Aspen Music Festival season opens with a call to action
Los Angeles Philharmonic President and CEO Deborah Borda called on young musicians Monday morning to instigate “a new era of musician activism” in an impassioned address to the Aspen Music Festival and School’s 2016 students.
Borda spoke at the school’s opening convocation, marking the beginning of its 67th season, gathering some 600 students in the Benedict Music Tent.
She recalled her days as a young student at Tanglewood during the height of the Vietnam War and the civil-rights movement — events that classical music largely ignored.
“We thought the world wouldn’t touch us. … Almost proudly, we stood apart,” she said.
Today, she argued, that is not an option for young musicians or the larger classical music world. She pointed to a Black Lives Matter protest during a St. Louis Symphony performance in 2014, including the unfurling of a “Requiem for Michael Brown” banner. She noted economic inequality protests of the Chicago Symphony and at Carnegie Hall. She then called for the young musicians in Aspen to respond to the contemporary world in their music and work to make classical music a more diverse cultural space.
“Can we truly reach hearts and minds?” she asked. “Dare we ask, ‘Is our beloved ivory tower version of classical music sustainable?’ … Dare we ask, ‘Should it be?’”
Borda and Aspen Music Festival and School President and CEO Alan Fletcher have teamed to start an online forum called Find the Groove to exchange ideas with nationwide students, musicians and directors about making classical music relevant and how this generation of musicians might become agents of social change.
“It’s not easy, obvious work,” Borda said. “It’s not comfortable work, it’s a bit of a mash-up, and it’s messy. But I do contend that it is a challenge that is not going to disappear. It will grow. The tectonic plates of society are shifting. We all feel that in the events of the past week, the past year.”
Finding music’s place in that changing landscape will be the mission for this next generation of musicians, she argued. One program trying to engage the classical world in social change is Take a Stand — a collaborative social change music program of the Music Fest, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Bard College that will present a free concert tonight in the Music Tent featuring students from El Sistema-inspired music programs on the West Coast.
“This is the time to tell a new story about classical music in our country,” Borda said, later adding: “What I am so excited by is that you will be the true pioneers of this effort.”
In remarks that preceded Borda’s, Fletcher touched on some of the same themes of marrying social and artistic endeavors to make music meaningful to a contemporary audience.
“We don’t seek a perfect performance, we seek and hope that every performance will reveal something about ourselves to ourselves, that every performance will say something about our times to our times,” Fletcher said. “That is music’s greatest gift.”
Underscoring Borda’s point about the real world’s clash with this rarefied mountain music retreat, administrative advisories during Monday’s student orientation — along with the usual warnings about bears, living at altitude and bullying — included guidance on how to react to an active shooter on campus (“Our first and best option is to run”).
In a more light-hearted speech, Mayor Steve Skadron — making his fourth annual address to the student body on behalf of the city — made jokes about National Sunglass Day, emojis and quoted Larry “The Checkout Guy” at City Market: “Keep on rocking, Music Festival dudes.”
This season at the Aspen Music Festival features more than 400 events and concerts over the next eight weeks, including four orchestras performing in the Tent, three operas running at the Wheeler Opera House and regular chamber music recitals at Harris Concert Hall.
On Thursday, a pair of local favorites — pianist Wu Han and violinist David Finckel — will give a recital at Harris Concert Hall, followed by the season-opening performances by the Aspen Chamber Symphony (Friday in the Tent) and the Aspen Festival Orchestra featuring soprano Renee Fleming (Sunday in the Tent). Sunday’s performance also will feature Robert Spano conducting Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, the beginning of a season themed “An Invitation to Dance.” Performances throughout the summer will highlight the use of dance elements in music. Themed concerts include the Hector Del Curto Quintet performing “Eternal Tango” (July 25), flamenco dancer Siudy Garrido performing Falla’s “El amor brujo” (Aug. 19), Antheil’s archipalego “Rumba” (July 6) and Dominich Argento’s tango “The Dream of Valentino” (July 24).
The broad dance theme also allowed programmers to build subthemes within the program, including a series of forgotten works by 20th Century American composers and work by composers based near the Arctic Circle. The American symphonies running throughout the season include rarely performed pieces by Charles Ives, Roger Sessions and Erich Korngold.
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