Summer Festivals: Musical Bounty Cascades Down The West Coast

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By Richard S. Ginell

Moving from North to South, here is a sampling of some of the musical treats that you can find on the West Coast this summer:

Seattle Opera: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen: August 4-25

Greer Grimsley, Stephanie Blythe, Seattle Opera Ring (Rozarii Lynch)
Greer Grimsley, Stephanie Blythe, Seattle Ring (Rozarii Lynch)

Reappearing once every four years, the Stephen Wadsworth-directed Seattle Ring returns in 2013 for another go-round. In a world filled with futuristic, political, contradictory or downright weird Rings, the Seattle production is said to be the last major traditionally staged Ring still standing in North America. There will be three separate cycles in August. Leading the cast are Alwyn Mellor (Brünnhilde), Stefan Vinke (Siegfried) and Greer Grimsley (Wotan). Asher Fisch conducts.

Oregon Bach Festival: June 23 – July 14

Helmut Rilling (Jon Meyers)
Helmut Rilling (Jon Meyers)

It’s not often that you see a music director literally passing the baton on to his successor in one evening, but this is what Helmuth Rilling plans to do in his last Oregon Bach Festival after 44 years at the helm. In what is sure to be an emotional moment July 6, Rilling leads his daughter and son-in-law in Brahms’ Double Concerto, then turns over the concert to the next music director, Mathew Walls, for Brahms’ Song of Destiny and Mendelssohn’s Psalm 95. Along with Rilling leading big works like Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Bach’s St. John Passion, and as his parting shot, the B-Minor Mass, there will be commemorations of a plethora of composer anniversaries, organist Paul Jacobs playing Bach in two churches, and appearances by Jeffrey Kahane and Monica Huggett. Based in Eugene, the festival also travels to Portland, Corvallis, Ashland, Florence and Bend – truly an Oregonian festival.

Music@Menlo: July 18 – August 10

The 2013 version of this chamber music festival deep within the Silicon Valley is entitled From Bach, on the premise that Bach is the fountainhead from which the next 263 years of music seems to flow. Accordingly, a work by Johann Sebastian leads off all eight of the main festival programs  and all but one of the five Carte Blanche concerts – which then zigzag over the centuries from Mozart and Haydn, through Brahms, Debussy and Shostakovich all the way to Cage, Reich, Harbison and Salonen. The only program devoted completely to Bach will find a nonet anchored by the Orion String Quartet playing The Art of Fugue. Among the performers in the festival are pianists Gilbert Kalish and Jeffrey Kahane, violinists Ian and Joseph Swenson, soprano Elizabeth Futral, and of course, the two founding artistic directors, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han.

Hollywood Bowl: June 22 – September 22

Hollywood Bowl fireworks 2010 (Wiki Commons)
Hollywood Bowl fireworks 2010 (Wiki Commons)

The granddaddy of West Coast summer festivals –almost more of a complete concert season in itself than a festival, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as its centerpiece. With too many items to list, we can pinpoint a few Hollywood Bowl highlights, starting with the launch of the classical series as Michael Tilson Thomas leads the Philharmonic and LA Master Chorale in Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, a favorite veteran guest conductor, leads the observance of The Rite of Spring‘s centennial; Nicholas McGegan goes against type with an all-Mendelssohn program; and former Bowl guest conductor Bramwell Tovey returns with, among other things, newly commissioned choreography for Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3. Music director Gustavo Dudamel will devote himself entirely to the Verdi bicentennial with a concert performance of Aida and two performances of the Requiem.

Southwest Chamber Music: Summer Festival at the Huntington: July 13 – August 25

Southwest Chamber Music at the Huntington
Southwest Chamber Music at the Huntington

The Summer Festival at the Huntington is as close as Southern California gets to a Tanglewood experience: chamber music concerts by this circle of skilled players on the Loggia of the Huntington Museum in San Marino, with plenty of lawn space for picnickers surrounded by the famous gardens of the former Huntington estate. This summer, the festival goes just a bit further out, with Mexico’s Gabriela Ortiz, the late Hans Werner Henze, Benjamin Britten and Oliver Knussen sharing programs with Brahms, Reger, Stravinsky and even a wisp of rare bicentennial Wagner (Album Leaf for Betty Schott, for solo piano). One program is devoted to “night music,” with Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Ortiz’s Baalkah for soprano and string quartet, and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht.

La Jolla Summerfest: July 31 – August 23

Perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific near San Diego, this mostly-chamber-music fest is sporting one of its more interesting and varied sets of programs this summer. “Let’s Dance” on opening night, for instance, contains a series of rhythmic, if not always strictly danceable, selections by Schubert, Stravinsky, Falla, Ravel and Lalo Schifrin. Live @ The Loft on the campus of UCSD has a cavalcade of 20th century composers on parade – Ives, Bartók, Debussy, Villa-Lobos, Elliott Carter and Charles Wuorinen. On a more mainstream note, pianist Jonathan Biss has scheduled an all-Beethoven recital, with cellist Fred Sherry and violinist Joseph Swensen in the “Ghost” Trio. Wrapping up the whole festival, James Conlon leads a chamber orchestra in a Britten centennial salute (Simple Symphony, Prelude and Fugue), coupled with two Mozart symphonies.

Richard S. Ginell writes regularly about music for the Los Angeles
Times and is the Los Angeles correspondent for American Record Guide.