‘I always knew I liked it’: Peter Oundjian, principal conductor of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, reflects on his new role

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When Peter Oundjian was named new principal conductor of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra earlier this year, it was a progression from Oundjian’s association with the Colorado Symphony that dates back more than 20 years. In fact, from 2003 to 2006 he was the main guest conductor. His first appearance as a guest conductor was during Marin Alsop’s tenure as musical director.

“I got to know the orchestra in those early days,” he said.

Oundjian’s life has been further tangled in Colorado ever since. In February 2019, the Colorado Music Festival named him its new Music Director. Oundjian says the controls are the most exciting part of his role there. He is delighted to be able to devote entire evenings to the music of a single composer.

“It’s not very often that composers, even distinguished great composers of that ilk, get an entire orchestral evening of their own music,” he said. The festival hosted composer-in-residence John Adams in 2022, and in 2023 the festival will feature commissions from Adolphus Hailstork and Gabriela Lena Frank.

The process of becoming the principal conductor of the Colorado Symphony was long.

“There was a committee set up called the Imagination Committee to sort of look at what the 21st century required of a Denver city orchestra, what would be the right kind of model,” he said. he declares.

The committee included writers, psychologists and rock musicians. “There was kind of a conclusion that maybe a musical director per se wasn’t quite the right thing, but [instead] perhaps a principal conductor conducting a few weeks less would keep things a bit fresher.

It only took a few weeks for the Colorado Symphony to approach Oundjian with the idea that he should be their first principal conductor.

“I thought, ‘Well, would that be so beautiful?’ Because I really like the orchestra,” he said. “My wife and I had already fallen in love with Colorado, and I mean, I always knew I loved it.”

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Anthony McGill, Principal Clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, performs with the Colorado Music Festival. Peter Oundjian conducts. Thursday, August 4, 2022, at the Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder.

A game story that led to lead

Oundjian’s passion for music grew into a celebrated career as a renowned violinist. Alongside his studies at the Royal College of Music in London and the Juilliard in New York, he also received instruction from the great masters Itzhak Perlman and Dorothy DeLay.

Oundjian’s career has been filled with awards and performances as the concert soloist and concertmaster of the Tokyo String Quartet. At 39, he began to devote himself entirely to conducting after developing a neurological disorder called focal dystonia – which caused muscle spasms in his left hand.

“It became clear to me that if I wanted to continue sharing my love of music with the public, it wouldn’t be as a violinist,” he said.

Only a month after leaving the Tokyo String Quartet, he embarked on a new era in his career as a conductor by performing alongside André Previn at the Caramoor Music Festival. “He was one of the first people I told I couldn’t really play anymore. And he was so nice,” Oundjian said. “It was a completely new world and it was challenging at a degree that I could never describe.”

His first full season as principal conductor opened with a program of Beethoven and Hollywood hits performed by Perlman. The two first met in 1975 while Oundjian was on a trip to New York. “I called someone I knew, not very well, but someone I thought was a very good person to play for,” Oundjian said. “He greeted me and opened his door and in his living room, Itzhak Perlman was sitting.”

To meet her year-round commitments, Oundjian now owns a home in Boulder. “I think Denver and Colorado in general is one of the most beautiful places to live. Not just because of its physical beauty, but because it has fantastic museums, wonderful people, of course, wonderful restaurants “Oundjian said. “I think there should be great pride in what a fantastic audience is and how many music lovers there are.”

Whether Oundjian leads the Colorado Music Festival or the Colorado Symphony, he said his approach is the same. “I always try to prepare the players in a way that hopefully by the time the public arrives they can be really free to express themselves,” he said. “Actually, you just want to get them to express themselves in the same way with one voice.”

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