Performance will be Sunday at 4 p.m.
By Peter Alexander Jan. 19 at 9:25 p.m.
The Boulder Philharmonic will dedicate its next performance to the memory of their late concertmaster, Charles “Chas” Wetherbee, who died Jan. 9.
The concert was to have featured Wetherbee as soloist, playing Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto. The program, which also includes Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7, remains unchanged. Violinist Alex Gonzalez, who joined the CU College of Music faculty in August, will substitute for Wetherbee, both as soloist and as the orchestra’s concertmaster.
Titled “Afternoon with Bruckner,” the concert will be presented at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22, in Macky Auditorium. This is a change from the orchestra’s usual schedule of Saturday evening concerts. The Phil’s music director, Michael Butterman, will conduct.
Butterman had always wanted to feature Wetherbee for this concert. In looking for a piece to pair with the Bruckner, which alone takes 70 minutes, he thought the relatively short and cheerful Mozart Concerto would be suitable.
“Something about that combination (of Mozart and Bruckner) works,” he says. While not technically an overture, Butterman says he thinks of the concerto as “an aperitif” before the main course. “And a quick Google search revealed that I was not the first person to bring those (two composers) together,” he adds.
As both soloist and guest concertmaster, Gonzalez sees his role as honoring Wetherbee. “This concert is quite special, because I’m stepping in for Chas,” he says. “I want to honor him as much as I can.
“He was such a generous, open musician. Particularly In the Mozart I want to bring that feeling to the concerto, and bring the freshness and open-heartedness that I’m sure he would have brought. And the piece lends itself to that.”
Gonzalez says he will bring the same respect to his role as concertmaster. The music he has received has all of the bow markings that Wetherbee had planned for the Bruckner Symphony, which is a completely new piece for Gonzalez. Normally, as concertmaster he would make his own bow markings as he learned the music, but in this case he intends to keep Wetherbee’s choices.
“While I’m given permission (as concertmaster) to change what I need to, I’m hoping to facilitate more than to change much, just because of the circumstances of this performance,” he says. “I’m really interested in playing the concert as (Wetherbee) would have.”
While the Bruckner is new for Gonzalez, it’s not for Butterman. “It’s my favorite Bruckner symphony,” he says. “Most people tend to agree that this and maybe the Ninth are his best symphonies, if one can say such a thing.”
Like most of Bruckner’s music, the symphony moves at a leisurely pace that is different from the fast pace that characterizes our world today. “It’s a slow burn,” is how Butterman puts it. “It’s not for our short attention span world. It’s the perfect antidote for contemporary society. But if you can relax with it, it’s incredible rewarding.”
The first two movements are especially expansive and expressive. “I just love some of the glories of the first movement,” Butterman says.
The second movement was written in homage to Richard Wagner, whom Brucker idolized and who died soon after the symphony was completed. Although not a literal funeral march—Wagner was still alive when it was written—Bruckner did intend it as a tribute and it has a definite elegiac quality.
One interesting feature is the inclusion of instruments known as “Wagner tubas”—a tenor instrument that Wagner commissioned for his Ring cycle of four music dramas to fill the gap in the brass section between French horns and trombones. Their inclusion may be another homage to Wagner’s music. The Phil borrowed instruments from the CU College of Music, since few people own Wagner tubas.
Several typical characteristics of Bruckner’s style are evident in the symphony. For one, it may be a sign of his training and career as an organist that the orchestra is often used in blocks, like changing stops on the organ. The music is often built from highly regular units of four or eight measures. This can be heard particularly in the third movement, a vigorous folk-dance, and the finale, a collection of energetic ideas that each seems to stand on its own. In contrast, the first two movement are much more expansive and flexible.
Because of their length and orchestral size, Bruckner symphonies have not often been heard in Boulder. “There were a number of reasons this was important to do,” Butterman says. “Not the least is that it’s a chance for the brass to play with a roundness and warmth, and more bloom to the sound.”
While playing a less familiar symphony provides challenges for the players, Butterman concedes that Bruckner poses him a challenge as well. “Just managing the rehearsal will be a challenge,” he says. “The first two movements are so long I have to be conscious of not getting too deep in the weeds and running out of time.
“That’s my challenge.”
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“Afternoon with Bruckner”
Dedicated to the memory of the orchestra’s late concertmaster, Charles Wetherbee
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Alex Gonzalez, violin
- Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K219 (“Turkish”)
- Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E major
4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22