Park City Music Festival turns 27
July 8, 2011
The Park City International Music Festival turns 27 this year.
That makes the event, which is also known as the Park City & SLC Music Festival, the oldest chamber-music celebration in Utah.
For organizers/founders Leslie and Russell Harlow, it’s been a labor of love.
"When Leslie started this thing, we weren’t even married, yet, and I was doing the NOVA Chamber series in Salt Lake," Russell Harlow said during an interview with The Park Record. "A couple of years later, I left the NOVA and became co-director."
"I had just moved here from New York in 1984 and decided to do it," Leslie Harlow said. "I called violinist Paul Rosenthal, whose number I got from a friend. I said, ‘You don’t know me, but would you like to come and play a music festival in Utah?’
Without hesitation, Rosenthal agreed.
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"I just sat there for a few seconds because I wasn’t even prepared for that response," Leslie said with a laugh.
That same day, Leslie called cellist Jeff Solow and violinists Bill Preucil and Glenn Dicterow, who is now the concertmaster for the New York Philharmonic.
"That’s how it started, and it’s been going on ever since," she said.
The Harlows’ goal for the festival was simple. They wanted to play music with great musicians and have a good time doing it.
"The festival is not a museum," Leslie said. "It’s not a preservation society. The performances are not like that at all. We try to get players who have that extreme level of self-expression in their playing.
"All of our guests are soloists and like to take chances," she said. "We call them extreme classical players and most of them teach at major music schools and major conservatories. Sometimes the players will participate in the festival because of who is attending, and sometimes musicians who live in New York on the same street have never met each other, but become friends because they have played together here in Park City at the festival," Leslie said.
Russell remembered when he first asked world-renowned violinist Arturo Delmoni to come to Park City a couple of years after the festival’s debut.
"I called Arturo and I said, ‘I’m Russell Harlow and I got your number from my friend who told me to get in touch with you. We’re looking for a violinist for our festival.’"
After an uncomfortable pause, Delmoni asked, "Well, who plays there?"
When Russell mentioned Glen Dicterow and Paul Rosenthal, Delmoni immediately said, "OK, I’ll be there."
Still, there have been incidents when the musicians have disagreed with the way the Harlows run the festival.
"Anyone who comes to our festival and says, ‘You can’t do that’ don’t come back the next year," Leslie said. "First off, they don’t want to come back. Secondly, we don’t like to play conservatively."
"We don’t have a lot of rules, except for timeframes," Russell said.
Those time frames include rehearsals and performances, Leslie said.
"We do rehearse a lot," she said. "We average taking nine hours for each piece, so when we have three different programs a week and multiply that by nine, it takes a lot of rehearsal hours.
"But we also find time to do fun things with the artists like grilling and bicycling," she said. "And when we rehearse, we laugh a lot."
The lightheartedness does become an issue for some, said Russell.
"We had a violinist one year who was very unhappy," he said. "He was a very good player, but I noticed how isolated he looked, and I asked him how he was doing. He said, ‘You people laugh and tell jokes during rehearsals,’ and was very unhappy with us.
"In an orchestra, I can understand that you have to be serious and efficient," Leslie said.
"But here we are free and have a lot of fun," Russell said. "We want to create an atmosphere where we’re a bunch of friends making music."
Although getting top-notch musicians to come perform at the event is important, the Harlows know it would be all-for-naught if there was no one to play for.
"We need an audience, because we need to share the music," Russell said. "We want to expose as many people as we can to what we’re doing."
That’s why the Park City International Music Festival has partnered with Mountain Town Music to present free chamber concerts in City Park, throughout the event.
"Mountain Town called us and asked us if we would help them present the chamber concerts," Leslie said. "We’re doing four concerts. We thought it would be fun to introduce people to the festival that way. However, we’re not going to play introductory concerts. We’re going to play real chamber concerts."
"Classical music is the one style where we haven’t explored enough," said Mountain Town Music’s Brian Richards. "So we contacted Leslie and Russell and asked them to help us with this series."
"A lot of kids don’t get that exposure to classical music," Russell said. "Even my music students don’t have enough exposure, so it’s my responsibility to give them the opportunity see the music performed and hear it played live. The music festival is a way to do that."
The Park City Chamber Music Society presents the 27th Annual Summer Park City Music Festival in various venues throughout Park City and Salt Lake City from July 11 through August 1. Tickets are available at the door prior to each concert. Admission is $20 regular admission and $15 for senior citizens and students. For more information, visit http://www.pcmusicfestival.com.