Park City Beethoven Festival moves forward while facing COVID-19 challenges
Founder hopes conditions will allow in-person concerts to return
Park City Beethoven Festival founder Leslie Harlow’s New Year’s resolution is to schedule a safe and in-person concert season.
“We are planning concerts this year where the artists and our staff will all be vaccinated,” Harlow said. “We will prefer the audience also to wear masks.”
Harlow and her husband Russell have been busy scheduling monthly Beethoven Festival concerts with the Park City Institute, only to see the first one of the new year, scheduled for Jan. 9, postponed due to the rise of the omicron variant.
“We are also looking to reschedule the concert we had in place for Dec. 12,” Harlow said. “We have musicians lined up who wanted to come, but they all knew that cancellations were possible.”
So, Harlow has set her eyes on next month, starting with pianist John Novacek on Feb. 6.
“We feel confident John will be able to play, because he’s been very careful when he goes and performs,” Harlow said.
The next concert, scheduled for March 13, will feature violinist Stephanie Chase, the winner of the 1982 International Tchaikovsky Competition that was held in Russia.
“Stephanie has performed with us before, and she’s wonderful,” Harlow said. “We believe things will work for her concert, because she and her husband, historic instrument expert Stewart Pollens, have stayed pretty isolated during the pandemic.”
Another spring concert on March 22 will feature violist Paul Neubauer and pianist Gloria Chien.
“They will be in Utah at that time and want to do a concert with us,” Harlow said. “So we are currently looking for a venue for that.”
Harlow and the Park City Beethoven Festival will also be busy in April and May.
“We are looking to schedule some April concerts with Lee and Melissa Livengood,” she said.
Melissa Livengood is a pianist and music coach, and Lee Livengood is a clarinetist with the Utah Symphony, according to Harlow.
“We have some wonderful pieces we’ve been working on that really show off their playing,” she said.
The Park City Beethoven Festival’s winter and spring season will culminate with a concert on May 8 that will feature Utah’s top wind-instrumentalists, Harlow said.
“We have a hand-picked group of the finest musicians from around the state for this ensemble concert,” she said. “Some are our friends from the Utah Symphony, and others are from local schools and universities. So the concert should be really good.”
While Harlow nails down the performances and venues for these concerts, she is looking ahead to the summer.
“We’re in the pre-application phase for the concerts we play at McPolin Barn,” she said. “We are hoping to do four there. And we hope COVID-19 will be more under control by then.”
In addition, Harlow is solidifying plans with Mountain Town Music for Monday night concerts in City Park.
“We’ve had a lot of fun doing those performances,” she said. “We know we have dates, we just need to confirm them.”
In the meantime, the Beethoven Festival will still premiere past chamber concerts on YouTube every Sunday night.
Russell Harlow has been editing these concerts and posting them online since May 2020, according to Leslie Harlow.
“We have 97 videos on the playlist now, and we have had such a great response to them,” she said. “During the premieres, we have people from all over the country join us and chat with us, and we are so happy that people are actually tuning in. We have some who have attended every week.”
Once the premiere broadcast is over, the videos remain accessible for free online, Harlow said.
“We have a playlist on YouTube and people can start and let the videos run as long as they want, or they can choose to randomly play each performance,” she said.
Some of the concerts are just audio recordings, so Russell has been creating slideshows for them, Harlow said.
“We also have a stack of VHS tapes, videos from concerts from the festival’s first couple of years,” she said. “Russ has been going through those and converting them into the digital format. And while the video quality isn’t so great, the sound is fine. But our house is full of electronics — computers, cameras, tape players, televisions and sound systems — to help him do what needs to be done.”
Transferring the tapes to a digital format is a major undertaking, and another challenge is confirming who played what instrument on what piece, Harlow said.
“Russ has scanned all the existing printed programs so he can go back and look at them for reference,” she said. “The problem is we printed the programs in advance, and then we would sometimes change what we would play. There were times when someone had to cancel or we decided to do something different.”
Still, the videos are important to the Park City Beethoven Festival because of their historic significance.
“We’ve been around for nearly 40 years, and some of the videos feature musicians who have retired from playing or are no longer with us,” Harlow said. “Part of our mission is to promote this area as an art center. These shows are very helpful to do that.”
Harlow also enjoys the videos because they help her remember past performances.
“We did so many each summer that Russ and I sometimes don’t recall playing them,” she said with a laugh. “There is so much music, especially when you consider that there is an average of three pieces on each concert. So it’s been fun for us to look back and listen to them.”
For information about the Park City Beethoven Festival, visit facebook.com/beethovenfestivalparkcity and youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAJaI1vlNjmuu6Z9tnaRFvmRUui2Rat2i
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