Aspen Music Festival and School welcomes students, opens season |

Aspen Music Festival and School welcomes students, opens season

Andrew Travers The Aspen Times

Aspen Music Festival

Opening Week Highlights

What: Aspen Chamber Symphony performing Beethoven

Where: Benedict Music Tent

When: Friday, July 3, 6 p.m.

Cost: $78

What: Fourth of July Concert

Where: Benedict Music Tent

When: Saturday, July 4, 4 p.m.

Cost: Free

What: Aspen Festival Orchestra performing Tchaikovksy and Rimsky-Korsakov

Where: Benedict Music Tent

When: Sunday, July 5, 4 p.m.

Cost: $80

What: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

Where: Benedict Music Tent

When: Monday, July 6, 8:30 p.m.

Cost: $60 and up

What: Music with a View

Where: Aspen Art Museum

When: Tuesday, July 7, 6 p.m.

Cost: Free

What: A Recital by Yundi

Where: Harris Concert Hall

When: Tuesday, July 7, 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $55

What: Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra

Where: Benedict Music Tent

When: Wednesday, July 8, 6 p.m.

Cost: $25

Tickets and more information:

It began Monday morning at convocation with notes from Strauss, played by brass students above the stage in the Benedict Music Tent. Below, Aspen Music Festival and School leaders sat with Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron and the summer season’s faculty, who welcomed this summer’s class of students to town.

Mayor Skadron offered an original “Word Sneak” rap about Aspen in the Jimmy Kimmel tradition. Music director Robert Spano spoke of music as a societal force for good in Iraq and around the world. Music Festival CEO Alan Fletcher talked about the enormous the enormous economic odds against classical musicians today and the need to press on against them, comparing devotion to the art form to the feeling of falling in love.

“My belief is that what we do has such importance, such relevance, that it will prevail in a way that young love has importance, has relevance, and will always find a way,” Fletcher told the students.

The class this year totals 516, culled from the highest number of applications the school has received in its 66-year history. Students range in age from nine to 34. They come from 38 countries. Dean of students Jennifer Johnston encouraged them to not only take advantage of educational and performance opportunities at the school this summer, but also to embrace both the Aspen community and the “Aspen Idea.”

“You are in an enchanted place where magical things happen,” she said. “This is where lifelong friendships are made. This is where you can hike your first fourteener, you can ride your bike to the maroon bells. … This is where you can lose track of time in a meadow, but show up on time to rehearsal. You can meet and talk with physicists, philosophers, dignitaries, movie stars and professional athletes. … Explore the idea of “mind, body, spirit” that is the essence of life in this mountain town of Aspen, Colorado.”

The season finds the Music Festival and School at a turning point. After the summer season closes, in late August and students leave town, construction will begin on the final phase of its rebuilt $60 million teaching campus on Castle Creek Road. Designed by architect Harry Teague, the project broke ground in fall 2012, and has transformed its educational headquarters with 70 new practice rooms, new teaching halls and, in this final push, fresh administrative buildings and a new cafeteria (students applauded this news Monday).

After aggressively fundraising for its gleaming new campus and buildings, the nonprofit is pivoting to make a commensurate investment in its students. The school is now beginning a push to strengthen its scholarship program in a new long-range vision, aiming to support at least 85 percent of students with scholarships (currently about 70 percent attend with scholarship support).

“We’ve been thinking about what we should be doing in the next five or six years,” Fletcher said in an interview after convocation. “One of the strongest answers has been to raise more money for scholarships and make it possible for any student anywhere in the world to be with us.”

The summer season, which began Thursday with a recital by cellist David Finchel and pianist Wu Han, runs through Aug. 23 with multiple daily performances in the Benedict Tent, Harris Concert Hall, on the Castle Creek Campus and elsewhere. Those performances often mix emerging talents with established masters, an Aspen tradition for more than six decades that, Fletcher said, is driven by the spirit of its sudents.

“There’s such great energy and optimism that you feel from them,” Fletcher said. “That’s something, I think, that sets our concerts apart. There’s so much enthusiasm coming from the stage.”

Fletcher is now in his 10th year as the Aspen Music Festival and School’s president and CEO. But he’s not spending much time celebrating the landmark or reflecting on his ups and downs here.

“I guess I ought to do that, but there’s so much good stuff to be working on that I haven’t been looking back too much.”

Fletcher also has composed a new piece, inspired by the Italo Calvino novel, “If on a winter’s night a traveler,” set for its debut July 10 in the Benedict Tent, accompanied by a film from Bill Morrison. The piece, composed by Fletcher during his annual artistic retreat to coastal Maine, is among the concerts linked cultural exchange and the season’s theme, “Dreams of Travel.”

High notes

Some new partnerships have added fresh programming to the festival. The four-part “Science of Music” series, a collaboration with the Aspen Science Center, will feature musicians and speakers on neuroscience, harmonics, the inner workings of a piano and the truth or fiction in the vaunted quality of centuries-old violins. A partnership with the Aspen Art Museum brings free chamber music performances to the rooftop sculpture garden at the museum in “Music with a View,” beginning Tuesday.

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will perform in the Benedict Music Tent, in a concert co-presented by Jazz Aspen Snowmass on July 6.

The festival will host live tapings of the radio shows “From the Top” and “Performance Today” at Harris Concert Hall on July 12 and 26.

Violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Shai Wosner will present a program exploring the cross-cultural influence of Beethoven, titled “Bridge to Beethoven,” on July 15.

The Aspen Opera Theater Center’s season opens July 16 at the Wheeler Opera House with Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette,” and continues with 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, will perform with the Vijay Iyer Trio on July 27.

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

The hottest ticket of the summer may be for the semi-staged version of Verdi’s masterwork, “Aida,” an operatic epic about ancient Egypt on Aug. 7, featuring acclaimed Metropolitan Opera performer — and Music School alum — Tamara Wilson as the lead soprano.

Violinist Joshua Bell will return to Aspen in conducting debut with the Aspen Chamber Symphony on Aug. 14.

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

Under the radar

Aspen may not know him yet, but pianist Yundi Li is an international piano sensation. The Chinese superstar makes his Aspen debut July 7.

Fletcher saw Yundi in China years ago, and has watched his star rise elsewhere as he became the youngest person ever — at age 18 — to win the International Chopin Competition in 2000.

“He’s still not well-known to our audience,” Fletcher said. “It’s a beautiful reception. It’s very closely tied to our travel theme — very romantic, a big repertoire — I hope people will go to that.”

Russian pianist Vladmir Feltsman has been a regular in Aspen in recent years, but he’s bringing some little-known works here in two recitals next month, when he performs influential music from the Soviet era that is largely unknown in the West on Aug. 12 and 13.

“They’re beautifully constructed recitals,” Fletcher said. “You will leave saying, ‘Wow, I really have a feel for this music in a way that I didn’t before.”

In a late addition to the season calendar, Tenor Vittorio Grigolo, the 38-year-old hailed as “the next Pavarotti,” will make his Aspen debut July 23.

“He’s at the beginning phase of an important phase in his career,” Fletcher said. “He will be one of the biggest opera singers in the world.”

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