CMF ends on a high note

‘Classically Jazz,’ Mahler’s Ninth and violinist Gil Shaham will end the season

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Superstar violinist Gil Shaham will perform Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony during CMF’s final week.
Luke Ratray

When you plan a summer festival, you want to end on a high note. And this year, Jean-Marie Zeitouni and the Colorado Music Festival (CMF) will end on three separate high notes that bring the 40th anniversary season to a grand conclusion, July 30–Aug. 4.

The first: former CMF first-clarinetist Boris Allakhverdyan returns to Boulder to perform the Copland Clarinet Concerto on a program titled Classically Jazz, Sunday, July 30; the second: Zeitouni leads the Festival Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, last performed at CMF more than 20 years ago, Thursday, Aug. 3; and the third: Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, performed by super-star soloist Gil Shaham, described by Zeitouni as “a wonderful man and musician,” Friday, Aug. 4.

“The idea for the last week is to do something for the orchestra — and [Mahler’s Ninth] is a piece that they’ve all been dying to play — and something for our patrons in the form of a major guest artist,” Zeitouni says. “One concert is more about the orchestra, and one is a gift to the audience.”

Classically Jazz, coming at the beginning of the week, is a program that Zeitouni “had so much fun doing, to have the jazz influence with the symphony orchestra,” he says. In addition to the Copland Concerto, the program includes works by European composers deeply influenced by American jazz: music from Three Penny Opera by Kurt Weill and Creation of the World by Darius Milhaud. And there will be other American works, too: two Joplin rags, Leonard Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, and Gershwin’s Lullaby for Strings.

Allakhverdyan was the CMF’s principal clarinet for five years, and today is principal with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. “I’m really excited to do Copland again,” he says.

Scored for only strings, piano and harp, the concerto has “two very different parts,” he explains: “A gorgeous slow part, and a really jazzy second part, connected by a very challenging and awesome-sounding cadenza.

“I just hope my reed works! Going into high altitudes can be tricky,” Allakhverdyan says.

Before the Classically Jazz program, Allakhverdyan will appear with CMF musicians to perform Brahms’ luscious Clarinet Quintet on a chamber music concert Saturday, July 29. On the same program are Tchaikovsky’s “Autumn Song” and Mozart’s Quintet in E-flat for piano and winds.

It has been more than 20 years since Mahler’s Ninth was performed at CMF, and it was not part of the Mahler cycle that former music director Michael Christie started in 2004. Its inclusion this year is not only for the orchestra and Boulder’s many Mahler fans, it is also part of the 40th-anniversary celebration of the festival’s past.

“One piece that never completed [Christie’s] symphonic cycle was Mahler Nine,” Zeitouni says. “So it is there this year as a completion of the work that was started before me.”

The last major work he completed, Mahler’s Ninth is regarded as both the greatest of his symphonies and a form of farewell. But Zeitouni, who is stepping down as full-time music director of the CMF, says that is not the message of the program. “No matter how we interpret this music, there is no hidden message,” he says.

“When I planned this I didn’t know that my role would be changing at CMF. I chose this because it’s an indisputable masterpiece. And any time I surveyed the musicians, this came back as the piece they were looking forward to the most to play.”

The summer’s final concert is an all-Beethoven program with Shaham playing the violin Concerto as the first half, and the Symphony No. 7 as the second. “I like the fact that the concerto is paired with the Seventh Symphony because Beethoven’s Seventh is so festive, it’s the proper piece for an evening like this,” Zeitouni says. “And to get a guest artist like Gil Shaham to close our season is a coup.”

Shaham has played the Beethoven Concerto many times, but it is a piece he always relishes. “It was this incredible slash of inspiration,” he says. “[Beethoven] was a composer in the zone, churning out one immortal masterpiece after another.

“With the Violin Concerto, every phrase is a surprise, and yet it’s perfect, it’s exactly the way it should be. I was thinking of one passage where the violin freezes on a high note, on a trill, and time stops. The cellist imitates a drum beat repeating one very dissonant note — there’s something about that that’s so fresh. You realize it was perfect, it couldn’t have been any other way.”

While this concert ends Zeitouni’s role as music director, he will continue as a frequent guest conductor. And he looks back on the season with pleasure.

“I’m looking at this summer with sort of a pride at what we did and what we will do,” he says.

On the Bill: Colorado Music Festival Final Week. Chautauqua Auditorium, 900 Baseline Road, 303-440-7666. See comusic.org for a full program listing, dates and times.