The Colorado Springs Philharmonic is a centerpiece of our cultural landscape.
In 2021, Josep Caballé-Domenech will celebrate 10 years as conductor and music director of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic.
During this holiday season, when we need the healing powers of glorious music more than ever, it seems like a good time to reflect back on how our fabulous Colorado Springs Philharmonic came to be.
Once upon a time, in 1927, a group of 27 local musicians got together to form our Philharmonic’s distant predecessor, the Colorado Springs Symphony Ensemble. Over time, it grew into the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra (CSSO). With no performing arts center in town, the orchestra performed for 40 years in the Palmer High School auditorium—hard to believe.
Then, with the opening of Pikes Peak Center in 1982, the orchestra finally had a home, and the community had a world-class concert hall and performing arts venue. It was the biggest thing in town in the late 1980s, but in the late 1990s, the proverbial good times began to fade on a grand scale, and in 2003, the CSSO declared bankruptcy.
It was providence. In the blink of a few weeks, the new Philharmonic was formed, and a new era of music rose from the ashes. Nathan Newbrough was hired as president and CEO of the organization in 2008, and unprecedented growth followed under his leadership.
Three years later, in 2011, Josep Caballé-Domenech became music director and conductor.
It was a bit of a crisis in the 2010 season, when conductor Lawrence Leighton Smith was suddenly unable to perform at an upcoming concert due to health issues. A substitute had to be found immediately. At the time, finalists were being selected to replace Smith, who was retiring. Who could save the day at the last minute?
Contacts were made and a conductor was found to step in for Smith. “On a dark night in February, Josep arrived,” Newbrough says. “No one, none of us, knew him. We didn’t know anything about him. The surprise was his first rehearsal. He made such an impression on the musicians that one called me at 10 at night and said, ‘Dude, we’ve got to consider this guy.’” By the next day, he was a finalist.
His performance was magical.
Caballé-Domenech arrived on Monday, and the performance was the following Saturday: the Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz. “Of any moment in my career,” Newbough says, “that will stay with me. It was kismet. It was meant to be.”
Caballé-Domenech’s performance was far and above any of the other finalists, Newbrough says. “There’s something indescribable about his chemistry with the orchestra. When a conductor has a connection with our musicians, the slightest gesture can make or break every phrase in the music.” The musicians were overwhelmed, and so was the audience.
From the five finalists who performed as guest conductors in the 2010–2011 season, Caballé-Domenech won by an overwhelming landslide to become the Philharmonic’s new music director and conductor. And a new era began.
Given his very strong, physical style of conducting, which leaves him with “lots of aches and pains,” as he once said, Caballé-Domenech is a force of nature on the podium. Behind the scenes, he takes his role in nurturing and developing the orchestra very seriously. From rigorous auditions to the firm hand he takes in rehearsals as well as support of the musicians’ artistic development, he feels it’s his duty to make every decision for the good of the whole ensemble.
The Philharmonic’s rising reputation has attracted superstars of the music world who have graced the stage with Caballé-Domenech—among them violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman (twice); Sir James Galway, a master of the classical flute; and celebrated violinist Joshua Bell.
And, of course, there was the unforgettable 90th anniversary concert in 2017 with Yo-Yo Ma performing Sir Edward Elgar’s masterpiece, Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in E Minor. The glittering celebration continued at the Philharmonic’s first formal gala held at the Broadmoor International Center, attended by 455 guests.
Audiences began to sense a shift in the orchestra’s performances as it reached new, challenging heights, most notably, the notoriously difficult Gustav Mahler’s Sixth Symphony in A Minor that requires an enormous orchestra. “It’s a piece that most orchestras would not even consider,” says Newbrough. “It was exciting for the audience, and the feeling backstage was utter joy in this remarkable achievement.”
And achievements have continued to mount. “If I know Josep at all,” Newbrough says, “I know that we can count on him to continue thinking big and dreaming up excitement for our audiences.”
CELEBRATIONS TO COME
For now, the music is silent, and the Pikes Peak Center’s great hall is empty. But one thing is certain, as Philharmonic President Nathan Newbrough passionately states, “We will return.” Here’s what’s planned for Spring 2021.
Legendary Gala: JCD 10th Anniversary:
Where does the time go? In March, Josep Caballé-Domenech celebrates 10 years on the podium with our Philharmonic in a big way. “Already we’ve commissioned a new work by his bosom friend, Spanish composer Enric Palomar,” Newbrough says. The world premiere will be performed, along with other celebratory favorites, at a special gala evening in Caballé-Domenech’s honor, which will also feature his close friend, cellist Jan Vogler. Then comes the party, when the Center is transformed with food, champagne, and dancing. This is definitely a gotta-be-there event.
Beethoven at 250 Festival:
In a massive undertaking celebrating the composer’s 250th birthday, the Philharmonic will perform all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies over five successive nights, from May 18 to 22. The concerts culminate with the towering Ninth Symphony.