Sara Davis Buechner. Though her name is not particularly well-known, by many accounts it should be. Buechner, a classically trained pianist, has a functional repertoire of close to 100 pieces and has performed throughout the U.S. and across the world.

“When she’s performing, you could hear a pin drop in the audience,” said Carrie Feiner, Buechner’s manager. “I feel nobody can really match up to her style.”

Buechner will perform Saturday and Sunday with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. The concerts, titled “Classical Mavericks I and II,” will center around the theme of defying odds and setting new standards. The first night will feature Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with the second night featuring the second symphony and concerto of the artists. Both nights will open with Mendelssohn’s “Scherzo.”

Bahman Saless, the orchestra’s music director, explained that both Chopin and Beethoven pushed against the tide during their careers. Saless said that Buechner has been a maverick in her own way, and continues to do so, as a transgender woman.

Before she formally transitioned at 38 years old, Buechner had built up a venerable career under the name David Buechner. Though she credits coming out as saving her life, she also knew she did not face an easy road. This was 1998, when the transgender community was beginning to become more visible, This was 1998, when the transgender community was beginning to become more visible, but not necessarily accepted in the public sphere.

“What I did not anticipate was outright rejection, words of condemnation, and judgmentalism about my own morals,” Buechner said. “This continues to this day, but with less frequency, thank goodness — thanks to more information being available on the internet and the more open attitudes of young people.”

‘Just knew that I could help her’

After coming out, Buechner essentially had to rebuild her career from scratch. At one point she was even paid to not follow through on an upcoming performance. She found herself taking some time off from performing, living in New York and teaching at a children’s music school in Westchester.

That’s when a former Juilliard classmate, Carrie Feiner, came into the picture. Feiner had heard Buechner play back during their school days, saying that “she could play a scale and the whole audience would cry.”

When Feiner saw Buechner was teaching, she signed up her daughters to take piano lessons with Buechner. Sitting in on the lessons, Feiner listened as Buechner shared her sadness that she wasn’t performing. Though Feiner had never managed someone before, she became determined to get Buechner back into performing. After a year or so, Feiner’s persistence paid off and Buechner agreed to work together.

“I just knew that I could help her,” Feiner said. “I couldn’t believe someone with this talent wasn’t performing with all the major orchestras.”

In 2003, Buechner took a job at the University of British Columbia. Slowly, she began taking concerts again, until Feiner was booking her schedule to the brim. Feiner said it’s always better for Buechner “to say it’s too much,” because at least then she’s performing.

Buechner, who is a dual American-Canadian citizen, has found more success reviving her career in Canada than the U.S., performing extensively across the country with notable groups including the Edmonton Orchestra, based out of Alberta. Feiner attributes this to a more welcoming attitude around LGBTQ+ issues in Canada; the country legalized gay marriage in 2005, 10 years before the U.S. did. Buechner has said she feels much more comfortable walking around holding hands with her partner Kyoko in Canadian cities than in those stateside.

She’s still working to book Buechner with major orchestras like the New York Philharmonic. However, Buechner has had some success in the U.S., such as in 2016 when she performed an arrangement of “Meet The Mets” at a New York Mets LGBT Pride Night game in 2016. In 2016 she also took a faculty position with Temple University, chosen over 120 other candidates.

“Her playing has continued to blossom as I’ve worked with her,” Feiner said. “I feel people know she’s great, so we just have to crack through that barrier.”

‘It is my life’

This weekend’s performances in Boulder are somewhat symbolic for Buechner’s career: she performed the same Chopin piano concertos for what she calls her “second debut” on the stage in 1998, soon after her transition. Though she doesn’t consider herself an expert in Chopin, Saless, the orchestra’s music director, said Buechner has the
authority and ability to give the concerti the personality they deserve.

“I have always been extremely impressed by her performance level,” Saless said. “Sara’s consecutive performances of these Chopin pieces are a tribute to her true skill.”

Buechner sees herself as a role model for the LGBTQ+ community “whether by chance or design,” as she says, and sometimes engages in speaking events. Yet while she values her identity and advocacy, music will always be her primary focus, as it has since she first started playing piano as a young child.

“It is my life,” Buechner said, “my passion, my delight, and my calling.”

If you go
What: “Classical Mavericks I and II”
When: 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday
Where: Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder
Cost: $25 for general admission, $18 for seniors, $15 for students; discounts for two-
night bundle
More info:

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