New CMF music director aims to build a relationship with the audience

With the festival under way, Zeitouni can come into his own

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Courtesy of the Colorado Music Festival

Jean-Marie Zeitouni is excited about his entire first season as music director of the Colorado Music Festival (CMF).

“I love them all!” he says of the festival concert programs. “These are all concerts that I’m looking forward to. [Over the summer] you have every single genre, and every single period in music. You have solo works, you have chamber music, you have recitals, you have chamber orchestra and big orchestra — everything is covered.”

The festival got underway with Young People’s Concerts June 26 and 27 and an opening concert July 1. The festival now gets going in earnest, with weekly performances of chamber music, pairs of Festival Orchestra concerts Thursdays and Fridays through Aug. 7, and Chamber Orchestra concerts on Sundays through Aug. 9. (All orchestra concerts are at 7:30 p.m. in the Chautauqua Auditorium; chamber music will be at the First Congregational Church, 1128 Pine St.)

Scattered through the summer are solo recitals by pianist Olga Kern, who wowed CMF audiences two years ago with her performances of the Rachmaninoff concertos ( July 3); Music Mash-Up programs, combining classical and popular material, planned and directed by Steve Hackman ( July 7, 21 and Aug. 4); and a performance by musical humorists Igudesman & Joo (Aug. 1).

CMF executive director Andrew Bradford sees the 2015 festival as an opportunity for Zeitouni to come into his own through the programs he selected. “The really exciting thing about different music directors is that they each have their artistic visions, and no two music directors are alike,” he says.

One element Zeitouni brings to the festival is his love of vocal music. The opening concert included vocal works by Ravel and Rossini; later there will be concert performances of Bartók’s oneact opera Bluebeard’s Castle ( July 23 and 24); and the season finale will be a performance of classical vocal and choral works with the CMF Chorus (Aug. 9).

Because he has individual tastes and interests, Zeitouni knows that he needs to build a relationship with the CMF audience. “There is a relationship already between this organization and the audience,” he says. “There is a trust there, and (now) a relationship and a trust must be built with me personally, and that takes time.”

In addition to what Zeitouni refers to as the three “vocal pillars” of the season, he lists other program priorities. One is the orchestra. “The quality of this group is really special, and it’s a treat to work with them,” he says, noting that programs were often selected to showcase the orchestra.

Another priority is the quality of the soloists. “If I look at the singers, they sing at the Met, Covent Garden, La Scala in Milan, the Paris Opera. If I look at the (instrumental) soloists, they are soloists with the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony. We have really world class artists.”

Zeitouni also stresses the importance of balance in the programming. In planning the festival, “I work in a spiral,” he says. “We started by having the orchestra be the focus, and then as I go more and more inside of the spiral, it becomes more detailed — to have the right balance between familiar and non-familiar, and to have a good proportion of pianists, strings, vocalists, new works and old works.”

One feature of 2015 will be the return of the “mini-festival,” a week of themed concerts that were a staple of CMF in years past. “In talking with patrons last year, one of the requests was for concerts and activities that have a thematic connection,” Bradford says. “That harkens back to the mini-festivals that we’ve done in the past, and it was one of the really brilliant things that [previous music director] Michael [Christie] did.”

The 2015 mini-festival will focus on the cello. Falling in the festival’s third week, “Cellobration” (as CMF is calling it) will comprise four programs that cover four different aspects of the instrument: as unaccompanied soloist, as the lead voice in an orchestral work, as soloist in chamber music, and as a concerto soloist. In addition, the orchestral programs will present works that feature the cello section.

“Cellobration” kicks off on Tuesday, July 14, with one of the cornerstones of the repertoire, the complete Bach Suites for unaccompanied cello, performed at 4 and 8 p.m. at the First Congregational Church. 

In the afternoon, CMF principal cellist Bjorn Ranheim will perform the odd numbered suites. After a dinner break, the evening performance will feature Guy Fishman, principal cellist of Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, performing the even-numbered suites on Baroque cello.

The week’s Festival Orchestra concerts, Thursday and Friday, July 16 and 17, includes Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Quixote in which the solo cello represents Don Quixote — played by guest artist Desmond Hoebig, former principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra.

“It’s not only a cello virtuoso piece, it’s also a major orchestra work,” Zeitouni says. “The musical writing in variation form is masterful, definitely, but to me it’s a very dear piece of music as well.”

Also on the same program is the Prelude to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, which opens with cellos alone, and the Second Suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

Saturday’s events offer another set of iconic works, the five sonatas for cello and piano by Beethoven, performed by members of the CMF cello section. Three of the sonatas, Nos. 1, 2 and 5, will be performed at 4 p.m., and the remaining two will follow after a dinner break, at 8 p.m. Both performances will be at the First Congregational Church.

“Cellobration” concludes at 7:30 p.m. Sunday with a Chamber Orchestra concert, “Classically Cello.” The centerpiece will be Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in D major with Longmont-native Julie Albers as soloist. The section cellos will get a workout with the Overture to Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, which opens with cellos playing an instantly recognizable theme; Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto, with three cello soloists; and Mozart’s “Paris” Symphony.

In case that’s not enough cello, the online program hints at a “special encore,” but Bradford will only say, “With regards to figuring out how to showcase the cello, we’ve left no stone unturned.”

There are more events in the next few weeks than there is space to write about them: Olga Kern’s solo recital of music by Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninoff, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 3, in the Chautauqua Auditorium — the first piano solo recital at CMF since the festival’s early years; the start of the chamber music series at 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 6, with music for piano and strings; and the opening Music Mash-up, “Bartók Bjork,” Tuesday, July 7.

Finally, fans of newer music will enjoy the Festival Orchestra concert Thursday and Friday, July 9 and 10. Under guest conductor David Danzmeyer, the program includes the Colorado premieres of Lee Actor’s Opening Remarks and Michael Daugherty’s piano concerto Deus ex Machina, winner of three Grammy awards in 2011, plus Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

The soloist for Daugherty will be Terrence Wilson, for whom the concerto was written. Daugherty, who combines popular Americana — Elvis, Superman, Star Trek — with skillful, well constructed music, will be present for the concert and give a pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. on the Auditorium Terrace.