Moab Music Festival to feature world-renowned artists outside chamber genre

The Moab Music Festival will bring Béla Fleck and other major headliners as the festival celebrates its 25th season.

The festival runs Aug. 31 through Sept. 11 this year.

Though the festival still focuses on chamber music, this year will also feature bluegrass musicians such as Fleck, Latin jazz from the Requinte Trio and Marcus Roberts, one of the premier jazz pianists in the world.

The opening night concert on Friday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. at Star Hall will focus on works that composers wrote at the age of 25. The closing night is Sunday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Grand County High School Auditorium.

The festival coincides with the 100th birthday of composer Leonard Bernstein, known for writing the scores of musicals like West Side Story. On closing night, Jamie Bernstein, daughter of Leonard Bernstein, will share anecdotes about her father’s life and music as musicians play a selection of Bernstein’s Broadway and traditional concert hall compositions.

On Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 4, Rocky Mountain Power will sponsor the free Family Concert. Festival executive director Laura Brown said that desserts and refreshments will be provided by the KZMU Youth Rock Camp program. The concert will feature the Haas sisters, Marco Granados and the Requinte Trio. Winners of five music scholarships for Grand County students will be announced at the concert, said Brown.

There will also be a free open rehearsal on Saturday, Sept. 9, Brown said. Brown requested that attendees reserve a free ticket on the music festival website.

In the beginning

The duo of Leslie Tomkins and Michael Barrett founded the festival in 1992.

Barrett had driven through Moab when visiting his parents in Logan and described the area as “spectacular,” said Tomkins, who is also the artistic director for the festival and will be performing on viola. Tomkins and Barrett had previously discussed starting a music festival.

“He said, ‘I think you would really love this place.’ We went back together the following year and I was just incredibly taken with the whole place and everything about it. I thought, we should do this music festival here … the rocks in Moab and the whole landscape are so stunning and striking, they really … inform the performances,” Tomkins said.

However, she said, it is not the easiest place to perform. Artists are stunned by the beauty of the area, but also have to adapt to unusual challenges.

“You have no green room, there’s no air conditioning so your instrument is doing all kinds of weird things all the time. You don’t get to warm up backstage before you go out and do your thing … you have to be a hardy soul to be able to do it.”

After 25 years, Tomkins said the spirit of the festival is still intact; the tagline “Music in Concert with the Landscape” was part of the festival early on, she said.

“Really that’s the driving force behind it, which has not changed at all,” she said. “The germ of the whole thing remains the same [though] certainly the number of concerts, the number of artists and some of the venues have changed as we’ve gone along.”

Tompkins also spoke to what she calls the “mission” of the festival.

“The mission … of making a safe space for people to experience something that’s nourishing to their souls and their spirits is perhaps even more important now than when we started,” Tomkins said. “We’re in a time that’s really challenging for many of us and just to think of human beings as creatures that have sensitive spirits that need uplifting and attention and having a way to help do that, it’s really an important part of it to me.”

Barrett said that 25 years of music festivals in Moab has been a wonderful experience.

“I just have a lot of gratitude about … we have so many volunteers. We have a great volunteer board of directors that are generous with their money and their time. We have an incredible staff, they really work really, really hard and then just the town of Moab,” Barrett said.

Still growing… but fun

Barrett estimates that the festival has grown to roughly eight times its original size as Moab has also grown.

“We always wanted it to have the right size and the right feel. We wanted it to be Moab’s music festival… and [for it to] have a lot of pride and ownership from the town and the people who live here,” Barrett said.

Tomkins said that concert guests could expect a fun, accessible experience, whether they attend a classical concert or opt for a more modern style of music.

“I always like to tell people that you don’t have to know anything about music to have a good time at our event,” she said. “One of the draws for people who really haven’t known about chamber music beforehand is that they get to see what the process is and that people are, and what an intense and interesting activity it is to make music together … wherever you’re at it will be a high-quality experience and should be pretty fun.”

For more information about the festival and featured artists, visit the Moab Music Festival website at www.moabmusicfest.org.

ByBy Rose Egelhoff

The Times-Independent