Chamber in the city celebrates its 23rd season |

Chamber in the city celebrates its 23rd season

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

Utah Symphony viola player Leslie Harlow compares classical chamber music to skiing. In the way a skier feels a movement of self-expression on the side of a mountain, Harlow feels freedom when she plays her viola in a chamber music group.

"Chamber music is like flying mentally," she says.

Much like a rock band or jazz ensemble, the musician is king in chamber music ensembles. There is no conductor, and only a handful of players. "It’s like a jam session," Harlow says.

The members of a chamber ensemble must signal each other and listen carefully to subtle cues similar to the way jazz musicians might play together, but Harlow is careful to state that it’s not quite like jazz. While players may take liberties style and tempo, in chamber music, they continue to follow the complex developments and structure composed on the sheet in front of them.

"We have to be so aware of what’s going on with each part, because sometimes our solo lines move around among the other instruments and sometimes two of us are playing a duet," Harlow says. "We have to communicate quickly and listen to each other to stay right together."

Harlow says she can feel a kind of magic in chamber music, and understandably so, perhaps it seems to have created quite a bit of luck in her life.

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To start, Harlow’s passion led her to found the Park City and Salt Lake City Music Festival (Originally called the Deer Valley Chamber Music Festival), which celebrates its 23rd year beginning Thursday, July 12.

The festival unites professional like-minded musicians Harlow has met at other festivals throughout the country and in Canada. It is comprised of 13 intimate performances at Park City’s St. Mary’s Church and Community Church and in Salt Lake at the Libby Gardner Concert Hall. Concerts are performed by three to five musicians, and are typically received by an audience of 100 to 150 people, according to Harlow.

Harlow recalls two decades ago ago hosting 10 concerts for the festival. This year the number is 13, and the festival is split in two there is a series in the fall and in the summer.

This year’s summer series will continue through July 23 and feature the work of Franz Schubert, Ludwig von Beethoven, and more modern composers such as Anton Dvorak and Dimitri Shostakovich. Also included in this year’s program is "Trio for Clarinet Cello and Piano in G Minor" by a seldom-heard female composer Clara Schumann.

Harlow’s love for chamber music also led her to her husband, Utah Symphony clarinetist Russell Harlow.

They met at the symphony: Leslie, raised in Texas, came to Utah after graduating from the music school Julliard as a replacement for a viola player who had left the Utah Symphony for health reasons. Russell, raised in California, had joined the Utah Symphony at 21.

"We didn’t know each other and we both had these chamber series running and they were two of the only chamber music events going on in the state," she recalls.

A few years before Leslie joined the symphony, Russell had organized Nova, a chamber music series for local musicians, a festival that continues to exist today.

Russell has since joined Leslie to collaborate on the Park City and Salt Lake City Music Festival out of their Park City home. The two now live in a second home in Salt Lake and continue to operate their festival out of their Salt Lake house, without a staff or large organization, promoting their festival with the help of copy machines and Macintosh computers (the couple has over 14, according to Leslie, though five are used for computer games and several older models are in storage.)

Musicians for the upcoming festival will arrive Monday for a few days of intensive rehearsals (each piece can take as much as nine hours of intensive rehearsal, says Leslie.)

The Harlows aim to "present a festival pleasing to all audiences from the first-time concertgoer to the chamber music fan," but there’s also a personal incentive involved. Playing at the festival helps them grow as musicians.

"It’s kind of like being athletes," Leslie explained. "You want to play with other players who are really great. The benefit for us is that we love the music and we love to perform and we get to perform with some of the best players in the world, and like athletes who compete with the best, your performance only gets better."

Together, the two have programmed, presented and performed more than 500 chamber music concerts for the Park City and Salt Lake City Music Festival.

Tickets to the festival are $20 for adults, and $15 for students and seniors. Concerts will be held at Park City’s St. Mary’s of the Assumption Church on July 12 and 19, and at Park City Community Church on July 15 and 22. All concerts begin at 8 p.m. For other dates outside of Park City, visit .