By Shauna Farnell

The National Repertory Orchestra was faced with orchestrating a sudden modulation before it even hit the stage this week.

Scheduled to star in the July 1 performance at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge, famed pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane had to bow out.

“The National Repertory Orchestra has been looking forward to Jeffrey Kahane’s appearance on Saturday, July 1. However, Mr. Kahane has tested positive for COVID-19. Out of an abundance of caution for his well-being and that of our musicians and staff, we feel that postponing his time with us is the most prudent decision,” NRO management says.

However, the show will go on. The new program, led by NRO Music Director and Conductor Michael Stern, highlights a selection of famous numbers from 19th Century Vienna.

In the original program, Kahane was set to perform “Heirloom,” a concerto written by his son, Gabriel Kahane, that emphasizes the family’s roots in the Viennese classical musical tradition as well as its experience seeking safe haven from Europe during World War II.

The NRO’s theme for this summer’s 30th anniversary season in Breckenridge is “The Immigrant Experience.” The season hones in on international musical masterpieces that came to America and played a major role in, as Stern puts it, “making us who we are.”

Sticking to the Viennese theme, Stern will conduct Johann Strauss Jr.’sOn the Beautiful Blue Danube,” Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony,” and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2.”

“Jeffrey Kahane is a marvelous pianist and conductor as well as a personal friend. I had gotten myself in the mindset of that romantic European, Viennese aesthetic,” Stern says. “As such, ‘The Blue Danube’ is quintessential Viennese music. The Schubert ‘Unfinished’ symphony is a miracle, and also representative of that late classical movement in Vienna. Brahms was the dominant figure in Viennese musical circles in the last decades of the 19th century. Bringing these Viennese snapshots together made for a lovely program.”

Famously used in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” pre-dates the big screen.

As Stern puts it, “a Viennese waltz is a special thing. A French waltz, English waltz, Scandinavian waltz, they’re all unique. ‘On the Blue Danube’ is one of the most famous waltzes of all. It’s been used in countless TV shows, movies and commercials. It’s a tune everybody knows.”

As for the Schubert masterpiece, although it is the Austrian composer’s notoriously unfinished symphony, Stern describes it as a strikingly full, emotive musical experience. Having performed it numerous times, he says its impact on an audience can be felt on a visceral level.

“This symphony sounds as close to perfection as any human mortal could aspire,” Stern says. “After those first two movements, your breath is taken away. The first movement is a little stormy, but achingly nostalgic. The second is a suspended breath in time, kissed by some life force greater than us. Time stops. You finish that second movement and you can feel that rapt stillness from everybody in the audience. You can feel their breath coming back into them.”

After taking 21 years to complete his first symphony, Brahms’ second is, according to Stern, a testament to the German composer’s ultimate potential.

“It’s endlessly lyrical,” he says. “It’s got this great, blue sky optimism. After the happy and energetic first movement, it’s got a profound second movement and a gently nostalgic third movement. Then comes the fourth and last moment. It is only six minutes long, but you get to the end with the trumpets gleaming and blazing. It sweeps you away.”

All told, the Viennese-inspired program for July 1 is set to be a powerful audience pleaser.

“This was an opportunity to combine these three styles of the Viennese musical vernacular,” Stern says. “They happen to be three audience-favorite, greatest hit-type masterworks. It is going to be a phenomenal show.”

Stern Conducts Brahms and Schubert

A concert to benefit Summit Habitat for Humanity

Michael Stern leads the National Repertory Orchestra through Johann Strauss Jr.’sOn the Beautiful Blue Danube,” Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2.” at 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 1 at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. Tickets range from $5 to $45.

Summit Habitat for Humanity





Photo: Michael Stern and NRO 2022 by Elaine Collins