Few emotions generate excitement like genuine anticipation – witness a child's behavior on about Dec. 23 if you don't believe it – and so it is for Music in the Mountains fans who have waited two full weeks for the arrival of the Festival Orchestra.
But arrive it has, with a couple of old friends in tow.
Festival organizers, looking to trim expenses this year in light of a troubling economy, decided to bring the orchestra in for the final week of MITM, saving two weeks' worth of food and lodging for about 50 people. It was a savvy decision that's paid off with surprising by-products: The chamber sessions and chamber orchestra events have been better than ever, and the buzz surrounding the orchestra's arrival hasn't been seen around here since most of the musicians themselves were waiting for Santa.
And Musical Director and Conductor Guillermo Figueroa is ready for them, planning two diverse and challenging programs this weekend after tonight's Conservatory Gala at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.
On Saturday under the festival tent at Durango Mountain Resort, oboist Erin Hannigan gets her second solo shot with the Festival Orchestra, tackling Richard Strauss' three-movement Oboe Concerto. She's played with the MITM orchestra for nine years and had a solo with Mozart's oboe concerto in her second season.
The Strauss concerto is a relatively modern piece, written in 1945 toward the end of Strauss' life, and it is exactly what its name says. There's no downtime for the soloist in the 25-minute piece, so here's hoping that Hannigan's lungs are up to the task.
“Surely it will make the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest altitude playing of the Strauss oboe concerto,” Figueroa joked.
An accomplished runner, Hannigan said she's been training with the concerto in mind and is more than ready for her big night. She's played it before and will do so again next spring with the Dallas Symphony.
“I'm always happy to play this one; it's one of my favorites,” she said.
Hannigan's solo will be sandwiched between Hector Berlioz's overture to the opera “Beatrice and Benedict” and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A. Many people may not be familiar with the overture and even less so with the larger work, but Figueroa intends to change that.
“It's an absolute gem, and it's a shame the whole opera doesn't get played more,” Figueroa said. “Berlioz is my passion, so I program it whenever I can.”
Beethoven's Seventh isn't among his most instantly recognizable works, but it's a powerful, sprawling composition in four movements that's a great cap to a Saturday under the big top at DMR.
Sunday brings the return of another and even more familiar face to MITM, as Aviram Reichert is back for a 13th season at the piano. Reichert's first appearance this year will be at the Concert Hall for “Eloquence,” and Reichert's solo comes during one of the finest pieces ever written for the instrument, Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1. The Polish composer wrote his music unapologetically for the piano, and it's evident in this symphony that, for him, the orchestral accompaniment was an afterthought. That's great news for Avi's fans, as there's no better showcase for a world-class pianist than Chopin (in one writer's humble opinion), even though the opening number serves as little more than a warm up for the rest of the orchestra.
But they'll get their chance, too. After intermission, the stage will be shaking as Figueroa guides the orchestra through Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 in D. It's the kind of piece that should come to mind when you hear the word “symphonic.” It's sweeping, full, and the latter movements, including the finale, are played attacca, literally like an attack.
“I thought everyone could use some extra rehearsal because it's such a difficult piece, but we ran through it once, and everyone was great,” Figueroa said.
The orchestra will take a few days off before heading to Pagosa Springs on Friday and closing MITM next weekend at DMR. Reichert and Hannigan both will perform Tuesday night at DMR in a chamber music concert.