Saturday night at Macky Auditorium, Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra music director Michael Butterman explained the cyclical concept to the audience, making careful note of the triumphant return of the "motto" at the end. Yet several audience members still fell into the notorious trap at the end of the symphony and applauded at the grand pause before that triumphant return.
It would be easy to make fun of the "sophisticated" Boulder classical music audience based on such an incident, but it was also an indication of something positive: Macky Auditorium was nearly packed, doubtless including many new patrons who had been to very few classical concerts before. Scheduling a subscription concert on Valentine's Day was a stroke of genius for the Phil's marketing department--an inexpensive, upscale date.
Tackling the Tchaikovsky Fifth was a daring move for Butterman. It was one of the signature works of his predecessor, Theodore Kuchar. In addition, Butterman has programmed very few standard symphonies in his two-plus years at the orchestra's helm. But he presented the lush score with relish. Principal horn player Michael Yopp gave an exceptionally clean rendition of the famous solo at the opening of the second movement, and the strings were crisp and clear in the rapid middle section of the third-movement waltz. And Stephanie Zelnick's opening clarinet solo on the "motto" theme had just the right balance of penetration and mysterious quiet.
Before intermission, the husband-wife piano duo Misha and Cipa Dichter played Mozart's satisfying Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat. It was a visual and aural pleasure watching and listening to them pass the intricate passagework between each other and harmonize in synchronicity on rapid runs. Butterman used the expanded orchestration with trumpets, clarinets and drums. The Dichters presented a crowd-pleasing encore, an arrangement for two pianos of Copland's "Hoe Down" from "Rodeo."
In a nod to the "romantic" theme of the concert, the orchestra opened with Bach's "Air on the G String," which has become too ubiquitous in isolation from the orchestral suite to which it belongs, and one wishes somewhat that it would have been performed with the entire suite instead. It is even more affecting in context.
The Tchaikovsky, however, was a great moment for Butterman. The criticism that he did not program enough of the "standard" repertoire has some validity, and while a warhorse, the Fifth is considered by this reviewer to be its composer's best piece.
Hopefully, some of the Valentine's Day audience will be inspired to come back to hear another great symphony, Dvorák's Eighth, on March 21. That concert also includes Butterman's more adventurous streak, as tabla virtuoso Rony Barrak will be on hand to perform with the Phil.