Casual meets formal for Boulder philharmonic

Boulder Philharmonic’s season presents a mix of genres

\"Frighteningly talented\" pianist Christopher Taylor
Katrin Talbot

It’s going to be a “blue jeans plus dinner jacket” kind of season with the Boulder Philharmonic this year.

The 2012-13 season, which kicks off Sat., Sept. 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Macky Auditorium, offers a mix of serious classics and lighter fare throughout the year.

The season’s dual personality seems designed to capture the spirit of Boulder — also the slogan the orchestra displays on its Web page. After all, Boulder is a town where audiences comfortably mix formal and casual without either style looking out of place.

For the dress-up side of the season, you have symphonies by Tchaikovsky and Bruckner — the latter rarely heard in Boulder — as well as Brahms’ somber German Requiem and some challenging concertos by Prokofiev, Barber and Sibelius. On the unbuttoned side, there is a tribute concert to Louis Armstrong with trumpeter Byron Stripling and a return of the Cirque de la Symphonie aerialists and acrobats who were a popular sensation two years ago. (See details of the season including dates and ticket information at

Music Director Michael Butterman says he is always looking for the right mix when planning the season. For every great classic, he tries to find something complimentary but also a little different.

“What seems to resonate best with our audiences is a blend of pieces that are familiar, and then pieces that are a little bit of a discovery,” he says.

Putting together the season depends on luck, too.

“Some of these things end up working out for one reason or another — artist availability on key dates, for example,” Butterman explains. “And we have so few concerts for the ideas that we come up with, that some of these [performances] honestly were ideas that didn’t quite work out the season before.”

Appropriately, Butterman and the orchestra will start the season with a piece its composer describes as a “calling to order” — Acclamations by Jeffrey Nytch. A Boulderite himself and director of CU’s Center for Entrepreneurship, Nytch clearly knows his jeans-and-dinner-jacket audience as well as Butterman does.

“It is, by design, a fun and positive piece,” Nytch says.

Butterman agrees, not so much describing as vocally outlining the piece with a cascade of ba-da-bop-bops and ya-da-DEE-dahs. “It’s got a lot of fanfare kinds of ideas, and then a lyrical thing,” he says. “It’s an effective Boulder Macky opening work; it certainly gets people’s attention with a lot of energy.”

After Nytch’s call to order, the orchestra will get down to business with pianist Christopher Taylor, a Boulder native who now teaches at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Last heard here playing a Brahms concerto in 2010, Taylor returns to Boulder to perform Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto.

“Prokofiev wrote this work as a showpiece that he could play while on tour in the U.S., and it never fails to please, “ Butterman says. It also offers a stiff challenge to pianists, both technically in its rapid-fire toccata passages, and expressively in the more lyrical sections.

Taylor, who the New York Times described as “frighteningly talented,” enjoys playing the piece.

“It’s exhilarating,” he says. “It’s a piece with a special place in my heart. I started work on it when I was in high school. I got to perform it at least half a dozen times in my life, so it certainly feels like an old friend — but an old friend you can never get complacent with. It’s very technical and spirited and requires a lot of strength and energy and good aim — you know, a lot of jumping around.

“And I think an under-appreciated side of it, it does have some lyricism and can be very expressive and thoughtful and not just music for jocks.”

The concert will close with Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, one of the composer’s most compelling and overtly emotional scores.

“It’s an effective piece,” Butterman says, adding that it is one that he enjoys returning to.

“It’s a privilege to come back to music, especially great music, and it’s always humbling to see those details that somehow eluded your notice the first time,” he says. “There’s a lot more detail in the structure [of the symphony] than perhaps meets the ear,” he says. “I’m always impressed by finding those kinds of things.

“This symphony takes you through a whole gamut of emotions, and really takes you on a bit of a journey and ride as a listener. It’s a very satisfying piece to experience.”

In other words, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth could perhaps best be described as matching “The Spirit of Boulder”: serious, dramatic, emotional — and fun.