Kay Clagett will take final bow at Strings festival in Steamboat at the end of 2015 season | SteamboatToday.com

Kay Clagett will take final bow at Strings festival in Steamboat at the end of 2015 season

Strings Music Festival Executive Director Kay Clagett, left, will take her final bow and retire at the end of the 2015 season to be succeeded by Elissa Greene, current director of artistic administration, education and technology Elissa Greene.
Tom Ross

— The transition plan is complete this month for Steamboat Springs’ most significant performing arts organization with the news that Strings Music Festival Executive Director Kay Clagett will take her final bow and retire at the end of the 2015 season to be succeeded by Elissa Greene, Strings’ current director of artistic administration, education and technology.

The news signifies a transition from Strings pioneers to the next generation.

Clagett’s announcement means that within a span of two years, Strings will have seen two of its founders step aside, presumably to experience normal summers for the first time in a long while.

Betse Grassby, Strings director of operations and non-classical programming, retired after 26 years in August 2013. Also departing at the end of next summer is Anne DeGroff, box office and finance director, who has been with Strings from the early days.

Greene, 31, began working full-time at Strings in 2007, but in reality, the summer chamber music festival, which embraces diverse forms of folk, jazz, rock and world music, was part of her upbringing.

“When I first met Elissa, she was 5 years old,” Clagett said. “The little squirt probably knew more about classical music than all of the Strings staff combined.”

Greene is the daughter of longtime music professor Ken Greene, who has enriched the concert experience for generations of Steamboat audiences with accessible lectures that put upcoming chamber music performances at Strings into context.

“I started playing violin when I was 2, switched to cello when I was 4 and rolled into Strings at the age of 5,” Elissa Greene said.

Grassby and Clagett launched a pilot summer music festival in 1987 at the suggestion of cellist John Sant’Ambrogio, staging concerts on the wooden deck of the old Steamboat Athletic Club. The stage may have been humble, and some of the seating was on the roof, but the views were grand and the music sublime.

Strings board member Pat Anthony said Strings has had a lasting impact on Steamboat Springs.

“I really think Strings, with Kay and Betsy, has been at the forefront of a change of culture in Steamboat with the advent of this type of music and its ability to bring people from beyond Steamboat,” she said.

Both Clagett and longtime Strings board member Darlinda Baldinger said they were thrilled when the complete board of directors endorsed Greene.

“Elissa was like a three-month daughter every summer of my life,” Clagett said. “I got to help her (with her) growing-up phase until now, and who would have known in 1988 that little girl would become the next executive director of Strings? I’m just so glad the board realized the potential this woman has.”

Joe Fogliano, who has served two terms on the Strings board, including serving as building chairman when the new Strings Pavilion was built, said Clagett will be missed for many reasons, not the least of which is her role as principle fundraiser. He said the board only thought briefly of seeking her replacement from outside the organization.

“We just felt her (Greene’s) background was unique and that we didn’t really need to look outside,” he said. “Really, everybody on the board was quite excited about her taking over.”

Greene said she’s ready to transition into a leadership role and is mindful of Strings’ importance as a cultural institution that brings some of the best musicians in the world to Steamboat.

“It’s definitely time for an opportunity to move forward, but not looking back would definitely be a mistake,” Greene said. “There is definitely a legacy here. We are an institution in the community. What’s summer in Steamboat without Strings?”

Greene both performs as a cellist with the Steamboat Springs Community Orchestra and teaches the instrument to youngsters. She said she intends to continue to pursue both interests, and it’s plain that introducing local youngsters to diverse musical forms, not just classical, is a passion.

“We run Strings School Days with public and private schools in most of Northwest Colorado when 3,000 kids come through here in five days,” Greene said. “It’s amazing to see those kids,” respond to live musical performances.

With new Strings musical director Michael Sachs certain to introduce Steamboat audiences to new flavors of chamber music in 2015, and Strings production manager Steve Chambers, who arrived in 2014, already hard at work on booking next summer’s non-classical music shows, Clagett said she is confident she will witness the beginning of a new era in the festival’s history before she moves on.

“I feel really good, like I have left quite a legacy for this valley that has allowed me to dream with my eyes wide open,” Clagett said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

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