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Music fest goes au naturel

Stewart Oksenhorn

The words – Earth Air Fire Water – don’t suggest music.Together, they sound more like a seminar offered by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. But the Aspen Music Festival is focusing on the four natural elements in its 55th season, which opens today and presents works throughout its nine-week season tied to the Earth Air Fire Water theme.”While the theme doesn’t automatically suggest musical works, or a creative work, surprisingly the elements have been the genesis of quite a few works,” said Asadour Santourian, the Music Festival’s artistic adviser. “In Greek or Roman mythology the elements were connected to deities, and composers responded to the elements and made works.”Listeners won’t have to wait long to jump right into the heat of the theme. The Aspen Chamber Symphony, in the opening symphonic concert of the season on Friday, performs Haydn’s “Fire” Symphony. The concert also features the Aspen debut of British conductor Sir Neville Marriner.Haydn’s “Fire” Symphony was written as incidental music for a play, “The Conflagration.” And while audiences should anticipate the suggestion of fire in the work, it won’t be a very graphic description.”As usual with Haydn – in the ‘Surprise’ Symphony, the ‘Clock’ Symphony, the ‘Bear’ Symphony – there’s an instrumental assignment in the work that suggests something,” said Santourian. “But it’s not the expert cinematic hand of John Williams.”For the expert cinematic hand of John Williams, there is Williams himself. The famed film-score composer will conduct an Aspen Festival Orchestra concert on July 18 that features excerpts from Holst’s “The Planets,” inspired by the composer’s interest in astrology.The more celebrated works on the season’s schedule are tied to ideas of the earth. On June 30, the Aspen Concert Orchestra, conducted by Michael Stern, will play Stravinsky’s jolting, rhythmic “The Rite of Spring,” a work which Santourian says is connected to the earth. “The subheadings of the movements have very earthy definitions,” he said. “Earth definitely has something to do with that piece.”On July 25, the Aspen Festival Orchestra, conducted by festival music director David Zinman, performs Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” (“Song of the Earth”), a gorgeous song cycle that is set on translated eighth-century Chinese poems.”It’s about world weariness, the woes and troubles of the world,” said Santourian. “It appealed to the 19th-century composer, the romantic. It’s wrapped with the weight of the world and described in the natural terms of the earth – nature and feelings, nature and emotions.”Other works connected to the theme include the overture to Beethoven’s “The Creatures of Prometheus” (the July 3 Sinfonia concert, conducted by Joseph Silverstein); Takemitsu’s “And then I knew ’twas wind” (July 10 Chamber Music concert); and Takemitsu’s “Air” for solo flute (July 17 Chamber Music concert).Also, Sofia Gubaidulina’s “Sounds of the Forest” (July 24, Chamber Music concert); Rebel’s “The elements, new symphony” (July 30, Aspen Chamber Symphony); and Debussy’s “Rondes de printemps” (Aug. 15, Aspen Festival Orchestra).Choosing Earth Air Fire Water may not have been an obvious thematic choice for the Music Festival. But Santourian says, given the emphasis on nature that comes with life in the mountains, it works.”Just look at the weather yesterday,” he said. “It brought us in contact with hot and dry, cool and wet, windy.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com– see Music fest on page A6– continued from page A1


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