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Britt remembers John Trudeau

After all these years, Peter Bay says, it will be weird not to see John Trudeau wandering the Britt hillside in Jacksonville this summer. Trudeau, Britt's founder and first conductor, died in November. Bay is dedicating the entire 2009 Classical Festival to him.

The event that would become perhaps the Northwest's premier outdoor music festival began in Trudeau's mind. Now in its 47th season of presenting classical and popular artists from all over the world, Britt started with a plywood stage and light bulbs strung above the stage in coffee cans. It presented only classical music until 1978, when the pavilion was built and the festival expanded.

"We'll miss him terribly," Bay says of Trudeau. "I'm happy his family will be attending."

Britt's 2009 Classical Festival will open Friday, July 31, at the Britt Pavilion in Jacksonville. There will be a champagne picnic at 6 p.m. and a performance by the Britt Orchestra at 8. Tickets to the picnic are $30, and concert tickets are $30 and $45 for adults and $10 and $15 for children.

Bay, who is entering his 17th season as Britt's music director and the Britt Orchestra's conductor, says he was thinking of Trudeau when he programmed Nielsen's Symphony No. 3, "Symphony Espansiva," for Aug. 7. Trudeau was known to be a vigorous champion of Nielsen's works. Trudeau's wife, Betty, and other family members are expected to attend the concert, and Bay is expected to speak about Trudeau from the stage.

The Danish composer Carl Nielsen was known for his optimism and energy, which are evident in the symphony. Nielsen biographer Robert Simpson wrote that, "Espansiva means the outward growth of the mind's scope and the expansion of life that comes from it."

Bay and the Britt Orchestra will kick off the season Friday when they welcome cellist Alisa Weilerstein for a performance of Ernest Bloch's "Schelomo" sandwiched between two other pieces. Bay and the orchestra will open the concert with "Bright Blue Music," a short piece written in 1985 by the American composer Michael Torke, and wrap up the evening with Dvorak's Symphony No. Seven.

The classical season comprises eight concerts, seven in Jacksonville and one at Southern Oregon University's Music Recital Hall in Ashland Aug. 2. In addition to honoring Trudeau, Bay is playing tribute to composer Felix Mendelssohn, whose bicentennial is this year.

"We're playing three of his overtures," Bay says, "two of which are seldom performed. All three have to do with water."

That would be the Hebrides ("Fingal's Cave") Overture Saturday, Aug. 1, at Britt; pianist Anton Nel's performance of the Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 12, with the Arianna String Quartet Aug. 2 a the SOU Music Recital Hall; and the "Fair Melusina Overture" Aug. 7 at Britt.

Bay says the loss of Trudeau will be felt throughout the season.

"I mentioned him at the first rehearsal," he says. "Everyone senses his loss. He was Britt."

Bay says when he got the conductor/music director job at Britt, Trudeau travelled to Jacksonville, and the two men began what became an annual tradition of talking about Britt and music.

They had their usual visit at this time last year, then exchanged e-mails in September, swapping comments and observations on the season. Two months later Trudeau was found dead by his wife at his desk in his beloved houseboat.

"We always planned lunch after rehearsal," Bay says just after a rehearsal. "I've looked forward to that for 17 years."

Backstage at the Britt Pavilion is a poster from the 1960s showing Trudeau at the festival.

"It's kind of like Notre Dame players touching a poster that says to play like a champion," Bay says. "For us, it's John on plywood with coffee can lights."

John Trudeau conducting the Britt Orchestra in 2002. - Photo by Rob Werfel