The Aspen Music Festival and School will celebrate Beethoven’s 250th birthday and the centenary of U.S. women’s suffrage during a summer 2020 season of more than 400 events.
The dual themes of “Beethoven’s Revolution” and “Uncommon Women of Note,” announced with the full season lineup as tickets went on sale Wednesday, will carry the 71st festival season from July 2 through Aug. 23.
“It is a whole lot of Beethoven, which we think is great,” Music Fest President and CEO Alan Fletcher said this week. “But our overall programming philosophy is to mix things up, to have variety and to have things that people have not heard before. So we thought the perfect opportunity is the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the U.S. and to make a major part of the summer programming women in the arts.”
The Beethoven programs will include a two-night recreation of the composer’s historic December 1808 concert in Vienna, which included the premiere of his Fifth Symphony and major middle period works (Aug. 19 and Aug. 21). Today’s leading pianists — Daniil Trifonov, Vladimir Feltsman and Hung-Kuan Chen among them — will play all of Beethoven’s piano concertos and many of his sonatas over the course of the season, while violinist James Ehnes concludes his complete cycle of violin sonatas (Aug. 4 and Aug. 6).
Pianist Inon Barnatan, cellist Alisa Weilerstein and violinist Benjamin Beilman with the Aspen Festival Orchestra will perform Beethoven’s “Triple” Concerto conducted by returning Aspen favorite James Conlon (July 19). Barnatan and Weilerstein also will survey Beethoven’s cello sonatas (July 23) and pianist Jeremy Denk will lead a chamber music evening dubbed “Heroic Beethoven” (Aug. 18).
The season closes Aug. 23 with the Aspen Festival Orchestra and a choir performing Beethoven’s Ninth “Choral” Symphony, following a full week of daily Beethoven concerts.
“That’s when we bring out the fusillade and light up the sky with as much Beethoven as possible,” said Asadour Santourian, the Music Festival’s vice president for artistic administration. “It picks up momentum all summer and it climaxes that week.”
The “Uncommon Women” theme will present works by and about women, including Julia Wolfe’s “Fountain of Youth” (July 22) and the premiere of a newly commissioned work by Sarah Kirkland Snider based on texts by prominent American suffragists (Aug. 8). The season will include a semi-staged performance of Virgil Thomson’s opera “The Mother of Us All,” about the life of suffragette Susan B. Anthony with a libretto by Gertrude Stein (Aug. 5).
Music written or conducted by women remains a rarity on classical musical programs in 2020. Fletcher said he believes the Aspen Music Festival has the power to lead fellow international symphonies and festivals toward gender parity.
“We have an audience that is so devoted and so informed, we feel as though the audience trusts us and if we say ‘Kaija Saariaho is possibly the greatest living composer,’ then people will say, ‘OK, we’ll listen to that,’” Fletcher said. “We feel that we have only a few steps to go to where nobody even thinks about, ‘Is this a woman composer or conductor?’”
Women composers featured at the festival include Saariaho, Julia Wolfe, Missy Mazzoli and Melody Eötvös. Works inspired by women authors include Kevin Puts’ “Letters from Georgia,” based on Georgia O’Keeffe’s writings (July 5); Andre Previn’s “Honey and Rue,” based on Toni Morrison’s poetry (July 26); and a spoken performance of Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” (Aug. 11).
The festival has made strides toward gender equality in its student body in recent years, and opted to make women a programmatic focus for 2020.
“Every concert you have ever gone to in your life, most likely, has been all male composers,” Santourian said. “So how about a summer that has a very healthy mix?”
On the opera front, the Music Fest will launch its new Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS program, overseen by the acclaimed soprano Renée Fleming and Houston Grand Opera artistic director Patrick Summers.
The pair will lead a reorganized Aspen opera program, run for the past three decades by Edward Berkeley, who returns to Aspen to direct Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” (July 16 to 20).
Fleming herself also will perform with the Aspen Festival Orchestra on July 5, with festival music director Robert Spano conducting.
The reorganized program will include vocal training as well as vocational and music business instruction, with repertoire expanding into art song, cabaret and Broadway. Though the curriculum for the 50 opera students will be different, the audience-facing opera program is largely unchanged. Staged productions at the Wheeler Opera House for the season are “The Magic Flute” and Ricky Ian Gordon’s “The Grapes of Wrath” (Aug. 20 and 22).
On the Broadway front, the season will include a concert production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “The Sound of Music” at the Benedict Music Tent (Aug. 3). Organized in partnership with Theatre Aspen, it follows the inaugural 2019 joint concert production of “South Pacific.”
The Music Fest also will host “An Evening of Cabaret: I’m in the Mood for Love,” featuring opera students performing from The Great American Songbook (July 27).
The festival also announced a number of programming changes for 2020 aimed at drawing new audience members. Its Wednesday and Friday concerts will begin at 5:30 p.m. — an hour earlier than in previous seasons — and will run 30 minutes shorter and without intermission.
“It’s purely to see if the audience will appreciate it,” Fletcher said. “Maybe for first-time people, shorter would be better. That was our thought.”
The festival also is introducing a new “Concert Concierge” service, providing personal recommendations to potential audience members unsure what events might suit their tastes. And first-time Music Fest attendees will also get a 50% discount on concert tickets.
Returning audience favorites on the docket include violinist Pinchas Zukerman with the Zukerman Trio in his first Aspen summer appearance in 15 years (Aug. 12) and alumni including soprano Golda Schultz (July 24), violinist Sarah Chang (July 26), violinist Gil Shaham (July 31), pianist Joyce Yang (Aug. 12), violinist Robert McDuffie (Aug. 13), and pianist Tengku Irfan (Aug. 21).
Musicians making their debuts in Aspen this summer include cellist Nicolas Altstaedt (Aug. 16), violinist Benjamin Beilman (July 19), alumna and soprano Yelena Dyachek (Aug. 23), alumnus and 2019 Tchaikovsky International Cello Competition winner Zlatomir Fung (July 26), bass Soloman Howard (Aug. 23), violinist Alexi Kenney (Aug. 18) and 18-year-old Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev (July 26).
The festival expects a class of 690 music students from around the world for the summer in Aspen, studying under 200 teaching artists.