Breckenridge classical music mavens honored at August dinner
Special to the Daily
The early evening sun filtered through the drizzle on Aug. 2 as many of the most prominent members of Summit County’s classical music scene filed into the Breckenridge Nordic Center, dressed to the nines. They were all there to pay tribute to Dr. Kenneth Evans and his wife, Dona, who were both essential in bringing classical music to the mountains.
It all started on a farm in Windsor, Colorado. Growing up, he helped his parents run the farm and take care of livestock, until, as he put it, “Finally I said, ‘I want to play the saxophone.’”
Soon after Evans lost his brother in World War II, his family moved to Denver. There, he met his teacher and mentor, George Roy, who, Evans said, made him do the right thing and taught him discipline, a quality that Evans feels is essential to success. He also told the young Evans that there was only so far he could go in the classical world while playing the saxophone and so encouraged him to take up the oboe.
Decades of study and practice later, Dr. Evans picked up his oboe at the Nordic Center recently and delighted his audience with a lively show. He played an arrangement of Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances” and gave a charming and theatrical performance of “Six Metamorphoses after Ovid” by Britten. The high-ceilinged log room echoed with applause.
During his boyhood in Denver, Evans met another person who would shape the rest of his life: his future wife Dona. The two met in an algebra class in high school. “Dona has been at my side for — can you believe it — 67 years,” said Evans. Soon enough, he told the crowd, “she was 16 and I was 17 and, as you might imagine, it was time to get married.” From then on, said Laura Dziedzic, president of the board of directors of the Breckenridge Music Festival, “Kenny’s dreams became Dona’s dreams.” A year later, they had their first daughter, Christie. They now have four children, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, with one on the way.
“They always worked as a team,” said Mark Clark, instrumental music teacher at Summit Middle School. “They always cared about everyone they came in contact with as human beings.” Dona Evans has been at Dr. Evans’ side in all endeavors including their oboe reed business, his teaching and the Breckenridge Music Festival.
“Dona Evans is a gem beyond compare,” wrote Kathy Azari, a former student of Dr. Evans, in an email. “She always treated students of Dr. Evans’ like they were her own children. She fed us, gave us lots of ice cream and hugs! She was there for me multiple times when I had no one else to turn to. She is that quiet partner in their relationship that offers the strength and stability for not only his success but the success of his students and orchestras.”
After a year of college, Evans joined the United States Air Force Band of Europe. “He was sent for three years,” said Dona Evans. “And when he got his orders to go for three years to Europe, to Germany, I cried for three days I think. Because we had a little baby then, and it was just . . . the world was coming to an end.” However, his wife soon joined him, bringing their baby daughter along. Dona Evans stayed for nine months, working as a stenographer, before returning home to Denver.
It was with his family that Evans first came to the mountains in the 1960s, when his quest to bring classical music to Summit County began. “He could see how beautiful it would be to present music in this environment,” said Dziedzic.
For two or three years, Evans worked to attempt to start a children’s music program, but without success. Then, in 1980, the Father Dyer Church in Breckenridge had its centennial celebration, and Anne Stonington asked Evans to put together a 10-day music festival to mark the anniversary. ‘I’ll provide the orchestra,’ Evans told the church, but you have to put them up and feed them. And that they did.
The original orchestra was composed largely of Evans’ students from UNC, about thirty in total.
The event was so well-received that it was widely agreed that it should be an annual event, and 1981, the Breckenridge Music Institute was created. The Institute was chartered to create a Festival of Music and Jazz, and to run a youth music camp, which it did with immense financial support from Anne Stonington. The group needed a space to perform, and so they reached out to Michael Colpitts, manager of the Bergenhof Restaurant at the base of Peak 8 in Breckenridge. Colpitts, who Evans made a point to thank at the end of the recent dinner, told the BMI that they could have the Bergenhof for performances at no cost. Evans recalled that there were tears in his eyes when the Bergnhof was torn down in 2013.
For thirty-five years after its formal charter, the BMI expanded and grew. It moved from the Bergenhof to the town’s Event Tent to the Riverwalk Center, constructed in 1993 and inspired to some extent by the work done by the BMI, which soon became known as the Breckenridge Music Festival (BMF). When the town of Breckenridge remodeled the Riverwalk Center in 2008, it did so with the contribution of many BMF patrons, including Hans Wurster, who served as the board president for the BMF and was on the steering committee to raise private funds for the center’s new roof.
The Evans have touched many lives on the journey to create the BMF. Richard Jamieson, who taught with Evans at UNC, remembered forming a saxophone quartet with Evans and two others when Evans had just moved to Summit County and recalled going through all the bars in Breckenridge playing Christmas music.
A great deal of the talk at the tribute dinner last week focused on the Evans’ legacy. The Evans have collaborated on so many projects over their years that their legacy is one of both depth and breadth. The Evans are soon to be honored with an oboe chair for the BMF in their name. Hans and Mary Jane Wurster, who have long been friends of the festival, have offered a match for any donations made to the fund to honor the Evans’ legacy.
“In addition to Kenny’s teaching and Dona’s profound generosity, their legacy will be truly the commitment to make the world a better place through their focus on quality music and beautiful experiences. That radiates through their children, their students and the festival,” wrote Azari.
When asked about what he was proudest of, Evans responded with an answer any of his students could have predicted: discipline. His guiding light, discipline has marked every step Evans has taken in his storied life. During his busiest years, Evans would wake up at 5 a.m. to make reeds, which were highly in demand from his and Dona Evans’ reed business. Then he would teach and perform during the day, and return home to make reeds late into the night. Discipline is the foundation of Evans’ legacy, and it too was commemorated at Tuesday’s dinner with a cross-stitched embroidery reading “without discipline there is no freedom.”
Of course, Evans owes his immense success to more than his cultivated sense of discipline. As he said at the dinner, “There’s no way on God’s great Earth this would have happened without Dona.”
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