“Man’s mind, stretched by a new idea, never goes back to its original dimension.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes(1809-1894) Physician, Writer
The Colorado Chamber Orchestra (CCO) is the transformation of chamber groups serving Metro Denver since the 1990s. The CCO’s founder and music director, Thomas A. Blomster, served as assistant conductor and timpanist for 10 years with the Denver Chamber Orchestra. After the group folded in 1994, Blomster joined the short-lived Chamber Orchestra of the West. He subsequently cofounded the Mercury Ensemble string orchestra, serving 11 successful seasons as the group’s music director and conductor. In their last two seasons, he struck up a promising collaboration with the Littleton Chorale and expanded the Mercury Ensemble into a full chamber orchestra. The success of their joint concert series—and the vitality of Metro Denver’s music community—convinced him the timing was right for something new. So, in the spring of 2007, he founded the Colorado Chamber Orchestra around a nucleus of the state’s finest professional musicians.
The vision is simple. The CCO is not just another collection of freelancers who play gigs and disbands. It’s a professional group founded to transform the way the orchestra relates to its players, and the players to audiences. “We believe music, beautifully played, can promote cultural exchanges, humane causes and in-school education programs”.
An orchestra job may seem glamorous, but national surveys reveal job satisfaction ratings in the lowest percentages. “Burnout, injury, low wages and poor morale are serious issues”. Most part-time orchestras are a consortium of members in flux who have little allegiance to the group. Such “rank and file” conditions are damaging to musicians and to the quality of the performance. Our response:
- Hire and support local and regional musicians. The CCO rejects the practice of outsourcing musicians from out of the state, often at higher wages.
- Pay a fair wage. The CCO is one of the few performing groups in the state that meets the National Endowment for the Arts guidelines for “professional,” which is defined as paying at least the prevailing wage.
- Attract the best. The CCO can entice the “cream of the crop” largely because of the reputation of our conductor. Blomster is a musician’s conductor. His low-key leadership, professional yet congenial style, efficient rehearsals and sound musicianship are widely trusted by musicians. Any group he leads is the first call for musicians looking for quality work. They don’t just do it for the money. They do it for the quality of the musical experience that is all too scarce in the field.
The CCO fulfills a “unique artistic role” as Metro Denver’s only fully professional chamber orchestra. The orchestra comprises a core of 30 top players—half strings and varying numbers of winds, brass and percussion, as needed. Such flexibility is cost effective and allows the CCO to perform in large and small venues. With solid financial support, a well-managed budget and by using an ensemble that varies in size, the CCO is able to offer free concerts where we accept donations of any size, thus breaking down any economic barrier to our audience. In this way, the CCO wins the allegiance of audiences that cross social, cultural and economic boundaries.
The CCO presents fresh interpretations of the traditional masterpieces for chamber orchestra—Mozart, Haydn and early Beethoven—as well as edgier contemporary works, jazz, bluegrass, African and folk pieces. We reject the common practice of marketing these alternatives as “pops” or any other label that implies they are inferior to the standard repertoire. New, younger audiences will find the CCO a welcome alternative to stuffy or pretentious concerts; the most discerning classical-music connoisseur will appreciate the level of discipline and refined music making. Over time, we believe we will reach many people who otherwise would not experience the beauty of this unique art form.