Artful: 2011 Aspen Music Festival inspired by literature, dance, painting
June 29, 2011
ASPEN – Classical music encyclopedia that he is, Asadour Santourian is no doubt aware that 2011 marks the 200th birthday of the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, and the 100th anniversary of the death of Gustav Mahler. But Santourian, the artistic advisor for the Aspen Music Festival and School, doesn’t find those milestones quite enough to build a summer of music around.
“Composer anniversaries is the way most other places” structure their seasons, Santourian said Tuesday afternoon at an impressively cluttered office, which might well contain some buried artifacts about to hit the century mark. “But a composer anniversary marks a single line – it’s just one composer.”
For the Aspen Music Festival’s 2011 season (its 63rd, for those tracking numbers), Santourian wanted a broader unifying theme. What he came up with is “Art Inspires Art,” a theme that explores how other art forms – dance, drama, poetry, painting – have inspired composers. The theme is sufficiently broad to incorporate symphonic pieces, opera, chamber music and vocal music, as well as side ventures into theater, literature and ballet. It is also wide enough of a net to fill an eight-week summer season that opens today, and runs through Aug. 21 with multiple daily presentations.
“It occurred to me that this was a wellspring,” Santourian said of the Art Inspires Art idea. “The theme allows for a diversity of areas to work from – orchestral music, solo works, dance, theater.”
A broad theme also provides room for the Music Festival to tap into Aspen’s other arts organizations. “It certainly gives us freedom to fly, given the collaborative partners we have in Aspen. It gives us a chance to dream out loud, and not just with orchestral and opera,” Santourian said.
Among the season’s highlights is the annual collaboration between the Music Festival and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet; this year’s performance, on Aug. 8, will have the company dancing scenes from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” to live accompaniment by the Aspen Concert Orchestra and conductor Joshua Weilerstein. In addition, the Aspen Institute is presenting a discussion on Shakespeare by Aspen Music Festival president Alan Fletcher; and the Hudson Reed Ensemble will tap into the theme by performing a version of “The Taming of the Shrew,” Aug. 18-21 on the Galena Plaza.
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The Art Inspires Art theme gets rolling on Friday, when Nicholas McGegan conducts the Aspen Chamber Symphony in a program that includes Mendelssohn’s Scenes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The theme takes center stage on Sunday, as the first concert of the summer by the Aspen Festival Orchestra – conducted by Robert Spano, the festival’s new music director-designate – performs a program that includes Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” and R. Strauss’ “Don Quixote.”
Of the Strauss piece, Santourian said, “This is an absolute quintessential example of the story translated into cinematic proportions in music. It’s quite vivid.”
Santourian highlighted some other concerts that illuminate the theme: the Aspen Festival Orchestra’s Aug. 7 performance of Holst’s “The Planets” (“There you go – someone translated the planets into music. The solar system – in music,” Santourian said); the Aspen Chamber Symphony’s Aug. 12 date, featuring Stravinsky’s ballet “Pulcinella”; and the Aug. 14 Aspen Festival Orchestra concert, featuring Hartmann’s Symphony No. 6 (the composer’s reaction to reading the Zola novel “L’Oeuvre,” according to Santourian).
As much as the Music Festival spreads out into French literature, Russian painting and German folk poems, one artist gets the lion’s share of attention. Shakespeare’s writings, and their influence on composers, will be the subject of a mini-festival in the middle of the season. But to call it a mini-festival understates the case: The event lasts two weeks, July 30-Aug. 14, and includes a wealth of performances, including Shostakovich’s little-known score for “Hamlet”; Shakespeare’s Kingdom, a recital of songs set to Shakespeare text by various composers; the world premiere of Andrew Norman’s “Sonnets,” inspired by Shakespeare’s poetry; and two Shakespeare-derived operas: Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” an adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet.” (In fact, the entire Aspen Opera Theater Center season is devoted to Shakespeare; a production of Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is scheduled for earlier in the summer.)
Giving Shakespeare so much attention was an easy call for Santourian. The harder part was narrowing down the material.
“When I was thinking about literature, I was trying to focus it: Who or what in literature has inspired music?” he said. “And the research on Shakespeare showed me that the material could fill three seasons. Easily.
“The runner-up would be Goethe. He wouldn’t fill three seasons. But he’d give it a good run.”
Not all of the Music Festival’s presentations fit under the Art Inspires Art umbrella. Season highlights outside the theme include the Jupiter String Quartet performing the complete Beethoven quartet cycle over six concerts; the Aspen Chamber Symphony doing an all-Shostakovich program; a benefit evening with Broadway singer Patti Lupone; violinist Gil Shaham performing four concertos from the 1930s; and recitals by singer-pianist Gabriel Kahane and bassist-composer Edgar Meyer.