Teacher, conductor, friend
Ryan Summerlin March 22, 2013
When Kenny Evans arrived in Summit County in 1969, there was no community orchestra, no Breckenridge Music Festival, no program to introduce children to classical music. The sounds of strings and timpani, horns and woodwinds, had yet to reverberate off the mountainsides.
But the lure of snow would change all of that.
“That’s what brought us here in ’69; we wanted to ski,” Evans said. “You still had some dirt streets and even some boardwalks – it was the silver called snow.”
Evans taught in public schools in Longmont from 1956 to 1960 and then sent himself to the University of Iowa in 1960 to get a doctorate in woodwind performance.
“I’m primarily an oboeist,” Evans said. “They put you through all of the little loopholes that they can before they give you the degree. … There would be 6,000 starting the program; there will be about 1,000 that will survive the program. But if you decide you’re going to do it and you have enough guts to stick it out, it’s worth it.”
After finishing his Ph.D., Evans returned to teach at the University of Northern Colorado.
“The neat thing about advanced education – and even when you’re teaching little boys and girls, I think those are the spices of my life, those little squirts in sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth grades – I never had so much fun in all my life,” Evans said. “And that’s teaching.”
Evans used his skills in teaching and performing to start the Breckenridge Music Institute in 1980. The Institute hired 50 professional musicians and brought them to Summit County to play.
“I decided it was a perfect spot for a music festival, in Breck, because we were there, and it worked,” he said. “It’s one of the most extraordinary festivals in America. I got the best soloists and artists I could get my hands on.”
Evans ran the Institute for 11 years before moving on, and under the new moniker of the Breckenridge Music Festival, it has grown to a million-dollar business.
“He’s the person who first got classical music up into this mountain community,” said Janet Bierbaum, professional harpist and board member and violinist for the Summit Community Orchestra. “There really wasn’t any (National Repertory Orchestra) – no (Breckenridge Music Institute), (Breckenridge Music Festival), AlpenGlow. He went around and was active in the community. … He got it started up here.”
When Evans decided to take a break from the Institute around 1995, he became involved with the Summit Community Orchestra. About 10 years ago, depending upon who you ask, Evans was asked to conduct the ensemble, and he’s been doing it ever since.
“Every concert is a new creation,” Evans said. “These are not professionals that I can rely on them to really play it correctly. We have to do a lot of drill time, and it turns out to be a positive experience for the musicians and the audience for whom we are playing.”
“One of his famous quotes when we are rehearsing is ‘not quite,’ meaning there’s some work needed right there on that section,” said Erika Krainz, board member and violinist for the Community Orchestra. “‘Give that a little elbow grease right there,’ he says.”
Evans said a lot of his previous teaching had been in smaller groups or applied one on one; so conducting the Community Orchestra has been a new kind of challenge.
“When you do an orchestra, you have a number of different instruments, so you are involved with knowing the score and being able to present technically, as well as musically, all you can to your charges,” he said.
“It’s one of the joys of my life, period. If I can get communities to touch the extreme – we get to touch genius, we touch Mozart we touch Bach, Stravinsky, a whole basket, and those people I just mentioned, those people are all geniuses, and we get to touch them. I talk about them being my friends. I talk to the orchestra about my friend, J.S. Bach. It may sound silly, but before coming down here, I was working on my scores, trying to memorize as much as I can. The conductor does not conduct the music; he conducts the orchestra. It’s a long journey.”
Bierbaum said Evans’ passion, talent and inspiration remind her of her father, a professional musician and professor.
“He’s Kenny,” Bierbaum said. “He’s very disciplined, very demanding, but there’s a very soft, generous side to him. He’s been very generous with his time and commitment to the community orchestra.”
Evans said that when he’s conducting the Summit Community Orchestra, he uses the word discipline endlessly.
“The spectrum of music from beginning to end – the disciplined practice that one goes through and develops the skill that fits that instrument and gains a certain level of proficiency – you don’t want to throw that away,” Evans said. “I will admit that I’m a hard nose. I don’t have time to ding around; I’ve got to go to work. It’s fun – the old man here says we’re going to have fun by doing it well.”
“He’s just one fine musician, a good leader,” said Tony Flitcraft, violinist and treasurer of the Community Orchestra. “He wastes no time in rehearsal. He gets disturbed when people are late. He’s very organized, very precise, as well as talented and a good conductor.”
Flitcraft said Evans could be very critical and very forceful in rehearsals, but he somehow always did it in a nice way.
“He’s always in good humor; at the end of each rehearsal, he thanks everybody for being there,” he said. “I doubt there’s anybody in Summit County who knows anything about music at all who doesn’t know him.”
Flitcraft said Evans has built an orchestra of local talent; local people who, like himself, may not have picked up an instrument since high school but still have a love for classical music. And though the group is a mish mash of ability and experience levels, Evans always pushes them to aim higher.
“He selects music just a little bit over our heads and makes us work for it,” Flitcraft said. “For this concert, there’s a Bartok, a Bach fugue, Holst, so it’s a wide variety of music, and the technical requirements are just not quite within reach, so close that we’re willing to get there.”
“He’s really good at picking repertoire that fits this group,” Krainz agreed. “He knows the strengths and weaknesses of this group. And I think he did a pretty good job with this spring concert. We’ll miss his willingness to always be there and help out whenever we ask him.”
Krainz said Evans has been an instrumental and dedicated part of the Summit Community Orchestra.
“He’s poured his heart and soul into elevating the level of playing and musicianship,” she said. “He’s so selfless about it, trying to make the orchestra the best it can be. There’s no ego involved; a lot of the time, conductors have big egos, and he doesn’t.”
Evans will conduct his last concert with the orchestra this weekend. But just because it’s his last time wielding the baton in front of this group doesn’t mean he has stopped striving for perfection through discipline.
“Our last concert is this Sunday, and I’m in a state of fright because, of the last six weeks, three or four rehearsal dates have been cut out,” Evans said.
“We’re going to miss him, of course,” Flitcraft said. “But he’s built a very fine orchestra, and he’s attracted what talent there is here to it.”
“Kenny is a veteran, and we’re fortunate to have him for those years,” Bierbaum said. “He never knew who was going to show up. Sometimes, it was only a handful of people, but he stuck with it, and that’s what a community orchestra is. Everybody is welcome.”
Despite his departure from the Summit Community Orchestra, music will continue to be a part of Evans’ life.
“I’m 81, and my wife turns 80 next week,” Evans said. “And I’ve said to her, we’re going to travel and enjoy and teach and still be in touch but not necessarily responsible for the continuance of the Community Orchestra. I’ll continue to practice and teach. When you get that degree on the end, the Ph.D., you think you can do it, but you have to keep it alive every day. That’s the way that works.”