By Michael Somerby EBS ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
BIG SKY – When the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven were crafting their timeless symphonies, the United States of America we know today was but a twinkle in an eye. Big Sky, for certain, was practically non-existent, as far as the European settlers populating the Eastern regions of the nation were concerned.
In fact, the term “classical music” didn’t yet to exist, and was later applied to the period of music spanning 1750-1820 in order to dignify music considered by many to be beyond reproach.
Fast forward nearly two centuries from the close of the Classical era, and the small mountain town of Big Sky will play host from Aug. 9-11 to the ninth annual Big Sky Classical Musical Festival, an homage to the great works of those days of old.
Atypical to rest of the Arts Council of Big Sky’s summer musical offerings, which tend to include a balance of rock, country, reggae, bluegrass, big band, folk and Americana sounds featured at the weekly Music in the Mountains concert series, this is an opportunity for fans of classical music to relish in the sounds and styling’s that have influenced countless artists ever since.
“I think one of our main goals as the Arts Council of Big Sky is to provide a variety of music throughout the summer,” said Brian Hurlbut, executive director of ACBS. “For a segment of population, classical is important.”
According to Hurlbut, the performances of Big Sky’s festival are unique to summer symphony in Montana, not only due to a level of talent unparalleled at other festivals, but also because the musicians will play classical compositions rather than just “pops” pieces—modern tracks played with orchestra instruments.
“For one, conductor Peter Bay is perhaps one of best known in the world,” Hurlbut said.
The festival kicks off on Aug. 9 at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, with an intimate quintet recital consisting of Jonathan Gunn, clarinet, Angella Ahn, artistic director for the festival and professor of violin and viola at Montana State University, Yvonne Lam, a Grammy winner for her work with Eighth Blackbird ensemble on viola, Alexandra Osborne, violin, and John Eckstein, cello.
Between the five performers, the quintet has performed at the highest levels and on some of the biggest stages in classical music, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, New York City’s Lincoln Center, The Beijing Concert Hall and the White House.
Expect performances of timeless numbers such as Johannes Brahm’s “Clarinet Quintet in B minor.”
On Aug. 10, a free concert is available to the public at Center Stage in Town Center Park, with musicians from the Iron Horse Youth Orchestra opening at 6 p.m., followed by Dallas Brass at 7 p.m.
With a career spanning over 35 years, Dallas Brass has cemented its position as one of the U.S.’s preeminent musical ensembles, blending traditional brass instruments with drums and percussion for a unique, electrifying sound.
Their range is also notable, playing classical masterpieces, Dixieland and swing tunes, Broadway, Hollywood and patriotic music, performing numbers for the likes of Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, sharing stages with the late Bob Hope, collaborating with New York, Philadelphia and Cincinnati Pops, and playing in legendary venues such as Carnegie Hall and the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
The group’s music has also been featured a number of times on the hit soap opera series, “The Young and the Restless.”
“The Saturday night performance is where we branch out and have some crossover from the classical genre,” Hurlbut said. “Dallas Brass, a premiere brass ensemble, features classical, Broadway, Hollywood and pop tunes … it’s not necessarily a sit down performance.”
The festivities conclude on Aug. 11 with a free symphony performance from the 40-person Big Sky Festival Orchestra, comprised of musicians from the Utah Symphony, Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Dallas Opera Orchestra, among others, held on Center Stage in Town Center Park. Clarinet soloist Jonathan Gunn will play once more, performing Mozart’s “Clarinet Concerto,” this time under the able guidance of Maestro Peter Bay.
Bay has appeared with 75 different orchestras including the National, Chicago, Colorado, Bochum (Germany), Carinthian (Austria), Lithuanian National, and Ecuador National Symphonies, to name a few.
Bay is considered a living legend in the classical genre, and will conduct a performance in Big Sky with the same precision a mastery that has allowed him to lead those orchestras on countless prestigious stages.
For Hurlbut, so much of the festival is geared toward accessibility and exposure.
“We want to make it accessible for everyone,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for people that might not normally go see classical music. For one, there aren’t that many options in this area, and two, performances may be on the expensive side … A family of four can go for free, rather than $150. And this exposes them to the music … when it’s offered for free, maybe they’ll go and be pleasantly surprised.”
Visit bigskyarts.org/big-sky-classical-music-festival/ for more information on the Big Sky Classical Music Festival.