Longtime summer music offering moves away from Paradise
The Aspen Times
For the last 15 summers, Louis Levitt has organized evening concerts with professional musicians and past and present Aspen Music Festival and School students in front of Paradise Bakery, drawing many hundreds of listeners to the corner of Cooper Avenue and Galena Street.
His organization, which after its first few years came to be known as the Sybarite Chamber Players, a nonprofit, was able to fund the concert series through donations, especially from the Richard Volk family, longtime owners of the Volk Plaza building, which houses the bakery. The family paid him for a certain number of concerts per summer, and the events became more and more popular through the years. Last year, he put on 36 performances; the summer before, he held 41.
But in December, the building at 500 E. Cooper Ave. sold to Galena Cooper LLC — a company controlled by local property owner-developer Andrew Hecht and others — for $17.25 million. Levitt said he tried to offer the same arrangement for “discount-rate concerts” to the property manager for the new owners, but for whatever reason, there was little or no interest.
And so Levitt has moved the concerts to another downtown location with the help of commercial real estate brokerage Setterfield & Bright; his new landlord, Frank Woods, the owner of the Aspen Grove building at 525 E. Cooper Ave.; and a few generous but anonymous donations. The concerts will take place in the courtyard of the building, below the outdoor patio of BB’s Kitchen, from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The first performance was held Tuesday evening.
“I offered the new owners the same discounted rate that the Volk family had received for so many years just because I want to continue the music and the tradition and start a new relationship with the new owners,” Levitt said. “It’s a situation where everybody benefits. I’m sad and disappointed that they don’t want to continue, but I’m also very excited that we are attempting a new series of concerts almost across the street at Aspen Grove.”
The property manager for Galena Cooper LLC, Lex Tarumianz, president of Paradise Property Advisors, was not available for comment Tuesday or Wednesday. Also, a message for Hecht at his office was not returned Wednesday.
“I believe that they just wanted to go in a completely different direction, and that’s their prerogative — it’s their building,” Levitt said. “They can choose whatever music they’d like to have or no music. I don’t see why they would want to end such a good thing. I thought we had an agreement, and we had a meeting in June to tweak the language, but then they decided (otherwise).”
He said the cost might have been a consideration for the new owners, but he had to obtain a rate that would allow him to pay the professional musicians he lines up for the concerts. The quality of the music is important to Levitt; he wasn’t just picking up local freelance musicians who agreed to play for tips.
“One of my duties as president of Sybarite Chamber Players is to see that the same level of artistry is maintained,” he said. “I feel like it was always owed to the community, the fans, the tenants on that corner and the Volk family. They were always such generous people and nurturing.”
The money Levitt’s nonprofit takes in isn’t used just to pay musicians for summer concerts. It also goes toward training and development for the artists and other costs, he said.
Out of the concert series, the Sybarite 5 was born. The group, which includes Levitt on the bass violin, started out as a “fun project” and became serious in 2008, and since has turned into a popular attraction, playing Carnegie Hall twice this year. There’s a chance the Sybarite 5 will perform at the Aspen Grove courtyard in August.
Those who would like to help the Sybarite Chamber Players with the financial challenges of starting out in a new location may email Levitt at email@example.com.
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