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Time For Three Joins Sun Valley Orchestra in Presenting ‘Contact’
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Saturday, August 13, 2022
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Expect the sounds of bassoons and crash cymbals to reverberate throughout outer space tonight when the Sun Valley Music Festival orchestra joins with Time For Three to present Kevin Puts’ triple concerto “Contact.”

The other-worldly concerto, co-commissioned by the Sun Valley Music Festival and a few other orchestras, was to have had its premiere during the summer of 2020 but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But that had its silver lining, Puts said Friday, as he and Time for Three were able to reframe the narrative of the 30-minute piece and add a fourth movement. The extra time offered the opportunity to better balance the orchestration with the trio.

And it gave new meaning to the title “Contact,” as the world realized the value of face-to-face  relationships during two years of isolation.

The Sun Valley Music Festival and Time For Three will perform the 30-minute concerto during a free performance at 6:30 tonight—Saturday, Aug. 13—at the Sun Valley Pavilion. Puts sat down with Sun valley Music Festival Director Alasdair Neale at The Community Library Friday morning to discuss the journey to “Contact.”

Puts, who wrote the 2008 work “Hymn to the Sun” celebrating the opening of the Pavilion, said he strives to tell a story with his music. That means he usually starts at the beginning, as most writers  would with a story or poem, trying to come up with a compelling lead that will get the audience’s attention.

But in this case, he started in the middle after hearing a beautiful hymn that Time For Three Performed at a concert in New York and worked backwards from there.

Puts admitted he was intimidated by the prospects of working with Time For Three because of the infectious energy they exude and their vast musical intelligence. He was also intimidated by the idea of integrating two violins and a bass with the orchestra.

But, he said, it turned out to be one of the best collaborations he’s ever had as he, Nick Kendall, Raan Meyer and Charles Yang brainstormed ideas over Zoom. It was a true collaboration from beginning to end since the trio is so musical that they know how to improvise and they understand the many different ways in which music can be played.

In time, they came up with the idea of making contact with alien civilizations millions of light years away from the Earth. Puts noted that Jodie Foster’s 1997 film “Contact,” which revolves around a scientist seeking intelligent life in outer space, was in his mind as he worked on the concerto.

“What if this message was sent into space and received?” he asked.

To that end, “Contact” opens not with the orchestra playing but with Time for Three singing a cappella harmony, a series of chord progressions over a dozen measures. “The Call” suggest a signal beamed into space, Puts said—a signal that is echoed and embellished by a lone flute, a French horn duet and other orchestral instrumentation that grows louder and more boisterous.

 Might the refrain at the opening be a call to intelligent life?” he asked “Might the Morse Code-like rhythms of the scherzo suggest transmissions and wave signals?

As the concerto progresses, Time For Three bursts into bluegrass fiddling and singing. Puts said he got the idea to have them sing after hearing them sing the tune “Vertigo.” His then-10-year-old son—his most truthful critic—gave it a thumbs up at the dinner table.

The second movement starts off “Boom, boom, boom,” Puts said, and is “blindingly fast.”

“Demonic energy,” Alasdair Neale calls it. “Kevin has a signature way of changing harmonies. I call it torture. It leads us into a space and it’s the right space to be.”

The third movement is the heart of the concerto, Puts said. Strings alternate with woodwind to create a spooky effect in which Puts imagines an abandoned vessel floating in space.

The finale is a lively movement with an unpredictable rhythm inspired by a pair of energetic Bulgarian folk dances that Puts heard at his son’s cello recital. It features strongly accented, syncopated rhythmic patterns based on the “Gankino horo,” a Bulgarian folk dance.

Neither Time For Three nor Kevin Puts are new to Sun Valley Music Festival. The Time For Three string trio, known for their energetic take on Bach and the Beatles, enjoyed a three-year residency with the Sun Valley Music Festival, which culminated in the 2017 “Songs of Joy.” The trio, which has performed a couple times since at The Argyros, won an Emmy for their “Time For Three in Concert” produced by PBS in 2016.

Puts won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his debut opera “Silent Night,” about the Christmas truce between English and German troops during World War I. His opera “The Hours” premiered in March 2022 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. And the opera will be fully staged at the Metropolitan Opera with Renee Fleming, Kelli O’Hara and Joyce DiDonato in November 2022.

Puts has collaborated with such artists as Yo-Yo Ma and had works commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, Philadelphia Orchestra and others.

HEAR IT TONIGHT

“Contact,” written by Kevin Puts and performed by Time for Three and the Sun Valley Music Festival orchestra, will be performed tonight—Saturday, Aug. 13, at the Sun Valley Pavilion.

The free concert will start at 6:30 p.m. Pianist Peter Henderson will lead a pre-concert chat at the Lawn Paver Bar at 5:45 p.m.

The Festival Orchestra will also perform Three Latin American Dances for Orchestra by Gabriela Lena Frank. Frank was to have been in Sun Valley Friday to talk about her work but had to stay home in California to tend to family members. An attempt to have her join the library discussion by video failed.

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