Boulder Symphony’s family affair

Orchestra season opens with Dvor%uFFFDk and Beethoven

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Peter Alexander

The opening of the Boulder Symphony’s 2015–16 season features three members of Boulder’s legendary musical family, the Lehnerts, playing Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. And it all got started at the farmers’ market.

“Nothing is more like local Boulder than that,” says the orchestra’s music director, Devin Patrick Hughes.

The concert, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3 in Boulder’s First Presbyterian Church, will feature Oswald Lehnert on violin, his son Oswald Lehnert III playing cello, and his wife Doris Pridonoff Lehnert as pianist in a performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. Also on the program is the Symphony No. 7 in D minor by Antonín Dvorák.

Oswald retired in 2011 after more than 40 years on the University of Colorado faculty, and Doris retired from CU just this past year. Although retired, they remain very active.

“We’ve been doing benefit concerts,” Oswald says, “and we played for the homeless shelter.” Doris adds, “We have four kids in this area, three grandchildren, and we like to spend time with our family.”

A couple of years ago, Oswald was visiting the Boulder Farmers’ Market when the music caught his attention.

“I heard this orchestra playing in the bandshell, doing an outdoor concert for the public,” he says. “They sounded very good. I was impressed by any orchestra nowadays that promotes classical music. Boy, I’m for it, and I want to do whatever we can do to help them attain their goal.”

It was the Boulder Symphony, and Hughes was conducting. Oswald spoke with Hughes right then and there. They soon hatched the idea of having the Lehnert family trio partner with the orchestra for Beethoven’s Triple Concerto — a little known work that is the only significant concerto for piano trio with orchestra.

“The idea of a family doing the Triple Concerto is unique,” Oswald says.

He says the concerto is rarely programmed because it’s difficult to get a trio together with an orchestra. But Doris Lehnert has no doubts that it’s a great piece.

“I love it,” she says. “I can’t imagine a much better triple concerto.”

Oswald explains what makes it a great work: “The structure, the imagination, the skill with which Beethoven applies each instrument to the theme. Listen to it several times and you’re going to be playing it as one of your favorites.”

Hughes agrees that the audience will like the concerto. 

“There are some incredibly charming melodies, and it is definitely Beethoven,” he says, even though it is not in the revolutionary musical mold of the Third Symphony, which was written at the same time.

As rarely as it is programmed, the Lehnerts have played the Triple Concerto together at least a dozen times. Hearing them perform it “is such a cool opportunity to get a glimpse into the heart of the piece,” Hughes says, “and for the orchestra and the audience to experience masters at their craft.

“This is a local family who have paved the way for classical music in Boulder for decades, and we get to showcase them. I just think that’s a very, very special thing for everybody involved.”

The concert will open with Dvorák’s Seventh Symphony, which is hardly better known than the concerto.

“His popular pieces are the Eighth and Ninth symphonies, but it’s almost like the Seventh is by a different composer,” Hughes says. “The Seventh is where he basically peaks as a symphonist, as a learned composer. It draws people who are music lovers to it, because it was the essence of who he was as a musician and a composer. This is Dvorák, the pure musician.”

Hughes is not alone in that assessment: Dvorák scholar John Clapham wrote in his acclaimed biography of the composer that it “must surely be Dvorák’s greatest symphony.”

Hughes points out that the Seventh Symphony was particularly influenced by Brahms. Dvorák heard Brahms’s Third Symphony around the same time that he was invited to write a new symphony for the London Philharmonic. Inspired by Brahms, Dvorák began work on his Seventh in December 1884 and conducted the successful premiere in London in April 1885.

“The Seventh Symphony is totally Brahmsian,” Hughes says. “Dvorák came out of just hearing Brahms’s Third Symphony, and he was totally inspired. You get the whole gamut of the Austro- German [symphonic] style that Dvorák was able to completely assimilate.”

Hughes says it would be a mistake to stay away from the concert just because you don’t know the pieces on the program.

“This is unknown classical music, but it will blow the roof off,” he says.

“Dvorák Seven has so much excitement and pathos in it, I would say 99 percent of people will not really know it, but they’ll go away loving it.”