Summer music a collaborative affair
ASPEN Behind the scenes, the alliance between the Aspen Music Festival and Jazz Aspen Snowmass is about collaboration. Any distance or differences between the organizations has been put in the past, as the two – both of which open their seasons Thursday – embark on a summer of partnership. The Music Festival and Jazz Aspen will co-present a series of concerts, including landmark events featuring Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer.On the stage, collaboration will be manifested in connections. Connections between jazz and classical and pop, between Africa and Europe and the Americas, between structure and improvisation. “It’s breaking down boundaries and barriers and the boxes people belong in,” said Jim Horowitz, executive producer of Jazz Aspen. “It’s about interactions across genres and peoples and cultures.”The experience of mixing begins Thursday. Jazz Aspen launches its 17th season with the June Festival (through Sunday, in Rio Grande Park). Headlining tonight’s concert is a familiar face – pianist Herbie Hancock, Jazz Aspen’s distinguished artist-in-residence who has appeared four times on Jazz Aspen stages. This time through, Hancock, known for his stylistic leaps through the decades, stirs up the pot even more. The concert, billed as Herbie Hancock & Friends, has Hancock’s jazz quartet welcoming such guests as bluesman Keb’ Mo’, Brazilian-born percussionist Cyro Baptista and singer-guitarist Raul Midón.
Also appearing in the June Festival are British rocker Steve Winwood, whose recent music explores the rhythms of South America; New York-based singer Angélique Kidjo, whose latest CD, “Djin Djin,” interprets the sounds of her native Benin with help from musicians from Jamaica, Britain, the U.S. and Africa; and NOMO, a young American ensemble that specializes in the Nigerian Afrobeat style. Jazz Aspen’s late-night series, JAS After Dark, at Belly Up, features Les Nubians, a sister act from France’s Afropean community; and Australian Xavier Rudd.On Tuesday, June 26, the Aspen Music Festival and Jazz Aspen begin their summer of cooperation as they co-present the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the Benedict Music Tent. The orchestra, conducted by jazz icon Wynton Marsalis, will be joined by Odadaa! a percussion ensemble from Ghana. The program is highlighted by “Congo Square,” an hour-long piece co-composed by Marsalis and Odadaa! director Yacub Addy that explores the musical relationship between New Orleans and West Africa, and juxtaposes jazz-style improvisation with the formality of classical music.”I think you get a real sense of what incredibly refined musicians the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra players are. Then they break out, to play with the Ghanaian hand drummers,” said Aspen Music Festival president Alan Fletcher, who has heard a recording of “Congo Square.” (The piece, premiered last year, has not been released.) “The sense of simultaneity is incredible. First you hear a classical piece, and it’s all about being one, about unity and integration. With jazz, you never know what’s going to happen. “Wynton Marsalis has put these two together so they don’t compete with each other, they contribute to each other.”The Music Festival’s season benefit, on July 14, spotlights the organization’s season theme of “Blue Notes,” which examines the ties between classical and jazz. The event features the music of George Gershwin.
“Gershwin aspired to and succeeded in being a classical composer, a jazz composer and a Broadway composer,” Fletcher said. “At the New York City premiere of ‘Rhapsody in Blue'” – which is included on the program – “Haifetz and Horowitz came out to see it. It’s a lot of jazz rhythms, a sense of the open form. It just keeps turning a corner into a new space.”Performing selections from the Gershwin songbook at the benefit will be soprano Kathleen Battle. Battle was hesitant to cross lines: “She has arguably the largest repertoire of any classical singer. It was remarkable to her that she would be asked to learn new music,” Fletcher said. But after the vocalist spent a day listening to Gershwin, she gave her assent. In fact, Battle was no stranger to Gershwin. On “Gershwin’s World,” a Grammy-winning album from 1999, she contributed vocals to the composer’s Prelude in C# minor. The leader of that recording? None other than Herbie Hancock.The cultural crossings continue July 19 with a recital, another collaboration between the Aspen Music Festival and Jazz Aspen, by bassists Edgar Meyer and Christian McBride. Both have crossover tendencies on their own: Meyer is a leading figure in both the classical and bluegrass worlds, while McBride, a classically trained musician and music director of Jazz Aspen’s JAS Academy, straddles the realms of straight-ahead jazz and electric funk.Fletcher doesn’t know exactly what pieces the two will perform. “But safe to say they’ll be, in the most happy, friendly way, dueling bassists,” he said. “It will be a call-and-response evening.”
The Aspen Music Festival’s collaborations this summer aren’t limited to one partner. The organization is also teaming with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet to present a dance performance with live accompaniment (July 16), and with the Aspen Art Museum, to present an opening of work by Israeli artist Avner Ben-Gal with a chamber music group playing music related to the art (Aug. 9). The Music Festival will also team with Jazz Aspen to present Aspen Late, a series of concerts that pair classical artists with jazz and pop musicians. The Music Festival will also present a free simulcast of the July 29 performance of the Bizet opera “Carmen” on a screen in Wagner Park. Aspen Film previews the event by presenting “U-Carmen,” a South African adaptation that cleverly blends film and opera, in the SummerFilms series – a co-presentation with the Music Festival – July 15-16.The Aspen Music Festival’s season, which features daily events through Aug. 19, also includes plenty of straight-up classical performances, of opera, chamber music, and symphonic concerts. The Music Festival season opens tonight with the Emerson String Quartet playing a strictly classical program of Beethoven and Bartók.Eugene Drucker, violinist for the quartet, saves his crossing over for when he’s offstage. His debut novel, “The Savior,” about a German violinist the Nazi regime forces to perform for Jewish prisoners, is set for release early next month.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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