Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mile High Music

Last night (Wednesday the 11th) - as part of the music critics package - I got to hear the Colorado Symphony Orchestra play at their homebase, Boettcher Concert Hall, in downtown Denver. The hall is part of a performing arts complex that spans several blocks, and you can walk under a magnificent glass roof that spans these buildings. Boettcher was built in 1978 as a concert in the round - sort of like the concert hall where the Berlin Philharmonic plays. The only big problem with the Boettcher is that the acoustics are poor, and there has been talk (I understand from a local critic) of gutting the entire structure and starting all over again.

The program I heard consisted of Bernstein's Overture to "Candide" and his "Chichester Psalms" for chorus and orchestra, plus John Corigliano's Piano Concerto, and Giya Kancheli's "Styx" for viola, chorus, and orchestra. "Candide," the Piano Concerto, and "Styx" were conducted by the CSO's music director Jeffrey Kahne. Duain Wolfe, director of the CSO Chorus conducted the "Chichester Psalms."

The concert began with the Overture to "Candide," which the orchestra played with plenty of splash. I would've liked more contrast in volume, but that judgment perhaps was influenced by where I was sitting (just above the violin section).

In the next work, the "Chichester Psalms," a chorus of 200 sang with fervor. But I know this piece well (having sung it several times) and could tell right away that diction in Boettcher Concert Hall is a problem. I could see the chorus enunciating the Hebrew text, but I could barely distinguish any consonants. Also, the tenor section (which was across from me) was lacked presence. I found out later that people who sat on the side of the hall that the tenors faced heard plenty of tenor. In any case, the boy soprano, Benjamin Tooke, sang very, very well. The pacing by Wolfe was very good also.

Guest artists Natasha Paremski joined the orchestra for Corigliano's Piano Concerto. This challenging work has lots of meter changes that seemed to demand a lot of Kahane's concentration. I could see his face, and it never seemed to relax. Paremski played the piano very cleanly, but perhaps more expression would've made the music come more alive. The piece has a wide array of arresting moods that were wonderful. Paremski, by the way is only 20 years old, so you'll be hearing more from her, I hope.

After intermision, the orchestra, chorus, and Basil Vendryes, principal violist of the CSO, performed Kancheli's "Styx." This was only the third time that this piece has been done in North America and Kahane is one of its champions. The piece was enjoyable, but I'm not sure that it really conveyed the idea (from ancient Greece mythology) of Charon ferrying the dead to the underworld. Maybe if I hear it again someday.

Also, after intermission, Henry Fogel, president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, presented the League's Emerging Music Director Award to Alondra de la Parra and to James Gaffigan. De la Parra is the music director of the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas (only three years old and wildly successful). Gaffigan is the music director of CityMusic Cleveland. It was commentd that both de la Parra dn Gaffigan are getting married this summer - but not to each other.

And Dana Gioia, Chairman of the national Endowment for the Arts awarded the Gold Baton to America's youth orchestras (in general), and it was accepted on their behalf by Louis Scaglione, chair f the League's Youth Orchestra Division.

Extra note: Elaine Calder of the Oregon Symphony wrote a comment (posted in the Today's Birthdays) that " of the Emerging Conductors - James Gaffigan - will appear with the Oregon Symphony and guitarist Eduardo Fernandez next February."

For more information about the classical music critics conference, see the posting on June 10th.

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