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Get to know AMFS faculty and students! Alan Fletcher hosts new “Side-by-Side” weekly talk show on Grassroots TV. Sundays at 6:30 pm Mondays at noon Tuesdays at 6:30 am Saturdays at 8:30 am

FESTIVAL FOCUS Monday, July 22, 2013

Vol 24, No 6

Sylvia McNair Sings Broadway, Show Tunes to study opera, spent the summer of 1979 as a student at the Aspen MuGrammy Award-winning singer Syl- sic Festival and School (AMFS), and in via McNair has spent the last three 1982, she won the National Metropolidecades performing with nearly every tan Opera auditions. major opera company and symphony “I’ve been running around the world orchestra in the world. But until she ever since,” she says with a laugh. was 20 years old, her plan was to be a McNair will return to the Festival professional violinist. to perform a special event at 8 pm “When I was younger, my main focus Monday, August 5, in Harris Concert in musical training Hall. The evening was violin and piais a celebration of no,” she says. “One the contributors to of my dreams as the Great American a kid was to grow Songbook, such as up and play in the Gershwin, RodgCleveland Orchesers, Bernstein, and tra. Once I was old Sondheim. enough to realAfter almost twenize there was life ty years performoutside of Ohio, I ing opera, McNair added the Chicago started to question Symphony to my whether she wanted list of goals.” to spend the rest While studying of her career beSylvia McNair violin at Wheaton Singer and AMFS alumna ing away from her College, McNair’s family for six to ten teacher recommended she take sing- months of the year. She loved traveling lessons to learn how to breathe ing all around Europe but found it to with a piece of music. be a hard and stressful life. “I realized after about a year that I “I saw that twenty-year flag coming was enjoying the connection to words, up, and I thought, this is twenty more which you don’t have as a violinist,” she years than I ever dreamed I would get, says. “I love words. I love a great lyric. but there’s a lot of other music I really Even as a young singer, I loved the com- love and want to make time to do,” she munication that was available to me.” says. McNair changed majors, went to graduate school at Indiana University See MCNAIR, Festival Focus page 3 GRACE LYDEN

Festival Focus writer

I learned how to do opera, but when I’m singing the Great American Songbook and musical theater, I feel like I’m just doing me.


Singer Sylvia McNair (above) will perform the music of Gershwin, Rodgers, Bernstein, and Sondheim in her concert at the Aspen Music Festival and School on Monday, August 5.

‘Peter Grimes’ Offers ‘Staggering Drama’ LAURA E. SMITH Festival Focus writer

Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) spent much of his life in the small fishing town of Aldeburgh, located northeast of London. The town’s character and charm, as well as the shadow side of small-town life, are central to his masterwork Peter Grimes, called by New Yorker critic Alex Ross “an opera of staggering dramatic force that is soaked in Aldeburgh to its bones.” The Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) will present a semi-staged production of Peter Grimes at 8 pm this Saturday, July 27, in the Benedict Music Tent. The performance will feature a heavyweight cast of professional singers, including Anthony Dean Griffey as Peter Grimes, reprising this lead role he sang at the Metropolitan Opera to great acclaim in 2008, and another Met favorite, Susanna Phillips, who comes to Aspen in between performances as the Countess in the Marriage

of Figaro in Santa Fe. Also in the cast are the bright young talents from the Aspen Opera Theater Center (AOTC). The production is directed by the director of the AOTC, Edward Berkeley. Many consider Grimes to be Britten’s finest work, including the AMFS’s Music Director Robert Spano, who will conduct the performance. He unabashedly calls it “the pinnacle of [Britten’s] creative genius.” The New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini, in a review of the Met’s 2008 production, even more boldly proclaimed it one of “the true operatic masterpieces of the twentieth century.” Audiences agree. When the opera premiered in June of 1945, it was immediately hailed as both a critical and popular success. Ticket sales exceeded those of See GRIMES, Festival Focus page 3


AMFS Music Director Robert Spano (above) will conduct Britten’s Peter Grimes at 8 pm this Saturday in the Benedict Music Tent.

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Page 2 | Monday, July 22, 2013

FESTIVAL FOCUS: Your Weekly Classical Music Guide

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Nancy Allen Inspires Harp Students With Teaching GRACE LYDEN

Festival Focus writer

Nancy Allen always thought of herself as a musician. She was only 6 years old when she started playing harp, but she had already been playing the piano, so “it seemed smaller,” she says. Allen’s mother was a pianist and public school music teacher who loved the harp and signed all three of her daughters up for harp lessons. But Allen’s own drive was what inspired her to pursue the instrument professionally. “I remember my mother drove me past the old Juilliard School, and I must have been 12, and when I saw it, it looked so exciting that I said, ‘That’s where I’m going,’” Allen says. Allen did attend the Juilliard School, and she is now the head of its harp department. She is also principal harpist of the New York Philharmonic and on artist-faculty at the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS). Allen’s sisters are professional harpists as well, one for the Eugene Symphony in Oregon and the other for American Ballet Theatre in New York. Allen was accepted as an AMFS harp fellow at the age of 20, and she spent three summers playing in the Aspen Chamber Symphony. After her time as a student, she was hired for the artist-faculty, despite her young age and the fact that it was her first teaching job. “I was so enamored with the Festival, and I never left,” she says. “I used to cry when I came over the mountains. I just loved it: the air and the flowers and all of

the music.” This year marks Allen’s thirty-eighth summer on the artist-faculty in Aspen. During her time as a student, Allen was constantly in awe of the famous artist-faculty, both for their musical talent and down-to-earth personalities. Now, sitting in the same place where she sat as a student and still wearing sneakers and jeans at rehearsals, she can hardly believe she is one of them. “It’s a little bit difficult to comprehend,” she says. “I don’t feel like I get older. I feel like I’ve just been there for a long, long time. I still feel like a student in my heart.” AMFS student Grace Browning studied with Allen for her master’s at Juilliard and will enter her third year as principal harpist of the New World Symphony this fall. She says Allen teaches, “from the perspective of a musician, rather than a technician.” “I found that my ears received just as much training as my fingers,” Browning says. “Nancy has taught me how to teach myself, which is an invaluable skill to possess as a professional musician.” Katherine Siochi, also an AMFS student, has been studying with Allen for the past two years at the Juilliard School. “I am unbelievably grateful for her generosity with her time and genuine care for each of her students,” Siochi says. “This nurturing quality has helped me to thrive both as a musician and a person.” Allen feels similarly close to her students.


“I have about 200 kids,” Allen says. “I feel like I have a lot of children because like children, students never leave you. They stay in touch, and it’s really a wonderful relationship.” Allen’s daughter, Claire Solomon, celebrated her first birthday on Aspen Mountain and has been here every summer since. This year, she is a cello student at the Festival and will celebrate her 21st birthday in Aspen. “It’s very special when we get to play together in the orchestra,” Allen says. “It’s something I dreamed of when she was born.”

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FESTIVAL FOCUS: Your Weekly Classical Music Guide

MCNAIR: Concert on Aug. 5 Continued from Festival Focus page 1

McNair decided to stop doing opera and switch her focus to musical theater, cabaret, and pop music. “I’ve got to tell you, I’m having so much fun,” she says. The August 5 concert will include a song that McNair and her pianist put together called “Sylvia’s Dilemma.” The piece is autobiographical and uses both opera arias and musical theater excerpts to tell the story of her departure from classical music. Continuing in this vein, there will be songs devoted to hybrid artists, a term McNair uses for musicians who have had success in multiple genres. McNair considers herself to be a hybrid artist and will celebrate Leonard Bernstein in this

portion with a medley from West Side Story. The program will also include “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, which McNair estimates she has performed a thousand times in the last thirty years. “And yet every time I do it, I can feel that tall cotton; I can feel the lullaby; I can feel the summer air,” she says. “I never ever get bored.” McNair does not regret her years in the classical music world, but she does say that she is now in her “most honest place.” “I learned how to do opera, but when I’m singing the Great American Songbook and musical theater, I feel like I’m just doing me,” she says. “It’s so authentic; it’s so real; it’s so who I am as a singer.”

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Monday, July 22, 2013 | Page 3

Friedmans Give $1M Challenge Gift

AMFS Trustee Ann Friedman (above) and her husband, Tom, have pledged a $1 million challenge to complete the capital portion of the Festival’s Where Dreams Begin campaign. Once the total raised for the capital project reaches $34 million, this gift will kick in to achieve the $35 million goal. Friedman’s parents, Matthew and Carolyn Bucksbaum, gave the $25 million lead gift to the $75 million campaign, the additional $40 million of which will endow student, artistfaculty, and artistic support.

Harris Concert Hall: 9 am through the intermission of the evening concert, daily. Wheeler Opera House: 9 am–5 pm daily.

Lise de la Salle to Play Mozart Concerto GRIMES: GRACE LYDEN

Continued from Festival Focus page 1

Festival Focus writer

Lise de la Salle first performed at the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) three summers ago, and she has been wanting to come back ever since. “I had such an amazing experience the first time,” she says. “Everyone is there for the music, and it’s wonderful to be in such a beautiful and amazing place doing the thing I love most, which is music.” The 24-year-old French pianist will return to the Festival to perform with the Aspen Chamber Symphony at 6 pm this Friday, July 26, in the Benedict Music Tent. Aspen alumnus Tomáš Netopil will conduct the program of Britten’s Young Apollo, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. De la Salle made her concerto début at age 13 and came to international attention at age 16, when her Bach-Liszt album won Gramophone’s “Recording of the Month.” She has had engagements across North America and Europe, and the Washington Post once wrote of her performance, “For much of the concert, the audience had to remember to breathe.” “Her style is so clear, and her musical ideas are so powerful,” Netopil says. Netopil was a student in the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen in 2003 and 2004 and was the Festival’s assistant conductor in 2005. He is now music director of the National Theatre in Prague, and as of the 2013–14 season, he is appointed Generalmusikdirektor of Theater & Philharmonie Essen. The concert will open with Young Apollo, a work for piano, string orchestra, and string quartet that Britten wrote upon his arrival in the United States at the age of 25. De la Salle played the work for the first time in May with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, and she says that although the piece is not often played, it is “a very fun piece to play and to listen to.” “It’s not deep and dramatic, but it’s full of life, and it’s really sunny,” she says. “It’s just lots of energy and lots of humor.” De la Salle likes the pairing of Young Apollo with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 because the first and third movements of the concerto are similarly full of life, humor, and energy, she says. The piece’s drama lies in its minor-key second movement. “What I love in Mozart is that it’s really simple, but simple in a beautiful way,” de la Salle says. “Especially in


the second movement, there are very few notes, but with just a few notes, he can speak and express so much. It’s really powerful.” Mozart is one of Netopil’s favorite composers. “For me, Mozart is the Bible,” he says. “After one or two months practicing piano or violin, you are able to play this music because it’s simple, but then you can spend your whole life searching for the right style or your own style.” De la Salle agrees that there is nothing easy about playing Mozart. In fact, she says the simplicity makes his music “dangerous.” “It can be boring if it’s just the notes,” she says. “You have to feed every note and speak with every note. That’s why I love Mozart so much, because for me, every passage is a key passage.” The pianist hopes to make the audience come alive with her performance of both works. “For me, the most important thing is to move the audience,” she says. “I don’t really know what they’re going to think or feel or if they will see colors, but my main goal is to make them feel life through the music, because music is about life.”

the two operas being mounted concurrently at the same theater, La bohème and Madame Butterfly. Leonard Bernstein débuted it at Tanglewood in 1946, and the buzz spread to America. Britten landed on the cover of Time magazine. His fame exploded. The opera’s story, based on a poem published in 1810, lends itself to the heroic proportions of drama common to opera. Britten discovered it while on a trip to California and immediately was drawn to it. He found the story a gripping realization of, as he said, “a subject very close to my heart—the struggle of the individual against the masses. The more vicious the society, the more vicious the individual.” The opera opens with the title character, a gruff fisherman, on trial for the death of an apprentice. While acquitted by the judge, the townspeople remain suspicious of Grimes, crowd the room, and treat him with hostility. “Right away, the dynamic of Peter Grimes against society is set up,” says Asadour Santourian, AMFS vice president for artistic administration and artistic advisor. “Britten was attracted to this theme of the anti-hero.” As the opera unfolds, Grimes’s rough ways and poor social skills leave him alienated from the larger community and cruelly driven to the edge, both literally and figuratively. Britten’s music highlights the struggles with brilliance. AMFS President and CEO Alan Fletcher comments that Britten’s music “has the emotional power and immediacy of folk music.” The New Yorker’s Ross elaborates, writing that the opera “bursts with folk song, operetta and vaudeville tunes, and the vernacular punch of the American musical.” And music scholar Philip Gossett muses that, “There may be no solo as beautiful in all of opera as Peter’s soliloquy [‘Now the Great Bear and Pleiades’].” Ready to experience it yourself? Tickets are on sale, or use your pass for admission to this highlight of the summer.

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