New conductor enjoys role

Chamber orchestra revived after difficult summer

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— The Steamboat Springs Chamber Orchestra moves on from a turbulent summer to its Winter Concert next week with newfound energy under a new conductor.

In September, the orchestra hired Richard Niezen to take the reins. Niezen is young, vibrant and happy to make the drive from the Boulder area each week to conduct the group.

"It's been great," Niezen said. "I really am enjoying it. They are nice people and they really are dedicated."

Niezen, 35, has an M.A. in music from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he majored in orchestral conducting. Before his conducting studies, Niezen was an orchestral bass player and played in orchestras in several major centers in Europe and North and South America. He moved to Colorado in 2000 and has taken over the directorship of several area orchestras, including the Lafayette Youth Orchestra at the Rocky Mountain Center for Musical Arts and the Aurora Symphony Orchestra.
"I'm always excited to get any job," Niezen said in a phone interview this week. "Conducting for me is so much fun."

Conducting in Steamboat presents a unique opportunity for Niezen to work with a variety of different people. From ranchers to business owners, there are people from all different walks of life who play in the orchestra in Steamboat Springs, he explained.

"They are linked by the common bond of 'let's get together and play music,'" he said.

What is unique is that the group members are dedicated to the music and improving their skills as musicians.

"I could kind of feel when I came up (to interview) that this is a very special group of people," he said.

Since being hired in late September, Niezen has been driving to Steamboat on the weekends to rehearse with the group.

Throughout the summer, the Chamber Orchestra was reeling after its previous conductor, Bill Burkhart, attempted suicide in April.

Burkhart survived but suffers from a traumatic brain injury.

He is expected to be in some type of care facility for the rest of his life.

Niezen was one of 15 conductors who applied for the job in the fall and one of five who was asked to guest conduct in early September.

"Personally, I'm quite pleased," trombonist and board member Larry Lucas said. "Richard is very dynamic. I think we are moving in a positive direction."

Lucas said Niezen is challenging the group, particularly the strings and woodwinds, which he said was something the group wanted from a conductor.

But Niezen's drive to challenge the group is complemented with a good sense of humor and patience, which is important for a conductor of a community orchestra, Lucas said.

"He's fantastic," first-year cellist Erin Gilbertson said. "He brings a lot of good energy to the group."

That energy will be shown to the public on Wednesday. Before Niezen was hired, the orchestra chose a variety of music from different countries to perform for the concerts. Niezen said he was pleased with the selection.

"It's such a great mix of music," he said. "It's a variety that I think will be a wonderful program."

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