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Festival Focus Supplement to The Aspen Times

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Vol 23, No. 2

AMFS Season to Feature America’s Composers seasons.” AMFS President and CEO Alan The Aspen Music Festival and School Fletcher says, “It’s in our nature as a (AMFS) enters its sixty-fourth season Festival to do what I could call mainwith an exploration and celebration of stream American classical music. That music that has been “Made in Ameri- includes doing new pieces.” ca.” Of the hundreds of works on the sumThe eight-week season will showcase mer’s concert schedule, many feature works from three groups of compos- works in line with the theme, beginers: the current ning with an opening musical luminaries night special event, on the North AmerA Gershwin Celebraican scene; Eurotion, on June 28. Led pean émigré comby Spano, the event posers who created features a big band significant music and three pianists— in America, such Inon Barnatan, Marcas Rachmaninoff, André Hamelin, and Hindemith, and Aspen alumnus and Bartók; and the en2012 Avery Fisher tire school of AmerCareer Grant reican composers, cipient Conrad Tao. Robert Spano such as Copland Each will play one AMFS Music Director and MacDowell, of Gershwin’s everwho learned their popular, jazzy piano craft in Europe and upon returning, concertos. established the first truly American “The big band sound is entirely school of composition. American,” says Asadour Santourian, Robert Spano, in his first season as AMFS vice president of artistic adminAMFS music director, helped shape the istration and artistic advisor. “It was season around the theme. made in America, so there’s no better “This summer’s season, reflect- hallmark to the theme than to start ing the theme ‘Made in America,’ has with those big band sounds of Gershbeen a joy to construct,” Spano says in win.” the AMFS 2012 season press release. The 2012 opera season, produced “Such an idea leads to myriad possi- by the AMFS’s Aspen Opera Theater bilities, and with it we could have continued to create programs for many See SEASON, Festival Focus page 3 courtney E. Thompson Festival Focus writer

This summer’s season, reflecting the theme ‘Made in America,’ has been a joy to construct.


The Aspen Music Festival and School season will open with a concert in the Benedict Music Tent on June 28, featuring the music of George Gershwin.

Pianists Honor Gershwin at Opening Concert Grace Lyden

Festival Focus writer

The Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) will open its 2012 “Made in America” season with a special event at 7:30 pm Thursday, June 28, in the Benedict Music Tent, featuring the Festival’s new music director Robert Spano, three phenomenal pianists, a big band, and a composer whose name is synonymous with America: George Gershwin. “When we think of American music, we think of Gershwin, and we just know it’s not a coincidence that United Airlines chose to have Rhapsody in Blue and Gershwin as its theme song. It’s the quintessential American music,” says Inon Barnatan, an Israeli pianist who is returning to Aspen for his fifth consecutive year. Barnatan will open the concert with Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, which he calls “a real piece,” despite what some critics have viewed as a lack of substance in a work that bridges the worlds of classical music and American jazz. “People sometimes look at Gershwin and think it’s lighter,” he says. “With all the fun and jazziness of it, this concerto is also a very serious piece that influenced

people like Ravel. The way that the materials are presented, and the conversation between the piano and the orchestra, and the scope of the piece—it’s beautiful.” The second of the three pianists on the program is eighteen-year-old Conrad Tao, who made his concerto debut at age eight and is currently attending the Columbia University-Juilliard School joint degree program in New York. Tao attended the AMFS every year from 2004 to 2009 as a student in piano, violin, and composition. Tao will perform Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody, a rarely performed work that Tao had not heard before the AMFS asked him to learn it. He says the piece, which has been called New York Rhapsody, reminds him of his beloved city, but is also evocative of a bygone American era, when people would listen to Tin Pan Alley songs accompanied by the sounds of crackling vinyl. “Gershwin has this extraordinary ability to conjure images beyond what’s on the page,” Tao says. “For me, the Second Rhapsody takes a lot of its inspiration from Gershwin’s language. It fluently speaks this wonderful, intoxicating street-style that would later become the See GERSHWIN Festival Focus page 3

alex irvin / amfs

Music Director Robert Spano will conduct a big band composed of AMFS students on Thursday, June 28, to open the season.

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Page 2 | Monday, June 25, 2012

Festival Focus: Your Weekly Classical Music Guide

Supplement to The Aspen Times

AOTC for 2012: Magic Flute, Sweeney Todd, Great Gatsby Harbison’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel, The Great Gatsby (August 16, 18). A fantastical coming-of-age fable, a spine-chilling “The goal of the season was to find a balance among musical thriller, and a musical setting of the Great the works,” says Berkeley, who also directs and coaches American Novel—these are the tales that will be told opera studies at the Juilliard School. “Magic Flute, being this summer by the young talent at the Aspen Music most recognizable and historic and charming, is also Festival and School’s (AMFS) internationally renowned a mystical work; then we have Sweeney, the darkest, Aspen Opera Theater Center (AOTC). grittiest piece. Gatsby, of course, is Each summer, Aspen hosts one of completely romantic. Each opera is the country’s top training programs very different from the others.” for opera singers. Aspirants from all “Made in America,” the theme of over the world come to study with the the Festival’s 2012 season, inspired program’s faculty and perform in the the choice of the latter two operas, three fully staged productions at the but the iconic Mozart work was historic Wheeler Opera House. The selected with the program’s students operas are one of the most popular in mind. aspects of the Festival’s offerings; “Initially, the thought was to do they usually play to full houses only American works,” Berkeley says. and draw critical attention from the “But the program is for the education Denver Post, the New York Times, and of the singers, and the thinking was the opera world’s go-to publication, to do something very standard that Edward Berkeley Opera News, among others. singers would be able to use for the AOTC Director However, points out longtime AOTC rest of their careers.” director Edward Berkeley, the heart Berkeley visited many cities of the program is the education of the sixty-something throughout the winter to hear singers audition for AOTC, singers who come each summer. Many of these singers and he (with the assistance of musical advisors) cast are at a tender moment in their training, just emerging the principal roles for the operas at that time. Choruses into their professional careers. Ultimately, it is this and the casting of opera scenes are determined by a aspect that drives the AOTC’s choice of productions. second audition when students arrive at the Festival. This summer, the operas include Mozart’s everBerkeley notes the opera scenes are excellent training charming The Magic Flute (July 12, 14, 16), Stephen for the students; they are also a favorite of Aspen Sondheim’s musical thriller, Sweeney Todd, the Demon audiences. Scenes are presented in front of a live Barber of Fleet Street (July 26, 28, 30), and John audience at the Wheeler each Saturday from 10 am to laura E. smith Festival Focus writer

The goal is to help them as performers, to be willing to try things and to find different layers in what they’re working on.

12 pm. Audiences witness Berkeley giving direction and feedback, and students are taught to delve deeper into their roles. “The goal is to help them as performers, in a very live situation, to be willing to try things and to find different layers in what they’re working on,” Berkeley says. Additional reporting by Grace Lyden, Festival Focus writer

alex irvin / amfs

AOTC Director Edward Berkeley directs opera students in the 2011 program. Audiences can watch Berkeley work intensively with singers at Opera Scenes Master Classes every Saturday at 10 am in the Wheeler Opera House (June 30 to August 18).

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Supplement to The Aspen Times

Festival Focus: Your Weekly Classical Music Guide

Season: ‘Made in America’

Volunteer Sunday

Continued from Festival Focus page 1

Center, is also shaped around the “Made in America” theme. The season opens with a classic, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, but that is followed by Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a tribute to musical theater, and John Harbison’s adaptation of the novel that captured America’s Jazz Age: The Great Gatsby. “As soon as we knew we were doing ‘Made in America,’ we knew we would be doing a musical theater piece,” Fletcher says. “Musical theater is a uniquely American art form and shares many of the musical values that we would call classical, such as integration of the music with the story.” Sondheim’s dark and grizzly tale is told mostly through song, and though it is in the American tradition of musical theater, it frequently appears in opera houses in America and Europe. Other concerts throughout the summer that evoke the season theme include the July 1 Aspen Festival Orchestra concert featuring Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral; the July 13 Aspen Chamber Symphony concert featuring Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and Edgar Meyer’s newly written Concerto for Violin and Double Bass, which Meyer will perform with his friend and violin star Joshua Bell; the July 22 Aspen Festival Orchestra concert led by Hugh Wolff with soloist Robert McDuffie playing W. Schuman’s Violin Concerto and Copland’s Symphony No. 3; an excerpt of Michael Gandolfi’s The Garden of Cosmic Speculation with the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra on August 8; and Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars on Thursday, August 9, the French composer’s homage to Utah’s Bryce Canyon. “In the July 22 concert, we will open the program with Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, then present the Schuman concerto, which McDuffie has been championing, and close with Copland’s Third Symphony, the last movement of which actually quotes the Fanfare for the Common Man,” says Santourian. “Then we have Edgar Meyer’s new concerto which is a thoroughly American work. Edgar is very American; he doesn’t follow any school of composition but his own. He is entirely individual and creates a very individual American sound.” For additional themed concerts in the 2012 AMFS season, see the sidebar (right). For a full list of season events, see the calendar on the AMFS website at or see the Tearsheets found around town.

Monday, June 25, 2012 | Page 3

Sunday, July 1, 9:30 am Benedict Music Tent ∙ 960 North 3rd Street

On Sunday, July 1, 2012, the Aspen Music Festival and School invites all Valley non-profit volunteers to attend the Sunday morning dress rehearsal of the Aspen Festival Orchestra. AMFS Music Director Robert Spano, guest pianist Garrick Ohlsson, and the Aspen Festival Orchestra will be rehearsing works by Higdon, Bartok, and Rachmaninoff. Please sign in at the Benedict Music Tent before the concert at 9:15 to receive a complimentary voucher for the performance (a $15 value), as well as cookies and lemonade at intermission. Thank you so much for your community service!

“Made in America” selected programs June 28 - A Gershwin Celebration June 29 - Yehudi Wyner’s Piano Concerto, “Chiavi in Mano” July 1 - Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, BB 123 July 13 - Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, op. 24 July 19 - Prelude to a Kiss: Songs by Arlen, Berlin, Ellington, and more! July 21 - Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint

July 25 - Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety” Aug. 8 - Augusta Read Thomas’s Violin Concerto No. 3, “Juggler in Paris” and Gershwin’s An American in Paris

Mondays at 6 pm, Saturdays at 4:30 pm: Chamber music concerts feature contemporary American composers including: William Bolcom, Andrew Norman, Peter Lieberson, David Liptak, and the AMFS’s own Alan Fletcher.

Gershwin: Special Event Intrepid Pianist Garrick Ohlsson to Perform Rach 3 Continued from Festival Focus page 1

Grace Lyden

Festival Focus writer

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 has been both loved and feared by pianists since the composer first performed his work in 1909. It is known as one of the most technically difficult concertos in the classical repertoire, and the pianist to whom Rachmaninoff dedicated the concerto, Josef Hofmann, never performed it publicly. He said it “wasn’t for him.” But at 4 pm Sunday, July 1, pianist Garrick Ohlsson will return to Aspen for the first time in thirty-five years to tackle the piece as part of the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) in the Benedict Music Tent. AMFS Music Director Robert Spano will direct the Aspen Festival Orchestra behind Ohlsson, in the orchestra’s first concert of the Festival’s 2012 season. “I’m really terrifically happy we can present Mr. Ohlsson after a thirty-five-year hiatus in a towering work that matches his towering abilities,” says Asadour Santourian, AMFS vice president of artistic administration and artistic advisor. Ohlsson acknowledges the concerto is not easy. “It is an ultimate challenge to a pianist because it has everything a virtuoso pianist can do. It’s like a decathlon, athletically,” Ohlsson says. “But the great thing about the piece is not the difficulty, but the emotional range of it.” The piece is full of “beautiful lyric melody” and “tremendous force,” Ohlsson says, and these are the attributes he hopes the audience will take away from the performance. “The technical difficulty, of course, is very important, but that is only the business of the pianist.” Ohlsson has been playing the concerto since the ripe age of fifteen. He performed it

with a community orchestra in New Jersey at sixteen and had his first public performance with the Radio Orchestra of Milan, now defunct, in 1966. Like an actor who has played the same role for many years, his interpretation of the piece has evolved, but never intentionally. “It changes organically,” he says. “I can’t say I make changes on purpose. Changes are the result of me growing up, having a lot of experience with it.” The piece is also transformed by whoever is conducting, Ohlsson says, and the pianist looks forward to playing it with Spano again. The two collaborated earlier this year to record the concerto with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which Spano serves as music director. In Atlanta, Spano has also been a champion of new music, featuring the works of a group of contemporary American composers known as the Atlanta School of Composers. Jennifer Higdon is one of these composers, and blue cathedral, a piece she wrote after the heart-breaking loss of her brother, will open Sunday’s concert. Higdon started the work a year after the death of her younger brother, Andrew Blue, and blue cathedral features solos by the clarinet (his instrument) and the flute (hers). “blue cathedral evokes the in-between place that the composer experienced. It is the catharsis we are hearing,” Santourian says. Spano conducted the premiere at the Curtis Institute of Music, which commissioned the work and is both his and Higdon’s alma mater. The piece has since been performed more than 500 times. “When I write music, I’m hoping it will speak to anybody, whether it’s their first time hearing classical music, or they have a Ph.D., or they just love listening to music,” Higdon says.

American songbook.” The Second Rhapsody was reconstructed for piano with big band recently; most audiences only know the version with orchestra. The big band, though, is the ensemble that stands for America as much as Gershwin’s name, and the decision to use one was deliberate, says Asadour Santourian, AMFS vice president of artistic administration and artistic advisor. The program will close with a piece unrivaled in both longevity and audience favor: Rhapsody in Blue. Pianist Marc-André Hamelin, who played the piece with Robert Spano and the Seattle Symphony in 2010, says it is remarkable the piece has had such staying power, because it follows no known classical form. “Yet, the flow of ideas in there is so natural, and the ideas themselves are so strong,” Hamelin said. “To me, the music seems kind of inevitable, like it always existed, which is one of the greatest compliments I can give to any music.”

photo by Ruiming Wang

Conrad Tao, 18, attended the AMFS as a student for five years. While here, Tao received a Lillian and Gordon Hardy Endowed fellowship and a Mrs. J. M. Studebaker Memorial Piano Scholarship. Tao will perform Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody at the Thursday concert in the Benedict Music Tent.

Festival Focus, Week 1  
Festival Focus, Week 1  

your weekly classical music guide