Idaho Arts Quarterly » Further

Amazing Place

The Sun Valley Pavilion stands ready to impress


The opportunities for showcasing the performance arts in Idaho took a giant leap forward last summer with the opening of a multi-million dollar outdoor pavilion adjacent to the legendary Sun Valley Lodge. The exact cost has not been disclosed, but it is clear by looking, and by listening, that the aesthetically stunning Sun Valley Pavilion is a world-class concert facility. Earl Holding, owner of The Sun Valley Company, and his family wanted a superior concert pavilion, and when Holding wants something to happen, it usually does.

Upon approaching the pavilion area, a huge steel arch with a copper crown appears, similar to the mountain profiles of its surroundings. Flowing down from one side of the arch is a semi circular white fabric, shielding the audience and drawing the eye to the surrounding park. The opposite side of the arch is met by a fan-shaped, sloped ceiling of mahogany paneling that reaches up from the backstage wall of Brazilian ironwood, thus forming an acoustic shell. Travertine stonework, 750 tons of which were personally selected by the Holding family from a quarry near Rome, defines the entrance and sides, along with a terraced fountain. The restrooms of the pavilion, with regulated water temperature, exemplify Holding's philosophy that if something is worth doing, it's worth over-doing.

The desire for a better venue grew along with the quality of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary and is now comprised of some of the best players in the country. The Summer Symphony is one of the largest free admission symphonies in the United States, thanks to the residents who house the musicians and donate the money to pay their salaries. As the group transitioned from a fine orchestra to a world-class orchestra, listening on folding chairs under a tent became more incongruous.

At first, a fairly modest band shell was envisioned for the symphony, whose performance season is only three weeks long. It seemed that a better place to play was needed, and a site committee was formed in 2001 to find out what it would take.

"None of this would have happened were it not for the extraordinary relationship between the symphony, the Sun Valley Company management and the Holding family," explained Carol Nie, symphony president. That relationship produced the change in concept from a band shell for the symphony to a multi-use performing arts center for the entire region during the full outdoor season, which lasts from mid-May to late September.

The concept evolved over four years of fact-finding, on-site visits and discussion by the symphony and the Sun Valley Company. FTL Design Engineering Studio of New York was associated with premiere outdoor concert venues like the Charlottesville Music Pavilion in South Carolina and the Capitol Concerts at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The symphony retained the firm in July, 2004, to provide a rendering of a facility that would meet desired requirements. Among them were architectural excitement and consistency with the environment, comfortable seating for 1,500 people under shelter, a stage and back stage area to accommodate a large orchestra and chorus, and a surrounding park for thousands of picnickers. Storage space, guest artist rooms, a visiting area, refreshment and rest room amenities, load-in access and parking were also required. But most importantly, the facility needed to be acoustically superb, with a sound system to enable even those on the farthest picnic blanket to savor the orchestra's every nuance, without it sounding like a sound system.

During a surprise appearance at the final concert of the 2006 season, Holding announced that he had signed a letter of intent to build a pavilion on the property to become the symphony's new home. If the symphony raised $3 million, he would take care of the rest. The audience and the orchestra went into prolonged pandemonium.

The symphony and the Sun Valley Company broke ground with gold-painted shovels the following summer, and the 2007 season took place within sight of huge mounds of dirt that would become, in just one year, the Sun Valley Pavilion. Builders worked day and night, seven days a week, contending with one of the longest winters in memory, to have the facility ready for opening night on August 3, 2008. Not only was it ready, but it was duly impressive.

The symphony has earned a free lifetime lease of the Pavilion during its summer season, but what happens there during the rest of the time is under the direction of John Mauldin, the Sun Valley Company's Director of Entertainment. What "the rest of the time" actually means depends on your willingness to dress warmly. An audience of 800 bundled up on February 10, 2009, for a concert by reggae-rock star-activist Michael Franti to benefit the Special Olympics. Large conventions, such as the well-known Sun Valley Wellness Festival and Sun Valley Writers' Conference, can also use the Pavilion for concerts and presentations.

Nie reports an increase in interest and attendance since the Pavilion opened, and she looks forward to the experience that music students who perform there with the symphony's education programs will receive. Geoffrey Trabichoff, concertmaster of the Boise Philharmonic and an 11-year member of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, states that the whole Sun Valley experience is very special for the players, and that this new Pavilion is "really the icing on the cake."

Contemplating this structure, blending beautifully with the mountain skyline where a year before there was only a huge hole, it is hard to believe that such a structure could be funded, designed and built in such a short time. But it happened in Sun Valley.