For opening night, George Li, one of the most sought-after young pianists on the scene today, tackles one of the greatest piano concertos ever written. Filled with joy, beauty, and heartbreaking tenderness, this is not the stomping and thrashing-about Beethoven of caricature. From the rising “fountains” of piano in the opening moments, to the ever-so-soft transition from the second into the final movement, the romance of this piece distances it from its classical predecessors. The season opens with the Star Spangled Banner, of course, followed by Jesse Montgomery’s Banner, a rhapsody on the theme of its famous predecessor.
Tchaikovsky’s theme and variations in a Rococo style is one of the most performed cello concertos in the repertoire. The composer himself defined “Rococo” as “a carefree feeling of well-being.” It’s a warm-hearted, gracious, and charming work, featuring Amos Yang, the Festival’s own Principal Cello, as soloist. Mozart fans will love Schubert’s fifth symphony, an uplifting piece full of jaunty and light melodies, any one of which you’re likely to find yourself humming on the way home.
It’s a rare treat to hear two world-class pianists at the same time, so mark your calendars for this performance by George Li and Peter Henderson, the Festival’s Principal Keyboard. They’ll play Schubert’s Fantasy in F Minor, a haunting piece, in which according to one critic, “we hear Schubert’s soul pouring itself out like a nightingale in the flowering shrubs.” Following, Festival musicians join Li for Schumann’s Piano Quintet, a piece widely regarded as one of the composer’s finest compositions. It was the first piano quintet ever written and was premiered featuring the composer’s spouse, pianist Clara Schumann (a gifted musician in her own right!).
In 1942, the BBC commissioned Benjamin Britten to put six English poems to music as a portrayal of life in England. The authors included Tennyson, Blake, and Keats. Tenor Nicholas Phan and Principal Horn William VerMeulen will converse through music in Britten’s resulting Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings. In Mother Goose., Maurice Ravel set five fairy tales to music as a gift to two children of his good friends for them to play on the piano. He later turned it into a complete ballet score, which the Festival Orchestra will perform in this concert.
If classical music had a “rock opera,” it would almost certainly be Carmina Burana. Unpretentious and endlessly entertaining, this rollicking choral tour de force is based on a set of 24 poems written back in the 13th Century by the “Goliards,” a group of defrocked monks and vagabond students. The lyrics reflect their lusty lifestyles, with odes to fate and fortune, biting satires of religious themes, and nods to gluttony, carnal pleasures, and the joys of the tavern. When the composer Carl Orff discovered the collection, he set about composing music to match its exuberant character. It might be the only composition that would have both Pete Townshend and Giacomo Puccini tapping their feet!
The “awakening of cheerful feelings upon arriving in the country.” That might describe the drive into the Wood River Valley, but it’s also the label Beethoven applied to the first movement of his sixth symphony! In this explicitly programmatic work, Beethoven references sounds heard in nature, including birdcalls, a burbling brook, a terrifying summer thunderstorm, and a shepherd’s song. Throughout, one can easily imagine the composer strolling through his beloved Austrian countryside, enjoying a respite from bustling Vienna. The program opens with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, a piece which Beethoven decided was too grand to be anything else but self-sufficient.
Hailed by The Times as “without question the most astounding pianist of our age,” Daniil Trifonov won a Grammy Award in 2018, was Music America’s 2019 Artist of the Year, and has seven albums in Billboard’s Top classical Album charts. After performing Pictures at an Exhibition in the Festival’s virtual season in 2020, Trifonov will appear in person to play Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a gargantuan beast of a piece, the longest and perhaps the most difficult of piano concerti in the standard repertoire. Brahms himself played the premiere, demonstrating his complete mastery of the instrument.
Here come three pieces you may not have heard but will almost certainly love. Spanish composer Manual De Falla wrote the score to a comedic ballet called The Three-Cornered Hat commissioned by Serge Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes. The 12-minute suite was inspired by both Andalusian folk music and traditional flamenco rhythms. Andrew McCandless, the Festival’s Principal Trumpet, then plays Canadian composer John Estacio’s trumpet concerto, which has been performed by over 20 Canadian orchestras. The program concludes with José Pablo Moncayo’s foot-stomping Huapango, a piece that, over time, came to be known as Mexico’s unofficial national anthem.
Unlike many great symphonies, Elgar’s first achieved fame nearly instantly—it was performed over 80 times in Europe and North America in its first year. Its popularity has endured, with over 10 recordings released in the first decade of the 21st century. It’s easy to see why. As the Evening Standard wrote in 1908: “The composer has written a work of rare beauty, sensibility, and humanity, a work understandable by all.”
Violinist Leila Josefowicz is a passionate advocate of contemporary music, with several living composers having written concertos for her. In this concert she plays Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, a rhythmic, pulsing piece with Baroque overtones. Stravinsky basically invented his own format for this concerto, and the two “arias” in the middle offer some gorgeous violin-playing, including a rare (for Stravinsky) bit of reflective melancholy in Aria II. The program opens with Lili Boulanger’s Of a Spring Morning, a vibrant and delicate piece, and closes with Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien, inspired by catchy tunes the composer heard on the streets Rome.
For their chamber music concert this year, the Festival’s resident string quartet takes on Brahms’s earnest, yet lovely, String Quartet No. 2. The piece is full of canons, or imitative melodies (a nod to Bach), and Hungarian themes (perhaps a nod to violinist Joseph Joachim, who played the premiere). Following, the Quartet will play Haydn’s Quartet Op. 76 No. 2, another formally serious but lively and gracious work, also with nods to Bach (note the canon in the 3rd movement) and Hungarian flourishes in the finale.
Sun Valley favorites Time for Three return to the Pavilion stage for the first time since August 2017. They’ll perform a new work titled Contact, which was co-commissioned by the Festival and written for them by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts. Puts wrote Hymn to the Sun for the Sun Valley Pavilion’s opening concert. The program begins with Three Latin American Dances for Orchestra, by Gabriela Lena Frank. Frank is a Grammy-nominated composer and pianist, who was named one of the top 35 female composers in classical music by The Washington Post.
After the traditional Pops Night salute to the Armed forces, guest conductor Andy Einhorn will lead the Festival Orchestra and two Broadway singers in an evening of The Best of Americana, featuring familiar and fun works from film, Broadway, and much-loved composers. Einhorn, whose recording and tour credits include Bullets Over Broadway, Evita, Sondheim on Sondheim, and Elton John’s The Lion King, is also familiar to local audiences as the pianist who accompanied Audra McDonald, Kelli O’Hara, and Brian Stokes Mitchell for the Festival’s virtual Gala Concert in 2020. Following the concert, enjoy a lively performance on the Pavilion lawn for the Festival’s third Lawn Party. Bring your friends and your dancing shoes!
What happens when 16 of the finest horn players in North America get together and try to one-up each other in arrangements of songs ranging from classical to jazz to rock and roll? “It will be the Mother of All Horn Concerts,” says Bill VerMeulen, the Festival’s Principal Horn. Backed by a rhythm section, the masters of horn will deliver a rollicking good time in the Pavilion—don’t miss it!
Richard Strauss’ epic tone poem depicts a day spent hiking in the Alps, from daybreak until nightfall. Through 22 episodes, the audience will experience Strauss’ musical depictions of forests, brooks, a waterfall, meadows, pastures, a glacier, and this Summer Season’s second big storm—recall Beethoven’s “Pastoral.” To produce these sounds, in addition to 16 horns, the orchestra will include an organ, a wind machine, a heckelphone, and a thunder sheet. Where else can you hear this piece in the very setting it describes? Only in Sun Valley!