Friday May 4, 2012

PITTSFIELD - At first glance, the program looks like one of those violist jokes. Like: "How is lightning like a violist's fingers?"

" Neither one strikes in the same place twice."

But no. Violist Edward Gazouleas is coming to the Colonial Theatre with three of his Boston Symphony Orchestra colleagues Sunday afternoon to play a mix-and-match program of duos. They'll be capped off by a trio for the unlikely combination of viola, vibraphone and bass.

It's "a program about playing duos with your friends," says Gazouleas, who will take part in all four pieces. He has performed each with the same partner before, but never all on one program.

The hourlong concert, which begins at 2, is free and open to the public.

The BSO is billing the program as an early start on Tanglewood's 75th- anniversary celebration this summer. The Colonial requested a BSO-sponsored concert as a sequel in a partnership that began last May with a program given by nine Tanglewood Music Center students. That program was part of Pittsfield's 250th-anniversary celebration.

"Last year was such a great success that we decided to invite them back," says Rebecca Brighenti, the Colonial's marketing and public relations director.

The BSO, in turn, asked Gazouleas and double bassist Lawrence Wolfe to come up with something. Gazouleas recruited violinist Julianne Lee and percussionist Daniel Bauch to join him and Wolfe in four works: Dittersdorf's Duo for Viola and Bass, Mozart's Duo for Violin and Viola, Michael Colgrass' Variations for Viola and Four Drums, and Astor Piazzolla's "Grand Tango.


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The Dittersdorf and Mozart pieces are standards in the limited repertoire for string duo. The American Colgrass' 1959 piece consists of five variations, sometimes jazzy, sometimes like an Indonesian gamelan, according to Gazouleas. The four drums are roto- toms, small instruments capable of retuning for the variations.

Having had success with the composition earlier this year in Boston, he and Bauch "thought this would be a great piece to play for our audience in the Berkshires," Gazouleas said by phone.

The Piazzolla tango, one of many the Argentine composer has written, normally calls for a cello or viola with piano, but since no piano was available at the Colonial, Gazouleas said, Wolfe arranged it for vibraphone and bass with viola. That makes this performance a "world premiere," Gazouleas said half-jokingly.

Although this will be the time the four musicians have performed as a group, Gazouleas said "if an opportunity comes up, I think we're definitely going to try this Piazzolla again." Meanwhile, he and Lee will be together again in Martinu's Madrigals for violin and viola in Tanglewood's opening Prelude concert.

The Colonial program also represents one of the theater's infrequent ventures into classical music since the early years of its renovation.

Gazouleas, a member of the search committee for a new music director, came to the BSO in 1990 from the Pittsburgh Symphony. One of the things he is most looking forward to in the coming Tanglewood season is the return of conductor Lorin Maazel, under whom he played in Pittsburgh.

Maazel, a 1951 TMC graduate, was scheduled to conduct the BSO in last summer's closing Beethoven Ninth, but the concert was washed out by Tropical Storm Irene. This year, he'll do two BSO programs, one of which includes Berlioz's "Symphonie fantastique" - "one of his best" performances, Gazouleas says. "I played under him a lot, a lot of tours, a lot of repertoire, about five seasons either as music director or music advisor. He was my first real music director boss. He's a fascinating figure - like him or not. He made a big impression on me."

Gazouleas says he, and the orchestra as a whole, are excited by the prospect of taping the July 14 anniversary gala for national broadcast over PBS.

"We used to do so much TV," he recalls. "We haven't done TV in a long time, and I think the musicians are anticipating that." The last Tanglewood TV show was Seiji Ozawa's 2002 farewell as music director, the violist recalls. Despite the sometimes blinding lights, knowing that millions will be watching gets players excited, he says.