Aspen Times Weekly: Vital Organ

by Andrew Travers
Organist Gail Archer is the first performer in a new classical music concert series at the Aspen Community Church.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: 125th Anniversary Concert Series

Where: Aspen Community Church

When: Jan. 15 – May 5

Cost: Free

Thursday, Jan. 15: Gail Archer

Friday, Jan. 23: Roaring Fork Chamber Players

Saturday, Feb. 14: James Welch

Tuesday, March 17: Bryan Dunnewald

Sunday, March 29: Kevin Kaukl

Friday, April 17: Roaring Fork Chamber Players

Tuesday, May 5: Nathan Stewart

While summer in Aspen is filled with classical concerts from the Aspen Music Festival and School, the winter concert lineup is sparse by comparison.

Jon Busch is aiming to change that, launching a series of free performances by local and national classical musicians at the Aspen Community Church.

“I wanted to make classical music a little more present in the winter,” says Busch, who runs the Wheeler Film Society, and has screened foreign films and unique movies at the Wheeler Opera House since the 1970s. As the Wheeler has increased its live event bookings, however, it’s left less dates open during which Busch can show movies. So he’s turned his attention to the vaunted organ at the Community Church.

The organ is a majestic instrument – and among the largest organs on the Western Slope – boasting 1,791 pipes, the longest of which stands 16 feet tall.

Busch has booked seven concerts, beginning Thursday, Jan. 16 and running through May, featuring chamber musicians and organists.

“My vision for Aspen is something over and above a winter ski resort,” Busch says. “If it works, hopefully this would be something that becomes a permanent fixture of the winter.”

The series coincides with the 125th anniversary of the Community Church. Along with religious services, and community gatherings, the church has hosted concerts regularly. In 1999, after the organ was installed, Busch brought German wunderkind organist Felix Hell to perform on it. Hell returned three additional times, before his fame and asking price outpaced the Community Church.

The concerts open Jan. 15 with a performance by Gail Archer, a Grammy-nominated organist who plays historic and contemporary works. Archer is in the midst of an international tour.

On Jan. 13, the Roaring Fork Chamber Players take the stage to perform a Mozart viola quintet and a Ravel duo. The local group of chamber musicians include violinist Ritchie Zah, an Aspen Music School student turned Aspen Police officer. They’ll stage a second performance on April 17.

On Valentine’s Day, Palo Alto, California-based organist James Welch, who has performed regularly in Aspen in recent years, will play a concert featuring his two organist sons with him in duets.

The nationally renowned organ phenom Bryan Dunnewald will perform on St. Patrick’s Day. A 19-year-old Arvada native, he is a student at the prestigious Cutis Institute, and has been featured on the NPR classical music showcase “From the Top.”

On March 29, pianist Kevin Kaukl – an Aspenite and national finalist in the Steinway Young Artist competition – will play a program of Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninoff. Another Aspenite, Nathan Stewart, closes the series on May 5.

For classical music fans, the series will complement the Aspen Music Festival and School’s Winter Music Series, which features three concerts: cellist Alisa Weilerstein Feb. 12; pianist Orli Shaham Feb. 19; and pianist Vladmir Feltsman March 14.

Busch noted that the Music Festival’s winter series used to feature six to eight concerts over the season. Due to recession-bred financial struggles, the series was dispelled in 2011. A grassroots effort, led by Music Fest attendees, then emerged to fill the winter void, staging three performances at the Aspen Chapel. Due to the demand, the Music Festival brought its series back in 2012 in its current three-concert form.

Read the Aspen Times Weekly eEdition at