The NRO’s 30th season in Breckenridge is about to end; here are 8 not-to-miss features of the orchestra’s final week of summer.

By Shauna Farnell

As quickly as it arrived, the National Repertory Orchestra’s 30th anniversary season in Breckenridge is about to end. With only a few days left in the NRO festival season, NRO Music Director Michael Stern took a moment to reflect on what, other than this being the orchestra’s monumental third decade in Breck, has set the 2023 season apart. The first characteristic that leaped to mind, he says, is the sheer, exuberant energy shared among this summer’s team of musicians.

“The enthusiastic spirit brought everyone together in an extraordinarily positive way,” Stern says. “I like to think that one of the hallmarks of our NRO summers is the dedicated commitment of the musicians; I thought this year was exceptional in that regard. Another highlight for me was the broad range of music we covered. Again, a diversity of repertoire has always been at the heart of our NRO mission, but this year our programming really stood out, including two world premieres by David Dzubay and Chen Yi and Zhou Long.”

Read on to learn about the double grand finale still to come in this season’s diverse repertoire.

Jory Lane by Elaine Collins

Jory Lane by Elaine Collins

Another outstanding feature of this NRO summer compared to the decades that came before it has been the NRO’s seamless resilience in the face of obstacles and adversity. The season could have been sorely sidetracked by the rash of last-minute roadblocks, including conductors coming down with Covid-19 (as Stern himself did last week), injuries, accidents, sudden soloist swaps and program changes. However, much like 14-year-old violin master Midori during her legendary Tanglewood performance when she broke strings on two violins but continued on flawlessly, the NRO pivoted in the face of every oncoming punch, forging onward and upward.

“Through it all, our NRO rhythm didn’t skip a beat,” Stern says. “Our audience was with us, and the musicians rose to meet each challenge just as we knew they would, with professionalism, excellence, and that same enthusiastic spirit that they had on day one. It’s hard to sum up the entire festival, but if I had to choose one word, it would be optimism. For me, this summer is increasing affirmation that not only is music alive and well and urgently carried by our young and talented musicians, but that the NRO as an institution remains so essential at furthering the possibilities and successes that they will have, wherever in music their next steps might take them. That fills me with hope.”

With only one week left in the NRO festival season and an immeasurable trove of hope for the future yet to witness, here are eight reasons to catch the climax this week:

1)  This Wednesday, the NRO welcomes guest conductor Ken-David Masur leading the orchestra in Dvořák – American Connections. Music Director of the Milwaukie Symphony Orchestra, Masur is also Principal Conductor of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, has led orchestras in far corners of the world, including Poland, Japan, Russia, Switzerland and South Korea. Masur, whose passion and concentration are famously palpable from the podium, has hand-selected the pieces for this second-to-last NRO concert of the season, which culminates in what National Repertory Orchestra CEO Dave DePeters describes as “one of the greatest symphonies ever written,” Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7.

2)    Further showcasing this season’s remarkably diverse repertoire, Wednesday’s performance opens with a trio of energetic numbers by composer/pianist Gabriela Lena Frank. The Three Latin American Dances: “Jungle Jaunt,” “Highland Harawi” and “Mestizo Waltz” will indeed make you want to jump out of your chair and move your feet.

3)    One of the most inspiring components of any NRO performance is seeing and hearing the orchestra’s young talent to shine. Wednesday’s performance features soloist Nickolas Hamblin performing Carl Nielsen’s “Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, Op. 57 [D.F.129].” Hailing from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Hamblin’s solo work has earned him many awards and scholarships. Having played clarinet since the age of 10, he serves as principal clarinet for the Dearborn Symphony Orchestra and is in his second season with the NRO.

4)    The NRO’s 30th anniversary in Breckenridge season finale – this Saturday’s “Strauss – A Hero’s Life” – is inspired by and dedicated to first responders. A portion of every ticket is donated to Summit County first responders: Animal Control, Flight for Life, K-9 unit, Summit County Emergency Services Training Center, Summit County Rescue Group, Summit County Water Rescue and Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

5)    Truly running the gamut of musical enlightenment, Saturday’s performance kicks off with the powerful “A Rainbow Body,” a piece by Christopher Theofanidis inspired by the Tibetan Buddhist idea of a rainbow body wherein the body of an enlightened being is absorbed back into the universe upon death.

6)    Continuing with numbers that not only strike one sense in an all-encompassing audial extravaganza but deliver an emotional sensation that is transportive, Saturday’s finale also features Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s joyful Sinfonia concertante

7)    Returing to Saturday night’s theme in full-circle force, the show wraps up with composer Richard Strauss’ heart-melting Ein Heldenleben, or, “A Hero’s Life.”

8)    The Saturday’s climactic finale will be led by conductor Michael Stern and will feature three soloists. Hailing from Verona, N.J. and a recent graduate of the University of Michigan as a Master of Music, violinist Annamaria Vasmatzidis has performed with Banff’s Evolution, the Aspen Music Festival and the Heifetz Institute, but is experiencing her first summer with the NRO. She will showcase her talent during Mozart’s Sinfonia along with Isaac King. King, who began playing viola as a young child, recently graduated from Cairn University with a Bachelors of Music in Viola Performance and will start his Artistic Diploma program at McDuffie Center for Strings this fall. Serving as Concertmaster and showcasing his violin talent in Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, Jory Lane hails from Colorado Springs. He recently earned his Bachelor’s degree and Performer’s Certificate from the Eastman School of Music and has won the Yamaha Young Performing Artists Competition and Eastman Violin Concerto Competition. He will begin studies toward a Master of Music at Julliard this fall.

Again, get it while it’s hot. This is the final week of the NRO’s 30th anniversary season in Breckenridge. If you don’t catch it now, you’ll have to wait until June 22, when the 2024 season rolls around.

Photos by Elaine Collins