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Aspen Music Fest still planning in-person concerts for summer 2021

Amid the pre-Thanksgiving gloom of grim pandemic news here in Aspen, across Colorado and the mountain west came a small but significant dose of hope in the unlikely form of an Aspen Music Festival and School announcement.

The festival, a pillar of modern Aspen since the resort’s rebirth after World War II, announced it would be hosting an in-person season during summer 2021.

They’re planning on daily in-person concerts and instruction across the full spectrum of instruments and traditions, President and CEO Alan Fletcher said.



“Each activity will be meticulously guided by public health recommendations and managed vigilantly,” Fletcher said in the announcement. “We have already assembled an internal COVID team and are learning every day from the best practices at peer organizations around the world.”

This Nov. 6 announcement, modest in its promises and scant in its details, is a beacon of hope for the hard-hit arts and culture community, a reminder that the pandemic will end someday. With reasonable expectations for some distribution of a vaccine and with the winter 2020-21 behind us, the Music Fest will return to live concerts. It won’ t be back to “normal” next summer, if it ever is, but it’ll be back.



The small victories of summer 2020 felt like miracles in the performing arts world. The JAS Café concerts and the Theatre Aspen solo performances, staged safely with tiny crowds, chief among the miracles. Those came in addition to the re-openings of Aspen’s art galleries, the Aspen Art Museum and the Aspen Historical Society, the emergence of outdoor and drive-in movies in several venues, transcendent live dance and monologues from Aspen Fringe Fest and a successful staging of a hybrid in-person/online Aspen Filmfest.

It was but a small shard of a sliver of the cultural happenings that have made Aspen an influential outpost of the international art, music, dance and theater scene. Yet we were grateful for it. And when summer ended, it gave us reason to hope that live events might find a way to exist safely in winter, too. Belly Up Aspen even put two nights of Deadmau5 shows on its calendar for December, the JAS Café quietly floated a winter jazz series plan, Here House announced a new live music and dinner series.

By Thanksgiving, I hoped we might have a handful of announcements for COVID-safe concerts, that local producers might again work their magic to make something happen. A winter performing arts season, I hoped, might be salvaged as the downhill ski season launched in earnest.

But, of course, we know how the fall season went, we’ve all seen those graphs of spiking COVID-19 cases across Colorado and the mountain west, we’ve seen more friends and neighbors get infected, we’ve been quarantined and we’ve seen recently reopened cultural assets like the Pitkin County Library close their doors again as new restrictions went into place. That Deadmau5 show at Belly Up, which would have been the first in the vaunted music venue since the pandemic struck, was moved back to March 2021.

It could seem hopeless. How many newscasters and public officials have ominously warned of “a dark winter” ahead? For a town built on skiing and utopianism, where winter is synonymous with joy, it’s a bleak forecast.

But then comes word of the Aspen Music Festival’s in-person 2021 summer season. The festival canceled its 71st summer season and hosted a series of free virtual recitals.

The Music Fest is actively recruiting students, booking guest artists and digging into the details of how a socially distanced season with fewer students and audience members might work, suggesting concerts in the open-air Benedict Music Tent will be feasible along with classes on the airy Bucksbaum Campus.

“We have full plans for meaningful teaching on all instruments, and for daily performances, including orchestral concerts, multiple recitals each week, faculty chamber music, opera presentations, and more,” Fletcher said.

Music to my ears. Let’s keep each other safe and make the most of what we’ve got until then.

atravers@aspentimes.com


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