Near-lost composers come to life at Colorado Music Festival

Salieri, Mendelssohn on the bill

Peter Alexander | Boulder Weekly


Boulder’s Chautauqua this summer will be home to several music festivals.


Principally there is the annual Colorado Music Festival (CMF), an attractively eclectic festival that has become one of Boulder’s premiere cultural events. Running June 24 through Aug. 3, CMF offers four concerts every week, almost all of them in the Chautauqua Auditorium.

But within the CMF are several mini-festivals and concert series, each of which would be tempting all by itself. To get all of them together in a single six-week span is a feast.

Well-advertised is the “Magnificent Mozart Mini-Festival,” a series of five concerts July 8–15 that features symphonies, concertos, wind serenades, an opera excerpt and the incomparable Requiem. But that is hardly the only festival-within-the-festival to be found at CMF this summer.

An ongoing topic are the “Rediscovered Masters” concerts, dedicated to Jewish composers who disappeared during World War II. Then there are three chamber music concerts on Tuesdays, June 26, July 10 and July 24, at the newly renovated eTown hall in Boulder, with programs of sufficient scope to represent a mini-chamber-fest.

There are three world music programs, including the Brubeck Brothers Quartet and the sensationally popular Time for Three, that will likely bring in their own audiences. Yet another audience will be attracted to the three family concerts, including “Disney in Concert” July 5 and 6.

All of these are listed on the CMF website (, along with stand-alone events that beg not to be overlooked: A return of the educational feature “Beyond the Score” July 19 and 20, this year devoted to Gustav Holst’s Planets; the CMF’s continuing celebration of Mahler, offering the Seventh Symphony July 26 and 27; “Brandenburgs — Old & New” July 29, featuring three of Bach’s popular orchestral works alongside new pieces inspired by them; and the Festival Finale Aug. 2 and 3, with a world premiere commissioned by the CMF and its patrons.

“Magnificent Mozart” corresponds to previous mini-festivals dedicated to composers — Beethoven, Brahms — and genres such as violin concertos. Of course, Mozart is hardly lacking attention, but the impetus for this year’s minifestival came from a composer who has been neglected: Antonio Salieri.

If you only know Salieri from the film Amadeus you are missing an accomplished composer — and far from being a villain, he was a friend of Mozart who attended The Magic Flute as the composer’s guest. CMF will explore history in “Mozart & Salieri” with F. Murray Abraham, known for his melodramatic portrayal of Salieri in the film.

“I had been working on the Salieri project with Abraham for a long time,” CMF music director Michael Christie explains. “We finally got to a point where it was ready to go, and the Mozart-Salieri project coming to a conclusion seemed to suggest a larger theme.

“I tried to pick music [for “Mozart & Salieri”] that would show why Salieri was important at the time he was living. And then I thought, well, I’m going to touch as many of the genres of Mozart as I possibly can [in the rest of the festival]. And I think the concerts give a pretty wide-ranging view of Mozart.”

Indeed. The most intriguing programming is undoubtedly the July 8 concert that pairs the rapturous F inale from Act II of The Marriage of Figaro with the somber Requiem. “Emotionally they go in two completely different directions,” Christie says. “But [both are] pinnacles of Mozart’s output.”

Another high point of the CMF will come June 28 and 29, when the “Rediscovered Masters” series presents a short children’s opera, Brundibar by Hans Krása, which was performed by the children of the Theresiendstadt concentration camp throughout World War II.

Although Theresiendstadt was not a death camp, Krása and many of the cast members who appeared in Brundibar were eventually sent to their deaths at Auschwitz.

A special guest at the performances will be Ela Weissberger, a survivor of Theresienstadt who appeared in every performance of Brundibar in the camp. She will speak about her experiences and appear at several community events organized in support of the “Rediscovered Masters” concerts. (For a listing of these events, see:

Sunday’s opening concert will feature Christie with the CMF chamber orchestra and piano soloist Simone Dinnerstein. For the third year running, the opening concert will include a Beethoven piano concerto — this time the Second.

Acclaimed equally for her musicality and the way she promoted her career — with a self-financed recording that became a critical sensation —Dinnerstein is making her first appearance in Boulder. Neither showy nor heroic in tone, Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto is an unexpected choice for a debut and a festival opener, but it makes sense here: It is a direct descendent of Mozart’s concertos, three of which will be heard later in the festival.

“It’s one of my favorite concertos, actually,” Dinnerstein says. “It’s extremely pared down and like a very large chamber-music piece, with lots of interchange between the piano and different sections of the orchestra, especially the woodwinds, which is also characteristic of Mozart concertos.

“I just like the spirit in this piece — there’s something very innocent and open about it.”

The other major piece on the program will be Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony, which Christie relates to the summer’s other major theme.

“I believe that the Rediscovered Masters narrative starts with Mendelssohn. It starts with Wagner’s suppression of his music and condemnation of Mendelssohn as a person. He was so revered when he was living, and he was crushed by Wagner, and later the Nazis. I see this as the seed from which a lot of this springs forth.

“And it’s such a great piece anyway. It’s something we can put together without too much trouble, and it really kicks off the series within the festival as well.”

With an á la carte menu, you can pick your festival — Mozart, Rediscovered Masters, world music, chamber music. Or you can enjoy the whole feast, every course, for six weeks.