2000: A musical mission accomplished
In celebrating the 125th anniversary of The Aspen Times, we are printing a story or two from each year the newspaper has existed – 125 historical selections in 125 days. This series is in conjunction with the Aspen Historical Society. A sense of permanence prevails a the Aspen Music Festival’s music tent these days, a feeling that the newly completed structure and its parent organization are here to stay, regardless of foul weather or political winds.That’s the view of Music Festival School President Robert Harth, who said this week he believes the new Benedict Music Tent is the expression of a commitment to the community that led to a general outpouring of support for the new tent over the past couple years.The tent cost $15 million to build – just over $11 million in hard construction costs, and about $4 million in fees that went, in part, for architects, consultants and taking the project through the governmental review process. It was built during the past nine months amid a frenzy of tight schedules and frayed nerves, and will have its baptism by music tonight with the gala opening concert of the 2000 festival season.The concert will be the last word in a communitywide debate that began three years ago and, at times, achieved a high volume and a bitter tone as longtime locals and devotees of the historic Herbert Bayer canvas tent fought to keep things the way they have been for half a century.Looking back at the debate surrounding the proposal to replace the old tent, Harth believes that the ultimate community support was in large part due to the fact that the Music Associates of Aspen has been putting down roots in a big way lately.”I think it would have been a lot more difficult 10 years ago, or 15 years ago,” said Harth of the process of winning community approval for the new tent. “I think the construction of Harris Hall, the closure of our New York office, the statement of permanence that our institution has made to Aspen … we have a commitment to the community.”And I think those things helped. I do believe we’ve built up some credibility and support within the community that helped them trust in us.”Now that it’s all said and done, the tent and its supporting structure is in place, and the season is getting under way, how is Harth feeling about the new facility?”I’m very, very happy with how it looks, and how it feels,” he said early this week, sitting at the upper edge of the tent’s amphitheater while a thunderstorm rolled overhead and a lone pianist played sporadically on the stage below him.The quality of the acoustics, however, had been somewhat in question. Improper speaker placement had garbled the sounds of voices during last week’s International Design Conference at Aspen, which had used the tent for its guest speakers.But after hearing an orchestra rehearsal for one of this week’s concerts, Harth was equally ebullient about the acoustics of the new tent.”A combination of elated and relieved,” was how he described his mood at midweek. It’s an enormous release of tension when you finally hear what you’ve been hoping to hear.”The acoustics change every day as the musicians onstage get acclimated to the environment. As the musicians get used to the stage and the tent, they’re more comfortable, and that affects the music.” (June 24, 2000)
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