Denver Young Artists Orchestra begins season in Breckenridge |

Denver Young Artists Orchestra begins season in Breckenridge

W. Ryan Zimmerman / Special to the Daily
W R Zimmerman |

If you go

What: Denver Young Artists Orchestra, with guest violist Barbara Hamilton

When: 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11

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

Cost: Free

More information: Visit

The Denver Young Artists Orchestra will present its first concert of the season at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge on Saturday, Oct. 11. Music director Wes Kenney said he selected the repertoire for the concert specifically with the mountains in mind.

“I wanted to choose a program that gave us a little bit of the sense of the dramatic scenery that the Colorado Rockies provide for all of us,” he said. “The first work by Hugo Alfven, it’s called ‘Swedish Rhapsody,’ the character of the music sounds like one of the old travelogues on television; it almost sounds like you’re whistling a tune walking on a hike someplace.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a showpiece of orchestra because it gets pretty worked up through a good portion of the piece. It shows off a lot of the players, and it’s always spoken to me as experiencing the great outdoors.”

The concert will continue with Bela Bartok’s Viola Concerto, featuring well-known Denver violist and teacher Barbara Hamilton, and will conclude with Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ First Symphony.

“There’s a lot of drama in his pieces,” Kenney said of Sibelius. “The ruggedness of the Finns is certainly portrayed in his music. There’s a lot of drama that you hear, and to me, the character of the music is fitting for the atmosphere and place that we’ll be playing, so that’s why I chose that work.”


Hamilton is currently artistic director and violist with the Colorado Chamber Players, a position she has held for more than 20 years. She has coached off and on with the Denver Young Artists Orchestra for about the same length of time, and many of the violists who play in the DYAO study with her, Kenney said.

Hamilton was approached by Kenney to be a featured performer with the orchestra, and she chose Bartok’s Viola Concerto as her performance piece.

“Bartok, he was a Hungarian composer who lived most of his life in Hungary and emigrated to the United States in 1940, along with other artists and musicians who felt like it was important to leave Europe because the Nazis were invading European countries,” Hamilton said. “He felt that he would be safer and better able to function as an artist by leaving Europe.”

Bartok came to New York City, Hamilton said, but he was unable to complete the orchestration for the Viola Concerto, one of the last pieces he wrote, before he died of leukemia in 1945. Bartok’s apprentice, Tibor Serly, ultimately finished the version of the piece that the DYAO will perform.

“A lot of composers turn to viola at the end of their lives,” Hamilton said. “There’s something about the sound of the viola, melancholy, expressive, that appeals to composers. Though he didn’t complete the piece, there was enough information in his drafts and compositional sketches that Tibor was able to complete it.”

The piece was premiered by viola great William Primrose and became one of the major pieces in the viola repertoire.

“I hear in the concerto a very deep sadness, not only that he was dying but that he had to leave his home,” Hamilton said. “Europe had been really devastated by the Second World War, lives lost; he lost a great many friends. He’s mourning the devastation of Europe, but there are a lot of very happy moments, as well. Bartok was unusual in that he would go out into the countryside in Hungary and record music of the peasants, folk music, and incorporated a lot of that into his music. You do hear a lot of that in the third movement of this concerto, like a Hungarian barn dance.”


Hamilton said she first played the concerto with an orchestra in graduate school while living in Long Island, New York, and is looking forward to the chance to play a piece that she has been performing, studying and teaching for so long.

“I really love working with Wes Kenney, he is a great musician,” Hamilton said, “and I look forward to performing the Bartok with him.”

The violist has never graced the stage of the Riverwalk Center and is excited to be performing with the DYAO, which she said is a very wonderful organization with some really brilliant and talented students.

“It’s really the premier youth orchestra on the Front Range,” she said. “It’s great they are getting out to the rest of the state to perform and showcase the talented music students we have in this area. It’s an honor to play with them.”

Kenney said the Riverwalk Center concert is a way for the DYAO to bring a bit of what they do down in Denver to the mountains during a time when there’s a break in musical offerings from other events such as the Breckenridge Music Festival and the summer concerts of the National Repertory Orchestra. He said it’s also an opportunity for orchestra students in Summit County to be inspired.

“They can see young musicians close to their age performing great music,” he said. “For those people learning to play an instrument, it can be inspiration to them to continue to study and learn their instrument.

“We’re excited to be up there, and I think it’ll be a great performance if you want to hear some terrific music, not just performed by a youth orchestra, but performed by some very, very capable musicians. It’s going to be the place to be on Saturday afternoon.”


Founded by Betty Naster and current National Repertory Orchestra maestro Carl Topilow in 1977, the Denver Young Artists Orchestra is one of the leading youth orchestras in the United States, with a mission to inspire and educate young musicians through the performance of great works of music and offer valuable cultural opportunities to the community.

The orchestra consists of approximately 90 musicians, ages 12 to 23, who audition or work their way through the ranks of the DYAO’s four affiliated symphonic groups, which are separated by musical experience and geography.

“The organization is comprised of five orchestras, of which the Denver Young Artists Orchestra is the top group, with two Conservatory Orchestras and two String Ensembles,” Kenney said. “They come up the ranks from the string ensembles, which are the youngest, then to the conservatory and main orchestra.”

The DYAO program auditions 300 to 400 students each year from all over the Denver metro area, ranging from as far south as Colorado Springs on up to Fort Collins to the north and as far west as Steamboat, Kenney said. Total enrollment represents more than 65 schools and universities, as well as home-schooled students.

Kenney said the high school-aged musicians in the orchestra receive the best training possible in large-ensemble performance available in the state of Colorado, and they go on to do amazing things with their musical careers, some at colleges and universities in Colorado and others in programs as distinguished as Yale, Harvard, The Julliard School, Oberlin Conservatory and the Curtis Institute of Music. The orchestra also serves as an ambassador for the state of Colorado, Kenney said.

“I took the orchestra on tour to Europe last June, and we had some fabulous performances in Italy, France and Spain,” he said. “Everywhere we go, when people have a chance to hear this orchestra, Denver is in the name, so they have a sense of where we are from. What other artistic groups from Denver and the state of Colorado are traveling the word and putting down the name of Denver, Colorado? There aren’t all that many. I think that’s another reason the orchestra is an important part of the cultural life of the Front Range.”

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