Steamboat orchestra’s new performance weaves nature’s might, majesty together |

Steamboat orchestra’s new performance weaves nature’s might, majesty together

Spencer Powell
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Steamboat Symphony Orchestra is putting on a family-friendly. multi-media show on Friday, March 31 and Saturday, April 1.
Steamboat Symphony Orchestra/Courtesy photo

This weekend, the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra will perform its spring concert “The Wonder of the Wild,” a program curated for the community that celebrates the power and beauty of the natural world.

The performances start at 7 p.m. Friday, March 31, and Saturday, April 1, at Strings Pavilion. Tickets range from $10 to $75.

The first half of the program will feature the debut of “Wolf Songs,” composed by orchestra conductor Ernest Richardson with lyrics written by Dagny McKinley, the executive director of the Colorado New Play Festival.

McKinley had never written lyrics for a symphony, but she said working with an experienced composer like Richardson made the collaborative process much easier.

“He has this magical ability to take what is essentially a story and turn it into a song,” McKinley said.

The concert is split into two halves, each with three distinct sections. The orchestra opens with music from the film “Dances with Wolves,” which Richardson sees as the perfect introduction to the concert’s central theme.

“Even if you had never seen that movie, you would have this sense that we have great vistas that we’re looking at and incredibly beautiful surroundings” Richardson said.

Then, the program will shift gears with music from French composer Claude Debussy, centering on a Greek fawn as the arrangement’s principal character.

“It’s very evocative music — very sensual — and incredibly beautiful and pastoral in its effect,” Richardson said.

The first half concludes with “Wolf Songs,” and tells the story of a woman living in the Yampa Valley whose husband goes off to fight in the Civil War, and while taking care of the homestead she encounters a pack of wolves that threatens her way of life.

“It’s about love, it’s about freedom and the choices we make and the losses we suffer and how we handle those losses,” McKinley said.

For the past year McKinley has wanted to write a story that confronts the issue of wolf reintroduction in a way that empathetically addresses the conflicting perspectives.

The lyrical accompaniment to “Wolf Songs” oscillates between spoken prose and swells of melodic vocals in harmony with the orchestra — all against a backdrop of images making what Richardson describes as a “multimedia adventure.”

The symphony’s Artistic Administrator Tara Cowherd lends her vocals to “Wolf Songs,” while Opera Steamboat’s Operations Manager Thea Wigglesworth will be directing.

The second half of the symphony opens with songs from “The Lion King,” which Richardson said just about everyone should be able to recognize.

“The music is so visceral,” Richardson said about the songs from The Lion King.

He said people from all age groups can enjoy these concerts and encourages parents to bring their kids along.

“Any kid that is studying music, whatever level they’re studying, being able to hear professional level music live is so important to their development,” Richardson added.

The symphony finishes with “Mallku,” a Bolivian composition introduced to Richardson by an oboist in the orchestra, followed by “Pines of Rome” composed by Ottorino Respighi — a renowned orchestral composition featured in Disney’s “Fantasia.”  

While McKinley, Richardson and the rest of the symphony staff have been working on “The Wonder of the Wild” since the beginning of the year, the first actual rehearsal was on Tuesday, March 28, as around 20 local musicians and about another 30 from the Front Range and other parts of Colorado were only recently assembled together.

“When it’s 50 people on a stage, the sound is just different,” said Jennifer Grathwohl, the executive director of Steamboat Symphony Orchestra. “It’s just big and bold and moving,”

Tuesday’s rehearsal was the first time McKinley heard the lyrics she wrote sung in earnest, which she described as “delightful,” but Richardson expects the live performances to be even more special.

“Actually having the audience there, feeling their presence, feeling their feedback, is sort of an emotional energy that is created by the orchestra and the audience being in the same space,” Richardson said. “That’s magical.”

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