Classical music: Andrew Litton, the face of Sommerfest

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 8, 2014 - 11:12 AM

Andrew Litton returns to his regular spot at Orchestra Hall as the midsummer festival comes back to life.


Andrew Litton

Andrew Litton has become the face of Sommerfest, the Minnesota Orchestra’s midsummer festival of Central European music. Litton’s new contract ensures his warm-weather presence at Orchestra Hall through 2017. It also makes him the longest-serving artistic director in Sommerfest’s 34-year history.

Litton’s home is in Westchester, N.Y., although his professional associations have been in Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis and Bergen, Norway. Music director for 12 years at Dallas, he recently was named to the top post at the Colorado Symphony and next year concludes his tenure as the Bergen Philharmonic celebrates its 250th anniversary.

Pianist as well as conductor, Litton will unveil “A Tribute to Oscar Peterson” during his 12th Sommerfest, which opens this week. He’ll also play piano in chamber presentations, solo on “Rhapsody in Blue” and conduct the semistaged opera “Die Fledermaus.”

He was at home for his daughter’s high school graduation recently, which made it possible to get him on the phone.


Q Was it easy to re-enlist as Sommerfest director?

A It was a no-brainer. The reason this summer festival works is that everyone considers it their own. The appeal for me is to be able to make great music indoors, no bugs and no need for amplification. That’s a dream come true. And this year, we get to use the newly refurbished Orchestra Hall and try out the atrium space. It will be like starting fresh.


Q You conducted here in March, your first time back with the musicians after the lockout. What did you say?

A I said what I normally say, “It’s great to see you all again,” but never have those words meant so much. It was an incredibly painful time, and there were so many moments when one wanted to scream in frustration from the sidelines.

Osmo has spoken about the rebuilding. It’s so true. Not just a question of remembering how to play, it’s just the whole idea of erasing the painful memories of the dispute and what was taking place. You can’t forget that instantly.

The happy ending is they are playing the music they play better than anybody else, and I hope Sommerfest will help heal in the community. So we’ve gone back to the festival’s core — Strauss, Vienna. It’s extremely friendly programming.

Q What else distinguishes the schedule?

A I told them it was essential to bring back the chamber music. The players suggested the Mozart “Gran Partita,” which has lots of players. It’s brilliant programming and a perfect piece for cementing the relationship back to the music, where it belongs. Brahms is ever popular, and I just love the Second Symphony, which is the most summery of all the symphonies.


Q What about the Chopin Piano Concerto with Natasha Paremski?

A Conductors don’t love Chopin, but pianists love it. It’s 19th-century pops, with lots for the pianist to do, but the orchestra is mostly playing those whole notes. Natasha is a charismatic player, and the Chopin will work in the Johann Strauss night. Strauss brothers were writing for Viennese salons, and Chopin was writing for French salons.



    What: The festival, running July 10-26, begins Thu. and Fri. with music of Rachmaninoff and Brahms.

    When: 11 a.m. Thu., 8 p.m. Fri.

    Where: Orchestra Hall, 11th and Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: $22-$84, 612-371-5656,

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