Arts July 31, 2008

Sun Valley Summer Symphony

Music inside a tent never sounded so good. Or on a lawn with the contents of a picnic basket arranged for the comfort of children, friends and a few happy dogs.

Some people gather inside, showing off seasonal dresses and sports jackets selected for the occasion while others arrive directly from work, setting out a lawn chair just in time to hear the opening chords.

Either way, Sun Valley Summer Symphony is the highlight of the summer for many.

“I never miss one,” said Pat Thorne, a Sun Valley resident for more than 30 years.

Others make sure to spend time in their Sun Valley residences during August, the symphony month. These homeowners bring friends to stay with them, and fill the dance card with the 6:30 p.m. concerts that run most nights in the beginning of August. Entire vacations are planned around the symphony dates.

“We get phone calls routinely as soon as a week after the symphony closes wanting to know dates so people can plan their trips,” said Jennifer Teisinger, executive director for Sun Valley Summer Symphony.

With Bald Mountain Ski Area in glorious view across the lawn and the sun dipping behind aspens toward the end of the 60-minute performance, the location matches the superb musicians who leave their regular orchestras to create Sun Valley Summer Symphony for two weeks out of the year.

“It doesn’t exist anywhere else to be able to come hear Tom Hampson and set out your fried chicken and hear that voice that regularly fills the Metropolitan Opera House,” said Teisinger.

Thomas Hampson, baritone, performs on Monday, July 30. Symphony dates are Sunday, July 29, to Monday, August 13, with a guest appearance by Horatio Gutierrez performing the Brahms Piano Concerto #1 on Sunday, August 12.

Jon Nakamatsu serves as guest pianist for the Edgar F. Bronfman Chamber Series on July 22, 24 and 26.

The largest privately funded free admission symphony in America started small in Elkhorn Village 23 years ago under the guidance of Dr. Carl Eberl, music professor emeritus of Queens College of the City University of New York. In those days, a big audience was 30 people. Today, under the wing of Sun Valley Company, audiences often exceed 3,000.

Next summer, the audiences might be even larger.

Sun Valley Company owner Earl Holding last summer stood on the symphony stage to tell a wildly enthusiastic audience about his plans to build a symphony pavilion in partnership with Sun Valley Summer Symphony. This summer, construction is scheduled to begin.

While concerts take place as usual in the white tent supported by steel beams, the field below at the edge of Dollar Road will be contoured for a new contemporary music pavilion to be constructed using tensile steel netting as shade protection for the audience.

“It’s something like the Sydney Opera House,” said Mark Hofman, Community Development director for the city of Sun Valley. “Not as big, but definitely as dramatic. It will definitely be a signature piece for Sun Valley that will be known all over the world.”

Sun Valley Company General Manager Wally Huffman said the swooping shape protecting the stage will seat 1,500 people. Hillsides dipping toward the stage will allow 2,500 people outside to actually watch the orchestra during their picnic dinners.

Right now, speakers convey sound outside the tent but only the audience inside the tent sees the musicians at work.

With the new pavilion, 4,000 people will experience the orchestra called one of the finest “pickup” orchestras in the business.

“I’ve got nothing but good to say about this project,” said Huffman.

Teisinger and the Sun Valley Summer Symphony board of directors agree.

“We’ll have better sight lines, more seating and better audio than the tent has been able to provide,” said Teisinger.

Who thought a great thing could get better?

This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.