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Mountain Home Magazine

Let's Jam

A world-renowned classical pianist, a Kansas City blues musician, and a riotous Celtic band walk into a bar.

It’s not the opening of a joke, but it could actually happen this summer in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania.

As the baton drops to open the 11th season of the Endless Mountain Music Festival, the lineup of guest artists and performances reflects a true realization of Music Director Stephen Guzenhauser’s goal to offer a variety of music.

“Our philosophy has always been to include all types of music, as long as it is well performed,” the Maestro said.

While the festival has a tradition of swinging from Beethoven to the blues, this year’s menu of sound may be the epitome of a full audio smorgasbord. Stephen likens it to good food. “Any food that is well prepared can be enjoyed.”

To say that the schedule has something for everyone is too cliché to let stand without a thorough review of the concerts involved. Sixteen events in as many days cover genres both compatible and contradictory.

Opening night on Friday, July 22 is a product of Stephen’s fertile imagination. at program, Heroes and Villains, is a marriage of great Hollywood movie footage and the music written to bring it to life. Scenes from Batman, Star Wars, Frozen and The Wizard of Oz will be featured, among others. Children will be the VIPs at this opening, as they are invited to a costume contest to celebrate their favorite movie characters. (Parents with those creative kids will be admitted for half-price, while the kids get in free.) As the Director of the Lancaster Symphony, Stephen has conducted this program before and calls the combined effect of sight and sound “spectacular.”

The first night of the festival also includes STEM Makes Music, a partnership with the Regional Science and Discovery Center (SDS). Children will spend days creating musical instruments out of “stuff  and junk,” as Coordinator Pat Dann says. Cans, bottles, string, pots, pans, and tree branches will reveal their hidden sounds.

This “recycled orchestra” will open the concert with a special piece, composed by Tina Davidson.

The emphasis later shifts quite a distance from Hollywood, with the music of the Middle East. On Thursday, July 28, Journey West: East West Consort, featuring the Max Bukholtz Ensemble, will present the exotic sound of instruments including mandolin, oud, and nay. The group believes in the unifying power of music in our troubled world. One of their members lived through such turmoil in Iran, coming to the United States as a child to escape oppression.

Then, hang on to your compass, as the festival wings off to the Emerald Isle with the music of Across The Pond, an authentic Celtic group that Maestro Gunzenhauser met—the stereotype be damned—in a bar. Bring your best tapping toe on Monday, August 1 and be transported to an Irish pub. You can tell these guys are the real thing. It’s the hats.

Stephen often refers to the Endless Mountain Music Festival as “summer camp for musicians.” He invites them to spend a bit of their summer in Wellsboro, they fall in love with the scenery and the appreciative audiences and the hook is set to get them back again.

That played out to the extreme in the case of Bram Wijnands, the famed Kansas City jazz pianist. He met and married a festival violinist, all under the blue umbrella of a mountain summer. While he has played many times in Wellsboro, this year he is bringing the entire Bram Wijnands Jazz Band for the group’s inaugural visit. The music will flow like bourbon at the Penn Wells Hotel on the night of Tuesday, August 2.

Two nights later, the energy level will be doubled when Bram is joined on stage by Corky Siegel, jazz harmonica player extraordinaire. Corky is a favorite at the Endless Mountain Festival and never fails to bring down the house. Winner of several international awards, Corky’s pedigree as a blues man was honed playing in clubs alongside Willie Dixon, Little Walter, and Muddy Waters. The combination of blues and jazz at this level might just threaten the structural foundation of the Keystone Theater in Towanda, but let’s do it anyway.

Corky then gets a couple of days rest in before the preview of a world premiere of new music he has written. He joins with the Endless Mountain Music Festival Orchestra for the celebration at the Corning Museum of Glass on Saturday, August 6.

There is so much more: Wideman International Piano Competition winner Xixi Zhou playing Rachmaninov, Serbian violinist Diana Seitz, a “Wish Upon A Star” concert at Cherry Springs State Park, and so on—for two weeks of heavenly sound.

Ask Maestro Gunzerhauser how he corrals such world-class talent to a small Pennsylvania mountain town and he replies, “I have many friends.”

And isn’t it fun when they all come over to play? 

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