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Guest classical music directors look to broaden festival’s appeal in 2009

Strings Music Festival announced that Andres Cárdenes, left, and Monique Mead will act at guest music directors in the 2009 season before deciding whether to make the title permanent. The husband and wife team are long-time friends of strings.
John F. Russell





Strings Music Festival announced that Andres Cárdenes, left, and Monique Mead will act at guest music directors in the 2009 season before deciding whether to make the title permanent. The husband and wife team are long-time friends of strings.
John F. Russell

For Andres Cárdenes and Monique Mead, not much is off-limits when they think about how to program the 2009 Strings Music Festival season.

“Monique and I are people who don’t think in any other terms except of maximization of anything and everything we do,” Cárdenes said.

Sitting in the Strings office in early December, the only limit he and Mead could think of is the actual number of people who can be onstage and the decibel level that can reasonably be reached in the Strings Music Pavilion, which was completed just before the start of the 2008 season.



Named guest classical music co-directors in September, Cárdenes and Mead have been busy looking into how to expand the festival’s classical programming to include more world music, local performing arts groups and multimedia elements.

“It’s very important to sustain the interest and the excitement and the passion for the festival,” Cárdenes said.



Those elements can come from the audience as well as the musicians. They also might come from Cárdenes and Mead’s connections in the classical music world.

Cárdenes has played with Strings since 1994, has been concertmaster for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra since 1989 and has been artistic director for the Pittsburgh Symphony Chamber Orchestra since 1999. He plays with the Diaz and Carnegie Mellon trios, and he regularly appears in about a half-dozen classical music festivals.

Mead founded Germany’s Klassik for Kids program, and she is known for performing with international ensembles.

“I don’t know how to make this sound immodest, but we know many of the great musicians in the world,” Cárdenes said. The couple has played with some of classical music’s biggest names – and, as Mead joked, has cooked dinner for a lot of them. Extensive performing experience also has given Cárdenes and Mead an insiders’ view of how other summer music festivals function.

“It actually helps me know exactly what not to do,” Cárdenes said. “Each festival is different. There’s no blanket approach to planning a festival. : I think the trick is to build on what you have here.”

Strings Music Festival has a new venue, a 20-year track record and two well-connected classical music directors. Cárdenes and Mead plan to milk that for all it’s worth.

“All you have to do now is exploit all of that in any way you possibly can,” Cárdenes said.

Festival organizers plan to start announcing parts of the 2009 classical music season in the next few months.

Cárdenes hopes to sustain interest and excitement for the festival by varying programming throughout the summer and by fostering a closer connection between musicians and audience members.

“I think when you have many, many groups playing and many, many people playing in each group all the time, : it makes it difficult to have a conversation,” he said.

For the 2009 season, Cárdenes said he likely would schedule fewer groups with fewer musicians and open up the backstage area for more interaction between performers and audience members.

The goal is to make the festival’s classical programming more accessible and all – encompassing as Strings moves into its 22nd season.

“Sold-out every night,” Cárdenes said. “I don’t even want to say that’s what I’m aiming at. That’s what I have to have.”


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