Portraits of Colorado come to life

Emmy Award-winning composer pens symphony

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In this area, the April 1999 Columbine tragedy is remembered every year at this time. For Highlands Ranch resident and Emmy-award winning composer Charles Denler, Columbine also finds its way into his latest work, “Portraits of Colorado, An American Symphony No. 1.”

Denler, whose own brother was killed when he was 17, has always felt a connection to incidents like Columbine, and in the ninth movement, “The Columbine Tribute,” he combines the poetry of the state flower with the shootings that shook the state.

“If you watch a sunrise in the morning you can see the flowers face east, and then throughout the day, they track the sun and turn to face west,” Denler said. “Every morning they know that the sun is going to come up in the east. It doesn’t matter how hard the night was. It gives a sense of new beginning and hope.

“The movement obviously pays homage to the victims and the families, but it is not meant to be as much of a memorial as it is a hope for a better future.”

Denler’s “Portraits of Colorado” — inspired by the artwork of Jerry Malzhan — is written in 10 shorter movements, as opposed to the traditional three, to appeal to the iPod generation. It will debut with the Colorado Symphony May 31 at Denver’s Boettcher Concert Hall.

“It’s a passionate symphony not only about Colorado, but it’s really a symphony about overcoming the odds and overcoming hardship, and finding hope even in the midst of the storm,” Denler said. “We all know that life is hard, and on some people it’s harder than others. This symphony is about celebrating new beginnings and fresh starts.”

Writing with the dissonance and quick resolve of Aaron Copland to the melody and theme of John Williams, Denler intends to follow up “Portraits of Colorado” with two other symphonies in the next two years: “Portraits of an American Soldier, American Symphony No. 2” and “Portraits of New England, An American Symphony No. 3.”

In addition to the symphonies and composing scores for Honda, Oprah Winfrey and “NBC Dateline,” Denler — who earned his Emmys for best music in 2004 with “Bentley Creek” and in 2005 for “Beyond the Medal of Honor” — recently composed the film score for “Henry and Me,” an animated feature due out this fall about an 8-year-old boy struggling with cancer who finds hope through baseball.

The movie features the voices of Richard Gere, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon and numerous New York Yankees past and present, such as Reggie Jackson, Yogi Berra, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson.

The story of how Denler came to write “Portraits of Colorado” will also be featured later this summer on PBS in a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Steve Greisen, called “An American Symphony.”

The documentary will explore the motivation behind the symphony and flash from Malzhan’s paintings to the locations that inspired them, and will feature interviews with the composer and artist as well as live footage of the May 31 performance.

“It’s really a cool inside look at the inspiration,” Denler said. “People don’t write symphonies that much anymore. It makes the process feel normal to people, not so mysterious, not just something that dead guys have done.”

For more information on the composer, to hear samples or to purchase tickets for the concert with the Colorado Symphony, please visit www.littlerivermusic.com.

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