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Exclusive: Cascade Quartet players discuss Big Sky Alive show in Helena

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The Cascade Quartet -- Megan Karls, Mary Papoulis, Thad Suits and Madison Johnson
The Cascade Quartet — Megan Karls, Mary Papoulis, Thad Suits and Madison Johnson

By Jake Sorich

Great Falls Cascade Quartet violinist Megan Karls and violist Madison Johnson talk about performing with Grammy-nominated pianist Phil Aaberg, the Drum Brothers’ Matthew Marsolek and the other talented Montana musicians at the inaugural Big Sky Alive Festival in Helena In an exclusive interview with Big Sky State Buzz.

The show is Monday night at 8 p.m. at the Myna Loy Center. The musicians will play a free abbreviated preview in the Capitol Rotunda at noon. The entire Cascade Quartet will play with each of the other musicians throughout both shows.

Also joining them are pianist/composer Lynn Petersen of Carroll College and Great Falls native trombonist Alan Gemberling, now a faculty member at the University of Idaho. Gemberling also is brother-in-law to the Great Falls Symphony’s first-chair violinist Mary Papoulis. 

The Festival, organized by Flathead Valley composer Craig Thomas Naylor, “is the only chamber music and classical music festival featuring solely Montana composers,” Naylor told the Independent Record last week.

Karls said she was particularly pumped to perform the pieces written by Aaberg, titled “Piano Quintet No. 1″ and Marsolek, titled “Malian Intermezzo.”

“I was driving in my car to Missoula listening to both the Aaberg and Marsolek (pieces) and I was just like, ‘YEAH!’ and ‘OH DAMN,’ so you know, it’s good stuff and they’re just great musicians.”

Johnson said with all of the pieces, they’ve had the unique opportunity to interact with the people who wrote them before they even played a note.

“It’s an awesome thing getting to play with all living composers because a lot of rehearsing is guessing what the composer meant or what we think the composer meant, but this time we actually get to play with the composers, so that’s awesome in that regard,” she said.

Phil Aaberg
Phil Aaberg

Johnson said one thing that struck her while rehearsing is the contrasting style the individual works have from one another.

“I was kind of surprised by how different all of the pieces are,” she said. “And since all of the pieces were written by Montanans, they all have different flavors to them and are comprised of different types of music.”

This show will be the first time Karls and Johnson have played together with the show’s musicians aside from Aaberg, whom they first played with last February when the Cascade Quartet joined him in Bozeman to perform the Brahms “Piano Quintet.”

Karls said she’s loved working with Aaberg on this piece because it’s something totally different from the Brahms, yet just as incredible in terms of the quality of work.

“The Brahms was one of those huge workhorses in the repertoire, but this is a special treat in that we get to work with Phil on a piece he’s composed. The thing about Phil that’s so wonderful is the way he blends these different styles of music,” Karls said. “He plays jazz, he can play folk music, and he writes music (which) he’s inspired by the Montana landscape, so there’s a lot of things to learn from that.”

Karls said her passion is contemporary classical music, saying it’s, “totally my favorite thing for me to do.”

Johnson said the rest of the quartet has fed off of Karls’ passion for contemporary music, which they’ve all started to find more appreciation for.

Karls said that part of her love of contemporary music comes from seeing musicians like Aaberg who everyone wants to perform with.

“Personally, I’ve been on this new kick to … be someone who everyone wants to be playing with,” she said. “Phil is exactly that person. He’s an incredible musician but he’s a lot of other things, too. He’s also reliable, positive and creative. It’s inspiring to work with someone who’s a genuine musician who’s also easy to … get along with.”

This festival also sees the musicians giving master classes to string students, as well, and Karls said this is the first in what hopefully will be an annual event in all of the major Montana cities.

“Craig’s vision with this is to … have representing composers form different parts of Montana in all different cities to raise awareness,” she said. “Because right now you have the Red Lodge Festival, the Amadeus Festival in Whitefish and a few other Baroque festivals, but there’s nothing dedicated to just new music in Montana. Hopefully the turnout for this is great and there will be even more next year.”

Johnson added that she can’t remember another time where there have been this many living composers all from the same state playing together in the same show.

“I have never gotten to do anything like this, it’s amazing,” she said.

For more information on the show, or to order tickets, visit http://www.myrnaloycenter.com/events.htm  


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