Beethoven Festival uses COVID-19 protocol to preserve chamber concert performances
For information about the Park City Beethoven Festival and its online premiere schedule, visit pcmusicfestival.com.
The Park City Beethoven Festival usually winds down its spring concert season in May, but due to the coronavirus, the music will continue.
Leslie Harlow and her husband Russ, the festival’s founders and resident musicians, have been using their time in COVID-19 isolation to create a virtual presence of music and videos on YouTube.
Some of the recordings are of radio broadcasts from decades past, and some of the recordings are from Beethoven Festival performances from the past few years, she said.
“We are posting a library of concerts that also include old and rare recordings of performances that aren’t even from the Beethoven Festival,” Harlow said. “In the case of some of them, we have the only copies. So we’ve released a few of those and we plan to release more.”
All of these concert recordings premier every Sunday on YouTube, according to Harlow.
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“During the premiere, people who tune in can chat with us via messaging,” she said. “It’s nice to know that they’re out there.”
After the premiere, the music and videos remain online.
“People can go back and listen to them at any time,” Harlow said. “Usually within a couple of days the posts show about 100 views.”
The recordings are all owned by the Beethoven Festival, Harlow said.
“Years ago, Russ put most of the audio recordings we have acquired onto a hard drive, and he referenced as many of them with the programs from the concerts we had,” she said. “That makes things a little easier to see or select what we’re putting up.”
Even with the documentation in place, the couple will do listening sessions to decide which ones to post online, Harlow said.
“We post one a week, usually on Sundays,” she said. “Sometimes we’ll do more, but the standard is at least one.”
The premieres start at 6 p.m. to accommodate the listeners, many of whom have performed with the Harlows throughout the years.
“We wanted to make sure it wasn’t too early for our friends on the West Coast nor would it be too late for our friends in New York,” she said.
One of the recordings, which was posted on May 3, is a performance of Bach’s “Chaconne” by violinist Charles Libove in 1949, Harlow said.
“That is one of the most rare recordings we have,” she said. “It was from a transcription disc from a radio broadcast in New York.”
The recording was originally split apart on two separate discs, and Russ edited them together, Harlow said.
“That performance hasn’t been heard publicly since it was played on the radio,” she said. “The transcription disc was given to Charles, who took them home and put them in a room with a bunch of other recordings.”
The Harlows obtained the disc and a stack of others when they visited Libove in the 1990s.
“Charlie said we could take any of his old recordings, so Russ went back and wrapped them up and carried them on his lap in the plane ride back to Utah,” Harlow said. “They were coated with dust, and very fragile, but Russ cleaned them up.”
In addition to the shellac transcription discs, the Harlows also own 200 reel-to-reel tapes that were given to them by Libove’s wife Nina after he passed away in 2008.
One of the reel-to-reel recordings was of a concert performed in 1963 in Spoleto, Italy, that featured Libove performing in the Beaux Arts Quartet with fellow violinist Alan Martin, violist Jorge Mester and cellist Bruce Rogers, along with soprano Judith Blegen and pianist Charles Wadsworth.
“The recording was broadcast on the radio in New York in 1964, and Charlie had a copy,” Harlow said. Mester, who played the viola on the recording, had only heard part of it back then, and was able to hear it in full when the Beethoven Festival posted it on May 24.
“Jorge, who was my conductor when I studied at Juilliard, is 90 now,” Harlow said. “He tuned in on Sunday, and emailed us and said he was excited to finally hear it.”
In addition to Mester, the Harlows received an email from Susan Wadworth, the director of Young Concert Artists in New York.
“She was there at the Spoleto Festival for the live performance and her husband, pianist Charles Wadsworth, was part of the performance,” Harlow said. “I first met Charles Wadsworth in New York City when he was organizing our Juilliard student chamber groups play at Lincoln Center years ago.”
Gathering and posting these concerts and more helps the Beethoven Festival’s parent organization Park City Chamber Music Society fulfill its mission to “promote and preserve the art of live classical music performance for the enjoyment of all,” Harlow said.
“We are not only a performing organization but also a historical preservation society, making sure that performances that would otherwise be lost and never heard again,” she said.
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