Sunday, April 18, 2021
Sun Valley Music Festival Welcomes Back Joshua Bell, Premieres ‘Freedom Songs’
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Joshua Bell performs with the U.S. Army Band. COURTESY: Wikipedia Commons
   
Thursday, March 11, 2021
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Violinist Joshua Bell, who made his debut with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony in 2003, will return to play with the Sun Valley Music Festival this summer—this time, as the Gala headliner.

And the Villalobos Brothers, who had to put their debut in Sun Valley on hold last summer because of the pandemic, will present a Fiesta de Baile for the annual Pops concert.

The Sun Valley Music Festival has planned a return-to in-person concerts for its 37th Summer Season which will run July 26 through Aug. 19, at the Sun Valley Pavilion.

Seating and attendance protocols will be determined closer to the start of the season, based on the COVID risk in Blaine County at that time.

“We are planning to return to the stage,” said Derek Dean, the Festival’s executive director. “I’m asked every day, ‘How many people are you going to sit in the Pavilion?’ My answer is always, ‘As many as we can.’

“If we don’t start planning for it now, we will not be able to make it happen,” he added at a Roundtable discussion sponsored by the Spur Community Foundation this past week.

The “Season to Celebrate,” as this season is being called, will feature the world premiere of New York violinist/composer Jessie Montgomery’s Freedom Songs.” Montgomery received acclaim for her inventive, “Banner”—a tribute to the 200th anniversary of “The Star Spangled Banner.” She also received praise for her “Five Slave Songs” commissioned in 2018 for soprano Julia Bullock by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bullock will appear in Sun Valley to perform Montgomery’s “Freedom Songs.” Bullock has been an artist-in-residence with several of the world’s top symphonies, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she created thought-provoking programs including the one that combined traditional slave songs with new music by American women of color in the museum’s most iconic spaces.

Other guest artists include

  • Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman, who studied violin in his native Russia at age 7
  • Alisa Weilerstein, one of the foremost cellists of our time. She persuaded her parents to buy her a cello at age 4 after becoming frustrated that the Rice Krispies box cello her grandmother had fashioned for her made no sound.
  • Grammy-nominated pianist Joyce Yang, who hails from Seoul, South Korea.
  • Jacomo Bairos, a Portuguese-American conductor who has led the Seattle Symphony, among others.

Three chamber orchestra concerts will lead off the season on July 26, 27 and 31, followed by a chamber recital with violinist Gluzman on July 29.

The Festival Orchestra performances will kick off on Aug. 2 with a tribute to the healthcare and emergency services workers who led the Wood River Valley through the pandemic.

The Gala Concert featuring Grammy Award-winner Joshua Bell, considered a rock star in the classical musical field and one of the “50 Most Beautiful People on the Planet,” according to People magazine, will be held Aug. 4. Bell won a Grammy for his recording of “Bernstein: West Side Story Suite” and an Emmy nomination for his performance in PBS “Great Performances: Live from Central Park.”

His is the only concert requiring a ticket—the proceeds from that concert help keep the other performances free.

The world premiere of “Freedom Songs” will be presented on Aug.7. The Sun Valley Music Festival co-commissioned the works with the San Francisco Symphony, Boston Symphony, New Haven Symphony, Grand Teton Music Festival, Kansas City Symphony and Virginia Arts Festival.

MacArthur Genius Grant Fellow Alisa Weilerstein will make her festival debut on Aug. 12 and pianist Joyce Yang will return on Aug. 15.

The Villalobos Brothers will headline the Pops concert on Aug. 14 with a post-concert lawn party boasting a Latin flair afterwards.

Music Director Alasdair Neale said the season will reflect “the great joy that all of us on stage and in the audience feel in being able to resume live music making again.”

The Sun Valley Music Festival went online during the summer of 2020 with a series of virtual concerts filmed in musicians’ homes.

“We were caught between the love this community has for the orchestra and the desire of the musicians to make music for the community,” said Dean.

It was a massive undertaking as The Festival shipped Federal Express care packages of microphones and other tools to its orchestra musicians around the country. As musicians played their piece, they listened to a recorded click prepared by Neale so all would be on the same beat.

The audience on the Pavilion Lawn grew from a few dozen people watching the performances on Jumbo screens the first couple nights to full capacity as the concerts went on. Others watched on TV and laptops at home.

There were no reports of anyone contracting COVID from the lawn performances.

“You wouldn’t expect a little music festival in south-central Idaho to become a music production company but that’s what we did,” Dean recounted. “We’ve gone online, but it’s not our mission to be online. I hope for us online performances are about to be a thing of the past.”

The Sun Valley Music Festival Institute will offer its summer education programs in conjunction with the Festival season.

Students in grades 2 through 12 can participate in programs for instruments, voice and piano Aug. 2-6. College undergraduates and exceptional high school students studying piano, strings and voice can take part in the Advanced Chamber Program July 26-Aug.7. There, they will work with such guest artists as Gluzman, Bullock and Yang, while attending orchestra rehearsals.

Registration is open at https://www.svmusicfestival.org/summer-programs/

Derek noted that middle school teachers are making a video to get students excited about taking part in the Festival’s music classes since musicians have been unable to go into the classrooms to stoke their interest during the pandemic.

“We talk about how contagious the disease is,” he said, “But it’s nowhere as contagious as human emotion.”


 


 

 

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