Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It's Official at the Fine Arts Center

Alan Osburn has been named director of the Performing Arts Department and Producing Artistic Director of the Fine Arts Center Theatre Company. Osburn had been interim director since September 2006.

Yes, the name is also new: It's no longer called The Rep. (I don't know what effect this will have on anyone else, but not having to explain what The Rep was will give me about two more lines to review Fine Arts Center theater productions.)

There are other changes: The new company is going to emphasize professional talent more, beginning with the upcoming production of "Into the Woods," which opens May 11. And the recently added rehearsal space - part of the still-unfinished addition - is going to be transformed into a 90-seat black box theater.

Said Osburn: “Adding this additional performance space will give the company the freedom to produce more diverse material and delve into more drama, while continuing our current offerings of standard musicals and comedies in the SaGāJi Theatre.” He also hopes to develop new works in the space.

This is great news for the local theater community. New venues don't come along often - especially new venues with strong producing organizations behind them.

Read the complete press release here.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

De Cou with the Philharmonic

Pick a highlight at Saturday’s Colorado Springs Philharmonic — the musicians and guest conductor Emil de Cou provided everything a listener could hope for.

A beautifully woven sonic tapestry? Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 2 and 4 were presented with sparkling vivacity.

The rich, colorful tones of the woodwinds? Dvorák’s Serenade in D Minor evoked the bucolic mood of a Bohemian summer night.

Or perhaps you just wanted your socks knocked off? The concert ended with “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” from Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung” — and by the end, there was hardly a socked foot left at First United Methodist Church.

De Cou is the associate conductor of the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. He’s been praised for his preparation and musicianship, and both were amply on display.

My ear pricked up at the very first chord of the 4th Brandenburg Concerto: The sound had amazing buoyancy and lightness, and the rhythmic sweep was irresistible. The soloists — violinist Michael Hanson and flutists Paul Nagem and Leslie Smith — played sympathetically (though Hanson took a few minutes to get into the music), and the string orchestra was marvelously clear. Almost a fourth soloist, cellist Susan Smith gave life and bounce to the underlying rhythm.

De Cou was not doctrinaire about dynamics: Small crescendos and decrescendos made Bach's dense textures shimmer. And wonderful details abounded, such as the first movement's pear-shaped final chord.

The second Brandenburg Concerto featured David Zuercher on trumpet and Guy Dutra-Silviera on oboe along with Hanson and Nagem.

The musicians share the material, but since not all instruments are equally easy to play, the trumpet part ends up being the most difficult. It’s stratospherically high, requiring a special piccolo trumpet — an octave higher than the regular B-flat trumpet — that’s notoriously squirrelly. Which is a long way of saying that Zuercher didn’t get every note exactly right. But his tone was as golden as ever.

Nagem played with his usual brilliance and with a not-always-so-usual warmth. Dutra-Silviera's crispness perfectly complemented Nagem's suaveness, and a thoroughly-warmed-up Hanson gave a beautifully articulated performance.

Dvorák’s little-played serenade is charming. The themes are always catchy, and Dvorák finds many surprising and beautiful colors in the generally low-pitched ensemble (two clarinets, two oboes, two bassoons, three horns, cello and bass) — though he didn't always solve the sonic congestion problems inherent in the ensemble. There was some lovely playing, especially from clarinettists Ray Kireilis and Emily Singley.

The excerpt from Wagner’s darkest and most massive opera was performed in a slightly pruned-down orchestration by Engelbert Humperdinck — though it was still the largest and loudest orchestra ever to grace the church.

First United Methodist Church isn't a small space, but it's smaller than the Pikes Peak Center, and in this comparatively intimate setting, Wagner's music was simply astonishing: You were enveloped by the passionate surges of sound as Wagner kept pushing the expression farther than you believed it could possibly go — and the musicians kept answering the call.

Matthew Scheffelman played Siegfried’s horn call with such strength and confidence that the character seemed to stride before us.

De Cou isn’t as goal-oriented a conductor as philharmonic music director Lawrence Leighton Smith: It’s not always so clear where you are in the music with de Cou as with Smith. But when the sonic landscape is this enchanting, it’s not always important to know where you are.

The program will be repeated today (Sunday, April 22) at 2:30 p.m.

And: A previously announced $25,000 matching grant from stalwart philharmonic supporter Judy Fair-Spaulding has been met. In fact, it was met so quickly that Fair-Spaulding has decided to pledge another $25,000 if it can be matched by contributions from new donors by May 31, the end of the philharmonic's fiscal year.

And Yet Another New Curator...

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has hired Blake Milteer as curator of 19th and 21st Century American Art. Milteer comes from the Denver Art Museum, where he was assistant curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

This is the first time the Fine Arts Center has had a full complement of curators since Scott Snyder left in, I think, 2002. And no, I don't have any idea why Milteer's job description doesn't include 20th Century American art. But it will make for an obvious question when I interview him.

You can download the complete press release in pdf format here.

Btw, Googling Milteer pulled up this Westword article by Michael Paglia, in which he describes impending layoffs at the Denver Art Museum. Paglia uses the word "shocking," and for once it's not hyperbole.