Who says a music festival can’t have it all? Certainly not the folks at the Festival at Sandpoint. The festival begins tonight with a ‘60s pop-rock concert by the Beach Boys at Sandpoint’s Memorial Field and concludes Aug. 19 with Gunther Schuller and the young conductors from the Schweitzer Institute of Music leading the Spokane Symphony.
True, the Sandpoint festival does not provide any rap or heavy metal. But this year’s festival will present 26 performances that cover musical styles from bluegrass to Brahms and from zydeco to avant-garde classical. In addition to the concerts in Sandpoint and at nearby Schweitzer Mountain Resort, classical and jazz performers from the festival’s Schweitzer Institute of Music will play two concerts at The Met in Spokane and an outdoor concert in Coeur d’Alene.
At the heart of all this diversity is artistic director Gunther Schuller. A Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, the author of two definitive books on jazz and a globe-trotting symphonic conductor, Schuller has led the Sandpoint Festival since 1984. His range of musical interests is obvious not only in the variety of the festival’s star performers - the big names like Natalie Cole, Loretta Lynn and Lucky Dube - but in Schuller’s programming of the festival performances of the Spokane Symphony.
The Spokane Symphony has served as the Sandpoint Festival’s orchestra-almost-in-residence since the festival began in 1982. Its members make the trek from Spokane to Sandpoint not only for the symphonic programs at Memorial Field but for occasional coaching sessions with the Schweitzer Institute conductors. This year symphony players will augment the institute’s nine-member chamber ensemble for performances of works by composers working at Schweitzer’s Composer Training Program.
The Festival at Sandpoint began in 1983 with a modest series of three concerts by the Spokane Symphony at Sandpoint’s Memorial Field but with a vision by the festival’s founders of an “Aspen of the Northwest” modeled on the festival in the Colorado Rockies. Donald Thulean, then the Spokane Symphony’s music director and the festival’s artistic adviser, had been associate dean at Aspen before coming to Spokane.
Thulean left Spokane in 1984 and Schuller took on artistic leadership of the festival, a position he has maintained throughout the Sandpoint Festival’s years of growth.
Schuller had long been associated with the Berkshire Music Center, the educational program at the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood Festival.
Under Schuller’s leadership, the Sandpoint Festival broadened to include training programs for conducting, chamber music and jazz. The Memorial Field concerts included not only symphonic music but jazz and various styles of popular music.
Tensions developed, however, as the city and county began to view the festival as a cash cow and neighbors near Memorial Field saw the parking jam of festival audiences and the amplified sound of concerts as what lawyers might call “an attractive nuisance.”
Last year the festival began with a concert early in July and ended with a stray program at Labor Day and included a site south of Sandpoint called “The Ranch.” This summer’s programs are more compact, beginning tonight and ending on Aug. 19. The Mainstage events are all at Memorial Field. Only the chamber music and jazz concerts are elsewhere.
The future of the main festival site remains a question. Various out-of-town offers have been put forward. Schweitzer Mountain Resort, where the Schweitzer Institute is held, has been suggested along with locations in Bonners Ferry and Coeur d’Alene.
For now, though, Sandpoint’s Memorial Field on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille remains the preferred site.
The festival’s first symphonic program, “Journey into Jazz,” on Aug. 4, takes its title from Schuller’s symphonic composition of the same name. Schuller is noted for coining the phrase “third stream” to label compositions which combine the complex forms of traditional classical music with the vitality of jazz improvisation. He hastens to point out nowadays that this label applies to very few of his own works. “Even though my love for jazz is always there, it’s not always obvious,” Schuller says.
The Spokane Symphony will share the stage at this concert with the Joe Lovano Quartet - with Lovano on sax, pianist Kenny Werner, bassist Ed Schuller and drummer Billy Hart.
Down Beat magazine named Lovano its 1995 Jazz Artist of the Year. In 1994, Lovano collaborated with Schuller on “Rush Hour,” a CD released earlier this year on the Blue Note label. The album contained pieces by Lovano and Schuller along with those by Ellington, Coleman, Monk, Mingus and others. The record received Down Beat’s 1995 Jazz Album of the Year Award.
The second of the festival’s symphonic programs is the All-Russian evening on Aug. 13. The program includes Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 and Scriabin’s “Poem of Ecstasy,” along with jazz-influenced works by Shostakovich and Mosolov’s graphic tone poem, “The Iron Foundary.”
Schuller’s own 1994 Pulitzer-prize winner “Recollections and Reflections” will be featured Aug. 17 on the festival’s third symphonic program, together with Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 and Leopold Stokowski’s arrangement of Chopin’s Mazurka in A minor. Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” will be conducted by John LoPiccolo, music director of the Idaho Falls Symphony and Schuller’s assistant at the Sandpoint Festival. LoPiccolo is celebrating his 10th season with the Sandpoint Festival.
The festival’s symphonic series will conclude Aug. 19 with performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8, Mozart’s Symphony No. 25, and overtures by Beethoven and Schubert. Schuller will share the podium with conductors from the festival’s Schweitzer Institute Conductor Training Program.
The institute, the Sandpoint Festival’s educational arm, includes programs for young professional musicians in conducting, composition and jazz. The faculty includes Schuller, composer Donald Erb, violinist Young Nam Kim and the players in the Joe Lovano Quartet.
This year’s 57 institute fellows include musicians from the United States, Canada, Greece, Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
New works by composers at the Schweitzer Institute will be performed along with classics of the chamber music repertoire on five concerts by the institute’s nine-member chamber ensemble and members of the Spokane Symphony. In addition to the three scheduled jazz concerts, fellows and faculty of the Schweitzer Institute will have three jam sessions at Sandpoint’s Cedar Street Bridge.
Performances of the Schweitzer Institute musicians in Idaho are free of charge, funded by a grant from Foundation Northwest. Admission will be charged for the festival concerts at Memorial Field and for the Schweitzer Institute concerts at The Met in Spokane.