Aspen Music Fest: Not as long (but just as festive?)
September 2, 2009
ASPEN – Those who have voiced the opinion, in recent letters to the editor in local newspapers, that Aspen Music Festival president Alan Fletcher is a distraction who should curtail his pre-concert talks and let the music speak for itself, have a bit of good news and a bit of bad news.
There will be fewer opportunities for pre-concert comments in 2010, as the Music Festival gets chopped down from its customary nine weeks to eight.
But Fletcher’s contract has been extended, assuring that he will continue his tenure at the 60-year-old institution through next summer’s festival.
The Music Festival announced in April that it would be making cuts to the summer season beginning next year, including lopping off the festival’s first week. Over the summer, through discussions between the administrative staff, the artistic directors, and faculty, further details of the festival’s latest five-year plan were finalized.
The first concert of the 2010 summer season is set for July 1 – a week later than its 2009 counterpart, which was held on June 25. The Sinfonia, one of five resident orchestras, will be discontinued. The student body of the Aspen Music School will be reduced from approximately 750 to roughly 625. Fletcher wouldn’t specify exactly how many faculty members would be let go, or which faculty members, on the grounds that it was a personnel matter. But he did say that the reduction – reportedly a major point of contention within the festival – amounted to less than 10 percent of the faculty, and that the reduction was smaller than originally planned.
“[Music Festival music director] David Zinman asked for a couple of reinstatements and we did them,” Fletcher, speaking from his home in New Hampshire, said about tweaking the details of the changes to the festival. “We just sat down and, as we’d been doing all spring, just looked again.”
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Fletcher noted that, historically, the first week of the festival saw fewer sales of single-concert tickets than other weeks of the season. And he said he doesn’t think audiences will notice vast differences once the festival does get under way. The Aspen Opera Theater Center, for instance, will have the same number of productions as it always has. The absence of Sinfonia, which drew the smallest attendance of the five orchestras, will be offset somewhat by an increase in the number of performances by the Aspen Concert Orchestra.
“I don’t think audiences will see it,” Fletcher said of the cuts, excluding the shortening of the festival. “The amount of programming will be just as intense. It will still have the feel of an intense and superlative festival.”
While the roster of guest artists for the 2010 season is still subject to some shuffling, Fletcher said most of the soloists and conductors have been booked, and represent the same level of star-power that audiences have become accustomed to.
Fletcher added that eliminating a week from the festival and decreasing the student body had been discussed for several years. The nine-week duration, he said, made it the longest festival-related teaching program in the country.
The current five-year plan, which has been over a year in the making, does not include any further reductions in faculty, student body or duration of the festival. Fletcher said attendance figures from the 2009 summer season, which concluded August 23, were not available, but that early indications were that attendance was about normal. He said attendance for the two biggest attractions was a mixed bag: Sunday afternoon concerts drew more listeners than in 2008; attendance for Friday evening concerts was down. The changes in attendance, he added, were slight.
The Music Festival is not alone in cutting programming. Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Labor Day Festival, set for this weekend, has been shortened from four days to three. Theatre Aspen cut one production from its season this summer. Snowmass Village’s Free Concert Series saw a reduction from nine shows to six.
The theme of the 2010 Aspen Music Festival’s summer season will be The Magic Years, spotlighting composers who emerged in the first decade of the 19th century, especially Beethoven; the first decade of the 20th century (Stravinsky, Debussy, Mahler, Berg); and the 21st century, including Argentinean Osvaldo Golijov, who appeared at this past summer’s festival and is scheduled to be a composer-in-residence next summer.