Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Sun Valley Music Festival Ends with ‘A Face Melting Shriek of Death’
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Maija Eerkes caught this photo of the Sun Valley Pavilion aglow in light following a late night picnic on Pops Night.
 
Thursday, August 22, 2019
 

STORY BY KAREN BOSSICK

PHOTOS BY MAIJA EERKES and KAREN BOSSICK

All too soon the 2019 Sun Valley Music Festival is coming to an end.

But it will go out in magnanimous fashion with 250 singers and musicians taking the stage of the Sun Valley Pavilion to perform Gustav Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, known as the “Resurrection Symphony.”

 
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Grammy Award-winning composer Mason Bates kept the crowd going after the sun went down one night. PHOTO: Maija Eerkes.
 

The 90-minute piece at 6:30 tonight—Thursday, Aug. 22--will feature the American Festival Chorus under the direction of Dr. Craig Jessop, as well as Mezzo-Soprano Sasha Cooke and Soprano Julie Adams.

It also will feature 10 horns, four flutes, four oboes, five clarinets, four bassoons, eight trumpets, four trombones and a tuba. And that’s just for starters.

Given its complexity, the symphony will have had three rehearsals—a high number considering the Sun Valley Music Festival typically has the luxury of doing only one run-through with most pieces. Other orchestras would have the luxury of rehearsing the Mahler symphony four or five times, said Music Director Alasdair Neale said.

“I’ve wanted to save it for a special occasion. I think 33 years for the Sun Valley Music Festival and 25 years for me is good enough,” said Neale, who is celebrating his silver anniversary as the symphony’s music director.

 
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The faces of the locals can be seen on the screen as Mason Bates turns the tables. PHOTO: Karen Bossick
 

Mahler began this symphony when he was 28 and finished it in 1894 when he was 33.

“This is growling, snarling…a funeral march,” Neale said.

Symphony No. 2 wasn’t intended as a symphony but as a symphonic poem called Totenfeier or Funeral Rites. It sat around for five years before Mahler realized it could be something on a more epic scale.

It became known as the “Resurrection Symphony” as it evolved from death to rebirth.

 
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The Pops Night bunch came through again—this time, with a Night Out in New York menu featuring Waldorf Salad from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Lemon Chicken from Rao’s Restaurant and Cheesecake with Strawberry Chambord Sauce from Sardi’s in honor of George Gershwin. PHOTO; Karen Bossick
 

Mahler had a morbid fascination with death, sparked in part by a period of time when several family members died.

“It consumed him,” said Neale.

In fact, Mahler once took a bouquet of flowers that had been given him and laid down on a table, placing individual flowers from the bouquet all around him. He then closed his eyes, pretending he was dead.

That lasted until his girlfriend said the equivalent of “Get ahold of yourself,” Neale said.

Given that Symphony No. 2 had its origins in funeral rites, some of it is grim. But parts evoke Franz Schubert’s “comfortableness,” similar to sitting in front of fire with a cup of cocoa and nice slice of chocolate torte.

“Much of it is very lovely, including English horns that I think feel like they’re drawn from alpine meadows,” Neale said.

But you won’t get lulled into dreaminess as the piece is punctuated by jolts or surprises, he added.

“Sort of like a horror movie when you think the nasty’s over, then ‘Boo!’ ” he added.

The opening of the third movement sets a sardonic tone as if the listener is forced to awaken from a blissful dream. And towards the end the mood changes dramatically, providing what one of Neale’s colleagues called “a face-melting shriek of death.”

But out of that silence emerges a solo voice focusing on a single red rose as symbolic of man’s pain and desire to be in heaven.

There’s a glimpse of heaven shattered by the aforementioned shriek of death.

All that sets the stage for an exciting finale as the Judgment is at hand and trumpets sound. And out of silence comes a magnificent blaze of glory as the singers pronounce “Rise again, yes you will rise again…”

Neale said he first heard the Resurrection Symphony when he was 13, and it “grabbed” him.

“I had never imagined music could have that level of visceral, emotional impact,” he said.

“The Resurrection Symphony” is a fitting end to a season that had its memorable moments beginning with violinist Ray Chen’s encore the first night—so melodic and beautiful it brought tears to some listeners’ eyes.

Two Frenchmen—cellist Gautier Capucon and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet—were surprised to be joined by the percussive rat-ta-tat-tat provided by Mother Nature on the Sun Valley Pavilion canopy as they performed compositions by Brahms and Shostakovich.

Piano duet students involved in Sun Valley Music Festival’s Music Institute brought down the house with their fast-flying fingers accompanied by humorous antics around the piano.

The audience seemed to enjoy familiar tunes like Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance” during the Family Concert, while dancers in the crowd were only too happy to stay as Mason Bates turned the Pavilion lawn into a night club with his electronic turntable.

“that was super fun…much more than I had imagined,” said Maija Eerkes.

And none of the 7,700 music fans who witnessed pianist Teddy Abrams’ exuberant performance of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” will likely ever forget it.

“I have seen that performed live five times but never like that,” said Rabbi Robbi Sherwin. “The enthusiasm of Teddy Abrams….”

Now, we have just 189 days to see what Alasdair Neale, Derek Dean and the symphony board come up with for their second annual Winter Festival.

The 2020 Winter Festival will run Feb. 27 through 29; the Summer Festival, July 26 through Aug. 20.

 

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