Aspen Music Festival (10): Breathtaking Hadelich Might Be Best of the Summer

09/08/2017

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Aspen Music Festival [10] – Martin, Liszt/Busoni, Brahms, Bedford, Shore, C. Brubeck, Rodrigo, Beethoven, Rouse: Soloists, Aspen Chamber Orchestra/Miguel Harth-Bedoya (conductor), Aspen Contemporary Ensemble/Yves Abel (conductor), Aspen Festival Orchestra / Josh Weilerstein (conductor). Benedict Music Tent, Harris Hall, Aspen, CO. 4-6.8.2017. (HS)

Aspen Chamber Orchestra, Benedict Music Tent, 4 August
Miguel Harth-Bedoya (conductor), Joyce Yang (piano)

Martin — Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments and Timpani
Liszt/Busoni — Rhapsodie espagnole
Brahms — Symphony No. 3 in F major

Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, Harris Hall, 5 August
Yves Abel (conductor)

Bedford — Seven Angels

Recital, Harris Hall, 5 August
Sharon Isbin (guitar), Scott Tyrrell (conductor)

Shore —“Billy’s Theme” from The Departed
Chris Brubeck — Affinity: Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra
Rodrigo — Concierto de Aranjuez

Aspen Festival Orchestra, Benedict Music Tent, 6 August
Augustin Hadelich (violin), Joshua Weilerstein (conductor)

Beethoven — Overture to Egmont
Rouse — Symphony No. 5
Brahms — Violin Concerto in D major

In a season of generally high-quality music making, there hasn’t been anything quite as fine as Augustin Hadelich’s breath-taking performance of Brahms’ Violin Concerto on Sunday afternoon.

The weather cooperated with stillness, and a rapt audience at the Benedict Music Tent hung on every note as the 33-year-old violinist spun one magical phrase after another on his 1723 Stradivarius. He played lyrical sections with sigh-inducing delicacy. He cast complex, rapid-fire passages with precision and flair. But most importantly, he had a clear idea of how he wanted things to develop in this monumental journey, ratcheting up the tension and letting it ebb gently, tracing an arc that somehow felt both inevitable and fresh.

Conductor Joshua Weilerstein proved himself an able collaborator, marshaling the Aspen Festival Orchestra into the same corral with the soloist. Weilerstein constantly made eye contact with the violinist, something concerto conductors have not done this year. In the orchestra-only sections, the ensemble rose to make its own Brahmsian statements. Tone had clarity. Rhythm revealed a gentle pulse. Alex Klein’s plangent oboe solo in the slow movement was a highlight.

But the day—and perhaps the season—belonged to Hadelich, who demonstrated once again how an artist of his statute can bring familiar music to life, as if hearing it for the first time. His encore did likewise. Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 (the one Rachmaninoff co-opted for his Rhapsody) was a marvel of pinpoint articulation, dynamic control, and humility, letting the music be the show-off.

The concert opened with a full-throated account of the Egmont Overture, like Beethoven on steroids. It made an appropriate appetizer for the local debut of Christopher Rouse’s rowdy and muscular Symphony No. 5, an Aspen Music Festival co-commission. (The Dallas Symphony played it first in February under Jaap van Zweden.)

Echoes of Beethoven’s famous fifth pepper the score. The rhythmic “fate” motive in breathless percussion launches the ship, and the overall shape more or less traces similar paths, but the content is all Rouse. He loves to crash and bang, and he’s not above rude blasts from the low brass, but he can also create moments that suspend time in tonal beauty. Over four movements (played without pause), rambunctiousness receives a logical frame.

The result is a kaleidoscope of colors and a feast of rhythms, which grab an audience by the lapels and propel them to the triumphant finish. This piece deserves be heard often.

The star in Friday’s Aspen Chamber Symphony program, Joyce Yang, brought her consummate musicality and fine technique to some showoff Liszt, namely Ferruccio Busoni’s 1894 arrangement of the Rhapsodie espagnole. Busoni, a pianist himself, made something of a side hustle out of orchestrating finger-busting piano works by Liszt, and also reducing his orchestral pieces for piano.

Busoni’s colorful orchestration, nicely shaped by conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, added breadth to the pianistic flourishes and created a concerto-like atmosphere. Yang was indomitable, spraying the notes about with élan, but also bringing dignity to the proceedings. Her encore, Grieg’s gentle Nocturne, quieted things with four minutes of haunting delicacy.

A late substitution for an indisposed Johannes Debus, Harth-Bedoya not only kept pace, he wove a nice carpet of strings, laid out for a septet of impressive wind players in Swiss composer Frank Martin’s genial Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments and Timpani. It opened the concert with excellent individual contributions from the soloists—Zirbel, Kevin Cobb (trumpet), Addison Maye-Saxon (trombone), Nadine Asine (flute), Elaine Douvas (oboe), Michael Rusinek (clarinet), Nancy Goeres (bassoon) and Jonathan Haas (timpani), an Aspen A-list group.

Harth-Bedoya also captured the broad stokes in Brahms’ majestic Symphony No. 3. John Zirbel’s sweet-tempered horn solo in a finely shaped third movement was a highlight.

Saturday night in Harris Hall, guitarist Sharon Isbin brought her warmth and flair to Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. She invested a welcome freshness in this most familiar work for guitar and orchestra, coloring the central Adagio with utmost refinement and adding gentle sparks to the outer movements. The student orchestra, conducted by Scott Tyrrell, joined in the spirit.

The encore, Granados’ Spanish Dance No. 5, all but stole the show. The composer wrote it as a solo piano work emulating Spanish guitar, but to hear it played by a guitar master put it in a completely different light. Isbin’s rhythmic freedom and improvisatory elegance made it even more totally Spanish.

Earlier Saturday, the Aspen Opera Center ventured way out on a limb to present a concert version of Seven Angels, a bleak opera very loosely inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Seven singers and the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, led by conductor Yves Abel, threw themselves into British composer Luke Bedford’s craggy music. Valiant work by soprano Julia Walcott as Angel 1/Waitress and tenor Brian Michael Moore as Angel 4/Prince carried much of the vocal load. All the singers were impressive.

But Glen Maxwell’s obtuse and pretentious libretto, combined with Bedford’s often hammering, hectoring musical style, made this a rough one on the ears. Bedford’s first and final scenes carried a magical, if frightening, sense of atmosphere. But then skewed vocal lines and an incessantly pounding score made an assault of the rest, a heavy-handed story of a once-robust garden turned to dust by climate change. Grim stuff.

Harvey Steiman

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