Start your strings

Programs meant to resonate with Boulder audience

Takåcs Quartet
photo by Ellen Appel

Bang! The classical music season is off and running in Boulder.

The College of Music Faculty Tuesdays series, which has some especially tempting offerings this year, is already under way. Boulder Philharmonic opens its season Saturday in Macky Auditorium, and the Takács Quartet follows in Grusin Hall Sept. 18-19.

Only a little further down the road are the Boulder Bach Festival, with new music director Rick Erickson and a program of Brandenburg Concertos on Sept. 23 and Sept. 25, and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. (See links above to more information on all of these organizations and programs.)

Saturday’s Boulder Philharmonic concert launches a season the orchestra calls “Spirit of Boulder.” If that sounds like a platitude, Music Director Michael Butterman knows what it means for him.

“We hope that every concert has something about it that is either Boulder-specific or that resonates with the kind of place that Boulder is,” he says.

Boulder-specific might refer to a soloist, as in the first concert when CU faculty member Hsing-ay Hsu will play a Bach concerto on the piano, or the final concert of the year next April, when the Takács Quartet joins the orchestra.

“When we are able to get this blend of a well-known masterpiece along with something that is a discovery for people, that seems to work well,” Butterman says. “People are excited about hearing something that they know they are going to like, and yet if they had come to a concert that was entirely straight ahead, our sense is that they miss being challenged.”

The Sept. 17 concert misses that mark, since both composers — Bach and Mahler — are very familiar through local festivals devoted to their music.

Yes, “there are entities in town that lay some claim to these composers,” Butterman notes. “I’ve been respectful about territories — we have not done Mahler since I’ve been with the orchestra. And yet, last year and this year being successive Mahler anniversary years, Mahler should be fair game.”

For Mahler, Butterman chose what he calls “The greatest ‘first symphony’ ever. … I just find it amazing that Mahler was mid-20s as he’s writing this; his mastery of the orchestra at that age is quite remarkable.”

Paired with that will be the Bach Keyboard Concerto in D minor, performed by Hsu on the modern concert grand. The piano part has been arranged by Ferruccio Busoni, an early 20th-century pianist and composer who made Bach’s keyboard part more brilliant for the piano.

“This is not historically informed Bach,” Butterman observes. “It’s Bach through an early 20thcentury prism. We are using a sizeable string section to balance the fact that it’s not a harpsichord or fortepiano but a nine-foot Steinway.”

Over at the College of Music, the Takács Quartet starts its season Sunday and Monday with a program of quartets by Haydn (The Lark), Dvorák (Quartet No. 10 in D-flat major) and Benjamin Britten (No. 1).

After that, all the other concerts this season will include collaborations with guest artists: double bassist Paul Erhard in the Dvorák Quintet with string bass Oct. 30 and Oct. 31 and, in the spring semester, various collaborations with pianist Margaret McDonald, horn player Michael Thornton, violist Erika Eckert and cellist Ralph Kirshbaum.

“There’s so many great performers here on the faculty, and it’s nice to be able to work with them on our series,” Edward Dusinberre, the Takács Quartet’s first violinist, says. “Sometimes it’s a little bit hard to coordinate with our touring repertoire, but this year it’s been quite easy.”

The first concert, traditional in its outline of one classical and one Romantic quartet, plus something different to fill out the program, still holds some surprises. Chamber music fans know that Haydn’s tuneful Lark quartet is one of the most popular works in the quartet repertoire, but neither the Britten nor the Dvorák are familiar to many listeners.

“The Britten First Quartet is a new piece for us,” Dusinberre notes. “It’s a very humorous, absolutely beautiful piece. Both the second and fourth movements are very lively, quite virtuosic. The third movement is a very calm, ethereal piece, and the first movement has a bit of everything in it.

“The particular Dvorák Quartet we’re playing is not played as frequently as others. Quite a lot of people who know Dvorák aren’t very familiar with it, but it’s a great piece. It has the classic second movement Dumka with its beautiful melancholy themes and lively contrasting sections, and a rip-snorter last movement.”

And they’re off!

On the Bill

For more information on the season’s classical music offerings, visit the websites of the following groups: CU College of Music Faculty Tuesdays events/faculty-tuesdays Boulder Philharmonic Takács Quartet Boulder Bach Festival Boulder Chamber Orchestra