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If You Go

What: Festival Napa Valley

When: July 18 to July 29

Where: Various venues up and down the Napa Valley

Tickets: Free to $150. Free concerts require a reservation

To reserve: festivalnapavalley.org, 888-337-6272

After a dozen seasons as a fledgling summer music festival — the last three under a rebranded name — the 12-day Festival Napa Valley is growing nicely into its lofty ambitions, attracting up-and-comers in the jazz, dance and classical music worlds along with established artists such as soprano Renee Fleming and violinist Joshua Bell.

Audience members, looking to round out the Napa Valley’s famed food and wine experience with a cultural component, are returning on a regular basis now, and many of the tickets for the concerts from July 18 through July 29 are being snapped up like cult cabs at an auction.

“Our guiding principal has always been it has to be the best,” said Charles LeTourneau, executive producer of the festival. “We’re building a following on who we are as a festival. It’s great to present the biggest names, but people know whatever they come to will be great.”

Winery lunches and dinners, an Arts for All gala and a Taste of Napa food, wine and music event round out the cultural offerings. This season, the festival is presenting 22 free concerts which require reservations for tickets, a growing number of which benefit the local community as well as bring in tourists from all over the state, the country and the world.

“The free concerts all have sold out first, historically,” LeTourneau said. “The Bouchaine (Young Artist Concerts) were our first, and they always sold out within a couple of weeks. So obviously, people really like this concept.”

The record-breaking number of free concerts goes hand-in-hand with the festival’s Blackburn Music Academy, featuring 75 college-age musicians from top music schools such as Juilliard and Curtis.

“It’s an Aspen/Tanglewood orchestra-in-residence,” LeTourneau said. “Then we have our Festival Orchestra, made up of mostly Met opera players plus principals from the Russian National Orchestra, so it’s an all-star team.”

During the first week, the young players will be coached in chamber music by the professionals before performing 12, admission-free chamber music concerts up and down the valley, from the Napa Valley Opera House to the St. Helena Performing Arts Center, on July 18, 19 and 20.

The chamber music repertoire will include not only string quartets but more unusual works for harp and brass ensembles, including a Saint-Saens Sextet and a piece by little-known Viennese composer who was a contemporary of Schubert’s.

“It’s the kind of stuff you will play as a professional musician,” he said. “But audiences don’t get to hear very often.”

The Festival Napa Valley Blackburn Music Academy Orchestra will also play an admission-free concert of French music July 22 as a tribute to the first responders from the October wildfires,

“We’re going to have some of the first responders there, who have been real heroes ... to tell a couple of stories,” he said. “It’s big, lush, exciting music.”

There will be three Bouchaine Young Artist Concerts held July 24, 26 and 28 at the new facility at Napa Valley College in Napa, which also serves as the home for the music academy.

Creating the biggest buzz among the festival’s many highlights this summer is violinist Joshua Bell’s live performance of the score of the “The Red Violin” by John Corigliano, who is turning 80 this year.

“John Corigliano is coming, and the director and producer of the film,” LeTourneau said. “It’s turning out to be a big deal in the art world.”

The world premiere of the Academy Award-winning score will be accompanied by a full orchestra and be shown with a remastered print of the film, which is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year.

“One of the great privileges of my life was my collaboration two decades ago with John Corigliano and his extraordinary score for ‘The Red Violin,’” Bell said in an email. “I am proud to have been there as John received his Oscar, and even prouder to have played the premiere of his subsequent ‘Red Violin’ concerto, now a cornerstone of the 21st-century violin repertoire.”

After the world premiere of the full score here, Bell will take the show on the road, performing with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in Chautauqua, the Philadelphia Orchestra in Saratoga Springs, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Ravinia and the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center.

Piano lovers will not want to miss the inauguration of the Grand Cru Classical series, featuring three gold medalists of three major piano competitions from 2017. The three pianists — from Italy, Korea and Hungary — will perform concertos by Beethoven, Bartok and Prokofiev on July 24 at Castello di Amorosa, then perform three, free recitals on July 25 at the Jarvis Conservatory in Napa.

“The programs are radically different, and the concertos are radically different,” LeTourneau said. “You can be the judge. Who do you like best? It’s going to be incredibly exciting.”

Also in the outdoor courtyard at the Castello, Cuban-born jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and his sextet will perform a blazing hot Latin jazz concert on July 25.

But LeTourneau is even more excited about the concert on the opening Saturday, July 21, at Trefethen Family Vineyards by Grupo Compay Segundo, a Cuban band considered to be the successors to the Buena Vista Social Club. The band has not been to the U.S. for 20 years, and it took several years and Congressional intervention to procure their visas.

“It was crazy, but we got it done,” he said. “They are moved to tears by this whole concept. They used to tour all the time, and in 2000, everything got shut down. These guys are the only ones left.”

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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