Strings Music Festival: Coming home to Steamboat each summer
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Each summer, classical musicians disperse in droves from their urban dwellings to the lovely, soft places of the world — places like Steamboat Springs.
In these lush settings, where tourists flock for recreation, musicians are afforded an opportunity to make music with a kind of intensity and artistic engagement they might not get from their day-to-day occupations back home and with colleagues they might rarely see.
For many, this is an annual tradition, and some return to the same festivals for decades. Their kids get to know other festival musicians’ kids as summertime family friends.
Strings Music Festival has been a big part of that tradition for me during the past 11 years, but I also have worked for many other festivals (and still do). What makes one festival exhilarating and another humdrum may be too broad a question to answer fully here, but artistic vision, understanding, building trust within the community and pitch-perfect programming are key components.
But what I would like to tell you is what it’s like being a part of a busy summer music festival from the inside.
Festival season fun is marked as much by variety as intensity. There’s no time to get bored.
One day I find myself recording Mahler and Strayhorn arrangements in a surprisingly acoustically lovely wine production facility with barrels stacked to the ceiling in eastern Washington wine country. The next, it might be the Poulenc Sextet in a refurbished power station.
Here at Strings, my venue doesn’t change daily, but the range of ensembles and repertoire is even broader. We’ll go from an evening of solo piano (Van Cliburn competition winners, usually) to full orchestra plus soloist(s) in the space of three days, with big-name pop, jazz or bluegrass acts in between.
On days when I’m not actively recording a concert or giving onstage commentary, there’s an ever-growing pile of yesterday’s audio to mix, edit, upload and share with artists and the music director for approvals. Keeping all of this straight takes planning and a rigorous organizational scheme, while maintaining a certain openness to inevitable last-minute changes is key to staying sane.
The best part of the festival for all of us at Strings is the people we see year after year: patrons, staff and, of course, our musician friends. Even those who might be new to the festival become friends very quickly.
Familiar faces shine warmly up at us from the audience. And Steamboat locals never fail to bowl us over with their incredible hospitality. When I arrive unannounced at the door of my favorite restaurant here each June, I’m greeted by name with, “Welcome home. How was your year?”
Now I’d better get back to work. Enjoy the summer, and be sure to go out and listen.
Jamey Lamar is a classical recording engineer and producer. He has worked with leading ensembles, soloists and festivals across the country. This is his 11th season at Strings Music Festival.
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