Conductor’s academy reflects Music School’s mission |

Conductor’s academy reflects Music School’s mission

It’s easy to lose sight of the educational legacy of Robert Harth, the much revered former president of the Aspen Music Festival and School.

Harth left the community in awe of his fund-raising prowess, which netted more than $47 million in two capital endowment campaigns and resulted in replacement of the old Music Tent and the construction of Harris Hall. But his legacy isn’t simply about buildings and concerts. Somehow, amidst all the fund raising and schmoozing with big-name musicians, the former president managed to keep education at the center of everything.

“The school and our students here drive the festival,” he said in a 1999 interview. “They are a key component in every decision we make. When there are different issues in front of us, we always ask, `Well, what about the kids?’ “

Perhaps his biggest coup on behalf of “the kids” was hiring David Zinman away from his position as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Zinman, who still holds title as music director here, immediately raised the profile of the program.

And it was Zinman who in 2000 insisted that Harth find the money for what is now known as the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen.

Now in its fourth year, the academy has become an important educational opportunity for aspiring conductors. More than 300 people applied for just 19 openings this year.

The Academy boasts its own 70-piece orchestra, two orchestra managers, a librarian, the teachings of Zinman and 25-year faculty member Murry Sidlin, both top maestros, and the opportunity to work with the Music Festival’s internationally renowned guest conductors.

As Maestro Zinman, the visionary behind the Academy, and his students explain in this week’s cover story, conducting was a missing element of classical music instruction in the United States.

The payoff is clear. Two graduates from the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen have taken positions at the well-respected Cleveland Orchestra. Others are conducting in Pittsburgh and Minnesota. And one received a fellowship at the London Symphony Orchestra.

Their reputations will in turn add to the growing reputation of the Academy and the Music School. Those graduates and future graduates will likely help determine the long-term health of classical music instruction and performance in the United States.

Current President Don Roth has identified education as an important goal. Patrons and donors should offer him their support. For if the Aspen Music Festival and School is to thrive in the coming years, it is the “kids” – whether they’re 14 or 23 or 30 – who must remain center stage.

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