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The Show Goes On: Sun Valley Music Festival Will Present 14-Concert Summer Season

Sun Valley Music Festival

While most of the world's festivals, concert houses and theaters have gone silent this summer, the Sun Valley Music Festival will showcase no less than 14 concerts, featuring some of the planet's best musicians, performing in-sync from 43 cities across North America.

All of the concerts are free, and will allow approximately 1,000 socially-distanced attendees on the great lawn of the Sun Valley Pavilion while thousands more view, simultaneously, on line.

Festival Executive Director Derek Dean and Music Director Alasdair Neale visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about their unprecedented undertaking, and the growing excitement as they approach the season's first performance Monday, July 27.

“We've picked up a lot of excitement in the community. I think it's fair to say that this festival is one of the few festivals in the country that's going on this summer.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning, I'm George Prentice. The pandemic has, well, it's taken so many artistic pleasures from us this year, but the Sun Valley Music Festival endures. Joining us this morning is the festival's Executive Director, he is Derek Dean and Maestro Alasdair Neale. They join us live via Zoom. Gentlemen, good morning.

ALASDAIR NEALE: Good morning, George.

DEREK DEAN: Good morning, George.

PRENTICE: Paint us a word picture of how attendees will enjoy these concerts.

DEAN: Well, there are two ways to watch each of the concerts. The online version will be accessible on the festivals website and the in-person version will be on the beautiful lawn at the Sun Valley Pavilion, where the festival normally presents its concerts during the summer. The easiest way to watch online will be to simply go to the festivals website at about 6:25, a few minutes before the concert begins at 6:30. But I would love to point out that we are filming all of the concerts in high definition with exceptional sound, so if you have a YouTube app connected to your television, you can watch the concerts on your TV and connect any sort of home speaker system that you might like.

PRENTICE: Maestro, if I may ask, what is this experience like?

Credit Sun Valley Music Festival
Alasdair Neale

NEALE: It's a very complex undertaking. The music consists of pre-filmed and edited performances from our musicians and guest artists all over North America. Some of these take place in concert halls and much of it is either solo, duet, chamber music combinations of our musicians. But there are also some full orchestra projects in which all 105 of our musicians take part, and that's where the technical complexities really get interesting.

PRENTICE: What is it like for so much of this to be in the hands of technician's now?

NEALE: Well, it involves a lot of trust. We have been able to engage some of the best in the business, who are really distinguished in their field of creative direction, editing, sound management, all of these things, to blend for these four orchestras segments that we're doing multiple sources together from all over the country are playing at different times, different days, different circumstances. But there's a very specific set of technical undertakings that we do to ensure that we all play together at the end of the day.

PRENTICE: I want to play the, just a taste of the third movement of Tchaikovsky's Symphony Number Six, which will be one of the feature performances.


PRENTICE: Maestro, can you talk about your inspirations from Sun Valley, the elevation, the endless sky?

NEALE: It's a really inspirational place to find yourself in the summer and any other time of year for that matter. I've been coming for 26 years now, and whether it's looking out on a snowy day in the winter or hiking up Baldy in the middle of the summer. The air is somehow different up here and it's a really beautiful, wonderful way to make music, in particular when you're surrounded by colleagues and friends of many, many years, and playing for our incredibly generous and supportive audience.

Credit Sun Valley Music Festival
Kelli O'Hara, Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell

PRENTICE: Derek Dean, let's talk about Monday, August 3rd, a night that many people will not soon forget. I'm a major theater geek and you will be featuring, no less than Audra McDonald, Kelli O'Hara, and Brian Stokes Mitchell. How did you make that happen?

DEAN: Well, first I have to give the credit to Audra McDonald. She was the first artist to sign on. And as we talked about what the gala performance might look like, it was her inspiration to invite her friends, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Kelli O'Hara to join her. And it turns out that they've all sung together in pairs, but the three of them have never sung together. So they're incredibly excited to put this show on.

PRENTICE: Again, that's Monday, August 3rd, and those are very specific tickets to be secured, yes?

DEAN: All of the concerts will be free of charge.

PRENTICE: Oh my goodness.

DEAN: And anyone can watch it online, on the website and seats will be available on the big lawn. They all need to be reserved for social distancing purposes and reservations (free) can be done here on our website or through our box office.

PRENTICE: So what is the number? What is the top number on the lawn? As far as-

DEAN: Just about a thousand, George.

We've had over 10,000 at some of our concerts.

But we're cutting the capacity back dramatically, to put a lot of distance in between seats and to create really wide aisles for entry and exit.

PRENTICE: Derek, I have to assume that the reaction has been, well, emotional and overwhelming. Number one, the very fact that you're having this year's event and then number two, to have as many performances it's possible for free.

DEAN: We've picked up a lot of excitement in the community. I think it's fair to say that this festival is one of the few festivals in the country that's going on this summer.

PRENTICE: It's filling a pretty significant void for us.

DEAN: Well, we enjoy tremendous support from the local community here, George and that's what's made all of this possible. I think I might mention that Alasdair created all 14 of these concerts from scratch, starting in about May.

PRENTICE: Alasdair, does someone with a resume as long as yours and with such experience, still get goosebumps and a bit nervous with such an undertaking?

NEALE: Oh, sure. I mean, who wouldn't? We really are doing something that I don't think has ever been attempted before. And I'm just really excited about the variety in all ways, shapes and forms of the music that we're presenting over the three and a half weeks.

PRENTICE: And it begins Monday, July 27th, and it runs through Wednesday, August 19th.

DEAN: Think of it as a live concert. These productions, although there'll be filmed, they will not be available for download or On Demand. So you need to tune in at 6:30 to watch the show.

PRENTICE: And all details are at svmusicfestival.org.

DEAN: Yes, sir.

PRENTICE: He is Derek Dean and the maestro is Alasdair Neale. Gentlemen, have a lovely summer. Best of luck. And thank you so very much.

DEAN: Thank you for having us.

NEALE: Thank you, George.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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