In 2022, Festival Napa Valley continues its mission of “bringing the arts to all,” with in-person and virtual programming this summer, along with the Bouchaine Young Artist Series. Sprinkled throughout the festival, which runs July 15–24, BYA introduces emerging young artists early on in their careers, giving them the opportunity to be heard and known.
The Bouchaine Young Artist Series started in 2007, the second year of Festival Napa Valley, from an idea that festival founding benefactors Tatiana and Gerret Copeland of Bouchaine Vineyards proposed to Festival Napa Valley cofounder Charles Letourneau to develop a series featuring young artists, which they offered to underwrite. Since the series’ beginning, BYA performers have received their own billing and page in the program alongside celebrity musicians like Joshua Bell. Letourneau, now vice president and director of artistic planning, is immersed in the world of young artists — he’s been on boards, on juries, and keeps a pulse on who’s who when it comes to emerging young performers.
“It absolutely thrills me to go back, meeting them again 10 years later, and they say, ’You know, that was my first recital or my first professional concert,’ and this is great,” said Letourneau.
Over the years, 50 talented performers have made their BYA debuts, with many having gone on to greater glory, like pianist and composer Conrad Tao, who participated in the first BYA season, and violinist Alexi Kenney, lauded by The New York Times for his recordings after premiering at Bouchaine at 15.
“We try to be conscious of the variety of instruments,” said Letourneau. “We try to have a good variety of backgrounds, of ages, of diversity — basically, how can every season be really interesting in itself?”
This year, BYA will feature three artists: Amaryn Olmeda, Jordan Bak, and Tabea Debus.
Amaryn Olmeda began playing violin at the age of 4, with her first performance at the age of 6. Now 13, she studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and won first prize in the junior division at the 24th annual Sphinx Competition. For her BYA recital, she listened to a range of music, creating a program focused on entertaining, lively, and energetic compositions, especially the last one, which she says is her favorite piece of all time: Tzigane by Maurice Ravel.
“The violin is like another voice and way to communicate with people,” said Olmeda. “There’s so much you can do with the violin — so many different sounds and textures, and I can really share myself and my thoughts through the music, using violin.”
Described as “a star in the making … and a young artist to watch for” by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jordan Bak didn’t early on feel a connection to his instrument. He started on piano at the age of 3 and, through happenstance, was introduced to the viola. At first, he was convinced the viola was a “fake violin.” In his teens, he was recruited by Yo-Yo Ma’s sister, Dr. Yeou-Cheng Ma, to participate in the Children’s Orchestra Society on viola.
“To have that experience in my teens of having a youth orchestra with winds, brass, and amazing soloists — that really did a 180 for me. It wasn’t a fake violin anymore but actually its own thing,” said Bak. “It’s its own instrument that has its own voice, and it’s incredibly beautiful, and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
For his BYA program, he’s focused on showcasing the capabilities of the viola. The Ecstasy of Love by H. Leslie Adams demonstrates its soulful, vulnerable quality, “the human singing of a voice from the instrument.” Concert Piece by George Enescu shows the virtuosic side of the viola, and a work by Arnold Bax completes the program.
Bringing a fresh perspective to music on recorders, Tabea Debus has been called “one of the most exciting young musicians in the early-music world” by Classic FM. She pushes back against audience’s perception of the recorder, which she says has “so much prejudice attached to it, where people think it’s a beginner instrument,” and revels in introducing the instrument’s possibilities. For BYA, she is bringing a half dozen different recorders to play and will be accompanied by lutenist Paul Morton, performing popular tunes from composers throughout Europe.
Debus began playing the recorder at the age of 6 and offers this word of wisdom for other young artists. “Stick with it,” she said. “Especially with a musical instrument — there’s usually so much more in store that you don’t learn or don’t find out about unless you just persist with it. So, just push through that difficulty, the challenges, because there’s more in store.”
The Bouchaine Young Artists Series is free to attend with a nominal $3 reservation fee per ticket. On July 18, Olmeda performs at The CIA at Copia. Catch Debus on July 20. And Jordan Bak takes the stage on July 23. To reserve your spot, visit Festival Napa Valley’s website.