Desert Rose String Quartet: Classical for the Locals

Desert Rose String Quartet

One local artist is on a mission to bring classical chamber music to the masses of Tahoe-Truckee.

“When we get together in a quartet, we all get to be soloists in our own parts. It’s kind of like a four-person conversation and everyone gets their time to shine.”
– Ellen Flanagan

Ellen Flanagan is a violinist for the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra. That is where she met her collaborators in the Desert Rose Chamber Ensemble – Joseph Tatum and Kati Dayner.

“I recognized they were great players who have similar interests and we would be compatible working together,” says Flanagan. “So, I asked them if they wanted to play chamber music together and they were into it.”

Desert Rose’s first performance was at Dark Horse Coffee Roasters in downtown Truckee in 2014.

“I started it because chamber music is my favorite genre to perform,” says Flanagan. “We all play in the orchestra throughout the year and it’s really cool to be part of this huge ensemble and sound, but the musical ideas and interpretation are all coming from the conductors or sections leaders. When we get together in a quartet, we all get to be soloists in our own parts. It’s kind of like a four-person conversation and everyone gets their time to shine.”

Chamber music grew in popularity during the 18th Century before the invention of electricity, recorded music and the phonograph, when composers created accessible arrangements for people to play at home with their family and neighbors.

Classical concerts by the banks of Lake Tahoe are certainly popular with summer visitors. Flanagan believes that many local people could enjoy this style of music year-round if they were more exposed to it in conventional situations like in olden times.

“That’s why I’ve been trying to bring it Truckee,” she says.

Desert Rose Chamber Ensemble will perform on the historical Art Truckee stage with guest artist Heather Gage on second violin during a program curated expressly for local sensibilities.

“It’s all really exciting, heartwarming music with a big influence from nature,” says Flanagan.

The first piece is “String Quartet in F Major,” nicknamed the “American Quartet,” composed by Antonin Dvořák.

“It was written in 1893,” says the violinist. “Dvořák is a Czech composer from Bohemia who rose to fame when he was invited to teach in New York City. He would spend his summers vacationing in Spillville, Iowa, where there is still a strong Czech community to this day. The landscape reminded him of Bohemia and he composed this piece when he was there.”

“He would go for a walk in the woods and then work,” Flanagan explains. “He met some Kickapoo Indians who entertained him and you can hear the melodies of Native American song and dance throughout the piece.”

After an intermission with wine service, the ensemble will perform “String Quartet No. 1 in G Minor” by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.

“He’s got catchy melodies influenced by folk music,” says Flanagan. “You can hear bird songs in some of the movements. At one point we are just jamming really loudly on G minor, so it’s of like the closest to heavy metal you can get in classical.”

When she’s not playing chamber music with Desert Rose, Flanagan lets loose on the fiddle with the North Lake bluegrass band, Lost Whiskey Engine. She is also a former member of Truckee country outfit Everyday Outlaw.

“Every style I play and learn helps inform my overall practice,” says the passionate and talented artist who has jumped head first into the Tahoe-Reno music scene since moving to the area four years ago following her graduation from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. “It’s all building toward becoming a better performer. I’m trying to have more fun, really feel the rhythm and get more into the groove.”

One of her recent musical highlights was playing with Lost Whiskey Engine to a sold-out crowd at WinterWonderGrass in Olympic Valley. They were rocking a packed Soap Box Tent when an overenthusiastic dancer tripped on a cord and temporarily cut the electricity to the main speakers in the middle of traditional standard “Blackberry Blossom.”

The band was so into that they just kept going full speed ahead. When the sound came back on during the transition into Irish rabble-rouser “Belle of Belfast,” the fans cheered with delight. The smile on Flanagan’s beaming face could barely fit within its limits.

“I just loved how the crowd was so reactive to the music and right there with us even when the power went out,” she says. | Art Truckee on Facebook

Desert Rose String Quartet
May 12 | 7:30 p.m.
Art Truckee | Truckee