The symphony orchestra. Classical instruments. Mozart. Beethoven. Haydn. These are things we are familiar with but may not have any personal contact with. During the past ten years, the Boulder Symphony, led by Devin Patrick Hughes, has been breaking boundaries between the general public and classical music. Focusing on community outreach, the Boulder Symphony allows those that are unfamiliar with classical music and those that may have been apprehensive about attending the symphony a chance to reconnect with the music and experience it for themselves. Linking up with modern and local composers while still honoring the classics, Maestro Hughes brings the symphony orchestra to all residents of Boulder. Here’s a bit about the conductor directing this movement forward.
Boulder Lifestyle: What has your journey to become a conductor looked like?
Devin Patrick Hughes: I went to Grinnell College, I wanted to be a doctor. I was a music and pre-med double major. In college, I discovered the music of Brahms and Rachmaninoff and decided I wanted to be a conductor. Having had enough of organic chemistry I studied violin, piano, and I was able to get into composition and counterpoint as well. I continued to study music history and music theory, and, of course, conducting. I put together an orchestra, and we played Beethoven Symphony 7. I would imagine Beethoven would have some things to say about my first performance (laughs). From there, I was bitten by the conducting bug, and it became a lifelong dream and passion of mine.
BL: Do you get to collaborate with any Colorado composers?
DPH: The Boulder Symphony works with a lot of living composers. That’s been one of our raisons d’être from the beginning, about 10 years ago. Composers from Colorado that come to mind include whom we’ve worked with: Daniel Kellogg, Gregory T.S. Walker, Austin Wintory and Conrad Kehn among others.
BL: Tell me why the Boulder Symphony has the nickname “Bad News Bears”?
DPH: This is news to me!
Like the Bad News Bears, I think all of us at the Boulder Symphony are risk takers! We push limits of what an orchestra can or should be.
BL: What type of outreach programs do you have?
DPH: We have our regular Symphonic Series concerts, but about half of our mission is to get out into the community to work with music teachers, students, and just make music available for as many people as we possibly can. Offhand a few of the programs we have are:
• A Composers-in-Residence program where we will feature an up and coming composer for 1–3 years by commissioning and performing their work.
• In-the-Schools Programs where we will send performers and guest artists into the schools to talk about their instruments and careers, and perform for students.
• The GLOW project, which is our alternative concert series created for people who might not be able to experience the full orchestral experience in a concert hall for various reasons, especially those with forms of autism, dementia and physical or cognitive disabilities.
BL: Can you tell us a bit more about your innovative concert experience?
DPH: We live for audience engagement. We humanize and bring the composers to the forefront of the experience and let the audience know who they are—people just like you and me.
BL: How did you get Mozart to stick around as your Mascot?
DPH: Mozart was a jokester and fun-loving person, who played pranks on just about everyone. We thought we would personalize that because Mozart is a perfect archetype for a mascot to have. The Boulder Symphony is the only orchestra in the world I believe who actually has a mascot. We are quite proud of that.
BL: What are some highlights of the past ten years?
DPH: Over the years we have done fully staged operas, including Carmen, La Traviata and La Bohème. Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring was a big event. Our young artist’s development is a highlight, too. For example, violinist Phoenix Avalon soloed with us for the first time as a 9-year-old musician and had never played with an orchestra before. Now he’s finishing his first year at Juilliard.
BL: What are your goals for the next decade?
DPH: We would like to put on a lot more concerts! We want to be the orchestra for everyone. From contemporary to pops to classics to Hollywood to baroque! It’s all Symphonic!