Thirty years ago, a chamber orchestra from New York and the citizenry of an Oklahoma town decided to conduct an experiment — establish a classical music festival in the middle of the prairie.
That experiment was the OK Mozart International Festival in Bartlesville, which in the subsequent years has grown into one of the state’s major cultural attractions, drawing performers and audiences from all over the world to the Bartlesville Community Center.
Over time, the festival has expanded and evolved from that first weekendlong event in 1985. In recent years, the programming grew more diverse, to the point that it was at times rare to hear a Mozart composition during the course of the festival that bears his name.
For the festival’s 30th anniversary season, which begins Saturday, the idea was to return to the original spirit of OK Mozart, with the focus on orchestral and chamber music, while still engaging in some innovations.
Artistic director Constantine Kitsopoulos put together programs that all tie into the idea of Vienna, once known as “The City of Music” because of all the famous composers who at one time or another lived and worked there — Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler.
At the same time, said Randy Thompson, the festival’s executive director, “We like to say that, for our 30th anniversary, we’re putting the ‘OK’ back into OK Mozart.”
The primary way of doing that is featuring Oklahoma talent in several of the festival’s main concerts.
The first will be June 8, when the festival’s orchestra in residence, the Amici New York Orchestra, will be joined by the first OK Mozart All-State Youth Orchestra in a side-by-side performance of the Symphony No. 1 in D Major, “Titan,” by Gustav Mahler.
“I was a music professor in Charlotte (South Carolina) right around the time they were developing the Spoleto Festival there,” Thompson said.
And one of the things they did there was create an all-state youth orchestra to perform as part of the festival. “That was something I brought up when I first met with Constantine,” Thompson said. “And it was his idea of doing this side-by-side event.” Thompson approached the Oklahoma Music Educators Association about recruiting students from the all-state orchestras it had already assembled for concerts earlier this year. “It’s all voluntary, and we ended up with about 60 of the 90 students that were in the OMEA orchestra in January,” Thompson said. “That includes about two-thirds of their principal players. So it’s all worked out quite nicely.” It also allows the 45-member Amici New York the chance to perform a symphonic work as large as the Mahler First Symphony, which requires a large orchestra. “We will have to augment our numbers with some professional players from the region, as well,” Thompson said.
As for the students, their OK Mozart experience will not be confined to the stage. The students are expected to arrive in Bartlesville on Friday, where they will have a rehearsal with the full orchestral rehearsal, followed by rehearsals of the various sections, and finally personal instruction from their Amici New York counterparts.
“We’ll have them going through much the same thing on Saturday,” Thompson said. “Basically, they are getting private tutoring from some of the best musicians in the country.”
After a final dress rehearsal, the students will perform in the second half of the June 8 concert, which will also feature pianist Jon Kimura Parker as the soloist for the Piano Concerto No. 20 by Mozart.
Of the 60 young musicians that will be part of the OK Mozart All State Youth Orchestra, eight are from the Tulsa area: violinists Nicholas Bashforth and Hailey Hinnen, violists Yuna Ha and Daltan Pettigrew, cellist Brian Ki, oboists Sarah Gerlach and Taylor Spears, and timpanist Zac Simons.
The June 11 concert will be a special semi-staged concert production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” performed in English.
“When Constantine decided on the season and including ‘The Magic Flute,’ we decided it would be a good idea to cast some singers from Oklahoma,” Thompson said.
Thompson arranged for auditions to be held at various locales around Oklahoma, including Tulsa Opera. “Constantine ended up hearing about 60 singers,” Thompson said. “In the end, out of the 22 members of our ‘Magic Flute’ cast, all but six are from Oklahoma.”
“The Magic Flute” concert, as well as the festival Grand Finale Concert on June 14, which will be devoted to the Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven, will also feature the Bartlesville Choral Society.
OK Mozart International Festival schedule
Main Concert Series
All concerts at the Bartlesville Community Center, 300 S.E. Cherokee Ave. in Bartlesville unless otherwise noted.
6 p.m.: Opening Night Celebration, featuring music performances, giveaways, children’s activities, and a performance of “Romeo and Juliet.”
3 p.m.: Orchestral concert featuring the Amici New York Orchestra, the OK Mozart All-State Youth Orchestra and pianist Jon Kimura Parker. Music by Mozart, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mahler.
5:30 and 8 p.m.: Spencer Prentiss/Becky Wallace Chamber Concert, featuring the Miro Quartet, Jon Kimura Park and members of the Amici New York. Music by Schubert and Beethoven. Presented at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 210 S.E. Ninth St.
7:30 p.m.: “The Magic Flute,” semi-staged version of the Mozart Opera.
8 p.m.: Concert by Sarah Jarosz, Grammy nominated singer-songwriter whose music incorporates a wide range of Americana styles. Accompanied by members of the Amici New York Orchestra.
8 p.m.: Woolaroc Outdoor Concert, featuring excerpts from Viennese operetta, patriotic music, closing with the “1812” Overture with cannon and fireworks. At Woolaroc Ranch, on Clyde Lake, southwest of Bartlesville.
8 p.m.: The Grand Finale Concert, featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. With the Bartlesville Choral Society
Chamber Music Series
All concerts are 2 p.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 210 S.E. Ninth Street in Bartlesville.
Miro Quartet and Jon Kimura Parker. Music by Schubert, Robert Schumann, Clara Schuman
Lecture-recital by Jon Kimura Parker about the William Hirtz “Wizard of Oz” Fantasy
Miro Quartet and Jon Kimura Parker. Music by Beethoven and Schumann
Miro Quartet and Jon Kimura Parker. Music by Beethoven and Schubert
Miro Quartet and Jon Kimura Parker. Music by Haydn and Beethoven
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478