chamber music

Elson Koh, left, and teacher Mimi Zweig. Both will perform Aug. 7 at the Sheridan Opera House. (Courtesy photo)

This week typically kicks off the Telluride Chamber Music Festival, which has been presenting classical music to audiences annually for nearly 50 years. But the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and the sudden passing of cofounder Robin Sutherland in late 2020 caused organizers to cancel the 2021 iteration and focus on the direction of the festival moving forward.

“We are using this time to rebuild and reframe the festival and have some exciting plans for the future, including growing into a concert series that will take place throughout the year. Claire Beard will be taking over from Warner Paige as the new managing director of the festival, and we are delighted with this new addition,” a recent news release stated.

The chamber also announced a free memorial concert for Sutherland, the beloved pianist and former San Francisco Symphony member, Sept. 12 at 4 p.m. at Christ Church. Violinist Roy Malan, who co-founded the festival with Sutherland in 1973, will perform. Recordings of Sutherland will also be part of the memorial. A reception will follow. Anyone interested is invited to attend.

The chamber board plans to meet by the end of August to discuss the future of the organization and its marquee event, according to Paige.

“It’ll be the same, basically, but Claire Beard will be the new managing director of it,” he explained. “We’re looking at how we’re going to bring new concerts to Telluride in the future.”

Beard, who is a classically trained flute player, has been a fan of the festival since she moved to town from her native London, where she played professionally for 10 years.

“This is something that I’m really passionate about. It just seemed like the right timing,” she said of her new role with the organization. “I love organizing concerts. I like inventive programming and the challenge.”

The festival has always attracted dedicated classical music fans, but the board would like to expand that reach to include people who may be new to the forms, Beard explained. One way to do that is to offer more concerts throughout the year, including a classical music happy hour of sorts.

“The big idea is we’re going to move toward more of a series throughout the year instead of one weekend in August, so there’s more classical music throughout the year, which will be wonderful,” she said, adding featuring more musicians is also a goal of providing more events. “ … We want to make it approachable to people who aren’t into classical music at the moment.”

Classical music concerts can come off as intimidating for those with a passing interest, but Beard wants to make them more welcoming.

“I think that’s it’s not actually the music that’s intimidating, but how the music is presented,” she said, adding a happy hour may be more laidback, inviting than a seated event. “ … It’s such a universal emotion that goes on in classical music. It’s music that has lasted 500 or 600 years. It’s incredibly powerful in the way it can move people. Taking away that perception and letting the music wash over you can be surprisingly moving. … It really does connect with the emotions.”

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While the festival is taking a year off, there will still be classical music in August, as Sydney Denman has organized two events Aug. 7-8 under her Telluride Classical organization, with the support of the chamber festival.

On Aug. 7, Mimi Zweig, violin virtuosi of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, along with young Colorado violinists and violists, will play the Sheridan Opera House at 7:30 p.m. Zweig will teach a master class before the performance as well.

On Aug. 8, the Telluride Camerata, a group of youth players that Denman has organized over the past decade, will perform Vivaldi’s “Summer” outside of the opera house at 11 a.m. Free ice cream will be included.

“When people watch a young person who is excited about classical music I think there’s a raw enthusiasm that I think they wouldn’t get at a more established type of event,” said Denman, who is a violinist. “I’m doing all of this because I really think Telluride needs it.”