Conductor Carl Topilow closes out 41st season with National Repertory Orchestra |

Conductor Carl Topilow closes out 41st season with National Repertory Orchestra

Principal Conductor of the National Repertory Orchestra, Carl Topilow, leads a rehearsal Thursday, July 26, inside the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge.
Hugh Carey /

If You Go

What: Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphony No. 2” performed by the NRO

When: 7:30, July 27

Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge

Info: The NRO’s summer season ends with one of its most beloved composers and often performed pieces. The night will also feature NRO piano fellow Mio Arai in Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 4.” Tickets are $25-40 or $10 for children 18 and under. For more, call 970-453-5825 or go to

About to close out his 41st season as the principal conductor for the National Repertory Orchestra Friday, Carl Topilow says he’s is looking forward to many more.

Founder of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, Topilow is known for his exceptional versatility, which blends a wide variety of music genres. He began his career with the NRO as its assistant conductor from 1972-75. Technically speaking, that means he’s been with the group for 46 years now.

He admits that sounds like “a substantial amount of time,” but the more someone talks to him the more it seems as if he’s not feeling it the least bit.

“I’m used to the altitude and attitude and everything it takes to make this program successful,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed what I do very much, and I personally don’t see any stopping.”

Comprised of 89 gifted young musicians from around the world, the NRO is about to close out its 59th season and 26th in Breckenridge.

After tonight’s season finale, they will have performed almost two-dozen full orchestral concerts and 22 free chamber concert series events within Summit County this summer alone.

The NRO will close out the season with “Symphony No. 2” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, the kind of challenging piece that the orchestra loves to perform.

But Topilow remembers the group’s humble beginnings, when they were inside the Marshdale Lodge in Evergreen. Calling the lodge “rustic” might be an understatement, but somehow they made it all work.

“We had great musicians and we all managed,” Topilow recalled.

In 1987, the NRO moved to Keystone and then Breckenridge in 1993, the same year the Riverwalk Center was built. In Evergreen, the orchestra had to play at a high school auditorium some years, but in moving to Breckenridge, it was a big leap forward for the group.

“Just to have our own space with the magnificent Riverwalk Center, it was a tremendous step up,” Topilow said of the 750-seat venue.

Along the way, he’s worked with some amazing talents, too. Trumpeters like Michael Sachs and David Bilger, who went on to become the principal players of the Cleveland and Philadelphia orchestras, respectively, are just two examples.

Now the NRO puts on a minimum of two different orchestral programs a week, which is a high volume, especially for orchestra music, and unique among summer festivals.

Despite the heavy workload, the NRO remains in the top echelon of summer festivals, said Topilow, who every year looks forward to putting on a fresh lineup of concerts.

“It’s pretty exciting stuff,” he said. “I really enjoy it immensely.”

To maintain such a feverish pace, the NRO relies on annually recruiting some of the top talent across the country, positioning representatives all over the U.S. and holding hundreds upon hundreds of auditions in places like New York, Los Angeles and everywhere in between.

They have NRO representatives at “all the big music sites” and at all the big music schools, Topilow said, which is one major reason he thinks the NRO has been so blessed to have such a high caliber of talent.

The conductor stands at the helm, but Topilow knows “it’s a big team that puts us in the position to succeed.”

With that, he’s quick to credit to the board of directors, NRO staff and the audiences who’ve enjoyed so many of their shows. Without them, the NRO wouldn’t be such a “top notch” summer festival, and people otherwise probably wouldn’t be so interested in auditioning for the group.

For the principal conductor and music director, it always comes back to the talent they put on stage.

“We always have been blessed with a lot of very talented folks to join our orchestra and it’s been quite something,” he said. “The quality has been maintained over the years … It was never bad, but it’s only gotten better and better. To do high-quality programing like this, it’s important to have musicians who can handle all that’s involved with it.”

As for when he might consider retirement, Topilow isn’t ready to even start thinking about it yet.

“Nope. How’s that for an answer?” he said. “I feel great, my health is terrific, and I thrive on that mountain air.”

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