Sometimes a soloist is more than a soloist.
The next concert of the Boulder Philharmonic features the violinist Midori Goto (who performs under the mononym Midori) playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto. That’s Midori appearing as a traditional concerto soloist, but it’s only one part of a week-long residency in Boulder that includes teaching students from grade school through college as well as community outreach to adults.
The Boulder Philharmonic and the Greater Boulder Youth Orchestras (GBYO) were selected for the residency — one of only two in the 2018–19 year — through a competitive process administered by the Midori Orchestra Residencies Program in New York.
Sunday’s concert will feature two other works along with the Sibelius Concerto: Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds by Tan Dun, an atmospheric piece that includes an mp3 file that audience members can download and play on their cell phones during the concert; and Brahms’ Third Symphony.
Tan Dun’s piece reflects the Boulder Phil’s season theme of “Open Space” by evoking the sounds of birds, especially the sounds that will be played through cell phones. The file, which audience members will be cued to play during the performance, contains the sounds of Asian instruments imitating birds.
“When everybody is playing these files, it creates the impression of being outside where there are a lot of birds around,” Butterman says. “It begins with the fourth percussionist by herself, playing this file over a bit of amplification.
“Then I turn to the audience and divide them into two or three groups. I will cue them sequentially so that we have a rolling start, and then we proceed to the written part of the piece. And later, the orchestra musicians pull out their cell phones and create this environment again.”
There are other non-traditional sounds in the score as well, something the composer is known for. Percussionists play tuned stones; there are water sounds; the string players whisper written texts and snap their fingers and the wind players are asked to sing vowel sounds. These effects create what Butterman calls “an immersive environmental sound experience.”
The Sibelius Concerto is one of the great virtuoso pieces in the violin repertoire, and will allow the audience to experience Midori’s renowned musicianship. It is also, Butterman points out, indirectly linked to the season’s theme. “I always have the sense that Sibelius’ music has a natural-world connection,” he says.
That is less obvious in the Violin Concerto than in the Fifth Symphony, “A Song for Swans,” that the Boulder Phil played last season. Nevertheless, “his music never feels far separated from nature,” Butterman says. Like many commentators, he relates the open textures of Sibelius’ music to the emptiness of the remote tundra of northern Finland, the composer’s native country. “It absolutely evokes expansiveness,” he says.
The final work on the program, Brahms’ Third Symphony, is the only one of Brahms’ four symphonies that Butterman has not conducted in Boulder. If Sibelius evokes the sparse forests of Finland’s far north, the thicker, layered textures of Brahms evoke the depths of Germany’s Black Forest.
“Brahms is a composer for whom you seem to keep discovering more and more details every time you pass through the score,” Butterman says. “The organizational unity of Brahms’ music is what I most enjoy and marvel at. And yet we don’t need to know any of that to enjoy his music, because it’s emotional, it’s tuneful, right on the surface.”
Boulder Philharmonic director of community engagement Cynthia Sliker is coordinating the residency events. “The focus is on community outreach and working with young musicians. She is working with public school groups, with the Youth Symphony, with private violin teaching studios. She’s offering public talks, so it’s a big array of events,” Sliker says, calling attention to two public events in particular: a “Citizen Artist Talk,” where she will talk about her international advocacy that has earned her recognition as a U.N. Ambassador of Peace, and a Community Play-Along that provides an opportunity for young students of all ages to play together with her.
As co-recipients of the residency, the GBYO will also perform with Midori. Emily Bowman, artistic director of GBYO, remembers seeing Midori as a young performer while she was herself a young violin student. “I’m super excited!” she says.
“It’s a once in lifetime opportunity for these students to work with a world-class violinist. To come into contact with someone who teaches so deeply will be inspiring for years to come. I think she will inspire us to be our best.”
On the Bill: Midori Orchestra Residency Program. Oct. 31-Nov. 5, various locations around Boulder. boulderphil.org/event/midori-orchestra-residencies-program