CMF ends 2019 season Aug. 3 with Mahler’s Third Symphony

Berlioz, Mozart, Beethoven are also on programs conducted by Peter Oundjian

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Jörg Widmann, clarinetist
Marco Borggreve

Music Director Peter Oundjian will conduct the final two weeks of the Colorado Music Festival 2019 season, with four orchestral concerts July 25–Aug. 3.

Oundjian’s programs feature music by Berlioz, Mozart and Beethoven, among others, ending with Mahler’s massive Third Symphony for the season finale concert (Aug. 3). A number of internationally known soloists will be heard during the four concerts: cellist Kian Soltani will play Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 (July 25 and 26); clarinetist Jörg Widmann will play Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (July 28); and violinist Robert McDuffie will play Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 1 (Aug. 1).

The performance of the Mahler symphony will include contributions from mezzo-soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme, the St. Martin’s Festival Singers from Denver and the Boulder Children’s Chorale (Aug. 3). 

The concerts July 25 and 26 — the last repeated pair of the summer — while not including music by Beethoven, are a continuation of the summer theme of “Beethoven’s Path to the Future.” The program ends with Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, a vivid and sometimes hallucinatory piece of program music written in 1830, only three years after Beethoven’s death. 

“Nobody can believe how early (the Symphonie fantastique) was written,” Oundjian says. That is because Berlioz used the orchestra in new ways, to tell a story of obsession, a drug-fueled nightmare and madness, with vivid orchestral colors that had not been heard before.

Nevertheless, Oundjian believes that Beethoven’s harmonic and formal freedom in his last works opened the door for Berlioz to follow his wild imagination. “Berlioz, who was quite an eccentric, had a way of absorbing compositional techniques and sounds that made him able to put his own stamp on a piece that is in many ways like a Beethoven late (string) quartet,” he says.

Sharing the program with Berlioz is a contemporary piece, Dust Devils by Vivian Fung, and Soltani’s performance of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. Dust Devils “is an exciting piece,” Oundjian says. “It’s full of wonderful colors and textures, and a thrill to listen to.”

Oundjian does not yet know Soltani, but is looking forward to working with him. “He’s an extraordinary talent and a very intense player, which is what you need for (the Shostakovich concerto).”

The performance July 28 concludes the two-concert “Magnificent Mozart Mini-Festival,” with performances of Mozart’s early Divertimento in D major for strings, K. 136, the “Jupiter” Symphony, No. 41 in C major, and the Clarinet Concerto, one of the composer’s last pieces.

Widmann, the concerto soloist, is known in Europe as a clarinetist, conductor and composer. Although he will be teaching in the eastern U.S. earlier, he will return from Germany specifically for the one concert in Boulder. “He’s absolutely incredible,” Oundjian says. 

“We’re very close — we love to make music. I was surprised when he said he would come, because he’s so busy. We haven’t played together since 2014, and he said five years is long enough. He’s coming all the way out to do it, and I can’t wait.”

On Aug. 1 Oundjian concludes the summer’s concert series celebrating Beethoven as an exemplar for later generations of composers. Titled “Beethoven’s Path to Minimalism,” the program suggests parallels between Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony and the music of Philip Glass, who is represented by his First Violin Concerto.

“There are a lot of minimalist qualities to the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony,” Oundjian says. “The first movement’s a great example, [with] repetitions of little rhythmic gestures. You could describe minimalism as taking a series of notes that become a unit, and play them with repetition. Then you have a shift in harmony that takes you to a different level, and then maybe a new cell.”

Oundjian sees this process operating in Beethoven’s symphony, as well as the music of Philip Glass. “I thought it would be great to do the Beethoven, followed by a really good minimalist piece, the Glass concerto, which is incredibly well written,” he says.

The festival finale Aug. 3 features one piece, Mahler’s Third Symphony. Like most of Mahler’s large works, the symphony creates its own musical universe. “It’s about the different aspects of the world of creation,” Oundjian says. 

“There are places in the world where you almost see the movement that brought the mountains up and the rocks tumbling down. The (first movement) gives us that feeling, the beginning of creation, just absolute magnificence. Then he goes into little interludes — ‘What the flowers tell me,’ ‘What the animals in the forest tell me,’ ‘What man tells me,’ ‘What the angels tell me.’ Finally (the last movement) is ‘What love tells me.’ It is intensely human and warm and full of love, and full of care and tenderness. Perhaps it’s all ‘what spirituality tells me.’ It’s an extraordinary experience to listen to that.”  

ON THE BILL: Colorado Music Festival. July 25–Aug. 3. All performances at 7:30 p.m. in the Chautauqua Auditorium, 900 Baseline Road, Boulder, tickets.chautauqua.com.