A Mountain Town Orchestra is Born

There are obvious reasons one might love a mountain town: nature at your doorstep, easy access to outdoor activities all year round and the sense of community found in small towns. Because the sense of well-being, which nature and outdoor endeavors are known to provide, also encourages artistic endeavors of all kinds, the obvious attractions are often intertwined with the arts; visual, performance and musical interpretation to name a few.

Ernest Richardson, the music director, first came to Steamboat Springs for a summer in the early 90s to work with John Sant’Ambrogio and Strings Music Festival. Secretly, he’d heard about fly fishing on the Yampa and wanted to try his hand at that too. It wasn’t long before Richardson fell in love with the Steamboat community, along with the fly fishing, and he began spending several weeks a year in the valley.

In 1997, Richardson founded the Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory, a nonprofit dedicated to mentoring and growing young chamber musicians in an inspiring mountain setting. The conservatory is dedicated to teaching a balanced approach to living and includes outdoor activities and leadership skills in the summer curriculum. The program has gained international attention and continues to attract the finest faculty and leading young musicians from around the world.

In 2005, Richardson was approached by the community about helping to develop a more balanced orchestra with a greater variety of instruments. At that time, the small community orchestra was predominantly strings, especially violins, because that was where local music teachers excelled. Richardson began to recruit out of town musicians to join the local members for seasonal concerts. “It’s like putting together a sports team,” says Richardson. “Someone coordinates, everyone practices and eventually the team begins to hit on all cylinders.” The effort has attracted many excellent and talented musicians from across the US and the globe.
Currently the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra presents three concerts a season — one in the fall, a holiday concert and a spring concert. Richardson is dedicated to exploring new music each season with the goals of growing the musical expertise of both local and visiting musicians and at the same time maturing the musical understanding and ear of the Steamboat Springs audience.
In addition, as part of its mission to provide learning experiences for community musicians of all ages, the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra hosts Youth Immersion Workshops, which occur in tandem with the orchestra’s seasonal concerts. Local and visiting musicians provide clinics and mentoring to inspire and grow Steamboat’s young musicians. The orchestra also sponsors the high school string ensemble class which is taught by Teresa Steffen Greenlee, concertmaster of the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra. Richardson likens learning music to an infant learning language. “First the child listens to language, then he begins to speak, then read and then write. But fluency can only be achieved when the child is immersed in the language,” he explains. “The immersion workshops and high school ensemble allow students to speak music together and they become a musical community.”