A special season for Music Fest director
The stars are lining up for David Zinman this summer. The music director of the Aspen Music Festival and School opened his summer last month, conducting cellist Yo-Yo Ma, perhaps the biggest star in classical music, in the world premiere of a concerto written by Kevin Puts and commissioned in honor of Zinman. Tonight, Zinman is the center of attention at the benefit event Music for the Maestro. A fleet of musicians – including pianists Joseph Kalichstein, Leon Fleisher and Wu Han, bassist Edgar Meyer and members of the Emerson String Quartet – will take the stage to tell stories, pay tribute and play music. Sunday, Zinman turns 70 – and conducts the Aspen Festival Orchestra, with violinist Gil Shaham, pianist Yefim Bronfman and cellist Truls Mørk, all notable instrumentalists, in a performance of Beethoven’s “Triple” Concerto. The concert concludes with the first symphony by one of Zinman’s beloved composers, Mahler.The lineup of talent is a testament to Zinman, and what he has achieved in eight-plus summers as the head of the Aspen Music Festival. Aspen has been a prominent landmark on the classical music map since 1949, when the festival launched with the Goethe Bicentennial. The Music Festival remained a stable attraction for students and musicians through the tenure of Lawrence Foster, Zinman’s predecessor. But since 1997, when Zinman announced that he wanted to dedicate himself to educating young musicians, and that he would do it in Aspen, the Music Festival has taken on an added vibrancy.”I think it’s been a tremendous change,” said Nadine Asin, a member of the flute faculty since 1978. “Here’s a conductor of international stature, and because of that stature, he’s able to attract the highest level of faculty, the highest level of musicians, and even the highest level of students.”While the allure of Zinman is most evident to listeners through the guest artists appearing here, to musicians, the most significant contribution Zinman has made is the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen. Established in 2000, the AACA is a training ground for young conductors that employs a most enviable tool: an orchestra devoted solely to the program. The academy requires a huge commitment of resources, including Zinman’s own time. But it has earned Zinman much respect for his vision of education.”That has changed the face of our festival,” Asin said. “And that’s his baby, his legacy.”Zinman had other options aside from coming to Aspen. He could have remained with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which he led to prominence beginning in 1985. He could have divided his attention between the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, which he still directs, and his guest conducting career, which by the late ’90s, had become increasingly prominent. But Zinman hasn’t questioned his decision to spend his summers in Aspen, a place he plainly adores and where he is, in turn, adored.”It’s absolutely the correct choice for me,” Zinman said last week. “I couldn’t have been more productive. I would have gone around on the circuit – Tanglewood and Blossom and the Hollywood Bowl and Ravinia. I’d rather be here. It’s always a real inspiration to work with new talent, not professionals but the people who will be professionals.”Zinman hopes to extend his legacy in Aspen by renovating the school’s Castle Creek campus, instituting programs for choral training, and for practice and performance of Baroque and Classical era music on period instruments. A final goal is have full scholarships for all students.Zinman’s milestone summer continues with what he calls a series of “blockbuster” concerts. Later this month, he conducts the Western states premiere of “Our Town,” an opera by Ned Rorem, adapted from Thornton Wilder’s classic American drama. The festival season closes with Zinman conducting the Aspen Festival Orchestra in a performance of Britten’s “War” Requiem.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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