In perfect harmony

World-renowned musicians enjoy their 'working vacations' in Steamboat Springs

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— A rehearsal for a Strings in the Mountains chamber concert is part business meeting of power brokers, part team huddle and part creative discussion. But in Steamboat Springs, even the best musicians in the world are on Steamboat time.

On Thursday morning, pianist David Deveau and cellist Anne Martindale Williams were preparing to rehearse in the Strings Music Tent.

The tent was empty besides the musicians, and the two good friends talked candidly as they waited for the third musician in the trio to arrive.

"I hear he's a late riser," Deveau said with a smile.

He was sitting on the front of the stage and recognized the 9:30 a.m. rehearsal time had just passed.

Williams' cello, a 300-year-old Italian-made instrument, leaned against her body as she sat in a chair on stage and played a few notes.

Two rehearsals were actually going on that morning. In the practice room behind the stage, a quartet began to rehearse. Strings in the Mountains has more than 16 chamber concerts over the summer and accommodates 60 musicians. Thirteen were in town on Thursday, not to mention the six-piece Cajun band Beau Soleil that came that night to play a Friday performance.

Also at that moment, crews were loading up equipment for a Music on the Green concert in the Yampa River Botanic Park. This is the busiest time of the year for the employees of Strings and the hard work is paying off. Attendance at the concerts, including the Music on the Green shows, has gone up this year compared to last year.

While the wheels of Strings turned, Deveau and Williams were relaxed, seemingly unconcerned about time. Williams continued to play the cello and talk. They eventually seized the moment to talk about a piece by Franz Schubert the trio would perform for the Night in Vienna chamber concert Saturday.

"The second one," Deveau said as Williams played a part of a melody, "maybe it's possible to slow it up on the next beat."

"Yes, yes," Williams said, performing the idea. "It's very difficult."

Williams' fingers climbed to the neck of the instrument to higher notes.

"If I can get there, I'll stay."

The discussion went on in a gentle, intelligent manner, reflecting both musicians' accomplished backgrounds.

Deveau is an MIT music professor, Juilliard master's graduate and has appeared as a soloist with the San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Houston and St. Louis symphonies, the Minnesota Orchestra and with the Boston Pops.

"Your slow movement sounded so great the other day," Deveau said within their discussion of the Schubert piece, commenting on a recent performance by Williams.

Williams is the principal cellist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, a position she has had since 1979. She also travels the world playing chamber concerts and teaches music at Carnegie Mellon and Duquesne universities.

At that moment, the third member of the trio, highly acclaimed violinist Ivan Chan, who plays with the nationally respected Miami String Quartet, walked in the tent.

"Am I late?" he asked as he reached the stage and pulled out his instrument?

"No, not at all," Williams said.

"Are you late?" Deveau chimed in politely.

Later that day, Deveau, who has been coming to Steamboat for 13 years to play chamber music, said Strings provides the opportunity to work with some of the best musicians in country.

He has performed the Schubert piece maybe 100 times in his career.

"But it's always wonderful to do a piece like that with new musicians," he said.

Chan and Williams make playing the piece new, Deveau said.

For the musicians, a trip to Steamboat for a chamber concert is work, but it is also part of a summer vacation, so everyone is laid back.

"It's a working vacation," Deveau said. "That's the kind I prefer. I like playing concerts in beautiful destinations."

Everyone smiled and prepared to rehearse after Chan's arrival. This was only the second time the trio has played together. Their performance was on Saturday, so it didn't take long to tune and get down to work.

After a few comments about the speed of the music, the trio roared into the piece.

The music was an explosion of sound. It filled the tent, coaxing people walking by peek inside. The melodies traded between the three instruments as the trio looked back and forth from their music to each other and back again.

Though the musicians hadn't played the piece much together, it sounded flawless to an untrained ear. They played for several minutes before stopping for discussion. The work began when the masters' ears heard subtle problems that needed fixed.

Using words only trained musicians would understand, the three discussed portions of the piece, calling out the number of measure, discussing their opinions, then playing on.

"I always feel like it's so fortere," Deveau said at one point. "I have the melody."

Chan motioned a look of understanding and approval and said something softly.

"Double bar," Deveau said in response, and the trio was off again.

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