Classical Music

Colorado Music Festival Brings Classical Music to Chautauqua

The Colorado Music Festival returns for more than a month of programs filled with contemporary, traditional and chamber pieces at the Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder.
The Colorado Music Festival returns for more than a month of programs filled with contemporary, traditional and chamber pieces at the Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder. Michael Ensminger
The Colorado Music Festival is back for more than a month of classical programming in 2021. Led by Peter Oundjian for a second year, the festival continues its emphasis on commissioning new works and spotlighting contemporary composers. Highlights will include an evening dedicated to American composer Joan Tower, a world premiere by Joel Thompson spotlighting the words of James Baldwin, and celebrations of Beethoven symphonies that would have been played for his 250th birthday had they not been canceled worldwide with the spread of the coronavirus.

As always, the festival’s summer concerts will take place at the historic and acoustically acclaimed Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder. The history of the auditorium is intertwined with that of the Colorado Music Festival: In 1978, founding director and then head of the University of Colorado’s conducting program, Giora Bernstein, insisted on hosting the festival in the wooden venue, despite the fact that it was severely in need of restoration at the time.

“The Chautauqua, to me, is the best space for musical performance in North America. It’s indoors, but has an outdoor feel; it has a beautiful acoustic and a tremendous history. It has stunningly beautiful architecture,” Oundjian says.

Between July 1 and August 7, the Colorado Music Festival will put on 22 performances of orchestral and chamber music and host seventeen guest artists.

This summer marks the start of the Robert Mann Chamber Music Series, which will present five chamber performances during the run of the festival. The series will bring world-famous groups like the Juilliard and St. Lawrence string quartets. Robert Mann, for whom the series is named, was a conductor and composer, and the Juilliard String Quartet’s founding first violinist.

“He had a huge impact on the world of chamber music all over the word, including having coached and inspired many great string quartets — the next generations,” Oundjian says. From Mozart’s Viola Quintet in G Minor to contemporary pieces like Henri Dutilleux’s “Ainsi la Nuit,” the chamber pieces presented at the Colorado Music Festival, which are singularly intimate and conversational, will be given their due.
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Joel Thompson is premiering a new piece for narrator and orchestra at the Colorado Music Festival that includes excerpts from James Baldwin's writings.
Courtesy of Joel Thompson
Key to the ethos of the Colorado Music Festival under Oundjian’s directorship is a commitment to new music.

“The great thing about the Colorado Music Festival is that we’re not afraid of innovation. In fact, we encourage innovation. A lot of the classical world today is so desperately worried about having enough well-known pieces on the program so that they can sell tickets, but that sometimes hinders creativity for people like me who want to design a fascinating festival and do innovative and unusual things sometimes,” Oundjian says.

This season, the festival will present four new commissions: an elegy to the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic by Aaron Jay Kernis on opening night, July 1; a Beethoven-inspired work by Hannah Lash on July 22; a new cello concerto by Joan Tower on July 25; and Thompson’s homage to Baldwin on August 5.

Thompson has worked closely with Oundjian in developing his piece, which weaves together an orchestra and a narrator’s voice. In choosing this unique format, Thompson follows Aaron Copland, who wrote Lincoln Portrait for orchestra and narrator. In excerpting Baldwin’s writings, according to Thompson, he wants to “make art that is honest about this moment but still looks forward with hope.”

Baldwin, Thompson says, “was always very honest about matters of identity and society. He was always wanting America to live up to the standards it set in its founding documents and which it’s never fulfilled.” Thompson sees Baldwin as a prophetic writer, and strives to compose music that can reflect listeners’ emotional space while guiding a trajectory through Baldwin’s quotes.
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Concert marimbist Ji Su Jung fell in love with the instrument as a young child.
Courtesy of Ji Su Jung
Among the soloists is Ji Su Jung, a marimbist who performs both in solo recitals and concertos. She will play contemporary and jazz compositions and recital and concerto pieces alike on the evenings of July 22 and 23.

“The marimba is such a unique instrument,” Jung says. “It just has this really strong character and soul to the instrument. We say that cello has the most similar voice to the human’s voice, but I really believe that marimba also carries that charismatic feature.

"When you’re introduced to that sound," she adds, "I can promise that you will really fall in love — just kind of like how I did when I was two or three years old.”

The Colorado Music Festival’s summer season runs from July 1 through August 7 at Chautauqua Auditorium. Some performances will be livestreamed. The festival program can be viewed on the Colorado Music Festival’s website.
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Jasmine Liu writes about arts and music for Westword, where she is currently a reporting intern.
Contact: Jasmine Liu