Aspen Music Festival and Disney to stage ‘A Decade in Concert’ |

Aspen Music Festival and Disney to stage ‘A Decade in Concert’

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
"Wreck-It Ralph"
Disney/Courtesy photo


What: ‘A Decade in Concert,’ presented by the Aspen Music Festival and Walt Disney Animatuon Studios

Where: Benedict Music Tent

When: Monday, July 30, 8 p.m.

How much: $25-$75 (season passes not valid for this special event)

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House and Harris Concert Hall box offices;

More info: The concert is open to children age 3 and up

The beloved songs and scores from recent Disney animated films are getting a full symphony treatment tonight at the Benedict Music Tent.

A collaboration between the Aspen Music Festival and Walt Disney Animation Studios, the presentation “A Decade in Concert” will feature an 80-piece symphony orchestra performing music from films like “Moana,” “Zootopia” and “Frozen” (yes, including “Let It Go”). The performance will be accompanied by scenes from the films — nine of them in all — on a big screen above the orchestra.

Many students playing in the orchestra are young enough to have been in the target audience for these movies when they came out over the past 10 years. The titles reach as far back as 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog” and also include music from “Tangled,” “Winnie the Pooh,” “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Big Hero 6.”

“This stuff is fun,” violist Julia Vcic said. “It’s all really good music and I’ve seen most of the movies.”

Vcic, 21, is in her second summer in Aspen. She recently graduated from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University and will start post-grad work at Rice University in the fall. The Disney concert is one of a handful of paying gigs she picked up this summer — she also was among the chamber orchestra that accompanied “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom, Jr. during his Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience concert.

Tonight’s performance will be conducted by Disney’s Richard Kaufman, a legendary veteran of film music production and performance.

When the Music Festival announced the Disney collaboration, festival president and CEO Alan Fletcher touted the experience of playing under Kaufman for students.

“They have the experience of working with a lot of the world’s greatest conductors, but not necessarily one of Hollywood’s greatest conductors,” Fletcher said. “So I think that’s going to be a great learning experience.”

Fletcher also is proud to premiere the concert here, before it goes to concert halls around the globe.

“It will be an Aspen signature project,” Fletcher said. “We’re really happy about it.”

Animated film scores are actually extraordinarily complex and difficult to play. Many in the orchestra will have click-track devices in their ears to help them keep up with the tempo and the quick changes of style and mood in the compositions.

Many of the student musicians, if they are to make careers playing music, will be playing for film and television. So this concert offers key practical experience.

“I hope they come away wanting to do more of it,” Kaufman said. “And hopefully they have a good time, that’s the bottom line.”

After their first rehearsal this week, Kaufman said several student musicians came up to him and told him how much fun they were having.

For Kaufman, visiting Aspen has been particularly meaningful because he served as John Denver’s conductor for 24 years — leading the Aspen icon’s symphony performances.

“He was just the best,” Kaufman said of Denver. “One of the great people, a fantastic performer and I miss him a lot.”

Kaufman, who hadn’t previously been to Aspen, spent some time walking the John Denver Sanctuary with his daughter soon after his arrival.

“John would have loved it,” he said.

Kaufman’s life in music, and his niche in film score conducting, began in childhood and with movies.

“My parents played film music all the time and I loved it — all kinds, including Disney, of course,” Kaufman said.

He began playing the violin at 7 and recalled spinning records of film scores and playing along by ear. He began his professional career performing in film studio orchestras for nearly 20 years (Kaufman is among the violins on the classic score for “Jaws” and several other John Williams’ movie works). Eventually, he landed staff jobs at 20th Century Fox and MGM developing film music.

And, as symphonies began programming film music in concert halls over the past generation, he was on the forefront.

“At first it was like, ‘Well, OK, we’ll do that, but what we really do is Mozart and Brahms,’” he recalled. “Orchestras found more and more people wanted them to play film music. Some of them did it begrudgingly at first. And now orchestras everywhere find their halls are full for film music. I love being able to do it.”

Kaufman sees film scores as the next step in the centuries-long tradition of canonical classical music originally written for ballets and operas. These were the popular entertainment of their day, he noted, and the equivalent of film scores.

“Nobody is comparing Mahler to the score from ‘Tangled,’” he qualified. “It’s not about that.”

He is hopeful that tonight’s concert will win some hearts and plant seeds of music appreciation in the young crowd. The festival is opening the concert to audience members as young as 3.

Many in the tent, no doubt, will be seeing an orchestra live for the first time. That prospect is exciting for Kaufman.

“Bringing young people into the environment of a symphony orchestra is absolutely crucial to a life enjoying music,” he said, “and realizing that music is not only what you hear but is what you see.”