Boulder Phil ventures into classical repertoire

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Keith Saunders
Takács Quartet violinist Ed Dusinberre and violist Geraldine Walther join Boulder Phil for “Mozart & Beethoven.”

The Boulder Philharmonic is set to enter less familiar territory: Mozart and Beethoven.

Is that surprising? “Classical pieces are a little bit of a departure for us,” Music Director Michael Butterman admits. “We have tended to perform Romantic and 20th-century works.”

Music by Mozart and Beethoven will make up the bulk of the Phil’s next program, with performances scheduled Sunday at 2 p.m. in Denver, and at the early curtain time of 7 p.m. in Boulder’s Macky Auditorium. Contributing to the orchestra’s emphasis on paired soloists for the 2016–17 season, the concerts feature two members of the Takács Quartet: violinist Ed Dusinberre and violist Geraldine Walther.

In fact, Butterman says, it was the potential of their partnership that gave him the idea of a season with paired soloists (schedule: boulderphil.org). “This is the concert that was the kernel of the whole season,” he says.

Dusinberre and Walther will perform Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, one of the best-known double concertos in the orchestral repertoire. The Beethoven on the program will be his Symphony No. 8, and the concert will open with Three Studies from Couperin by contemporary British composer Thomas Adés.

“Because of the venue in which we play, we have not done much for classical-sized orchestras,” Butterman explains. “We have to have a sonic presence that is appropriate to the size of Macky Auditorium. All three of these works are a change from what we do more often, and I’m looking forward to that.”

The Mozart will also be a rare opportunity for Dusinberre and Walther to perform as co-soloists. They play together as members of the Takács Quartet, but that is different from being soloists. In fact, they have only played the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante together once before.

They are both relishing the opportunity. “It’s such a pleasure to play this with Ed, because he’s a beautiful, natural player,” Walther says. “It’s like revisiting an old friend with an old friend.”

“I enjoy seeing that side of Geri, who has years of experience playing concerti,” Dusinberre says, returning the compliment. “She’s a wonderful quartet violist, but it’s nice to see that other dimension of her playing.”

The concert is a special pleasure for Butterman as well. “The chance to collaborate with our musical neighbors in Boulder is very special,” he says. “Obviously they’re going to bring a sensibility about unifying their approach that’s really unusual. I’m looking forward to it.”

Walther sees the fun aspects of the Sinfonia Concertante as something particularly enjoyable. “It’s like a game, actually,” she says. “The violin states the phrase and then the viola says, ‘I can do it better than that!’ Mozart has written it this way [in] the first part of the movement, then we play together and are happy together, and then [later] it’s entirely reversed.”

Dusinberre talks about the fun, and other aspects of the Sinfonia Concertante. “One of the things that’s most difficult in Mozart is that the mood is quite elusive,” he says. “It’s like quicksilver, in that one second it seems cheerful and upbeat and then there’s a sense of melancholy.”

The slow movement in particular has a darker quality that is deeply expressive. “You get incredibly long melodic lines, seamlessly passing from one instrument to another,” Dusinberre says. “It becomes much more than just one instrument commenting on another. It’s like the full melody is only possible from the two players.”

Although Beethoven’s Eighth is a late symphony, Butterman says it’s “in a way looking back. It’s much more of a Haydnesque symphony, both in its instrumentation and its size, and even in its style.

“It’s light, in that it’s short and has a smaller orchestra, but it’s still got a lot of fire and energy. The last movement being so buzzing with energy reminds me of Haydn’s finales.”

It was the backward looking quality of the symphony that led Butterman to the piece by Adés, which is a modern take on keyboard music from the Baroque period. Adés is otherwise a modernist composer who does not shy away from dissonance, but here he sticks mostly to the original harmonies.

“It is quite recognizably the music of Francois Couperin,” Butterman says. “There is some tartness in the harmonies, and it is presented with instrumental colors that would not have occurred to Couperin. It’s the idea of doing the past through the prism of a 21st-century sensitivity.”

But Butterman knows that it’s Dusinberre and Walther who have the greatest audience appeal. “The chance to perform with people who are at the top of the international game makes it so much more exciting for us,” he says. “And I hope for the audience as well.”

On the Bill: “Mozart & Beethoven”by Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra.Sunday, Nov. 6, 2 p.m., Pinnacle Performing Arts Complex, 1001 W. 84th Ave., Denver. 7 p.m., Macky Auditorium, 1595 Pleasant St., Boulder. Tickets: 303-449-1343, boulderphil.org.