:: Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra ::
:: Boettcher Concert Hall ::
:: November 8, 2013 ::
Photos by Kevin Ihle
Story by Jess Johnson
On Friday evening, in celebration of his critically acclaimed new album, The Weatherman, Gregory Alan Isakov performed a special sold out show at Boettcher Concert Hall with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. This performance was a dream come true for Isakov, who frequently attended the Philadelphia Orchestra as a child, and has often since imagined playing with a full orchestral arrangement. And that excitement, humility, and honor were evident in his performance from start to finish. Considering the merging of musical genres, it was to be expected that the crowd was an interesting mix of regular Symphony-goers, and Isakov’s own very loyal, deeply connected local fan base. Most of us are used to seeing Greg at a festival, a small local venue or, if we are lucky enough, a coffee shop or record store. Boettcher Hall was certainly a very different setting for many of us. We dressed up. We showed up on time. We watched our manners and intently engaged with the performance instead of mindlessly participating in a bunch of background chit-chat, socializing, and drinking.
The Colorado Symphony Orchestra has taken great strides lately to present these hybrids of creative collaboration with popular, more mainstream bands and musicians. And just like any new recipe or project, changing the ingredients up a little bit each time means you don’t quite know how it’s going to turn out.
It’s hard to imagine how Greg’s music could possibly be enhanced. I almost wondered if the addition of dozens of classical instruments, although ambitious and certainly interesting, would actually add to the music itself, or just make for a unique experience. The original symphonic arrangements by DeVotchKa’s Tom Hagerman, songwriter/arranger Jay Clifford of Jump Little Children, and Isakov’s own cellist Phil Parker were delicately executed in perfectly proportioned intervals, without over-abundance. When the full symphony did join in, the crescendo of sensory indulgence was breathtaking — a direct hit right to the heart.
Each section of the CSO as well as each of Isakov’s band members and Greg himself, managed to have little solitary moments to shine in their unique musicianship throughout the evening, yet every time the full orchestra joined in again, it was booming, rich and visceral.
Isakov mentioned during the night what a humbling and monumental experience it was to be playing his own music with such achieved and technically skilled musicians. It was inspiring to see the mutually passionate participation of the CSO in Isakov’s songs.
CSO conductor Scott O’Neill has a strong commitment to making music of the highest quality accessible to all audiences, evidenced through these continued collaborations, and he was as fun to watch on stage as anyone who is unquestionably lost in his art. He was the middle man, the guy who kept the band and the orchestra in perfect balance, which undoubtedly requires extreme focus, confidence and knowledge on so many levels. Yet he looked like he couldn’t be having a better time up there. His conduction was a dance. His enjoyment was palpable, it was contagious.
The magnificent acoustics at Boettcher Hall are something everyone, especially every music freak, should experience, at least once. It makes for an immediate recognition of how sub-par many of our listening experiences are, and makes you want everything to sound that good from here on out.
Isakov performed a variety of selections from That Sea, The Gambler (2007), This Empty Northern Hemisphere (2009), and The Weatherman (2013), opening both sets with acoustic numbers, and finishing the encore with just four French horns accompanying the band.
The concert was recorded live and will be released as an album in 2014.