Orchestra lovers are in for quite a ride this summer as the Breckenridge Music Festival presents a once-in-a-lifetime season featuring not one but three talented guest conductors, each of whom will make a musical case for why he should be selected to lead the next generation of the BMF’s Festival Orchestra.
Each candidate will conduct the orchestra through two concerts in the summer series, one featuring a solo artist he selected and invited to perform in Breckenridge. The evenings with the visiting candidates, along with appearances by three acclaimed soloists, make up the backbone of this summer’s programming.
Boulder native Francesco Lecce-Chong, who serves as associate conductor for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in Wisconsin, presents opening night on Thursday, July 17. His program spans a cheerful range from Baroque to Broadway. On the classical side, “A Midsummer’s Opening Night” features familiar pieces by Copland, Mendelssohn, Handel, Mozart and Gershwin. Then Lecce-Chong presents Helen Welch, a critically acclaimed and diverse vocalist who sings pieces from the 1930s to present day, to perform fun tunes such as “Over the Rainbow” and selections from “A Chorus Line.”
“When you are on vacation and visiting a place like Breckenridge, you expect a more lighthearted approach in a summer festival, one that reflects the beautiful place where you are,” said Marcia Kaufmann, BMF executive director. “Lecce-Chong was particularly charming in his decision to make opening night a lighthearted concert, bringing in a vocalist to do jazz and Broadway and mixing in everybody’s favorites on the classical side — like Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,’ which even if you don’t know the name, you will recognize instantly.”
On Saturday, July 19, Lecce-Chong presents a program designed “to explore the unique clarity, virtuosity and expressivity of a chamber orchestra like the BMF orchestra.” The three contrasting works to be presented include what he describes as “a shockingly stormy, youthful symphony from Haydn, a virtuosic ensemble work by Ginastera and Mendelssohn’s magnificent ‘Scottish Symphony.’”
Music from three continents
The second candidate is the Austrian-born David Danzmayr, who serves as music director for the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra in Chicago and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio. Danzmayr’s musical sections for the Thursday, July 31, and Saturday, Aug. 2, concerts introduce him to the audience while adding a worldly flare. They include both Austrian and American pieces — and not just North American, but South American, too.
“Danzmayr has a big affinity for the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla and the liber tango,” Kaufmann said. “He chose to highlight a spectrum of popular Austrian music but also the Austrian composer Gulda, who is less well known here.
“There’s a quirky sense of humor in the compositions. It’s a very personal statement but also incorporates a lot of the elements he enjoys on three continents.”
Among the music of modern American composers, Danzmayr includes works by William Bolcom and William Grant Still. Internationally recognized pianist Lisa Smirnova will join him for the Saturday, Aug. 2, concert.
“Do you like to ski?” festival organizers asked Danzmayr when they were trying to entice him. “Well of course; I’m Austrian,” he replied.
Americana and family fun
The third and final candidate for the position of Breckenridge Music Festival conductor is Rossen Milanov, a multilingual, Bulgarian-born conductor who serves as music director for the Orquesta Sinfonica del Principado de Asturias in Spain, the Princeton Symphony Orchestra in Princeton, New Jersey, and Symphony in C, formerly the Haddonfield Symphony. Milanov will lead the orchestra in the Friday, Aug. 8, and Saturday, Aug. 9, concerts.
On Friday, Aug. 8, Milanov will conduct the festival’s free family concert, “The Composer is Dead,” back by popular demand. The child-centric evening features a musical setting of Lemony Snicket’s illustrations and story, narrated by Christopher Willard of the Backstage Theatre, along with other pieces of the conductor’s choosing.
“We always do a family concert, and it fell in his week,” said Olivia Grover, BMF marketing director. “He loves community service, and he loved the idea, so he jumped on it. It’s a big challenge to do narrative with a narrator and do it well.”
On Saturday, Aug. 9, Milanov dives deep into Americana, with selections including “Appalachian Spring,” by Aaron Copland, with the familiar Shaker hymn “‘Tis a Gift to be Simple.” He invited the internationally acclaimed, Iceland-based soprano Dissela Larusdottir, who regularly performs at The Metropolitan Opera in New York, to star in the evening. She will sing Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” and Bernstein’s take on a bel canto aria in “Glitter and be Gay” from “Candide,” among others. Expect “vocal pyrotechnics,” Milanov said. The evening concludes with Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, also known as the “Jupiter Symphony.”
“He’s very international,” Kaufmann said of Milanov. “He conducts extensively in Europe and the United States. Even though he has embraced the complexity of music worldwide, one of the things he does seem to really enjoy is the music of this country.”
Outgoing conductor Gerhardt Zimmermann, who has led the Breckenridge Music Festival orchestra for the past 20 years, will take up the baton in four concerts, including “Scottish Fantasy & Schubert” on Friday, Aug. 15, and the festival’s closing night, “Gerhardt’s Favorites,” on Saturday, Aug. 16.
Throughout the summer, audiences are invited to weigh in on the conductor selection.
Erica Marciniec is a paid writer with the Breckenridge Music Festival.