"There's a guy called Cowboy Bill," a composer told a writer a few months back. "And there's a villain, called Bad Bob, who has done something to Cowboy Bill ..."
A few hours and two weeks later, acclaimed author Ridley Pearson was Skyping Sun Valley Symphony timpanist Alex Orfaly the plot and Orfaly was sending over bytes of music from his Boston home. The result will be presented in the symphony's Family Concert with Pearson narrating the work on Saturday, Aug. 11, at 2 p.m. at the Sun Valley Pavilion.
Orfaly has been coming to Sun Valley for several years and last summer played a small piece of music he'd created called "The Mean Man's March." Discussing it later with Music Director Alasdair Neele, Orfaly was commissioned to expand on the piece in hopes of creating something akin to "Peter and the Wolf," one of the most widely known and played all-ages concert works around. He brought to the project his obsession with Johnny Cash and the music from classic Western films and a love for the uncomplicated and inspirational plains of the landscape.
"But I said, 'I'm not a writer, I need someone to put together the words,'" Orfaly recalled last week. The symphony promised to find someone and they consulted with Pearson.
Pearson, a longtime musician and New York Times bestselling adult suspense and young reader's adventure author, was in the middle of several projects, including "Choke Point," a follow-up to the wildly successful "Risk Agent," which actor Vince Vaughn's Wild West Picture Show Productions bought to produce for Universal. Pearson also was working on a Disney production of his popular "Peter and the Starcatchers" series and co-writing a novel with Dave Barry when this opportunity found its way to him.
"It was something I couldn't turn down, but I said I wouldn't be able to get to it in a few months," Pearson said from his mother's home in Bellevue last week. Orfaly sent him the one-line description and Pearson signed off and went to bed. "I woke up that next morning and ran down the hall to my office and wrote prose, not verse. It poured out of me."
Orfaly said, "I had half the script in my email the next morning! The amount of energy transpiring in less than 72 hours was amazing."
The pair worked like that over email and Skype voice calls for months.
"I was channeling his music and his music was channeling my narration. It was such a fun experience," Pearson said. "It's kind of how Dave Barry and I write the 'Starcatchers'. It's just magical."
Orfaly echoed that.
"He took to the idea so quickly. If I were able to write, those would be the words I would have written. He really picked up on the concept and brought the whole project together in a way that I wouldn't have been able to alone."
Once the vivid sound and verbiage had been united, the pair thought about the third element, art. That's when local illustrator and artist Kim Howard was brought in.
Howard and Pearson have been friends for 32 years. She said he invited her into the project like this: "'Hey Kim, can you zip off a few ink drawings of saddles and spurs and stuff for this fun piece Alex and I are doing for the Sun Valley Symphony?' Then, over email came his poetry of Cowboy Bill and Alex's landscape sweeping score. The drawings and watercolors poured out like syrup. I felt like I met my true calling to illustrate music and words together."
Orfaly stressed that the entertainment is for all ages and that it's only possible because of the activism of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony and its commitment to bringing the best together each summer to share with the community at no charge. The hope is that the piece can travel outside here as well.
"This wouldn't happen anywhere else. This East Coast kid got hooked up with these very creative Sun Valley minds to create something very tied to the community and to the West."
Last week for free symphony
Thursday, Aug. 9, is Musicians' Choice Chamber Music with Tompkins' "Boardgames"; Mozart's "Serenade No. 11 in E-flat Major for Wind Octet, K.375"; Brahms' "Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor, Opus 60."
Friday, Aug. 10, with James Ehnes, violin; Grieg's "Suite No. 1 from Peer Gynt"; Sibelius' "Concerto in D Minor for Violin, Opus 47."
Saturday, Aug. 11, is the Family Concert at 2 p.m. with Ridley Pearson, narrator; Copland's "Hoedown From Rodeo," Alex Orfaly's "Cowboy Bill" (Sun Valley Summer Symphony commission and world premiere.)
Sunday, Aug. 12, is Barber's "Overture to the School for Scandal;" Dvořák's "Symphony No. 9 in E Minor," popularly known as the "The New World Symphony."
Tuesday, Aug. 14, is the season finale with Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Opus 64."