And now, some music from the president
Packing the summer program with Mozart was a simple call for the Aspen Music Festival and School in this, the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birthday. Equally easy was loading up on Shostakovich, who was born 100 years ago.The Music Festival likewise broke no sweat in deciding to program some works by Alan Fletcher. The fact that Fletcher was named president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival in March did not give festival programmers pause in scheduling a pair of his works.Fletcher took a neutral stand toward including his compositions in his first summer in Aspen: “I didn’t want anyone to think they had to do it. And if anyone said they wanted to, I wouldn’t say no, don’t,” said the 49-year-old Fletcher, who has degrees in composition from Princeton and Juilliard.As it turns out, several people jumped at the idea of performing Fletcher’s compositions. Flutist Nadine Asin, a member of the festival faculty, indicated her desire to perform Fletcher’s “Romance for Flute and Piano.” Asadour Santourian, the festival’s artistic advisor and administrator, sensing that Asin would not be alone in seeking out Fletcher’s music, sought to pick the ideal piece to showcase Fletcher’s artistic side.
“Alan being a composer, I thought everyone would want to jump on the bandwagon and perform his work,” said Santourian. “So I asked him, ‘Alan, how would you like to be introduced to Aspen as a composer?'”Aspen audiences will get their first taste of Fletcher’s music early on. In the festival’s opening week, “Romance for Flute and Piano” is included in the Chamber Music concert, Saturday, July 24. Asin and pianist Rita Sloan will perform the piece, which was premiered in 1991, by Brazilian flutist Fernando Brandao.The piece Santourian thinks of as Fletcher’s introduction to Aspen, however, comes in the final week of the season. An Aug. 14 Chamber Music concert will feature the world premiere of Fletcher’s “Dreams of Rain,” performed by pianist Antoinette Perry, violinist Herbert Greenberg and cellist Anthony Elliott. “‘Dreams of Rain’ is the work [Fletcher] wanted, and fortunately, it’s a world premiere,” said Santourian, adding that two of the four movements have been performed previously, in separate concerts.Fletcher recognizes that flags get raised when the organization chief’s work gets scheduled. But he and Santourian insist that, in addition to Fletcher’s having no input in the programming, no other composer was pushed aside in favor of Fletcher. With those issues cleared, Fletcher is pleased that audiences will hear his music.”I like the fact that the community will know me as a musician,” he said. “I think there’s a different credibility, especially for the faculty and students.”Fletcher also believes that an administrator with a deep artistic side brings something extra to an organization. In the past, it was common for high-level artists to also lead institutions; Fletcher points out the examples of Tchaikovsky, Fauré and Mendelssohn. A more recent example is Beverly Sills, the renowned soprano who became general manager of the New York City Opera and chairwoman of Lincoln Center.”It’s a worthy controversy, whether a person who has a musical life brings something special to administration,” said Fletcher, who frequently had his works performed at Carnegie Mellon University while he was president of the music school (and a member of the composition faculty). “I’ve always felt they brought a certain spark to their work in administration because of their relation to the music itself. Their careers were really part of who they are.”
Fletcher’s “Dreams of Rain” was intended as a commission for the Raphael Trio. But Fletcher took too long writing it, and the piece itself was too long – more than a half-hour, extraordinary for a piano trio.But the delay in debuting the work now seems fortuitous, given its theme: climate change.Fletcher wrote “Dreams of Rain” over a 10-year period, beginning in 1988, in Costa Rica, where he was spending most of his summers. Summer was the rainy season there, marked by sunny mornings and predictably wet afternoons. One summer, the rains were late, and the ground remained dry.”It was an ecological disaster,” said Fletcher. “These puddles of water didn’t form and the golden toad, the symbol of Costa Rica since Mayan times, didn’t come. They never came back. No one talked about it then, but now it’s seen as one of the earliest warnings of climate change. The piece was about that sound of the rain, and waiting and waiting for it to come.”It was a weird feeling: ‘Why was nature changing?’ Looking back, it has this whole meaning I didn’t intend in a conscious way. But often, a musical meaning establishes itself; it isn’t placed there consciously.”
Fletcher says “Dreams of Rain” contains many moods. It closes with the sound of the rain finally arriving, “but a sort of sense of loss,” he noted.The flute piece is one of numerous romances Fletcher has composed, all of which have a specific narrative. “Romance for Flute and Piano” lifts its story from – and plays with the melody of – the folk song, “Soldier, Soldier, Will You Marry Me?” The tale, said Fletcher, is about a young woman asking a soldier to take her as his bride. The soldier gives a string of excuses why he can’t: He doesn’t have a hat, he doesn’t have boots, and so one. The woman assures him she will get him whatever he lacks. In the end, it is revealed that the true reason is that he has a wife and child as home.”Heartbreaking, but with a very sweet ending,” said Fletcher.Fletcher is also finishing a clarinet concerto for the Pittsburgh Symphony, to be premiered in the 2007-08 season. He also has a commission for a symphonic work for the Nashua (N.H.) Symphony, a project tied in with Amy Beach’s 1896 “Gaelic” Symphony, New Hampshire poet laureate Marie Harris, and poetry and visual art created by New Hampshire high school students. He has had works performed recently at the National Gallery of Art and by Volti, a choral group formerly known as the San Francisco Chamber Singers.Still, Fletcher doesn’t see devoting himself to his composing career anytime soon. “I figured out for myself, in my early 20s, that I was not temperamentally cut out to live in a cabin, writing music, John Adams-style,” said Fletcher, who has, in fact, spent recent summers composing on an isolated New Hampshire island. “I like being out in the world, teaching and in administration.”He can, however, see a time when composing is the center of his life.”When I’m 80,” said Fletcher. “I’m planning to be 100, so that will give me 20 solid years.”
While Fletcher gets a modest two pieces on the Music Festival program, Mozart and Shostakovich are given the spotlight throughout the summer, which comes under the theme of Celebrations! Both composers are the subject of mini-festivals. Mozart: Prodigy or Prophet? (July 24-30) explores the classical music revolution sparked by the composer. The week features everything from a Piano and Wind Quintet (July 25), a form invented by Mozart; to the “Lodron” Concerto for two pianos, featuring two Music Fest students, Peng Peng and Conrad Tao; to Arvo Pärt’s homage, Mozart-Adagio.Shostakovich and Britten: A Musical Friendship (Aug. 3-17) looks at the Soviet Shostakovich through the eyes of his contemporary and admirer, the Englishman Britten. Highlights include the Aug. 6 Aspen Festival Orchestra concert, with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 and two Britten pieces; and Britten’s comic opera “Albert Herring” (Aug. 15 and 17). Shostakovich is also featured in the third mini-festival, Forbidden Music: Suppressed Voices (July 10-15), with the Emerson String Quartet performing an all-Shostakovich program (July 11).Also being celebrated is Music Festival music director David Zinman who, turning 70 this summer, remains most active. Zinman will conduct four of the highlight events of the season: the world premiere of Kevin Puts’ Cello Concerto, commissioned by the Music Festival and performed by Yo-Yo Ma (Sunday, June 25); a program of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with violinist Gil Shaham, cellist Truls Mork and pianist Yefim Bronfman, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (July 9); the Western states premiere of Ned Rorem’s opera “Our Town” (July 29 and 31 and Aug. 2); and Britten’s War Requiem, the final concert of the summer (Aug. 20). Zinman will also be honored in a benefit event, Music for the Maestro, July 8.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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