Aspen Festival Orchestra to open with Beethoven’s 9th |

Aspen Festival Orchestra to open with Beethoven’s 9th

With small orchestra and chorus, July 3 performance will be “essentially, the way Beethoven first heard it”

The Aspen Festival Orchestra will open its 2021 summer season with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the Aspen Music Festival and School announced on Monday.

While the rest of the festival’s performance program was announced in the spring, the opening concert by the Festival Orchestra had remained blank. That was because festival producers hoped to put on the exuberant choral symphony to celebrate a post-vaccine return to live music, festival president and CEO Alan Fletcher explained, but did not know if restrictions would allow the number of musicians needed.

“We had been wishing to do this, and planning and preparing to do it, all the way through,” Fletcher said. “The guidance that if you’re 100% vaccinated then masking requirements can go away, that was really the key for us.”

The opening Festival Orchestra performance is scheduled for Saturday, July 3. The Festival Orchestra, Aspen’s premier ensemble, normally performs on Sunday afternoons. They’ve moved to Saturday for Independence Day weekend so the festival can produce its traditional free Fourth of July performance of patriotic music on Sunday.

“Every time we’ve programmed it, in the past, we’ve put it on the final Sunday as sort of a grand finale,” Fletcher said.

But given the 2020 cancellation and the long road back to in-person concerts, Fletcher, music director Robert Spano, vice president of artistic administration Asadour Santourian and the creative team agreed it felt right to put it up front as a celebration and a literal “ode to joy.” Spano will conduct.

Many listeners might be surprised to learn that Beethoven’s Ninth actually requires less personnel than many of the most iconic symphonies in the canon.

“One thinks of [Beethoven’s Ninth] as being a cast of thousands,” said Fletcher. “But the original performance, conducted by Beethoven himself, was actually quite a small orchestra and chorus. So we are able to do it, essentially, the way Beethoven first heard it.”

All of the festival’s symphonies have been trimmed in numbers this season as a precaution against spreading COVID-19. For this opening concert, the Aspen Festival Orchestra will number less than 70 members, joined by a 60-member chorus from Denver performing the choral parts. (In non-pandemic times, the festival would likely double its winds section and bring in the 180-member Colorado Symphony Chorus.)

“It’s going to be a fantastic sound, and also the right balance with the orchestra,” Fletcher said.

In keeping with the festival’s commitment to perform shorter concerts without intermissions this summer, to avoid creating crowds, Symphony No. 9 will be the only piece on the bill.

The full lineup for the festival’s opening weekend in the Benedict Music Tent is now complete. It opens with a recital by pianist Matthew Whitaker on Thursday, July 1, followed by the Aspen Chamber Symphony performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Piano Concerto No. 5 on Friday, July 2, the Aspen Festival Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Ninth on Saturday, July 3 and the traditionally patriotic Fourth of July Concert on Sunday.

Tickets will go on sale May 24. Full calendar and more information at

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