Our 2019 American theme is beautifully served on this week’s Aspen Chamber Symphony concert. Alan Hovhaness was an Armenian/American composer of enormous productivity. His “Prayer of St. Gregory” sounds American by being exceptionally direct, emotional, and winning. Then our recent alumnus, and now world-wide sensation, Stefan Jackiw plays Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. I think this is one of the greatest American concert works. It also is emotionally charged, reflective, and brilliant in turns, and is a truly attractive star vehicle. Barber viewed his American identity through the lens of the centuries-long tradition of classical music, rather than as a product of innovation or radicalism. His music has a powerful Romantic quality, and the violin concerto has been immensely popular from its first performances. In the second half, Robert Spano leads this faculty/student orchestra in Schumann’s radiant “Spring” Symphony (Friday, July 12, 6 p.m. in the tent).
Saturday, we continue our almost-sold-out run of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece “A Little Night Music (7 p.m. in the Wheeler; also Monday night at 8 p.m. in the Wheeler). A wonderful alternative is an Aspen debut recital by George Li. Since winning Silver in the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition, George has been barnstorming the world as the perfect combination of breathtaking virtuosity with profound poetry. His program of Beethoven and Schumann is sure to enchant (Saturday, July 13, 8 p.m. in Harris Hall).
Sunday’s afternoon program highlights three strong American works. One, Gunther Schuller’s “Seven Studies on a Theme of Paul Klee,” is inspired by jazz and visual art. One, Jake Heggie’s “Suite from ‘Moby-Dick,’” is inspired by an opera based on one of the “Great American Novels.” The finale, Aaron Copland’s “Four Dance Episodes from ‘Rodeo,’” is an effervescent depiction of the American West. Sandwiched into all this Americana is Tchaikovsky’s ultra-Romantic Violin Concerto, played by the brilliant Esther Yoo. The youngest-ever prizewinner of the Sibelius Competition, and one of the youngest-ever winners of the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition, Esther is making a triumphant world tour of debuts. You will be happy you heard her in this magnificent work! Christian Măcelaru, an alumnus of the Aspen Conducting Academy, has achieved music director status with a major German radio orchestra and has conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra, Cabrillo Festival, Grant Park Festival Orchestra, Orchestre de France, and many other major ensembles (Sunday, July 14, 4 p.m. in the tent).
Alan Fletcher is president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival and School.