If the members of the Jupiter String Quartet seem at home tonight when they take the stage at Harris Concert Hall, don’t be surprised. The acclaimed musicians, though based out of Illinois, spent a couple of summers in Aspen in the early 2000s working intensively as an ensemble and they’ve been back to perform and teach a number of times since.
And if one of the quartet’s selections sounds like it could have been written just for Aspen, don’t let that fool you, either. With input from the Jupiters, the Aspen Music Festival & School, which kicks off its summer season today, actually did co-commission a piece, “Imprimatur,” from Canadian composer Kati Agócs that will have its world premiere tonight. Agócs was a composition fellow in Aspen a few years ago and is now a faculty member at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
The return of such talented former students has a wonderful family element to it and it’s not lost on the artists or AMFS that such a relationship represents something special within the classical music community.
“It’s sort of the ultimate for us because our core mission is education,” said AMFS President and CEO Alan Fletcher. “So when we see that education succeeding it’s especially exciting.”
It helps that the music school is among the best in the world and draws top students from the U.S. and abroad, many of whom are destined for stardom. That alone could account for the notable school alumni who will be returning to perform and teach this summer, including the Pacifica Quartet (July 24), violinists Robert McDuffie (July 28), Midori (Aug. 5) and Sarah Chang (Aug. 10 and 15), numerous conductors and singers and pianist Conrad Tao, who will take the stage with the Aspen Chamber Symphony Friday at 6 p.m. for the season’s first concert under the Benedict Music Tent.
“It’s really special to get to come back to a community that was important in your development – to get to share music with them but also to work with the students that are in the position we were in 15 years ago,” said Daniel McDonough, the Jupiter Quartet cellist. “Aspen has such a history of educating young musicians and getting them ready for careers in music. ... If you’re serious about string quartets, Aspen is a perfect place for you to go work.”
In addition to the “Imprimatur” premiere, the Jupiters will play string quartet selections from Schumann and Beethoven. Both composers, in addition to Bernstein, will also be on the playlist the next night for Tao and the chamber symphony, with Hugh Wolff conducting. The opening weekend closes Sunday night with a special collaboration between AMFS and Jazz Aspen Snowmass, “Georgia on My Mind: A Tribute to Ray Charles,” in the Music Tent at 8:30 p.m.
“It’s going to be absolutely uplifting and beautiful,” said Fletcher of the performance, which will feature 10-time Grammy-winning a cappella group Take 6.
It should make for three nights of great music with a heavy AMFS family vibe, but between Schumann, Beethoven and Charles, it doesn’t exactly tie in with the AMFS season theme of “Paris, City of Lights.”
Not to worry, Francophiles. There will be plenty of Débussy, Ravel and other French masters coming up in the next eight weeks, as well as lots of the music that helped make Paris the cultural capital of the world in the 19th century.
“Paris has been a magnet through several important peri- odsinmusichistory–baroque, classical, romantic, 20th century and now today – for people from allovertheworld,”saidFletcher. “So it’s a particularly rich source of different kinds of music.”
It’ll be a fascinating theme with scads of beautiful, French-accented music, even if everyone has to wait a few nights before before breaking out the wine, cheese, baguettes and berets.