Steamboat Springs If you had sat at the Steamboat Christian Center from about an hour before Saturday night's Steamboat Springs Orchestra performance until after Sunday afternoon's final performance, and looked out the high glass eastern facade toward Mount Werner, you would have witnessed the panoply of weather that characterizes spring in Steamboat.
It began with gray skies, then a violent snowstorm, then clear blue skies Sunday morning, and then graying again, and occasional snow squalls. This is spring as celebrated by the Steamboat Springs Orchestra's Spring Concerts, and we love it.
In his opening remarks, Music Director Ernest Richardson graciously credited the quality of local musicians, who keep emerging from the community, for the orchestra's growing excellence. Although that is certainly true, and the virtuosity of the members is increasingly remarkable, it is Richardson who brings them together as an ensemble.
He also selects compositions he knows they can handle, but compositions that also are a challenge to their abilities. The spring program is the most demanding yet, but it was performed seamlessly and with spirit. The program featured work by three great Russian composers: Igor Stravinsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. John Williams, the contemporary American composer, was included to demonstrate how one can learn composition by studying the Russian greats.
Pulcinella was a Commedia dell'Arte character, a rogue with a long nose. Stravinsky composed the ballet for the great choreographer, Serge Diaghilev. It premiered in Paris in 1920. Pablo Picasso designed costumes and sets for the production. It was based on an 18th century ballet, the score supposedly composed by Giovanni Pergolesi. Stravinsky rewrote it using older themes and adding modern elements. In the ballet, Pulcinella arouses the ire of the village men because they suspect him of trying to steal all the girls. It ends happily when all who want to, find wives, including Pulcinella.
The Pulcinella Suite is in eight movements. The structure of the orchestra is a baroque form greatly expanded. Humorous passages are dominated by double bass and trombone. The piece is punctuated by short solo passages, among others, Mary Beth Norris on flute and John Neurohr on trombone. The suite is a delight, but, of course, must be only a taste of the ballet in its entirety.
Tchaikovsky composed the "Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy" after being rebuffed by his only serious female love interest. He was encouraged to compose it by his mentor, Mily Balakirev, who was an uncompromising critic and whom the composer took 10 years to satisfy.
The overture begins with solemn horns, then the strings come in, and then, still solemn, the full orchestra. It then becomes martial, representing the strife between the opposing families, Montague and Capulet. It becomes violent and vigorous, then gives way to the all-too-familiar but brief love theme. Strife thereafter reaches a crescendo, followed by the mournful accompaniment of the lovers' interment. The finale is grand and martial. Of course, as with Pulcinella, the overture is only a taste of the complete ballet.
Mr. Richardson noted that non-Iberian composers always portray Spain as sultry. That is the case in Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espanol," Op. 34. I particularly liked the recurring theme of castanets, played by Kurt Ochsner. The violinists and cellists played their instruments across their laps as though they were guitars. All the way through, the piece evokes the expansive and sensual Spanish landscape of the imagination. It is in five movements. The fourth, "Scena e Canto Gitano," is most interesting because it is punctuated by soloists in series - Teresa Steffens Greenlee on violin, Mary Beth Norris on flute, and Bill Fetcher on English Horn, Tonya Jilling on harp, and John Sant'Ambrogio on his incomparable cello. This arrangement is unique to my experience.
John Williams' "The Cowboy Overture" is from the movie "The Cowboys." It reminds us of the heyday of cowboy-ness, the age of horsemen galloping about on the immense prairie, before it was plowed up and blown away. It is a tribute by Richardson to our local bovines and ranchers - a fine composition, well worthy of inclusion with the Russian greats.