Percussion in the spotlight at Aspen Music Fest |

Percussion in the spotlight at Aspen Music Fest

The Aspen Music Festival and School will host a free performance of John Luther Adams' "Inuksuit" Sunday on the Karetsky Music Lawn. Pictured here is a perfrormance in New York's Morningside Park.
Shawn Brackbill/Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: ‘Inuksuit,’ presented by Aspen Music Festival & School

When: Sunday, Aug. 7, 1:30 p.m.

Where: David Karetsky Music Lawn (outside Benedict Music Tent)

How much: Free


What: Aspen Percussion Ensemble

When: Monday, Aug. 8, 6 p.m.

Where: Harris Concert Hall

How much: $25

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House & Harris Concert Hall box office;

More info: The program includes works by Baselon, Joseph Pereira, Kabelac, Ben Wahlun and Ginastera

“This is the biggest weekend of percussion as long as I’ve been here.”

So says Jonathan Haas, who is in his 32nd year running the Aspen Music Festival and School percussion program — going back to the days when percussion performances were rogue, off-the-schedule events.

The big run for percussion includes a performance of John Luther Adams’ epic outdoor percussion piece “Inuksuit” today on the lawn outside the Benedict Music Tent and the Aspen Percussion Ensemble’s annual recital Monday at Harris Concert Hall.

“I think that means we’ve arrived,” Haas said.

Composed for “9 to 99” percussionists, Adams’ “Inuksuit” is meant to be performed across an outdoor area. Since its composition in 2012, its been widely acclaimed as a milestone in music and environmental art. There will be 60 musicians playing “Inuksuit” on the Karetsky Lawn today, with the audience moving through the ensemble as it performs.

“The best way to experience is as an active participant,” said director Doug Perkins, an Aspen alumnus. “There is no ‘best place’ to hear it. We will start in one central space and then the musicians will move about like pied pipers.”

Perkins was camping with Adams in the tundra in Alaska — where the composer lives — when the idea for “Inuksuit” was hatched, and he has been directing its performances for several years. He said audiences often don’t know how to react at the outset, listening passively and staying in one place. But by the end, he said, people are inevitably interacting with musicians and taking part in the performance as they’re meant to.

No performance of “Inuksuit” is ever quite the same because of how nature and the surroundings respond to the music (in the wide expanse of the Alaskan wilderness, Perkins said, it sounded “kind of wimpy”). The meadows around the tent, the surrounding groves of aspen trees, the stream that cuts through campus — they’ll all play a part. The score for “Inuksuit” is more or less traditionally composed, and the movements tightly choreographed. But the environment is always the wild-card improviser.

“The improvisational element is that nature reacts to us,” Perkins said. “So, will it be windy that day? Will the birds be out?”

Haas, who taught Perkins in Aspen, recalled a memorable performance of “Inuksuit” in Manhattan in the rain, with umbrella-holders following musicians as they played.

The “Inuksuit” ensemble in Aspen includes faculty, percussion and vocal students, as well as composition students playing conch shells, along with college music students from across Colorado coming to Aspen for the opportunity to participate in Adams’ unique piece.

“It attracts an army of interested players,” Perkins said. “People are coming from all over just to be a part of it.”

Not to be outdone, Monday’s Percussion Ensemble recital features Alberto Ginastera’s “Cantata para America magica,” an ambitious percussion symphony for soprano and 53 instruments. Haas will conduct 18 percussionists and soprano Lauren Feider in what he calls “the largest percussion piece ever written” in a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Ginastera’s birth.

Feider, Haas noted, has handled the challenging vocals so well that he’s bringing her to New York for an upcoming performance of the piece.

The program will open with Irwin Bazelon’s “Bazz Ma Tazz,” followed by Music School faculty member Joseph Pereira’s Mallet Quartet and Miloslav Kabelas “8 Inventions.” The Kabela piece, written in and about the aftermath of World War II in Eastern Europe, was written originally to accompany a ballet and is among the selections of the 2016 Music Festival theme “Invitation to Dance.”

This year’s percussion student solo competition winner, Joe Bricker, also will perform a new vibraphone piece by composer Ben Wahlund titled “Hard-Boiled Capitalism and the Day Mr. Friedman Noticed Google is a Verb.”

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