Songs so familiar, they’re “part of our intrinsic DNA”
Music Fest, Theatre Aspen collaborate on concert featuring works of Richard Rodgers
What: “The Sweetest Sounds: The Music of Richard Rodgers”
Where: Benedict Music Tent
When: Monday and Tuesday, 8 p.m.
How much: $95
Tickets and more info: Available at the Aspen Music Festival and School box office (970-925-9042) and aspenmusicfestival.com.
Richard Rodgers is the kind of prolific composer whose body of work is so wide-reaching that it’s almost harder not to know him than it is to recognize one of his tunes.
“The Sound of Music,” “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma!” were all his making with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II; jazzy ditties like “My Funny Valentine” and “Isn’t It Romantic” were the product of his collaboration with Lorenz Hart.
“If you go up to anybody, and you say ‘raindrops on roses,’ they’ll know to say ‘whiskers on kittens’ right after that, because it becomes part of our intrinsic DNA as humans that we were able to recognize that and know and love it,” said Andy Einhorn, conductor for the upcoming two-night run of “The Sweetest Sounds: The Music of Richard Rodgers” at the Benedict Music Tent.
“One of the reasons that we’re so drawn to his music is that it all just feels like it’s coming directly from the heart, or directly from our souls of humanity,” Einhorn said.
This is the second Richard Rodgers go-around for the Aspen Music Fest and Theatre Aspen, who first collaborated in 2019 for a concert version of “South Pacific” at the Music Tent.
That performance two years ago was a sellout performance that filled the 2,000 seats of the venue and ranked high in the season-end audience survey, Aspen Music Fest president and CEO Alan Fletcher said.
The organization is expecting another strong showing this time around, though there will be a smaller crowd because the tent only has about 1,100 seats available under current COVID-19 protocols to allow distanced seating for those who want it, according to Fletcher.
Rodgers’ popularity owes to more than the composer’s melodic talent — though that is a component, Fletcher said.
“Interestingly, he — especially in his partnership with Oscar Hammerstein — really pushed subject matter in musicals, and they explored racism and cultural identity. … A lot of the songs are very sunny, and we’d love them for that, but really, a lot of the shows have a very serious side to them, and I think that also is a dimension to the work,” Fletcher said. “That’s, that’s really important, especially now — and yeah, they’re fun to do.”
The partnership between the two organizations plays well to a performance of Rodgers’ works, Fletcher noted: the Music Fest has the orchestra to bring sweeping instrumentals to the composition; Theatre Aspen’s Broadway connections enabled them to land a stacked cast of musical theater mainstays to bring the lyrics of Hammerstein and Hart to life.
The cast includes Christy Altomare (credits include “Mamma Mia!” and “Anastasia”), Aaron Lazar (“A Little Night Music,” “Les Miserables”), Brandon Victor Dixon (“Hamilton,” “The Color Purple”) and Mandy Gonzalez (another “Hamilton” alum; she also originated the role of Nina Rosario in “In The Heights”). Lonny Price serves as stage director for the production.
Like Einhorn, Altomare senses that there’s something about the works of Richard Rodgers that feel intrinsically familiar to listeners; it’s a connection not unlike that which many listeners feel with the natural surroundings in Aspen, she said.
“This music lends itself very well to the heavenly atmosphere of Aspen. It’s these classics that are kind of in our bones, the same way nature — the nature of Aspen is sort of a part of us, you know?” Altomare said. “Something about being in nature and something about being surrounded by songs that we’ve all grown up with, they almost seem like they are a part of us now.”
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