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World's Top Musicians Meet in the Mountains

In the charming old barn of a concert hall in beautiful Chautauqua Park under Boulder's Flatirons, musicians from some of the finest orchestras in America meet to make music all summer. It's a "total emergence program," says music director Giora Bernstein of the festival he founded 22 years ago.

"We have musicians, the majority of whom are principals or leaders in their home orchestras," says the Viennese-born Bernstein. "But we also have string quartets, soloists, and many others who want to teach at a certain university, but they still want to play.

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"It's the high level, it's the atmosphere, it's the love of music, it's the beautiful setting. All these things we hoped in school a musical life would be.... We are all in the process of growing and sharing and exploring in a very dedicated way."

Mr. Bernstein maintains an active guest-conducting career all over the world. He finds this work very different from his experience with the Colorado Music Festival.

"If you go and conduct an orchestra for a week," he says, "many orchestras have their strengths, you have yours, and you come together in a performance. Here [the festival] is an extended process in which you can mold, in which you can hone, in which you can push yourself to a much greater degree.... About 70 to 80 percent of the musicians are returnees. There is a core of people coming for years. After 10 months of 'vacation,' we just pick up where we left off."

It takes more than a conducive atmosphere to bring musicians and patrons to Chautauqua. Bernstein's brilliance in programming has won him six awards for innovation from the American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). Combining old favorites with cutting-edge music requires a delicate balance of elements.

"Musical styles have certain colors and qualities that can contrast or can match," he says. "Even though they may be 200 years apart, [two pieces] can have something in common - the structure, the texture, the subject matter, and so on. It's like a gourmet meal. There are certain things you want to balance in terms of the texture, in terms of the color, in terms of the size.... When you put a concert together, you visualize these things and how they will fall on the human ear."

Bernstein points out that it may take a long time for the public to discover new art. "Some of contemporary music is more accessible than other music, and historically there is often a gap between the very new music and the time it took to become popularly accepted. And this is because all new forms of art [require] a new kind of measure.

"We are inundated with so much commercial stuff that it takes a little bit longer [to understand serious contemporary music] because so much of our audience has become passive rather than active listeners."

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Every form of art and entertainment vies for the public's attention, he says. We are bombarded with sensations. But art can be part of everyday life - whether it be created in the symphony hall or in your own garden. An artful life, he suggests, is an ongoing process that requires cultivation, just as the garden does.

"We live in a powerful cultural atmosphere of [commercial art]. And it's up to individuals to control their own environment.... We are at a very interesting juncture, not only in terms of the new millennium, but artistically and musically - moving in a new direction, though at this moment I don't know what form it will take....

Laughing, he adds: "I hope that I am open-minded and smart enough to recognize it before anybody else."

* The festival ends today. M.S. Mason's e-mail address is:

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