On March 18, the city of Palm Springs lavished in its inaugural “Festival of the Desert,” an all-day celebration, produced by Barrett Wissman, Chairman of IMG Artists. The event was comprised of a curated collection of the classical arts, which included operatic singing, ballet, piano-playing, the finest food, and so on. What’s more is that the best of the best were on hand, or involved in some way, to ensure the success of the festival, like virtuoso Quincy Jones and Bolshoi Ballet principal dancer David Hallberg, who acted as curators; Paris Opera Music Director Philippe Jordan, who acted as concert pianist to soprano Renée Fleming’s moving two-hour performance; and Chef Cat Cora, who organized dinner for guests at the concluding gala reception.
Hallberg, who is the first American to become a key dancer at Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet Company, spoke of how the dancers of the American Ballet Theatre and NYC Ballet, whom he oversaw during the day, underscored his purpose to the classical arts. “I was meant to do this, it was not a choice. From a young boy, a higher being has compelled me to express myself through drive and ambition,” he stated.
Jordan and Fleming, who worked beautifully in tandem for the first time, and were the highlight of the evening at the McCallum Theatre, enthralled the packed house to a series of vintage songs. Swiss-born Jordan, who usually plies his trade as a conductor, not a pianist, had no doubt that Palm Springs was the best choice for hosting the extravaganza. “There’s nothing that compares to the city’s nature, weather, its peace, architecture, film, food, and wine; and what had been missing was classical music,” he said. “We have Coachella, but no other city complements this medium of expression than the [contemplative] silence of Palm Springs.”
Four-time Grammy Award-winner Fleming, whose talent and years of training were on display, exhibited seamless note changes, an impressive intonation and resonance in her voice, filling every corner and cranny of the theatre, and all without the amplification provided by a microphone. The “bare” performance was as sumptuous a spectacle as can be, while also confirming what classical music truly entails, even for Fleming who is a veteran in the field. “It’s about the art of the song, which made me passionate about singing because it really is a mix of poetry and sound. It’s amazing what can be conveyed by the human voice,” she declared.
Capping off the long day at the Sunnylands Center & Gardens was an open-air dinner, artfully selected by the first female to win “Iron Chef,” Cat Cora. Though she had no influence on the festival’s musical or ballet performances, she appropriately saw her role as being no different, but in fact inclusive of a bigger picture. “It’s wonderful to see this beautiful food and the artists come together collectively, and that’s what it’s all about,” she reflected.
All in all, perhaps the festival was not so much a celebration as much as a reminder. While modern genres of music and the arts come and go, adapting to the next trend, the classics, by virtue of being the original benchmarks, will endure forever.
For more information, visit FestivaloftheDesert.org
Photo Credit: David Crotty / Festival of the Desert
Ballerina Maria Kowroski
Top: (left to right)
Maria Kowroski and Amar Ramasar /Renee Flemming / Justin Kauflin and Alfredo Rodríguez
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