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Culture » Culture Features

Mozart in the Desert

Sunriver Music Festival presents its 39th season



The Sunriver Music Festival is so much more than a gathering of local musicians for a few days of fun, sun, and strumming. Professional musicians are handpicked from around the country and brought to Central Oregon for 12 days of some of the finest classical music in the nation.

From classical guitar concerts to full orchestral renditions of Mozart, the Sunriver Music Festival is bringing education, entertainment and some class to the High Desert. Pianist William Wolfram will perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 on Sunday, Aug. 7 before teaching a master class the next night for advanced piano students.

We spoke with Pam Beezley, longtime executive director of the festival, and Maestro George Hanson, who has conducted more than 120 orchestras in 20+ countries and will have his debut with the Chicago Symphony later this summer. We discussed the schedule of events, the direction of the festival, and how they keep the festival fresh after 39 seasons.

Source Weekly: How long have you been with the festival?

Pam Beezley: I joined the Sunriver Music Festival staff in 2002 and took over the executive director position in 2005.

George Hanson: I'm in my fifth year with the Festival. I love it here; most important is the quality of the music making with wonderful professionals from important orchestras across the country.

SW: What would you say is the most difficult aspect of preparing for the festival?

GH: A musician prepares his whole life—we musicians started preparing for what we do, most of us, from the time we were five years old and first picked up an instrument. In my case I didn't 'pick it up,' since it was a piano, but we put together everything we've all learned over the decades and bring it to every concert.

PB: One of the major challenges we face each year is securing all the musicians we need for each concert. We have about 40 musicians that are considered full-time. They are hired for the full two weeks. We also hire "extras" depending on the repertoire. Because we do not live in a large metropolitan area with a large pool of professional musicians, our musicians have to travel to Central Oregon to be part of our orchestra. Finding musicians who are available to come and perform one or two concerts can be challenging. Another challenge we are facing more recently is securing enough housing for the musicians. A number of our long-time host families have moved from the area or have company during the middle of August. Imagine that! Hosting a musician can be a great experience and often results in long-lasting friendships.

SW: How do you keep the festival fresh and exciting after 39 seasons?

PB: This is a great question, because while we want to continue to attract new patrons, we do not want to abandon our longtime faithful patrons. George Hanson does a great job of creating programs that include familiar classical favorites with newer compositions. Last year, we had two world premieres of new music and the composers came to Sunriver to work with the orchestra and present their inspiration for the music to the audience. In 2015, we also worked with Westwater Arts to perform the Grand Canyon Suite with the orchestra and videography of the Grand Canyon on a huge, three-panel screen. It blew the audience away. It was beautiful.

This year, we've asked Pink Martini's Thomas Lauderdale to create a program for our Pops Concert. Thomas' program includes some of his Pink Martini band mates, vocalists, a chorus, film, and two grand pianos. It's an amazing variety of music and a fun program! We have featured soloists in all of the Classical concerts, so there is a concert for a variety of musical tastes.

GH: This year we've developed a theme—Nature's Rhapsody. Each program will explore works inspired by nature. Every time I come to Central Oregon I am struck by the natural beauty—so this was a natural choice. The theme pulls the different programs together. We combine the traditional works with exciting guest artists like Thomas Lauderdale, and some lesser known works by living composers.

My mentor, Leonard Bernstein, viewed education as an integral part of what every musician does. We help people develop a love for the great music we play—not because it's 'good for you' but because it will enhance your life. Great art, as opposed to just great entertainment, can transform the way you think and feel.

The Sunriver Music Festival

Aug. 7 - 18

Times, dates and locations vary for individual concerts.

Check for details

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