Musician Aimee Kreston takes on new administrative role, brings changes to Sierra Summer Festival concerts
A correction to readers about one point in this story. Students 18 and under are being admitted free only to the Thursday night “Future Visions” performances of the Sierra Summer Festival. As much as Kreston would have liked to admit them every night, unfortunately that won’t be possible this year. –Geisel
The Eastern Sierra Symphony Orchestra is no more. The former organization has this year been renamed the Sierra Summer Festival Orchestra, one of the first of a few key changes. Apart from the name, long-time SSF conductor Maestro Bogidar Avramov will step down after this 35th year of the festival, the longest running such event in Mammoth. And Aimee Kreston will take over the reigns as SSFO’s Director.
Kreston, who, along with her musician husband, Pasadena Symphony violist Andrew Picken, is currently performing and teaching as part of the Mammoth Lakes Music Festival. That role, however, takes her out of performing, and places her in a role she sees as shepherding the organization into the next phase of its existence.
Along with a new conductor, who is still TBD, she also envisions broadening the orchestra’s selection of material to include more music by modern composers, and even some film music that lends itself to an orchestral setting. “I want to breathe in some new atmosphere, change things up a bit … nothing drastic,” she said.
No stranger to the Eastern Sierra (she’s played here many times with the former ESSO and in various Chamber Music Unbound festivals and concerts), Kreston, an accomplished violinist, started her musical journey in Chicago. A Curtis Institute of Music graduate, she studied under Jascha Brodsky and legendary concertmaster Michel Schwalbe.
In 1989, she became the youngest member of the Minnesota Orchestra, and later served as Concertmaster of the L’Orchestre de Paris, the only American in that ensemble. She has been privileged to work with some of the world’s greatest conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, Sir Georg Solti and Pierre Boulez. After settling in Los Angeles in 1998, Kreston joined the Los Angeles Mozart Orchestra as concertmaster, and in June of 2000, she became Concertmaster of the Pasadena Symphony.
Kreston, in addition to her classical work and playing on records for artists such as jazz great Lee Ritenour, has also contributed violin to session orchestras on more than 100 movie scores for some of the top names in the industry. A few titles where you might have heard her work: “Snow White & the Huntsman” by James Newton-Howard (“Sixth Sense”); “Avatar” and “Amazing Spider-Man” by James Horner; and “War Horse” and “Adventures of Tintin” by John Williams.
A committed teacher, she’s a key member of Project Harmony, a program designed to bring high quality, low-cost musical training to disadvantaged children in Los Angeles. In 2002, she traveled to Cambodia where she conducted teacher training at the Phnom Penh conservatory. She is also on the faculty of the Henry Mancini Institute at UCLA and at the Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles.
Youth are an important part of her work, and she wants them to have more access to hearing classical music. This year, especially considering the tough economy, Kreston’s made the concerts free to kids 18 and under. Seminars and lessons will also be a part of the SFFO week leading up to the shows. Students will get to immerse themselves in larger-scale classical pieces and learn how to jump in and play pieces with little time to rehearse, just like the pros do. Some will get to “play with the grownups” as well.
She credits the Felici Trio for their work expanding the education programs that are part of the Mammoth Lakes Music Festival, and spill over into the SFFO, where students will one day take their place as future players. “So much that they’ve done has made our lives better, especially us musician parents,” she remarked.
Other festival highlights include a special performance by the SFFO’s woodwinds section, Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet in D Minor “Souvenir de Florence,” which Kreston called, “big and crazy, with only six players,” and the debut of a new score composed by SFFO Concertmaster and First Violinist Maria Newman, of the famed Newman musical dynasty, for a 1911 silent short film, “The Dream,” starring Mary Pickford and her first husband, Owen Moore. The film will be screened along with the performance.
Kreston is also using her time in the Eastern Sierra to reflect on the recent shooting tragedy in Colorado. “We have the ability to use music to find the joy in life, and be thankful we are alive and able to celebrate just being here,” she observed. She also put forth a renewed call for a performing arts center. “We REALLY WANT one,” she urged. “The Felici Trio are playing in the Cerro Coso lobby to standing room only crowds, and [festival] is trying to wedge a symphony into a church. It doesn’t have to be big, and probably shouldn’t be, maybe 500 seats or so, and a proper backstage area.” The Pasadena Symphony, she pointed out, has benefitted from downsizing to a smaller venue from a 1,200-seat one that never sold out.
“I’m conscious that I have a different role and have to pretty much stay inside my new box,” she said of her new duties. “It’s fun and challenging; I do everything from grant writing to spray-painting banners!”
The Sierra Summer Festival’s 35th year, and Avramov’s final season as conductor, starts Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Church in Mammoth, for its “Future Visions” program including this year’s Horton-Kohl award winning students. On Aug. 10-11 (at 7 and 8 p.m., respectively), Avramov conducts “The Big Bs,” with the full orchestra playing the Maestro’s favorite Bach, Beethoven and Brahms compositions. On Aug. 11, the annual, traditional gala dinner at Nevado’s will feature a toast to the Maestro, as well as a silent auction, where you can win the baton and conduct the orchestra yourself during the encore!
“We’d really like to have people come out and spend money,” she quipped about this year’s auction. Up for bids are time at an apartment in Paris, theatre tickets, custom food baskets prepared by SFFO player Fiddlin’ Pete Watercott and a 2-hour tennis lesson by Geneva’s dad, Chris Lewis, a former professional player who went head to head against John McEnroe in the 1983 Wimbledon Finals.
Tickets: www.sierrasummerfestival.org or call 760.935.3837. Gala tickets are available online or at Mammoth Gallery through Aug. 6.