Review: Colorado Symphony impresses with Stravinsky and Berlioz, and prepares for Beethoven

The Colorado Symphony at the Denver Center for Performing Arts.

Image via Caleb Reagor

The Colorado Symphony at the Denver Center for Performing Arts.

Caleb Reagor, Arapahoe Pinnacle Music Critic

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In their latest concert, Conductor Andrew Litton and the Colorado Symphony performed selected works from Stravinsky and Berlioz as part of their Masterworks series. Litton and the Symphony dedicated their performance to the citizens of Paris and France.

One week after the Paris terrorist attacks, the Colorado Symphony performed Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Violin Concerto in D Major and Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique. According to the Symphony’s Music Director and Conductor for the night, Andrew Litton, the show had been planned for nearly a year. Coincidentally, both Berlioz, a native of France, and Stravinsky composed many of their pieces in the city of Paris, including all three pieces on the program.

The Denver Center for Performing Arts offers numerous venues for performances.

Caleb Reagor
The Denver Center for Performing Arts offers numerous venues for performances.

Litton began the night by reading Psalm 39:2-4, one of the three Psalms included in Stravinsky’s Symphony of the Psalms.

“I waited patiently for the Lord, and he reached out to me, and he heard my cry; and he led me out of the lake of misery, and out of the mire. And he set my feet upon a rock, and directed my steps. And he has put a new song in my mouth, a hymn to our God. Many will see and will fear, and will trust in the Lord.”

The Colorado Symphony Chorus joined the Symphony to perform the vocal parts of the Symphony of the Psalms.

The Chorus provided a fantastic depth to the music, and their choruses, sung in Latin, became a touching tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks. The piece received a lengthy standing ovation from the crowded Boettcher Concert Hall.

Before moving into the second piece of the night, Litton introduced violinist Philippe Quint to the audience. In his first ever performance with the Colorado Symphony, Quint played lead violin for Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. Quint, a Russian by birth, gave a spirited performance of his fellow countryman’s concerto, playing with vigor and passion.

After a brief intermission, the Symphony moved on to the main piece of the night, Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique. The symphony contains five movements. The first three movements depict, in various ways, Berlioz’s mad love for English actress Harriet Smithson. The movements include imageries such as Berlioz seeing his love in the midst of a brilliant Ball and then in the lonely countryside.

The last two movements take a dark and dramatic turn. The fourth movement, the “March to the Scaffold,” depicts Berlioz’s dream of marching to the scaffold to face death after killing his love after she rejected him.

The short movement ends with a musical interpretation of Berlioz’s severed head bouncing down the steps.

“It’s a very graphic piece of music,” Litton joked.

In the fifth movement, “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath,” Berlioz imagines himself in the midst of a hideous celebration of witches, monsters, and skeletons, with his love taking part in the diabolical dance.

The Colorado Symphony’s next performance, All Beethoven Featuring Symphony No. 3, debuts Friday, Dec. 4 at 7:30 PM at the Boettcher Concert Hall.

Check out the Colorado Symphony homepage for more information.