Orchestra offers portrait of Strauss | AspenTimes.com

Orchestra offers portrait of Strauss

Susannah Luthi
Special to The Aspen Times
David Zinman, music director for the Aspen Music Festival and School, explores composer Richard Strauss' repertoire on Sunday at the Benedict Music Tent. (AMFS photo/Alex Irvin).

There’s a hero of great musical derring-do; there’s his dear companion; and then there are his critics who pierce him ruthlessly with their venomous pens.

These are the characters who tell the story in Sunday’s Aspen Festival Orchestra performance of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. The hero, according to Strauss, is Strauss himself ” in another rich piece that represents the Aspen Music Festival and School’s 2005 theme of “Self-Portraits.” Like Intermezzo (performed July 22), Ein Heldenleben is classic Strauss self-aggrandizement.

“He has written a great deal of music that is definitely and clearly and obviously, you can’t miss it, a self-portrait,” said festival Music Director David Zinman, who Sunday conducts his final concert of the 2005 season. “That’s why I chose Strauss as a central focus for the ‘Self-Portraits’ theme, because it’s the most obvious of all the composers.”

Here, Strauss sets himself up as the hero, whose exploits are told through excerpts of the themes from some of his prior well-received works ” such as Also Sprach Zarathustra and Don Juan. He also depicts his wife as his companion, portraying her in the soaring exquisiteness of a solo violin.

There’s a love scene and then a fight scene stirred up by his critics who, pounding the snare drum and blaring the trumpets, call him to the battlefield. As the hero, Strauss wins the day as the theme of his Don Juan plays, and after the clash, he proves his victory complete by creating a musical masterwork that blends the themes of all his symphonic poems into one piece.

Symphonic poems, which tell stories in one movement of music, are a genre whose development is credited to Franz Liszt. Strauss called them “tone poems” and wrote many, including Symphonia domestica and Also Sprach Zarathustra, a response to Nietzche’s book of the same name, to be performed at the Aspen Concert Orchestra concert on Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 6 p.m.

On Sunday, Zinman will also conduct Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24, featuring pianist Robert Levin, a renowned Mozart scholar whose completions of Mozart fragments have been published by Bärenreiter and Peters, and who has taught at Harvard University while pursuing an international recording and performance career.

The concert begins with former American Academy of Conducting at Aspen student Mario Sergio Miragliotta conducting Arthur Honegger’s Pastoral d’ete, an early 20th century work by one of the first major composers for film.

Sunday’s performance starts at 4 p.m. at the Benedict Music Tent. Tickets are $65, but a seat outside on the lawn is free. A listener can also catch the final rehearsal for the concert on Sunday at 9:30 p.m. in the tent. Tickets are $15.

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