For three and a half weeks, the Minnesota Orchestra -- while still performing in its concert hall -- relaxes just a bit for a less conventional series of summer concerts.
Well-known music, fantastic soloists from the ranks of the orchestra, and summertime food give Sommerfest a distinct feel of the season.
Sommerfest may have a European-sounding name, but the Minnesota Orchestra has one trait European orchestras don't have -- the ability to bring music to amazing heights in little or no time.
So says Sommerfest Director Andrew Litton, a six-year veteran of the Minnesota Orchestra's summer series.
Litton should know how good this band is, since he spends much of his time conducting in Europe -- including one of the world's oldest orchestras, Norway's Bergen Symphony.
Speed at preparing concerts is key to Sommerfest's success, since the number and variety of concerts crammed into a space of little more than three weeks is so great.
Litton says he keeps coming back to Minneapolis summer after summer -- not only because the orchestra is so meticulous, but because he just likes the musicians. In fact, one of Sommerfest opening night soloists, clarinetist Burt Hara, will play Mozart, and Litton says essentially no one does it better.
Also featured from the orchestra's ranks opening night is Principal Horn Michael Gast, also soloing on Mozart. Gast has played with the orchestra since 1990. He particularly enjoys the final, or rondo, movements of Mozart's four-horn concertos which use the instrument in one of its most fun roles, as a hunting instrument.
Gast and Litton both agree the best part of the evening is being right in the center of the action with the orchestra itself.
The series opens with Strauss's waltzes and polkas, a favorite of both Litton and the Fest in general, which highlights the sweet feeling of summer in the Cities.
Tune into Classical Minnesota Public Radio, Friday at 8 p.m. for a live broadcast of the opening night concert from Sommerfest. Valerie Kahler hosts.
The program includes Johann Strauss, Jr, "On the Beautiful Danube, " and two concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Andrew Litton, conductor; Burt Hara, clarinet; Michael Gast, horn