Runnicles’ Tenth

Grand Teton Music Festival celebrates a decade under acclaimed maestro.

By Richard Anderson

The world’s greatest orchestras generally have the name of a great conductor associated with them.

Sir Georg Solti, during his nearly thirty years with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, made it perhaps the best orchestra in the land at the time, an international and recording success. The Boston Symphony Orchestra had Seiji Ozawa to steer it through some tumultuous times from 1973 to 2002.
And the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra still has James Levine, who first picked up the baton in the famed New York hall in 1973 and just now appears to be ready to pass it on, due to health issues.

Donald Runnicles’ decade-long tenure with the Grand Teton Music Festival might not rise to such a level of longevity and influence—not yet—but his constancy is surely behind the Teton orchestra’s clear and connective music making.

“The hallmark of Donald’s career,” said Andrew Palmer Todd, the festival’s executive director for going on four seasons, “is an established, long relationship with an organized group of musicians … and in that sense the festival fits right in. It’s been a long and artistically rewarding relationship.”

He looks to three benchmarks. The first is the still-raising quality of the ensemble. Given that the festival orchestra is composed of principal members of groups from all over the United States, the bar is already high.

“But one of Donald’s gifts,” said Todd, “is his ability to raise this collective group to really play above themselves.” He attributed this to Runnicles’ “organic authority” and “pure love of music and commitment to music that musicians respond to.”

Second, Runnicles’ musical network is vast and his reputation runs deep.
This has allowed him to personally invite such guest soloists as Jonathan Biss, Jeremy Denk, James Ehnes, Renee Fleming, and Alisa Weilerstein. And there’s plenty more where they came from.

As promised back in late 2006, when Runnicles was named the festival’s third music director, he has raised the profile of the organization, making it not only better known across the land, but making it a not-to-be-missed classical music experience.

“You can only do that if both the organization and the person are committed to having a meaningful relationship over an extended period of time,” Todd reiterated.

To celebrate the anniversary, the Grand Teton Music Festival will open with a week of concerts with special meaning to Runnicles. July 5 will feature a program titled “Ten Years in the Tetons” with Runnicles at the piano, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor singing and old friend Lynn Harrell playing cello. July 7 will bring the National Collegiate Chorale of Scotland to the Tetons, a bow to Runnicles’ Edinburgh roots, and exactly what one needs to pull off sufficiently rousing performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, as planned July 8 and 9. Also that weekend will see the world premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’ “For Love of the Mountains,” a work commissioned by the festival for the occasion.

Nearly four dozen more concerts round out the 2016 summer festival season. Visit for details and tickets.

Music Venues

Center for the Arts
The Center hosts big-name acts like Brandi Carlile in its 500-seat theater two blocks from Town Square.
265 S. Cache St., (307) 733-4900

Pink Garter Theatre
Up-and-coming talent and seasoned performers alike enjoy performing at this intimate venue flanked by hot nightlife spot The Rose.
50 W. Broadway Ave., (307) 733-1500

Music on Main
On Thursday nights between June 23 and August 11 in Victor, Idaho, bands entertain crowds outdoors in Victor City Park. This year’s headliners include the Shook Twins and James McMurtry. Admission is free.

Concerts on the Commons
Summer Sunday evenings on the grassy commons in Teton Village, free music flows, although the schedule had not been announced as of press time.

Outdoor all-ages concerts are held at least four times this summer on the grassy field at the base of Snow King Mountain. The schedule so far is The Revivalists on June 19, Galactic on June 29, The Record Company on July 13 and Shovels & Rope on August 19. Music starts at 5:30 p.m. Admission is free, and food and drink are sold.