Boulder Chamber Orchestra presents music grown from friendship

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Karen Pollick at her home in Evergreen.
Courtesy Karen Pollick

David A. Jaffe’s new Violin Concerto grew out of a friendship between the composer and a Colorado violinist.

Karen Bentley Pollick, who lives in Evergreen, will play the American premiere of the concerto, titled How Did it Get so Late so Soon?, Friday in Broomfield and Saturday in Boulder. The concerto is part of “The Americans,” a program by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO)and conductor Bahman Saless.

Other works on the program are the Air and Gavotte for strings by Arthur Foote, the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, and Aaron Copland’s much loved Appalachian Spring. The all-American program is designed as a tribute for Veteran’s Day, which coincides with the Friday concert. As part of the observation, BCO is offering free tickets to all veterans, available at the door both dates.

Pollick played the world premiere of Jaffe’s concerto, which was written for her, at the Tytuvenai Festival in Lithuania on Aug. 27 of this year. “I strongly believe music is made between people who know each other,” she says. “The history of music is people writing with and for people that they’re fond of.”

Pollick and Jaffe met in the 1980s, when the composer was working at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. Since then, the violinist has played several of his works, including Impossible Animals for violin and computer-generated voices, and his Cluck Old Hen Variations for solo violin.

“What really appealed to me was how clever [Jaffe’s music] was written for the violin, because he was a violinist,” Pollick says. She also loved his mixing of idioms across many different styles. “He has such a grounding in roots music,” she says. “Blues, folk music — it’s all in there. And it feels good to play on violin.”

In return, Jaffe appreciated the wide variety of music that Pollick has performed — and the enthusiasm she brings to her performances. “I’ve always found her a very optimistic and energetic person — one who sees things as possible as opposed to impossible,” he says. “That is an asset in the music business.”

So Jaffe decided he wanted to compose a larger piece for her. “I floated the idea, wouldn’t it be great to write her a violin concerto,” he says. She was living in Lithuania at the time, and was able to set up the premiere there as part of a music festival held at the Tytuvenai Monastery outside Vilnius.

Jaffe took the title, How Did it Get so Late so Soon?, from a poem by an author known to almost every American — but hardly anyone in Lithuania: Dr. Seuss. A whimsical meditation on the brief duration of life, the poem struck Jaffe as somehow appropriate. “I’ve always loved Dr. Seuss,” he says. “Plus my musical style in general, I would say, has a similarity with Dr. Seuss.”

He has not named the individual movements, but they were partly inspired by three specific short stories: the first movement by “Yertle the Turtle,” the second by “The Zax,” and the finale by “The Sneetches.” But don’t look for the stories within Jaffe’s music. “I don’t write program music in the sense of telling the story,” he says.

Sometimes more evident than the Dr. Seuss stories are references to American music. “There’s a fair number of explicit references to folk songs, and there’s a whole lot of general bluegrass and folk and blues idioms,” he says.

Except for bluegrass fiddling in the third movement, these sources are not always obvious, either. “There is a spectrum between obviously presenting it and having it be more of a source material,” he explains. “But I think there’s still an American sense, kind of recalling [Charles] Ives or Copland.”

Pollick agrees. “This concerto could only have been written by an American vernacular composer,” she says. “There’s a familiarity for anybody who comes from American music — they’ll feel immediately connected with this piece.

“I find [the concerto] whimsical, very light hearted. I find many dance rhythms in it, I find many songs in it, I’m finding Ives and Stephen Foster — there’s so much swirling around, it’s all this big soup of influences.”

But neither composer nor soloist think it’s necessary for the audience to recognize the influences. “It’s up to them to have their own experience with the piece,” Pollick says. “So come with open minds, and we’ll have a love fest through Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Barber’s Adagio, and the U.S. premiere of this concerto.

“My dream is to unite our audience through the celebration of eloquent varieties of American music, and the U.S. premiere of the violin concerto, creating a transcendent and memorable experience for all present.”

On the Bill: “The Americans” Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Arthur Foote: Air and Gavotte. Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring. David A Jaffe: Violin Concerto, How Did it Get so Late so Soon? (U.S. premiere). 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11 Broomfield Auditorium, 3 Community Park Road, Broomfield. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder, Concerts free for Veterans, Tickets: 303-583-1278 and boulderchamberorchestra.com/new-page-3.

As a matter of full disclosure, Karen Pollick has been my friend for a number of years.