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Strings Music Festival: Artists get the Yampa Valley curse, too

Mélange will take the stage for an interactive performance at Strings Music Festival on Saturday.
Adam Kissick/courtesy

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — I’ve heard a couple versions of the Yampa Valley curse. Most stories relate to the Sleeping Giant, who guards the valley from the west. Some say the curse is related to the Utes, who once lived here, or the minerals in the springs that run under town.

What I haven’t heard is anyone deny that the curse exists. In fact, most people are proud to identify as a “cursed” denizen of the Yampa Valley. The curse makes you yearn to return to the valley after you’ve left. If you leave, your absence won’t be for long. As Strings Music Festival’s artistic administrator, you might say it’s my job to make sure visiting musicians fall under the Yampa Valley curse.

If you go

• 7 p.m. Saturday, July 7: Mélange

• 11 a.m. Tuesday, July 10: Doctor Noize

• 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 11: Attacca Quartet

• 8 p.m. Friday, July 13: Nnenna Freelon

• 7 p.m. Saturday, July 14: Alpin Hong: Chasing Chopin

Tickets: 970-879-5056, StringsMusicFestival.com

Classical musicians can choose to travel anywhere during their summers off. Which place is the friendliest, happiest or most welcoming? Could any place be all three? Enter Steamboat Springs. The vast majority of Strings Festival Orchestra musicians are returning from previous summers. In fact, Laura Albers, associate concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, has spent 32 days in Steamboat over the past three summers. Joel Noyes, assistant principal cello of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, has been here 39 days. John Macfarlane, assistant principal second violin of the Lyric Opera Orchestra of Chicago, has spent a whopping 52 days in Steamboat over the past few summers.

It would take an annual Front Range weekender 17 years to amass the same amount of time in Steamboat as Macfarlane. And our young artist brass quintet, C Street Brass, returns for its sixth summer in a row, racking up more than 84 days in our corner of Colorado. For those who return, their invitation quickly turns into a negotiation. How long can they stay? A bassoonist once asked me, “So when are you going to program bassoon in every concert? I want to spend all summer here.”

Many artists also yearn to return because they’ve built meaningful relationships with locals, particularly the valley’s young people. This summer, three different artists from Strings School Days, the festival’s free music education program, return for full-length concerts. Mélange, formerly known as Shuffle, returns tomorrow for the third time. The first two trips were to mentor music students at Steamboat Springs Middle School and Emerald Mountain School.

On Saturday, they’ll take the Strings stage for an interactive program of Broadway, jazz and Beethoven, followed by a cookie reception with their middle school friends. Alpin Hong, the artist who started Strings School Days with Executive Director Elissa Greene, returns July 14 for his program Chasing Chopin as well as a Strings fundraiser July 12, for which he is composing a special piece. Jarabe Mexicano, who performed for elementary school students in the fall, will perform a family concert July 31.

It’s one thing to be able to see world-class musicians in your beloved mountain town, but it’s another to know that those artists are super invested in the community.

What more could we want as a venue, or a town? The Yampa Valley Curse isn’t a curse, really. It’s more like the Sleeping Giant’s gift. Strings counts itself lucky and grateful that returning artists count the valley as their summer home.

Katie Carroll is the director of artistic administration and education at Strings Music Festival. 

 


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