Imagine the lush sounds of a Brahms string sextet filling a red rock grotto, as a rapt audience sits around the perimeter, on rocks, on logs, and on the sand beside a small pool. This was a hike-in concert at the Moab Music Festival in Moab, Utah, now in its 27th year.
To arrive at this spot involved a twenty-minute ride on a school bus, followed by a hike through an overgrown, brushy, sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky trail that led under and over some fallen branches through a narrow slot between red cliffs. Finally, after about half-a-mile, the canyon widened into a glorious natural amphitheater aptly named “Middle Earth.”
People of all ages had come from from places near and far, including Salt Lake City, Grand Junction, Chicago, and New Zealand. Kent and I drove scenic roads from Albuquerque. A PBS feature on the festival last fall introduced us to the festival and inspired us to make the trip. We were not disappointed.
We attended “A Paris Revue” in historic Star Hall on Friday night, an eclectic program introduced with panache by Festival Music Director Michael Barrett, very much in the style of his mentor Leonard Bernstein.
Then early on Saturday morning, we took a bus through the red rocks east of town, to a one-mile hike down a mostly sandy wash to Mill Creek Overlook, where we heard classical and modern pieces performed by wind instruments, singly and together. Claude Debussy’s “Syrinx” for unaccompanied flute was followed by a “Duo for Oboe and Bassoon” by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Modern pieces by Toru Takemitsu, Adam Raph (for unaccompanied trombone!), and Bohuslav Martinü, were followed by several Italian baroque ensemble pieces that concluded the concert.
On Saturday evening, we traveled again by school bus, upstream along the Colorado River to the Sorrel River Ranch and Spa for a concert under a tent, in celebration of the Jazz-age genius of Bix Beiderbecke. Food and drinks were available for purchase, and intermission came just in time to allow us to walk about the grounds along the river and view the red rock buttes in the distance turn even redder in the setting sun.
For Kent and me, whose musical tastes are eclectic, who enjoy nature and a bit of adventure, and who are willing to risk a bit of uncertainty, the Moab Music Festival was pure delight. The uncertainty? The dreamy performance of Brahms in Middle Earth was abruptly interrupted by a flash rainstorm, resulting in an unplanned, hasty exodus along that narrow brushy trail, followed by a return to Star Hall for the concert’s conclusion, with performers and audience alike still dressed in their hiking gear.
Tickets for the more expensive concerts, which involve travel by raft are already on sale for the 2020 season.