Aspen Music Festival announces in-person concert lineup, more than 150 events
2021 season to run July 1 to Aug. 22 with 101 artist-faculty and 270 students
Live music will return to Aspen this summer.
After a quiet 2020 amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and the historic cancellation of last summer’s in-person season, the Aspen Music Festival and School on Thursday announced a 52-day, 150-event lineup for July and August.
With vaccines continuing to roll out, virus cases declining and public health restrictions loosening, the Aspen institution’s slate of summer concerts will return for its 72nd anniversary season.
“We’re very excited,” festival president and CEO Alan Fletcher said Wednesday. “We truly believe in this season. And we are monitoring, hour by hour, what health rules and best practices are across the world, in terms of being on stage, and we feel very confident about this.”
The lineup includes star soloists like Matthew Whitaker, who will open the festival July 1, and violinist Augustin Hadelich, who will close it with the Aspen Festival Orchestra on Aug. 22, with well-known works from the repertoire along with rarer pieces and music by living composers.
Concerts will revive the themes from the canceled 2020 season — “Beethoven’s Revolution” honoring the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth and “Uncommon Women of Note,” exploring works by female composers and performers — and new initiatives including a robust season-long program featuring works by composers who identify as AMELIA (Africa-American, Middle Eastern, Latin, Indigenous, and Asian) resulting from a multi-year internal process at the festival evaluating diversity, equity and inclusion in its programming and conducting new scholarship on previously overlooked works.
“We want to share our excitement and enthusiasm with our listeners — that’s how we view this work,” festival vice president for artistic administration Asadour Santourian said Wednesday.
Of the performances of works by the Black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Santourian added, “It’s finally going to come into the foreground. People will instantly ask, ‘This is beautiful music, why haven’t we heard this before?’ It’s unjustly or unjustifiably been neglected.”
July 1: Pianist Matthew Whitaker
July 2: Aspen Chamber Orchestra performs Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
July 3, 10, 17: Opera Theater Master Classes with Renée Fleming
July 8: Pacifica Quartet
July 11: Stefan Jackiw, Alisa Weilerstein and Inon Barnatan and Aspen Festival Orchestra perform Beethoven’s “Triple” Concerto
July 13: Vocalist Julia Bullock
July 16: Renée Fleming with Aspen Chamber Orchestra
July 17: Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”
July 20: Pianist Yefim Bronfman
July 27-Aug. 15: Music on the Go mobile concert series
Aug. 5: Guitarist Sharon Isbin
Aug. 11: James Ehnes and pianist Andrew Armstrong perform Beethoven Violin Sonatas
Aug. 15: James Ehnes and Aspen Festival Orchestra perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto
Aug. 17: The Zukerman Trio
Aug. 20: Celllist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Aspen Chamber Orchestra
Aug. 21: Handel’s “Rodelinda”
Aug. 22: Aspen Festival Orchestra performs Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5
Full schedule online at http://www.aspenmusicfestival.com
The diversity initiative includes 10 orchestral works, eight pieces to be performed by the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble and 22 on recital programs. It will continue in seasons to come and will include commissions of new pieces along with an effort to revive works by living composers like Tebogo Monnakgotla (whose “Timecraft” is scheduled for a July 7 recital) as well as historic composers such as Florence Price (whose string quartets are set for July 8 and 22 performances) and William Dawson (whose “Negro Folk Symphony” will be performed by the Aspen Festival Orchestra July 18) who are less well known due to historically racist power structures in classical music.
“We’ve been digging deep into research on repertoire by composers of color, which we can now see has been underserved,” Fletcher said. “We think this is a mistake in history.”
The final three weeks of the season also will include free mobile concerts throughout the Roaring Fork Valley from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, performed from a to-go venue named The Concert Truck. The program was launched by a group of Aspen alumni and has previously brought mobile concerts to New York and Dallas.
“We can produce a short, really impactful concert experience,” Fletcher said of the mobile recitals producing multiple concerts in different locations daily. “We can maybe reach communities in the valley that wouldn’t normally come to the tent, whether it’s because of money or because it’s not familiar, it’s not part of their routine.”
Though they’re only planned for this pandemic summer, Fletcher predicts the mobile concerts will remain part of the festival program for years to come as part of local outreach efforts.
Concerts will follow a previously announced regime of modifications and safety precautions, with most events hosted in the open-air Benedict Music Tent, all performed without intermission and none exceeding 75 minutes. Audience capacity is expected to be announced when tickets and season passes go on sale to the public May 17.
With distancing protocols in mind and without shared rooms in student housing, the number of students admitted to the program was limited to 270 — down from about 690 in pre-pandemic summers — and the faculty cut in half to 101.
Fletcher said students who were admitted for 2020 were the first offered spots for 2021 and that faculty members who are not invited this summer will still be paid. He said the festival is committed to bringing back its full faculty and student body size in 2022.
“We’ve really thought this through, and we really had the right design for the festival,” Fletcher said. “As soon as we can do it again, we’re going to be in full force.”
Along with three evening concerts running at the Benedict every week, the season includes free student recitals, free panel discussions and events for kids. Reservations are expected to be required for all events, including sitting on the listening lawn at the Benedict. The complete lineup is online at aspenmusicfestival.com.
Two operas are on the bill, abridged concert versions of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” (July 17) and Handel’s “Rodelinda” (Aug. 21) as the festival launches its new Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS program co-directed by luminaries Renée Fleming and Patrick Summers. They will be staged at the Benedict rather than the Wheeler Opera House.
Fleming also will sing with the Aspen Chamber Symphony under conductor Robert Spano on July 16. Spano, returning as the festival’s music director, will oversee the Aspen Conducting Academy and conduct four concerts this summer.
Notable debuts include Whitaker’s opening night performance of his jazz-based work, classical singer Julia Bullock (July 13), Aspen alum Tenkgu Irfan (July 23), alum Zlatomir Fung (July 26) and cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason (Aug. 20).
Among the returning Aspen favorites are conductor Leonard Slatkin, leading the first season performance by the Aspen Chamber Symphony on July 2 with a program including a Julia Perry composition alongside Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 and Fifth Symphony, Nicolas McGegan (July 14), Yefim Bronfman (July 18 and 20), Daniil Trifonov (July 25 and 27), Sharon Isbin (Aug. 5), Vladmir Feltsman (Aug. 10), Robert McDuffie (Aug. 12) and Jeremy Denk (Aug. 19).
Violinist Stefan Jackiw, cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnatan join conductor Ludovic Morlot and the Aspen Festival Orchestra in a performance of Beethoven’s “Triple” Concerto on July 8. All three will return a week later to present an all-Beethoven program July 15 that will include Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, “Pathétique,” and the “Ghost” Trio.
Violinist Pinchas Zukerman will perform in Aspen for the first time since 2005, bringing the Zukerman Trio — with cellist Amanda Forsyth and pianist Shai Wosner — to the Benedict on Aug. 17.
Hosting smaller, distanced orchestras this summer means the festival couldn’t program larger works by Strauss, Mahler and Bruckner, and could not program anything with a chorus. But all of Beethoven’s symphonies, festival producers learned, were doable (four are scheduled). And while the festival’s iconic lemonade stand will be closed and mingling will be discouraged, Fletcher and Santourian promise Aspen audiences a celebratory and safe return to the stage this summer.
“I want to assure people that we’re working with the county board of health literally every day to ensure that we’re going to do all of this in a really responsible and safe way for the performers and for the audience,” Fletcher said. “And at the same time, we’re thinking all the time about what will make for the best concert experience.”
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