Aspen Music Fest CEO looks back on historic season

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Renowned violinist Augustin Hadelich performs at the Aspen Music Festival and School’s last summer concert of the season on Sunday August 22 inside the Benedict musical tent with sections reserved for remote seating. Photo by Austin Colbert / The Aspen Times.

With mostly masked orchestras, a tight schedule, remote seats in the Benedict Music Tent, and an aggressive backstage testing regime, the Aspen Festival and Music School have wrapped up their entire 2021 summer season. amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The festival hosted three symphony tent programs each week, as well as regular recitals and two semi-scenic operas – some 150 events in total from July 1 through Sunday last, when the Aspen Festival Orchestra wrapped up the season. with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

“The ingenuity, creativity and dedication with which musicians have dealt with the pandemic and the varying degrees of containment and isolation have been touching and impressive,” said Festival President and CEO Alan Fletcher last week. “They’ve also repeatedly reinforced the fact that there is no such thing as a truly social acoustic experience. Coming back to that has been a blessing for all of us.



Some features of the pandemic-safe 2021 season will become permanent, Fletcher said, including live broadcasts of major events. The festival reported that a live audience of 350 to 950 homes connected from around the world for the webcasts, with the performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by the Aspen Festival Orchestra on July 3 attracting most.

The Concert Truck, which produces popular remote concerts throughout the season, will also be back.



Concert pianists Susan Zhang and Nick Luby perform in The Concert Truck for the premiere performance of the Music on the GO series at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass Village on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. There have been over 30 pop concert events. free ups throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. Performances were given by Zhang and Luby, as well as artists from the Aspen Music Festival and Aspen Music School. (Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times)

“It generated a lot of excitement and allowed us to reach downstream communities that we never reach,” said Fletcher.

Some shorter gigs are also here to stay. The shortened and time-limited concert programs of the 2021 season, operating with a hard 90-minute limit with no intermission, have kept a lot of music inaudible this season. But festival producers also believe it has brought in new audience members who, due to taste or schedule constraints, prefer shorter, non-intermission events.

Ahead of the canceled 2020 season, the festival had already planned to experiment with a few shorter events on the calendar. Based on the response to this summer’s release, Fletcher confirmed, the festival will move its concerts from Wednesday Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra and Friday Aspen Chamber Symphony to 5:30 p.m. and limit them to around 75 to 90 minutes without an intermission.

For solo recitals, they will postpone performances until 7:30 p.m., as the 7:00 p.m. start of this year has drawn complaints from the public.

Other procedures will be dropped when the pandemic subsides, Fletcher said. The fence around the pitch – installed when registration was required at the start of the season for free seating on the lawn – will fall. For example, solo recitals and chamber music will return to Harris Concert Hall, and fully staged operas will return to Wheeler Opera House. The two Benedict sections reserved for remote seats are also expected to disappear for 2022.

Renowned violinist Augustin Hadelich performs with the Aspen Festival Orchestra during the last summer concert of the season of the Aspen Music Festival and School on Sunday August 22 at the Benedict Music Tent. Photo by Austin Colbert / The Aspen Times.

With limited capacity this season, the festival reported, the Sunday concerts were all at at least 95% of capacity. Tickets remained available for everyone until the day of the show, with the exception of the closing Sunday concert featuring violinist Augustin Hadelich with the Aspen Festival Orchestra, which sold out early. At the start of the season, festival regulars expressed concern that tickets might not be available due to limited capacity.

The new “Season Pass” option, replacing three standard pass options and offering more flexibility to spectators, has proven to be popular and will likely remain available in one form or another.

After a fierce pre-festival backlash against a (soon to be abandoned) plan to charge a fee for lawn seating at the tent, the season’s rollout and production went smoothly.

“[It] felt like such validation of all the months of hard work for all of us, ”said Laura Smith, vice president of marketing. “There was beauty, art, joy, community and security.”

People lounge outside as pianist Matthew Whitaker performs in an Aspen Music Festival and School Recital to kick off the summer season on Thursday, July 1, 2021, inside the Benedict Music Tent in Aspen. Photo by Austin Colbert / The Aspen Times.

The Music Festival’s record-breaking fundraising efforts during the pandemic also continued at a steady pace throughout the season. The Season Benefit, in honor of Joan W. Harris and women in music, raised more than $ 1 million for the 2022 season.

Regular coronavirus testing on students, faculty and staff kept the festival going – even though the delta variant appeared this summer – without cancellations or outbreaks.

With hundreds of people and thousands of COVID tests underway this summer, Fletcher reported that there were a total of three positive coronavirus cases within the festival community and no spread beyond these individuals. One was someone who tested positive on arrival, before entering the Music Fest facilities or coming into contact with anyone capable of self-quarantine. Another tested positive upon leaving Aspen and was unable to return home, but the breakthrough case did not spread to others at the festival according to contract search efforts.

By 2022, faculty and students – cut by more than half for the pandemic year – are expected to revert to pre-COVID figures. Fletcher plans to reduce enrollment to around 600 students by 2022.

“I think next summer will be pretty much like the good old days,” he said.

Most of the season’s Beethoven-themed concerts included a major piece by Beethoven, as well as additional season-themed works “Uncommon Women of Note” and works by non-white composers as part of the new AMELIA of the festival (Africa-American, Middle Eastern, Latin, Indigenous and Asian initiative).

The works of AMELIA, present in the majority of the programs and highlighting composers like Julia Perry, Joseph Bologne or Gabriella Lena Frank, really seduced the public.

The 2021 season of the Aspen Music and School Festival ran from July 1 to August 22 and took place amid the coronavirus pandemic without major cancellations or interruptions. The historic return season followed the cancellation of the entire 2020 season in person due to the pandemic. Carlin Ma / Aspen Music Festival

He also suggested that the theme for the 2022 season – still unannounced – will also raise some of those AMELIA voices previously sidelined by prejudice.

“It’s going to be something that will really spark a lot more work like that and really focus on it,” Fletcher said.

Beyond the 2022 theme, the AMELIA initiative is here to stay, Fletcher said.

“There is a lot more music out there that we need to explore,” he said. “So it’s definitely a permanent part of our programming. “

People walk in to watch pianist Matthew Whitaker perform in an Aspen Music and School Festival recital to kick off the summer season on Thursday, July 1, 2021, inside the Benedict Music Tent in Aspen. Photo by Austin Colbert / The Aspen Times.

Fletcher will also be back in the summer of 2022 as president and CEO, he said, entering his 17th season at the helm.

He and her husband, Ron Schiller, sold their Missouri Heights home this summer and bought one in New Jersey. They rented a house in Aspen for the summer season. But Fletcher said the sale of the home was not part of an exit strategy, but instead said it was a change – inspired in part by the pandemic – to be closer to East Coast family during the off seasons, to work virtually and to benefit from the booming Roaring Fork Valley real estate market. Plus, the daily commute between Missouri Heights and Aspen was getting older, Fletcher said.

“We loved the place, we loved Missouri Heights, we loved our neighbors, we loved Carbondale,” he said. “But for me, driving in Aspen twice a day in the summer wasn’t that great.”

It remains to be seen how the pandemic could affect future Music Fest programming.

The winter musical series, which normally hosts recitals at the Harris Concert Hall between January and March, has been booked and scheduled, Fletcher said, although artists and dates are not announced.

Fletcher said he expects to wait to announce until it becomes more clear what public health precautions will need to be in place to make that performance safe.

With the season back in the rear view mirror, Fletcher said, he hears the gratitude of musicians, students and the audience and feels extremely grateful himself.

“Gratitude is the main feeling – we feel pretty good,” he said. “It was a lot of compromise this summer that was needed and a lot of contingency planning. And we really needed people to stay flexible with us. … And I felt that the main response was, “Thank you, we are happy that you are doing this. “

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The 2021 season of the Aspen Music and School Festival ran from July 1 to August 22 and took place amid the coronavirus pandemic without major cancellations or interruptions. The historic return season followed the cancellation of the entire 2020 season in person due to the pandemic. Carlin Ma / Aspen Music Festival
The 2021 season of the Aspen Music and School Festival ran from July 1 to August 22 and took place amid the coronavirus pandemic without major cancellations or interruptions. The historic return season followed the cancellation of the entire 2020 season in person due to the pandemic. Carlin Ma / Aspen Music Festival


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