Today’s Aspen Chamber Symphony concert is long on substance and beauty, if perhaps short on the season’s Americana. (We don’t aim to have everything, every concert, be part of the theme!) The Aspen Music Festival and School’s 2019 season theme of “Being American” is represented by a British work, Gustav Holst’s “Walt Whitman Overture.” As Whitman is one of the iconic American literary figures, who staked out an American identity in the wilderness, as it were, Holst’s tribute is apt. Holst himself, British through and through despite his name, also composed “The Planets,” making him a sort of godfather to the Star Wars music.
Also on the concert is our own Simone Porter playing Prokofiev’s scintillating first Violin Concerto, two brilliant trumpet players (guest artist Tamás Pálfalvi and our faculty member Stuart Stephenson) playing Vivaldi, and Schubert’s wonderful Symphony No. 5. My own composition teacher, Roger Sessions, was once asked by an interviewer whom he would place with the eternal trio of greats Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. He said he thought Schubert might have been the greatest of them all, if he had lived beyond his 31 years. (tonight, July 5, 6 p.m., in the Benedict Music Tent.)
Saturday brings more opera scenes (10 a.m.-noon at the Wheeler Opera House), afternoon chamber music with a Dvořák piano trio, great American arias and operatic ensembles with some of the season’s top young talent, and the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble (4:30 p.m., Harris Hall), and a recital by perennial favorites David Finckel and Wu Han, with violinist Paul Huang, including Beethoven, Saint-Saëns, and Tchaikovsky (8 p.m., Harris Hall).
Sunday, the Aspen Festival Orchestra presents an ideal summer festival program. Our alumnus and now a world-traveling success, Joshua Weilerstein, conducts Sibelius’s epic Symphony No. 5. One of the world’s greatest performing artists, and an Aspen favorite for decades, Yefim Bronfman, brings Brahms’s First Piano Concerto. Aspen alumna Augusta Read Thomas presents a tribute to Kay Bucksbaum, “Brio.” The title signifies brilliance, elan, charm, and spirit – all qualities of Kay, our former board chair, member of the Aspen Hall of Fame, and one of the most significant supporters of our program since she and her husband Matthew first came to a concert in 1953 (4 p.m., in the Benedict Music Tent).
Especially notable in the following week is the pair of evening concerts presenting the complete Brandenburg Concertos of Bach, along with other brilliant concertos. A group of exceptional guests, including recent Aspen alumni making their way into the wider world, joins our faculty and students in these extraordinary works.
When I am asked who I would like to meet from all the ranks of musicians gone by, or indeed anyone from the past, I always say, “Bach,” because I would like to show him what he has come to mean. A church music director in a minor city, he’s become one of the icons of world culture. The Brandenburg Concertos explore the furthest reaches of virtuosity, and also musical profundity, with some of the greatest music ever written for strings, winds, brass, and keyboards. Nicholas McGegan will work with the ensembles, which will be led in concert by harpsichordist Jory Vinikour. Come to the first, and you will be compelled to come to the second! (Wednesday, July 10, 8:30 p.m., Harris Hall, and Thursday, July 11, 8 p.m., Harris Hall – note that the start times are different.)