Carl Eberl, co-founder of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, died March 21 at age 87 in Portland, Maine. Known as a musician, composer, teacher and conductor, Eberl leaves a legacy enjoyed by thousands of concert-goers each summer.
The Sun Valley Summer Symphony, founded by Eberl and his wife, Julianne, grew from humble origins 30 years ago into the largest privately funded free-admission orchestra in the United States.
Today, the Sun Valley Summer Symphony brings 115 of the nation's finest classical musicians from world-class orchestras—New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Houston Symphony among them—to Sun Valley every summer for its annual summer concert series.
In keeping with its mission, the Sun Valley Summer Symphony is also actively involved in the community, sponsoring the year-round School of Music for Blaine County students ages 9 to 18, summer music workshops and adult education programs.
"Carl was more than a musical polymath, though his prodigious gifts as conductor, composer, player, arranger and teacher speak for themselves," said Sun Valley Summer Symphony Music Director Alasdair Neale, who took Eberl's position 18 years ago. "He was a force of nature.
"Lest we ever take for granted the amazing phenomenon that is the Sun Valley Summer Symphony today, we should never forget that it was Carl who made it all possible. Without his extraordinary vision, dedication and ability to move mountains, the festival quite simply would not exist. I will miss him greatly."
Born in 1925 in Reading, Pa., Eberl started on his path to Sun Valley at an early age. Inspired by Glenn Miller and the 1941 movie "Sun Valley Serenade," the then 16-year-old concertmaster of the Reading High School Orchestra began a rich music career that would lead to his founding of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony decades later in 1985.
Eberl was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 28 years ago. He moved to Maine with his wife, Julianne, 16 years ago, together starting musical programs there. She teaches in seven schools in the area. Their home has been flooded with hundreds of visitors paying respects to her husband, who served as a mentor to many musicians.
Before coming to Sun Valley, Eberl spent nearly 30 years in New York where he was a professional violinist, participating in the landmark classical/jazz fusion recording "The Third Stream" with John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet, and twice earning Fulbright Scholarships.
Whether touring with Frank Sinatra or Leonard Bernstein, his love of music covered all genres.
"Music was his life's blood," said Ketchum resident and violinist Sue Mendelsohn. "Four days before he died he played violin for a St. Patrick's Day celebration in his nursing home."
Mendelsohn answered an advertisement in the Idaho Mountain Express 30 years ago seeking anyone interested in joining a symphony in the Wood River Valley. She served as volunteer chair of the symphony for eight years, stepping down 10 years ago.
Now a member of the newly formed Wood River Community Orchestra, Mendelsohn said the Eberls came to town from Idaho Falls with great enthusiasm and a 14-member symphony looking for a home.
"We played in the Elkhorn square without a tent," she said. "The wind blew the music around and we all sat on the grass listening to them perform. The earliest solo was by pianist Mark Neiwirth, now an adjunct professor of music at Idaho State University.
"Carl brought a new awareness and appreciation of symphony music to the valley, and the possibility that we could enjoy free concerts in perpetuity. Never in his wildest dreams did he think then that it would evolve into what we enjoy today."
Eberl's last composition was a commission by the Longfellow Sonnet Society, "Casting the Nets," with music set to Thomas Carper's poetry, and premiered at the Bowdoin College Chapel by his wife's students in the Deering-Portland High School Orchestra on April 30, 2005.
The Wood River Community Orchestra, under the direction of Brad Hershey, will play Eberl's composition "Where Else But Idaho?" at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood on May 6 at 4 p.m. The performance will be dedicated to his memory.
The Sun Valley Summer Symphony will dedicate to Eberl its Aug. 1 concert, featuring Elgar's "Enigma Variations" and William VerMeulen on horn performing two pieces as a soloist.
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