Bahman Saless will take the night off from the BCO

Italian guests bring their own Christmas music to the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

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Boulder Chamber Orchestra
Courtesy BCO

Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) has some holiday surprises planned for a concert Saturday (Dec. 21) that opens with music by Mozart. And one of the surprises is that the group’s music director, Bahman Saless, will not lead the performance — which is fine with him. 

“Tell people that Bahman is not conducting this,” he says, laughing. “It will sell out!”

The concert, titled “Un dono di musica” (a gift of music), will be led by a guest artist from Italy, conductor Arturo Armellino. Appearing with him as a guest artist will be bassoonist Luciano Corona, who will play Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto on the Mozart half of the program. The concert will be Corona’s U.S. debut appearance.

Hopefully, it will not come as a surprise to the audience that the concert time has been changed. Originally announced at 7:30 p.m., the concert will start an hour earlier, at 6:30 p.m., in the Boulder Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

The first half of the concert will be all Mozart: Symphony No. 33 in B-flat major, and Bassoon Concerto in B-flat major. Both are first performances for the BCO.

For the second half of the concert, they will perform Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in G minor for strings, subtitled “fatto per la notte di Natale” (made for the night of Christmas) and popularly known as the “Christmas Concerto.” The rest of the performance will comprise music for Christmas to be announced from the stage.

The BCO has had guest conductors in the past, but Saless wants to engage guests more often. “It gives me opportunities to conduct elsewhere,” he says. For example, he was hired to conduct performances of Verdi’s La Traviata in La Spezia, Italy, last May — his first experience conducting opera.

It is through the guest conducting jobs that Saless knows Corona, who is president of a music management company in Italy. Corona has arranged performances in Italy for Saless, including last year’s Traviata. He is also vice-president of the Italian Mozart Association, so the inclusion of the Mozart Concerto on the program was natural.

Corona has performed the concerto more than 80 times, from Mozart’s home city of Salzburg to Tokyo and Shanghai. Writing by email from Italy, Corona says he never tires of playing the concerto. “Every concert is different,” he writes. “The music floats like the waves of the sea. It is a new emotional discovery every night.”

To pair with the concerto, Saless decided on a Mozart Symphony that the BCO has not played before — Symphony No. 33. “We’ve done almost all of the 30s (symphonies by Mozart) now, so I had picked (that one for the program) some time ago,” Saless says.

Corona often performs with Armellino conducting, so he arranged for the latter’s engagement with the BCO as well. Armellino does not speak English, but Saless is not worried. 

“He’ll probably communicate like any other conductor,” he says. “I think he’ll use Italian words, like on the page — poco mas allegro (a little faster) or con fuoco (forcefully). I’m sure he knows enough English to communicate with the orchestra.”

Corona notes that he and Armellino have worked in many different countries around the world and always manage to communicate with the musicians regardless of languages. “Music is a universal language, and I am sure we will understand each other very well,” he writes.

Continuing a pattern for their December concerts, the BCO will devote the program after intermission to Christmas music. “I told them, why don’t you do something Italian that’s related to Christmas,” Saless says. “The Corelli Christmas Concerto was the one that they came up with.” The BCO has done the Christmas Concerto before, but it’s always popular and it fit the program too perfectly not to do it again.

There will be other music for Christmas and the holidays that will not be announced in advance, including some music that Corona and Aremllino will bring with them. “They tell me that they’re going to have their own little encore, which I don’t know what it is,” Saless says. 

But this is the season for happy surprises. If you just think of the unannounced encores as musical stocking stuffers, Saless says you are sure to enjoy the program.    

ON THE BILL: ‘Gift of Music/Un dono di musica’ — presented by Boulder Chamber Orchestra. 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder. Ticket information: 720-258-6164, boulderchamberorchestra.com