Every year, a couple of miles down Castle Creek Road from the Aspen roundabout, more than 600 students from over 40 states and 40 countries meet at the Aspen Music Festival and School to rigorously study, practice and eventually perform at one of the exquisite shows put on by the school. While most know the organization for the summer-long classical music festival it hosts across town, many aspiring musicians think of it as a life-changing opportunity. According to school staff, they’ll receive 100 applications for just one prized spot.
The recently redeveloped, 38-acre Bucksbaum Campus is shared with the Aspen Country Day School for 9 months of the year. Musical additions to the facility include two new rehearsal/performance halls, practice studios and fully equipped percussion facilities. These renovations would dwarf many other music programs, as the facility cost approximately $75 million. The renovations allow for three full-size orchestras to rehearse at once, further progressing the school’s highly regarded reputation and the students' ability to perform to their potential in the busy 8-week program.
AMFS has had a sizable impact on the town’s history, as well. This summer will be the festival’s 70th year running. Founded in 1949 by Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, the festival was initially a celebration of the 18th-century German writer Johann Wolgang von Goethe. The event included intellectual discussions and musical acts and eventually led to the creation of the Music Festival as well as the Aspen Institute. In the following years, original participants returned, bringing their music students with them.
During the summer of 1951, the school invited its first group of students as well as Igor Stravinsky, who many consider one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. Stravinsky was the first major conductor to share his own work at the festival, only to be followed by countless legendary alumni and guests. Some artists who later filled the stages include conductor James Levine, Duke Ellington and his orchestra, Aaron Copland (otherwise known as “the dean of American composers") and John Denver.
Today, the school offers programs ranging from opera to guitar, molding the new generation of classically trained concert artists. As mentioned, the facility has no shortage of space and resources to practice and perform, especially with the recent additions to the 105,000-square-foot campus. Over the full 8-week program, students have the opportunity to attend and participate in over 400 performances, classes, lectures and panels. Many of these performances are also open to the community at large. Throughout the intense couple of months, students work one on one with teachers, practice in groups and study a variety of material to hone their skills and prepare for the numerous shows they are expected to perform in.
Many of this year’s accepted students are already nervously prepping for a substantial step in their musical career next month. They won’t arrive until late June, after which they’ll audition for placement and begin classes and rehearsals. Just days after the 600 lucky musicians arrive, the summer festival series begins. Shows start June 28th and continue every single day until late August.
These students have worked tirelessly, and many have travelled from around the world for a chance to study and perform at AMFS. So, if and when you’re sitting in the Benedict Music Tent or one of the other concert halls this summer, watching the student-comprised orchestra wait for the flick of the conductor’s wrist, remember: It’s not so much that they have been working all week; they’ve been waiting their whole lives.