Time For Three joins the Sun Valley Orchestra to present “Contact”
STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK
Expect the sounds of bassoons and crash cymbals to reverberate throughout the space tonight when the Sun Valley Music Festival Orchestra joins Time For Three to perform Kevin Puts’ “Contact” Triple Concerto.
The otherworldly concerto, co-commissioned by the Sun Valley Music Festival and a few other orchestras, was scheduled to premiere sometime in the summer of 2020 but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But it had its silver lining, Puts said Friday, as he and Time for Three were able to reframe the narrative of the 30-minute piece and add a fourth movement. The extra time offered the opportunity to better balance the orchestration with the trio.
And it gave new meaning to the title “Contact”, as the world realized the value of face-to-face relationships for two years of isolation.
The Sun Valley Music Festival and Time For Three will perform the 30-minute concerto in a free performance at 6:30 p.m. tonight, Saturday, August 13, at the Sun Valley Pavilion. Puts sat down with Sun Valley Music Festival director Alasdair Neale at the community library on Friday morning to discuss the trip to “Contact.”
Puts, who wrote the 2008 piece “Hymn to the Sun” celebrating the pavilion’s opening, said he strives to tell a story with his music. This means he usually starts at the beginning, like most writers with a story or a poem, trying to find a compelling lead that will grab the audience’s attention.
But in this case, he started in the middle after hearing a beautiful anthem that Time For Three performed at a concert in New York and worked backwards from there.
Puts admitted he was intimidated by the prospects of working with Time For Three due to their infectious energy and vast musical intelligence. He was also intimidated by the idea of integrating two violins and a double bass into the orchestra.
But, he said, it turned out to be one of the best collaborations he’s ever had as he, Nick Kendall, Raan Meyer and Charles Yang brainstormed ideas on Zoom. It was a true collaboration from start to finish as the trio is so musical they know how to improvise and they understand the many different ways music can be played.
Over time, they came up with the idea of coming into contact with extraterrestrial civilizations millions of light-years from Earth. Puts noted that Jodie Foster’s 1997 film “Contact,” which revolves around a scientist searching for intelligent life in space, was on his mind as he worked on the concerto.
“What if this message was sent into space and received? ” He asked.
To that end, “Contact” opens not with the orchestra playing but with Time for Three singing an a cappella harmony, a series of chord progressions over a dozen bars. “The Call” suggests a signal radiating out into space, Puts said — a signal that is picked up and embellished by a lone flute, French horn duet and other orchestral instruments that grow louder and louder.
Could the chorus at the beginning be a call to intelligent life? he asked, “Could the rhythms of the scherzo, similar to Morse code, suggest wave transmissions and signals?
As the concerto progresses, Time For Three breaks out into violin and bluegrass vocals. Puts said he got the idea to have them sing after hearing them sing “Vertigo.” His then 10-year-old son – his most truthful critic – gave him a helping hand at the table.
The second movement begins with “Boom, boom, boom,” Puts said, and is “extremely fast.”
“Demonic energy”, calls it Alasdair Neale. “Kevin has a special way of changing harmonies. I call it torture. It takes us into a space and it’s the right space to be.
The third movement is the heart of the concerto, Puts said. Strings alternate with woodwinds to create a spooky effect in which Puts imagines an abandoned ship floating in space.
The finale is a brisk move with an unpredictable rhythm inspired by a pair of energetic Bulgarian folk dances that Puts heard at his son’s cello recital. It features heavily accented and syncopated rhythmic patterns based on the “Gankino horo”, a Bulgarian folk dance.
Neither Time For Three nor Kevin Puts are new to the Sun Valley Music Festival. String trio Time For Three, known for their energetic rendition of Bach and The Beatles, enjoyed a three-year residency with the Sun Valley Music Festival, culminating in 2017’s “Songs of Joy.” , who has performed a few times since at The Argyros, won an Emmy for their PBS-produced “Time For Three in Concert” in 2016.
Puts won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his first opera “Silent Night”, about the Christmas truce between English and German troops during World War I. His opera “The Hours” premiered in March 2022 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. And the opera will be fully staged at the Metropolitan Opera with Renee Fleming, Kelli O’Hara and Joyce DiDonato in November 2022.
Puts has collaborated with artists such as Yo-Yo Ma and has had works commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, Philadelphia Orchestra and others.
“Contact,” written by Kevin Puts and performed by Time for Three and the Sun Valley Music Festival Orchestra, will be performed tonight, Saturday August 13, at the Sun Valley Pavilion.
The free concert begins at 6:30 p.m. Pianist Peter Henderson will host a pre-concert conversation at the Lawn Paver Bar at 5:45 p.m.
The Festival Orchestra will also perform Three Latin American Dances for Orchestra by Gabriela Lena Frank. Frank was scheduled to be in Sun Valley on Friday to talk about her work, but had to stay at her home in California to care for family members. An attempt to engage her in the library discussion via video failed.