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Festival del Sole Shines a Light on More Than Music

Festival del Sole

July 16-25

“It’s all about the music, silly!” Certainly that is true for most of the concerts SFCV previews and reviews. But what about Festival del Sole, which, after a private donor dinner the night before, kicks off in Napa Valley on July 16?

True, the festival does offer a glittering array of top-flight musicians. Who can complain about 10 days of concerts that feature the likes of Joshua Bell, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Conrad Tao, Alondra de la Parra, the Rossetti String Quartet, jazz songstress Nikki Yanofsky, up-and-coming tenor Francesco Demuro, soloists from four of the world’s finest ballet companies, the Russian National Orchestra, Rita Moreno, and the enticing pairing of our own Volti with mezzo Kelley O’Connor (see preview)?

Most of the repertoire, on the other hand, is nothing to write home about. We thankfully have Getty and Lieberson to give us a taste of what’s happening nowadays. But alongside morsels from Bolling and Cassadó, the bulk of the festival’s musical fare is the traditional assortment of Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Dvořák, and Haydn, with some French music and Bartók’s Roumanian Folk Dances thrown in to sweeten the pot.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to gather from Festival del Sole’s online schedule that music is only part of the allure. In fact, it isn’t even the preponderant event. Beyond the festival’s 13 concerts, which include offerings from young artists and several dining serenades, it’s Festival del Sole’s food, wine, and ambience that draw many people in.

At least 15 food-related events are on offer, with some six more specifically focused on wine, and several parties are scattered over the festival’s span. These are so popular, in fact, that as of July 6, four events at wineries have sold out. People, it seems, would rather hear Joshua Bell ring the chimes at winery Far Niente’s 125th anniversary celebration — even if he is perchance amplified there — than in the acoustically dreadful Lincoln Theatre.

All the concerts aren’t in Yountville’s sow’s ear, however. Three take place in the spacious outdoor courtyard of a beautiful, modern-day castle, Castello di Amorosa. Yet another, the opening event, exploits the fine acoustic of the Napa Valley Opera House. And the two Bouchaine Young Artist Concerts take place in the Riverbend Performance Plaza at the historic Napa Mill and Napa River Inn and the Jarvis Conservatory.

When all’s said and done, though, it’s the see-and-be-seen food and wine events and the casual ambience that make Festival del Sole so special. And that’s true for some of the artists, as well as the public. Bell, for example, hinted a few years back that part of his fee for what seem to be regular appearances at the festival came in the form of cases of fine wine.

Jason Victor Serinus is a music critic, professional whistler, and lecturer on classical vocal recordings. His credits includes Seattle Times, Listen, Opera News, Opera Now, American Record Guide, Stereophile, Classical Voice North America, Carnegie Hall Playbill, Gramophone, San Francisco Magazine, Stanford Live, Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco Examiner, AudioStream, and California Magazine.