Taking in the Aspen Music Fest? A few tips | AspenTimes.com

Taking in the Aspen Music Fest? A few tips

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ASPEN – Planning to attend some Aspen Music Festival concerts this summer? You might want to brush up on more than your Schubert and Chopin to prepare – you should also break out the Shakespeare.

The Music Festival’s 2011 summer season is being presented under the theme of “Art Inspires Art,” with a focus on music that has been inspired by theater, visual art and literature. Among the spotlight events are Strauss’ “Don Quixote,” based on the Cervantes novel; Debussy’s piano piece “Clair de Lune,” inspired by poems by Verlaine; and Ravel’s orchestral setting of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” Mussorgsky’s piano composition that describes the viewing of visual art. The season also includes a full-scale immersion into Shakespeare, topped by an opera season linked to the playwright – with productions of Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; Verdi’s “Falstaff,” based on a character from “Henry IV”; and Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” an adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” – and a two-week mini-festival (July 30-Aug. 14) when the Aspen Institute and the Hudson Reed Ensemble present complementary programming.

Aspen Music Festival president Alan Fletcher – a composer himself, with degrees from Princeton and Juilliard – answered questions from The Aspen Times regarding the art-filled festival season. Fletcher assured there will be plenty of concerts that require no advance reading.

Aspen Times: Have you ever dabbled in other art forms, aside from music? You’re not a closet ballet dancer, are you?

Alan Fletcher: No dancing. Except I was in the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s “Dancing with the Stars” a few years ago. I waltzed – I can waltz. But I refused to do disco. I was real interested in architecture, studied it a lot. I find that’s real complementary to music.

AT: I tend to think of music being its own universe, its own language, untied to other worlds. Linking music to literature, dance and visual art makes me worry that the music will be diminished in some way.

AF: There are essential aspects of a musical experience that can’t be duplicated in other artistic experiences. You can’t say, “listening to this piece was as good as seeing the picture.” Because they’re different.

But the correspondence between these arts has always been fascinating. Musicians talk about architecture, the color, the texture of a piece. It’s going to be fun to think of it that way. But it only goes so far. If you think of the music only in this way, it won’t be a profound musical experience. You just absolutely need to know the boundaries.

AT: “Pictures at an Exhibition” is meant to convey, as closely as possible, the experience of viewing an art exhibition. That strikes me as interesting, odd and very specific. How does it do that?

AF: First, there’s a theme that represents a museum-goer. And then there are several movements which are drawings of a particular Russian artist, Viktor Hartmann. And the music is absolutely aimed at each drawing. You look at the picture, then listen to the music, and there’s a very close emotional correspondence.

And psychologically, I think it represents Mussorgsky’s travel from childhood to adulthood through these pictures. One picture represents the beauty of childhood, then childhood fantasy, then an adolescent’s struggles with adulthood.

AT: Should Aspen Music Festival audiences be reading up on Shakespeare and Cervantes?

AF: Yes. I think Shakespeare would be a great thing. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” because we have the incidental music [by Mendelssohn] and the opera. “Romeo and Juliet.” “Henry IV,” for “Falstaff.” “Hamlet.” I think people will be real happy if they read that. And we’re doing a seminar throughout the summer with the Aspen Institute, looking at Shakespeare’s use of musical imagery, and musicians’ use of Shakespeare.

They may also want to read Goethe’s “Faust,” and Cervantes.

AT: How much has this summer’s theme been inspired by Aspen – the fact that Aspen has a writers’ foundation, a resident dance company, theater companies and an art museum?

AF: The comprehensive artistic environment in Aspen is so rich. When we look at our core group of music lovers, we see people involved in ballet, theater, contemporary art and all forms of literature.

AT: Inside the theme, give me your three top picks for the summer season.

AF: Shostakovich’s “Hamlet” (Aspen Concert Orchestra, Aug. 3). This is unique because virtually no one knows the music. The film is unknown to us – but it’s celebrated in Russia; the film is in Russian. It’s Shostakovich at the height of his powers. And we’re doing it with actors who will set up the music for you. It’s a unique project.

“West Side Story” (Aspen Opera Theater Center, Aug. 18 and 20, with a benefit performance on Aug. 16), because we’ve never given it in Aspen before. The [Bernstein Family] Foundation has told us that Bernstein’s children are going to come; they loved our proposal. And it’s a piece of musical theater that is at its best when you have young people doing it.

And the ballet, “Romeo and Juliet” (Aug. 8, with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet). You really get a sense of the mingling of art forms. And Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet” is some of the best Prokofiev, and one of the best Shakespeare settings. It’s music that rises to the level of Shakespeare.

AT: Finally, let’s forget paintings and poetry and plays. This is a music festival, after all. Give me your three highlight concerts that are just about music.

AF: Leonard Slatkin’s all-Shostakovich program (Aspen Chamber Symphony, Aug. 19). This was Slatkin’s idea. But to borrow an old Woody Allen joke: I agreed immediately.

Robert Spano’s Mahler No. 5, with Bobby McDuffie playing Barber’s Violin Concerto (Aspen Festival Orchestra, July 31). That’s a great program.

And Anonymous 4 (July 7). We’ve never presented them and I’ve admired them for years. They’re not like something else we’ll do this summer.


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