The Sunriver Music Festival, an annual series of chamber orchestra concerts, welcomes a new artistic director this season, as well as the addition of a brand-new venue. Seattle native Brett Mitchell has a vibrant program lined up for events at Bend's new Caldera High School as well as Sunriver's Great Hall, kicking off with a free movie night outdoors at the resort's Besson Commons on Aug. 8. The Source Weekly spoke with Mitchell this week about the 2022 season and his vision for the future of the festival.
Source Weekly: Welcome to the Sunriver Music Festival. Will this be your first time in Central Oregon?
Brett Mitchell: Surprisingly, yes. It's remarkable because growing up, my family spent a good part of every summer in Grants Pass visiting my grandparents, but we didn't get over to the east side of the Cascades – and it's just stunning. I was here for a week last summer to play for the selection committee.
- Maestro Mitchell applauds cellist Amit Peled after his solo performance in Sunriver last summer.
SW: It looks like this season's lineup has a few "workhorses"–Beethoven's Eroica symphony, Brahms' Violin Concerto and Mendelssohn's 4th–with some interesting diversions in between, like pop and jazz on Aug. 12 and a "piano-centric evening" on Aug. 15.
BM: Yes, it's such a nice program. For the piano-centric concert, we'll feature one or two of the medalists from this year's Cliburn competition (the 16th annual Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, taking place in Fort Worth, Texas, this June). We know it will be a Mozart piano concerto of some kind, because one of the requirements for the Cliburn competition is to perform a Mozart concerto.
For the closing concert, there's this wonderful song cycle by British composer Gerald Finzi, based on songs from five different Shakespeare plays, called "Let us Garlands Bring," sung by my longtime associate and one of my very best friends, bass-baritone Timothy Jones. Before Jones sings, we'll play a five-part instrumental cycle, David Diamond's "Music for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet." It's a really nice kind of Shakespearean first half. The second half will be the Italian Symphony by Mendelssohn, a composer who like everyone else in the 19th Century was also a well-known Shakespeare lover. I think it'll be a nice way to end the season.
SW: I see the pops concert includes "symphonic jazz," which some people would describe as involving a lot of improvisation, while others might think of a more big-band sound. Which will it be?
BM: For the pops performance, the first half is all about film scores, which is a deep love of mine. The first piece is from the Bond franchise which turns 60 this year, a medley of themes from the film series. Next is the love theme from The Godfather movie, which turns 50 this year; then after we meander through some other things, we finish the first half with some John Williams works, closing with one from the movie "E.T." which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. So, kind of a forward timeline of film scores.
For the second half, when we're talking about symphonic jazz, yes, that can mean a lot of different things for different people. I was originally a jazz pianist – I paid for my undergraduate degree at Western Washington University playing in a jazz trio. I conceived of it here as dating back to the ragtime era, so we'll start with some Scott Joplin arrangements. Then when you think about jazzers who crossed over into the symphonic space, I always think of Duke Ellington, so there will be arrangements by Morton Gould of a couple of Ellington tunes. We'll close with selections from George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" score, featuring our bass-baritone Jones.
- Submitted photo
- Bass-baritone Timothy Jones.
SW: Will there be any pre-concert talks?
BM: I actually don't know the answer to that. There may or may not be a pre-concert talk, but there will certainly be a decent amount of talking from the podium. It's something I love doing. I like to inspire our audiences by showing them what lights me on fire about a piece. I think the days of walking onstage, conducting, taking and bow and walking off are gone. Audiences want to see the personalities behind the music.
SW: What would you say is your overall hope for this, your first season with the Sunriver festival?
BM: For the last few years, the festival has been very different, largely because of COVID, so the aim this summer is really to reconnect with our community. I hope we're going to have new folks with us who will become permanent fans. I also hope I can connect with the audience on a personal level. I don't walk in with a cape flowing behind me, turn my back to the audience and start in without a word. I'm more of a kind of real person. I don't stand on ceremony – I'm just Brett, and I hope that kind of relatability will help our audiences feel entirely welcome.
Sunriver Music Festival
Concerts $40-74, Discover the Symphony
$15, 21-under free