Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra celebrate all the holidays

Music from a Mexican beach and a crazy Brazilian conductor

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BCO’s Cobus du Toit will act as soloist for the upcoming performance of Pastorale Suite for flute and strings by Gunnar de Frumerie.
Courtesy of BCO

Conductor Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) have a couple of holiday traditions.

Every year they honor the December holidays as ecumenically as possible with a concert titled “A Gift of Music,” performed mid-month in Broomfield and Boulder. After that they present a New Year’s Eve concert in Lakewood featuring Viennese and other light classical selections.

This year’s “Gift of Music” doesn’t have any traditional holiday music on the program, “because we want it to be multi-denominational,” Saless says. Instead, the program reflects the holidays through music of lighthearted beauty and good cheer.

Saless selected three works for the program: the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo, featuring young guitar virtuoso Chaconne Klaverenga as soloist; Pastorale Suite for flute and strings by Gunnar de Frumerie, with the BCO’s Cobus du Toit as soloist; and Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 5. So there will definitely not be any “Winter Wonderland” or “Sleigh Ride.”

Or will there?

“You never know!” Saless says. “There’s always a little gem that we throw in there, to put people in a holiday mood.”

One discovery of this year’s concert will be Klaverenga, who at 23 has been featured on NPR’s From the Top program and won several musical competitions. She comes to Boulder as the winner of the California-based Arts Alive Competition, which has provided other soloists for the BCO.

“She’s very talented, and a great young artist that we could showcase,” Saless says.

With a given name of Chaconne — a Baroque musical form — it is no surprise that Klaverenga comes from a musical family. Growing up in Indiana, she got interested in the guitar from hearing her father play — and from an episode of the TV show Blue’s Clues on Nickelodeon. “They had some guitar in it, and that connected for me,” she says.

Rodrigo’s Concierto is “probably one of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire,” Klaverenga says, but “I always enjoy playing difficult works. I think the second movement is one of the most beautiful pieces for classical guitar I’ve ever heard.”

Another discovery on the program will be de Frumerie’s Pastorale Suite, almost certain to be new to most members of the audience. Saless first heard it on a Mexican beach, and he knew immediately that he had to program it.

“I have an old iPod, and I take it on vacation with me,” he explains. “This just came up, and I thought it’s a great piece to play! I was searching for (something) to perform with Cobus, who has become our staple for holiday music, and this is for strings, Cobus and harp.

“It’s a collection of wonderful little melodies, a little gem.”

Written when the composer was only 19, Schubert’s Fifth Symphony was first performed by a private orchestra in Vienna. It has the optimism and bright energy we associate with youthful works, but as the English musical scholar and conductor Donald Tovey wrote, “every work Schubert left is an early work.”

“It’s very cheerful, it’s very tuneful, like most of Schubert,” Saless says. ”It’s almost like one of the song cycles, filled with lyrical ideas. And it’s wonderful to play because it fits any program.”

With all the Nutcrackers, Messiahs and other traditional musical performances in December, New Year’s almost gets overlooked by classical musicians in this country. But in Europe, it is the focus of many performances, particularly the annual New Year’s Day concert of the Vienna Philharmonic.

It is that tradition that the BCO channels every year with its New Year’s Eve concert.

This year, Saless steps aside for guest conductor Claudio Cohen, director of the National Orchestra of Brasilia in Brazil. He and Saless are doing a “podium exchange,” with Cohen conducting here New Year’s Eve, and Saless traveling to Brazil in October.

Cohen will bring at least one piece with him, Brazilian Landscapes by Ricardo Calderoni. Drawing on various popular styles, including bossa nova, choro and baiao, the piece was conceived as a tour through the Brazilian musical landscape.

The rest of the program will be “traditional New Year’s stuff,” Saless says. Although he isn’t choosing the program himself, he says it will include music from Strauss’s Fledermaus — another New Year’s tradition in Europe — as well as “polkas, a couple of Brahms Hungarian Rhapsodies and maybe a Dvorak Slavonic Dance.”

And with that, it will be on to 2018. But with the next year filled with unknowns, Saless advises, “come listen to a great New Year’s Eve concert by a crazy Brazilian!”

On the Bill: Boulder Chamber Orchestra presents A Gift of Music; Bahman Saless, conductor; with Chaconne Klaverenga, guitar, and Cobus du Toit, flute. 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, Broomfield Auditorium, 3 Community Park Road, Broomfield.

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder.

A New Year’s Eve Celebration; Claudio Cohen, guest conductor. 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 31, Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 S. Allison Parkeay, Lakewood.

Information and tickets: www.boulderchamberorchestra.com/2017-2018-season