Breckenridge Music Festival returns with community-based concerts

Smaller, free festival runs from Aug. 5-15

Steven Schick, left, performs with Leon Joseph Littlebird during Breckenridge Music’s Gold Fest event on July 16. Schick, artistic director and conductor of the Breckenridge Music Festival, crafted a diverse program centered around optimism and community.
Photo by Joe Kusumoto

Optimism has always been the goal in programming for Breckenridge Music Festival Artistic Director and Conductor Steven Schick. But it’s even more of a focal point this year.

“I’m a realist and so are my colleagues, but if you’re not optimistic then I don’t understand why in the world we would make art,” Schick said. “We don’t need art to tell us the world is circling the drain. What we need art for is to find our way through life.”

Planning for the festival began roughly two and a half years ago, yet those plans shifted multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no festival in 2020, though Breckenridge Music did do six livestreamed Applause@Home events and 50 outdoor pop-up performances throughout the year.

Schick said two different trains of thought have recently emerged in the arts community. He realized he could have completely gone back to his original proposal from 2019, or he and others could take lessons learned from the pandemic in a forward, optimistic direction. He opted for the latter and created a theme around new beginnings.

If You Go

What: Breckenridge Music Festival

When: Aug. 5-15

Where: Riverwalk Center, Carter Park and the Arts District campus

Cost: All concerts are free to attend but require advanced registration. Visit for the full schedule and to reserve a spot.

He hopes to blend a traditional and contemporary repertory while crafting an artistic and educational project for the musicians. Performances are split between the Riverwalk Center and the mobile AirStage to highlight the local communities of Breckenridge and Summit County.

In addition to the 40th annual festival’s progressive theme of looking toward the future, one noticeable change this season is that the event has shrunken in size and scope. The streamlined festival is only 10 days long this year, as opposed to three to five weeks in the past. The time frame helps combat event fatigue and overcrowding at venues used by other organizations such as the National Repertory Orchestra.

“In order to provide the safest experience for musicians, staff and patrons, we needed to make this practical decision to eliminate the overlap and minimize the number of people using the space at one time,” Breckenridge Music Executive Director Tamara Nuzzaci Park wrote in an email.

There is one minor overlap in performers. Three National Repertory Orchestra percussionists are extending their stay in Breckenridge. They will play as a trio along with an ensemble of roughly 15 musicians, many returning from past years.

That smaller ensemble is another adjusted facet of the festival, which usually features a larger orchestra. Schick said the size allows them to fill a unique niche in the Colorado music festival scene, and it allows for more flexible programming such as fitting on the AirStage. It’s also given Schick the opportunity to play with arrangements and create a new sound not tied to guest soloists.

“Beyond the festival, there is the tradition of presenting folk and country music and storytelling and different kinds of things in Breckenridge,” Schick said. “How do you then get out of those silos of programming that the orchestral world is so devoted to, seemingly, to programming across historical boundaries and across genres and things like that? Frankly, having an ensemble the size that we have makes that a lot easier.”

The final major modification is the festival is completely free this year. Nuzzaci Park wrote that they wanted to make performances accessible, and it’s a way of thanking donors who helped the organization through the pandemic.

This year’s Breckenridge Music Festival will feature a small ensemble rather than a traditional orchestra. All shows during the 10-day event are free.
Photo by Joe Kusumoto

Riverwalk Center

Doors for the opening night concert, dubbed “Awakening,” open at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5 at the Riverwalk Center, 150. W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge. The concert features winners of the annual Schmitt Piano Competition and opens with a unique percussion song called “Music for Pieces of Wood” by Steve Reich.

The other Riverwalk performances are scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 7; Thursday, Aug. 12; and Saturday, Aug. 14. Highlights include music by Chopin, Debussy, Beethoven and Brahms. The final main performance, “Nightfall,” has a Faustian suite from “L’Histoire du Soldat” by Stravinsky.

“It may be the only piece that survived all of the iterations … of the schedule from 2019 onward,” Schick said, adding that he wanted to celebrate its centennial. “It’s a delightful piece.”

On the Riverwalks’ lawn each morning are more musical opportunities for the public. People can participate in a yoga session led by Meta Yoga Studios at 8 a.m. while listening to live music.


Three performances on the AirStage are this year’s version of the festival’s Tiny Porch Series. Each features storytellers and original music from emerging composers in a casual, bring-your-own-chair setting among historic properties. The first two — 11 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10; and Wednesday, Aug. 11 — take place at Carter Park, 300 S. High St., Breckenridge.

The third is set for the Arts District campus at the intersection of Ridge Street and Washington Avenue on Thursday, Aug. 12. It will feature a unique drum solo by Schick called “One Liners” written by Erik Griswold. Inspired by rimshots heard after comedians in the Borscht Belt of the Catskill Mountain resorts, Schick will tell jokes by Rodney Dangerfield, Groucho Marx, Steven Wright and others as a drum fill slowly takes over the set, making the jokes incidental.

No matter what shows people see, Schick is glad to be performing in Breckenridge again.

“With so many concerts all of the time you don’t realize what it’s like to have that taken away,” Schick said. “I’m sure that there will be a joyous explosion of energy when we start playing music together. That, I think, I’m really looking forward to.”

Steven Schick performs on the mobile AirStage during Breckenridge Music’s Gold Fest event on July 16. The AirStage will be used for three Tiny Porches events during the Breckenridge Music Festival.
Photo by Joe Kusumoto

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