by Anthony Kershaw
Boettcher Concert Hall / Denver Performing Arts Complex
October 15, 2011
BERNSTEIN / Overture to Candide
GLASS / Violin Concerto No. 2, “The American Four Seasons”
BEETHOVEN / Symphony No. 7
Denver, CO — I was fortunate to get a late press ticket for the Colorado Symphony’s Masterwork concert of Bernstein, Cage and Beethoven, with Peter Oundjian, conductor and violin soloist, Robert McDuffie.
I’m in Denver attending the amazing Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, but after 12 hours of listening via electrons, I wanted to cleanse my ears a little with some live music. What a nice surprise that the CSO was doing my favourite Beethoven symphony with my hometown conductor (Oundjian is Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra). And, what a lovely evening it turned out to be.
The evening started ominously, but through the cheery demeanor of the orchestra’s timpanist. He was announcing the new board members during ‘this difficult financial time of the orchestra’s life (over a million dollar deficit, I believe), and how, with the help of all concerned, the orchestra and its subscribers would navigate the ‘bumps in the road’. The audience responded with hearty clapping at every ‘obstacle’. They adore their orchestra. It was refreshing to see such transparency (an overused and tiresome word, in many cases) by the orchestra and board and the will to ensure the orchestra’s survival. And survive, it must.
The Colorado Symphony Orchestra is an expressive instrument, filled with fine soloists. Oundjian got the best out of the orchestra — the rhythmic vitality, the energy and the joy was evident on all the musicians’ faces. They obviously love working with him (Oundjian has recently been appointed to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and will maintain his position in Toronto, too).
Bernstein’s Candide Overture began the program with its customary jolt. Speed was consistent and all orchestral pyrotechnics were in place. The same can be said for the excellent Beethoven. The dance rhythms of the first movement were infectious — for Oundjian, too, considering his dancing on the podium. The elegiac slow movement was beautifully balanced and Oundjian started it attacca. It was very effective. The Scherzo was played brimming with energy and moved directly in to the blazing Finale.
American violinist Robert McDuffie commissioned Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 2 — The American Four Seasons. It is typical of Glass’ meanderings but with some lovely solo sections and a beautiful slow ’season’ — we are left to our own devices by Glass to match season with movement. McDuffie was a passionate advocate for the work and the audience loved it.
The only sore spot of the evening was the acoustics of the Boettcher Concert Hall / Denver Performing Arts Complex. The complex is astounding — theatre, opera house, symphony hall, restaurants, under one giant atrium, but the interior of the concert hall reminded me of a high school auditorium within the shell of the Royal Albert Hall. I could tell (and was told) that the orchestra members have to work exceptionally hard to project their sounds, especially the woodwind. In these financial times, the players are happy to have a central, comfortable home. But, musically, they deserve better.