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Aspen Music Festival and School announces a travel-themed summer season

Aspen Music Festival and School music director Robert Spano will lead the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen and conduct programs throughout theeight-week summer season.
Aspen Times file |

Cultural exchange and influence will be at the center of the Aspen Music Festival and School’s 2015 summer season. Themed “Dreams of Travel,” the eight-week season will begin Fourth of July weekend and will include more than 300 events, with upward of 600 students and some of the world’s most renowned classical musicians. The nonprofit announced its 67th season’s lineup Tuesday.

The theme is playing out in performances focused on music that’s been inspired by cross-cultural encounters. Violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Shai Wosner, for example, will present a program exploring the cross-cultural influence of Beethoven, titled “Bridge to Beethoven,” on July 15.

“There is so much great music that is inspired by encounters with other types of music and other cultures,” festival director and CEO Alan Fletcher said of the theme. “We want to make the point that classical music has always been inspired by, refreshed by and engaged by all kinds of music. … A lot of our young composers that we bring out in the summer are doing techno, they’re doing EDM, they’re listening to a lot of pop music and it is important to them. So that will be there, too.”

The centerpiece of the themed performances will be a semi-staged version of Verdi’s masterwork, “Aida,” an operatic epic about ancient Egypt, on Aug. 7. Conducted by Robert Spano, the festival’s music director, in the Benedict Music Tent, it will include professionals singing alongside students from the Aspen Opera Theater Center and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

The lead soprano in “Aida” is Tamara Wilson, a Music School alumni. Since she was cast in the Aspen production, Wilson was selected to serve as an understudy in the same role at the Metropolitan Opera. When the lead dropped out before the winter season debut at the Met, Wilson stepped into it on opera’s biggest American stage. Sharing a lead with the Met is a coup for the festival.

“We said (last summer), ‘She is going to be a true Verdi soprano and a big star in the repertoire,’” Fletcher said. “So we thought, ‘Why don’t we ask her to learn that role, which is going to be a great role for her?’ We were smarter than we thought. … We’re patting ourselves on the back for having called this one.”

With a 7:30 p.m. start time, “Aida” is one of two nighttime events scheduled for the Benedict Music Tent.

The other is a premiere of a new piece composed by Fletcher, inspired by Italo Calvino’s novel “If on a winter’s night a traveler,” accompanied by a film by Bill Morrison. The filmmaker last summer screened “The Great Flood,” about the Mississippi River flood of 1927, with a live score provided by guitarist Bill Frisell.

As Fletcher recalled, when Morrison was at the festival last summer, the festival brass decided to commission a film from him. They had already settled on the 2015 travel theme.

“I instantly though of that title and the book, which is so much about travel and encounters, so I proposed it to Bill and he loved it right away,” Fletcher said.

The start of the season, July 2, is later than usual for the Aspen Music Festival and School. That happened, Fletcher explained, because the Food & Wine Classic is scheduled later than usual, running June 19 to 21. In recent years, the music festival has begun after Food & Wine and the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience.

“Food & Wine has hit a point where they are the latest they ever get, so our start is the latest we’ll ever start,” Fletcher said.

The season will close Aug. 23 with the Aspen Festival Orchestra performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 in the tent.

New to the festival this year is a recital series hosted by the Aspen Art Museum. Dates and talent have yet to be finalized, but Fletcher said he expects the museum will host between four and six performances in its rooftop cafe.

Other highlights include Russian pianist Vladmir Feltsman performing two recitals of influential music by Russians that are largely unknown in the West on Aug. 12 and 13.

“It focuses on Soviet piano music, ranging from well-known things to some obscure things,” Fletcher said. “But it all fits together. It’s a beautifully designed program.”

And Yundi, an international piano sensation, makes his Aspen debut July 7.

“He’s a phenomenon, one of the most important contemporary Chinese pianists, and is huge in Europe, but not as well known yet in the United States,” Fletcher said. “We’re proud to present him in recital.”

Returning festival favorites and soloists include pianists Jeremy Denk, Wu Han, Orli Shaham, Conrad Tao and Joyce Yang, violinists Sarah Chang, Robert McDuffie, Simone Porter and Gil Shaham, cellists David Finckel and Alisa Weilerstein and bassist Edgar Meyer.

Additional highlights of the summer festival include:

• Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, co-presented by Jazz Aspen Snowmass on July 6.

• Live tapings of the radio shows “From the Top” and “Performance Today” at Harris Concert Hall on July 12 and 26.

• The Aspen Opera Theater Center’s fully staged productions of Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette (July 16 to 20), a double-bill of Theofanidis’ “The Cows of Apollo or the Invention of Music” and Stucky’s “The Classical Style” (July 30 to Aug. 1) and Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” (Aug. 18 to 22).

• Pianist Vijay Iyer, recipient of the 2013 MacArthur “genius” grant and a Grammy nomination, performing with the Vijay Iyer Trio on July 27.

• Classical guitarist Sharon Isbin with Stanley Jordan and Romero Lubambo, in a program of Latin, Brazilian and jazz music on Aug. 6.

• Spano conducting orchestral programs featuring Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Inon Barnatan and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” (July 5).

• Violinist Joshua Bell, in his Aspen conducting debut, with the Aspen Chamber Symphony on Aug. 14.

Tickets are now on sale at the Harris Hall box office, the Wheeler Opera House and at http://www.aspenmusic festival.com. Season pass prices range from $50 for Youth Season Picture Pass to $1,250 for a Gold Season Pass.

atravers@aspentimes.com


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