Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Colorado Music Festival Premieres Kristin Kuster's "Devil's Thumb"

The final concert of this year’s Colorado Music Festival was special for several reasons, not the least of which was that it was Michael Christie’s last concert as CMF’s full-time director.

Hired at the tender age of 26, Christie reinvigorated the festival with a series of successful innovations. In particular, his passion for today’s new music brought a sense of excitement that certainly was a factor in boosting attendance over the years.

One of Christie’s strokes of genius has been his unique CLICK! community commissioning program. Yes, unique: no other orchestra in the country offers this. Each year, beginning with 3-4 pre-selected composers, audience members (and anyone else) can vote for the composer they’d like to see receive a commission to write a 10 minute work that premieres the following season. A vote costs $10, meaning the voters collectively both select the composer and fund the commission.

This year’s winner was Kristin Kuster, an established, successful composer who grew up in Boulder, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains which begin just west of the city. She lived near a distinctive upthrusting rock known as Devil’s Thumb, which became the title of her piece that premiered on Aug. 8-9.

Devil’s Thumb opens with a dynamic, swirling section, which then grows more relaxed, leading to a bass clarinet solo. A pattern emerges of full orchestral sections, often presenting some effective writing for strings, that alternate with solos from the violin, cello, and oboe, interspersed with passages for winds, then percussion. Some melancholic strings return, and build to a concluding climax. The piece showcases individual players, orchestral sections, and invigorating tuttis, maintaining interest and not wearing out its welcome. I hope it receives more performances.

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composer Kristin Kuster

John Corigliano’s Pied Piper Fantasy, Concerto for Flute and Orchestra was a hit with the audience, featuring imaginative orchestral colors using unconventional approaches, a costumed, virtuoso soloist Alexa Still, a children’s flute ensemble, and menacing rat girls.

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flutist Alexa Still and conductor Michael Christie

The concert concluded with a powerful performance of Shostakovich’s well-known 5th Symphony, with one of the most impassioned and forceful performances I've heard from Christie.

The final long, sustained ovation reflected the audience’s love and appreciation of all that Christie has brought to Boulder over the years.

Your faithful reporter must note that Christie’s close ties to new music resulted in an unexpected, pre-concert, bovidian photo:

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Mark Adamo, John Corigliano, Kristin Kuster, Michael Christie

Christie unveiled the CLICK! program during 2010 season, stating:
“It just occurred to me that in this era of micro-finance that we could create something where a patron could invest a little bit of time and not have to make a huge financial commitment but could still be part of the game… This idea is to try to make it feel like anybody can participate, not just the most well-heeled or the people who are most used to giving. We’re all trying to engage people.”
During the 2011 season, the first CLICK! commission, Patrick Zimmerli's Festival Overture was premiered on June 30, 2011, and can be heard here.

The 2012 season CLICK commission went to Daniel Kellogg, whose successful piece Gates of Paradise premiered to an enthusiastic audience on Aug. 2, 2012.

With the departure of Christie, the future of the wonderful CLICK! program is unclear.