core of my being, and the center of our mission here at the Boulder Phil.”
The organization’s forward-looking view was tested earlier this month by the death of its beloved concertmaster, Charles “Chas” Wetherbee. But after the sudden loss of the 56-year-old violinist and CU Boulder College of Music professor, whose memory was honored with a Jan. 22 performance by the Boulder Phil, Parkinson says this mission took on a new shade of importance.
“We’re going through a lot right now. There’s a lot of people in our community who are grieving — between the music school, the Boulder Phil and others whose lives he touched,” she says. “In his honor, we’re trying to move forward by making more music.”
To that end, the remainder of Boulder Phil’s 65th anniversary season features a deep and diverse repertoire that’s sure to grab the attention of orchestral music aficionados and outsiders alike. Concerts include superstar violinist Stefan Jackiw (March 25) and Canadian pianist Angela Cheng (April 22), followed by a special May 6 collaboration with beloved Colorado folk-rock band DeVotchKa.
“We want to make sure everyone is seen and heard in our community,” Parkinson says. “[It’s about] providing a space where they have memorable experiences that transcend their daily lives.”
ON THE BILL: For more details on Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra’s 65th season, visit boulderphil.org.