Strings kicks off several summer concert series
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Over the next several days, Strings Music Festival will usher in the start of summer with a slew of concert series.
Opening Night Orchestra: Saturday, June 22
What: Opening Night Orchestra featuring the music of Beethoven
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, June 22
Where: Strings Music Festival, 900 Strings Road
Tickets: $58; juniors: $10 at stringsmusicfestival.com
The 32nd season of Strings Music Festival’s Orchestra opens at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 22.
The orchestra is led by Michael Sachs, Strings’ music director and conductor of the orchestra for five seasons. He’s also the longest-serving principal trumpet of the Cleveland Orchestra, at 30 seasons.
The evening opens with Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried-Idyll.”
“It’s a piece I’ve always loved,” Sachs said.
Wagner wrote the piece as a birthday present to his wife, Cosima, and on Christmas morning (of 1870; her birthday), he had musicians playing on the stairs of their house — the piece calling for one player per stair, 13 total.
“It’s a love letter to his wife, and his young son Siegfried,” Sachs said. “It really reflects the domestic bliss he had in his life.”
Sachs calls the piece “19 minutes of, really, Wagner at his best.”
Wagner had originally intended to keep the song private, between only him and his family, but when other musicians got wind of the piece, they begged him to release it to the public, and he eventually relented, according to Sachs.
Next, the string section of the orchestra will present Edvard Grieg’s “Holberg Suite for Strings.”
It’s a neo-classical piece from 1884, upbeat and dancing as it illustrates a ride through the Norwegian countryside, and it features cellos prominently.
“People may not know it from the title, but once they hear it, they’ll recognize it,” Sachs said. “It’s permeated into a lot of other music.”
Finally, the entire Strings orchestra joins together to play Ludwiv van Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 4.”
“It’s probably his sunniest symphony,” Sachs said. “It’s in B-flat major, and it’s an upbeat, jubilant, joyous sprint to the end — it’s Beethoven as happy as he ever gets.”
When Beethoven wrote this symphony in 1806, he was already far along in his hearing loss, and it’s not as commonly performed as Beethoven’s Nos. 3, 5, 7 or 9, according to Sachs.
“But it’s magnificent,” Sachs said. “It’s the spirit I wanted to create for the start of the season.”
The three pieces were written decades apart, by composers in different countries and known for different musical characteristics. But for this show, they go together.
“In musical style, they complement each other extremely well,” Sachs said. “I like when the audience can see different instrumentals throughout the concert, when different players and sounds are showcased.”
The Strings Orchestra’s 33 musicians come to Steamboat for their shows from across the country, representing Los Angeles, Detroit, Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston and more.
“Chemistry (of the musicians) is very important,” Sachs said.
The show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at stringsmusicfestival.com, with prices ranging from $10 to $80. A Champagne reception follows the performance.
“Our Opening Night Orchestra is always really energetic and fun,” said Strings’ advertising and marketing director Kristine Kilbourne. “It sets the tone for the whole summer.”
The orchestra’s season continues on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer, culminating Aug. 3 with a J.S. Bach finale.
“We are working to tell stories through different events,” Kilbourne said. “It’s really cool that we have, for example, a night of child genius composers (Child Geniuses: Composers of Italy on July 24) — people who started working on their music before they were 12. It’s a way to think about music that you might not otherwise.”
Tommy Emmanuel and David Grisman: Sunday, June 23
What: Tommy Emmanuel and David Grisman: C.G.P. & Dawg Tour
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, June 23
Where: Strings Music Festival, 900 Strings Road
Tickets: start at $75 at stringsmusicfestival.com
Tommy Emmanuel is a top rhythm guitarist from Australia; David Grisman began playing mandolin as a teenager in New Jersey. Both ascended quickly to the top of their fields — finger-style rock, jazz, blues, bluegrass, folk and country for Emmanuel, and bluegrass, folk and jazz, or “Dawg music,” for Grisman.
“Years ago, I’d planned to make an album with different guests on each track,” Emmanuel recalled. “I had admired (David Grisman) since the 1970s and asked my manager if there was any chance we could get him on there.”
They played together, and it went so well, they eventually decided they wanted to make an entire collaborative album. The two spent a week recording at Grisman’s house and released “Pickin’” by Tommy “CGP” Emmanuel and David “Dawg” Grisman in 2017.
“We improvised our way through it,” Emmanuel said. “He’s always trying to write in a way that’s a little different, and I like that.”
The two toured together, and it was hugely popular.
They’ll take the stage at Strings Music Festival at 8 p.m. Sunday, June 23. They’ll play songs from “Pickin’” and some new songs that Grisman has been working on.
“There’s going to be a bit of everything,” Emmanuel said.
“These guys are truly the best at what they do — the best guitarist, the best mandolinist in the world,” Kilbourne said. “Having them together is just incredible.”
“As an accompanist, I try to be a real steady rock for (Grisman),” Emmanuel said. “I’ve learned the importance of that: keep it simple, keep it strong.
“It’s a whole different ball game, from playing my own shows and my own music — it’s very different, and I like it.”
Strings Young Artists at The Barley
What: Music and Beer at the Barley
When: 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 25
Where: The Barley, 635 Lincoln Ave.
Strings’ programming also often reaches outside of its grounds and all over town. Its Young Artists in Residency program brings 511 Brass to play a lively, casual show of Music and Beer at The Barley for the second year.
The Young Artists in Residency program is designed for musicians who are either in school or recently graduated, who haven’t been playing professionally for as long as other musicians who can be found playing at Strings, according to Kilbourne.
511 Brass was formed in spring 2018. The quintet features five Julliard School musicians: Ben Keating on trumpet, Steven Osburne on tenor trombone, Aaron Albert on bass trombone, Brandon Bergeron on trumpet and Jason Friedman on French horn.
Even with the quintet’s age of just over a year, the group has been performing, mentoring and being mentored across the country.
“We wanted to be in a group that did more than the typical brass quintet,” Keating said.
The group is an ensemble in residence at The Church of St. Paul the Apostle at Lincoln Center in New York. They also have an ongoing partnership with the Harmony Project in Los Angeles to provide tuition-free music education and social support to kids.
In the weeks following their show at the Barley, the brass players will be performing in downtown Aspen and studying with members of the internationally recognized American Brass Quintet as part of the Aspen Music Festival.
They play everything from “West Side Story” to “Star Wars” and video game music, to Victor Ewald and Steven Christopher Sacco and Giovanni Gabrieli.
They’re excited to bring their music to The BARley and to the other venues that are part of the Young Artists in Residency, including the Boys & Girls Club, Music on the Green and other community shows.
“Those performances (in more casual spaces) are really fun and spontaneous,” Keating said. “We respond to our audience and the venue, and that determines what we’re going to play right then.”
“I think (having a show downtown) makes things more approachable,” Kilbourne said. “Everyone here is so adventurous, but it can be intimidating to do something that’s adventurous in an artistic way. By putting this into a friendly, approachable space makes it more approachable.”
Justin Keys, owner of The Barley, welcomes 511 Brass to the venue warmly. The bar will donate 20% of sales during the show to Strings Music Festival.
“Anytime you can contribute to the community, and throw a party at the same time, that’s really rewarding,” Keys said.
The Young Artists in Residency and Music and Beer at the Barley continue throughout the summer.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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