Aspen Music Festival review: A confusing debut from Van Cliburn’s winner

The Aspen Music Festival has a long and rich relationship with the Van Cliburn Piano Competition which offers a prime time recital by the winners every four years. This year’s winner, 18-year-old Korean Yunchan Lim, stirred up a storm of anticipation with performances in Texas that wowed judges and fellow pianists. As expected, every seat in Harris Hall was occupied by listeners at the edges of their seats when he took the stage on Thursday, sat down in a straight-backed chair and began paying Brahms.

I was ready to feel the thrill of a new genius in this first recital in the United States. What came out, however, both thrilled and intrigued me.

I didn’t hear the absolute mastery and clarity that characterized his work at the Cliburn (which can be streamed for free on From my seat in Row M of Harris Hall, loud passages echoed, unlike the immaculate, thoughtful work I heard in the live videos. The delicate flourishes here engaged gently at one point, mushy when accelerating. The balances between the busier left-hand passages lacked the clarity that can be savored on video. Dynamic and textural contrasts were exaggerated.

He chose a stimulating program of less famous works by familiar composers, beginning with Brahms’ Four Ballads and ending with Beethoven’s 15 Variations and a Fugue in E flat major, the ‘Eroica Variations’. Between the two, Mendelssohn’s Fantasia in F sharp minor and Skryabin’s Piano Sonata No. 2, also called “Fantasia”. The piano narration of each of these works, so mature and impressive at the Cliburn, appeared only sporadically in Aspen’s recital.

While a large part of the public was enthusiastic at the end, including many pianists, a large percentage rushed as soon as the program ended, and their number increased between the first encore (Rachmaninoff) and the second (Liszt) . I heard conversations outside grumbling and others fading away.

I don’t know what to think of all this. Was I on the wrong side of the audience? What was I missing? No doubt we will have more chances to discover Lim’s talent. He’s the buzz of the classical music world right now.

Earlier in a relatively quiet week, a concert featuring Rodgers and Hammerstein’s latest Broadway musical, “The Sound of Music,” a collaboration between the music festival and the Aspen Theater, scored a hit in a rare popular score live concert. Andy Einhorn conducted performances on Monday and Tuesday evenings in the Benedict Music Tent.

Like a very good “South Pacific” in 2019 and a disappointing review of Rodgers’ music in 2021, “The Sound of Music” benefited of Broadway stars and an operatic soprano in the lead roles. The theater side filled supporting roles, and members of the Opera Theater and VocalARTS program lent their heavenly voices to the recurring chorus of nuns.

Seen and heard on Monday, Einhorn’s exuberant conducting produced cheerful music from the full orchestra and entire cast, underscored by a lightened script. There were no weak links, not even among the seven youngsters playing Von Trapp’s Children or among the theatrical cast.

Director Marc Bruni, who has directed “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” worldwide, has shown a knack for using the concert setup wisely for simple scene changes and getting the actors to aim for a certain level of realism.

Christy Altadore, who has now headlined all three concert productions here, has brought her silvery voice and bouncy personality to the role of Maria, the unconventional nun-to-be who eventually becomes the children’s governess and eventually becomes Captain Georg’s wife. Von Trapp. Brandon Victor Dixon, who played Aaron Burr on Broadway in “Hamilton,” brought a sense of gravity and a refined baritone to the role.

Altadore’s focus was on character, with a good sense of modesty that kept his familiar songs (“The Sound of Music,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things”) from going overboard. of the. They were almost conversational, which is just fine for a score that can easily slip into sweetness.

Dixon’s sweet but unaffected “Edelweiss” was also a beautiful, gratifying moment. Tall and handsome, he made an attractive partner for Altadore.

Ashley Blanchet, the first black woman to play Elsa – the lead role in Broadway’s ‘Frozen’Sashayed admirably like another Elsa, Elsa Schraeder in this piece, conveying both seduction and privilege with her voice and body language. Brad Oscar seized on the ambiguity of Max, the talent agent who recognizes the family’s musical possibilities and has mysterious connections to Berlin. He excelled like another Max (Bialistok in “The Producers”), that he performed more than 1,400 times on Broadway and on tour.

The best voice of all, however, belonged to Ana Maria Martinez. The lyrico-spinto opera veteran brought the great outdoors — “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” — to life with disarming intensity. She also performed scenes with Maria and the nuns with reserved warmth.

Von Trapp’s seven children range from toddlers to teenager Liesl (his “Fifteen Going On Sixteen” was as charming as it gets). They all made the quick turn from brats to beautiful kids, each with an individual personality and a special talent for their voices that clearly signaled their destiny as a world-famous singing family.

All of this was necessary to lend credence to Von Trapp’s musical interpretation of the story, set in the years just before World War II. Their father away as a submarine captain in the Austrian Navy, the children grow attached to Maria, a novice sent from the abbey to be their governess, when she shares her love of music with them, and they turn out to be natural. Their talent frees their strict father, who also finds a kindred spirit in Maria – but not before he agrees to marry another wealthy woman, to reject Elsa when she supports the Nazis.

He is at an impasse when the Germans, having taken control of Austria, want him to command a submarine, but the situation leads to a clever escape in the final scenes. The rhythm and vocals hit the right notes. Politically, it works less well than Emile Lebeque’s plot in “South Pacific,” but the point of “The Sound of Music” is more personal. The characters learn to be true to themselves, and that was beautifully enunciated by the abbess in the final issue, a moving rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”


In piano recitals, Paul Lewis focuses on Schubert Tuesday and Max Lando draws on his jazz background with his own arrangement of music by Duke Ellington Wednesday. The Percussion Ensemble, a fixture in previous years on Monday evenings, plays its annual concert at 4:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Later, Lawrence Brownlee applies his polished lyrical tenor to works ranging from Scarlatti to Weil Thursday.

Harvey Steiman has been writing about the Aspen Music Festival for 29 years. His reviews appear on Tuesdays and Saturdays The Aspen Times.

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