A season of stellar music

Aspen Music Festival and School features approximately 200 performances. Photo by Carlin Ma.
Pug Ma

While other cities and mountain destinations attract top musicians and student-musicians to their summer festivals, Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) stands out as the nation’s premier summer music festival with both its outstanding young talents and its variety of abundant performances.

This summer, AMFS is returning to full programming after the pandemic stalled in-person events in 2020 and slowed them down in 2021. But at least one good thing has come out of the pandemic years: everyone is now auditioning via video. . Before COVID hit, AMFS held in-person auditions in eight cities across the country, so international students who couldn’t make it to an audition had to send in videos.

“Videos (compared to live auditions) have put people at a disadvantage,” said Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of AMFS. “Now there is no barrier to access.”

And that means more talent coming to Aspen. Videos poured in of “many, many thousands of applicants,” Fletcher said, making selecting AMFS’s 480 students very difficult. “You get lots and lots of really great people. It’s one of the best bands I’ve ever seen. The performances we had were superlative.

“They’re one of the best bands I’ve ever seen.” — Alan Fletcher, AMFS President and CEO

As musicians and performers continue to express their gratitude to be back on stage nationwide, AMFS students are “really happy to be here and super, super motivated…with great spirit jumping and flexibility,” he said.

Main mentors

Part of their enthusiasm comes from their ability to perform on stage, but another part comes from the high quality of private and group instruction, masterclasses, panels and lectures and the ability to rehearse and to perform a major orchestral repertoire alongside renowned teachers and leading actors from major orchestras.

For many, like oboe player Donovan Bown, this is their first summer with AMFS.

“As far back as I can remember, attending AMFS has been one of my highest goals. The oboe faculty is top notch. Elaine Douvas is an absolute force of nature,” Bown said. “I’m also very excited to work with Titus Underwood. There aren’t many professional black oboists in this country, so being able to work with him is a dream come true.

The instructors that harpist Qi Han – who is also here for the first time – will rarely work with anywhere, which presents a unique opportunity.

“I also look forward to playing with the orchestras; in school, harpists don’t have many opportunities beyond solo and chamber music performances, so the orchestral experience I will gain in Aspen is important to my career,” Han said.

Artist and faculty member Warren Deck is inspiring students like tuba player Bridget Conley this summer.

“I love his game and his teaching philosophy,” Conley said. “Having the opportunity to learn from him and my peers in a larger tuba studio environment, coupled with the number of playing opportunities available to us, is everything.”

A live music score

And, speaking of the whole thing, the AMFS really packs it. Its typical eight-week summer season features around 200 classical music events, including concerts by four orchestras, solo and chamber music performances, fully staged opera productions and children’s programs, in addition to master classes, panels and lectures. The festival attracts around 100,000 people to soak up the magic of live music, which performers and audiences deeply enjoy.

“Playing music makes you feel part of a larger community; Whether orchestrating or conducting, you work together to create something bigger than yourself,” said Aspen Conducting Academy student Matthew Lynch. “When I conduct, I have to put my ego aside in the service of the music, demanding excellence not only from the ensemble, but also from myself.”

This excellence is evident not only in the AMFS Conducting Academy, but also in its many other study programs, including (get ready – it’s a huge list): Orchestral, Solo Piano, Collaborative Piano , Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS, Seraphic Fire Professional Choral Institute, Susan and Ford Schumann Center for Composition Studies, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, American Brass Quintet Seminar @Aspen, and Classical Guitar Program.

opera voice

The new program, Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS, began last year, under the co-artistic direction of Renée Fleming and Patrick Summers. The program trains young singers to master the vocal art in opera and concert work.

“This is the first summer that we will see their full vision for the program,” Fletcher said, adding that it was planned to launch in 2020, and last year it only accepted 15 students, compared to 43 this year. year.

One of the highlights of the program comes in the form of Verdi’s “Falstaff” on July 22. It stars world-renowned Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, who truly embodies Verdi’s comedy lead through three acts staged for the Benedict Music Tent. The story depicts the misadventures of Sir John Falstaff, a portly knight who tries to seduce two married women for their fortune.

“(Terfel is) arguably the greatest singer,” Fletcher said. “He sings that role at the Met and all over the world.”

Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS’ other big show, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” will be presented at the Benedict Music Tent on August 18. Based on the legend of Don Juan, the comic and moral tale tells the story of an irresistible, yet irredeemable playboy. whose escapades lead him to destruction.

Audiences can see emerging opera talent being coached on opera stages at 10 a.m. every Saturday at the Wheeler Opera House, through August 20. 11.


Faculty and artists from America’s leading orchestras often conduct and play alongside students in the AMFS Orchestra Program, which consists of the Aspen Chamber Symphony, Aspen Festival Orchestra, Aspen Conducting Academy Orchestra, and of the Aspen Opera Theater Orchestra.

The festival presents three different orchestral programs each week.

• Aspen Chamber Symphony performs at 5:30 p.m. on Fridays.

• The Aspen Festival Orchestra plays at 4 pm on Sundays.

• The Aspen Conducting Academy, which offers intensive conducting training so conductors can gain stage experience under the direction of masters across a wide range of repertoire, performs at 4 p.m. Monday .

All shows take place in the Benedict Music Tent.

“The Conducting Academy is one of our flagship programs. It’s unique in the world,” Fletcher said, noting how conductors work with a full orchestra every day, unlike other leading programs in the country, which only offer a string quartet. to lead. “We have an incredible success record with our alumni. These concerts are popular. You can see these (drivers) growing throughout the summer. Any orchestra looking for a young conductor usually comes in August to see some of the best talent.

The Susan and Ford Schumann Center for Compositional Studies is another outstanding AMFS program, featuring nine young composers. In fact, Philip Glass was an elder.

“It’s a great incubator for amazing songwriters,” Fletcher said. “Not only do we have a brilliant regular faculty, but also, throughout the summer, we will welcome guest composers.”

AMFS also features “an extraordinary group of pianists,” Fletcher said.

His “Mozart Evening with Arie Vardi, conductor,” at 7:30 p.m. on July 23, features concertos for one, two, and three pianos. It not only features legendary piano pedagogue Vardi, but also a hand-picked cadre of his star students.

For the most up-to-date concert schedules, pick up a citywide tear-off sheet.

AMFS’s American Brass Quintet Seminar @Aspen is the premier national brass chamber music program for emerging brass quintets.

“I can safely say that this is the most significant ensemble of its kind working today,” said Fletcher, adding that the brass have been at the festival for 40 years, but the AMFS launched a dedicated program a few years ago. “These quintets do chamber music only with very intense coaching from their mentors (led by members of the American Brass Quintet, AMFS teachers since 1970 and the Juilliard School since 1987). “

Sharon Isbin directs the classical guitar program, offering masterclasses in an intensive four-week program, which focuses on technique, sound production, all-repertoire performance and baroque performance.

One of the highlights of the AMFS season features Isbin and famed sarod player Amjad Ali Khan in a recital at 7:30 p.m. on August 6.

“Sharon’s concert is usually one of our most popular concerts,” Fletcher said. “It’s a mixture of his classical western technique with techniques from northern India, which are completely different. It’s just a really interesting cultural exchange.

“It intertwines our varied musical, spiritual and artistic traditions with mystical beauty, creativity, grace and great emotion,” Isbin said.

Contemporary and Choral

The Aspen Contemporary Ensemble collaborates with the Composition Studies Program, in addition to performing the music of prominent living composers and 20e classics of the century. Because the curriculum is so rigorous, students are not permitted to engage in extracurricular musical activities, such as concerto competitions.

“The seven students are dedicated to all new music. It’s very difficult,” Fletcher said. “The student-composers are writing pieces for the ensemble, which is a lot of extra learning in a very intense and sustained way.”

The ensemble usually performs every Saturday, alongside the AMFS faculty-artists, at 4:30 p.m. at Harris Hall, in addition to other projects.

Seraphic Fire Professional Choral Institute students sing as members of the Grammy-nominated Professional Choral Institute Chorus, side-by-side with professional Seraphic Fire members. Seraphic Fire and Professional Choral Institute present a free Spotlight Recital at 2:30 p.m. on August 17 at Harris Concert Hall.

“They also join us for a spectacular end to our season on August 21,” Fletcher said. “This last Sunday performance of the Aspen Festival Orchestra presents Berlioz’s Requiem, which is one of our greatest pieces, with two choirs, three times as many brass instruments in a ring all around the tent for a surround sound and soloists.”

The Aspen Festival and School of Music draws approximately 100,000 attendees to all of its performances throughout the summer.
Pug Ma
Multi-Grammy Award-winning Sharon Isbin returns to Aspen with master sarod player Amjad Ali Khan and her virtuoso sons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash to perform Strings for Peace on August 6.
Courtesy of Aspen Festival and School of Music

Comments are closed.