The birth of a tradition

Courtesy of BCO

For the second year running, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) will reveal a young soloist at their New Year’s Eve concert. Last year it was pianist Victor Shlyakhtenko, who played the Grieg Piano Concerto. This year, the soloist will be —well, actually, I can’t tell you.

BCO conductor Bahman Saless likes surprises, so he will not announce the name of the soloist until he or she walks on stage. “I think this is going to be a tradition for sure, because I really love doing it,” Saless says. “It’s a lot of fun!”

The concert will be at the Lakewood Cultural Center, a good distance from Boulder. But Saless says BCO selected that site because they couldn’t find a good space in Boulder for New Year’s Eve.

“It’s been a challenge to have these (New Year’s) concerts in Boulder, because of the lack of venues” for that date, he explains. “So we went through different communities where we thought we could get a nice venue.”

Lakewood turned out to be the choice, and the BCO has played there for the past six years. The hall is the right size for a chamber orchestra, and Saless says Lakewood’s professional staff offers excellent support. But because of the location, the concert gets a different audience than they usually have in Boulder.

“I think very few people from Boulder actually come there,” Saless says. Nevertheless, he says, “every year it’s been almost sold out, and it’s wonderful to be able to do that.

“I have talked to patrons that say, ‘We come to this concert every year, even though we don’t get to any of your other concerts.’ So it’s got its own little cult.” Fitting for the occasion, the program is usually filled with fun music — past performances have included Strauss waltzes, music by the Danish light-classic composer Hans Christian Lumbye, operetta excerpts, and similar musical pleasures.

This year’s program is titled “Masquerade goes Baroque.” In contrast to previous years — and to traditional New Year’s concerts of Viennese music — most of the music will be either from our about the Baroque era. It will include the Vivaldi Concerto for Four Violins, played by soloists from the orchestra’s string section. And in a fun twist, the orchestra’s two trombone players will play a Vivaldi Concerto for two cellos.

A contemporary piece that is about but not from the Baroque era is Palladio by Karl Jenkins. Written in 1995, the piece celebrates the Baroque architect Andrea Palladio, making use of Baroque string textures and structural principles. If you don’t know the name, you might recognize the music: Portions were used in a commercial for De Beers diamonds on TV. Saless calls it “the diamond music.”

In keeping with the masquerade portion of the concert theme, there will be dance music from different eras, from Baroque dance types to a waltz by Tchaikovsky. Nor will Strauss waltzes, the traditional mainstay of New Year’s concerts, be entirely neglected: One part of the program will include Strauss arranged for salon orchestra by, of all people, Arnold Schoenberg.

But you need not fear any atonal waltzes. “They were arranged only instrumentally, not harmonically,” Saless says, laughing. “They were written for European salons, or so they could be performed in bars and restaurants.”

There is a long tradition of small cafe orchestras, in Vienna and other European cities, playing arrangements of well-known pieces. These groups were usually only four or five players, including violins, flute and clarinet, and sometimes piano or harmonium. Bringing that repertoire to the Lakewood concert is a bit of an innovation for the BCO, but one that Saless is excited about.

“This is completely different from anything we’ve done before, he says. “We’re going to see how the audiences like it.”

With the 6:30 start time, the concert is over in time for people to either go on to their late-night revels or drive safely home. And for those who didn’t plan ahead for their New Year’s toasts, the BCO sells bottles of wine at intermission.

One more thing about the mystery soloist: Saless and BCO have not released the name, but they have named the piece. It is a Vivaldi violin concerto, but one that has been arranged in several different forms, including one by J.S. Bach. So is this going to be something like the cellos being replaced by trombones?

Saless won’t say.

“We will continue our relationship with the Takács  Quartet,” he says. But then he adds: “Just don’t expect (first violinist) Ed Dusinberre to stroll on stage to play the concerto.”

On the Bill:  “Masquerade gone Baroque.” Boulder Chamber Orchestra, with Bahman Saless and surprise soloist. 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31, Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 S. Allison Parkway, Lakewood. Tickets: 303-987-7845,