Aspen Music Festival and School returns for 74th season with ‘Adoration of the Earth’
The 74th season of the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) has arrived and will run through Sunday, Aug. 20, kicking off eight weeks of over 400 classical music programs, concerts, performances, classes, and productions that both residents and visitors can get out and enjoy this summer.
Ushering in the season theme of “The Adoration of the Earth,” the first Aspen Festival Orchestra concert of the summer features Brian Raphael Nabors’ “Of Earth and Sky: Tales from the Motherland” and Stravinsky’s groundbreaking “The Rite of Spring” with pianist Daniil Trifonov and Robert Spano conducting, on Sunday at the Benedict Music Tent.
“We explore the intersection of music and the natural world, and of course, what better place to do that than here,” said Patrick Chamberlain, vice president for artistic administration for AMFS. “While exploring nature, we also want to acknowledge the fact that this is a fragile, natural world that’s under serious threat. And so, we also have several contemporary works that looks at the issue through a climate change lens, through the various ways that mankind has impacted and engaged with its natural world. There’s so much music that addresses that.”
Chamberlin, who spent a summer out of college at AMFS as an artist liaison, joined the team in the summer of 2022, so this is the first summer season he was heavily involved in organizing, admitting with a laugh that “this is the first year that is partially my fault.”
Sunday’s program begins with Brian Raphael Nabors’ “Of Earth and Sky: Tales from the Motherland.” This four-movement work will take you on a musical journey to different regions of Africa. The work begins with an epic creation story, then depicts two mythic characters, one a trickster and one a protective dragon-like figure, and ends with a celebratory finale honoring the jovial energy of the African spirit.
Trifonov will follow that with Gershwin’s “Piano Concerto.”
The evening will end with Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” ballet, from which the theme “Adoration of the Earth” was directly pulled.
The ballet follows the story of an ancient pagan society that performs rituals as a means of survival, with the first half depicting dancing and other pagan practices. The second half focuses on a young girl who was chosen to be sacrificed and dances herself to death.
“The Rite of Spring” was very controversial when presented by Stravinsky in 1913, leading to a riot between the Parisian traditionalists and modern Bohemians that made up the audience. Despite that it has stood the test of time as an early example of modernism in classical music, proving that an orchestra was capable of a broader range of sounds.
According to Maestro Robert Spano — self-proclaimed AMFS student “reject” and now music director of the Aspen Music Festival and School since 2011 — this weekend’s offerings are just the beginning to a summer full of compelling and thought-provoking music that honors our natural world.
One work he pointed out was the presentation of Mahler’s “Symphony No. 3 in D Minor,” which he will conduct on July 30.
“Mahler third symphony is kind of a chain of being,” said Spano. “It opens with the great creator God Pan, so it’s the eruption of creation, something from nothing. And then those beautiful movements: what the flowers tell me, what the animals tell me, what mankind tells me, what the angels tell me, what love tells me. I think a thread that just evolved as we started putting programs together and realized how easy it was to connect to the fact of our being so uniquely positioned on Earth. And we’re in such a marvelous spot on the planet (here in Aspen). It’s just extraordinary and beautiful and captivates people.”
Throughout the summer, AMFS has booked both beloved returning musicians as well as several exciting debuts. Both Chamberlain and Spano noted that a key goal is to expand accessibility to classical (and other forms) of music to a wider and more inclusive audience, so the programming will reflect that.
“I think recognizing and reckoning that maybe this (classical music) is a place where all have not historically felt welcome is important,” said Chamberlain. “We are actively doing our very best to make sure that everyone — regardless of your race or gender, or ethnic background, or economic background, or anything — that this art form can be and is for you and speaks to you and acknowledges you. We have a strong commitment to representing diverse people.”
To that end, AMFS is implementing two new initiatives this summer. First, a tiered ticket price for the signature Friday and Sunday orchestral concerts. Instead of one standard ticket price of $85, guests have the option of $45, $65, and $90 priced tickets. It is their hope that this makes in person attendance at the events possible for more members of the community and provides an opportunity for music lovers who usually sit on the Lawn to come inside if so desired.
Second, to accommodate those who may be unable to make it out in person, AMFS will also be live broadcasting Sunday concerts on Aspen Public Radio and offering eight free livestreams of concerts.
For AMFS summer schedule and tickets: aspenmusicfestival.com
Like every year, the changing season from summer to fall brings shorter days, golden trees, sweater weather, and Aspen Film’s annual Filmfest which opens on Tuesday, Sept. 19, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 24.