The Sunriver Music Festival returns for its 45th season this week. Given that long and storied history, incoming conductor Brett Mitchell humbly sees himself as one part of a, well, classic classical music series.
“I’m obviously thrilled to be coming on as the artistic director and conductor of the Sunriver Music Festival,” he told GO! Friday. “But I really view my job as — I’m kind of a temporary custodian of a permanent position. This position and this festival predate me, and assuming I do it right, it will postdate me as well.”
The festival opens for its 45th season — and the first of the three Mitchell is signed on for — on Wednesday, bringing live classical music performed by the professional Sunriver Festival Orchestra for concerts over three nights at the new Caldera High School in southeast Bend, as well as SRMF’s longtime home in Sunriver, the Sunriver Resort Great Hall.
Bend audiences will see Classical Concert I (Wednesday, Aug. 10), the Pops Concert (Aug. 12) and the closing night performance, Concert III (Aug. 21). Sunriver will see Classical Concerts II and III (Aug. 15 and 18) along with Cliburn International Piano Competition bronze medalist Dmytro Choni’s solo concert (Aug. 16) and the family-friendly Discover the Symphony Concert (Aug. 17). See “More information” for a more detailed breakdown, along with ticketing info.
Mitchell is excited for the entire season, but one of the highlights for him will occur right out of the gate on Wednesday, when Concert I, in lieu of guest soloists, features pieces that will highlight the Festival Orchestra’s innate talent, some of whom have served long tenures themselves.
“Part of the legacy of the festival is that, even though the artistic director will change from time to time, as it is right now, the musicians are the ones that are making the sound, and they are the constant,” Mitchell said. “They are the constant year in year out, and so this second piece by (Alberto) Ginastera, this wonderful South American composer … instead of being a concerto for a solo instrument and orchestra, this piece is in, like, a dozen little movements. And each one of those dozen little movements is like a tiny concerto for one of the members of the orchestra. So there’s a little flute concerto movement, and a little oboe concerto movement, and it’s a great way for us to be able to feature our musicians as soloists.
“That, for me, was really important to do on the first program, to try to throw back as much focus as I can to the musicians. Some of them have been here for decades,” he added. “I think it’s going to be a really nice way for us to start our official relationship.”
Other things he’s looking forward to are the Pops Concert, which will feature a lot of recognizable music from film, as well as jazz arrangements of George Gershwin and Duke Ellington, to name but two. That concert also features bass-baritone Timothy Jones, a friend of Mitchell’s, who will also be heard during Classical Concert IV on Aug. 21 in Bend.
Mitchell replaces longtime conductor George Hanson, who last led the Festival Orchestra in 2019. Prior to COVID rearing its ugly head, the 2020 festival would have celebrated Hanson’s 10th and final year in Sunriver, a program that would have also celebrated composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday.
The enduring festival returned last season, albeit with a slightly downsized orchestra and outdoor performances led by Mitchell and fellow finalist Kelly Kuo, who gave public auditions, as it were, live and in person.
“It was just such a weird time, you know,” Mitchell recalled. “Presenting outdoor concerts is a whole different venture than presenting concerts at the Tower Theatre in Bend or at the Great Hall at the resort here in Sunriver.” Problems with weather and smoke factored in last year.
The prospect of having a new conductor in his inaugural season, along with a full orchestra and a return to indoor venues, one of them new, makes this year special for Meagan Iverson, executive director of SRMF.
Last summer, “we really kept the focus on the music. We didn’t have any of the extras,” Iverson said. “I’m grateful that I have been here through the years prior to COVID, so I do know the flow of things and also how we have just been very creative over the last 2½ years.”