Line of sight. Not something you’d think critical to the enjoyment of an orchestra concert. But it was a real issue when the Sierra Summer Festival held its concerts in the Old Gondola Room up on Mammoth Mountain. The orchestra was shoehorned into a space too small for them, and concertgoers had to peer around pillars to see the musicians and the conductor.
Not this year. This year there is an ideal concert space as well as a new conductor and a new direction for the festival.
The Sierra Summer Festival plays three concerts Thursday through Sunday (Aug. 8-10) in the Edison Pavilion, that large tent set up next to Edison Hall. Word is out that the acoustics are quite good, and with space for a large stage and a 300-chair audience, there is room for everyone who wants to come, not to mention good sightlines.
Longtime conductor Bogidar Avramov has retired and made way for a series of guest conductors that will result in the one who is the right fit for Mammoth. For this year’s Festival Orchestra concert (on Friday and Saturday nights), he has chosen a young conductor named Matilda Hofman. In her 30’s, Hofman has conducted some of the finest orchestras in the world, including the London Symphony Orchestra. She’s a native of Cambridge, England, and a graduate of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.
“Music can be life-transforming. It is important for me to be in a position to be able to bring music to many people,” Hofman said.
Hofman and Avramov collaborated on the program — a delightful mix of music from Russia, France and Argentina — Mussorgsky’s Introduction from Khovantchina, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, Ginastera’s Four Dances from Estancia and Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto.
Avramov returns to conduct Thursday’s Horton-Kohl Young Artists Concert. The program consists of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, Rossini’s Overture to La Scala di Seta and Schubert’s 5th Symphony.
Those who are familiar with L.A.’s classical music station KUSC know the voice of former host Kimberlea Daggy, who will emcee the concerts and provide curious nuggets about each piece to be performed.
If the festival’s executive director Aimee Kreston has a passion, it is for bringing the next generation of musicians to the forefront. The Horton-Kohl grant, enables her to bring two young musicians to solo with both orchestras this summer.
Melodi Hess is 17, the Horton-Kohl Young Artist Award winner from 2012. From Ridgecrest, Calif., she can be considered almost a local. She started studying the violin with Shirley Helmick in Ridgecrest when she was four years old, and currently studies at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. She will play the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 5 with the Festival Chamber Orchestra on Thursday night.
Geneva Lewis, at age 15, is the Horton-Kohl Young Artist for 2013, and she will perform the tremendous violin concerto of Peter Tchaikovsky, one of the genre’s most beloved pieces of music.
“She’s 15, but she plays like she’s a mature artist,” said Kreston. “She touches people when she plays … she moves people.”
When Pete Watercott, Chair of the Sierra Summer Festival’s board of directors, talked about a new direction, he waxed poetic about the relatively unknown aspect of this festival, which is the gathering of “a group of amateur musicians with strong coaches for a week of intensive rehearsal for a performance that is at a very high level of excellence.”
“We will emphasize this enhanced program that orchestra members can get private lessons and attention by the professional musicians,” Watercott said. “And, every student through high school gets free admission to Thursday’s concert.”
In a way, these orchestras are pick-up bands, but the intensive week of music making really serves to polish them into finely tuned ensembles. The Friday-Saturday orchestra is comprised of 50 musicians.
“This is the only full symphony orchestra with professional musicians from Reno to L.A.,” Kreston said.
With its emphasis on young artists, the festival is taking one more step toward the ranks of the world’s great summer festivals. Kreston, who teaches at the Colburn School that trains tomorrow’s world-class musicians, wants to pass on the tradition of learning from mentors by playing with them. “The only way you can do it is by getting elbow to elbow. You don’t sit and read a book about it, you do it.”
In addition to concerts, the festival presents “Who Killed Mozart’s Score?” The murder mystery dinner takes place Saturday, Aug. 3 at Pokonobe Lodge, and features musical courses served up by conductor Matilda Hofman and festival musicians.
Sierra Summer Festival tickets are available at the Mammoth Gallery, online at sierrasummerfestival.org and by calling 760.935.3837. Concerts are at 7:30 p.m., all at the Edison Pavilion. Saturday night is a gala concert with dinner by Wilderness Catering. Pre-concert picnic dinners are also available prior to the Thursday, Aug. 8 and Friday, Aug. 9 concerts.