The Colorado Symphony’s new conductor, Peter Oundjian, is a former violinist living in Boulder
Serious orchestras usually import their conductors from out of town, but the Colorado Symphony Orchestra has found its new podium conductor right on Highway 25 in Boulder, where Peter Oundjian has a second home and conducts currently the operations of the Colorado Music Festival.
Oundjian is very familiar to Denver audiences. That said, he is also a solidly international figure. Born in Toronto and raised in Surrey, England, he is best known in the classical world for his 14-year tenure as Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which greatly expanded his talents and ambitions before his departure. in 2018. He conducts globally and was Music Director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra from 2012 to 2018, taking the ensemble on intercontinental journeys.
And in show biz terms, he has a good history, starting in 1981 as the concertmaster of the famous Tokyo String Quartet and touring and recording extensively for 14 years until a stress injury. repetitive seriously damages his left hand.
Famous, Oundjian reinvented himself as a conductor, at 39, and went on to greater distinction. The catwalk was a fitting showcase for his charismatic personality — his first cousin is Monty Python star Eric Idle, and Oundjian is equally exuberant — and audiences and musicians alike are responding favorably.
He is a classical music networker who counts among his mentors Yehudi Menuhin, Andre Previn, Dorothy DeLay, Leon Fleisher, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. But he earned his fame doing magic from masters like Beethoven, Britten and Mahler.
This traditional bent makes him an interesting, if not unexpected, choice for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Although he was the orchestra’s principal guest conductor from 2003 to 2006 and has conducted the orchestra countless times, he is old school in a way that the Colorado Symphony Orchestra s away now.
The orchestra maintains its program of classical standards, but it works hard to redefine itself in the world of pop music, and that is where its reputation has evolved. This month, for example, the orchestra has programmed concerts of music by Bob Dylan and Queen and the video game-related Final Fantasy scores. His marketing push followed; the organization dropped “orchestra” from its name and adopted the slogan “your Colorado Symphony” to ensure everyone knows it wants to be of and for everyday people.
Can Oundjian see himself leading the strings and winds through a frolic of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ or perhaps Queen’s ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’?
“Probably in some kind of hallucination,” he said in an interview after his nomination was announced. “But probably not in real life.”
But he adhered to the overall mission of the orchestra, and he talks about it.
“Because I don’t necessarily want to lead Queen’s music – or that I would necessarily be good at it – that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in being part of a plan that includes that as well.” he declared. said.
Although he’ll probably leave the swinging to others. The current plan calls for him to lead musicians through 18 concerts a year, or three concerts each of programs “entirely dedicated to classical art music”. Additionally, he will work for special events, traveling as needed from his primary residence in Connecticut.
He will also represent the orchestra as his main public face, which means he is personally connected to the fate the orchestra derives from its populist experiences, whether or not he is on the podium. If the move succeeds artistically, it is part of a re-imagining of urban ensembles. If it looks hopeless, then it’s okay.
He insists that there is logic to the plan and that the numbers, if not necessarily the art, back it up. The Colorado Symphony has gathered crowds for some of their pop releases. They help pay the bills and keep the musicians employed full time.
At best, they also remove perceived suffocation from the equation, counteracting classical music’s “very strong age-old message that if it was for everyone, it was no good, and if it was good , it was not for everyone.
The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, he said, has a serious plan to “be more than one thing as an orchestra.” It is important, no doubt. The public was fascinated by large orchestras; now, as we all know, most people have moved on. It’s a challenge to stay in business.
To that end, expect more and louder moves from the orchestra in that direction, including upcoming residencies with headliners, including a hip-hop artist who Oundjian says is popular enough to play Red Rocks.
The key to everything is quality. Musical arrangements for concerts built around folk singers like Brandi Carlile or Harry Potter film scores should be top notch and dignified. Otherwise, the orchestra looks like a relief band.
“I will be very unhappy if they execute something that is not well arranged,” Oundjian said.
With Oundjian at the helm, local audiences can have a considerable degree of certainty that the usual classical music will be expertly performed, and they will have many opportunities to watch and hear him, including three concerts this season where he should already be invited. conduct: a Holst program in March, Mahler in April and an end-of-season Beethoven celebration in May.
They will also see it over time in Boulder, where it will continue with the Colorado Music Festival. Or maybe on local tennis courts; he is an avid player. Or maybe on the slopes of Aspen or Breckenridge. “I’ve skied most of the big resorts,” he notes.
Peter Oundjian may be a world traveler, but he definitely calls Colorado home.
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