Mark O'ConnorAs I am realizing now that the conclusion of this year’s SummerFest with Seattle Symphony has arrived, I am left with a sense of awe and inspiration that we could bring this great festival to the Benaroya Hall stage this year with only months to plan.

I have played a lot of festivals throughout my 35 years of performing, but this festival was unique. We asked some of the world’s best artists from classical, jazz and folk traditions to appear. We sought artists who transcended barriers and in the process becoming innovators with their own creative lives in music. We identified the kinds of artists that, by their very presence and inclusion in this festival, epitomized this musical tapestry of breadth and dimension in music.

We wanted music that was inspiring, performances that were moving, traditions that were held to new standards, and new musical ideas that brought us together and asked us to marvel at the possibilities of music and of art. For those of us who had a hand in planning this music festival, making the connection to Seattle music lovers, to Pacific Northwest music lovers, and to the national and international audiences the festival drew helped us accomplish our goal of extending both musical and cultural bridges. That goal was met with great results.

I wanted to lend a hand with inspiring a theme of participation at SummerFest — not just to entertain and delight audiences, but to inspire audiences to do wonderful things musically and culturally when they return home. And we did see audience members sampling our variety of concerts with this theme of anticipation and participation throughout the festival.

I loved performing my Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Maya Beiser and Seattle Symphony — and, especially, my opportunity to tell everyone that this music was to lift up and remember the heroes made in the aftermath of 9/11. Likewise, I loved stepping on stage at Benaroya Hall and playing my Six Caprices on the solo violin before a symphony audience, all with a renewed energy and physical stamina I had not realized before. And more great memories: Performing with my Hot Swing ensemble in tribute to one of my musical heroes and teachers, Stéphane Grappelli; sitting in with Earl Scruggs and with Wynton Marsalis during their respective concerts — what a festival!

Even introducing the shows and letting the audiences know what was coming in the following days was a rush! I played my slow piece, Appalachia Waltz, with some young string-playing prodigies from the area in front of toddlers and their parents for the Tiny Tots Extra. I could simply hear nothing but babies screaming! But I could sense something special in the room as we played, as parents rocked their babies back and forth. Then the parents led them in a standing ovation after that lullaby. It seemed as if we tapped in to something beyond what we could have imagined in very young children for a moment.

Years ago, I forged a new musical path. Sometimes a hard path to walk unimpeded, and it often still is not the easiest of ways. But I always felt that my three loves in music — my love for classical music, for jazz and for folk traditions — must co-exist in new, important, and in much better and more sophisticated ways than they had before. Sometimes it is the music and compositions that bring about the new dimensions, sometimes the performers do it on their own, and sometimes major American symphonies can represent these dimensions, as Seattle Symphony does in its programming and performing. Sometimes, too, it is a team of arts presenters that are responsible for thinking of staging such possibilities — such is the case Seattle Symphony Executive Director Tom Philion, who centered on a mission to create something beautiful for Seattle audiences. The wonderful and collaborative combination of these people and ideas became SummerFest.

We had classical audience goers at Earl Scruggs; we had folk audiences members at Wynton Marsalis; and we had jazzers at Mahler. Well, it was a dream scenario — participation through appreciation. That is the festival spirit, and that is what summer is all about for musicians. Those things, combined with the best weather in the United States in any July of any year, and some of the best food to taste and natural beauty you could ever see in any metropolis, this is something, really something to consider visiting next time. With your help we can grow to become a summer tradition in
Seattle come July!

Mark O’Connor

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