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Insider information

Stewart Oksenhorn
Jimmy Katz Elvis Costello, right, and Allen Toussaint perform a tribute to New Orleans at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Festival later this month.
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Perhaps more than in any year past, Aspen’s summer culture calendar is bursting with big names: Yo-Yo Ma and B.B. King, Trey Anastasio and Renée Fleming, Mario Batali and Verdi, Pat Steir and Michael Govan (big names in the visual arts world), Oliver Stone and Woody Allen (represented with their celluloid creations, not in the flesh).And who among them is the King? Elvis, of course. David Zinman, the Aspen Music Festival music director who celebrates his 70th birthday with a busy conducting season, gets lots of mention as a summer highlight. Yo-Yo Ma, playing a world premiere cello concerto; groove trio Medeski, Martin & Wood, at this week’s Chili Pepper & Brew Fest; and B.B. King, Joe Cocker, Blues Traveler and Ricky Skaggs, all big names playing the small Belly Up, are generating buzz. There’s bound to be plenty of talk – good, bad, but probably not indifferent – about local TV host Andrew Kole, who makes his debut as a playwright in Theatre Aspen’s season. But a survey of arts insiders reveals that the name most on their lips is Elvis Costello, who makes his first Aspen appearance at Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ June Festival. Some of the cognoscenti didn’t know exactly what the multifarious musician was up to these days, nor did they care. The unanimous opinion is that Costello is worth seeing, whether he is crooning jazz, belting out punk, or collaborating with Burt Bacharach. (It’s none of the above at the moment. His current show, with his band, the Imposters, and special guest New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint, is a tribute to New Orleans. Costello’s new CD, the Hurricane Katrina-inspired “The River in Reverse,” is due out Tuesday, June 6.)For the most part, opinion-givers were asked to stay within their comfort zones, and stick to their fields of expertise. But those who wanted to stray, and gave some reason to believe that their picks outside their usual realm were worth listening to, were permitted to roam. One rule they did stick to was not promoting their own events.Here’s what should be hot this summer.

Ray Adams, director and conductor of the Aspen Choral SocietyYo-Yo Ma (performing the world premiere of Kevin Puts’ cello concerto, June 25, with the Aspen Festival Orchestra and conductor David Zinman) is certainly not to be missed. He plays here so infrequently, it’s a rare treat. And he’s such an amazing musician, an amazing crossover artist who’s recorded in so many different genres.I’m a Mahler fan, and they’re doing the first symphony, “Titan” (July 9, Aspen Festival Orchestra, with Zinman conducting). It’s his first symphony, and it hints at the glory of the second symphony, hints at the glory of his whole symphonic cycle. It’s like going to the first Beethoven symphony, and hearing the germination of everything that’s to come.For opera fans, “La traviata” (July 13, 15-16, conducted by Julius Rudel). That’s Verdi, and another rare treat here. It’s a chance to see grand opera in a small opera house. And knowing [director] Ed Berkeley, he’s going to do something fantastic with it.

Michael Goldberg, owner of the Belly Up nightclubBeethoven’s Triple Concerto (July 9) has Yefim Bronfman on piano, Gil Shaham on violin and David Zinman conducting. They’re playing it with Mahler’s First Symphony. That’s a great combination of people and music.Lynn Harrell (performing July 23 with the Aspen Festival Orchestra and conductor Hans Graf) hasn’t been here for at least two years. He’s such a gem for Aspen, historically, and a master of the cello. Playing the complete “Firebird” and Shostakovich, how can you miss?Any time Vladimir Feltsman plays, it’s a special occasion. He’s coming twice (June 23, with an all-Shostakovich program, and Aug. 19, in a special event), but I like the lineup better the second date, when he plays Mozart.Every time Elvis Costello (June 24, at Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ June Festival) plays, it’s a new experience, because his music is all over the park. It’s like watching David Byrne – you don’t know what to expect, but it’s always good. His collaborations are always fresh, and this one, with Allen Toussaint, is an interesting one. You’ve got to come with no expectations, except to have a good time.

Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, director and chief curator of the Aspen Art MuseumAnnie Lemieux at the Baldwin Gallery (Flowers and Song, June 30-July 24). She’s an artist whose work I really admire and haven’t seen that much of in person. It’s a great opportunity to see a woman who makes strong conceptual art, which is also beautiful.High Art in the Rockies (Aug. 8-10 at Anderson Ranch Arts Center). Dan Cameron, the symposium leader, is a smart guy and he always puts together unusual groupings of artists for the exhibitions he does. The list of artists he has coming to discuss the topic, Artificial Reality, are some I’m a big fan of: Jim Campbell, Lee Bul, Candice Breitz.Peanut Butter & Jam Session (part of the Aspen Music Festival’s Day of Music, July 18). My kids love music, and the opportunity to sit and watch live musicians make music, so you can feel the music in your bones, can be revelatory. Last year, we sat on the lawn; my kids are now old enough to go to a formal concert.An Evening of Words and Music (July 1, with Sen. John McCain and pianist Orli Shaham). I’m particularly interested in politics. That’s one of my hobbies. I’m looking forward to hearing the words of some of our most important political leaders. I also like the program because it’s a collaboration between the Aspen Institute and the Music Festival, and I like out-of-the-box programming.Brad Miller, interim director of Anderson Ranch Arts CenterAt the David Floria Gallery, there’s a painter from the Northwest, my old stomping grounds, Betsy Eby (Betsy Eby: New Paintings, July 7-30). They’re large encaustic paintings on panel. She’s in that Jackson Pollock abstract school, but they look beautiful.A photographer from Los Angeles, where I’m from now, Doug Aitken, is at the Aspen Art Museum (showing through July 23). I’m familiar with his work; you see it a lot in L.A. I love what people are doing in photography, a lot of wonderful work in big-format prints.Galerie Maximillian has a print right now by Grayson Perry, like a medieval battle scene. I happened to be in London when he had a show at the Tate, and he won the Turner Prize with his pottery. They have a show of Young British Artists, and I assume they’ll have his works on paper, quite elaborate stories in drawing.

Josh Behrman, Mountain Groove Productions and event promoter for Snowmass VillageI’m a big Elvis Costello fan, but I’m especially excited by the tribute to New Orleans, and especially by the collaboration with Allen Toussaint, who’s one of the best songwriters ever.[Former Phish frontman] Trey Anastasio (June Festival, June 25) is a no-brainer. I saw Trey in New Orleans two or three years ago at Jazz Fest, and the Trey Anastasio Band is just a good rock ‘n’ roll band.As far as the Belly Up, Blues Traveler (July 5), that’s pretty insane. And Ricky Skaggs (July 10) – well, he is the legendary Ricky Skaggs.Carbondale Mountain Fair has Crooked Still (July 30), whose singer (Aoife O’Donovan) sounds just like Alison Krauss. And I just love the chill factor at Mountain Fair.

Amy Kimberly, director of Carbondale Mountain Fair, director of development of KDNK and chair of Carbondale Summer Concert seriesThe Wood Brothers and Medeski, Martin & Wood (Friday, June 9, at Snowmass Village’s Chili Pepper & Brew Fest). I love the new Wood Brothers CD (“Ways Not to Lose”). And I haven’t grooved out on good funky jazz like Medeski, Martin & Wood puts out in a while, so I’m ready.I’m a huge fan of Elvis Costello, and it will be fun to see him with his band, the Imposters. I’ve only seen him with just a pianist.Those old rockers – you’re never sure. They can put on a great show, or not such a great show. But the chance to see performers of the caliber of Joe Cocker (Aug. 13) and Dickey Betts (Aug. 27, both at the Belly Up) in a small club is something not to pass up.

Judy Royer, Aspen Filmfest screening committee member since 1979″Miami Vice” (scheduled for release July 28), because Colin Farrell’s in it. I’m a sucker for Colin Farrell. He’s got that bad-boy thing, and women are suckers for that. And it’s Michael Mann, who directed the original series and did such cool things, and Jamie Foxx.”Scoop” (July 28) is the new Woody Allen film. I’m not always crazy about Woody Allen, but this takes place in London, like his last one, “Match Point,” and has Scarlett Johannson, who was in “Match Point”; she must have something going on with him. And Hugh Jackman.”House of Sand” is a Brazilian film, takes place in Brazil, and has got Fernanda Montenegro, who was in “Central Station,” one of my favorites, and her real-life daughter. It’s how three generations of women deal, living in this house together.Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center,” I wouldn’t have even known about. But I noticed they showed a 20-minute clip, as a preview, at Cannes, and they went nuts for it. It’s got Nicolas Cage and Maria Bello. The big comment on it was, it’s not Oliver Stone reinventing history. It’s four firemen who survived the towers and tell their stories. He’s not connecting dots that aren’t there.”Bob Ezra, owner of Carbondale’s Crystal Theatre”Little Miss Sunshine” (opening nationally July 26). My son saw it at Sundance and said it was pretty good. It’s a road movie, a dysfunctional family road movie, and I tend to like road movies.And “Cars” (Disney’s animated feature, opening June 9) looks like a winner. It looks like a classic deal, the cars that have faces.

Jeannie Walla, producer/singer of the Broadway PlayersI’m dying to see “Love, Janis” (Theatre Aspen, opening June 29). It’s the story of Janis Joplin, and has gotten tons of recognition. Janis is an icon of the ’70s, and it’s fun, 30 years later, to revisit someone’s music and character.”Dinner With Friends” (Theater Aspen, opening July 20) won a Pulitzer Prize. And my friend Peggy Mundinger is in it, and I always like to see her onstage.”La traviata” is beautiful, sensational and such a romantic piece.And the Crystal Palace turning 50 – that’s the most exciting thing.

Richard Betts, master sommelier and wine program director at The Little NellThe Food & Wine Classic. I travel a lot, and there’s no single better congress of food and wine enthusiasts and minds and people anywhere. You could do it in New York or San Francisco or Chicago, but it wouldn’t be quite like here. All the programs are worthy, but the spontaneous things that just happen when you have all that energy in one place are the best.And outdoors dining. Every single day, anywhere. That’s something I dearly look forward to.

I’ve managed to scrape together an opinion or nine of my own.On the pop-music scene, I’m pleased to see presenters at both ends of the valley putting New Orleans in the spotlight, and curious to see if the misery of Katrina has added fire to the music. Apart from Elvis Costello at Jazz Aspen, Snowmass’ Free Summer of Music boasts loads of Louisiana acts; the most anticipated are bluesman Tab Benoit (June 29), Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen (Aug. 10), and the subdudes (July 20), whose soulful appearance last year merits another go. And Glenwood Springs’ Summer of Jazz is a series-long celebration of New Orleans. The one I’d risk Highway 82 traffic for is the July 5 double bill of zydeco wild man Terrance Simien, and the Wild Magnolias, whose show approximates a Mardi Gras parade.I can’t wait to see how Trey Anastasio goes over with the June Festival crowd (June 25). Has the former Phish frontman ever played to a less-fanatical audience?If I could go to just one Belly Up show this summer, it would be Dickey Betts (Aug. 27). I missed the estranged Allman Brother last summer at the club, and was informed I should not make the same mistake twice.On the classical side, the Aspen Music Festival co-commissioned the long-discussed opera of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” The Western states premiere (July 29 and 31, Aug. 2) of Ned Rorem’s opera is conducted by Zinman. There’s a touch of Aspen history here: Wilder was among the participants in the 1949 Goethe Bicentennial that gave birth to the Aspen Music Festival and modern Aspen.The Emerson String Quartet plays a program of Shostakovich (July 11) as part of the mini-festival, Forbidden Music: Suppressed Voices. There’s history here, too: The Emerson made their stunning 2000 recording of the Shostakovich quartets in Harris Hall. They recently performed the full cycle at New York’s Lincoln Center. The Emerson performing Shostakovich is a strong argument for why art should never be censored.A few years ago, I would have attended “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” hoping local TV host/political candidate – and now playwright – Andrew Kole flopped. But I’ve warmed to Kole, and anticipate good things from his semi-autobiographical comedy (opening Aug. 17 at Theatre Aspen). Hit or miss, it’s sure to be the talk of the town. I’m also intrigued by Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, a company from India inspired as much by the spirit as the body (Aug. 1, in the Aspen Dance Festival).In the run-up “United 93,” the question was, were we ready for a realistic, big-screen depiction of 9/11? With “The Great New Wonderful” (June 23), the question becomes, are we ready for a comic take on 9/11? The film, with Maggie Gyllenhaal, Edie Falco and Tony Shalhoub, weaves five New York stories in the wake of the attacks. Also on my radar (and hopefully that of some local film programmer) is “Down in the Valley” (in limited release), starring Edward Norton as a delusional, modern-day cowboy in Southern California.Lastly, I’m dying for a taste of new barbecue: Texas Reds in Aspen (now open in the old Montage space), and Smoke, in the Willits neighborhood of Basalt.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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