Looking For Red, White and Blue Between Bach, Beethoven And Brahms: Can American Music Be Found at American Music Festivals?

Up in Wyoming near the border of Montana there’s a tranquil vacation spot in the Rockies where presidents, CEOs and actors fish, hunt and listen to rushing streams, hawks’ cries, Mozart and John Adams. Here in Jackson Hole, the Grand Teton Music Festival offers a summer alternative to the Jackson Hole Rodeo with eight weeks of traditional and contemporary orchestral and chamber music.

Teton Village (Jackson Hole), Wyoming
June 29-August 21, 1999

Attracting a high-powered cosmopolitan crowd, the 38-year-old Grand Teton Festival has the intellectual backbone to corral contemporary American pieces right in the same pen with Baroque chamber music, large-scale classical orchestral works and special-feature genres like tango.

“It should be integrated naturally within our broad programming,” states Grand Teton Executive Director Joanna Giesek about contemporary music.

Founded in 1962, concerts were first held in the town of Jackson’s high school gymnasium before moving to Teton Village, where concerts were presented in a large tent, and finally to a new concert hall at the base of a ski mountain. Conductors, composers and performers who have since come to Grand Teton include Zubin Mehta, Robert Shaw, Lukas Foss, George Crumb, Joan Tower, Richard Wernick, the New York Philharmonic and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (There is no record of whether they also went to the Rodeo.)

Under the leadership of music director Eiji Oue, conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra and of Germany’s Hannover Radio Orchestra, the Festival’s 42-concert season mixes traditional European and new American works, some of them premieres.

“Most of our chamber music programming comes from the musicians themselves who are invited to the festival to play in the orchestra,” explains Giesek. “So we try to go with their choices. Some years we have a lot of contemporary music and some less. This year we have a good blend.”

That blend includes Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Dominick Argento’s Valentino Dances, Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez and Bernstein’s Candide Suite, all of which appear on an orchestral program with Vivaldi and Strauss.

An all-contemporary tango program includes music of guitarist Angel Romero, Astor Piazzolla and accordionist William Schimmel, who is also playing Valentino Dances.

Terry Riley’s string quartet Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector shares a bill with Three American Pieces by Lukas Foss and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. Rachmaninoff dances are preceded by John Adams’s The Chairman Dances.

MacDowell’s New England Idylls and a trio by Ives share a program with Libby Larsen and emerging composers Curtis Curtis-Smith, and William Hill in a program called “America Then and Now.”

Bernstein and Beethoven split a bill when the Utah Symphony Chorus joins the Festival Orchestra in a finale concert of their symphonies.

Grand Teton also offers “Young People’s Concerts” (one features New York Philharmonic bassist Jon Deak’s Bye Bye and Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat, a hot pick of the season also chosen by Chamber Music Northwest, a “Family Concert” (I Met a Dinosaur, written by Jan Wahl with music by Anthony Plog), pre-concert talks and open rehearsals.

There is even a celebration of Duke Ellington’s 100th birthday by the Festival’s big band.

All in all, along with concerts that offer symphonies of Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Sibelius (what a law firm that would’ve been), you can find a decent amount of new American music to catch in Jackson Hole. If you aren’t out catching fish, that is.

From Looking For Red, White and Blue Between Bach, Beethoven And Brahms
by Mic Holwin
© 1999 NewMusicBox