Through the centuries, the great composers have given us magnificent music that reflects and informs our world. The Romantic composers of the past two centuries have provided a musical score that flows through our deepest consciousness and to which we live our lives. Our very souls are soothed by its sublime beauty. Can there be a more sublime setting than Aspen, Colorado?
Just as the Maroon Bells are the iconic image of the Roaring Fork Valley and the challenge of Ajax Mountain capture the thrill of skiing in the Rockies, the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) is the quintessential summer event in the arts and culture-rich mountain town. It’s pure summer magic to experience the world’s most beautiful music while sitting under the dramatic Benedict Music Tent as the stars move across the heavens that is uniquely captivating about the 8-week summer festival. “There’s something about the fresh air, the congeniality of the community around you and the young people playing in the orchestra,” says Ann Friedman, AMFS trustee and donor. “Those personal encounters that you can have with musicians and teachers make it special and magical and inspirational.”
Starry Nights in Aspen
Presenting its 65th season this summer, the Aspen Music Festival and School is an integral part of the magic of Aspen. From June through August, more than 70,000 patrons enjoy 300 classical music events, including performances by five orchestras, an array of chamber music and contemporary music, full-length operas on the stage of the Wheeler Opera House, Aspen’s Victorian gem, as well as children’s programming, lectures and discussion. The AMFS is the largest teaching festival in the world, with 630 students taking part in recitals, performances, individual lessons and master classes. Students come from around the world, with nearly 40 nations represented. Many come several times as students, and then return as guest artists and teachers. The alumni list of the school is astonishing, including such luminaries as Philip Glass, Joshua, Bell, Sarah Chang, Renee Fleming, Leonard Slatkin, Itzhak Perlman and Gil Shaham. The average age of students is 23, however, they range in age from seven to 70, says president and CEO Alan Fletcher. “They must meet the same rigorous audition standards as anyone; and most of our students are graduate students. We have some super, super gifted students.” It’s no surprise that the festival is the greatest driver of summer tourism in Aspen, according to Fletcher. “People return every year for the festival, and have been doing so for decades. Some have even bought homes because of the music. They say they come to Aspen for the skiing and stay for the music.”
This year’s theme is “The New Romantics” which explores the resurgence of Romanticism by many of today’s composers. Romanticism, which emerged in Europe in the late 18th century, was inspired by nostalgia for the natural beauty of a world that was fast becoming industrialized and urban. Aspen, with its juxtaposition of spectacular mountain beauty and its roots in mining that fueled Victorian-age industrialization, provides a perfect setting for this artistic exploration of our environment—both natural and built—in the modern age. Romantic music chronicles us; it makes a statement and invites audiences to react to it. Listeners learn something about their own world views as they experience a piece of Romantic music. Featured composers and works in this year’s festival come from a wide range of seemingly disparate styles, all interpreted through the lens of Romanticism. Even the modernist work of Aspen alumnus Philip Glass incorporates the moodiness of a Romantic sensibility. Glass’s violin concerto “The American Four Seasons” will be performed by Robert Spano on piano and violinist Robert McDuffie as part of the 2014 schedule.
A Trusting Audience
The Aspen Music Festival audience tends to be a sophisticated one, accustomed to seeing wonderful performances in concert halls around the globe. Longtime attendees have experienced decades of delightful surprises and sublime music, so they know they’re in for a special treat when they take their seats under the tent on a perfect summer evening. Perhaps that’s why they listen with such open minds. “We have a trusting audience,” Fletcher says. The Aspen audience “is willing to embrace” works that other venues would deem too outside the box. As a result, the festival isn’t afraid to take risks and present unexpected works and performances. “Guest artists can try something they may not be able to in a more conventional series during the year. They love that about Aspen.”
Fletcher gives a brilliant example of this adventurous spirit: Grammy award-winning violinist Gil Shaham studied at the school and returns every summer as a guest artist. “He had an idea centered on what is really a weird piece of music history. Most of the greatest violin concertos of the 20th century were written in the 1930s,” Fletcher explains. “Gil wanted to play all of them one summer. We said, ‘Okaaaay, how will this work?’” Together, the festival and Shaham divided the works up between the different orchestras and stages and over the course of the summer performed all the concertos. Shaham has said that he remembers hearing a Barber Violin Concerto at Aspen when he was a child. The opening melody captured him and he remembers thinking that he simply had to learn the piece.
For information and tickets go to www.aspenmusicfestival.com.
For the full story, see the June/july issue of Colorado Expression Magazine
BIO: Kimberly Field wrote about the Lamont School of Music in the April/May 2014 issue of Colorado Expression.