The Colorado Springs Philharmonic is on a hot streak. The orchestra regularly sells out concerts and, under the guidance of music director Josep Caballe-Domenech, performances have become consistently fine and often enthralling.
On Saturday and Sunday, the philharmonic kicks off its season under the baton of former music director Christopher Wilkins. Repertoire includes work by Puts, Copland and Beethoven.
The orchestra has been here before: Back in the early 1990s, the then Colorado Springs Symphony - led by the beloved Wilkins - consistently sold out seasons, even with more performances than currently offered.
After leaving the orchestra following the 1995-96 season, Wilkins went on to work as music director of the Akron Symphony, the Orlando Philharmonic and the Boston Landmarks Orchestra. In this concert, the 56-year-old conductor opens the Springs orchestra's season for the first time in 18 years.
The Gazette: How does it feel to be coming back to Colorado Springs at this point in your career?
Wilkins: It feels completely like home. It was my first professional job as a music director. Those were good years and incredibly happy years. Both of my kids were born there - during concerts as a matter of fact. ... I think a lot of the things I am particularly interested in - in terms of working with community in different ways - they all began there. And I have so many good friends there. I'm really looking forward to seeing folks.
Gazette: Kevin Puts' "River's Rush," which appears on this weekend's program, is likely new to many people. Are we really going to experience a river's rush in the music?
Wilkins: Yes. That's exactly what it is. It's the energy, the multiple layers, the wave within the wave within the wave, the rush and the roar. And it's perfect for Colorado. People who ride rivers and feel that incredible energy - that's exactly what this piece is about. It was not written for the Rocky Mountains but for St. Louis, which is where the Mississippi and Missouri come together.
Gazette: Does it have a modern, contemporary sound to it?
Wilkins:It sounds modern, but to me, more in the direction of Hollywood than Princeton ( and its Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center).
Gazette: Next on the program is Aaron Copland's "Suite from Billy the Kid." It is one of the 20th century's more popular works.
Wilkins: Lots of solos for everybody, which is fun. It's very descriptive: You can follow the narrative quite easily. ... One of the things that people love about it are the incredible stark contrasts: the still and serenity of the night interrupted by gunfire is an unforgettable moment. One of the under celebrated aspects of Copland was that he was such a fabulous orchestrator, one of the greatest of all time.
Gazette: How do you read the philosophy behind Beethoven's Fifth Symphony?
Wilkins: For him, it has a revolutionary quality about it: the voice of the people. ... The piece is loaded with significance and meaning layered on it since when it was first written. ... It's definitely a journey, but it's a journey of the soul.
Gazette: Do you treat it as program music (telling a specific story) or absolute music?
Wilkins: Definitively absolute music. The mark of a great performance would have to be emotional - describing a psychological journey to which you could not ever put words, all you could do is point to what's said and you hope your musicians and audience get it - as opposed to the Copland where you can actually say "here we are in the world of cowboy." It's definitely a journey bit it's a journey of the soul.
Gazette: Has your approach to working with orchestras changed since you began conducting?
Wilkins:Over time, I've tried to discipline myself to say as little as I possibly can in front of the orchestra because I think we all do better by keeping them playing. ... What we really are rehearsing is not my idea of the piece put into language. It's the connection that we have nonverbally.
Gazette: That's a very different style than you were once known for.
Wilkins: It's about listening. The more I've taught conducting, the more I've decided conducting is all about listening yourself and through your own listening causing the orchestra to listen more intently to itself and the musicians to each other.
Gazette: So you've changed?
Wilkins: I don't know. I'm sure I used to talk too much. I'm sure I still do talk too much. But I'm trying to talk as little as possible and in doing that I swear orchestras play better.... the running joke of the conductor stopping the orchestra and says "I think of a mountain stream here and the muted trumpet is the glint of light on a little pebble on the side," and the musician puts up his hand and asks "do you want it louder or softer?"
Gazette: As the music direct or of the then Colorado Springs Symphony, I'd have to describe your relationship to Colorado Springs a love affair. And many here expected you to rise to the top of American musical life. But while you have achieved many great things, you still have not reached that pinnacle.
Wilkins: I have never been that much concerned with making my mark nationally because it's almost antithetical to what's important to me. I haven't set about to make recordings or to get to Carnegie Hall or whatever. I'm incredibly satisfied right now with what I'm doing.
In the end, we actually make our principal mark in the community in which we are working. They're all kinds of people who have bigger careers and they're traveling more or have more name recognition. Things might have gone differently for me in that respect but they didn't, but there's no sense of disappointment.It's all interesting to me. A lot of careers shoot up and then shoot down. I've never been happier in my life. I'm working all the time. It's not why I'm happy so much it's more like I love what I'm doing. I'd love to be spending more time with my kids but right now they're too busy to see me. I never even know what country my son is in.
Who: The Colorado Springs Philharmonic with guest conductor Christopher Wilkins
When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
Tickets: $12-$59; 520-7469, pikespeakcenter.com
Something Else: The philharmonic has teamed up with Colorado College this year to again present "Screen on the Green." Saturday's 8 p.m. performance will be shown outdoors in its entirety on the Armstrong Quad, 14 East Cache La Poudre Street). It features HD sound and video projected on a giant screen, live from the concert hall. There is no charge.
Next: "The Music of Abba," Saturday 8 p.m. Sept. 28