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Maestro's musings 

Thomas Wilson talks Webber, Weiss and Shostakovich

click to enlarge Doug LaBrecque will floor you with his Phantom piece.
  • Doug LaBrecque will floor you with his Phantom piece.

Who knew that batons are also good for stirring numerous pots around town? Thomas Wilson wields his conductor's stick like Gandalph in battle. He's seemingly everywhere at the same time. And you could say that his own metaphoric beard is turning a little white in the process.

"I can't even sleep at night without help," says Wilson, regarding his excitement for the upcoming performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10.

The founder of the Young Concert Artists of Colorado Springs is the music director of the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs and associate conductor of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. He also serves on the faculties of Colorado College and the Colorado Springs Conservatory while guest conducting elsewhere, and often. Regarded for his efforts to unite local arts organizations in collaboration, Wilson works his way into stacks of programs annually.

As if stealing a page out of this weekend's Andrew Lloyd Webber and Friends program, Wilson nearly echoes the title of one of the featured works, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, in explaining his feats: "I set out to be a trumpet player, and something went horribly wrong."

Wilson came to the Springs in 1991 and auditioned into the orchestra's trumpet section. After years of guest and assistant conducting, he finally earned his way behind the conductor's podium.

"It's rare to come from orchestra and break the barrier and conduct," explains Wilson.

Speaking on the Webber show, Wilson asserts that Webber is easily one of the most loved and appreciated musicians, and that Broadway is an integral part of the Pops programs for orchestras.

click to enlarge Debbie Gravitte loves you? Or loves you not?
  • Debbie Gravitte loves you? Or loves you not?

"The challenge is finding a new angle or approach to keep it interesting," he says.

The performance will feature songs from many Webber favorites, such as Cats and Jesus Christ Superstar, along with pieces that inspired them and, on the flip side, pieces they inspired. Broadway stars Debbie Gravitte, Christiane Noll and Doug LaBrecque will lend their talents to the evening.

"These are the best of the best," says Wilson. "Debbie is like this lightning bolt when she sings. There's so much energy in every note. Christiane is very well rounded, and Doug has the freest male Broadway voice I've ever heard. He always does Phantom at the [show's] end and just knocks everyone over."

But you can bet that in the Springs, they'll manage to get back up, again and again. Wilson says that there is tremendous support for classical music here, especially compared to other cities of this size. He cites the previous symphony's bankruptcy as an unfortunate fallout of the post-9/11 economy and climate, rather than a reflection of how the community felt then or feels now about orchestral and classical music.

"The orchestra is at its peak," he says. "They're really playing well right now to large audiences. And the Pops [series] is really taking off in the direction I wanted it to go we're far beyond season tickets sales. We're right where I want it to be."

One week after the Webber production, the philharmonic will debut a new Steinway concert grand piano, a recent gift to the Pikes Peak Center, at the Orion Stars event, whose program includes Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" (from the Stephane Mallarme poem), Grieg's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A Minor (his sole piano concerto) and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 (a commentary on Joseph Stalin's death).

Not wishing to undermine the value of the remainder of the season, Wilson hesitantly admits, "To me, this may be the most musically interesting program of the classical series all year. Plus, it's always a big deal to have Orion [Weiss]."

Weiss is back in the Springs for the first time in six years; the 24-year-old piano virtuoso will perform Grieg's concerto.

click to enlarge Christiane Voll brings Broadway's best.
  • Christiane Voll brings Broadway's best.

As Wilson shifts his thoughts to Shostakovich, his voice gathers a noticeable charisma, and the storyteller in him emerges.

"Shostakovich's 10th symphony is such a pivotal piece," he begins. "He's emerging as perhaps the most important 20th-century composer. A lot of people are making a big deal of Mozart at 250, but many others are making a big deal over Shostakovich at 100."

Wilson goes on to detail Shostakovich's plight with the Stalinists, like how the composer slept by his door, backpack at the ready, in fear of being dragged away. Stalin had seen and denounced Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in 1936, and until Stalin's death in 1953, the composer struggled under close scrutiny.

"After Stalin's death, he started writing again ... he came back to life, finally free as an artist to write what he liked," says Wilson. "The [10th symphony's] second movement is very violent and vicious. He's getting all his angst out ... in the third movement, he actually dances on Stalin's grave [that's] my guess."


Andrew Lloyd Webber and Friends: Doug LaBrecque, Debbie Gravitte and Christiane Noll with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra

Pikes Peak Center

190 S. Cascade Ave.

Saturday, Oct. 14, 8 p.m.

Tickets: $12-$50; call 520-SHOW (7469) or visit pikespeakcenter.com.

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