Music

The Pandemic Shut Down Capital City Concerts. So Flutist Karen Kevra Made A Podcast

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Grammy-nominated flutist Karen Kevra started Montpelier’s chamber music series, Capital City Concerts, and has brought world-class performers to Vermont for 20 years. But the pandemic upended those concerts, cutting CCC’s 20th season short and canceling shows for the foreseeable future. So Kevra turned her energies toward making a podcast, one that interviews artists and performers about their art, but also the teachers and mentors who have shaped their creative careers.

VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Karen Kevra about the new podcast Muse Mentors. Their conversation below has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: Now, this is a podcast that highlights the role of mentorship, and the kernel of this came from your own experience with a mentor. Tell us who your mentor was, and how this individual affected your life.

Karen Kevra: My mentor was Louis Moyse. He was one of the founders of the Marlboro Music Festival down in southern Vermont. And before that, he started his life in France and was on the faculty of the Paris Conservatory. But one thing led to another, and he found his way to Vermont. Over 25 years ago, I sought him out and met him, and I went to play for him and have a first lesson. And it was incredibly life changing.

Why did you feel compelled to do a podcast, where you could have just brought in the performers and done it that way and said, ‘OK, we’re going virtual.’ But you wanted to focus on mentors. What sparked that particular part of the podcast for you?

The idea of doing remote concerts, I have to confess, didn’t appeal to me, because what makes the concert so special is the togetherness is the connection, that palpable connection between the audience and the performers. And so I felt like I’d rather wait that out. But I realized that most artists and musicians, and I think quite a lot of people, do have important mentors in their lives.

And yet when you read a program, you read a bio and a program at a concert, they tend to be kind of stuffy, you know, “So-and-so has a degree from this conservatory, and they performed actively in Europe, blah, blah, blah.” And it’s not very interesting, but what really is interesting is how they got to where they got, and who helped them. You know, nobody goes it alone, so these personal stories of deep connection between student and mentor are what I wanted to focus on.

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One of the artists that you focus on is certainly not of the sort of stuffy variety. This is a multitalented young woman named Katie Runde. She’s an award-winning snow sculpture champion. She plays the saxophone, she paints, she created this angelic likeness of six-foot Icarus wings. I want to play a bit of tape that comes from one of the episodes that features Katie Runde, so people can get an idea of what she’s all about: 

“My mom would take me to this Benedictine monastery in Elmira, N.Y., called Mount Saviour. And they take care of sheep, they chant the hours there. [There’s] the most beautiful stone chapel. And agnostic though I was, I still would ask that she take me there. There was a palpable peace there. There is something very, just impossible to describe, but I wanted it.” – Katie Runde on Muse Mentors

So there’s Katie Runde talking about her own mother being her mentor. What delighted you about that conversation? What surprised you?

Well, every interview that I do ends up surprising me. I thought we would be talking about Evan Wilson, the realist painter that she apprenticed with, or Lew Soloff, the legendary trumpeter from Blood, Sweat and Tears, who is also a mentor. But we kept circling back to her mom. It was incredibly touching and poignant. And so that’s where it went.

Who else is going to be appearing on your podcast in the coming months?

Just recently I interviewed Tony Barrand, who is really a legendary folk musician from England who lives in southern Vermont. He’s part of the group, Nowell Sing We Clear. Incredibly witty, charming guy with such generosity of spirit. We have Bill McKibben coming up, which will be great fun, and moving in a different direction. You know, don’t we all wonder: how did Bill McKibben get to where he is? What were the influences that brought him there? So we’ll be talking about that. And also an episode with, really, one of my childhood heroes, the great flutist, who’s based in Boston, Paula Robison.

This is kind of a difficult question, but is the podcast going to be able to sustain capital city concerts? And will it be enough to make sure that there is another season?

I hope so. You know, again, generosity of spirit is something that we try to extend. It’s part of why these podcasts are free. Also, our audience has been incredibly generous in the past, and we are seeing that some of them are coming forward and supporting us as they have in the past, and we hope they’ll continue to.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb @mwertlieb.

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