Beethoven’s Path to the Future opens CMF

First two weeks, June 27–July 9, set the pattern for the summer festival

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Natasha Paremski
Clarence Chan

The Colorado Music Festival (CMF) opens its 2019 season Thursday, June 27 with Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont, followed by a series of works that form a bridge forward into the Romantic era. 

CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian will conduct the Festival Orchestra, and Russian-American pianist Natasha Paremski will perform Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. The program, also featuring Verdi’s Overture to La forza del destino and Respighi’s Pines of Rome, will be repeated Friday, June 28.

Under the title “Beethoven’s Path to Romanticism,” the program sets a pattern for other orchestra concerts during the summer: a keystone work by Beethoven, with other pieces that share a stylistic affinity. These programs and others fit into the summer’s overarching theme, “Beethoven’s Path to the Future.”

“The idea is to create beautiful programs with a general theme,” Oundjian says. “Obviously, every composer after Beethoven was in some way in his shadow. I don’t want to suggest that all (of them) were influenced by Beethoven. I just wanted to give a journey through each program.”

Sian Richards Peter Oundjian

For the first concert, the Egmont Overture raises a fundamental question: Was Beethoven a Classical or a Romantic composer? Egmont, with its classical form harnessed to music that tells a dramatic story, suggests the answer is both.

“Following that with one of the great Romantic piano concertos just seemed a wonderful contrast,” Oundjian says. 

“My idea is to let people think about Beethoven when they’re listening to these other pieces. The Verdi Forza del destino is a great example of another Romantic overture that’s much more extroverted [than Egmont]. With Respighi there’s a freedom of expression, and it becomes really programmatic, as he depicts the pine trees in different settings and different locations.”

Oundjian performed the Rachmaninoff Concerto with Paremski once before, in 2007. When a scheduled soloist canceled a performance at the Caramoor Festival on short notice, “Natasha came in and played a wonderful Rachmaninoff Second Concerto with me,” he says. 

The festival opens its Sunday chamber orchestra series June 30 with Oundjian conducting a concert titled “Beethoven’s Path to Modernism.” For this program the keystone is one of Beethoven’s most adventurous pieces, the Grosse Fuge (Great fugue), originally written as the finale for a string quartet. Because of its length and curious — for the time — intensity, it was dropped from the quartet. Beethoven wrote a conventional finale but the Grosse Fuge remains as a stand-alone work that is unlike anything else by Beethoven — or anyone else. 

On the same program will be works that each represents a kind of modernism in its time: Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, Richard Strauss’ Wind Serenade, and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto performed by 2019 Grammy-winning violinist James Ehnes. “It’s hard to imagine anyone playing the violin better,” Oundjian, himself a violinist, says.

Tuesdays in the CMF schedule are reserved for chamber music concerts. The first, on July 2, will be devoted to two Romantic works: Brahms’s Trio for horn, violin and piano, and Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A Major.

As former principal violinist of the Tokyo String Quartet, Oundjian has a special love for chamber music. “Chamber music is a wonderful contrast to the orchestral experience” — for players and audience — he says. 

The early weeks of the festival include a concert on July 5 titled “Revolution and Freedom.” Even though Beethoven is not on the program, the title reminds us of a composer whose final symphony is a hymn to the brotherhood of man. There are of course American works — Copland’s Outdoor Overture, Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F and several marches by John Philip Sousa. 

Also matching the general theme of the concert are Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, a perennial program favorite around the Fourth of July, and Rossini’s Overture to La gazza ladra (The thieving magpie). Gershwin’s concerto will be performed by pianist Jon Kimura Parker, who is known for both his wide repertoire and his passionate interpretations.

Parker will remain in Boulder for the annual CMF Family Concert Sunday, July 7, where he will partner with pianist Coco Ma to perform Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals. The sensory-friendly concert conducted by Earl Lee will also feature the Really Inventive Stuff Ensemble, which claims Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball and Lily Tomlin among the inspirations for their family programs.

For CMF they will present their vaudeville-inspired production of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.  

ON THE BILL: Colorado Music Festival. Opening Weeks: June 27–July 9. See the CMF calendar and ticket information at coloradomusicfestival.org/festival. All performances in Chautauqua Auditorium.