United States Aspen Music Festival  (HS)
Benedict Music Tent, 3 August
Alisa Weilerstein (cello), Aspen Chamber Orchestra/Jane Glover (conductor)
Haydn — Symphony No.85 in B-flat major The Queen
Tchaikovsky — Variations on a Rococo Theme; Suite No.4 in G major Mozartiana
Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky — Bluebird pas-de-deux, from The Sleeping Beauty
Harris Hall, 4 August
Gil Shaham (violin), Robert Spano (piano)
J.S. Bach — Violin Sonata No.3 in E major
Debussy — Violin Sonata
Brahms — Violin Sonata No.1 in G major
Benedict Music Tent, 5 August
Midori (violin), Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano), Richard Smagur (tenor), Aspen Festival Orchestra/Patrick Summers (conductor)
Bernstein — Serenade, after Plato’s Symposium
Mahler — Das Lied von der Erde
Michelle DeYoung wasn’t even supposed to be on the stage of the Benedict Music Tent Sunday. Called in only 48 hours before because the scheduled mezzo-soprano, Jamie Barton, could not shake a case of laryngitis, there stood DeYoung before a rapt audience, the outsized Aspen Festival Orchestra whipping up a storm behind her.
As DeYoung reached the final stanza of ‘Abschied’ (‘Farewell’), the last movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, her rich tone and serene presence cast a magical balm over the fadeout of ‘Ewig…ewig’ (‘always…always’) against soft, incandescent chords from the orchestra. If you couldn’t avoid choking back tears, you weren’t alone.
Conductor Patrick Summers, no stranger to matching orchestras with the great singers of the world, brought it all together in this final song of Mahler’s hour-long cycle, written between his Eighth and Ninth symphonies. DeYoung and tenor Richard Smagur alternated the six songs.
Summers didn’t hold back the orchestra for the ones about debauchery and drunkenness. Smagur was game, but the full, rambunctious orchestrations often overwhelmed his voice. The mezzo’s role, with its dreamier instrumentation, let DeYoung come through with ease and clarity. The overall effect, however, created tremendous excitement.
In Bernstein’s Serenade, Midori took the solo violin part with more introspection than drama. She favored piano and pianissimo sounds, and audience members in the wings strained to hear her. Listeners in front of the stage were treated to a sleek and thoughtful performance, especially in the lovely Adagio. Summers kept the orchestra flowing nicely. Her encore, the softly treading Andante from Bach’s Sonata No.2 in A minor, conjured a contemplative mood.
On Friday, the weekend’s other featured conductor, Jane Glover, led the Aspen Chamber Orchestra concert with vigor and attention to detail. The program may have centered on Tchaikovsky, but Haydn, Mozart and Stravinsky hovered about to lend a delicious edge to an ebullient outing.
Cellist Alisa Weilerstein provided the pivot point with Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme. The tune, which nods to Mozart, sung sweetly before venturing into the composer’s increasingly Romantic developments. The interplay between Weilerstein and Glover’s gentle nudges from the orchestra added excitement, and climaxed with a cadenza of breathtaking virtuosity, executed with precision, bravado and perfectly nailed high notes at the far end of the instrument’s fingerboard.
For an encore, Weilerstein reprised a highlight from her evening-long marathon of J.S. Bach’s unaccompanied suites earlier in the week, the Sarabande from No.5. It held the audience rapt with her trademark combination of technical brilliance infused with passion.
In the final work of the evening, Glover’s smart and ingratiating program picked up the Mozart subtext. An adroit and animated romp through Tchaikovsky’s Suite No.4 in G major glowed with confidence from this orchestra, which has emerged this season as the prime ensemble in the festival’s regular rotation. The concert opened with a lesser-heard symphony from Haydn, Mozart’s contemporary, Haydn, with his Symphony No.85 ‘The Queen’. Glover got things off to a great start with an irresistible lilt and agile playing.
To launch the second half, Glover led Stravinsky’s bright and charming arrangement of the
‘Bluebird pas de deux’ from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty, the bits of 20th-century pungency coming more from its wind-centric orchestration than from the occasional dissonance.
A full house, the first one of the season, packed into Harris Hall Saturday evening for violinist Gil Shaham’s only Aspen appearance this summer. Spilling over onto the stage, the audience was treated to the essence of chamber music — the privilege of eavesdropping on the intimacy of musicians playing for each other.
With Shaham and festival music director Robert Spano sharing congratulatory hugs and bowing to one another after each piece on the short (90-minute) program, it was clear these two were having a great time. Clearly there was a high level of communication between Shaham, who demonstrated his usual technical clarity, and Spano, collaborating on piano.
In the opening Bach Violin Sonata No.3 in E major, Shaham’s playing was technically clean, but he didn’t even try to evoke a Baroque style, and neither did Spano. The warmth of the slow movements seemed more in line with the violinist’s thinking. The Debussy sonata that followed seemed cut from the same cloth — a nice exercise, but neither player went for the composer’s suppleness and velvety tone.
Their styles fit much better with Brahms’ Violin Sonata in G major, the program’s high point. Shaham’s entrance, barely a whisper, expanded the sound from his Stradivarius in waves until the music opened up into grandeur. The first movement was a study in gathering strength, the Adagio flowed gently, and the finale rode increased references to a dotted rhythm first heard in the opening movement for a satisfying conclusion. Despite three curtain calls, there was no encore.