Classical concert has an environmental underbelly
They make a somewhat unlikely team: Steve Boone, the classical musician born and raised in Los Angeles, and George Drake, a 30-year Tahoe resident and former railroad worker who sports long hair, a beret and an abiding devotion to environmental causes.
But not only are the two colleagues, they are also friends. And their 20-year relationship has done a lot to promote environmental and musical causes in the Lake Tahoe area, and in the world.
Together they are the driving force behind Quartet Northwest, a benefit show that is part of the Valhalla Arts Theater and Music Festival at the Tallac Historic Site in South Shore. The show, which will feature four members of the Spokane Symphony, (string quartet musicians John Bennett, Charlotte Bickford, Angela Mitchell and Louise Butler), will be held at the Valhalla Boathouse Theater on Sunday, Sept. 16 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Works by Bernstein, Foote, Haydn and Prokofiev will be played, with some arrangements by Boone, an award-winning violinist and arranger. Boone is also producing the show, which will benefit Common Sense for the Third Millennium, an environmental awareness group of which Drake is president. It is co-sponsored by the Tallac Association.
“It’s a concert largely not of my own doing, but close to my heart,” said Boone, who first came to Lake Tahoe as a professional musician in 1980, and has lived here full time since 1988. “The concert is offered by my good friend John Bennett of the Spokane Symphony, who will play violin. There are three selections in the program which I have arranged, all from West Side Story. It should be a fun evening.”
Although he writes music professionally and does arrangements for songwriters, Boone doesn’t play the violin anymore. An automobile accident in 1980, on Highway 50 near Cave Rock, left him in a coma for several days and resulted in permanent paralysis on the left side of his body.
“I was on my way home from playing at Harrah’s, for the Sammy Davis Jr. show,” Boone said. “I was struck by another vehicle, and was in a coma for 11 days. Head trauma is a tricky thing; it took me about three years to recover to the point where I could write, and five years to really feel comfortable with it. It was a struggle just to get back to being able to function in everyday life. But I got there.”
Boone had grown up in Los Angeles – he worked there pretty much exclusively until a musicians’ strike sent him to Tahoe for the first time to look for temporary work.
This will be the fourth Valhalla show he has produced.
Tahoe has also been the setting for a new beginning of sorts for Drake, who has wrestled with his own health problems. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1997, at which time he let his environmental group, Common Sense, become inactive.
“I came to find out, though, that apparently my MS is not going to be an issue, knock on wood,” Drake said. “I never developed serious symptoms, which happens in some cases, so recently I began thinking about getting the group back up and going.
“This Valhalla concert marks us getting back on the horse,” he said. “It’s out first real junket in about 10 years. So that’s exciting.”
In the past, Common Sense has raised funds for nonprofit organizations through bike rides, walkathons and other events, and has also participated in environmental awareness trips and candidate forums.
And yes, concerts.
“Steve has been a big supporter of ours for a long time,” Drake said. “I think I first met him at a meeting we had at the South Shore library. He came up to me after and asked, ‘You aren’t a bunch of hippies, are you?’ Of course I lied and said we weren’t.”
All it took for Boone to become an environmental advocate was to set foot in the Lake Tahoe Basin for the first time.
“I grew up in L.A., which at the time was a real toxic wasteland, even more than it is now,” Boone said. “Then coming to Tahoe and seeing this beauty, it doesn’t take much to realize a good thing. You want to preserve it.”
But it’s not just for Tahoe, says Drake.
“For Tahoe, and for the world,” he said. “Our efforts are for everyone. I truly believe that is how you have to think.”
Nothing, however, should distract from the true mission, says Drake. That is to enjoy some really fine classical music on Sunday.
“Music of this type and quality is something you really don’t get to experience that much in a small town,” Boone said. “It’s really going to be something special.”