Charlie Bates: A night of extraordinary music
Orchestra presents "Music from the Majestic Mountains to the Savage Seas"
March 27, 2007
Steamboat Springs — Now in its 15th year and going strong (but in need of financial assistance), the Steamboat Springs Orchestra is large enough – with more than 40 musicians – for symphonic compositions but flexible enough to play chamber music. It boasts at least 20 members who have been or still are professionals, a remarkably high ratio for such a small community.
Before Saturday night’s performance, I had not been to the Steamboat Christian Center and was pleasantly surprised to find it such an excellent venue, both visually and acoustically. It seats only about 200, which is ample now, but the orchestra may soon be outgrown.
The program began with Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” played with the 13 instruments for which the piece was originally composed, conductor and director Ernst Richardson said. It was also intended as the background for a ballet choreographed by Martha Graham. By itself, with such instrumentation, it was exquisite and flawlessly played, particularly by Gary Foss’ dominant clarinet.
After the intermission, the theme went from mountains to the sea, starting with the rousing Wagnerian overture to “The Flying Dutchman.” Then Mendelssohn’s “Fingal’s Cave overture,” which to me suggested strife at the dawn of history as in “Beowulf.” Then, for lighter fare, they performed John Williams’ movie score “Flight to Neverland,” which was delightful. As a special treat, the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera being too pricey, the audience sang the chorus from “The Modern Major-General’s” part in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” with Richarson, a tenor, filling in for the general’s baritone. That was really some fun.
Finally, they performed another movie score by Badelt for “Pirates of the Caribbean,” arranged by Richardson. It was wonderful, and I personally have resolved to listen to movie scores more carefully.
The virtuosity of the musicians, though they span in age from 13 to 70, is exceptionally high, as is their dedication – and that of the volunteers. But not enough can be said of the director, Richardson, whose range of accomplishments identifies him as a man in possession of a truly liberal mind. We are very lucky to have the benefit of his keen and expansive intellect. He also is the conductor of the Omaha Symphony Orchestra and founder, CEO and artistic director of the “Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory,” which is the single most positive institution with which I have ever become acquainted.
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Perhaps the best part of the evening was simply seeing how pleased everyone – musicians, staff and audience – was.