“An explosion of musical joy”: after a year of cancellations, Aspen Music Fest brings back the orchestras in triumph
Back in the quarantine doldrums of May 2020, when the Aspen Music Festival and School finally canceled its summer season amid the coronavirus crisis after valiant efforts to organize a shortcut, festival president and CEO Alan Fletcher promised he and his team were already at work on a 2021 season.
At the time, he had predicted with optimism and daring that it would be “nothing less than an explosion of musical joy”.
That momentous phrase resonated in the minds of many music lovers over the long year that followed, amid so many more cancellations and, until last week, no concerts of any kind in Aspen. What, we might have wondered if this “explosion of musical joy” was ringing when it happened, if it ever did happen?
We will know this weekend as the festival opens this long-awaited season with three orchestral concerts under the Benedict Music tent including, of course, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”.
The Aspen Festival Orchestra will return to the Benedict on Saturday, under the direction of Music Director Robert Spano, performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Denver-based Kantorei Choral Ensemble and soloists from the Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS.
After more than a year of plans and tears of plans and meetings after meeting with heads of government, public health officials, ventilation experts and other art presenters and producers, Fletcher turned to finally found Monday at the Benedict for the festival and the music school of Aspen. graduation ceremony alongside the artist-faculty and artistic direction, welcoming the 270 students of the 2021 class.
“It was a really beautiful moment,” said Fletcher. “Very emotional.”
From there, he toured the rehearsals of this weekend’s concerts, finally finding the students alongside the professors in orchestras and classes.
“Everyone is a joy to see,” said Fletcher. “The looks on people’s faces, the work they do. “
Like everything else, this festive post-vaccine comeback from Aspen Music Fest doesn’t look exactly like it once was. The season (which runs until August 22) has been cut short as a public health precaution, hosting 150 events, a faculty of around 100 and a student body of 270. Almost all concerts will take place in the Benedict in outdoors, where COVID-19 vaccines are mandatory for seating in full capacity sections and where remote seating is also available. On the lawn, free reservations are required for Aspen Chamber Symphony and Aspen Festival Orchestra concerts as well as certain special events. The concerts will take place without an intermission and will all last less than 75 minutes.
Planning a program for smaller, more distant orchestras has proven to be perfect for the season celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birth, as they match the composer’s scores even for the most epic symphonies, including the Fifth and the Ninth, both on the program this weekend.
Friday’s Aspen Chamber Symphony concert marks the first orchestral performance since 2019. To mark the occasion, the festival brings back legendary conductor Leonard Slatkin, who began his career here in the mid-1960s and has remained a staple of Aspen until 2014, when he retired. from guest management.
The pandemic appeared to have spurred a return to the Benedict for Slatkin, who last visited in 2019. Once Slatkin was confirmed, Fletcher said, they quickly decided to stage the iconic Fifth Symphony of Beethoven for the opening.
“It’s all about difficulty and challenge and then ends with a burst of triumph,” said Fletcher. “So it’s a good emblem.”
The iconic symphony is associated with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5, performed with Aspen’s favorite Inon Barnatan.
The program will open with “A Short Piece for Orchestra” by Julia Perry, marking the start of the season’s highly anticipated AMELIA initiative highlighting works by various composers who identify as African-American, Middle Eastern. , Latin, indigenous and Asian. The result of three years of evaluating diversity, equity and inclusion at the festival, this canonically expanding initiative includes works in 75% of the season’s concerts.
Also launched this season, and perhaps overshadowed by the return of his beloved orchestra to Aspen, is the new program Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS co-directed by luminaries Renée Fleming and Patrick Summers. The program will host its first public master class on Saturday at the Wheeler Opera House.
The traditional 4th of July concert on Sunday brings back Independence Day staple Lawrence Isaacson, conducting a selection of patriotic music from the Sousa Marches to Duke Ellington and “America the Beautiful” to the “Rodeo” in Copland. The traditional patriotic concert may make more sense this holiday weekend, in the wake of the pandemic, economic crisis and ensuing political divisions, insurgency and the rise of the new movement for lives black.
For an artistic presenter and a leading educational institution like the Music Fest, the holiday concert is an opportunity to reflect and engage with the state of the nation.
“The essence, for me, of patriotism is to question the country, not to take it blindly,” Fletcher said. “’Freedom and justice for all’ is an ambitious declaration – it has never been a reality. We aspire to this, we do not claim that it is reality.