Aspen Music Festival and School
The Aspen Music Festival and School is a classical music festival held annually in Aspen, Colorado. It is noted both for its concert programming and its musical training of mostly young-adult music students. Founded in 1949, the typical eight-week summer season includes more than 400 classical music events—including concerts by five orchestras, solo and chamber music performances, fully staged opera productions, master classes, lectures, and children’s programming—and brings in 70,000 audience members. In the winter, the AMFS presents a small series of recitals and Metropolitan Opera Live in HD screenings.
As a training ground for young-adult classical musicians, the AMFS draws more than 600 students from 40-plus countries, with an average age of 23. While in Aspen, students participate in lessons, coaching, and public performances in orchestras, operas, and chamber music, sometimes playing side-by-side with AMFS artist-faculty.
The Aspen Music Festival and School was founded in 1949 by Chicago businessman Walter Paepcke and Elizabeth Paepcke as a two-week bicentennial celebration of the 18th-century German writer Johann Wolgang von Goethe. The event, which included both intellectual forums and musical performances, was such a success that it led to the formation of both the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival and School.
In the summers that followed, the participating musicians returned, bringing their music students, and the foundation was set for the AMFS as it is known today. In 1951, the School enrolled its first official class, with 183 music students. That same year, Igor Stravinsky became the first conductor to present his own works with the Festival.
Early founding musicians included baritone Mack Harrell (father of cellist Lynn Harrell) and violinist Roman Totenberg (father of NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg). Early performance highlights include then-student James Levine conducted the Benjamin Britten opera Albert Herring in 1964, coinciding with Britten’s visit to Aspen that summer to accept an award from the Aspen Institute. In 1965, Duke Ellington and his orchestra came to the AMFS to perform a benefit concert. In 1971, Dorothy DeLay joined the AMFS strings artist-faculty and attracted more than 200 students a summer to her program. In 1975, Aaron Copland came to Aspen as a composer-in-residence on the occasion of his 75th birthday. In 1980, John Denver performed with the Aspen Festival Orchestra for his TV special Music and the Mountains, which aired the following year on ABC. Multiple artist-faculty members have also recorded albums while in Aspen, including the Emerson String Quartet, which recorded the Shostakovich: The String Quartets 5-disc set from AMFS venue Harris Concert Hall and won the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Classical Album.
The Aspen Music Festival and School offers young musicians a choice of twelve programs of study: Orchestra, Brass Quintet Studies, the Finckel-Wu Han Chamber Music Studio, Solo Piano, Collaborative Piano, Opera Coaching, the Aspen Opera Theater Center, the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen, the Susan and Ford Schumann Center for Composition Studies, the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, the Center for Advanced Quartet Studies, and Classical Guitar.
The Benedict Music Tent, which opened in 2000, is the Festival’s primary concert venue and seats 2050. The tent replaced an earlier tent designed by Herbert Bayer, which in 1965 replaced the original smaller tent designed by Eero Saarinen. Concerts are held in the Benedict Music Tent on a nearly daily basis during the summer, and seating on the lawn just outside the Tent, where many choose to picnic during events, is always free. The design has open sides; the curving roof is made of Teflon-coated fiberglass, a hard material also used by the Denver International Airport.
The 500-seat Joan and Irving Harris Concert Hall is located next door to the Benedict Music Tent, and was opened in 1993 at a cost of $7 million. The Wheeler Opera House—a Victorian-era venue owned by the City of Aspen—is the home to Aspen Opera Theater Center productions in the summer and the AMFS’s Metropolitan Opera Live in HD screenings in the winter.
In 2016, the AMFS completed its $75 million, 105,000-square-foot Matthew and Carolyn Bucksbaum Campus, which serves as the center of its teaching activities. The Campus, located two miles from downtown Aspen, sits on a 38-acre site that is shared between the AMFS in the summer and Aspen Country Day School during the academic year. Designed by architect Harry Teague, who also designed the AMFS’s Harris Concert Hall and the Benedict Music Tent, the Bucksbaum Campus includes three expansive rehearsal halls, numerous teaching studios and practice rooms, a percussion building, administrative offices, and a glass-enclosed cafeteria. The Campus was designed with Aspen’s natural setting in mind: the buildings’ roof lines mirror the shapes of the surrounding mountains and hug the contours of the ponds and creek.
Alumni of the AMFS fill important professional music positions around the world, performing in top-tier orchestras, opera houses, and teaching on music school faculties.
Notable alumni include:
The summer of 2018 will be the Aspen Music Festival and School’s 70th season. The summer lineup will include performances by Sarah Chang, Renée Fleming, Gil Shaham, Alisa Weilerstein, David Finckel and Wu Han, Conrad Tao, Stefan Jackiw, Daniel Hope, Daniil Trifonov, Yuja Wang, Augustin Hadelich, Midori, the Pacifica Quartet, and other soloists and ensembles.
Several events throughout the summer will reflect upon the season’s theme, “Paris, City of Light,” such as performances of Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, La damosielle élue, La mer, Clair de lune; Massenet's Elegie, Boulez's Le marteau san maître, Bizet's Symphony No. 1 in C major, Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2 and Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major, Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman, and more.
The 2018 season will also include a concert presentation of Bernstein's one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti by the Aspen Opera Center (AOC), woven together with Charlie Chaplin's silent film, "A Dog's Life"; as well as two fully staged AOC productions: Rossini's The Barber of Seville and Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffman. The season will close on August 19 with Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, performed by the Aspen Festival Orchestra under Robert Spano, with soloists Tamara Wilson and Ryan McKinny.
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