Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Sun Valley Music Festival’s Winter Season Trots Out Mother-of-All-Foodies
Mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook sent flour a-flying as she performed Lee Hoiby’s “Bon Appetit!” which was based on a PBS television cooking lesson by Julia Child. PHOTO: Nils Ribi
Sunday, March 1, 2020



One name you probably never thought would be paired with the Sun Valley Music Festival is that of Julia Childs.

Yet, the flamboyant chef found her way onto the stage—whisk and electric beater in hand—during the Sun Valley Music Festival’s second annual Winter Season.

Gretchen Van Hoesen performs Debussy’s “Finale from Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp.” PHOTO: Nils Ribi

Mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook evoked the persona of the beloved chef who popularized food TV as she reprised Lee Hoiby’s 1989 “Bon Appetit!” a comic culinary one-woman opera written for Jean Stapleton.

Cook wowed the audience with a pitter patter that sounded exactly like Child’s—no surprise there since Child actually spoke the lyrics on one episode. And Cook, in turn, was wowed by the chance to perform the piece with a chamber orchestra, rather than the piano that normally accompanies her when she sings the 20-minute piece.

“It will be hard to go back to the piano after doing it this way,” she told members of the Sun Valley Music Festival.

Cook’s light-hearted musical monologue, in which she tells the audience how to make Le Gateau au Chocolate l’Eminence Brunen (chocolate cake) in roundabout fashion, capped an evening of music that was every bit as light and frothy as Julie Child’s whipped egg whites. (And, Cook’s performance was capped with tiny pieces of rich cholate cake served with the tiniest of forks by ushers decked out in white aprons).

Schubert's "Trout" Quintet for Piano and Strings featured Andrea Kaplin, Jelena Dirks, Peter Henderson, Andrew Cuneo, William VerMeulen and Steve Ahearn. PHOTO: Nils Ribi

The three evenings of free concerts held Thursday through Saturday at The Argyros was curated by innovative conductor Edwin Outwater, who had just led a Florida audience to Mars and Jupiter with astronaut Winston E. Scott in tow at the New World Center in Miami Beach.

And, as he had promised. it was very different from Alasdair Neale inaugural Winter Season concert.

Neale last year wowed audiences with performances by solo violinists, marimba players and Gregorian chanters who appeared under spotlights in different parts of the theater.

Outwater, instead, pretended to welcome the audience into his home for a winter soiree, then took listeners into the salon, the music room and the kitchen on a central stage, having chosen musical pieces suited for each.

Daniel Isengart performed the antics of a butler and a German prankster. PHOTO: Nils Ribi

Wood River High School Pianist Jasmine Jordan, who has studied at the Festival’s Music Institute, kicked things off playing Ravel’s “Tom Thumb” with Peter Henderson. Harpist Getchen Van Hoesen joined flute player Andrea Kaplan and viola player Joen Vasquez on Debussy’s “Finale from Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp.”

And a quintet for piano and strings entranced audience members with Schubert’s lighthearted “Variations on Die Forelle from Quintet for Piano and Strings” during the two-plus hour concert.

Daniel Isengart, a Franco-German cabaret specialist, was tasked with acting out a tightrope walker and more for Richard Strauss’s “Til Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” a tone poem that chronicles the misadventures and pranks of a German peasant folk hero.

 He really shone as he sang “La Boheme” with precision and punctuation.

Edwin and Tish Outwater were among those in the audience on opening night. PHOTO: Karen Bossick

The theater was decorated with Linda Christensen’s oil paintings, which Gail Severn’s staff spent a day and a half hanging with airplane wire to keep the pieces from touching the theater’s special sound surfaces. Sculptures provided by the gallery were set up around the room amidst the ottomans and couches that accompanied chairs.

Outwater’s proud parents Edwin and Tish Outwater, who have long called Sun Valley home, beamed as they watched the performance.

“He’s really come into his own in the last 10 years,” said Tish, as she described the genius and creativity of the first-born of her four sons. “I had him doing rhythm instruments when he was 3. And we have another son who had a fantastic career as an opera singer. Ella Fitzgerald used to invite them over to her house and sing to them every Christmas. She was such a good person—she supported her entire family. And I give a lot of credit to the boys’ public school teachers, as well.”

The evening’s musical menu brought repeated “Bravos!” from Justin Moore, an orthodontist who divides his time between Sun Valley and a small backwoods community in Alaska.

 “You close your eyes and it’s like Ketchum doesn’t exist,” he said. “This is so amazing—but, then, Sun Valley has so many amazing things to enjoy. I always feel as if I have to go back to work in Alaska to rest up.”

Tony Price, a board member of the Sun Valley Music Festival, said he loved that this year’s Winter Season concert, like last year’s, was a total surprise.

“I love that you don’t know what’s coming—that’s part of what makes this special.”

Hailey resident John Plummer said he enjoyed the opportunity to be so close to musicians that he could watch their lips purse around the horns and their concentration as they drew their bows across their stringed instruments.

“You can focus on the harp playing here,” he said. “Sometimes, individual instruments get lost in the big orchestra.”

Sun Valley resident Barbara Thrasher said she wouldn’t have missed the concert for the world.

“The Sun Valley Music Festival is such a part of the community,” she said. “It’s so neat in the summer to see people coming from all different directions to attend the concerts at the Sun Valley Pavilion. It’s almost like church.”


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