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.
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