Chamber music fest

Telluride Chamber Music Festival kicks off every year with a free concert in Telluride Town Park. Chamber musicians Roy Malan and Susan Freier on violin, Stephen Harris on cello and Nancy Ellis on viola perform at last summer’s event.

 (Photo courtesy of Telluride Chamber Music Festival)

This is one music festival that doesn’t rattle your windows. There is no tarp run, and it’s highly unlikely someone will fall asleep on the grass and wake up with a ferocious sunburn. No, the 46th annual Telluride Chamber Music Festival will instead fill the Michael D. Palm Theatre (and Mountain Village) with the elegant, intertwined sound of violins, cellos, violas and pianos through Sunday. Played by the world’s finest musicians and composed by authors considered the best to have ever lived, this is truly music perfect for our lofty altitude.

This year, the festival kicked off Tuesday with its traditional Town Park Picnic and concert, a casual, al fresco affair that is a favorite of chamber music afficiandos.

According to Warner Paige, who has been involved with the festival in numerous capacities for 16 years, including his current role as president of the board of directors, this year’s programming is studded with what he calls “audience favorites.” Over the years, regular attendees profess a wish list of compositions they’d love to hear. The festival’s artistic director, the violinist Roy Malan, plucks a few from the vast array of the chamber music canon for this year’s program. Paige said Malan is including one of Paige’s favorites, Beethoven’s “Archduke” piano trio (Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97). It’s the first piece of chamber music he heard years ago.

“It is mesmerizing,” Paige, who has always loved classical music, said. “I always thought it was the symphonies, but once I heard the ‘Archduke’ piano trio and got into all this great music I’d never heard before.”

The first full night of programming is Thursday at the Palm at 7:30 p.m. and features works by composers Johannes Brahms (his Piano Quartet in C minor is an audience favorite, Paige said) and Felix Mendelssohn.

Also on the Thursday program is Josef Suk, one of two Czech composers represented in this year’s program. The musicians will be playing his Piano Quartet in A Minor. Like most works of art, the Suk piece has a backstory. It is what Paige calls “a wonderful piece,” and the composition was perhaps written to impress his future father-in-law, the great composer Antonin Dvorák. Suk was reportedly Dvorák’s favorite student — the piano quartet is sometimes thought to have been a dowry, of sorts.

Friday’s free children’s concert takes place in Mountain Village in Reflection Plaza at noon and will be the showcase for the festival’s new element, the Telluride Chamber Youth Ensemble (TCYE) mentoring program. The students and their professional mentors will play, discuss their respective instruments and open up the world of chamber music to young minds. Additionally, the TCYE will live score a performance by the Palm Arts Dance program. And, of course, in keeping with tradition, the program will be followed up with ice cream. The program is a collaboration of Palm Arts and the Telluride Society for Jazz (TSJ) and made possible by a grant from the Telluride Mountain Village Owners Association.

TCYE joins music students with professional classical musicians for rehearsals and performances throughout the festival week. Chris Vann is the programming and development director for the Palm Theatre and also serves as the president of TSJ’s board of directors. For 25 years, the Jazz Festival has conducted its successful Telluride Jazz All-Stars program. Chamber’s brand new program is based on the Jazz model.

“We are all really excited,” Vann said.

Professional classical musicians Michael Scott (guitar) from Ouray, and Annissa Olsen (viola) and Karen Schulz-Harmon (cello) of Portland, Oregon, will be the youth artistic directors for the 2019 ensemble. The students in the inaugural ensemble are violinist Rhys Chambers and guitarist Hollis Andrew of Telluride; cellist Aria Lambert of Boulder; and violinist Georgia Pieper of Ouray.

Saturday it’s back to the Palm, where Beethoven’s “Archduke” will be performed, as well as work by Franz Schubert, Jean-Marie Lecleur (a viola duo) and Mozart’s String Quintet in G Minor. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

For the festival’s grand finale — a 2:30 p.m. show at the Palm — Brahms is on the menu for a second piece, Piano Quintet in F-Minor. The week’s second Czech composer, Bedrich Smetana, was not only a composer, but a brewer who famously said, “You from within our glasses, you lusty golden brew, whoever imbibes takes fire from you. The young and the old sing your praises. Here’s to beer, here’s to cheer, here’s to beer.” Smetana was also a violinist and earned the title “The Father of Czech Music.”

Sunday’s concert also features African-American composer William Grant Still whose “Mother and Child” violin suite will be performed. Still, a more contemporary addition to this year’s program was the first African-American to conduct a symphony orchestra. He was a prolific composer with numerous operas, ballets and symphonies to his credit.

The Telluride Chamber Music Festival is not only a celebration of the music once played in living rooms and for royalty, but for festival regulars is a homecoming, of sorts. Headed up by festival stalwart Malan — who was, for 40 years, concertmaster with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra — a core cast of musicians has been making the trek to the mountains for years. They are cellist Stephen Harrison, violists Polly Malan and Nancy Ellis, violinist Susan Freier, and festival co-founder and co-director, pianist Robin Sutherland.

It’s the summertime reunion that Paige also enjoys,

“It’s so great to have our players back,” he said. “They’re great musicians.”

Tickets are $30 for single performances and a three-performance VIP pass is available for $80 with reserved seating in the first five rows. Tickets at the door are $35.

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