Sunflower Music Festival opens with orchestral concert from virtuosos

White Concert Hall filled with attendees on the opening night of the 31st Sunflower Music Festival June 9.

The Sunflower Music Festival is a yearly gathering of musicians who perform large scale concerts every summer. The Festival also organizes educational opportunities for younger musicians and hosts smaller concerts at venues across the city, such as the Topeka Zoo, Grace Cathedral and the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.

The board president of the festival, Tom Wright, along with Jerry Farley, president of Washburn University, greeted the audience.

“This is one of the highlights of the year,” Farley said. “We’re so excited to have the musicians come back to our campus. It feels like it’s part of a family.”

Farley also spoke on how incredible it was that these musicians would take time to travel to Topeka to perform.

“All the people who don’t come don’t know what they’re missing” Farley said. “We want to make sure these musicians know that we truly appreciate them.”

The concert started with Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried-Idyll.” The piece was written as a birthday gift for Wagner’s second-wife. The musical elements of the piece derive from Wagner’s opera “Siegfried.” The opera is the third in a grouping of four musical dramas that make up Wagner’s sprawling epic known as “The Ring of the Niebelungen.”

The orchestra then performed Felix Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64” which featured Jeanyi Kim as the violin soloist. Kim is the associate concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Musaik.

She’s a founding member of the Philomusica Quartet and has performed at the Sunflower Music Festival many times. She earned her doctorate of music from Yale University.

Mendelssohn wrote the concerto for Ferdinand David, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra concertmaster.

“I should like to write a violin concerto for you next winter,” Mendelssohn wrote. “One in E minor is running in my head and the beginning does not leave me in peace.”

Kim’s command of the piece was well received by the audience as they honored her and the orchestra with a standing ovation.

The orchestra also performed “Adagio for Strings, Op. 11” by Samuel Barber, which has been used as a piece to accompany an elegy. The piece was notably broadcast after announcements of the deaths of FDR, Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy.

The concert ended with the “Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48” from Tchaikovsky. The serenade is a sprawling half-hour epic cast in four movements that notably upended the traditional structure of a serenade by choosing to not utilize the usual minuet and slow-paced movements.

Instead it opts for a bombastic waltz and a methodical elegy, ending the piece with a Russian folksong. The serenade brought the house down as the audience jumped out of their seats for another standing ovation.

Next year’s festival begins June 22, 2018 and all concerts are free and open to the public.