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FESTIVAL FOCUS Supplement to The Aspen Times

Monday, August 6, 2012

Vol 23, No. 8

Thibaudet Plays Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5 GRACE LYDEN

Festival Focus writer

French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, one of the most in-demand soloists today, will play Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Aspen Festival Orchestra (AFO) at 4 pm Sunday, August 12, in the Benedict Music Tent. The concert is a part of the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) and will be conducted by Christian Arming, the respected music director of the New Japan Philharmonic. Saint-Saëns’s final piano concerto is popularly nicknamed “The Egyptian,” for the composer wrote it on one of his winter vacations to Egypt. In the second movement, one can hear the influences, including sounds of Nile crickets chirping. The composer premiered the piece himself in 1896 to great success. “This is, of course, his last expression on the genre, so it’s a fuselage of bravura, a crystallization of his ideas,” says Asadour Santourian, vice president for artistic administration and artistic advisor. Santourian notes that Saint-Saëns’s five piano concertos have an uneven history of performance. “There was a period, prior to the last twenty years, when Saint-Saëns concertos were played very regularly, for the sweetness of their tunes, for the bravura of the writing for the soloist,” Santourian says. “They were very, very popular and mainstage. Then they disappeared.” In 2007, though, Thibaudet recorded Saint-Saëns’s concertos No. 2 and No. 5, and Santourian says other pianists have also started to bring back the pieces that are “just beautiful, tuneful works featuring the soloist in a spectacularly brilliant way.” Hailed as "One of the Best Pianists in the World" Thibaudet’s performing career of thirty years and impressive discography of forty recordings can be attrib-

uted to a combination of technical finesse and poetic interpretation that has received copious praise from publications and fellow musicians alike. The New York Times wrote that "every note he fashions is a pearl…the joy, brilliance, and musicality of his performance could not be missed.” The pianist champions the music of his country and will also give an all-Debussy program for the AMFS at 8 pm Tuesday, August 14, in Harris Concert Hall. Wagner and Messiaen The Sunday program will also include two works from Wagner operas: Prelude to Act 1 from Parsifal and Brünnhilde’s Immolation from Götterdämmerung, which is the final scene of the last opera in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Brünnhilde has taken matters into her own hands at this point and rides her horse into the fire, so that she can cleanse the Ring of its curse and allow the Rhinemaidens to claim it from the ashes. “It has a very Armageddon sound to it, but it’s also very tuneful, and at the end of the episode, we return to middle-earth, and we’re back to where we started,” Santourian says. In addition, the AFO will play Messiaen’s Concert à quatre (Concerto for four), featuring AMFS artist-faculty Nadine Asin flute, Elaine Douvas oboe, Darrett Adkins cello, and Steven Beck piano. This piece will be of particular interest to audience members who go to From the Canyons to the Stars on Thursday in Harris Concert Hall (see article below). “The Concert à quatre is at the point in Messiaen's life when he has crystallized his entire knowledge of his very long life: composition knowledge, music knowledge, knowledge of himself,” Santourian says. “The difference between a work that was for 1976 and a work from the 1990s is, of course, a span of over twenty years. We’re getting real essence of Messiaen in this piece.”


Jean-Yves Thibaudet, one of the most sought-after pianists today, will perform Saint-Saëns's Piano Concerto No. 5, "The Egyptian," at 4 pm Sunday, August 12, in the Benedict Music Tent.

From the Canyons to the Stars at AMFS AMFS Music Director Robert Spano will conduct at 8 pm Thursday, August 9, in Harris Concert Hall. French composer Olivier Messiaen came to the Aspen “If you wonder whether classical music can express Music Festival and School (AMFS) in 1964 for the Con- the awe of the western landscape and looking at the ference on Contemporary Music, and he returned to the stars at night, wonder no more. This is that piece,” United States in 1972 on comFletcher says. mission to compose a piece for Though the work was written the nation’s bicentennial. While to evoke images of the nation’s in the American West, he travcanyons, Fletcher says Meseled to see its breathtaking cansiaen might as well have been yons and study the birds of the writing about the mountains region. of Aspen, for the music evokes “He was such a devoted birdthis region, as well. Spano says er,” AMFS President and CEO this is part of why it was proAlan Fletcher says. “He was one grammed for the AMFS 2012 of the world’s great experts on “Made in America” season. birdsong, so it is natural that “So much of the piece comes Alan Fletcher when he would come out here, from birds that are native to AMFS President and CEO he would want to go someplace where we are,” Spano says. and see the kinds of species he “That piece leapt to mind right wouldn’t see so much in the south of France.” away when we were talking about ‘Made in America.’ Messiaen’s experiences inspired him to write the The thought of having that piece happen here, the breathtaking From the Canyons to the Stars, a chamber work with references to birdsong throughout, which See CANYONS Festival Focus page 3 GRACE LYDEN

Festival Focus writer

If you wonder whether classical music can express the awe of the western landscape ... wonder no more. This is that piece.


Robert Spano will conduct a thirty-three member chamber group in Messiaen's From the Canyons to the Stars on August 9.

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FESTIVAL FOCUS: Your Weekly Classical Music Guide

Page 2 | Monday, August 6, 2012

Supplement to The Aspen Times

Local Kids Get Music Lessons Through PALS GRACE LYDEN

Festival Focus writer

Seventeen-year-old Melba Pearson knew she wanted to play the violin when she was six and saw a photo of a violin case in a magazine. She also has always been aware of the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) and says that growing up next door to it contributed to her passion for playing music. “I’ve lived in Aspen my entire life, and so the Music Festival has been a huge part of my life since before I could walk,” Pearson says. “My parents really love going to the concerts, and the Music Festival has been a big part of my family, so playing music has just come naturally to me.” This is Pearson’s fifth summer as a student in the Festival PALS (Passes And Lessons Scholarship) program. PALS provides selected Roaring Fork Valley music students between the ages of eleven and eighteen with free music lessons, taught by AMFS students, and complimentary Festival season passes. The program has had the support of Community Banks of Colorado and Les Dames d’Aspen from the first year. Pearson started the piano around the age of four, but she asked to play the violin two years later and now considers it her primary instrument. Her family lives in Florida several months of the year, and she takes lessons there, as well as in Aspen during the year. Her PALS teacher therefore offers a third perspective on musicmaking. “I actually really, really love getting different people’s opinions because everyone’s different in the way they play or approach a piece, how they approach teaching, and what they tell me to do better,” Pearson says. This is Pearson’s first summer studying with Ritchie Zah, who also conducts the PALS string ensemble. Fourteen-year-old PALS participant Julia Foran says the string ensemble is one of her favorite aspects of the program. “Personally, I think chamber music is the best thing about playing a stringed instrument,” Foran says. “When you play music, you’re in a group, so it’s not just about you. It’s about connecting with other people and visualizing some kind of scene to make the music the way you want it to sound.” Foran is a third-year PALS student, and this year, she is taking viola and voice lessons with AMFS students David Lai and Stephanie Sadownik, respectively. She has played the violin for six years and started the viola last fall. She also grew up with a


The students of the 2012 PALS program receive lessons with AMFS students, complimentary season passes, and the opportunity to play in chamber ensembles. The public is welcome to attend the free PALS vocal master classes at 1 pm Sunday, August 5, in Opera Hall 1, and 4 pm Wednesday, August 15, in Castle Creek 1, both on the Bucksbaum Campus.

love for musical theater. Last summer, Foran made her Theatre Aspen debut playing the title role in Annie. “I really like the audience and the applause, and I like to see the lights,” she says. “It’s a different perspective. It’s really neat, the connection you have with the audience, how you feed off their energy.” Foran already knows she wants to attend the Music Festival one day and then pursue a career in music, either teaching or performing. She has not yet decided between viola or voice and says she is equally serious about both. Pearson has plans to study neuroscience, but she fully intends to keep playing and performing in college. “I just like sharing music, because I really love music, and I like giving that to other people,” Pearson says. “I feel like I’ve been given a gift and it makes me happy when I can share that gift with other people.”

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Supplement to The Aspen Times

FESTIVAL FOCUS: Your Weekly Classical Music Guide

Jane Monheit Sings American Songbook GRACE LYDEN

Festival Focus writer

Jane Monheit, the jazz vocalist whose albums have frequently topped the Billboard Jazz chart, says there was never a time when she did not want to be a professional singer. “It’s not like there’s something that made me go, ‘oh, I love music,’” she says. “It’s just who I am. It’s that simple.” Monheit will perform with her trio at 8:30 pm Wednesday, August 8, in Harris Concert Hall, for her debut recital with the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS). Monheit says she does not determine a set list of songs until the half hour before the show, but almost all of her repertoire comes from the Great American Songbook, and the August 8 program will be no different. “The Great American Songbook is a national treasure,” Monheit says. “There’s no way pop music would even exist as an art form if it weren’t for the Great American Songbook. It was the first pop music. It wasn’t considered jazz until decades later.” The Great American Songbook is a term for the body of songs written between the 1920s and 1960s that are now considered the best of the twentieth century. These standards are typically drawn from Broadway and Hollywood productions. Asadour Santourian, AMFS vice president for artistic administration and artistic advisor, says the music is a perfect fit for the AMFS 2012 season theme, “Made in America.” “The Great American Songbook is literature that is native to us, that we invented, whether it makes you think of Sinatra, whether it makes you think of Ellington,” Santourian says. Monheit reveres the composers who wrote what is now standard repertoire in her field. “George Gershwin is certainly as famous as Frank Sinatra. Cole Porter is certainly as famous as Ella Fitzgerald,” Monheit says. Sometimes young people think Monheit has written the songs she performs, but “these songs were all written by brilliant songwriting teams.”

Monday, August 6, 2012 | Page 3

Season Benefit: Nathan Gunn Tonight!


Though none of Monheit’s family members are professional musicians, she grew up in a house where everyone played an instrument. “Jazz was always there, and I loved it when I was tiny,” Monheit says. Santourian notes that Monheit is classically trained and has the voice to prove it. “It’s a beautiful instrument,” he says. “It is a smoldering, very healthy voice that is equally at home in the Great American Songbook, in jazz, in contemporaneous sounds, but she has carved a direction for herself being a great songstress.” Monheit says she has been on tour nonstop for the last thirteen years and loves when her schedule includes Aspen. She has come before for Jazz Aspen Snowmass. “It’s always lovely to come because it’s just so pretty,” Monheit says. “I have a four-year-old son, and we’re New Yorkers, so I know he’ll love seeing the mountains.”

Ray Chen, AMFS Alumnus, Plays Recital with Pianist Khatia Buniatishvili


Opera star Nathan Gunn, accompanied by wife Julie Gunn and AMFS Music Director Robert Spano, will perform a cabaret event for the AMFS 2012 season benefit at Harris Concert Hall. Cocktails are at 5 pm, followed by the performance at 6:15 pm, and dinner on the Music Tent stage at 8 pm. Co-Hosts and Artist Sponsors: Toby Devan Lewis and Gael Neeson

Canyons: Spano Conducts Continued from Festival Focus page 1

thought of hearing it here, got me all excited.” Messiaen collected birdsong with the same ardent dedication that other composers collected folksongs of their native people. The pitches, intervals, and rhythms of various birds’ tunes are integrated into the music, giving it a unique identity. “All of his music is tremendously shot through with love of nature and love of ecstatic Catholic mysticism,” Fletcher says. “It makes that music sound like no one else’s.” One might think that birdsong is best mimicked on a flute, but Messiaen did not limit himself. “He does it on all kinds of instruments: piano, percussion, woodwinds, even strings sometimes. He’ll do it with anything,” Spano says. “It’s the complete picture of what a bird sang, and birds do have incredible complexity, and subtlety, and difference in their song. We tend to reduce it to a trill, but if you actually start listening to birds, they’re doing amazing things.” The piece is written for an ensemble of thirty-three, which includes strings, winds, brass, and percussion, “and in typical Messiaen fashion, the percussion is very much used rather than as a battery of instruments that one strikes but as a battery of instruments that add color to the score,” says Asadour Santourian, AMFS vice president for artistic administration and artistic advisor. The ensemble will feature AMFS artist-faculty member John Zirbel horn, and Juho Pohjonen piano, making his AMFS debut. According to Santourian, Messiaen’s works are performed infrequently. “Some are so difficult or just too complex to bring people together,” Santourian says. “It’s wonderful that one can do it in a festival setting.”

Half-Price Tickets! Violinist Ray Chen, an alumnus of the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS), and pianist Khatia Buniatishvili will perform works by Beethoven, Stravinsky, Franck, and more at 8 pm Saturday, August 11, in Harris Concert Hall. Chen, now twenty-three, first attended the Festival in 2008 and then went on to win the 2009 Queen Elisabeth International Violin Competition as the competition’s youngest participant. His concert tours have taken him all over Europe, Asia, and the United States, and this Saturday’s recital will mark his debut as a performer for the AMFS. “We see these young people come into their own here, and then it’s a pleasure, and an honor, and really a responsibility to present them as guest artists,” AMFS President and CEO Alan Fletcher says.

All-Schumann Recital Jonathan Biss piano 8 pm Tuesday, August 7, in Harris Concert Hall Present this coupon for 50 percent off. One-time use. No cash value.

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