The Colorado Symphony is getting a new principal conductor. And he wants to shake things up to stay relevant

Courtesy Michael Esminger/Colorado Symphony
Peter Oundjian has been appointed as the new principal conductor of the Colorado Symphony.

The Colorado Symphony has announced that Peter Oundjian, music director of the Colorado Music Festival and an internationally recognized conductor most recently with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, is taking over as the organization’s principal conductor. 

Oundjian was the symphony’s principal guest conductor from 2003 to 2006 and has frequently collaborated with the company since. 

Anthony Pierce, the symphony’s chief artistic officer, called the appointment of Oundjian a transformational moment for the orchestra. 

“The Colorado Symphony is reimagining the possibilities for live symphonic music, and Peter will play an integral part in that process moving forward,” Pierce said in a press release.

A native Canadian raised in England, Oundjian’s international career as a musician and conductor spans four decades. He spent 14 years as the first violinist of the Tokyo String Quartet before focusing on conducting work. After a long tenure as music director of the Toronto Symphony, he served in the same role for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra from 2012 to 2018. In 2019, he took the helm of the music director of the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder, where he owns a home. 

“You fall in love with Colorado when you land in the Denver airport,” Oundjian said. “It’s a very inspiring place to make music.”

In an interview with CPR News, Oundjian spoke of the need for a professional symphony to balance classical music traditions with the evolution necessary to remain relevant.

“When we play the classics, it’s going to be absolutely the most dedicated performances we can possibly muster,” Oundjian said. “But, I think we have to realize that a lot of people want to hear a different kind of music, but they still want to hear an orchestra. In order to be relevant and important for a city the size of Denver, I think it’s important we don’t play for the same 25,000 people all the time.”

Oundjian said mixing up the music chosen by the symphony, playing movie scores and collaborating onstage with musicians from other genres can still inspire and attract people beyond the organization’s core audience.

“If you make people feel really welcome in the hall, there’s something unbelievably exciting about coming to hear an unamplified huge sound,” Oundjian said. “There’s something visceral about just the number of people who are on the stage playing together in this incredible coordinated way, which is one of the great miracles of mankind, right?” 

Oundjian’s posting also marks a creative departure for the symphony. Brett Mitchell stepped down as the symphony’s Music Director in mid-2021, and traditionally a new music director would have be appointed. For now, Oundjian, in his new role as principal conductor, will lead the organization artistically, despite his position having fewer responsibilities than typically assigned to a music director. 

Symphony communications and creative director Nick Dobreff said Oundjian would be taking on nearly all of the duties of music director, though he would conduct fewer classical concerts.

“It just allows audiences to experience a larger variety of conductors each season,” Dobreff said in an email. 

Oundjian’s first concert as the Colorado Symphony’s Principal Conductor will be the last weekend in March, when he conducts Holst’s “The Planets” with guest pianist Jan Lisiecki.