At the end of May, the Sun Valley Music Festival announced that although it would not proceed exactly as usual this year, it was not canceling outright. Instead, it will transition the weeks-long program into a fully virtual format.

After making that decision, festival organizers had to shift into high gear. They had to coordinate dozens of musicians and more than 100 sound and video professionals from across the country, making sure they all had top-notch recording technology; then there was the web server to take into account, maximizing its capacity to accommodate large audiences streaming all at once; plus, Music Director Alasdair Neale had to assemble an entirely new program.

“Any given season has about a two-and-a-half-year runway,” Neale told the Express in May. “This season has less than two and a half months, and what we’re creating from scratch is not like any other festival we’ve done over the years. It’s a transformation into a completely untested model.”

Though the Sun Valley Pavilion will remain closed this year, music lovers across the valley and anywhere else around the world will be able to tune in on the festival’s website for prerecorded streamed concerts performed by the symphony’s world-class musicians and several guest performers.

The new virtual program will follow along the same timeline as initially planned, spanning from Monday, July 27, through Wednesday, Aug. 19. Each online broadcast will begin at 6:30 p.m., with Neale acting as live emcee. To preserve as “live” feel, each performance will be screened only once, and will not be archived online for later viewing or download.

While logistics forced Neale to reimagine the entire program, he was able to preserve much of the original essence of this year’s festival—and retain all of the featured guest artists, plus recruit a few more to the roster.

A number of Beethoven pieces were always going to be core to this year’s program as the festival prepares to honor the 250th anniversary of the great composer’s birth. That celebration has remained intact with several nights of Beethoven on the docket.

This year’s Family Concert, set for Saturday, Aug. 8, will be fully unique, and take advantage of the fact that so many musicians are stuck at home. The “Inspiring Duos” program will feature symphony musicians teaming up with their own children to perform pieces of their choosing, streaming from their homes to the homes of viewers.

The Pops Night is always one of the most popular offerings at the festival each year. On Sunday, Aug. 16, the 2020 Pops Night will explore “New Musical Frontiers,” in particular highlighting ensembles that have adapted classical training into pop. The program will feature valley favorites Time for Three, the 442s, Villalobos Brothers and more.

Perhaps the biggest change to this year’s program—other than the actual format of it—is the fact that the gala performance will be completely free as a “thank you” to the support of the Wood River Valley community. The gala usually acts as a fundraiser for the festival, the only event for which it charges admission.

The gala, “Broadway’s Brightest Stars,” will feature award-winning Broadway icons Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Kelli O’Hara performing together for the first time, broadcasting live from the East Coast on Monday, Aug. 3.

“This Summer Season is designed, first and foremast, as a big virtual bear hug to the community, which has supported us for over 35 years,” Neale said. “We want to give back to everyone who has invited us into their homes by inviting them into our homes and our lives. We also see this as a unique opportunity to share the festival experience with viewers around the world. Our mission is to enrich, inspire and instill in our community a lifelong love of classical music through extraordinary, free concerts and education programs, and this year, that mission goes global.”

Depending on whatever restrictions are in place between July and August, the festival may stream concerts to the big screen on the Pavilion lawn. That decision will have to be made on short notice, however. Those interested in packing a picnic and enjoying concerts in the open air should keep an eye on svmusicfestival.org for updates. Reservations will be required to attend the lawn.

For a complete roster, including which piece will be performed when and which guest performers will be featured, visit svmusicfestival.org.

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