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Classical music under the stars

Peter Bay has a ready explanation for the robust attendance at last year's Britt classical season.

"We have very loyal fans," says Bay, who is Britt's music director and the conductor of the Britt Orchestra.

To keep things going in the right direction, Bay believes he's put together one of the strongest-ever lists of guest artists for the season, opening Friday, Aug. 6, at the Britt Pavilion in Jacksonville. On that night he will welcome violinist Chee-Yun, and she will play Saint-Saëns' Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor.

An opening-night champagne picnic catered by The Jacksonville Inn will kick off the evening at 6 p.m. Tickets for the picnic cost $30 and must be purchased separately.

Bay and the orchestra will begin the concert at 8 p.m. with Dvorak's "My Homeland," Op. 62. After Chun-Lee's performance, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 in D minor will conclude the show.

Chee-Yun, who plays a Stradivarius violin on loan to her from the Samsung company, was born in Seoul, South Korea, and first performed in the United States at age 13 with the New York Philharmonic. She studied with Itzhak Perlman's teacher at The Juilliard School and performed as a soloist at Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center at age 15. She often is heard on National Public Radio and has performed for CNBC and Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion."

"She plays as well as any well-known soloist," says Bay.

Even Perlman?

"Maybe Perlman, but without the power," he allows, then adds, "But she can put on the power when she has to."

Chun-Lee has performed with the London Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Toronto, Houston, Seattle, Pittsburgh and many other symphony orchestras, touring widely in the United States and Japan. She also is a chamber-music enthusiast, having performed at the Aspen, La Jolla, Santa Fe and other festivals in the United States, as well as festivals in Europe and Asia.

Her most recent recording is the Penderecki Violin Concerto No. 2. She also has recorded the music of Mendelssohn, Debussy, Brahms, Strauss and Saint-Saëns, including the concerto she will play at Britt. Saint-Saëns dedicated the 1880 work to the violinist Pablo de Sarasate, who played it at its premiere. The piece has stayed in the classical repertoire and remains popular today among violinists and audiences.

Bay describes it as "very romantic, but with lots of pyrotechnics, mostly in the outer movements."

He says the Dvorak is "kind of a patriotic little potboiler" written to celebrate the reopening of a Prague theater. The Shostakovich symphony, one of the masterpieces of 20th-century music, also has a story.

"Shostakovich had a turbulent life under Stalin," says Bay. "He'd written music Stalin considered 'decadent.' The symphony was an apology to Stalin for that. But it's also very defiant — you can detect that."

Several of the great composer's relatives in the Soviet Union disappeared, says Bay, and Shostakovich himself kept a small suitcase packed.

Pianist Jeffrey Biegel is a composer and arranger known for his performance technique. He initiated the first live Internet recitals in the 1990s and in 1999 assembled the largest consortium of orchestras ever put together to celebrate the millennium.

The award-wining Arianna String Quartet has performed all over the world since the early 1990s. Alexander Tutunov was recognized as one of the outstanding piano virtuosos of the former Soviet Union before landing at Southern Oregon University, where he is an artist in residence.

Harpist Nancy Allen heads the harp departments of The Juilliard School and Yale School of Music, as well as maintaining a busy touring schedule. Emanuel Ax is a world-renowned pianist who most recently was in the news for commissioning three new works to be presented this year with Yo-Yo Ma in London, Amsterdam and elsewhere.

Violinist Jennifer Frautschi has played with many of the world's leading symphony orchestras and is known for the wide range of her repertoire. The Enchantment Theatre Company has been producing innovative shows for children and their families for nearly 30 years.

Pianist Jon Nakamatsu was named National Public Radio's Debut Artist of the Year in 1998, the year after he won the Gold Medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He has scarcely looked back, touring vigorously around the United States and abroad.

Preconcert talks will be held at 7 p.m. before each orchestra concert at the Britt Pavilion. For complete information about the programs and ticket prices, visit www.brittfest.org or call the Britt box office at 541-773-6077.

The Britt Orchestra rehearses for its 2010 Classical Season at the Britt Pavilion in Jacksonville. - Photo by Jim Craven