Rice wows at Music Tent
August 2, 2008
ASPEN ” Saturday’s lesson for Aspen Music School students might have been this: Don’t despair if you’re not a prodigy; there still is time to be secretary of state.
Speaking to Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson before her piano performance, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the crisis of faith she experienced as a 17-year-old student at the Aspen Music School. After listening to 11- and 12-year-olds play music from sight that she had spent all year learning, she said, she decided she was more likely to be asked to play piano at Nordstrom’s than Carnegie Hall and promptly dropped her college music major.
Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who introduced Rice, finished the story. In what Albright called “a real accident of history,” Rice took an international relations class at the University of Denver taught by Joseph Korbel, Albright’s father. Korbel advised Rice up through her doctoral dissertation, and the rest is history.
According to Aspen Music School student Nick Bollinger, of Philadelphia, plenty of people have a Rice-type epiphany at the Aspen Music School. A 17- or 18-year-old-student who is not at one of the major music conservatories likely has a professional future outside music, he said.
But switching from music to international relations and then becoming the secretary of state?
“I think the odds of that are zero,” said fellow music student Justin Doute of Denver.
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Not a vice president
Saturday was the first time in the several-year history of the “Evening of Words and Music” event that the same person was qualified to perform the music and the public discussion, said music school president Alan Fletcher.
In the “words” portion, Rice was every inch the Secretary of State. She defended the decision-making process leading up to the Iraq War, calling the notion that the Bush administration just wanted to go to war something that gets under her skin.
However, she acknowledged that the administration hadn’t realized “how incredibly broken Iraq was” and how hard it would be to rebuild the country. Recently, the administration unveiled a new Civilian Response Corps, who will be trained to stabilize and reconstruct countries after a crisis like the Iraq War she said.
Speaking in respose to an audience member’s criticism, she also defended the Bush administration’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, arguing that the different committments of third and first world countries need to be clarified in those ageements.
In the end of her conversation with Isaacson, Rice denied any possibility that she would accept the vice-presidency.
“There’s something to be said for fresh blood,” she noted.
Instead, she said she’d like to work on two domestic concerns: making sure that America, in its immigration policy, doesn’t “start closing ourselves off” and improving the state of public education.
Following her conversation with Isaacson, Rice played a Brahms Piano Quintet and a Dvorak Piano Quintet with students of the Aspen Music School.
Fellow music students, acting as ushers, pronounced the performance good.
“She’s not Yefim Bronfman,” (a Grammy-winning pianist) said music student Nick Bollinger, of Philadelphia, “but considering that she’s not a concert pianist, I thought it was really good.”
Bollinger also noted that most performers at the music school play a piece together for a month before a performance. By contrast, Rice practiced only three times with the students before the performance.
“To put together a concert this big in that short of time is incredible,” he said.
The near-capacity audience included several dignitaries besides Albright and Rice, including Senator Diane Feinstein and Congresswoman Jane Harman. It was also full of Secret Service men, who paced and carefully watched the audience throughout the performance.
Rice arrived in Aspen on Friday and was interviewed by the Today show and Aspen Public Radio on Saturday, in addition to her performance at the music tent. She attended a private party Saturday night after the performance and was scheduled to fly out Sunday.