Summer Fests: Diverse Artists, Beethoven Take Center Stage In West


PREVIEW – As the pandemic recedes, most music festivals in the West are are returning to in-person performances, albeit with reduced audience capacities and other safety restrictions often worked out with local medical experts. The big theme running through this year’s offerings is diversity – a response to recent calls for increased equity and inclusion in classical music that have sprung from Black Lives Matter and similar movements. Some festivals have instituted specific programs to address such concerns while others have taken pains to bolster representation of women and people of color among the composers and artists showcased.

Aspen Music Festival celebrates composers identifying as AMELIA

Lawn pods will be marked off for the popular festival concerts under Aspens open sided tent this season and seating inside will be arranged for the masked and the vaxed
July 1-Aug. 22: Full details.

The 2021 installment of this venerable Colorado festival high in the Rockies, with performances by both top professionals and students from its acclaimed school, will feature two themes postponed from 2020: Beethoven’s Revolution, a delayed celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, and a line-up of works by composers identifying as AMELIA (African-American, Middle Eastern, Latin, Indigenous, and Asian), including Lei Liang, Jessie Montgomery, Samy Moussa and Roberto Sierra. In addition, acclaimed soprano Renée Fleming and Patrick Summers, artistic and music director of the Houston Grand Opera, will launch the Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS program, a reimagining of the festival’s long-running opera center.

Cellist Sheku Kanneh Mason Jake Turney

(The following safety protocols have been announced: Under the festival’s big Benedict Music Tent, there will be both vaccinated and distanced seating available. Those in the vaccinated sections will be seated normally. The combined approach may allow nearly 1,000 patrons to be seated for concerts. As for lawn seating, which has been free and something of a crowded free-for-all, the area will be marked off into reserved seating pods, with no announcement yet on pricing.)

Other Highlights: July 11, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, Aspen Festival Orchestra, violinist Stefan Jackiw, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, pianist Inon Barnatan and conductor Ludovic Morlot; July 23, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, Aspen Chamber Symphony, pianist Tengku Irfan and conductor Gemma New (2018 Solti Award winner) in her professional festival debut; Aug 18, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s Blue/s Forms and Louisiana Blues Strut: A Cakewalk, recital, violinist Augustin Hadelich; Aug. 20, Aspen Chamber Symphony, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason (winner of the 2016 BBC Young Musician Award), conductor Christian Arming; and Aug. 22, Handel’s Rodelinda, Regina de’Longobardi (abridged concert version), conductor Miah Im.

Colorado Music Festival launches five-year commissioning project

Musicians from 44 countries make up a seasonal orchestra under the direction of Peter Oundjian at the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder

July 1-Aug. 7: Full details.

New music runs through the 2021 edition of the Colorado Music Festival, in Boulder, where music director Peter Oundjian leads a seasonal orchestra composed of musicians from 44 orchestras from three countries.

Composer Hannah Lash

Kicking off a five-year project of commissioning and presenting new works, the season will feature four world premieres, including Aaron Jay Kernis’ Elegy, a commemoration of those lost to the COVID-19 pandemic (July 1 and 2), and the festival premiere of Forestallings by the prolific composer Hannah Lash, who now teaches at Yale. (July 22).

Two more premieres can be heard as part of the festival’s inaugural Music of Today Series (July 20-25), with four programs dedicated to the works of living composers. Also new this summer is the Robert Mann Chamber Music Series, with three string quartets making their festival debuts – the Juilliard (July 13), St. Lawrence (July 20) and Danish (Aug. 3).

Other highlights: July 22, Kevin Puts’ Concerto for Marimba, a world-premiere commission featuring soloist Ji Su Jung, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131 (orchestrated by Peter Oundjian), Oundjian conducting; and July 25, a world premiere of Joan Tower’s Cello Concerto with Alisa Weilerstein and the Festival Orchestra, plus Tower’s Made in America for orchestra (2004), Oundjian conducting.

Grand Teton Music Festival marks its 60th anniversary

The Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole Wyo is celebrating its 60th season this summer Photo by Ashley Wilkerson

July 2-Aug. 21: Full details.

“Welcome Home” is the theme of the Grand Teton Music Festival’s seven-week line-up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “I’m looking forward to having us all come back together for our 60th season, when we return home to the festival we love,” said music director Donald Runnicles.

Ada Lovelace Byrons daughter Wiki Commons

Among projects on tap, the Festival Orchestra will present the July 16-17 world premiere of The Deciding Machine by Melody Eötvös, an Australian-American composer who currently resides in Melbourne. Eötvös’ orchestral work celebrates the life of Ada Lovelace, a child of Lord Byron, who became known as “the bride of science.” (She published the first algorithm intended to be used on the first computer, which was called the “Analytical Engine” at the time.)

The Deciding Machine was commissioned by the Festival as part of the dual celebrations marking Beethoven’s 250th birthday and the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Wyoming granted women the right to vote in 1869, the first state in the U.S. to do so. Also on tap are Aug. 13-14 performances of Jessie Montgomery’s Freedom Songs, which the festival co-commissioned.

Other highlights: July 16-17, Festival Orchestra, Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, Festival Orchestra, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Runnicles; July 30-31, Carl Vine’s Five Hallucinations for Trombone and Orchestra, Festival Orchestra, trombonist Michael Mulcahy, conductor Gemma New; Aug. 20 and 21, Festival Orchestra, Stravinsky’s Concerto for Violin in D major, violinist Leila Josefowicz, Runnicles.

Jessie Montgomery world premiere headlines Sun Valley

Ketchum Idaho has hosted the Sun Valley Music Festival for 37 years

July 26-Aug. 19: Full details

Headlining this summer’s 37th installment of the Sun Valley Music Festival is the Aug. 7 world premiere of Jessie Montgomery’s Five Freedom Songs, based on traditional African American spirituals, to be sung by soprano Julia Bullock.

<em>Virtuoso soprano Julia Bullock left is to sing Jessie Montgomerys Freedom Songs <em>

Bullock was named Musical America’s 2021 Artist of the Year, and Montgomery has been appointed the next Chicago Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence, effective 2021-2024. The program opens with Florence Price’s Ethiopia’s Shadow in America, which charts the arrival of Africans in America, and Bullock will narrate Copland’s Lincoln Portrait at the same concert.

Other highlights: July 29, Recital with violinist Vadim Gluzman and other artists, Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence for string sextet; Aug. 5, Missy Mazzoli’s These Worlds in Us, Festival Orchestra, and Aug. 12, Schumann’s Concerto in A minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 129, Festival Orchestra, cellist Alisa Weilerstein.

La Jolla SummerFest explores theme Self + Sound

The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center known as The Conrad is the home of the La Jolla Music Society one of the oldest composer oriented festivals in the US

July 30-Aug. 20: Full details.
Israeli-born pianist Inon Barnatan returns for his third season as music director of the La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest, a longstanding festival in the seaside hills of San Diego. This year’s installment carries over what was supposed to be the theme of 2020, Self + Sound, which explores in part “how composers write themselves into their music.”

Festival music director and pianist Inon Barnatan

The festival’s Synergy Initiative returns this summer with the American Perspectives series, which explores the many influences on American music and how it, in turn, has been influential. Goin’ Home, the first of the four programs, on July 31, juxtaposes beloved spirituals performed by the Kings Return gospel quartet with spiritual-inspired works by such composers Wynton Marsalis, Florence Price, and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson.

Other highlights: Aug. 7, Idealized Landscapes – Gabriela Lena Frank’s Contested Eden (West Coast Premiere); Aug 8, Rhapsodies in Blue – featuring elections from Mary Lou Williams’ Zodiac Suite; Aug. 12, Marc Neikrug’s chamber opera A Song by Mahler (West Coast premiere), with mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and baritone Kelly Markgraf, and Aug. 15, The Silver Score, Aaron Zigman’s Rhapsody for Cello and Piano (world premiere). Zigman is a composer, pianist and conductor who has scored more than 60 major Hollywood films and influenced other musicians and songwriters.

Santa Fe festival offers two new string quartets in commission mix

St Francis Auditorium at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe home to Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival concerts

July 18-Aug. 23: Full details.

A big name at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival this summer is Alan Gilbert, former music director of the New York Philharmonic. He leads two works for chamber orchestra – Takemitsu’s Rain Coming (July 21) and Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks (July 24), and he will pick up his violin to perform in Ligeti’s Horn Trio (July 25-26). The multifaceted festival includes world or American premieres of eight commissioned works, including string quartets by Augusta Read Thomas and Helen Grime (Aug. 4) and two participants in the festival’s 2021 Young Composers String Quartet Project – Lara Poe and Jack Hughes (Aug. 6).

Intermission spot The museum courtyard

In addition, Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and baritone Kelly Markgraf join clarinetist David Shifrin and the FLUX Quartet for the Aug. 19 New Mexico premiere of artistic director Marc Neikrug’s chamber opera, A Song by Mahler.

Other highlights: Aug. 1 and 2, Schulhoff’s String Quartet No. 2, Miami String Quartet; Aug. 5, chamber works by Leopold Mozart, Franz Xavier Mozart and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Aug. 8 and 9, Berg’s Chamber Concerto for Piano and Violin with 13 Wind Instruments, pianist Kirill Gerstein, violinist Leila Josefowicz and conductor David Robertson (festival debut), Aug. 11, HK Gruber’s Frankenstein!!, a “pan-demonium for baritone chansonnier and ensemble after children’s rhymes by H. C. Artmann;” Aug. 21, Bach’s Goldberg Variations (arr. Dmitry Sitkovetsky), violinist Ida Kavafian, violist Steven Tenenbom and cellist Peter Wiley.

Corigliano world premiere among Santa Fe Opera’s four productions

Nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains the Santa Fe Opera will offer its 17th world premiere this summer

July 10-Aug. 24: Full details.

Known for its adventurous programming, the Santa Fe Opera presents its 17th world premiere this summer – Lord of the Cries, a work by John Corigliano, composer of The Ghosts of Versailles (1991), and librettist Mark Adamo (July 17-Aug. 17).

Santa Fe Operas production concept for John Coriglianos Lord of the Cries

Lord of the Cries draws on two similar stories from very different periods – The Bacchae by Euripides and Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Heading the Lord of the Cries cast are countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, who makes his company debut in the title role, and soprano Susanna Phillips.

The rest of the season includes July 10-Aug. 27, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, soprano Yang Fang as Susanna (company debut), conductor Harry Bicket and director Laurent Pelly; July 24-Aug. 26, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, conductor Nicholas Carter; July 31-Aug. 25, Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (company premiere), director and designer Netia Jones and Bicket. Aug. 7, concert, soprano Angel Blue.

Academy of St. Martin in the Fields joins three U.S. orchestras in Vail

Joshua Bell

June 24-Aug. 4: Full details.

The Bravo! Vail Music Festival in Colorado has made its name on presenting residencies by top orchestras, and this summer continues that tradition, although, to allow for safe distancing on stage this season, each orchestra will be appropriately sized. Four such ensembles will make appearances, beginning June 24-27, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, violinist and music director Joshua Bell performing both the Vivaldi and Piazzolla takes on the Four Seasons.

Update: Because of travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bravo! announced June 16 that it is opening its season with the festival debut of the St. Paul (Minn.) Chamber Orchestra in place of the Academy of St. Martin the Fields. The concerts will take place on June 24 and 26 with famed violinist Joshua Bell as the featured soloist on each program. They will be followed June 27 with a chamber-music line-up with Bell, cellist Zlatomir Fung, pianist Shai Wosner and two members of the St. Paul ensemble.  

Fabio Luisi

June 30-July 5, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is in residence, with music director Fabio Luisi conducting two of the four concerts, including the world premiere of Bruce Adolphe’s Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt! (“This Kiss to the Whole World!”) on July 1. As the composer explains in a program note, the phrase is the famous line from the “Ode to Joy” by Friedrich Schiller, which Beethoven sets in his Ninth Symphony, and there are several musical connections to the Beethoven in Adolphe’s work. In 2022, Luisi and the Dallas Symphony will be able to pair the Adolphe with performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, May 12-15, at home in Dallas.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, leading the Philadelphia Orchestra July 9-17, and Jaap van Zweden, leading the New York Philharmonic July 21-28, round out Vail’s summer season. Their highlights include: July 9, Joseph Bologne’s Violin Concerto No. 9 in G major, Philadelphia Orchestra, violinist Gil Shaham and conductor Nathalie Stutzmann; July 17, Valerie Coleman’s Seven O’Clock Shout (a tribute to pandemic frontline workers), Philadelphia Orchestra, Nézet-Séguin; and July 21, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, New York Philharmonic, pianist Daniil Trifonov and van Zweden. Also noteworthy: July 22, Caroline Shaw’s Evergreen (a Vail co-commission), with the Viano String Quartet, and a complete performance of Bartok’s string quartets by the Escher String Quartet – July 29-31.

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Kyle MacMillan
Kyle MacMillan served as the classical music critic for the Denver Post from 2000 through 2011. He is now a freelance journalist in Chicago, where he contributes regularly to the Chicago Sun-Times. He writes regularly for Wall Street Journal, Opera News and Chamber Music. Also find his byline at: •Modern Luxury Early Music America