Classical music does not exist in a vacuum. It is shaped by the age in which it is written, the politics of a composer’s country and countless other societal factors.
This idea helped shape the Aspen Music Festival and School’s (AMFS) theme for its eight-week 2013 season, “Conscience and Beauty,” focused on the role of a composer in society and how composers reflect a social conscience. The season, running from June 27 to Aug. 18, will include more than 300 concerts and events.
AMFS president and CEO Alan Fletcher said the concept emerged as he and others at the festival discussed the 100th birthday of Benjamin Britten, whose work is a centerpiece of the summer lineup. In all, the lineup includes 25 Britten works, including the opera “Peter Grimes” in the Benedict Music Tent on July 27, which will employ projections, theatrical lighting and video.
When the legendary composer received the Aspen Award in Humanities in 1964, he took the opportunity to argue that music should be written for particular people in a particular time and place.
“Almost every piece I have ever written has been composed with a certain occasion in mind,” Britten said at the Aspen ceremony. “And usually for definite performers, and certainly always human ones.”
Work revolving around that theme and the interplay between society and musical composition will include performances of pieces by Shostakovich, Mahler, Debussy, Bernstein, Beethoven, Bartok and more.
“As a composer, it’s the opposite of ‘art for art’s sake,’” said Fletcher. “And that’s something we’ll be looking at throughout the season.”
The summer also will include helpings of orchestral performances of Berlioz, Dvorak, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Schubert, Schumann, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and other audience favorites.
The festival opens with “Icarus and the Edge of Time” by Philip Glass, an ambitious multimedia composition tackling space travel, which premiered in New York in 2010.
“It’s quite a fabulous multimedia piece,” said Fletcher.
On Aug. 13, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Harris Hall, AMFS is staging a re-creation of the opening 1993 concert there, led by violinist Robert McDuffie.
The Aspen Opera Theater Center lineup of operas includes Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide;” Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” and “Suor Angelica,” and Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea.”
“As we planned the theme we said, ‘What if it’s all just very depressing?’” said Fletcher. “So we said, ‘Let’s do “Candide,’” which asks the question, ‘How should we live?’ and has a very happy, positive answer.”
Along with Aspen favorites like pianists Wu Han and Conrad Tao, Fletcher noted two musicians making their local debuts at highly anticipated concerts that are drawing worldwide attention.
Joyce DiDonato, an American operatic mezzo-soprano, performs July 23.
“She is going to be one of the most important American singers in the next decade,” said Fletcher.
Also making his Aspen debut is Daniil Trifonov, a 21-year-old Russian pianist who has won multiple international prizes, and plays with the Aspen Chamber Symphony in the Benedict Music Tent on Aug. 16.
“We think he is going to be one of the greatest pianists in the next generation and people should come out and see him now,” said Fletcher.
Other highlights include: a collaboration with Jazz Aspen Snowmass, bringing Pink Martini to the tent on July 6; Gil Shaham returning to perform all of Bach’s solo Sonatas and Partitas in one show on July 24; and a Wagner and Verdi bicentennial celebration featuring Grammy-winning bass-baritone Eric Owens and soprano Heidi Melton on Aug. 18.
The full schedule was released last week and is now online at www.aspenmusicfestival.com