Viennese Sommerfest Heats Up Minneapolis Summer

Twenty-five performances in 25 days include works by Kurt Weill, Frank Martin.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart will be the star of this year's edition of the Minnesota Orchestra's annual Viennese Sommerfest.

The festival, which opens in Minneapolis on Wednesday, will offer performances of seven of the composer's symphonies, three of his piano concertos and various ensemble pieces. The Miami String Quartet will perform a three-hour Mozart marathon, and a reconstructed Mozart work, Concerto in D major for Piano, Violin and Orchestra K.315f, will be given its professional U.S. premiere.

Those pieces and others will be squeezed into 25 performances — a full season's worth for some orchestras — in a scant 25 days.

"This is our 21st annual Sommerfest," said Gwen Pappas, assistant director of public affairs for the orchestra. "Back in 1980, Leonard Slatkin founded the festival after a group discussion about how to provide a summer series in a creative way and somebody threw out: 'Why not take everyone to Vienna?' It clicked, and since then we've been providing it in an outdoor setting with bratwurst and a Viennese marketplace that's a lot of fun."

The festival opens with a concert made up mostly of Strauss waltzes and polkas led by Sommerfest principal conductor Jeffrey Tate. Joining Tate for the opening gala will be soprano Juliane Banse, mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly and pianist Lars Vogt.

Tate has been principal conductor of Sommerfest since 1997, in addition to his role as principal conductor of the English Chamber Orchestra (since 1985) and principal guest conductor of L'Orchestre National de France.

The featured Mozart concerto on July 21 is part of a series of musical reconstructions by British composer Philip Wilby in the late 1980s. While it has been performed by college orchestras, this will mark its professional U.S. premiere. Pianist Jonathan Biss and violinist Leonidas Kavakos will accompany the orchestra with Emmanuel Villaume conducting.

According to writer Robert Markow, "Mozart left a manuscript fragment consisting of 74 fully scored measures plus another 36 measures of solo parts only. ... Efforts to complete this curious work go back to the 1960s when Robert Levin completed the first movement. ... But Wilby is the first to bring forth a full, three-movement reconstruction."

Other highlights of the festival include Kurt Weill's Violin Concerto, Swiss composer Frank Martin's Maria Triptychon and a performance by the British a cappella ensemble Lionheart featuring medieval, Renaissance and contemporary pieces.