2012 Aspen Music Festival looks toward America | AspenTimes.com
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2012 Aspen Music Festival looks toward America

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
© Michael Brands 2011. Photo Credit must accompany use: Michael Brands.
ALL | 10109081A

ASPEN – The Aspen Music Festival and School named Robert Spano its artistic leader in March. That didn’t leave much time for Spano to make an impact on the programming of the 2011 festival season. Instead, Spano, who served last year with the title of music director-designate, made his impact largely from the podium, conducting four concerts.

For the 2012 festival, Spano seems to be stepping fully into the role of a music director. The Aspen Music Festival has announced the theme and a partial program for the upcoming summer season, and while Spano declines to take credit for the directions being taken, calling it a team effort, it is hard to mistake his influence.

The 2012 festival bears the theme “Made in America,” with an emphasis on American composers and music made by

foreign-born composers while they were in the U.S. There is also heightened attention being paid to living composers. The focus on American music and on contemporary writers echoes the work Spano has done at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which he has led since 2001.

In the most precise echo of Atlanta, the Aspen Music Festival announced that Spano will oversee the creation of an Aspen School of Composers. The concept will be modeled after the Atlanta School of Composers, a group of American-based, active composers whose work has been championed by Spano and the Atlanta Symphony.

Spano said it is too early to identify what stylistic directions the Aspen School of Composers will take. The Atlanta school, he pointed out, took its time before an artistic identity emerged.

“The rubric came after the content, not the other way around,” Spano said from New York City. “We don’t have an aesthetic in mind that we’re trying to construct. But I think over time an aesthetic will emerge, and later we’ll be able to identify it. It’s something that will evolve over time.

“I think what we have is a commitment to living composers and to performing their music.”

That commitment is demonstrated with performances this summer of works by Jennifer Higdon, Osvaldo Golijov and Michael Gandolfi, all members of the Atlanta school; Augusta Read Thomas, who will be composer-in-residence in Aspen this summer; Christopher Rouse, Edgar Meyer, George Tsontakis and Sydney Hodkinson, all longtime members of the Aspen Music School faculty; John Adams; and Elliott Carter.

“I have a tremendous commitment to living composers because it keeps the engagement with the tradition alive,” Spano said.

Even more emphatic is the commitment to composers with ties to America. Under the Made in America theme, the festival will perform such works as Meyer’s Concerto for Violin and Double Bass (co-commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival and to be performed by Meyer and violinist Joshua Bell); Rouse’s Flute Concerto; Carter’s “Holiday Overture”; Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3; Higdon’s “blue cathedral” and more.

To Spano, the focus on American-bred music has not been constraining. He pointed to two pieces – Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances – made in the States by foreign-born composers.

“The idea of ‘Made in America’ was that we could have something very inclusive and that could lead us in many directions,” he said. “There are Americans; there are emigres – Schoenberg, Rachmaninoff. And many composers were very influenced by their time in America – Dvorak, Stravinsky. So there’s a broad reach, many avenues to explore.”

Another of those avenues is American-oriented music from outside the strictly classical realm. The 2012 season opens June 28 with “A Gershwin Celebration,” featuring Spano; pianists Inon Barnatan, Marc-Andre Hamelin and Conrad Tao; and a big band playing Gershwin jazz concertos, including “Rhapsody in Blue.” Also performing this summer are jazz-pop trumpeter Chris Botti in a concert co-presented with Jazz Aspen Snowmass, vocalist Jane Monheit performing Great American Songbook tunes with a trio, and opera star Nathan Gunn, who will sing cabaret and popular songs in a benefit concert that features his wife, pianist Julie Gunn, as well as Spano, also on piano.

The Aspen Opera Theater Center will also focus on American composers, with performances of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” conducted by Spano, and a chamber-orchestra version of John Harbison’s “The Great Gatsby” that was co-commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival. Rounding out the opera season is Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”

Other season highlights include a Baroque concert, conducted by Nicholas McGegan and featuring Handel’s “Water Music Suite”; Pianopalooza, with Anne-Marie McDermott and Inon Barnatan playing two-piano works by Mozart, Ravel and Shostakovich; and a pair of concerts that spotlight the Weilerstein family.

Festival conductors include David Robertson, Osmo Vänskä, Hugh Wolff, Jeffrey Kahane and Jane Glover. Artists include pianists Jonathan Biss, Yefim Bronfman, Stephen Hough, Wu Han, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and John O’Conor; violinists Robert McDuffie and Daniel Hope; cellists David Finckel and Alisa Weilerstein; and ensembles the Emerson String Quartet and the Pro Arte Quartet.

The 2012 festival runs from June 28 through Aug. 19.

stewart@aspentimes.com


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