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Philharmonic Finale 

Community orchestra reaches high in final season concert

click to enlarge One of three 2003 Youth Concerto Competition winners, Jessica Zhang, will perform Schumanns Piano Concerto No. 1 in A minor.
  • One of three 2003 Youth Concerto Competition winners, Jessica Zhang, will perform Schumanns Piano Concerto No. 1 in A minor.

There is something to be said about taking it to the people. For members of the Pikes Peak Philharmonic (not to be confused with the newly established Colorado Springs Philharmonic), the populist ideal is alive and well, and amazingly, results in some of the region's finest classical music. On Sunday, May 18, the group presents its season finale concert at the Benet Hill Community Center.

This is a group, after all, that takes pride in challenging the traditional notions of what a community-based orchestra is all about.

"We're all just regular people," confides Music Director Dr. Mark E. Hudson. "We want to play music for fun and not as a job." Yet Hudson, the music department chair at the University of Southern Colorado, and the group under his direction possess the sort of upper-tier artistic prowess that is worthy of attention, despite all humble intentions.

And there is certainly nothing humble about the Pike Peak Philharmonic's demanding finale program, which includes forays into Renaissance lute music as well as modern experimentalism. Perhaps the most challenging piece of the evening will be Lucas Foss' 20th-century work, The Renaissance Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, which represents a natural confluence of convention and innovation. "Rhythmically, it's a highly complex piece which stretches the limits of what an orchestra can sound like," says Hudson.

The concert will also be a chance to marvel at the talents of several young musicians. The three winners of the 2003 Youth Concerto Competition will perform alongside the Philharmonic regulars, in a moment clearly indicative of the unique bond between the community and this musical ensemble.

Flutist Sarah Smith will play on Foss' Renaissance Concerto; violinist Julie Meyer will be perform Max Bruch's Concerto No. 1 in G minor; and Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto No. 1 in A minor will feature the talents of Jessica Zhang.

Schumann's composition, incidentally, features "coded musical messages" to his wife, Clara, whose name can be deciphered from the piece's opening motif. But good luck hearing that, warns Hudson, unless you've got the sheet music in front of you or, of course, your name is Robert Schumann.

The Pikes Peak Philharmonic's Season Finale will also feature Ottorino Respighi's "Ancient Airs and Dances," Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished," and Bedrich Smetana's tone poem, "The Moldau."

While artistically the group has never been stronger, it is truly a labor of love that accounts for the Pikes Peak Philharmonic's existence. In contrast to the former Colorado Springs Symphony, which was entirely composed of unionized professionals, the Pikes Peak Philharmonic is a group of amateurs who must nonetheless undergo a rigorous tryout process, and if selected, play as dues-paying volunteers.

"The Pikes Peak Philharmonic is a nonprofit organization, and there's a niche for everything," says Hudson, "Ours just happens to be providing music to the community without asking for anything in return."

Except our attentive ears, of course, and with a highly anticipated new season on the horizon, that shouldn't be a difficult task. "Music should be fun," says Hudson, "and one of our goals is to get the young people in our community more involved." To accomplish this, Hudson is hoping to collaborate with the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, among others, to put together a children's concert in the fall. In the meantime, however, enjoy your last chance to see this up-and-coming local orchestra before the days of summer set in, and shutter them into brief dormancy.

After all, music by the people and for the people can't get much more accessible than this.

-- Joe Kuzma

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