Masters and mash-ups at the Colorado Music Fest

Colorado Music Festival bids 'do svidaniya' to longtime director Michael Christie with ambitious program

Olga Kern
Photo by Dario Acosta

If you stop by the Colorado Music Festival (CMF) at Chautauqua this summer (June 29 through Aug. 9) and order “the usual,” you might get almost anything, from Bach to Brazilian guitars to Radiohead.

That’s just a sample of the fare at this year’s festival, which is celebrating the 13th and final full season with Michael Christie as its adventurous and capable music director. In his years in Boulder, he has made CMF an exemplary festival, with a first-rate virtuoso orchestra, stunning soloists and revealing musical discoveries every single year.

This year’s festival offers new variations on previous developments, as well as something entirely new and startling. The festival-within-the-festival, a series of concerts around a specific composer or niche in the repertoire, will focus this year on Russian masters (July 14–21). Featuring such popular orchestral showpieces as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, “that is going to be the festival on parade in as compelling a manner we can possibly do,” Christie says.

“That big-sound orchestra virtuoso playing is the kind of thing that people who don’t have a ton of experience with classical music will just be completely invigorated by.”

An astonishing high point of “Russian Masters” will be the opportunity to hear Van Cliburn Competition winner Olga Kern play all four Rachmaninoff piano concertos and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in two evenings (July 19 and 21) — a feat of memory and stamina that few pianists would attempt.

Another feature of the festival season that Christie is particularly proud of is Rediscovered Masters. Originally devoted to Jewish composers who died or were suppressed during the Holocaust, the scope of the series has expanded this year to include an opening night concert (June 30) of film music by Erich Korngold (The Adventures of Robin Hood), Max Steiner (Gone with the Wind) and other composers who fled Nazi Germany; music by a composer who was nearly lost in Stalin’s Gulag; and a concert piece based on Jewish services.

“Every piece that we’re doing on the Rediscovered Masters I’m very, very excited about,” Christie says. “To my knowledge, we are doing the first performance of a [Warsaw-born composer Mieczyslaw] Weinberg symphony in the United States [ July 11-12], the Third, which is really a triumph. It is just such a spectacular symphony.”

The new kid on the CMF block this summer is Music Mash-up, three concerts that will mix genres, from rock to jazz and classical on the same programs — or even in the same piece. The performances will feature the popular trio Time for Three (Aug. 2) and Nederland’s Elephant Revival with the CMF Orchestra (Aug. 6). But the most extensive mash-up event will be a completely interwoven performance of Brahms’ First Symphony and music from Radiohead’s Grammy-winning OK Computer (July 7).

The Brahms/Radiohead score was arranged and will be directed by Steve Hackman, a classically trained musician who grew up listening to all kinds of pop music. Hackman has been doing mashup arrangements for several years, putting rock into classical pieces and vice-versa.

“This Brahms/ Radiohead example is definitely the most extensive that I’ve done,” he says. “I’m excited because I’ve found a way that I can present these works that is truly unique to who I am as a musician, and to the unique circumstances that have made me who I am.”

“These musics are a hundred years apart, but they’re not as different as we might think they are,” he explains. “When you distill these two things down, they’re made of the same stuff.”

From Rediscovered Masters to the Music Mash-ups, Christie will leave CMF with a justified sense that he has created a legacy.

“I hope that people find the festival to be a warm and inviting place, and I think that’s something we have built over these 13 years,” he says. “I think people feel a sense of joy in the music making. [And] I would like to think that people have heard a lot of very high-quality music that they would not have heard almost in any other setting.”

Finally, he adds, “Other people are going to have to decide what the legacy is, but I hope words like joy and fun and surprise and trust — I hope those are the things people would say.”

Colorado Music Festival begins its season on Saturday, June 29, and runs through Friday, Aug. 9. Visit for a complete schedule.