This evening, we enjoy an unusual treat: a concert of music specifically arranged for horn ensemble. Two nights later, the Festival Orchestra will perform Richard Strauss’s An Alpine Symphony, a score that requires a gigantic horn section—16 players to be precise, 11 more than the Festival’s usual contingent. Having such a large number of North America’s top horn players in one place presents a rare and incredible opportunity to program a concert just for them: Hornucopia! This the Festival’s second Hornucopia concert in the Pavilion—the first was presented under similar circumstances in 2010, a fantastically memorable evening.
The modern horn has origins that date back at least as far as the 15th century. For hundreds of years, the instrument had a very specific purpose: to communicate precise information using melodic “signals” during a hunt. As the instrument developed and was gradually co-opted by musical ensembles, the original role of the horn was never forgotten, and the sound of the horn came to be associated not just with the hunt itself, but with nature and the pastoral setting that served as the backdrop for the expedition. Situated in the glorious Wood River Valley, the Sun Valley Music Festival has chosen to use the horn as its logo for years, drawing on the instrument’s symbolic connection to the outdoors. So, tonight’s concert celebrates both the horn and the Festival’s connection to the glorious surrounding landscape.
Opening the program are two numbers adapted from film. The first is an intricate arrangement of “The Trolley Song,” made famous by Judy Garland in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis. The title song of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast won an Oscar in 1992, with an original orchestration that featured a mellow horn accompaniment inspiring tonight’s version.
Mahler’s 1892 song “Urlicht” is one of his many settings of the German folk verse collected in Des Knaben Wunderhorn [The Boy’s Magic Horn], later adapted into the sublime fourth movement of his Symphony No. 2. The first part of the song is set as a chorale and a prayer, with the second portion depicting the mystery and exultation of crossing over the threshold of this life into the next. Tonight’s performance of “Urlicht” is offered in the memory of Dale Clevenger, the legendary former Principal Horn of the Chicago Symphony who passed away in January. Mr. Clevenger, whose son Jesse plays horn with the Festival Orchestra, was originally slated to participate in tonight’s performance as both a player and co-conductor. Mr. VerMeulen notes that Mr. Clevenger “taught and mentored many of us and was an inspiration to all hornists.”
Turning back to film, “Moon River” comes from the 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with Audrey Hepburn’s performance winning it an Oscar for Best Original Song that year. “Birdland” is an arrangement of the band Weather Report’s 1977 tribute to the New York jazz club—feel free to participate in some backbeat clapping!
“Evening Prayer” is a hymn sung in duet by the two children in Humperdinck’s classic, Hansel and Gretel. Feeling drowsy after a visit from the Sandman, the children sing of the 14 angels who will watch over them as they sleep. British rock band Queen came out with the surrealist classic opera/hard rock/chorale mash-up “Bohemian Rhapsody” and its accompanying music video in 1975.
Clergyman John Newton’s text for “Amazing Grace” was set to a traditional tune in the early 19th century. Its universal message of redemption has made it one of the most popular hymns ever written, with an estimated 10 million performances per year worldwide. The grand finale of tonight’s program is Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, which draws its material from his opera Bievenuto Cellini, set in 16th-century Rome during Carnival. Berlioz demanded that the evocative score be played at “the whirlwind tempo of the Roman dancers.”
Program notes by Jon Kochavi