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Supplement to The Aspen Times

Don’t miss Fred Child and Performance Today! The country’s top classical radio show comes to the AMFS. Event starts at 8 pm. Monday, August 12 Harris Concert Hall (970) 925-9042

FESTIVAL FOCUS Monday, August 12, 2013

Vol 24, No 9

Final Sunday: Met Stars Sing Wagner, Verdi GRACE LYDEN

Festival Focus writer

German composer Richard Wagner (1813–1883) spent twenty-six years writing his monumental four-opera work, Der Ring des Nibelungen. He had a special theater constructed in Bayreuth, Germany, for the first complete production, and to this day, few singers are capable of performing the lead roles, which push the limits of the human voice. Most modern audiences know Wagner’s fifteen-hour musical saga as simply the Ring. The final concert of the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) will celebrate the bicentennial of Wagner, as well as Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901), with excerpts from the Ring cycle and two celebrated Verdi operas, La forza del destino and Don Carlo. The concert starts at 4 pm this Sunday, August 18, in the Benedict Music Tent. AMFS Music Director Robert Spano, who will conduct the concert, says Wagner’s Ring cycle is one of the most important works in both orchestral and vocal repertoire. “The magnificence of Wagner’s music for the human voice is matched only by his kaleidoscopic and virtuosic writing for the orchestra,” Spano says. “Wagner’s contemporary, Giuseppe Verdi, is perhaps the only composer who could keep pace on this program, which promises to be a feast for the ear.” Asadour Santourian, AMFS vice president for artistic administration and artistic advisor, says the concert will present pivotal scenes from works by two of the most influential opera composers. “They helped evolve the nature of opera, Verdi from the Italian line and Wagner from the German line, and at the end of their lives, they had brought opera to a very interesting place, and a very similar place,” he says. “When the twentieth century began, composers picked up the leaf from them.” The Aspen Festival Orchestra will be joined by AMFS alumnus Eric Owens, bass-baritone, and Heidi Melton, soprano, who performed the roles of Alberich and Sieglinde to critical acclaim in the Metropolitan Opera’s most recent revival of the Ring. Owens studied conducting with the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen (AACA) and played oboe in the AACA Orchestra


Aspen alumnus Eric Owens (above) will sing the role of Wotan in excerpts from Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Festival’s final concert this Sunday, August 18.

the summer of 2010. Coincidentally, that same summer he learned the Ring role of Alberich, which catapulted him to his current fame. “The chief glory of this production is Eric Owens’s performance as Alberich,” wrote New Yorker critic Alex Ross after one of Owens’s performances at the Met. Anthony Tommasini, from the New York Times, wrote that Owens “proved an Alberich for the ages.” But when Owens comes to Aspen, he will be singing the role of Wotan—the King of the Gods. And Melton will not be singing Sieglinde, but Brünnhilde­—Wotan’s daughter. Both Alberich and Wotan are bass-baritone roles but Wotan has See FINAL SUNDAY, Festival Focus page 3

Monteverdi Opera to Close Season GRACE LYDEN

Festival Focus writer

Sometimes it’s just more fun to play the villain. In Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi’s (1567– 1643) groundbreaking opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea), Poppea is an emperor’s mistress who uses sex, wit, and charm, as well as a Machiavellian disregard for anyone in her way, to become empress and rule alongside her lover, Nerone. The story, based on that of Roman Emperor Nero and his wife Poppaea, takes place in a twisted world where virtue is punished and immorality reigns victorious. “It’s one of the few operas where the immoral side wins,” says Edward Berkeley, director of the Aspen Opera Theater Center (AOTC). “Everyone in the opera is corrupt on some level. It’s about a very nasty, very political world, with Nero and Poppea as the centerpiece.” Rebecca Nathanson, an AOTC student who will play

the role of Poppea in the AOTC’s production of the opera later this week, says Poppea is “one of the coolest characters in the repertoire.” Despite the fact that Nathanson calls her character a “sociopath” (though she admits this might be a strong word), she says she is drawn to Poppea’s strong will and determination. “What I admire in her character is that she was extremely smart and extremely charming,” Nathanson says. “Maybe the way she achieved her ends in an absolute dimension seems amoral by our moral code, but she did what she had to do so that her voice could be heard.” The AOTC will present two productions of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea this week, on August 15 and 17. Both performances will begin at 7 pm in the Wheeler Opera House, and Jane Glover, director of See POPPEA, Festival Focus page 3


Rebecca Nathanson (above) will play the title role in AOTC’s production of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea.

Final week of Music Festival! Have you been to the Tent yet? (970) 925-9042

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FESTIVAL FOCUS: Your Weekly Classical Music Guide

Supplement to The Aspen Times

Nancy Goeres to Perform Fletcher’s Bassoon Concerto GRACE LYDEN

Festival Focus writer

When Nancy Goeres premiered Alan Fletcher’s Bassoon Concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) in 2011, an article by the Pittsburgh PostGazette bore the headline, “Bassoon concerto premiere requires some heavy lifting.” Goeres went into training for her first performance of this work by the president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS). The bassoon weighs nearly twenty pounds, and because bassoonists stand with their instrument for a concerto, “I decided I needed more upper-body strength,” she says. Goeres, who is the principal bassoon with the PSO and has been on the AMFS artist-faculty since 1991, will perform Fletcher’s lyrical Bassoon Concerto here in Aspen at 6 pm this Friday, August 16. Christian Arming, a much sought-after conductor worldwide, will conduct the concert in the Benedict Music Tent. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9, “Jeunehomme,” are also on the program. The work was commissioned by the PSO and represented a challenge for Fletcher because, as Goeres says, “One of the bassoon’s wonderful qualities is the mellow tone, which tends to blend maybe more than we want it to sometimes.” Most bassoon concertos alternate the playing of the solo bassoon and the orchestra to help the instrument stand out, but Fletcher “was just determined the bassoon would be in front of the orchestra playing solo and

yet the whole orchestra would be playing most of the time,” he says. The solution was for the bassoon part to be extremely high. “The bassoon’s range ends at a high D,” explains Fletcher, “but this work has lots of high E’s.” Fletcher and Goeres, who are longtime friends, discussed this at great length while the work was being written, and while they ultimately agreed on the range, Goeres knew it would require special preparation on her part. She ended up creating her own exercises to get ready to play the high E’s. While the technical difficulties are there, though, Goeres says the long lines, which contribute to the work’s beauty, are what make the concerto especially challenging. The music can be described as lyrical and romantic, with what Fletcher calls “very traditional musical values.” He notes that “it is all about a long melodic line,” and while much modern music is perceived as “splintered and spiky,” he says, “this is definitely not spiky.” The first movement of the concerto features a cadenza between bassoon and harp. The second movement showcases a songlike bassoon melody over a busy orchestral accompaniment. The final movement of the concerto goes through tension and anxiety before a radiant resolution, Fletcher writes in his program notes. Fletcher also writes that his Bassoon Concerto is a “companion” to his Clarinet Concerto (his first work commissioned by the PSO, which was premiered by PSO principal clarinetist Michael Rusinek), “not in the

Above: Alan Fletcher


sense that they should always, or even ever, be played together, but rather because the Bassoon Concerto extends the narrative ideas and musical procedures of the earlier work.” The Clarinet Concerto is about searching for and ultimately finding something or someone, and the Bassoon Concerto is about what happens after the search. In the final portion of his notes, Fletcher reflects on his parents’ seventy-one years of marriage and says that “in the course of this Concerto, the bassoon should lead its companions to a climax of advancing years that is a place of rest, to a harvest of sweet memories in common.”

Final week of Music Festival! Have you been to the Tent yet? (970) 925-9042

Supplement to The Aspen Times

FESTIVAL FOCUS: Your Weekly Classical Music Guide

Monday, August 12, 2013 | Page 3

Twenty Years of Harris Hall: Celebrating Great Performances GRACE LYDEN

Festival Focus writer

Twenty years ago, the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) opened the doors to the Joan and Irving Harris Concert Hall, and patrons and critics descended thirtyfive feet to see the subterranean chamber auditorium comprising cherry, maple, and walnut woods—a poetic structure by Aspen architect Harry Teague. After an evening of incredible performances, people were amazed by more than the hall’s beauty. “The room is an acoustical marvel,” wrote the Los Angeles Times when the hall opened. “The acoustic is lush without being overly boomy or reverberant, clear without being dry or uninvolving.” James Oestreich of the New York Times attended the opening as well and wrote that performers “could hear one another perfectly and could project easily without forcing. Audiences seemed thrilled, too, and with good reason. The various sonorities of the instruments have good detail yet juicy reverberance, wonderful character, naturalness, fullness, and bloom.” Harris Concert Hall was made possible by Joan Harris and her late husband Irving Harris, who gave a $1 million gift toward its construction. It was the first seven-figure gift in the Festival’s history and a bold statement of belief in the Festival’s bright future. This year, the AMFS is honoring Joan Harris and what the gift has meant to the Festival with an evening of music performed by much-loved and longtime Aspen artists such as classical guitarist Sharon Isbin, violinist Robert McDuffie, and conductor Joshua Weilerstein. The special event will start at 7:30 pm this Tuesday, August 13, and is sold out. Over the past twenty years, Aspen audiences have


witnessed hundreds of extraordinary performances in Harris Concert Hall, from Renée Fleming’s performance of Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” at the Opening Gala to cellist Lynn Harrell, son of bass-baritone and a musician founder of the AMFS, Mack Harrell, playing a moving program called “Songs My Father Taught Me.” The world’s finest chamber ensembles and solo musicians have performed impressive feats in the hall, including the Emerson String Quartet’s full cycle of the Shostakovich quartets, the Takács Quartet’s and Jupiter String Quartet’s full cycles of Beethoven’s string quartets, and both Christian Tetzlaff’s and Gil Shaham’s recitals of Bach’s Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. On the occasion of this 20th anniversary, Joan Harris has given a $1 million challenge gift to support the

hall and its programming going forward. The gift will help keep the hall a state-of-the-art facility for learning, rehearsing, and performance in perpetuity and assist in endowing the Winter Concert Series. “We are immensely grateful to Joan for the vision she has shown now not once but twice,” says AMFS President and CEO Alan Fletcher. “The advent of Harris Concert Hall forever changed the nature and potential of the Festival, and its continued success as a facility is vital to our future.” The gift requires a one-to-one match. If anyone has enjoyed music in Harris Concert Hall over the past twenty years and would like to be a part of its continuing service to music and music lovers, please contact the AMFS Vice President for Development Alexander Brose at 970-205-5060 or

Final week of Music Festival! Have you been to the Tent yet? (970) 925-9042

POPPEA: Baroque Ensemble, No Pit FINAL SUNDAY Continued from Festival Focus page 1

opera at the Royal Academy of Music in London and music director of Chicago’s Music of the Baroque, will conduct. When Glover makes her début with the Metropolitan Opera in the 2013–14 season, she will become one of very few women ever to have conducted at the Met. Asadour Santourian, vice president for artistic administration and artistic advisor at the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS), says the opera was selected in part for its connection to the season theme, “Conscience and Beauty.” “This is ‘no conscience and beauty,’” he says with a laugh. “Neither Poppea nor Nero can suffer anybody in their way to rule the world together, and it’s all done so beautifully, with Monteverdi’s music.” L’incoronazione di Poppea premiered in 1643 and was revived in Naples in 1651, but the opera was then lost and neglected until the rediscovery of its score in 1888. Since then, music scholars have deemed the opera to be Monteverdi’s greatest work. The music broke ground in its ability to match what was happening on the stage, and it helped to establish Monteverdi as the leading musical dramatist of his time. “Monteverdi was in at the beginning of the creation of what we now see as opera,” says AMFS President and CEO Alan Fletcher. Santourian says, “He established the idea of an evening dedicated to a single libretto rather than

little secular songs and secular cantatas.” What will make the AOTC’s production particularly special is the presence of period instruments: the lute, theorbo (long-necked lute), violone (predecessor of the double-bass), viola da gamba (an early string instrument similar in size to the cello), and harpsichord. Glover, who is a leading expert in Baroque performance practice and especially Baroque opera, will play one of the two harpsichord parts. The audience will be able to see these instruments because the pit orchestra will be raised to a higher level than usual. This is to replicate the appearance of the theater where Poppea premiered, the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo, which did not have a pit. Nathanson, 25, will soon begin her second year as an LA Opera Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist. She has a wealth of experience with Mozart and French operas, but this is her first foray into Baroque. She says the music requires “a honed rhythmic skill and a particular attention to text.” “Poppea is a challenging role,” Nathanson says. “Vocally, it’s not full of fireworks, and that almost makes it more difficult. It’s so stark that you have to be genuine in your vocal approach. The music requires absolute precision first, and only once you’re precise can you start improvising with the ensemble and with your colleagues.” Nathanson made her international début during the 2012–13 season with the Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman, and this is her first summer at the Festival, where she is a fellowship student.

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higher notes, greater demands on the voice, and a more commanding presence. The switch is one that few singers even consider attempting. “I think that is why Eric is beyond exceptional,” Santourian says. “He’s extraordinarily special that he can make this move.” Brünnhilde, too, is a pinnacle role for the soprano voice type, and Santourian sees it in Melton’s not-too-distant future. “Not all dramatic sopranos become Brünnhildes,” Santourian says. “Not all dramatic bass-baritones become Wotans. That’s why it’s a very special ordination. They’re signaling their futures.”

Join us this winter for more wonderful music! Feb. 13 - Joyce Yang Feb. 20 - Jennifer Koh March 5 - Robert McDuffie More information at

Festival Focus Week 8  
Festival Focus Week 8