For opening night, “brilliant pianist” Orli Shaham (The New York Times) returns to Sun Valley to perform Ravel’s beautiful and jazz-influenced Piano Concerto in G Major. Continuing the jazzy theme, the program also includes Delights and Dances, a rhythmic and soulful composition by Academy Award-nominated American composer Michael Abels. The Season opens with The Star-Spangled Banner, of course, followed by Rossini’s Overture to the Barber of Seville.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 stands out for its upbeat enthusiasm, a quality it offers in abundance despite the composer’s advancing deafness when he wrote it. Brimming with extremes and surprises, the piece exhibits an exuberance and cheerfulness not heard again until—perhaps—his Ode to Joy in the ninth symphony. The concert opens with Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, a piece he wrote for his wife, Cosima. Wagner hired a small group of musicians to play the piece in the front hallway of his house to awaken her on her birthday morning.
Mozart fans may realize that the Festival has been slowly working its way through the great composer’s concertos for winds. This evening features his Concerto for Oboe, performed by the Festival’s Principal Oboe, Erik Behr. One of the most famous pieces ever written for the oboe, it offers a melodic showcase for the instrument’s range of expression. Wind instruments are also featured prominently in Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes. Each variation gives the melodic lead to a different instrument, including the flute, clarinet, and with an oboe and bassoon duet. And the final variation brings everything home with an exuberant, Latin-American flair.
Antonín Dvořák’s eighth symphony is often described as cheery, genial, and upbeat. It offers one delightful melody after another, whether evoking themes from Bohemian folk music the composer adored or scenes of local pastoral beauty. As one conductor instructed the orchestra before the fanfare that opens the fourth movement: “Gentleman, in Bohemia the trumpets never call to battle—they always call to the dance!” Speaking of fanfare, this concert opens with Mason Bates’s Soundcheck in C Major, which is, in his words, “a fanfare animated by sonic effects” that might remind some of Wagner, and others of Pink Floyd.
One of classical music’s great mysteries is why Schubert never finished his eighth symphony—he lived six more years after he stopped working on it. But there’s no mystery in why it has become so popular: it’s gorgeous, and it includes one of the most famous melodies ever written. Like Schubert, Gustav Mahler was a master songwriter, and he set many poems by Friedrich Rückert to music. Sasha Cooke, a “luminous standout” (The New York Times) with “equal parts poise, radiance, and elegant directness” (Opera News), sings Mahler’s Rückert Lieder with the Festival Orchestra.
Bronfman, a “marvel of digital dexterity, warmly romantic sentiment, and jaw-dropping bravura” (Chicago Tribune) returns to Sun Valley to perform Schumann’s only piano concerto. After a wildly successful premiere by his wife Clara, the piece immediately became known, and loved, for the exquisitely delicate way in which Schumann weaves together equal roles for the pianist and the orchestra. The concert opens with Finlandia, which Jean Sibelius wrote as a patriotic celebration of his homeland in 1900, followed by Threnody (In Memory of Jan Sibelius), which was written in 1965 by U.S. composer William Grant Still in honor of the great composer’s birth 100 years prior. The annual dance party on the lawn will follow this concert.
It’s hard to imagine a piece of classical music causing a riot, but that’s the word often applied to the audience’s reaction when Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring debuted in Paris in 1913. The music (and dancing) broke with tradition so dramatically that it’s often called the first example of modernism in music. As a young man, Stravinsky’s first inspiration to write music for dance came from seeing Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, so it’s fitting that the Festival Orchestra plays some excerpts from that ballet to open this concert.
Debussy loved the sea, especially its unpredictable and ever-changing motion. His most performed work, La Mer, captures—in music, as only Debussy could—the play of light on the water and the sea’s place in the natural world. Also on the program, the Festival’s exploration of Mozart’s wind concertos continues with Principal Bassoon Andrew Cuneo performing Mozart’s concerto for the bassoon, a piece that shows off the instrument’s remarkable agility and range. Opening the program, Maestro Neale leads the orchestra in Agnegram, a short piece composed by his friend and mentor, the great conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.
Vivacious and unpretentious—and both emotionally and physically exhausting to play—Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto became so popular that it’s often performed at opening night galas. Grammy-winning violinist Hadelich performs this concerto with the Festival Orchestra on a program with Florence Price’s Andante moderato.
Violinist Augustin Hadelich joins Festival Orchestra musicians for an evening of chamber music featuring Brahms's Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major. It's a work of infectious joie de vivre, offering both songs and dances alongside lively musical conversations between the two violins, two violas, and two cellos. The second movement's theme and variations have been featured in settings as diverse as Star Trek: The Next Generation and the 2001 French film, The Piano Teacher.
After hearing Sasha Cooke sing Mahler’s Rückert Lieder on August 10, audiences may recognize some themes in tonight’s symphony. The fourth movement, the Adagietto, draws explicitly from the Lieder, and is recognized as a love letter from Mahler to his wife Alma. Leonard Bernstein famously led the New York Philharmonic in a performance of the heartbreakingly beautiful Adagietto at Robert Kennedy’s funeral service in 1968. The rest of the symphony is pretty good, too.