As Music in the Mountains enters its 32nd year, the organization is taking a long winter look at its various components.
From a modest, and somewhat informal, beginning with 11 musicians three decades ago, MITM has morphed into a highly successful summer music festival.
“Many people think of us as only a summer festival,” Executive Director Angie Beach said in an interview this week. “And we have evolved into a high-caliber classical music festival of orchestra and chamber music. For three weeks, world-class musicians and guest artists perform in the Durango and Four Corners area. But we also have an extensive educational program that runs throughout the year.”
Conservatory MITM, founded by the late Arkady Fomin in 1997, has been the largest summer component of the MITM educational arm. But since Fomin’s unexpected death on May 5, 2014, the project has floundered.
“When Arkady passed away, our board of directors decided to bring the conservatory in-house,” Beach said. “At the time, we believed it was important to continue, even though Arkady’s other major organization, the New Conservatory of Dallas, closed its doors.”
Every organization needs a succession plan, Beach added, and there was one in place when Mischa retired. (Mischa Semanitsky, founder of the festival, died Dec. 3, but the reigns had already been passed to Guillermo Figueroa). But after Fomin’s death, there was no succession plan.
“In the last four years, we’ve tried to continue the conservatory,” Beach said. “But now, we’re taking a hiatus.”
“Many people would like the conservatory to continue,” said Gordon Thomas, president of the MITM Board, “but continuing with it presents many challenges.”
So, the conservatory’s fate is under study this year while the organization’s all-year educational outreach continues.
The MITM Goes to School program started in 1999, Beach said. “It originally was Mischa’s idea. This year, we’ll begin with two January events.”
On Jan. 20, Instrument Discovery Day will encourage students from kindergarten through fifth grade to explore band and orchestra instruments, guitar, piano and even mini voice lessons. It’s an all-day affair at Fort Lewis College. Online signup is available at www.MusicintheMountains.com.
At 4:30 p.m. Jan. 24, a scholarship award reception will be held at Bank of Colorado.
“It’s an hourlong program,” said Sean Mallow, MITM education coordinator. “This year’s scholarship winners will be given certificates, and some of last year’s winners will perform. Last year, we gave out 61 scholarships. They help defray the cost of private music lessons.”
Beach said that area music teachers are consulted closely about programs and scholarships.
“The educational program was, originally, Mischa’s idea,” she said. “He started it in 1999. Today, we view the entire program as a pipeline, starting early to expose kids to music as a choice, just like athletics as a choice.”
The program’s eight components follow the pipeline idea, from early exposure through scholarships, free festival tickets and the annual summer family concert and picnic hosted by the Festival Orchestra at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.
Over the years, the festival and the educational programs have changed dramatically. In many ways, the conservatory was primarily the summer home of Fomin’s New Dallas Conservatory. Its annual roster revealed that it appealed mostly to out-of-state students.
“Arkady’s model came from his Dallas Conservatory,” Beach said. “He had his supporters, his faculty, his and their students. It was perfect for him, and now we have to look closely at that.”
MITM Goes to School is primarily for music students in our area.
“We’re open to bringing back the conservatory in 2019,” Beach said, “if we can find appropriate funding and perhaps a new model.”
For more information, visit www.MusicintheMountains.com or call 385-6820.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.