Celebrating 50 Years with the GTMF

Marcia Peck, cello

In 1967, when I was a student at Curtis in Philadelphia, I had the opportunity to come to a small Western mountain town I had never heard of to play in a music festival still in its infancy. Jackson was not yet the glamorous destination it is today. That summer, we performed at the High School (or was it the Junior High?) in town. Teton Village consisted of three brand new buildings: the Alpenhof, the Sojourner, and the Tram Tower. The Mangy Moose, site of the popular chamber music series, Watermelon Concerts, would come a year later.

In 1967, if you wanted a bottle of soy sauce or a cup of coffee other than Folgers, you had to bring it with you. You didn’t need a permit to camp in the Park, and you could still build a fire and drink the water from any stream.

In 1967, fewer orchestras had 52-week seasons. These days the weeks the musicians are able to devote to the Festival are often determined by the schedules of our home orchestras or universities. But we all made GTMF our priority. Each summer we work to bring the energy and reach of our home orchestras to GTMF, and throughout the years, GTMF nourishes the musical landscape throughout the US and beyond.

From the beginning, the festival has been a place where, as if sprinkled with magic dust, players established a common musical bond. The festival hasn’t been about making music…so much as it has been about allowing it to emerge from a shared ethos.

I think audiences hear that and respond mightily to it. I felt that deeply last summer when we played Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring with Donald. When the Ritual Dance unfolds in all its frenzy, you could feel the audience’s pulse quicken. There’s a feeling of hanging on for dear life to a fast-moving train and thanking your lucky stars for your fabulous colleagues.

I remember one particular concert in the tent, so this would have been before 1974. A squirrel had gotten into the power transformer and Teton Village was without power the Saturday that we were to play Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, one of the most romantic works in the repertoire. Without any lights to see the music, the concert was an impossibility. But Jackson Hole’s ever-intrepid concert-goers showed up with dozens of lanterns and the concert went on in the semi-dark, all of us on stage squinting to make out the music. And then, just as the clarinet solo began the sublime slow movement, the lights flickered on as if powered by a moment of utter grace.

My favorite part of coming to GTMF every year? Everything! My colleagues, the music, the community, the mountains: there is a special alchemy that fosters a rare and precious sense of belonging.

Watch the Backstage Pass interview with Marcia

Celebrating 25 Years with the GTMF

Gina Davis, violin

GTMF is unique in that it is a festival that can accommodate a participant’s schedule and allows families to spend time together in such a beautiful environment. It has been a privilege to be able to attend the festival with my family, being able to enjoy all that the area has to offer. My children are now adults, but they spent nearly every summer growing up being able to enjoy the outdoors and being able to escape the heat of Tulsa, OK. 

I would say that my favorite part of participating in GTMF every year is sitting on the stage and looking around me, thinking how wonderful it is that people from all over the map get together to play amazing music together. I am always excited to play that first note of the first rehearsal of the summer. The musicians are all so happy to be back together on the stage, and there’s just a warm feeling like the musicians are one big family. 

My best memory associated with being in Wyoming for GTMF is actually not music related, but if it weren’t for my attendance in the festival, it would not have happened the way it did. I first played in GTMF in 1991, and I was playing for the entire 7 weeks that year. I made the long drive from Tulsa with my then-boyfriend, not looking forward to him leaving me to return home even before the first rehearsal. He came back the final Friday before our last concert weekend, and that afternoon we took our then-free ride up the tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. We walked off the main trail where he reached into his pocket, pulled out a small box, opened it, and asked me to marry him. I said yes. That evening during the concert, a shiny diamond on my finger kept catching the light, and I was grinning from ear to ear. We were married the following June, and we have now been married for 28 years. 

I am always so grateful to play every single concert on the stage at GTMF. I would have a hard time picking out a particular one as unforgettable, but my favorite concerts have been the ones with a Mahler Symphony, especially with Maestro Runnicles conducting. There is so much energy and emotion coming from the stage. But I also enjoy playing lighter works, such as Mozart and Beethoven symphonies. There have been so many wonderful inspiring soloists as well, such as Lynn Harrell, Yefim Bronfman, Augustin Hadelich, and many, many others. Every concert is such a thrill for me to be a part of. 

Craig Knox, tuba

In trying to think about my favorite part of being at GTMF each summer, I realize that it’s the sum of many parts that make it such a special place for me. The people are wonderful! I’ve made friends with many musicians in the orchestra who I look forward to seeing each summer. I’ve grown as a person and musician along with these friends, and in many cases, I’ve watched their children grow along with mine. There are also relationships with year-round staff who are waiting for us each summer when we arrive from all over the country, and there are many loyal audience members who I love seeing in the audience year after year.

Of course, another of the important special qualities of GTMF is that it is in one of the most spectacularly beautiful places in the world. I remember the first time I arrived in Jackson Hole 25 years ago, and it still feels just as magical each year I return. I love being outside, in the Park, in the canyons, on the mountaintops, on the lakes and rivers, and I’ve loved being able to share that beauty with my family and my friends.

The best part of all is combining all these elements with music. The orchestra is always full of wonderful musicians who are here to add to the beauty of this place. It’s a wonderful feeling to work in concert with so many great artists, in a shared effort to create a memorable experience for those who come to listen.

Hiking and camping together with my boys here are some of the most treasured memories I have with them. I’m pretty sure we’ve spent at least one day every single summer kayaking on String Lake, and it’s always special. Amphitheater Lake, Static Peak, and Jackson Peak are equally as memorable, both for the breathtaking views, and the good company of friends. Waking up at 4 AM to photograph the sunrise from the Snake River Overlook, biking up the old pass road, and tubing on Fish Creek. And I remember coming face to face with a moose in Cascade Canyon! There are so many memories!

I’ve had the chance to play under three music directors here – Ling Tung, Eiji Oue, and Donald Runnicles. There have been countless amazing concerts over the years, and I particularly remember Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 with Maestro Tung, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 with Maestro Runnicles. One of the most memorable concerts for me was during the tenure of Eiji Oue, following a Saturday morning running race to the summit of Mt. Rendezvous that I participated in. For me, that run required a pretty epic effort, and then I had to dig deep to find the energy to play Copland’s Symphony No. 3 that night; I’ll never forget that day!

Patrick Bilanchone, bass

My favorite part of the Grand Teton Music Festival is the incredible beauty of Jackson Hole, with a priceless Orchestra tucked within!

My best memories include day-long hikes of stunning Table Mountain and Mahler’s 2nd Symphony with Maestro Donald Runnicles.

This is a tough business…but if you truly love it, it’s a wonder to be just a small part of something so much larger. Thanks for the memories!

David Williamson, bass

Grand Teton Music Festival has been a big part of my life in many ways, both professionally and personally. Even though I am only at GTMF for a few weeks each year, my colleagues here are some of my best friends and we have a kinship that is lifelong. When we return each year, it’s such a joy to see them all, cook great food, play great concerts, and camp together.

It’s not possible to count all the great times and experiences had with the festival, but some of my best memories include weekend campouts with our families and the weekly bass parties. All the bass players like to cook, so we pick a spot, fire up a grill, and it just happens. Another high point for me was the two times I came out in the winter for a week and was able to get in a bit of backcountry skiing in the park—I have awesome memories of a frozen Phelps Lake.

There have been so many memorable performances with GTMF, but two that were incredible are Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and the Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring with Donald Runnicles conducting in 2019. In the Mahler, Donald was able to make time stand still. Magic. My very first concert—Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony with Ling Tung conducting in 1989—was also very powerful and moving. I was hooked from the start.

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