Orchestra Festival to Open Aug. 1 with New Production Of Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’
Larger-than-Life Puppets, South African Dancers to Perform
SUN VALLEY, Idaho — “The Firebird”, a newly commissioned production of the classic Stravinsky ballet, will bring dancers and towering puppets to the Sun Valley Summer Symphony to open this year’s Orchestra Festival on Monday, Aug. 1.
The performance will start at 8:30 p.m., an unusually late time for the SV Summer Symphony, to best show off special lighting effects.
Sun Valley Summer Symphony joined with five other orchestra festivals to commission the work, which will be performed in only six places in the United States this year. The local production is the only one that is free, with tickets selling for more than $100 at other venues such as Hollywood Bowl.
The puppets have been designed by South Africa’s Janni Younge, previously of the Handspring Puppet Co. that created the puppets for the London and Broadway play “War Horse.”
It took more than 40 weeks to build the “The Firebird” puppets, which range from the beautiful and mystical birds to snakes and dog-like creatures that represent the force of doubt and destruction.
The puppets not only have to be convincingly realistic but they also must be delicately balanced so that dancers can manipulate them easily while performing the carefully choreographed steps. A stage extension will be installed to accommodate dancers and puppets.
“The Firebird,” first produced by the Ballet Russes in 1910 in St. Petersburg, is the piece that launched Igor Stravinsky into international fame. It was an immediate success, unlike some of his other works that were so innovative that they caused riots.
“‘Firebird’ has always had a special place for me ever since I first played it as a teenager. I love the drama, I love the exotic harmonies, but above all I love the incredible color palette Stravinsky uses — it’s a real feast for the senses,” Music Director Alasdair Neale said.
The Sun Valley Summer Symphony will perform the piece as it was originally composed for a 100-piece orchestra that includes five bassoons, two piccolos, a piano and a celesta. The celesta, invented in 1866, resembles a small version of a piano and has such a lovely sound that it takes it names from “celeste,” the French work for heavenly.
The story is a modern adaptation of an old Russian fairy tale involving a mystical bird that can help others as they struggle between the forces of good and evil. The new version reinterprets the story, adding political as well as personal struggles. Younge’s goal is to focus attention to the challenges of South African life in the post-apartheid era.
A review of the June 24 opening performance in South Africa called it “a visual explosion of perfection,” adding that it is “storytelling of South African history, pain, hope, enthusiasm, defeat and success.”
In commissioning the work, the Sun Valley Summer Symphony is joining with some of the best-known music festivals and orchestras in the country. Other partners are Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts with the National Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Mann Center for the Performing Arts and Saratoga Performing Arts Center, both presenting the Philadelphia Orchestra.
“The Firebird will bring some of the world’s best trained dancers and master puppeteers to collaborate with an orchestra with the best musicians in the country,” Symphony Executive Director Jenny Krueger said. “What is most important, however, is the story. Great art becomes great storytelling, and that is what we will experience.”
The Firebird will run for 75 minutes. Additional information is available at www.svsummersymphony.org, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The Sun Valley Summer Symphony will present three more free performances in the opening week of the Orchestra Festival. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major will be Wednesday, Aug. 3, and a family concert with works including Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” will be Thursday, Aug. 4.
Saturday, Aug. 6, will bring Britten’s “The Young Person’ Guide to the Orchestra” and Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3 in C Major with pianist Joyce Yang.
All are free and start at 6:30 p.m. in the R. E. Holding Sun Valley Pavilion. The season will conclude Thursday, Aug. 18, with Mahler Symphony No. 3 in D Minor.
About Sun Valley Summer Symphony
The Sun Valley Summer Symphony, now in its 32nd season, is the largest privately funded free-admission orchestra in America. More than 100 world-class musicians from North America’s most distinguished orchestras, including the San Francisco Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, New York Philharmonic and Houston Symphony, convene for July and August concerts in the mountain resort of Sun Valley, Idaho. Internationally renowned guest artists such as Itzhak Perlman, Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, Renée Fleming, Yefim Bronfman, Thomas Hampson, James Ehnes, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Audra McDonald, Garrick Ohlsson, Midori, Yuja Wang and Deborah Voigt have performed in the spectacular Sun Valley Pavilion, set in front of Bald Mountain and built from travertine hand-selected in Italy for the venue. In keeping with its mission, the Sun Valley Summer Symphony is involved in the community, sponsoring the year-round School of Music for students ages 9 to 18, Summer Music Workshops and adult education programs. Additional information is available online at svsummersymphony.org.