Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra. Photo by Adam Riggs

Meet the Boulder Phil

In Arts & Culture by Aimee HeckelLeave a Comment

Boulder is alive with music.

Our town is lucky to be home to a rare music treat: our very own professional symphony orchestra.

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra is known for its high quality, innovation and artistic collaborations. Around the holidays, it’s known as the live soundtrack to the Boulder Ballet’s popular “Nutcracker” shows.

But the “Boulder Phil” offers so much more.

It has its own full concert season that often features some of the top names in classical music. You can expect the unexpected: aerialists and circus performers incorporated into the performance, classical music hikes, science and nature components. In fact, the Boulder Phil has partnered with at least 45 other local groups over the years. Its creative approaches often give the Boulder Phil a wider audience reach and bring orchestral music to people who think they might not otherwise enjoy it, or who might not otherwise have exposure to it.

The Boulder Phil aims to create a “new model for American orchestras,” and its unique shows are increasingly more frequently sold out.

The nonprofit orchestra is led by respected music director Michael Butterman, and the performers are among the best musicians in the state. The orchestra boasts a long list of regional and world premieres.

You can catch shows at the Macky Auditorium on the University of Colorado campus and throughout the state at venues like the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek, as well as on Colorado Public Radio. The Boulder Phil reaches more than 20,000 people annually.

The Roots

A photo of the Boulder Phil around 1968. Courtesy photo

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1958, but its roots go back farther.

You can trace it way back to 1893, to a small group of local musicians who decided to get together and perform. The then-called Philharmonic Club put on an annual show that grew in popularity. The group turned into the Civic Symphony Orchestra in the ‘40s. After a few years, it lost steam and disbanded.

It was revived in the ‘50s, lead by Thomas Facey as musical director. He handed it over to Antonia Brico as conductor in 1958.

Over the years, the leadership changed and the group and its offerings grew. Big names like Oswald “Ozzi” Lehnert and Theodore Kuchar were pivotal in shaping what the Boulder Phil is today. Under Kuchar, the group finally became a fully professional symphony orchestra.

Michael Butterman. Courtesy photo

Butterman, the current music director, took the helm in 2007. He is also the music director for the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra and involved with various other orchestras throughout the country.

Get Your Phil

The Boulder Philharmonic’s 2019-20 season kicked off in October with a show called “Gritty/Pretty” at the Macky Auditorium. In November, it brought “Latin Fire and Boléro” to Macky, and late November and early December was time for “The Nutcracker.”

“The Nutcracker” by the Boulder Ballet. Courtesy photo

Also in celebration of the holidays, you can catch “Christmas with the Phil” Dec. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place in Boulder. This performance includes concertmaster Charles Wetherbee, violin, as soloist for sections of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons;” the Christmas portion of Handel’s “Messiah” with soloists and choir; and other seasonal music.

Kick off the new year Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m. with “Mozart & More!” at the Macky. This show features piano duo Anderson & Roe, and Butterman will join them for Mozart’s unique “Three Piano Concerto.”

A fresh partnership this year is the Boulder Phil’s performance with FACE Vocal Band at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Macky. FACE is a local-based, internationally acclaimed all-vocal rock group. They’re bringing beat-boxing and tons of energy to the symphony orchestra. Songs will include “Sounds of Silence,” by Simon and Garfunkel; “House of the Rising Sun;” and “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen, to name a few.

Also in February, the Boulder Phil brings “Hemingway Portraits & Sibelius 2” to Macky. This show, Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m., highlights cellist Zuill Bailey, who won two Grammys for his recording of Michael Daugherty’s “Tales of Hemingway.”

Another exciting partnership comes March 21 and 22, when the Boulder Phil performs alongside Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance for “The Firebird.” This show, at Macky, will bring high-flying aerialists into the classical music world.

Boulder Phil’s former aerial show, “Cirque de la Symphonie.” Courtesy photo

The season wraps up big on April 25 at 7:30 p.m. with “Koh Plays Beethoven.” Jennifer Koh, on violin, will join the Phil to celebrate Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

In addition to these performances, you can experience the Boulder Phil on Musical Hikes. Go on a hike with a naturalist that is designed to complement specific music that the Boulder Phil performs. These hikes are free and open to the public.

Musical Hikes with the Boulder Philharmonic. Courtesy photo

The next one, “Mystic Mountains: A Musical Journey” is 2-5 p.m. April 19, following by one 10 a.m.-1 p.m. April 25.

As the Phil describes these special events: “Explore how composers are drawn to the mountains. How would you use music to capture the essence of Boulder’s mountains?”

The Boulder Phil also makes an effort to reach out to the younger population. It holds Discovery Concerts for kids in 28 elementary schools in Colorado.

The Discovery Concert 2020, designed for kids in grades 3 through 6, is called “Imagine! Stories & Music.” It dives into the relationship between music and literature. The program ends with a concert.

The Boulder Phil also offers a Young Artist Concerto Competition, where musical kids have the chance to compete to win $300 and a spot performing with the professional orchestra. Auditions are Jan. 26.

In addition, the Phil offers discounted tickets for students to attend its performances: just $5 for kindergarten through 12th grade with an adult ticket, and $5 for full-time college students.

Boulder Phil. Photo by Glenn Ross

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