Chamber music circuit can ignite romance

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— Chamber musicians log a lot of air miles during the summer months. In most cases, instead of sitting with a friend, their instruments ride shotgun in the plane. But they say it's all worth it when they get to play in places such as Sitka, Alaska; Portland, Ore.; Seattle, Wash.; Vancouver, B.C.; and, yes, Steamboat Springs.

"I love Steamboat and every year look forward to playing here," said David Harding, a featured violist with Strings in the Mountains Music Festival. Harding is a fixture on the chamber music festival circuit throughout Canada, the United States, Mexico, Europe, Japan and China. "Steamboat has really nice concert locations and a top-flight roster of players."

After performing pieces by Ravel and Jolivet to an adoring crowd, the next morning Harding mountain biked 22 miles, including up Spring Creek Trail. Impressive indeed for a man who makes his home at sea level in Vancouver, B.C.

"The hiking and mountain biking are great here," Harding said. "I always head for Devil's Causeway -- but just to it -- that's about as far as I'll go."

Harding and his flutist wife, Lorna McGhee, who also is performing at Strings, met at a chamber music festival in Scotland seven years ago.

"It's wonderful to be able to tailor a lifestyle together on the road with our work," he said.

Many musical couplings have emerged at festivals in the months between May and September.

Strings' own music directors Katherine Collier, of Texas, and Yizhak Schotten, of Israel, met at a chamber music festival in Red Lodge, Mont., and unofficially got engaged a few days later. Cellist David Hardy of the National Symphony Orchestra met his wife at a festival in Maui, Hawaii, where Collier and Schotten also are music directors. Pianist Wendy Chen arrives Sunday to perform at Strings next week, and her husband coincidentally teaches at the Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory in Steamboat.

"The joy of festivals is playing with people who love chamber music as much as you do," Collier said. "There's something very powerful about that."

If ever there were a concert to ignite flames of passion, it would be Wednesday night 's Chamber Music Concert entitled "Italian Night of Romance."

The program includes Puccini's Bel Canto Melodies for Saxophone and Piano featuring Donald Sinta on classical saxophone and pianist Kathryn Goodson; Respighi's Sonata in B Minor for violin (Yehonatan Berick) and piano (Chen); and Verdi's String Quartet in E Minor with Berick and Irina Muresanu on violin, Schotten on viola and James Wilson on cello.

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