By Mira Brody EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – In the 19th century, parlor music was a popular form of entertainment. Singers and musicians would put on small, intimate performances in the parlor of their own homes for the enjoyment of a small group of family members and guests. On Friday, March 26, the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center hosted their own parlor concert featuring the Cascade Quartet from Great Falls on stage, and the Kronos Quartet, who joined virtually on-screen. Attendees were in for a rare treat—spaced out on stage with the musicians themselves, we could practically feel the vibrations of the string instruments in harmony as they played.
“Of course with classical chamber music, a lot of times the way it was written, it was meant for experiences like this—parlor concerts—the idea of being in living rooms with the players so that we can actually hear what is being said by composers,” said WMPAC’s Executive Director, John Zirkle on stage before the show. “We’ve had some performances of new music in the past and there’s an ethos on new music that says, you know, to really grasp it, you need to get on top of the music. And tonight we’re really going to have that opportunity.”
The Cascade Quartet includes violinists Mary Papoulis and Megan Karls, violist Alyssa Roggow, and cellist Thad Suits. The group was established by the Great Falls Symphony Association in 1978 with the intention of bringing live string music to local audiences and enriching the community. In addition to performing all over the state of Montana and the northwest, the resident quartet has successful outreach and educational programs in the local schools as well as the Great Falls Youth Symphony.
Cascade’s talent has reached national recognition—in 1996 they were one of five ensembles selected for Chamber Music America’s Educator/Ensemble Seminar at Oberlin Conservatory, and in 1998 the quartet participated in a cultural exchange concert series with the Lethbridge Quartet from Canada. In 2003, the quartet collaborated with cellist Yo-Yo Ma alongside his concerto performance with the Great Falls Symphony.
San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet is made up of violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, Hank Dutt on viola, and Sunny Yang on cello. The San Francisco-based classical group focuses on modern classical music and is considered one of the most celebrated and influential classical groups of our time, performing thousands of concerts and collaborating with many of the world’s most accomplished composers and performers.
Kronos’ newest undertaking, “50 for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire,” is a string quartet commission, performance, education and legacy project, which offers free sheet music of their original compositions so musicians all over the world can hone their craft.
Friday was one of four performances featuring Cascade and Kronos, and the final show on the center’s winter marquee.
“This is the final show of this season, we’ve made it through the year, and the way I’m really viewing this is this is like the coda in music—it’s like a big exhale at the end of quite a long year,” Zirkle said.
He noted that although it was a strange and difficult year of adapting the performing arts parallel to a pandemic that prevents us from gathering, WMPAC’s winter season, because of its virtual platform WMPAC.live, reached more viewers than ever before—nearly 10,000 total. Zirkle’s personal favorite adaptation was “Through the Fourth Wall,” in which they transformed the WMPAC stage into a life-sized escape room type game that served 400 people through 71 unique experiences—all without a live performance.
Despite the challenges, Zirkle is optimistic about the center’s upcoming summer season and looks forward to integrating more of the offerings that worked well in winter, including an outdoor performance in the woods. He’s also eager to reach newcomers who have arrived with Big Sky’s growth.
“Right now we need to rebirth,” Zirkle told EBS. “This last year has been devastating. We are still here. We’re still a new center so there were things that were working really well before we had to close down so we want to get back to that.”