With superior performances of Beethoven and Schoenberg, Sunday afternoon's second Festival Artists Concert was a stunning success.
Ring up two great Packard Hall concerts already from the Colorado College Summer Music Festival's faculty. No one was surprised.
Tuesday night's Cornerstone Arts Center Festival Orchestra concert was a different proposition.
Each year, an almost entirely new group of scholarship students arrive in Colorado Springs. While each candidate is carefully vetted by the faculty, the only measure of the process takes place when the newly-minted ensemble finally performs. This concert caught the musicians barely a week into the festival.
Seemingly always possessed of supreme confidence, conductor Scott Yoo threw caution to the wind and began the concert with one of the most challenging and revealing works that any orchestra could play: Stravinsky's revolutionary score for the ballet "Petrouchka" from 1911. On all levels, the performance was stellar.
This is music that is filled with a delightfully controlled chaos. The story is set at a Russian street fair and brings to life three human-sized puppets, one of which, Petrouchka, is tragically imbued with real emotions and desires. While the colorful score can stand on its own merits, when it is a true purveyor of the ballet's scenario extra magic happens.
Yoo was able to mine this from his eager musicians. With strings creating the canvas, the winds, brass, percussion and keyboards brought to life the diverse characters and situations of the story. Solo after solo was beautifully played as tricky poly-rhythmic textures were whipped off without any sense of struggle.
This required a large orchestra. Four faculty members and a guest professional were called upon to bolster the assemblage. Conspicuously brilliant from that group was Robert Walters, who produced evocative colors from his English horn.
But the student soloists were just as effective: Anton Rist was accurate and characterful on clarinet; Ben Corbin incisive on piano; Nathan Cunningham bold and delightful on tuba. The flute section was especially effective and there were no obvious flaws in this exhilarating reading.
A concert that reversed the order of traditional concert programming, Mozart's "First Flute Concerto" came after intermission. Faculty artist Elizabeth Mann was the soloist in a performance that was a complete contrast with what preceded it.
Yoo led a much smaller orchestra from the concertmaster's seat on violin. With Mann front and center, the players had to really listen to one another. The sound produced was precious. The quiet yet homogenous sounds produced by the strings in their role as accompanists were as breathtaking as some of the extroverted sounds we had heard in the Stravinsky.
This was a perfect compliment to the approach of Mann. She had no interest in calling attention to virtuosic display. This was a gentle, beautiful and accurate performance that was focused on honoring the subtlety and sublimity of the composer. The first movement's cadenza, written by the soloist herself, transfixed the audience as the solo flute charmingly furthered the conversation that Mozart's genius had already established.
To complete the concert, an overture to Rossini's opera "The Thieving Magpie" took centerstage. In a completely image-filled romp Yoo, once again on the podium, took the opportunity to both accurately lead the orchestra and entertain us through his cartoon like gestures.
For the Rossini as in all of the concert's music, this student orchestra gave no hint that they were nothing but a seasoned first class professional ensemble. Their festival-ending performance on June 23 should be one of the great moments of this year's artistic calendar.
colorado college summer music festival
What: Faculty Artist concerts, Festival Orchestra concerts, Master Classes, free Music at Midday and children's concerts
When: June 12- June 23
Where: Mostly on the Colorado College campus: Packard Hall (5 W. Cache La Poudre St.) and the Cornerstone Arts Center (825 N. Cascade Ave.) but five other concerts will take place at various locations in the Pikes Peak region
Tickets: $30 Faculty concerts, $25 Orchestra concerts; 520-7469; www.ticketswest.com; the Worner Center at 902 N. Cascade Ave.
Something Else: For the first time, the festival will stream the video and audio of live performances on the Live@CC live stream: www.coloradocollege.edu/live. Remaining broadcast performances are on Tuesday, June 18, 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, June 23, 3 p.m. Visit www.coloradocollege.edu/musicfestival for complete festival details.