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The Boulder Phil Plans On Bringing Their Hometown To D.C.

Courtesy of Glenn Ross
Boulder Philharmonic
The Frequent Flyers will join the Boulder Philharmonic in spring 2017 to perform at the SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras at the Kennedy Center.

A musician-accompanied nature walk and multimedia orchestral concerts complete with aerial dancers?

That's so Boulder.

"That's the idea," said Michael Butterman, music director of the Boulder Philharmonic.

It's "so Boulder" ideas like these that nabbed the orchestra one of four coveted slots for a new music festival at the Kennedy Center.

"Boulder has a great brand in the country and people know Boulder, even if they haven't been to Boulder, they think they know it anyway," Butterman said. "They have a sense of what it stands for. I think we're going to do a good job representing that in orchestral form – if one can do such a thing."

For several years, the Boulder Phil has aimed to work a "sense of place" into its performances, paying tribute to Boulder's love for nature, getting outdoors, and exploring unusual art forms. In spring 2017, the orchestra will share the spirit of Boulder with Washington D.C. at the SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras.

As part of their week-long mini-residency at the festival, the orchestra will perform Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," featuring Boulder's Frequent Flyers aerial dance troupe; the premiere of a new work by Stephen Lias commemorating Rocky Mountain National Park and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service; as well as "accompanied" nature hikes in Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek, led by naturalist Dave Sutherland from Boulder's Open Space & Mountain Parks.


"You know, what a fun way to, sort of, atomize the experience," said Jenny Bilfield, President and CEO of Washington Performing Arts, the co-organizer of the event with the Kennedy Center. "Boulder Philharmonic is bringing their landscape and their way of experiencing the landscape to Washington, D.C., where we live and work and enjoy the parks as well."

Each of the selected orchestras – the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the North Carolina Symphony, and Brooklyn-based ensemble, The Knights – was chosen for its innovative outreach efforts, as well as unique collaborations.

Atlanta's performance will feature a 180-piece choir, tying to the city's longstanding choral tradition. North Carolina is including an Americana theme. The Knights residency will highlight their strong focus on mentoring opportunities, featuring a collaboration with the San Francisco Girls Choir.

"The idea of this festival, in general, is to highlight orchestras that are finding ways to really reflect their community and connect with their community in ways beyond simply presenting a concert every couple weeks in your auditorium," Butterman said. "The problem that classical music faces in the 21st century is that it seems too many people like a world that doesn't connect with their own lives."

As orchestras – and the performing arts in general – struggle to capture new audiences, making that connection becomes a make-or-break endeavor, WPA's Jenny Bilfield said. And not just for them.

"Orchestras are communities. They're performing institutions, of course, but orchestras create communities around them," Bilfield said. "They are contributors to economic development and growth. There's a knock-on effect; there are orchestra members who teach at universities. There is a whole life to the orchestra that is as important in the community as it is on stage."

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