Music in the mountains: It’s the time of year, or used to be, when the hills ring out with bluegrass, jazz, rock and classical music.
Like so many festivals, the San Juan Chamber MusicFest, perhaps the most beloved — and certainly the most well-known — event sponsored by the Ouray County Performing Arts Guild (OCPAG), was canceled this season.
Yet the heart of that nonprofit’s signature event, not to mention the brains (he’s its artistic programmer) and a considerable portion of its musical talent (he’s a renowned concert pianist) remains, because Max Levinson is back for a series of weekly online tutorials and performances.
I say “heart” because Levinson, artistic director of the San Juan Fest, recently reached out to the programmers at OCPAG and said, “I want to help.”
He’s supremely qualified to do so.
Levinson, who has performed solo with the San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Boston Pops, is more than an acclaimed chamber musician whose debut at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall got a standing ovation. He’s also a teacher: He’s the chair of the Piano Department at the Boston Conservatory. So when in-person instruction was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, just like thousands of other teachers, Levinson began holding classes online.
In fact, members of OCPAG had been discussing harnessing Levinson’s musical talent, and teaching ability ever since last year. How could they keep him here for more than just two weeks each summer, when the pianist is in Ouray County along with several other chamber musicians (handpicked by Levinson) to perform at the Wright Opera House and the 4-H Event Center?
Then the virus arrived.
“We were kind of bantering back and forth about what to offer” loyal concertgoers in lieu of the fest, said Heather Greisz, OCPAG’s executive director. “Max said, ‘I’m already offering these classes. I’ll just ramp it up a little bit for your audience,’” given that San Juan Fest attendees generally have a good foundation in, and working knowledge of, classical music. “He always adds in some historical background about each piece he performs. When he suggested it, I said, ‘Max! That’s fabulous!’” Greisz recalled. “This will really entice people.”
The eight-week course that Levinson devised began Wednesday night, and continues on subsequent Wednesdays at 7 p.m. through Sept. 2. The classes are a journey through time, from early keyboard instruments, to Bach and the Baroque Style (the focus of next week’s class, with a performance of a work by Bach), and on through various musical exemplars (Beethoven, Mozart) and movements (Romanticism is the subject of two sessions, featuring works by Schumann and Chopin).
The last two weeks of the series are entitled, “Now What? Music in the Early 20th Century” (featuring a performance of a work by Prokofiev) and “Americans and Other Experimenters: Music Since 1950.”
Each session is $25 to attend or, become a member of OCPAG for $25 and catch the entire series for that price. The 60-minute installments will be performed live — which means Levinson will available to answer questions following the lecture and his performance. (The performances will be recorded as well, for those who may miss a week.)
“I really want to do something positive, to grow OCPAG’s visibility and programming,” Levinson remarked to Greisz. “Let’s try to see if we can’t get more people to become members.”
The series’ price structure is designed to accomplish exactly that. “It’s wonderful,” Greisz said of the new series. “Online classes have proved to be such a huge learning curve for instructors, but Max has experience in the ‘virtual classroom’ from this spring. We’re really excited.”
Visit ocpag.org to sign up.