Snake River Chamber winds into Keystone |

Snake River Chamber winds into Keystone

summit daily news

The Snake River Chamber Music Festival brings top musicians to Summit County to perform classical pieces with the goal of making music accessible to audiences. So what differentiates it from the other classical groups, like the National Repertory Orchestra, the Breckenridge Music Festival Orchestra or the Alpenglow Chamber Music Festival?

Well, first of all, it presents only chamber music – no full orchestras here, like the NRO or BMF. Second, it caters to the “other” side of the county – Keystone. And third, it simply has a charming story.

Kikken Miller and Joan Houlton organized the Snake River Chamber Music Festival in 1998, after the NRO moved from Keystone to Breckenridge in 1993.

“We started it because we were so bummed when the NRO moved to Breckenridge,” Miller said. “There was no music on this side (of the county).”

But even before Miller helped coordinate an entire music festival, she was busy playing Cupid for Charles Wetherbee – who no one knew would end up being the artistic director of the Snake River Chamber Music Festival.

In 1989, Wetherbee returned to Breckenridge for his second season with the NRO. He needed a host family, and Miller thought Kari Tieze – the granddaughter of Keystone pioneers Max and Edna Dercum – might be interested in helping welcome him. Miller had baby-sat Tieze for years, and Charles was about her age. As it turns out, the two of them hit it off, and now they return to Keystone every summer as a married couple, to continue the Snake River series. (As an aside, the Dercums and the Tiezes brought Miller to Summit County from her native home in Norway 40 years ago.)

Miller has remained devoted to the Snake River Chamber players for the last 11 years, coordinating, fundraising and organizing, along with Houlton. She claims to know nothing about classical music – she’s one of those people who would clap between movements, thinking the piece was over. Her vow to present classical music without the stuffiness has permeated the festival.

The group of musicians who perform at the Snake River Chamber Music Festival are all friends of Wetherbee.

“When you find people you really love to play with, you try to hold onto them,” Wetherbee said.

He has drawn musicians from across the nation – including some he met in the NRO. In fact, at every opening concert in Summit County, the NRO’s music director Carl Topilow plays clarinet.

“We usually have a lot fun while we’re playing, which I think the audience picks up on,” Wetherbee said. “We’re not standoffish. We don’t dress up real formal because we want the concert to be more casual so no one feels stiff.”

Wetherbee and the rest of the musicians create an intimate atmosphere by sharing feelings about particular pieces, explaining them and perhaps throwing in a bit of history.

“Every time I return to Summit County, it feels more and more like home, and (the audience), my friends and family, are the reason why,” he said.

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