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Politics and piano come together

Susannah Luthi
Special to The Aspen Times
Pianist Orli Shaham performs in tonight's Evening of Words and Music. (J. Henry Fair)
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When politics and music intertwine, the listener is in for an earful.

That should be the case tonight, when Aspen Music Festival and School alumnus and guest artist Orli Shaham shares the stage with U.S. Sen. John McCain and former presidential adviser David Gergen for an Evening of Words and Music at the Benedict Music Tent.

“I think it’s going to be a wonderful event,” says Shaham.



McCain, Gergen, Shaham and a selection of Music Festival students will collaborate for an event that mingles political ideas dealing with the complicated realm of world affairs, with “grand American music,” as Shaham describes it.

“Music is the language that transcends our verbal languages, especially when we’re dealing with international affairs,” says the pianist. “Music is the language that we can all agree on its meaning.”




This is the fourth summer in which the Aspen Music Festival and School and the Aspen Institute are co-presenting the Words and Music forum, which honors the festival’s international students. In tribute to the event’s mission, a group of students from around the globe will take part.

“I will be playing with students, which is really exciting for me,” said Shaham, who is focusing the musical part of the program around modern American composers such as Copland, Bernstein and Gershwin.

McCain will be talking with Gergen, who is now the director of the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Incorporating music into the discussion gives art a venue for communicating ideas that are vital in today’s global politics.

“We want to make sure that words and music have equal weight,” Shaham explained. “When you have a speaker like John McCain, the music has to be quite powerful to match up with what he is going to say.”


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