Sun Valley Summer Symphony harpist Heidi Gorton has fond memories of a childhood spent on the grounds of the Sun Valley Resort. In between her parents' performances with the orchestra, back in the years when it was still under a tent, Gorton learned to ride her bike for the first time on the esplanade.
When the Summer Symphony opens this summer with its free concert series, Gorton will be back, on stage now with her parents, Gretchen Van Hoesen and Jim Gorton—the women on harp, Dad on oboe.
"Being a part of the Summer Symphony is so special because it feels as though I'm coming back full circle," said Gorton, who first performed here in 2001, and at 13 played second harp to her mom in Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe,"—"a huge piece for both harps, but I was meticulously groomed and prepared for the challenge by my patient and thorough parents."
Her parents are currently with the Pittsburg Symphony, where they met, and their daughter was trained at The Julliard School.
"I've been hearing classical music since I was in the womb," Gorton said. "Our entire family is composed of professional and successful classical musicians."
She said she tagged along with her parents to rehearsals and began piano at age 4, learning music before she could read English.
"On my seventh birthday, my present was a troubadour harp, quite similar to a Celtic harp," she said. "I know no finer performer or teacher than my mother."
Gorton said she fell in love with the sound and was
fascinated that the harp is the only instrument that allows the performer to have direct control over the sound output.
"A violinist uses a horse-hair bow on the strings to make a sound, a pianist depresses a key which releases a hammer which touches the strings, but we use our fingertips directly on the strings themselves," she said.
Gorton said having the opportunity to come to Sun Valley and play alongside talent from across the nation, including her parents, "feels amazing."
"My parents are obviously my greatest musical influence, but I come to Sun Valley because it's unlike any other place on Earth, and I'm extremely well traveled," she said. "I've become lifelong friends with several orchestra members and their children, and after spending summers in Idaho, I truly feel like it's my second home."
And Sun Valley is happy to have them. The summer concert season draws thousands every year and has a tremendous economic impact, helping to fill the area's lodges and restaurants and the markets that are tapped to fill picnic baskets.
A large part of the credit goes to congenial Music Director Alisdair Neale, who spends his time here during the year doing community outreach to expand audiences in number and understanding. Several musicians participate in the year-round local School of Music, which leads classes for all the valley's interested children from a home base at Wood River High School.
Summer Symphony President Brittain Palmedo said the egalitarian nature of the symphony is intentional and contagious.
< "The high-quality music-making, incredible mountain setting and synergy of the orchestra and audience is something I've only experienced here in Sun Valley," Palmedo said.
"Our mission is to provide world-class music, but how audiences experience the music is completely individual," Neale said. "You can dress up or not, choose a seat within the pavilion or picnic with the dog in tow out on the lawn."
From July 22-27, Neale will lead "In Focus," a series of performances and discussion sessions designed to take attendees inside the music. This year's series will explore the explosion of creativity in the late 19th century that grew out of centuries of musical tradition in Vienna.
That will be followed by a benefit concert with jazz trumpet master Chris Botti, which is reserved for pavilion seating only so the seats and the lawn can be free to the public during the rest of the season. Those summer nights are always a festive collection of visitors and locals sipping wine, tossing Frisbees and strolling barefoot through the grass with the backdrop of some of the world's finest performances.
Soprano Deborah Voight, the preeminent dramatic soprano today, will open the series on July 30.
Other acclaimed musicians include Pops conductor Jeff Tyzik, pianist Jackie Parker and violinist James Ehnes, most of whom have performed here for years.
Executive Director Jennifer Teisinger said most of the musicians stay with local families and hosts, a scenario in keeping with the grassroots goal.
"Even if we had one giant house for them, we wouldn't take it because it would totally change the culture," she said. "The richer the experience, the more attached you are to the area and the organizations."
The addition of a jumbo screen has enhanced the experience for those on the lawn.
Symphony organizers say they're always looking for ways to expand the depth of connection between the community and the series. That means collaborations with the Center for the Arts and the Community Library, whether it be through checking out a CD of music or seeing the music through the perspective of another art form.
"We look for a theme that suits all the organizations and also will be interesting to the audience," Teisinger explained. "We want to give audiences who have a thirst to get deeper that experience, but we couldn't do that alone."
Teisinger and Neale collaborate over the program each year. Teisinger described this year's lineup with ironic humor.
"We open with the immolation scene from Wagner's "Gotterdammerung," an end-of-the-world aria. The end of the world at the beginning and a seminal emotional piece by Mahler at the center surrounded by big, fun, crowd-pleasing—a little indulgent—ear candy."
Symphony by the numbers: In 2011
- The Sun Valley Summer Symphony presented 10 free orchestra concerts and five free chamber music concerts in 24 days.
- 42,968 people attended concerts.
- 114 orchestra musicians.
- Musicians came to Sun Valley from 23 states and three countries.
- Most miles an orchestra musician traveled to come to Sun Valley: 4,919 from Spain.
- Most years a musician has performed with the Symphony: 21
- 59 staff, volunteers, security, production and vide crew make each concert possible.
Sun Valley Summer Symphony
What: 115 of the nation's finest classical musicians from world-class orchestras under the direction of Alasdair Neale in one of the nation's preeminent outdoor music venues.
Doing what: Performing 15 free concerts in 24 days with wide-ranging musical selections, from late 19th-century masterpieces to classical favorites.
When: Begins July 22 with the Edgar M. Bronfman "In Focus" performance/discussions through July 27. A special one-night ticketed benefit concert with Chris Botti on July 29. Opening night with soprano Deborah Voigt on July 30 and concerts including a Pop Night, Aug. 4, and Family Concert, "Cowboy Bill," on Aug. 11, continuing through Aug. 14.
Tickets: No need. Thanks to a one-night benefit concert by
Chris Botti, the remaining
concerts are free.
For full schedule: Visit www.svsummersymphony.org.