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OPINION: Phil's 2013-2014 programming takes a noticeable step backwards
Local lovers of orchestral music have been on a glorious run of late. Under the leadership of music director Josep Caballé-Domenech, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic has reached a level of artistic excellence that few thought possible.
Even before Caballé-Domenech took over in the 2010-2011 season, concerts have been distinguished by bold, interesting and out-of-the-box programming.
Think the Walton First Symphony and Mahler 1 and 2 that were performed in the conductor’s first season. This season began with Respighi's “Fountains and Pines of Rome” and we've been blessed with Barber's "Medea," Bloch's "Schelomo" and Debussy’s “Nocturnes.” All great works that the orchestra knocked out of the park. There's still a seductive Spanish-dominated program in April and season-ending Verdi "Requiem" in May.
And contrary to the national trends, audiences have responded with sold-out houses.
I found myself regularly declaring to my friends, “There’s isn’t a single concert you can afford to miss.”
After hearing the philharmonic’s line-up for 2013-14 during this weekend’s “Wagner and Beethoven,” I doubt I’ll be saying that next year.
The orchestra is playing it safe; inexplicably dumbing down the adventurousness evident in seasons past.
Don’t get me wrong. There is some great music on tap for 2013-2014. The Masterworks concerts bring former music director Christopher Wilkins back to open the season with Beethoven’s 5th. This is a notable event for those of us who were philharmonic fans in the late ‘80s and mid ‘90s, but perhaps not so special for the orchestra’s new and growing audience.
Prokofiev’s marvelous music for “Romeo and Juliet,” a Mahler Symphony No. 4 and taming the huge orchestral forces needed to realize Richard Strauss’ bombastic “Alpine Symphony” are the best opportunities in 2013-14 for this orchestra to further develop its relationship with conductor Caballé-Domenech and to stretch as musicians.
But if we want to declare this orchestra world-class, this inherently requires some boundary stretching. All told there is barely 18 minutes of music that could possibly be considered “modern” in the classical programming. Virtually all else belongs to what we affectionately refer to as “basic repertoire.” Springs audiences have more than demonstrated their capacity to take in and enjoy a modicum of dissonance and cacophony.
And then there’s the just the plain puzzling. In April, 2014, the philharmonic celebrates the Springs’ most enduring musical figure, Don Jenkins, who will be turning in his baton at the end of next season. Jenkins has made huge contributions to the musical life of the region by being a champion of opera and choral music for five decades. Rather than programming an important work such as the powerful “Missa Solemnis” of Beethoven, the philharmonic dealt Jenkins a choral pastiche.
A champion of modern music, conductor and composer Matthias Bamert leads the most conservative program of the season in January, 2014. A golden opportunity to bring some vital contemporary music to the Springs was simply passed over.
The lineup of soloists looks good. We’ll have a Beethoven “Emperor” with the spectacular William Wolfram at the keyboard. Mahler soprano soloist Jessica Rivera has excellent credentials. The most intriguing soloist of the season, the brilliant 18-year-old composer-pianist Conrad Tao, was not noted on Saturday night or in the organization’s press release.
Even though there was a mixed response to the debut of the Chicago Symphony’s expensive “Beyond the Score” music appreciation programs, they are back for a second season. It’s understandable the philharmonic had to go ahead and make a commitment but the jury is still out on these.
As successful as the Pops programs have been, it calls for some artistic stepping out. Not next season. The music of Abba, Simon and Garfunkel, Rogers and Hammerstein and Queen, which is being touted as the special event of the year, are all being brought to you by cover artists. It’s time to bring an actual front line artist to the philharmonic’s stage.
I don’t know what’s been discussed behind the organizations closed artistic and budgetary doors. They probably have reasons for the less than dynamic programming coming our way in 2013-2014. Let’s hope that the 2014-2015 season gets back to some real adventure.