Goodbye, Sommerfest. Hello, Summer at Orchestra Hall.
On Thursday, the Minnesota Orchestra debuted a new name for its annual summertime festival — which this year will feature a free outdoor concert on Peavey Plaza, new works and bunches of Beethoven.
The name Summer at Orchestra Hall "wholeheartedly embraces this venue," said President and CEO Michelle Miller Burns, and the adjacent, newly reopened plaza. During the performance on Peavey Plaza, the first there by the orchestra in more than a decade, Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" will conclude with church bells across Minneapolis pealing in coordination.
"All the bells in the city are going to ring," said Jon "Jackie" Kimura Parker, the orchestra's new creative partner. "That is going to be epic."
Peavey Plaza will also play host to pop-up night markets and food trucks during the summer program, which runs from July 17 to Aug. 9.
This year's theme is "the Beethoven Influence." Because it's the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven's birth, orchestras across the country are performing even more works by the rule-breaking, now ubiquitous composer. During the fest, the Minnesota Orchestra will play plenty of Beethoven, including his Seventh Symphony. But Summer at Orchestra Hall also features old and new works he shaped or inspired, with local theater artists, dancers and musicians riffing on his legacy.
"We actually were daring to believe … that [the] influence of Beethoven could extend to present day," Parker said.
Free Black Dirt, founded by Minneapolis artists Junauda Petrus and Erin Sharkey, is creating a nature-filled film that will be set to the first movement of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony. The Moving Company, a theater company, will premiere a play with music whose characters speak to Beethoven about his influence. The BRKFST Dance Company, an ensemble rooted in break dancing, will form a new work set to Beethoven's "Grosse Fuge."
"It's really inspiring," said Lisa "MonaLisa" Berman, the dance company's founder. "The thought of being able to dance with a live orchestra behind us is so exciting."
Four members of BRKFST, pronounced "breakfast," freestyled Thursday during the summer season announcement in Orchestra Hall's atrium as it snowed outside. Parker, a pianist, played too.
Parker has deep history with the summer season, launched in 1980 as Viennese Sommerfest as a celebration of Viennese music. (The name was shortened in 2003 to Sommerfest.) The summer concerts have gone for a few years without a host. Conductor Andrew Litton, the fest's longest-serving leader, stepped aside in 2017 after 15 years.
As the festival's new creative partner, Parker will often find himself onstage. He will solo in Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," a work he played 27 years ago during Sommerfest. His quintet Off the Score, with drummer Stewart Copeland of the Police, will make its Minneapolis debut. He'll also be one of four pianists reviving the Grand Piano Spectacular, which was long a staple of Sommerfest. Parker played in that show "at least six times," he said.
"The whole idea of summer programming … and it having a slightly different flavor from the winter season," Parker said. "I just so embraced that and I was so incredibly excited to be involved in bringing back a little bit of that energy."
But he also wants to see the program go in new directions, he continued. "This is the opportunity for the Minnesota Orchestra to speak to you not only to the greatness of the orchestra but to the astounding richness of the whole artistic community of Minneapolis."