Colorado Music Festival under way with music by living composers

Composer-in-residence John Adams, “Music of Today” are featured in the 2022 season

By Peter Alexander July 6 at 10:30 p.m.

The 2022 Colorado Music Festival (CMF), underway at Boulder’s Chautauqua Auditorium, offers some terrific programs, but if you want to know which ones are most exciting, don’t ask Peter Oundjian. The festival’s music director and conductor loves them all.

Peter Oundjian at Chautauqua

“Since I designed it, there’s nothing I’m not excited about,” he says of this year’s festival. “You’ve got really interesting guests and wonderful artists, the Takács Quartet and John Adams and Mahler’s Fifth and a fanfare by Wynton Marsalis. It’s full of exciting prospects!” (See the complete, updated program for the festival below.)

In fact, there is enough excitement that it’s hard to mention it all in one sentence. Other intriguing prospects for the summer are performances of all five Beethoven piano concertos on three concerts, by rising Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki (July 7–10); a week of “Music of Today” (July 12–17); world premieres of music by Timo Andres (July 17) and Wang Jie (Aug. 4); guest performances by pianist Jeremy Denk (July 17), violinist Randall Goosby (July 21–22) and clarinetist Anthony McGill (Aug. 4).

Here are closer looks into some of the headline events during the summer:

Jan Lisiecki. Photo by Mathias Bothor—DG

Lisiecki’s Beethoven Piano Concerto series opens Thursday. “Jan is a young musician and p pianist, really remarkable, and he just recorded the piano concerti of Beethoven for Deutsche Grammophon [record label].” Oundjian says. “He was supposed to play them two years ago, for Beethoven’s 250th. I really didn’t want to lose that idea for the festival, and he promised that he would come back and play them all.”

Another anniversary, one this year, provided the other idea for programming the three concerts. The year 2022 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose works will open the concerts that conclude with Beethoven’s piano concertos. Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis open the first of the Beethoven-Vaughan Williams concerts (July 7), followed by the Overture to The Wasps (July 8), and the Fifth Symphony (July 10).

“I’ve always been an enormous admirer of Vaughan Williams’s music,” Oundjian says. “It’s the 150th anniversary and I don’t think anybody in this country has acknowledged it, so that’s what we’re doing. The Fifth Symphony is really extraordinary—it’s so evocative, it’s so beautiful and so sad and reflective, but it ends with a great sense of optimism.”

“Music of Today” (July 12–17) is central to Oundjian’s concept of the festival. “I hope to think it’s important to everyone, but it’s certainly important to me,” he says. Music for the week-long mini-festival was selected by Oundjian together with the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams, who is the CMF composer-in-residence. In addition to his works being featured throughout the festival, Adams personally selected some of the composers for the festival, and he will conduct part of the programs July 14 and 17.

At 75, Adams is one of the country’s most revered composers. He is perhaps best known for his operas, including Nixon in China (1987) and Dr. Atomic (2005), but he has also written numerous orchestral, chamber, and solo piano works, several of which will be heard at CMF. His On the Transmigration of Souls, written in commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Centra in New York, won the Pulitzer Prize.

John Adams. Photo by Riccardo Musacchio

All four of the “Music of Today” concert include music by Adams, but they also include younger composers who are, so far, less known. The mini-festival opens with the Attacca Quartet (July 12), a young string quartet who describe themselves as “passionate advocates of contemporary repertoire.” 

In addition to selections from Adams’s John’s Book of Alleged Dances, Attacca will perform music by Flying Lotus, a DJ, producer and rapper from Los Angeles; Anne Müller, a German cellist/composer; American singer-songwriter Louis Cole; Philip Glass; and Caroline Shaw, who at 30 became the youngest-ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize in composition.

A Festival Orchestra concert (July 14) will feature both Oundjian and Adams conducting. The program comprises Adams’s City Noir, an atmospheric and jazzy symphony inspired by the culture of Los Angeles and noir films of the ‘40s and ‘50s; a Chamber Concerto by his son, Samuel Adams; and the world premiere of Dark Patterns by pianist/composer Timo Andres, a CMF commission. In addition to Dark Patterns, Andres has received commissions from Carnegie Hall for the Takacs Quartet, the Boston Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the New World Symphony. 

Surely a highlight of “Music for Today” will be the “Kaleidoscope” concert (July 15), with performances by guest artists Tessa Lark, violin, and Timothy McAllister, saxophone, with members of the CMF orchestra. Using lighting and video to create a theatrical performance as well as a concert, “Kaleidoscope” features, yes, a kaleidoscopic array of different composers—Adams, Glass, John Corigliano, Osvaldo Golijov, and others.

“It’s so much fun!” Oundjian says. “We put a screen up, and cameras everywhere, so you can watch the artists normally, or you can watch them at various different angles. And all of this cool lighting.! It’s like a theater evening rather than a concert.”

Gabriella Smith

“Music of Today” concludes with another concert shared by Oundjian and Adams as conductors of the CMF orchestra, with pianist Jeremy Denk playing Adams’s Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? (July 17).Also on the program is Tumblebird Contrails by Gabriella Smith, a committed environmentalist as well as composer. The score was inspired by an experience Smith had backpacking at the edge of the ocean at Pt. Reyes, Calif. The title, she writes, “is a Kerouac-inspired nonsense phrase.”

The final piece of the “Music of Today” week is also the only piece by a composer who is no longer living, the Symphony No. 6 by Christopher Rouse. “John and Christopher knew each other quite well,” Oundjian says. “(Rouse) basically composes his own final moments—when the gong sounds at the end, that is the final moment of life, and it’s very, very moving. So that’s why I’m ending the whole week with it.”

Later in  the summer, former CMF music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni will return to Boulder to lead two programs (July 18–29 and July 31). The first will feature more or less standard repertoire, including Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero playing Tchaikovsky’s every-popular First Piano Concerto. Known for her brilliant improvising skills, Montero has appeared in Boulder before, most recently with the CMF orchestra in July 2019.

Zeitouni’s second program is more interesting: Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst for strings, Bizet’s youthful Symphony in C major, and Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This very familiar music is rarely heard in its intended context—the play by William Shakespeare. The CMF performance will provide at least a taste of the original idea, with musical passages presented with texts from Shakespeare’s play spoken by actors John de Lancie and Marnie Mosiman. The performance will feature sopranos Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and Abigail Nims.

The Festival Finale Concert (Aug. 7) ends the festival with a bang: the Colorado premiere of Wynton Marsalis’s fanfare Herald, Holler and Hallelujah! a CMF co-commission, and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Ending the summer with a Mahler is symphony is not a convention at CMF, but Oundjian would not mind if it were. 

“I wouldn’t want to call it a tradition yet, because we only did it ‘19.” he says. “There’s nothing quite like Mahler for an orchestra, for a conductor, for the experience to listening as a music lover. So I like the idea. We’re going to try again for ‘23.”

The festival’s mix of audience favorites—Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto and Mahler’s Fifth, for example—with interesting new works by John Adams, Christopher Rouse, and younger composers including Carolyn Shaw, Flying Lotus, Gabriella Smith and Timo Andres, brings Oundjian’s vision of the festival to life.

“You can’t only program for the box office,“ he says. “You have to program for vision, and for maybe down-the-road box office. If you put interesting juxtapositions together, people develop a trust in you, and they’ll buy stuff they wouldn’t have bought two years earlier.

“It’s like when you go into an art gallery: you don’t have to love everything you see. It’s important that you enjoy an incredibly select [portion] that’s just amazing.”

With such wide ranging repertoire, this year’s CMF gives the audience a lot of opportunities to discover something “just amazing.” And perhaps to discover some new favorite composers in the process.

# # # # #

Colorado Music Festival 2022
(Remaining concerts)
All performances at Chautauqua Auditorium

7:30 pm. Thursday, July 7
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major
    —Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor

6:30 p.m. Friday, July 8
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Overture to The Wasps 
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major
    —Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 in D major
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major (“Emperor”)

——-Music of Today——-

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 12
Attacca Quartet

  • John Adams: selections from John’s Book of Alleged Dances 
  • Flying Lotus: Clock Catcher
    Remind U
    Pilgrim Side Eye
  • Anne Müller: Drifting Circles 
  • Louis Cole: Real Life
  • Philip Glass: String Quartet No. 3, “Mishima”
  • Caroline Shaw: The Evergreen
  • Gabriella Smith: Carrot Revolution

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14
Peter Oundjian and John Adams, conductors
With Samuel Adams, composer; Tessa Lark, violin; and Timothy McAllister, saxophone

  • Timo Andres: Dark Patterns (world premiere commission)
  • Samuel Adams: Chamber Concerto 
  • John Adams: City Noir

7:30 p.m. Friday, July 15: Kaleidoscope
Timo Andres, piano; Tessa Lark, violin; Timothy McAllister, saxophone; and members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • David Skidmore: Ritual Music 
  • Stacy Garrop: Reborn in flames (from Phoenix Rising)
  • Osvaldo Golijov: Last Round
  • Valerie Coleman: Red Clay & Mississippi Delta for Wind Quintet
  • Timo Andres: Honest Labor 
  • Roshanne Etezady: Recurring Dreams 
  • John Corigliano: STOMP 
  • Philip Glass: Etude No. 6 
  • John Adams: Road Movie

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17
Peter Oundjian and John Adams, conductors, Jeremy Denk, piano

  • Gabriella Smith: Tumblebird Contrails 
  • John Adams: Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? 
  • Christopher Rouse: Symphony No. 6

—————————

7:30 Tuesday, July 19: Flavors of Russia
Members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • Borodin: String Sextet in D minor
  • Mikhail Glinka: Trio Pathétique in D minor
  • Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence Sextet in D Minor, op. 70

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 22
Ryan Bancroft, conductor, with Randall Goosby violin

  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Ballade in A minor for orchestra
  • Florence Price: Violin Concerto No. 2
  • Saint-Saëns: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, op. 28
  • Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 24
Ryan Bancroft, conductor, with Albert Cano Smit, piano

  • Mozart: Serenade in C minor for winds, K388 
    —Piano Concerto B-flat major, K595 
    —Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K543

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 26
Members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • Mozart: Flute Quartet in D Major, K285
  • Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson: Movement for String Trio
  • Dvořák: Terzetto in C Major, op. 74
  • Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B minor, op. 115

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 28
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 29
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor, with Gabriela Montero, piano

  • Mussorgsky, arr. Rimsky-Korsakov: Night on Bald Mountain
  • Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor
  • Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 31
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor with Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and Abigail Nims, sopranos; John de Lancie and Marnie Mosiman, actors

  • Jessie Montgomery: Starburst 
  • Georges Bizet: Symphony No. 1 in C major 
  • Felix Mendelssohn: Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2
Danish String Quartet

  • Henry Purcell, arr. Benjamin Britten: Chacony in G minor
  • Folk Music from the British Isles, arr. Danish String Quartet
  • Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”)

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Anthony McGill, clarinet

  • Wang Jie: Flying On the Scaly Backs of Our Mountains (world premiere)
  • Carl Maria von Weber: Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor 
  • Debussy: Première Rhapsodie for clarinet and orchestra
  • Stravinsky: Suite from The Firebird (1919) 

6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7: Festival Finale Concert
Peter Oundjian, conductor

  • Wynton Marsalis: Herald, Holler and Hallelujah! (Colorado premiere, co-commission)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor

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