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Four years ago a married chamber-music duo from New York, violinist Leslie Tompkins and pianist Michael Barrett, drove through Moab, Utah. While watching the sunset at Arches National Park and tooling around town (which didn't even have a movie theater at the time), they were inspired to start a festival that would bring chamber music to Moab and Moab to musicians and music lovers from all over the country.

Soon others caught their spirit, and in 1993 the first Moab Music Festival took place.During the two coming weekends, Sept. 9-11 and 16-18, against a red-rock and sagebrush background, the music of violins, flutes, cellos and piano, accompanied by the rushing of the Colorado River, can be heard as part of the second annual Moab Music Festival.

The festival combines traditional chamber masterpieces with new chamber-style works. Tompkins and Barrett say the goals of the festival include exposing listeners to contemporary chamber music to prevent prejudice against this growing genre and to compare and contrast the traditional with the modern.

This kind of exposure informs listeners that chamber music continues to thrive, and Tompkins, Barrett and the festival musicians want the children of the community to understand this most of all.

Four days prior to the festival and through its duration, festival artists visit the junior high and high schools of Grand County as part of the Moab Music Festival Outreach program. The 20 festival professionals rehearse and instruct music students daily one-on-one and in small ensembles, as well as demonstrate and discuss music, musicians and performance with the student body.

With public-school funds for music education decreasing, the outreach program gives young music students special instruction and encouragement to continue practicing and performing. And on Sunday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m. at the Old City Park, they will be given the chance to show off what they have learned. The students, accompanied by the festival professionals, will perform Bela Bartok's "Romanian Dances."

Also on the program will be contemporary American composer Jon Deak's "Lucy and the Count." A "family favorite," the work is a musical tale narrated and acted out by a flute and string bass.

The Star Hall performance, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m., also spotlights local talent as part of a chorus that will sing an unusual work written in the international language of Esperanto. The piece, "Lo Koro Sutra" ("The Heart Sutra"), was written by American composer Lou Harrison to reflect a pan-cultural aesthetic. An American gamelan orchestra of handmade struck instruments, including a giant gong, cans and pipes, will accompany the choir.

Not only many of the pieces but also the performing places will be unusual. A one-of-a-kind geodesic dome tent situated on Sand Flats Road will house three of the concerts: Friday, Sept. 9, at 6 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 11, at 6 p.m.; and Friday, Sept 16, at 6 p.m. The dome provides an intimate outdoor setting where audience members can enjoy a view of the sunset on the La Salle Mountain range during intermission.

New to this year's festival will be a Colorado River concert the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 15. Audience members, a baby grand piano and concert artists will be transported by riverboat to the concert site along the shore of the river where, according to Barrett, the acoustics and scenery are fantastic. Seating for this concert is limited.

Also part of the festival will be a concert beginning and ending with works for two pianos in the historic Star Hall on Saturday, Sept. 10, at 8 p.m. The performance, like many of the others, will highlight both traditional and contemporary music ranging from Mozart to Libby Larsen.

A gala opening-night reception, where participants will get the chance to meet and mingle with the artists and the two composers in residence, Lou Harrison and John Musto, will take place Sept. 9 in the Center Cafe following that evening's concert in the dome.

For more information or to order tickets call the Moab Music Festival box office at 259-8431.