Music From Angel Fire: Sweet harmony through the strands of time

Music From Angel Fire has endured for 35 years

(Chronicle file photo)

Editor’s note: The following article by former Chronicle news editor Jo Bynum originally appeared in the Aug. 14, 2003, issue of The Chronicle, in a special 20th Anniversary insert for the music festival.

“Think of 10 years from now! Wow!”

This forward looking statement came in 1993 from Donna “Sam” Tietze, president of the Music From Angel Fire Board of Directors from 1985 to 1986, as a closing to her letter praising the first 10 years of Music from Angel Fire.

Today we use it as a focal point — pulling the first 10 years and the last 10 years together to form a platform for launching the next 10 years.

First year — 1984

The late 1970s saw the beginning of the New Mexico Music Festival in Taos under the direction of Noel Farrand with Leonard Altman of Taos as artistic director. The festival was designed to provide chamber music coaching, private lessons and master classes for outstanding music students throughout the nation. Instruction was delivered by a faculty of distinguished artists with national and international reputations.

In 1982 Farrand approached the Angel Fire Resort Association (AFRA) about moving festival housing, along with some practice sessions and recitals, to Angel Fire. According to an article in The Chronicle, AFRA members were enthusiastic about the possibility.

Following the end of the festival’s fifth season in 1982, Farrand left, but the festival evolved into what we know today as Music From Angel Fire.

Interested in bringing chamber music to Angel Fire, this illustrious group of individuals met in January 1984 to lay out plans. Pictured clockwise (from front center) are Harold Geller, Philip Bareiss, Curtis Keeler, Angel Fire Corporation’s Chuck Horne, George Houston, Max Mertz, Ron May, John “Jack” McCarthy, Nancy Mertz (partially hidden) and Leonard Altman’s assistant from Los Angeles, Calif. Altman, of Taos, was artistic director of the New Mexico Music Festival which first brought concerts to Angel Fire. (Chronicle file photo)
From auspicious beginnings in 1984, as Music at Angel Fire, with Harold Geller at the head of the festival board of directors and Leonard Altman as artistic director, pieces started falling into place spurred by an initial gift of $15,000 from the Angel Fire Corporation requiring matching funds. The board set out to reach its goal of $80,000 for the first season. By comparison, the 2003 budget was almost $392,000.

Geller said, due to poor health, Altman hired Richard Cameron-Wolfe to help him with the festival. Altman arranged for the musicians while Cameron-Wolfe took care of programming, scheduling the festival for July 1 – 29 and promising a minimum of 30 concerts with venues in Angel Fire, Eagle Nest, Las Vegas, Mora, Raton, Red River and Taos. End count for the 1984 concert season showed artists playing 42 concerts in 26 days.

Designed to encourage informal, relaxed communication between performers and audiences, concerts were hosted at various locations including ski deck and lodge, auditoriums, churches, and private homes. The repertoire ranged from Baroque to present-day pieces showcasing The Raphael Trio, harpsichordist Elaine Comparone; clarinetist Thomas Hill, oboist Burt Lucarelli, harpist Carrie Kourkoumelis, classical guitarist Dusan Bogdanovic, flutist Susan Greenberg and soprano Evelyn Lear.

First year board members Max and Nancy Mertz remember small audiences in venues outside Angel Fire. “We about wore out our hands clapping to show the artists our appreciation,” said Nancy.

However, the impact of the concerts was revealed during a guitar concert played to a full-house in a Mora church. “The audience was moved to tears with music that was so close to their hearts,” Nancy said.

“Artistically, musically, the concerts were incredible and the festival drew attention nationwide,” Cameron-Wolfe said at the close of the season, before acknowledging the schedule was too tight without enough time for preparation.

John Giovando holds the 1984 MUSIC AT ANGEL FIRE poster by Amado Pena with board president Donna “Sam” Tietze looking on. (Chronicle file photo)
Second year — 1985

Toward the end of 1984 the festival began to change to what we are familiar with today.

With health deteriorating, Altman decided not to return for the second season and John Giovando was brought on-board. Giovando offered the position of artistic and music director to Ida Kavafian.

“I couldn’t believe it when John said he could get Ida Kavafian,” said Geller. “I’d seen her perform on National Public television and at the Santa Fe Chamber Festival when she was in her early 20s and was awed by her playing. I thought, to have her as music director would really make this thing work. Ida has been such a gift to the area.”

By the end of January 1985 the name of the festival had evolved to the more properly descriptive Music From Angel Fire and concerts were scheduled for the last two and one-half weeks in August.

Angel Fire Corporation President Chuck Horne had accepted presidency of the MFAF board, but had to relinquish the position when he moved from the area. Sam Tietze stepped into his shoes.

“There were many people in Angel Fire who didn’t think anything like chamber music would go up here,” said Tietze. “Ida and John opened that door that let people know it could be fun to go to a chamber music festival.”

John Giovando and Ida Kavafian during their 1st MFAF Season, 1985. (Chronicle file photo)
Giovando and Kavafian planned 10 concerts with four slated for The Plaza at Angel Fire (now Angel Fire Resort Hotel). Artists scheduled for 1985 series included pianists Andre-Michel Schub and David Golub; violinists Ida Kavafian, Theodore Arm and Ik-Hwan Bae; violists Walter Trampler and Steven Tenenbom; cellists Fred Sherry and Warren Lash; double-bassist Barry Lieberman; flutists James Walker and Nancy Laupheimer; clarinetist David Shifrin; oboist Bert Lucarelli and returning artists harpsichordist Elaine Comparone and guitarist Dusan Bogdanovic.

Due to an increased European tour schedule following his win of the Silver Medal at the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Violin Competition, Bae was forced to bow-out at the last minute. Kavafian didn’t have far to look for a replacement, tagging her stepfather and first violin teacher Ara Zerounian.

The jazz group, Free Flight, hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “… the most unique and refreshing group to appear on the musical scene in a long, long time,” joined the list of performers, changing the pace of the season’s final concert on the deck of Angel Fire’s Village Haus.

January 1985 also saw the creation of the Music From Angel Fire Guild. Under the direction of Gine Ely, the Guild began its incomparable rise to the organizational powerhouse it is today, starting with 49 paid memberships.

The family membership count for the 2003 Guild is up to 142 — since most families average two members that brings over 275 people into the Guild.

According to Guild president Becky Jones, for MFAF’s 20th season the Guild was able to secure a full $4,000 sponsorship through dues, raffle proceeds — a Jennifer Cavan painting and diamond earrings by Sam Tietze — and 2002 festival merchandise sales.

Also in August 1985 Tietze planned the precursor to the Gala dinner and auction. The Festival Benefit Ball at The Plaza Hotel in Angel Fire, an auction and the raffle of a $600 diamond pendant designed by Tietze put $6,000 into the MFAF coffers.

As time goes on …

Lil Sindel, John Giovando, David Golub and artist R.C. Gorman at a MFAF benefit evening at Gorman’s Taos home, March ’87. (Chronicle file photo)
Tietze remained president of the MFAF board through the 1986 season, then passed the reins to Angel Fire’s Lil Sindel.

“Lil was a godsend, an answer to prayer,” said Tietze.

In 1987, during Sindel’s first stint as president, the youth concert series was added with students from Eagle Nest School in attendance. Red River students were included in 1988.

Tietze saw bringing the children into the festival through the youth concerts as a blessing and credits youth concert sponsors, Jack and Joan Graham.

“The Grahams have added so much in a very quiet way.”

The festival also started the tradition of featuring works by American composers and added the Composer-In-Residence series in 1988.

Also in 1987, the MFAF board assumed responsibility of the $40,000 note from the first year’s festival which had been in the names of a group of Enchanted Circle individuals who felt strongly about seeing the festival succeed.

“It was a miracle,” Sindel said. “The bank couldn’t find the papers, so we met with the president of Sunwest Bank and set up a new repayment plan. The money we made from poster sales was dedicated to paying off the loan.

A multi-media presentation was featured during the 1989 season. A Stravinsky composition performance included dancers from Albuquerque and narration by Toby Appel. The piece included instruments heard at the festival for the first time, according to Kavafian — trumpet, trombone and percussion.

During her second stint as president in 1991, Sindel became the final president to inherit the first year’s debt in the form of a large note with Sunwest Bank.

“We threw a big dinner party at the Coyote Creek Restaurant during our annual meeting (Oct. 18) and burned the note. It was the best party I ever threw.”

Lil Sindel, John Giovando and Terku Wilde watch Harold Geller burn a paid promissory note Oct. 18, 1991 ending a 7-year festival debt. (Chronicle file photo)
National Public Radio (NPR) also came on-board in 1991 and began taping shows for NPR’s “Performance Today” series.

In 1994 the festival wrapped up its season with a concert at Immaculate Conception Church in Las Vegas, a tradition that continues.

Actor Gene Hackman, and wife Betsy of Santa Fe helped haul chairs in their truck in 1995, attending two concerts and parties in Angel Fire.

August 1999 saw the beginning of the Music In Our Schools program featuring young artists attending or recently graduated from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Pa. Kavafian brought four students the first year, including Nathan Cole and Zachery DePue who revived a little taste of bluegrass. The young artists played in local schools.

Young Artists Series… a Zach attack! (Chronicle file photo)
The 2003 season sees 10 young artists who will spend time in nine schools as well as participating in the regular concert schedule.

Looking back and forward at the same time what do the early presidents have to say?

“My hope is that we continue doing what we do now and that Ida and John stay with the festival and that Ida keeps bringing the caliber of musicianship she brings with her,” said Harold Geller. “I hope it just keeps building and keeps going for another 20 years.”

Lil Sindel hopes, “that the miracle continues under the absolutely fantastic leadership that has been and also is now appearing. Bonnie (Brashear) has done a fantastic job and I am so impressed with Becky Jones in her capacity as Guild president. What makes me feel so good is that the festival is in such good hands.”

Sam Tietze fondly looks forward to the festival lasting for many more years. “It’s pure joy. It’s one of the most thrilling things I can think of … to know that Norman and I were actually part of something that turned out this great! It’s a goose bump-type thing.”

More History Highlights

Editor’s note: The following updates by Chronicle staff originally appeared in the June 6-12, 2013, issue of The Chronicle, in a special 30th Anniversary insert for the music festival. 

In 2005, a young artist composer program was started to encourage up-and-coming young composers. Each season, several of their works are performed. They accompany the other young artists in extensive outreach to present their works to school children in Northern New Mexico, and they are commissioned for a new work to premiere each summer.

The 2006 season saw the introduction of the “Closer Encounters Series,” giving audience members a behind-the-scenes look at the artists’ process during rehearsals. Combining open rehearsals with an educational introduction and a question and answer period, participants have a chance to interact with the artists, learn more about the music and gain a deeper insight into each piece. When these works are heard later, fully developed in concert performances, the music becomes a new and exciting experience for the listener. This series is free and open to the public.

In 2007 the reins were handed over as Nancy Ondov, formerly the executive administrator for Music From Angel Fire, signed on as general director, taking over for John Giovando, who had served in that role for 22 years.

Music From Angel Fire memories

Editor’s note: The following were compiled by Chronicle staff for the special 30th Anniversary insert but were not used.

1984: The beginning started with a dog, of course!

John and Ida met in Angel Fire for a planning meeting to start their tenure as ED and AD. On the way through Taos, they came across a stray dog wandering across the highway. They immediately picked her up and took her to Lotaburger, where they got her something to eat. They decided that they would adopt her, and named her Chola, agreeing that they would own her together. There was much discussion about which half of Chola belonged to whom, because they both loved her dearly. Chola went everywhere with them during the trip but sadly could not survive a case of Parvo a few weeks later, though John did everything to save her.

1985: Steve’s viola is stolen!

Steve and Ida were going camping after the festival and asked a friend to take back Steve’s very valuable viola. During a poker game that night after their friend left, John Giovando interrupted with the horrible news that the viola had been stolen! A series of innocent mishaps had befallen the instrument. Their friend fell asleep during the stopover landing and the viola was accidentally removed from the overhead bin when a well-meaning passenger was helping an elderly woman with her belongings. The viola made a circuitous route around the airport down to baggage claim where it was stored until it could be retrieved. However, for some hours, it was missing, causing panic among the entire Music From Angel Fire family except for Steve, who was perfectly calm.

1985: Where’s the office?

Humble beginnings found our tiny office above the Angel Fire Fire Department, which we referred to as the Angel Fire Department.

1986: A fishing outing

Back in the early days of the festival, there was much more free time, and the musicians actually did things other than rehearsing and performing. A number of them went on a fishing trip to the Coyote Creek Canyon. After some hours, finally Steve Tenenbom caught a fish that could not have been more than three inches long. Not being very nature aware or savvy, the group very ceremoniously built a fire while Ik-Hwan Bae carefully filleted the fish. It was grilled by master chef Toby Appel and everyone tasted just about one flake each!

Early 90’s: Dead chickens

Before the Angel Fire Country Club was built, one year we arrived at our venue, the Village Haus of Angel Fire Resort, to the most foul odor imaginable. People were getting nauseated and no one could stand to be in the building until finally Toby Appel found some old dead chickens in the refrigerators, which had been turned off after the ski season.

1993: Tex earns his nickname

When harpsichordist Bob Wolinsky arrived, his bag didn’t make it for several days. The only shirt he could find to purchase while they were tracking it down was a cowboy shirt. Thus, his nickname was born: TEX!

Mid-90’s: Golf Scramble is rained out!

Horror of horrors — the annual Music From Angel Fire Golf Scramble, one of the most fun events of the season, was rained out. The Wootens had a plan though. They held a couples’ golf cart race in their front yard. Only couples could participate, with one of the spouses driving the cart, directed by the other spouse. Oh, and the driver was blindfolded! The event was won handily by Steve and Ida, with Steve blindfolded and Ida barking directions.

1996: An Ida moment

Temperamental musicians don’t last long under the leadership of AD Ida Kavafian. Like the one who wanted his chair moved two inches to the left and asked our stage manager to go out and do that. Ida was heard yelling, “Move your own damn chair!”

1998: Don’t take the piano yet!

At the end of the festival, the piano movers came at intermission of the last concert to take away the Steinway, announcing gruffly in broken English, “I take piano now!” Ida was heard pleading “Please! No, no not yet! We have a piece with piano after intermission!”

Late 90’s: American Airlines drops our piano!

One year, the truck didn’t make it out from New York with the pianos and the company had to put the piano on an airplane. Unfortunately, it showed up in a few more pieces it was supposed to be in. Piano tech Reid was pretty busy with his arts and crafts that year.

2004: The year Teddy Arm lost his crown

The annual “Best Leg Contest,” of the men of Music From Angel Fire, complete with a screen to hide identities, was won by Teddy Arm for many years in a row until the arrival on the scene of Composer-in-Residence, Kevin Puts, who wrested the crown away from Teddy in 2004.

2005: Opening night is almost a disaster!

A particularly memorable performance involved the Miami String Quartet performing Beethoven’s monumental quartet Op. 59, No. 3. Partway through the first movement, suddenly there was a power outage at the Angel Fire Community Center. The quartet continued valiantly, not missing a beat, but eventually Ida came on stage and asked if anyone in the audience had a flashlight. Dozens of audience members retrieved flashlights from their cars and trucks, and the performance went on, with fellow musicians, staff and audience members illuminating the stage and music.

Blast From The Past: Music From Angel Fire through the years

Laura Vance (l to r), Nancy Stiles, Louise Jones, Bonnie Brashear, Sharon Gourley, Becky Jones are decked out in Roaring ’20s style to celebrate the 20th season of Music From Angel Fire in 2003. Patti Robinson is the news “boy” in back. (Chronicle photo by Jo Bynum)
Joe Sheff moderates the Feb. 12, 1987 MFAF Guild “Picnic in the Snow” fashion show at Phyllis McGuire’s Angel Fire home. Marcia Mose of Angel Fire glides by wearing fashions from Millers Crossing in Red River. (Chronicle file photo)
The Music From Angel Fire office crew of volunteers. Front row: Patty Robinson and Bonnie Brashear. Middle row: Becky Jones and Gayle Kick. Back row: Cheryl Mason and Laura Vance. (Chronicle file photo)
Seamstress extraordinaire Marilyn Arm creates a concert gown for Ida in 1987.
Ida with one of her Vizsla fur babies. (Chronicle file photo)
Irene Lanon, Margaret Cardwell and sister Ruth Lawrence at a Music From Angel Fire reception. (Chronicle file photo)
After a Village Haus concert… Ida, John and Tal Neal (Chronicle file photo)
(Chronicle file photo)
David Golub with his student R.C…. March 1987 (Chronicle file photo)
David Golub (Chronicle file photo)
Ida Kavafian and Guy Wood at the 2002 Gala (Chronicle file photo)
Reception muggers: Performers/spouses Daniel Phillips and Tara Helen O’Connor, and festival boosters Bill and Freeda Wooten. (Chronicle file photo)
Youth concert 1998 with John Deak, Teddy Arm and mime (Chronicle file photo)

Auction 1998…Anne-Marie McDermott… #229? (Chronicle file photo)
Ruth and Bruce Lawrence shopping the silent auction. (Chronicle file photo)
Toby Appel with son Jordan, August 1995 Music From Angel Fire Season (Chronicle file photo)
Toby Appel hosts the Free Family Concert (Chronicle file photo)

A little warm-up at the Community Center backstage: Daniel Phillips, Ani Kavafian and Chris Costanza (Chronicle file photo)