On Saturday, March 14, The Carolina Philharmonic will present a concert featuring the fiery virtuosity of violist and composer Christian Colberg in his Violo concerto, “Don Quixote," as well as Maestro David Michael Wolff leading the Philharmonic orchestra in a stirring performance of Beethoven’s "Seventh Symphony" in a celebration of the composer’s 250th birthday.
It’s 1,565 air miles between San Juan, Puerto Rico and Baltimore, Md., and another 508 miles from Baltimore to Cincinnati, Ohio. And it’s quite a few years between getting your first violin at age 4 and celebrating your 10th year as principal violist for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, but Christian Colberg has traveled those distances and experienced much on his musical journey that brings him to Southern Pines on March 14.
Colberg will be the featured viola soloist with the Carolina Philharmonic on that date when he performs his own viola concerto composition, “Don Quixote,” and the Philharmonic performs Beethoven’s "Seventh Symphony."
Colberg started his musical journey at the age of four. His grandfather, who was a lover of classical music and a friend of cellist Pablo Casals in Puerto Rico, played the Ravi Shankar album “West Meets East,” which featured violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Colberg remembers saying, “I want to do that!” after hearing it. So his parents bought him a toy violin which he rejected for a real violin. He knew then “this is what I want to do with my life.”
At age 14, he was accepted into music college in Puerto Rico. He passed the musical ability qualifications at age 12, but was not allowed to enter the college at that age. At age 16, he was accepted into the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He became emancipated by a judge in Puerto Rico so he could legally attend Peabody as an adult.
As a graduate of the Peabody Institute, he played both violin and viola for 18 years before switching to primarily viola in his mid-30s. Colberg has been assistant principal viola of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the concertmaster of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, as well as a featured soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, and San Salvador Symphony Orchestra.
Since 2014, Colberg has performed as principal viola with the Bellingham Festival of music and is a regular performer with the Sitka Summer Music Festival in Alaska. In 2018, he was principal viola with the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. He has held teaching positions at both the Peabody Institute of Music and the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music.
In February 2018, Colberg suffered a subdural hematoma, a “large brain bleed,” as he calls it. It was serious. Statistically, only five percent of people experiencing this survive. No cranial surgery was performed, but his condition improved. He spent April and May of 2018 recovering and learning to play viola again.
A few years before the brain hematoma, he got the idea of composing a viola concerto based on the classic Spanish novel and story of Don Quixote. At the time, there were only three major viola concertos recognized by the public, one by Bartok, one by Paul Hindemith, and one by William Walton. Richard Strauss had written "Don Quixote Op. 35" for cello in 1897 but that did not deter Colberg. He wanted a viola concerto in which “when you walk on the stage and play it, you know the audience will get it and enjoy it.”
Colberg says it took him about a month to compose “Don Quixote” and another six months “to fine tune it and tweak it.” In October 2018, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra “took a chance on me” and featured his “Don Quixote” in concert. It was a success.
The concerto is in three movements. The first movement is called “Alonzo,” the original name of the character Don Quixote. The second movement is titled “Aldonza” the original name of the novel’s Dulcinea, the lady love of Don Quixote. And the third movement is titled “Sancho Panza,” the squire or amour-bearer of the knight Don Quixote.
Colberg will present his concerto with the Carolina Philharmonic at the Owens Auditorium in the Bradshaw Performing Arts Center at Sandhills Community College on March 14 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at https://carolinaphil.yapsody.com/event/index/450361/christian-colberg-don-quixote or by calling the box office at (910) 687-0287.