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Playlist: Festival Napa Valley

Featuring great string players of Festival Napa Valley, Charles Letourneau, Executive Producer, curated this exclusive playlist for classical music lovers across the world to enjoy a wide variety of glorious music. Listen only on Primephonic.


Growing up in Canada playing violin and going on to study at the Moscow Conservatory and Yale, music has been my life. My (professional cellist) wife and I live in a New York apartment crammed with three violins, two cellos, a piano, and a harpsichord that my dad and I built when I was a teenager. I devoured recordings when I was a kid, keeping track every time a new CD would come out and amassing quite a collection. Of course, since then the number and quality of recordings has exploded, which is why Primephonic is so amazing: I can now have access to anything, and more importantly find it easily, for the price of 1.5 Starbucks coffees per month…

I have selected some of my favorite recordings from string players who have appeared at Festival Napa Valley. Several of these tracks are influenced by my existing CD collection (yes, I still hang on to them…) and some are more recent favorites that I have mostly discovered by listening to radio and streaming. Each recording has a personal story behind it. A big variety of glorious music in extraordinary performances; I hope this playlist will become one of your favorites too.

Gordon Getty

My string highlights playlist opens with…piano. Conrad Tao made his professional debut at Festival Napa Valley filling in for a cancellation at age 12 in Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Russian National Orchestra, leaving the audience stunned. Here he is in Gordon Getty’s beautiful and evocative miniature, Seascape.

Pablo de Sarasate

Sarah Chang is another Festival Napa Valley favorite, having appeared multiple times in recital and with orchestra, in repertoire ranging from the Mendelssohn and Barber Concertos to the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires by Piazzolla and Porgy and Bess Suite. The Introduction and Tarantella by Sarasate is one of her signature pieces.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The legendary violinist Midori, one of the most prodigious musicians in recent memory, has also become one of the leading mentors and teachers in the world today; she charmed everyone at the Festival with both her playing and luminous personality. Here is her recording of Mozart’s Symphonia Concertante, which in my opinion is one of the best ever made.

César Franck

The next two tracks feature two Festival Napa Valley “regulars”, violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who have performed together and separately many times since our first season in 2006 (Joshua Bell was in fact the soloist in the first concert we ever presented). Please enjoy their collaboration on an exquisite interpretation of César Franck’s famous Violin Sonata.

Johann Sebastian Bach

My relationship with Matt Haimovitz goes back to my second job, when I was working at Columbia Artists in the late 90’s. It was at that time that he pioneered the idea of performing solo Bach in non-traditional venues like bars and clubs, which transformed the classical music scene. Always inquisitive and innovative, he performs the Bach Sixth Suite in this recent recording on a five-stringed cello.

Johannes Brahms

One of my all-time highlights from Festival Napa Valley was when the Emerson String Quartet performed at Castello di Amorosa, followed by dinner at Grgich Hills hosted by Violet Grgich, who is a professional harpsichordist when she is not running the winery. I absolutely love this recording of the Brahms Quintet where the Emerson find the perfect “groove” with Leon Fleisher.

Mark O'Connor

I had the great honor of being Mark O’Connor’s manager for the first ten years of his “classical” career. One of the most prodigiously talented and original figures in American music history, he crossed over in the “wrong” direction, from the hottest fiddler in Nashville to Carnegie Hall and opened the doors for future generations. His American Seasons are a perfect example of his genius. Listen for the riff at 5:10.

Niccolò Paganini

Could not resist bringing Midori back for a jaw-dropping demonstration of virtuosity that will leave any violinist speechless. And no, this was not done via micro-editing, she really plays like that live, we heard her in person at Festival Napa Valley with the Russian National Orchestra. Paganini’s Caprice No. 1 in E Major, from her debut solo recording. 

Antonín Dvořák

Speaking of legendary violinists, the great Pinchas Zukerman performed two concerts for us at Festival Napa Valley, and I had the pleasure of hearing him up-close (really close!) turning pages for his recital with Angela Cheng. The facility with which he plays is unbelievable, as if the violin was an extension of his body. This Dvorak Serenade is a beautiful if rarely heard gem of the violin literature.

John Adams

Chad Hoopes is the greatest undiscovered treasure in the violin world today. Let me repeat: Chad Hoopes is the greatest undiscovered treasure in the violin world today. He performed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for us with Robert Redford narrating the original sonnets at age 15 and has developed into a tremendous artist. The John Adams Concerto is a perfect vehicle for him.

Robert Schumann

We first presented Stephen Waarts as a lanky 12-year old on our Bouchaine Young Artist Series; it was his first recital ever. Fast-forward a decade or so, he is now on meteoric career trajectory, racking up awards at major competitions and performing around the world. He is also apparently the tallest violin soloist alive today...Listen to him in this gorgeous Schumann miniature.

Édouard Lalo

Sarah Chang’s recording of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole has always been one of my favorites, and I think you will hear why. She perfectly captures the sizzling rhythms and Spanish flair in this masterpiece from one of the most underrated French composers.  We can hope that he will come back to Festival Napa Valley one day to perform it live!

Johann Sebastian Bach

My playlist comes to a quiet close with one of the most successful transcriptions and recordings in recent memory: Dmitry Sitkovetsky says that his manager at the time dismissed his idea of transcribing the Goldberg Variations for String Trio as a waste of time…which proves one again that the artist is always right. Dmitry appeared multiple times at Festival Napa Valley, and I bid you farewell with his exquisite performance of the closing aria.

This playlist was curated by Charles Letourneau, Executive Producer of Festival Napa Valley.