The Muir String Quartet has been performing together for nearly 40 seasons. And they’ve been coming to Big Sky to perform in the Montana Chamber Music Society’s Strings Under the Big Sky for years.

A classic tradition

But Strings Under the Big Sky doesn’t know when, if it’s coming back

As Strings Under the Big Sky committee member Marilyn Hill recalls, it was a cold July day for the first-ever event held under a big white tent at the Big Sky Community Park. You could count the number of attendees on both hands. But despite the first-year hiccups, the modest 1997 debut went on to become a successful annual tradition, in some years gathering more than 100 concert goers.

     The celebration of classical music in Big Sky wasn’t known as Strings right off the bat. It all star ted in the 1990s when the Muir String Quartet began annual visits to Montana, initiating the Montana Chamber Music Festival. Seeing the opportunity to bring world-class musicians to town, the Big Sky Association for the Arts invited the quartet to perform here in 1997.

     In spite of the unseasonably cool weather and low attendance, the quartet returned to Big Sky two years later, where, as Hill put it in her historical notes, “cookies and punch were served.” 

     The quartet came back in 2001 and again in 2005, when it clearly appeared there was a desire for an annual classical concert. Dinner and music were combined at the Rainbow Ranch that year. In 2008, the annual Strings Under the Big Sky was born. Since then, the quartet has returned to Big Sky for the event, which has bounced between a private home to Lone Mountain Ranch, 320 Ranch, Big Sky Resort and more.

     Initially, the classical event was a fundraiser for the local school district. In 2008, funds from Strings purchased 60 stringed instruments and lessons for Ophir students. The community benefit continued in the following years, raising money for more music education accessories and eventually even the curtain and other stage items for the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.

     Hill has been with the event since the start, and said while she truly enjoys working to get the show to Big Sky, she won’t be continuing on the council that works with the Montana Chamber Music Society to put it on. And neither will the other two members of the council—Anne Marie Mistretta and Henrietta Gale.

     So, as Mistretta put it, this could be the last year Strings comes to Big Sky. 

     “This will be the last year this particular committee sponsors the event,” said Mistretta, explaining the passing of a committee member, as well as other health issues for other members, has resulted in the current committee dissolving. “So we are hoping another group will pick it up. It’s not lack of interest, we would love to keep doing this, but it’s basically down to the three of us.”

     Since Strings is a local subset of the Montana Chamber Music Society, it’ll be in the hands of the society to decide how to proceed. 

     “I’ve always wanted to see it continue,” Hill said as she looked over a poster board decorated with memorabilia from the event’s past. “And I would hate it if no one picks it up.”

     Strings Under the Big Sky takes place Friday, July 13 at the 320 Ranch Dining Hall. Advanced registrations of $75 are required. The evening starts at 5 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres, performance starts at 6 p.m. and plated dinners are served at 7 p.m. For more information visit www.stringsunderthebigsky.org. —JP

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