Classical music in Ouray

 young musician receives instruction from visiting master violinist Nurit Pacht. (Photo courtesy ofSue Hillhouse)

Summer in the mountains means music, most of it variations of rock, pop and jazz.

Yet classical music gets its due in the San Juans, too. For nearly half a century, the Telluride Chamber Music Festival has offered summer performances in the box canyon (the 46th annual iteration of the fest takes place this season from Aug. 5-11).

The Ouray County Performing Arts Guild has sponsored classical music performances in its neighboring box canyon for almost as long as Telluride has — and its season starts even earlier. Thanks to a pair of longtime Ouray residents and arts patrons, the Dave and Mary Wood Classical Concert Series begins Saturday evening with a performance by pianist Susan Ellinger, soprano Abigail Fischer and tenor Jason Slayden at the Wright Opera House.

Ellinger likely needs no introduction to residents of this region. She’s played at the Wright many times; collaborated with the Valley Symphony Orchestra on more than one occasion (she performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor during the Montrose orchestra’s tribute to Mozart last winter); and is the artistic director for the Blue Sage Center in Paonia, where a classical music series runs year-round.

At the Wright, Ellinger will play works by the German composer Johannes Brahms. If audiences are lucky, at least one of these will be from Brahms’ Six Pieces for Piano, op. 118, collectively referred to as “Klavierstucke” (some of the great composer’s best-loved pieces for piano, the Klavierstucke are featured in “The Arc of Romanticism,” one of the “current program offerings” Ellinger lists on her website.)

Ellinger will also accompany Fischer — with whom she is slated to perform tonight (Friday), in Paonia — on works by another German, Richard Wagner, best known for his operas, including the Ring Cycle and the tragedy of “Tristan un Isolde” (the New York Times has praised Ellinger’s “serenely captivating” operatic performances). Tenor Jason Slayden — who received the Donald Gramm Memorial Award and the Richard Tucker Memorial Award for apprenticeships at the Santa Fe Opera in 2009-2010 — will perform works by the French composer Henri DuParc.

Their performance is at 7:30 p.m.


The concert Saturday is the first of five performances in the Dave and Mary Wood series unfolding between now and September (the series wraps Sept. 14 with “one-of-a-kind” Japanese composer, guitarist and singer-songwriter Hiroya Tsukamoto’s “Cinematic Guitar Poetry.”)

In between, there are performances by musical duo Joe Scott and Hannah Alkire who together comprise “Acoustic Eidolon,” and two performances of the San Juan Chamber MusicFest. The first, “Classical Café,” is a deliberately casual affair, designed to introduce new listeners to this music (drinks and “heavy hors d’oeuvres,” as the Ouray arts guild’s website puts it, are available in advance of the concert for an additional fee). That concert will be performed August 20, at the 4-H Event Center in Ridgway under the series’ pianist and artistic director Max Levinson. On Saturday, Levinson will conduct the fest’s 36th Annual Chamber Music Concert at the Wright Opera House. Watch the guild’s website, at, for a list of featured pieces. Check, too, for the date of a classical-music performance specifically for children. One of the guild’s chief missions is to inspire and nurture youth, which happens every year at a free concert for kids on a weekday morning during the fest. The chamber fest’s musicians are also available for consultation with youth. So-called master classes, “for serious music students in the region to work one-on-one with a world-class musician in perfecting a prepared piece,” will be available during the week that the fest’s musicians are in town. 

A donation of $25 for the class is requested (as you might expect, scholarships are available). Email to learn more.