Music tent has its big top |

Music tent has its big top

Stewart Oksenhorn

The floor, such as it is, is mud, thanks to the snow that still falls through the cracks. There are no seats yet. The horde of carpenters, earthmovers, electricians and welders makes it look very much like the construction site it still is. And on the riser where the choir will soon sing the greatest music works written, there are platters of ribs, wings, egg rolls and a deep fryer cooking up french fries.

For all the unfinished business, the Aspen Music Festival and School’s new tent, the Benedict Music Tent, can now be considered “topped off.” Yesterday, construction crews installed the last major piece of canvas that makes up the roof of the Music Festival’s new permanent facility in the West End.

“Traditionally, the topping-off ceremony is when the last piece is in place, when you’re enclosed, when you’re safe from the weather,” said Aspen Music Festival President Robert Harth, standing in the mud that makes up the floor of the tent, watching the snow fall down on him. (The last seals that will waterproof the roof have yet to be made.) “It’s to thank all the workers.”

Even in its unfinished state,the Benedict Music Tent is an impressive sight. While the footprint of the new tent is just barely bigger than that of the old Bayer-Benedict Music Tent, the new tent, designed by the local firm Harry Teague Architects, feels more spacious and open. The new canvas will allow in more light than the old tent. And everyone associated with the building of the new tent, especially Harth and Teague, are confident that the main reason for the new tent – improved acoustics for musicians and listeners – will be realized.

“Can’t you hear the resonance already?” said Harth, listening to the sounds of saws, hammers and construction workers conversing and filling their lunch plates. “It is a tent. It feels like a tent. It’s not like the old tent, but we wanted to keep the feel of the old tent in a lot of ways.”

One major improvement that might go unnoticed by most of the listening public, but should be much appreciated by musicians, conductors and festival staff, is the expanded backstage. Now comprising two floors, the backstage has an orchestra library, offices, changing rooms, a harp-tuning room, an audio recording studio and, perhaps most important, six times as much bathroom space. For the first time ever, there are showers. And there is an underground tunnel from the tent to nearby Harris Concert Hall, making the loading, unloading and moving of instruments significantly easier.

According to Harth, the Benedict Music Tent is on target for its completion date of May 31, which would allow it to hold the Aspen High School graduation ceremony, set for June 3.

The Music Tent is scheduled to open with a pair of free performances of Mahler’s Second Symphony – the “Resurrection” Symphony, naturally. The first performance, scheduled for June 23, is intended for donors to the capital campaign for the new tent; the second performance, set for the following day, will be open to the public.

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