Aspen Music Festival to stage full 2022 summer season

Three weekly orchestras return; recitals back in Harris Hall; Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’ leads opera lineup

The scene inside the Benedict Music Tent for the final summer concert of the 2021 Aspen Music Festival season on Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

The Aspen Music Festival and School’s 2022 summer season marks a return of a nearly full concert and training program, following two years of virtual and pandemic-shrunken festivals.

The season, running June 30 to Aug. 21, will include three weekly performances by the festival’s orchestras, as many as 400 total public events and the return of indoor recitals to Harris Concert Hall, opera events at the Wheeler Opera House and other indoor venues.

The historic 2021 in-person season staged nearly all concerts in the open-air Benedict Music Tent and followed an all-virtual 2020 season after the in-person rendition was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The festival is expected to post its full summer program on its website Wednesday. Tickets will go on-sale in April. Music Fest leaders have not yet set policies regarding masks, vaccinations or crowd limits.

“We are way too soon to be fixing anything for summer,” festival president and CEO Alan Fletcher said Monday.

Free lawn seating outside the tent will also return to its pre-pandemic traditions, with no reservations or fencing in place to control crowds and encourage distancing (the lawn’s lemonade stand will also be back to business as usual).

People lounge outside of the Benedict Music Tent on Thursday, July 1, 2021. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)

The season theme is “Tapestries: What We Talk About When We Talk About Ourselves,” aiming to explore art’s role in shaping the identity of individuals and communities.

The identity theme comes as the Music Fest is in its second year of an initiative to include a greater diversity of composers and performers. More than 75% of programs include performers or composers who identify as AMELIA (African-American, Middle Eastern, Latin, Indigenous and Asian).

“As we are continuing on a move to have a more diverse repertoire, it makes it all the more fitting to have this theme and to be looking at many kinds of musicians over history whose voices have not been heard or have not been affirmed or have not found the reception that they needed,” Fletcher said.

The “Tapestry” themes of cultural identity, Music Fest leaders hope, will give a new lens through which to see works like Mahler’s First Symphony (set for an Aspen Chamber Symphony performance July 31) make use of klezmer music and nods to his Jewish identity, or how Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony explores intersections of Black spirituals and Native American traditions. The Dvorak will be performed by the Aspen Festival Orchestra Aug. 14 alongside contemporary composer James Lee III’s response to Dvorak in his own work. Among the premieres coming to the festival is Nico Muhly’s “Strange” (July 9, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble), which is based on historic texts by and about different immigrant experiences in the U.S.

Fleming, ‘Falstaff’ and a full festival

The festival will open June 30 with a recital by pianist Hung-Kuan Chen at Harris Concert Hall.

The opening Sunday concert with the Aspen Festival Orchestra will feature soprano Renée Fleming and baritone Rod Gilfry as soloists in a program conducted by returning festival music director Robert Spano. That opening Sunday program includes Kevin Puts’ “The Brightness of Light” — a Georgia O’Keeffe-inspired vocal work that had been on the canceled 2020 festival schedule — and scenes from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Matthew Whitaker, the genre-bending jazz and classical pianist who opened the 2021 season, returns for 2022’s opening weekend with two performances — accompanying the Aspen Chamber Symphony on “Rhapsody in Blue” (July 1) and performing with his Matthew Whitaker Quintet on July 2.

Pianist Matthew Whitaker performs in an Aspen Music Festival and School recital to kickoff the summer season on Thursday, July 1, 2021, inside the Benedict Music Tent. Whitaker will return to perform twice in the opening weekend of the 2022 season. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)

Limits on the sizes of orchestras on stage, which shrank the repertoire that could be performed in 2021, have been dropped, so the Aspen Festival Orchestra lineup includes some of the largest works in the canon, including Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (July 31) and the festival-closing Berliosz Requiem (Aug. 21), which calls for a massive brass section in four ensembles. The festival plans to stage it with brass players in a ring around the perimeter of the tent.

Sunday soloists include many popular returning festival performers such as feaviolinist Gil Shaham (July 17), violinist Augustin Hadelich (July 31) and pianist Joyce Yang (Aug. 14) as well as the Aspen debut of the 20-year-old Russian piano phenom Alexander Malofeev (Aug. 7) performing Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto.

Augustin Hadelich performs in the final summer concert of the season at the 2021 Aspen Music Festival on Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. Hadelich will return this summer. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)

The Sunday performances by the Aspen Festival Orchestra at the Benedict Music Tent are returning nearer to their full length and will include intermissions. Other concerts will be performed without intermissions, which went into practice last summer to discourage large crowds from congregating during the pandemic.

Fully staged operas are also back with two one-night-only performances in the Benedict: Verdi’s “Falstaff” (July 22) with star bass-baritone Bryn Terfel alongside the artist-fellows of the Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS program led by Fleming and Patrick Summers. Its student artists will also perform Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” (Aug. 18) with the trailblazer Jane Glover conducting.

The operas are not returning to the Wheeler Opera House this summer — an artistic choice, Fletcher said, and not a pandemic one. Fletcher said the festival leadership found value in having a larger orchestra on-stage when semi-staged operas moved to the Benedict in 2021. They may go back into the Wheeler and smaller pit orchestras in the future.

“That’s something that we’re still looking at,” Fletcher said.

The increasingly popular Saturday morning opera scenes and arias will return to the Wheeler, though the festival will no longer call them “master classes,” retiring the term master from all of its programs due to concerns about its racial insensitivity.

Aspen Chamber Symphony concerts, held on Friday evenings, will include Terrence Wilson making his Aspen duet as soloist for Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1, under Spano (July 15), a program with baritone Will Liverman and pianist Jeffrey Kahane (Aug. 12) and will close with Roderick Cox conducting Schuman’s Symphony No. 1 and festival favorite Alisa Weilerstein as soloist on Camille Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No. 1.

The Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra, which went on hiatus for the slimmed-down 2021 season, returns to its Wednesday evening performances at the Benedict Music Tent, opening with a July 6 world premiere of a new work by the young American composer Shelley Washington. The Aspen Phil lineup also includes an Aug. 3 performance of Jacob MacMillan’s viola concerto with soloist Lawrence Power, conducted by Spano.

The recital schedule features several starry Aspen debuts including saxophonist Jess Gillam (July 16), violinist Melissa White performing Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” (Aug. 11), along with many returning Aspen regulars including Baroque specialist Nicholas McGegan (July 14), bassist Edgar Meyer (July 30), and guitarist Sharon Isbin (Aug. 6) who will be performing Indian music with sarod player Amjad Ali Khan, Robert McDuffie (Aug. 17) and the Russian pianist Vladmir Feltsman (Aug. 20).

String quartet hiatus

Strings lovers will note there is only one quartet on the otherwise robust and varied recital schedule — a July 7 performance by the Pacifica Quartet, which has led the festival’s Center for Advanced Quartet Studies since 2017. The center is not in session for 2022.

It had typically hosted 16 students for the summer with at least three quartets typically performing and leading students through the summer. Fletcher said the quartet program is on hiatus for 2022 as he and festival leadership decide how to move it forward.

“We’re still evaluating the structure of the program,” Fletcher said. “Over the years it’s been a signature program, hugely important to what we do artistically, but it’s taken several different forms over the years. … We just thought, ‘Let’s take a long look at the whole structure.'”

The festival’s vaunted piano program is also shrinking a bit for 2022, as the administration concluded that the smaller 2021 version of it better served students. The school expects 35 students, down from 55 in pre-pandemic summers (but up from the 20 students in the pandemic 2021 season).

The student body will be back to near their pre-pandemic enrollment, totaling nearly 600 — down from the 640 that had been standard pre-pandemic, due to the reductions to the quartet and piano programs and the smaller opera program. Fletcher also said that restrictions on visas and international travel, which kept some students, faculty and guest artists away in 2021, are not expected to disrupt any season participants.

The increasingly dire local housing crisis, however, is posing a threat to the Music Fest, which houses about 60% of its students at its Burlingame Ranch and Marolt Ranch properties. The other 40% have generally found housing on the free market, as have faculty, which has all but dried up due to sales and short-term rentals during the pandemic. The festival made a public appeal on Monday to Aspen homeowners to rent to Music Fest participants, in exchange for concert passes and benefits, echoing the Aspen Skiing Co.’s 2021-22 “Tenants for Turns” program.

Special events and streams

Special events include a Broadway-themed concert with soprano Renée Fleming and baritone Rod Gilfry (July 9) as well as the previously announced “Sound of Music: In Concert” (July 25 and 26) co-presented with Theatre Aspen, which marks the exceedingly rare occasion that the Music Fest repeats a performance.

“I hope that’s a guaranteed feel-good moment for everyone,” Fletcher said of the “Sound of Music” concert.

The Aspen Conducting Academy concerts and smaller events peppering the schedule — student showcases, the “High Notes” interview series, the “Science of Music” lecture series and others — will also also back on for the first time since 2019.

A popular 2021 pandemic-bred program, the free mobile concerts up and down the Roaring Fork Valley, will also be back. Produced in 2021 by a group known as The Concert Truck, the 2022 rendition will be staged on a new Music Fest-built mobile stage. Fletcher expects to collaborate with other valley entities to stage those shows this summer.

The livestreaming of Music Fest concerts, which proved popular in both 2020 and 2021, will also continue this summer for 10 or more Aspen performances. Details on mobile concerts and livestreams are not yet available.

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