Music festivals are springing up all around Colorado this time of year like columbines blooming along mountain hiking trails, from classical music in Aspen and Breckenridge to opera in Central City to bluegrass in Telluride and Lyons. The Colorado Music Festival, Boulder’s own eclectic contribution to the summer festival scene held at Chautauqua through Aug. 6, serves up all of those, with a helping of world music thrown in for good measure.
Now in its 34th season, the Colorado Music Festival (CMF) is celebrating the 10th anniversary of music director Michael Christie, a peripatetic maestro who leads orchestras in Phoenix and Brooklyn, often piloting his own plane to get from gig to gig. Just back from visiting Australia, Christie celebrates his anniversary tonight and tomorrow night with an orchestral concert that features Robert Schumann’s unique and entertaining KonzertstÃ¼ck (“concert piece”) for four — four! — solo horns and orchestra, which Christie conducted during his very first CMF concert. Filling out the concert will be a selection of waltzes and polkas by various members of Vienna’s Strauss family.
Christie describes the remainder of the summer’s programming as “a dynamic mix that honors the past, present and future.” In fact, the CMF season is so varied that it is difficult to give even a small foretaste without listing the whole program (available online at www.coloradomusicfest.org/). To touch on a few highlights, the world music series will include bluegrass veterans Dr. Ralph Stanley with the Clinch Mountain Boys; Ljova and the Kontraband, playing a unique blend of gypsy melodies with jazz and tango rhythms; the Celtic band Solas; and avant-garde cellist and composer ZoÃ« Keating with the Apex Contemporary Dance Theatre. Guest artists include distinguished classical artists like pianist Peter Serkin and Wagnerian soprano Jane Eaglen, but also the virtuoso klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, and, well outside the musical mainstream, the return to Boulder of William Barton, performing vocals, electric guitar and didgeridoo with orchestra.
But it is the orchestra concerts that represent the heart of the festival. And this year the heart of the heart, as it were, will be a series of concerts of music by Johannes Brahms. Starting two years ago, the festival has selected a theme for a mini-festival within the festival: the Beethoven symphonies in 2008, the greatest piano concertos last year, and now Brahms. A series of five concerts will present all of the major orchestra works: the four symphonies, the four concertos and the two orchestral serenades.
Festival themes are something of a gimmick — a way to “position” the event for marketing. At the same time, they represent an unparalleled opportunity for audiences to immerse themselves in the works of a single composer or genre and to experience the music in a new, hopefully deeper way.
“We actually experienced the [stylistic] evolution from [Beethoven’s] First Symphony to the Ninth Symphony, and we all actually felt the shift happen between the Second and Third symphonies,” Christie says.
Brahms is particularly ripe for this treatment.
Unlike Mozart and Haydn, he has not had a recent anniversary to bring his music forward, and unlike Beethoven, he is rarely the subject of full symphonic cycles or major musical celebrations.
“[Brahms] brought the 19th century together,” Christie says. “He brought Beethoven together with Mendelssohn and Schumann and Bach … and in many ways, he gave us the map to go forward.”
Beyond Brahms, there are other orchestral concerts. A program of light Americana will include two ever-popular standbys of descriptive music: Ferde Grofé’s “Grand Canyon Suite” and Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.” The most popular piano concerto not performed during last year’s series of “greatest piano concertos,” Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 in C major, will be featured on a program with Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” A program devoted to Wagner will include the vocal virtuosity of “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde,” as well as the completely non-vocal “Ring Without Words.” The Festival Finale concerts will pair Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 with a new work for orchestra, electric guitar and didgeridoo.
If it’s a little hard to grasp so many musical ideas wrapped into a single package, it must be said that the CMF comes as close as anyone can imagine to providing something for everyone — which works out just fine for Boulderites.
On the Bill
The Colorado Music Festival runs
through Friday, Aug. 6, at Boulder’s Chautauqua Auditorium. The
schedule features full orchestra concerts on Thursdays and Fridays,
chamber orchestra concerts on Sundays and world music performances on
events include chamber music, children’s concerts and pre-concert
lectures. For schedule and ticket information, visit www.
coloradomusicfest.org or call 303-440-7666.