Boulder’s Colorado Music Festival (CMF) opens its 2016 season June 30 at Chautauqua Auditorium, and no one is more excited than music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for more than 10 months,” he says. “It’s the occasion for me to connect again with the orchestra.”
Titled “Narratives of Heroism,” the concert will open with Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont and close with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. In between, violinist Jennifer Koh will perform a heroic feat of her own, playing the wildly virtuosic Violin Concerto of Finnish composer/conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Koh was scheduled to appear at CMF in 2014, when Zeitouni first appeared at Chautauqua as a candidate for music director. An accident forced her to cancel, so she is happy to finally get to Boulder.
“I love [the Salonen Concerto],” she says. “I think it’s a great piece. I’m so excited about playing it in Boulder.”
Koh is known as an adventurous violinist who commissions and plays a lot of new music — 32 premieres in seven days, earlier this year — but also gives stunning performances of the standard repertoire.
“I get to experience different worlds through different composers,” she says. “It could be Tchaikovsky, it could be Bach, it could be Brahms. Or it could be Salonen. I love that about my life as a musician.”
Salonen wrote the concerto in 2009 as a farewell gift to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he had been conductor for 17 years. A piece that borrows from diverse traditions, the concerto opens with a propulsive movement that reconfigures Bach’s solo violin music in a contemporary idiom. Another movement features rock drumming, and the final movement, “Adieux,” is a tender farewell.
“If you love classical music, you’re going to love this piece,” Koh says. “If you love music in general, you’re going to love this piece. It’s a great ride. It’s familiar and contemporary at the same time.”
The same might be said of the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique: it is a familiar part of the orchestral repertoire, and yet it was a very daring, contemporary piece when it premiered in 1830 — only three years after Beethoven’s death.
The story behind the work is part of its appeal. It was written for an English actress Berlioz had seen on stage but never met. The music describes his fantasies, ending with a fevered “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath” after the anti-hero’s execution for murder.
The story is “very well known, but there’s much more than that,” Zeitouni says. “For the time it was written, the technique of composition and orchestration and form and poetic content — it’s an immense piece. I am looking forward to seeing what the CMF orchestra and I are able to draw out of this piece.
“I feel personally very close to it because of the French tradition.”
Other than Berlioz, there is very little of the French tradition on the summer’s orchestra programs — only the Debussy Nocturnes on one concert. There are works from the standard Viennese tradition: a Brahms symphony cycle and works by Mozart and Beethoven. There will be newer pieces and an all-Russian program. (See the whole season schedule at comusic.org/2016-season/.)
Former music director Michael Christie returns for a concert July 14 at Chautauqua. Together with pianist Orion Weiss, who appeared many times at CMF during Christie’s tenure, he will present Brahms’s monumental First Piano Concerto in D minor. Other works will be pieces by Leonard Bernstein and Charles Ives.
Sure to be a highlight of the season, Zeitouni offers his first Mahler at CMF, Das Lied von der Erde (Aug. 4 at Chautauqua) with soloists Kelly O’Connor, mezzo, and Richard Cox, tenor. Zeitouni notes that’s one Mahler piece Christie had not performed as music director.
“The bread and butter of an orchestra conductor is a lot of Germanic music,” Zeitouni says. “Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Mahler — it’s really part of my musical upbringing, [because] I studied for one year at the Vienna Academy. And I’ve done Das Lied von der Erde already now three times.”
Adventurous listeners will relish The Tragedy of Carmen, a reconfiguration of Bizet’s opera for chamber orchestra and a small cast that was created by theater director Peter Brook (July 10, Chautauqua). “This is the pure essence of Carmen,” Zeitouni says.
“Most of the spectacular elements are gone. It’s more like 97 percent pure alcohol, distilling the essence of the passion. It’s a kick in the face.”
In addition to the events listed here, there’s a wide range of chamber programs and a contemporary music series at The Dairy Arts Center. That’s a lot of variety, but don’t ask Zeitouni to pick his favorites. “That’s like choosing one of my children,” he laughs. “I’m excited about everything.”
On the Bill: Colorado Music Festival, Opening Night: “Narratives of Heroism.” 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 30, Chautauqua Auditorium, 900 Baseline Road, Boulder, 303-440-7666. Tickets.chautauqua.com. For the 2016 season schedule: comusic.org/2016-season/