Aspen Music Fest highlights ‘The Magic Years’ |

Aspen Music Fest highlights ‘The Magic Years’

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Alex IrvinChristopher Rouse, center, a composer-in-residence at the Aspen Music Festival, last summer in Aspen with conductor David Robertson, left, and clarinetist Richard Woodhams. The Music Festival spotlights Rouse in a concert on Friday, July 2, by the Aspen Chamber Symphony, that includes his recent composition, "Odna Zhizn."

ASPEN – A magical thing happened around the turn of the 19th century, in Vienna. A pianist named Ludwig von Beethoven decided he was not going to make “occasion” music – background music for royal visits and society weddings. His music would not be constrained by such outside forces, but would be abstract and original and serve no purpose other than artistic ones.One hundred years later, a set of composers made a roughly similar statement – that they were going to throw away the conventions that had built up around music and follow their own paths. Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Mahler and Debussy thus made their names not only as iconoclasts, but as enduring artists whose work has stood the tests of time.It’s too soon to tell which composers of the early 21st century will make the kind of mark left by Beethoven, Stravinsky, et al. But it’s not too early to start paying attention to the contemporary artists who might well be familiar to audiences in the 22nd century, and beyond. The Aspen Music Festival and School’s 2010 festival season is presented under the theme, The Magic Years, and spotlights the first decade of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The thinking behind the theme is that the years 1800-1810, and 1900-1910, were monumental times in the history of music, and that perhaps we should be paying close attention to the decade just closing.”It’s always been groundbreaking,” Asadour Santourian, the Music Festival’s artistic advisor, said of the first decade of the 19th and 20 centuries. The composers mentioned above, he said, “haven’t perpetuated what’s come before, but taken it to another level, another height, another dimension. They wanted not to repeat, but to explore new frontiers.”The 2010 Music Festival opens Thursday, with a 6 p.m. performance by the Emerson String Quartet, who play works by Dvork, Barber and Shostakovich. But the Magic Years theme begins to take hold with the Friday, July 2 concert by the Aspen Chamber Symphony. Under conductor Hans Graf, the orchestra will perform a program that includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, which was published in 1801; and “Odna Zhizn,” a work by Music Festival composer-in-residence Christopher Rouse that was premiered in February by the New York Philharmonic. (The concert also include Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D minor, with soloist Gil Shaham.)Santourian says that audiences are so familiar with Beethoven’s music that it’s hard to hear it as a groundbreaking statement. “Odna Zhizn,” however is, as Santourian sees it, a landmark work for Rouse. The composer, who has been in residence in Aspen for a decade, has tended to make autobiographical references in his music. But in the new piece – which translates from Russian as “A Life” – focuses on people in his sphere other than himself.”Hearing him over 10 years, this is a major departure,” Santourian said. “This one has different people in his life encoded in the music. The Christopher Rouse that people know, they will recognize – it’s kinetic, percussive and loud. It’s Chris – but it’s also these other people that are definitely not Chris.”Rouse qualifies to be in the running as a landmark 21st century composer. He earned a Pulitzer Prize for his 1991 Trombone Concerto, and Musical America named him composer of the year for 2009.The July 11 concert by the Aspen Festival Orchestra and conductor Jaap van Zweden features Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, composed in 1908-’09, and the last symphony Mahler completed. It is a deeply personal work, and to Santourian, it traces the 180-degree shift from Beethoven’s purely abstract music to 20th century music that was meant as an autobiographical expression. “It’s not about death. But he was fully aware that he was dying,” Santourian said of Mahler, who died in 1911. Santourian adds that Mahler’s Ninth represents the final symphony by one of the last composers who adhered to traditional symphonic structures.Other concerts spotlighting the Magic Years theme are the July 25 performance by the Aspen Festival Orchestra and conductor James Conlon, featuring works by Mahler and his contemporaries Schreker and Rachmaninoff; and a July 30 performance by the Aspen Chamber Symphony and conductor Robert Spano, that includes works by more early 20th century composers: Faur, Stravinsky, Lalo and Busoni.Over the final three concerts by the Aspen Chamber Symphony the Music Festival spotlights three contemporary composers: Kevin Puts on Aug. 6; Steven Stucky, another composer-in-residence in Aspen, on Aug. 13; Thomas Ads on Aug. 20. All three will be represented by works created between 2000 and 2010.”Are we saying, with these new works, that these are going to be part of the mix 60 years from now?” Santourian said. “We’ll see. Time and our audience are our final arbiter.”Santourian added that the Magic Years theme is just a useful way to think about new and groundbreaking music in this, the final year of the first decade of the 21st century. He doesn’t think that Beethoven or Mahler gave much thought to the turning of the millennium when they were composing. Neither does Santourian himself pay too much emphasis on the year of a composition.”The great music is ever present, evergreen,” he said. “You can look at it however you want, put whatever theme you want around it. It doesn’t matter.”

The 2010 Aspen Music Festival opens Thursday, July 1 and runs through Aug. 21 with daily presentations, including symphony concerts, chamber music, opera, master classes, lectures and more. Among the artists scheduled to appear are conductors Hugh Wolff, Jeffrey Kahane, Leonard Slatkin, Marin Alsop and Nicholas McGegan; violinists Joshua Bell, Julia Fisher and Sarah Chang; cellists David Finckel, Alicia Weilerstein, Lynn Harrell and Sol Gabetta; pianists Yuja Wang, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Wu Han and Steven Osborne; guitarist Sharon Isbin; bassist Edgar Meyer; and ensembles Time for Three, the Takcs Quartet, the American String Quartet and the American Brass Quintet.The Aspen Opera Theater Center will perform the Beaumarchais Trilogy, featuring three works centered around characters from the “Figaro” plays: Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles.”

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