Chamber Music in Telluride and Ouray
Chamber music was originally intended to be performed in a palace chamber – that is, an intimate setting – and is performed by a small number of musicians, usually from three to six. This is not “big” music, of the sort that thunders out of a symphony, but it’s some of the greatest music ever composed. It’s also some of the most challenging to perform: with such a small number of instruments, every note stands out. Everything counts. For the next two weeks, there’s a chance to hear some of the world’s finest chamber music right here in the San Juans. This year, both the Telluride Chamber Music Festival and its Ouray County counterpart, the San Juan Chamber MusicFest, seem committed not only to putting on great concerts, but to introducing this intimate, sublime art form to those unfamiliar with classical music. The Telluride event’s title says it all: “Composers…Best of the Hit Parade!”
On Friday morning, the Festival offers a free musical concert for pre-school through high-school-age children at the Sheridan Opera House, where kids can not only listen to chamber music, they can quiz the musicians and see instruments up close. Saturday night brings a concert with works by Schubert and Tchaikovsky. The latter’s piece, called Souvenir de Florence, is a sextet for two violas, violins and cellos – unfamiliar to the composer, who had only written quartets. (Composing Souvenir was arduous “Not for wont of new ideas, but because of the novelty of the form. One requires six independent yet homogenous voices. This is unimaginably difficult.”)
On Sunday, the Festival concludes with a performance on the lighter side: mezzo-soprano Erin Neff’s “From Spain With Love.” What exactly Neff’s title means – she chooses her own repertoire – the Festival’s President Warner Paige is not quite sure. “I don’t know what she’ll perform,” he said gamely. “She’s quite fun and popular. We put her on anytime she can come.”
Beginning next Thursday, the San Juan Chamber MusicFest picks up where the Telluride event leaves off: with four days of classical concerts aimed squarely at the masses. “Symphonies are struggling in Denver,” says Ouray County Performing Arts Guild President Sue Hillhouse. “We want to present a few things that will appeal to a younger, less-formal audience.” A number of MusicFest programs are short, and designed to entice families and children; others are meant to lure in return visitors. All of the works are brilliant, starting with conductor and pianist Max Levinson’s focus on one particular musician. “Quite selfishly, I absolutely love playing Beethoven,” he says. “No matter how many times I do it, I always discover something new.” Thus, in addition to seminal pieces by Rachmaninov, Camille Saint-Saens and Mussorgsky, Levinson’s programs are populated by works of the great German composer, including the “justifiably famous” Moonlight Sonata (“I’ve played it seventy-five-plus times in my life and never tire of it”), and one of the most famous pieces in Chamber music, Opus 70, Piano Trio in D major, also known as the Ghost trio. Beethoven had nothing to do with the name “Ghost trio” (nor, for that matter, did he title his Sonata in C-Sharp minor Moonlight Sonata). According to the All-Music Guide, “Ghost” gets its nickname from the “strangely scored and undeniably eerie-sounding slow movement…the ghostly-sounding work may have had its roots in sketches for a Macbeth opera that Beethoven was contemplating at the time.” Gramophone has called Levinson’s playing “of assurance and maturity, of discriminating and perceptive poetry,” but the conductor tips his baton to a higher power. “Every composer speaks in a different way,” he says. “I’m feeling the pull of Beethoven’s music. I find I keep coming back to him.” For a complete listing of musical performances, visit ocpag.org.
Telluride Theatre Summer Presentation
For the fourth straight year, principals from Telluride Theatre and visiting artists from New York are collaborating on a summer production. Each year’s play begins first with an idea; next, improvisation and collaboration between director, writer and cast; and finally, a performance on stage. This year, “We wanted to do something to make people smile that was very silly,” the play’s director Jen Wineman says. The result is The Boogravian Opera Nacionale is Presenting All Peoples Very Nice Spectacle: WAKE UP!
Boogravian, presented in a mixture of “Boogravian” and English, concerns a group of sub-par thespians who arrive in Tellutown (as they refer to it) to perform their national epic. “England’s epic might be Hamlet, and America’s might be Our Town,” Boogravian’s director Jen Wineman explains. “This is theirs.” The trouble is, these actors have never performed in a play, their acting isn’t very good to begin with, and their English is worse. Boogravia is “a sad little country, wedged just between Bumblefuggria and East Jesustan.” The Boogravians have learned to speak English by watching TV and movies, and as a result, “There’s a lot of dirty language,” Wineman says. “It’s sort of a clown show,” with a lot of physical comedy along the lines of “Chaplin holding a fight with a coat rack.”
In fact, Wineman’s background in clowning comes from a serious place: Yale Drama School, where she studied with Christopher Bayes, “my main funny teacher.” It was there that she learned French styles of clowning, and the methods and principals of the Italian Comedia dell’Arte – experience she brings to the show. Like clowns, she explains, the play’s principals “have a lot of big emotions, and they are very naïve. They’re simple people trying to do something extraordinary” – perform a national epic, which they have never done, in a language they have barely spoken. The shows antics are “extremely stupid, in a very smart way,” Wineman says. She sums up the psychology of clowning quite cannily: “Clowns have no ability to handle anything, and everything matters a lot.” The play runs Aug. 21-24 at 8 p.m. in the Telluride Pavilion (the white tent next to the post office). The performance is free, but is not recommended for children under 15.
Sublime to Ridiculous
Chamber Music in Telluride and Ouray