The Bear Valley Music Festival is a yearly summer event in Bear Valley, California, located about 180 miles east of San Francisco at just above 7200 feet elevation in the Sierra Nevada. The festival currently begins on the second-to-last Friday in July and ends three Sundays later, drawing a total audience of roughly four thousand attendees. The festival strives to appeal to a wide demographic by presenting a diverse variety of artists and styles of music over the years, including classical, rock, country, blues, folk, and jazz. The concerts are held in a tent erected to serve as a concert hall, equipped with a stage large enough to hold a symphony orchestra.
In 1967, orchestra conductor, John Gosling and his wife Margaret were driving through the Stanislaus National Forest and found themselves in the small town of Bear Valley. At that time, Bear Valley consisted of a small enclave of homes, a hostel, and the Bear Valley Lodge. The town was nestled on the picturesque southern slope of the ski resort known as Mount Reba. John Gosling’s fledgling idea to begin a festival was realized just one year later.
The inaugural concert at the Bear Valley Music Festival saw a 38-person orchestra brimming out of Bear Valley Lodge’s Cathedral Lounge. Residents opened their homes to musicians, meals were served family-style in the Lodge Dining Room, and the lounge was packed to the balconies that flank the central room. During those humble beginnings, John Gosling shared his time between Bear Valley and the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra. Maestro Gosling and a dedicated group of founders, musicians, and volunteers continued to make music in a variety of venues – the Lodge, under the open skies, and finally in a large circus tent. The repertoire expanded to include: Broadway show-tunes, opera, chamber music, educational programs, and guest artists from around the world.
In 1985, Carter Nice, then the Conductor of the Sacramento Symphony, succeeded John Gosling as Music Director and Conductor. Under his direction, the BVMF Orchestra expanded in numbers and geographic reach. Players were attracted from New York, Florida, New Orleans, Indiana, and all over California. Bear Valley became the summer home to many of these players. Family members and friends came to enjoy the High Sierras in the summer and listen to the splendid music.
As the Festival grew, the classical music was supplemented with opera, Broadway show tunes, and opening weekend acts of contemporary and country music. Past guest artists have included: Dave Mason, José Feliciano, Roseanne Cash, Glen Campbell, the Mamas and the Papas, Big Bad Voo Doo Daddy, and John Corbett.
In the summer of 2012, Michael Morgan, Music Director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony and Sacramento Philharmonic succeeded Carter Nice as Music Director. Morgan was an award-winning innovator in programming and a forward-thinking artist. Michael passed away in August 2021, and we mourn his loss.
In March of 2022, after an extensive and thorough search, the Bear Valley Music Festival is excited to announce Alexander Mickelthwate as our new Music Director. Alexander is Music Director of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic where he’s built a reputation for creating uniquely tailored programs to bring in new audiences.