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Trip Ideas

A Highway Journey to Pattern America’s Many, Many Music Festivals


4 classical music festivals. Three kids. Two exhausted dad and mom, with a courageous grandfather in tow. One bedraggled minivan.

It’ll be enjoyable, my spouse promised me. Surprisingly, it was.

Whereas a few of my colleagues have been taking within the mighty festivals of Europe over the previous few weeks — premieres in Aix-en-Provence, France, and the charms of Salzburg, Austria — the revival of programming after the darker days of the pandemic affords the adventurous a contemporary likelihood to get higher acquainted with the summer season choices right here in the US.

There are many them, in spite of everything. A number of of our main orchestras profit from their very own trip properties, whether or not Tanglewood for the Boston Symphony or Blossom for the Cleveland Orchestra, Ravinia exterior Chicago or the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Others, not so lucky in padding their backside traces with picnickers, play on of their traditional halls, or piece collectively quick residencies in varied climes.

Then there’s Ojai, and Ravinia, and Spoleto, and Caramoor, and Bard, and Cabrillo and lots of, many extra festivals; in case your finances stretches and your abdomen is robust, you’ll be able to even take a jet boat down the Colorado to listen to “Quartet for the Finish of Time” in a riverside grotto exterior Moab.

The alternatives are infinite, however for anybody all for combining soundscapes with surroundings, as our Junior Rangers demand, one highway journey via the mountains begs to be explored.

My household and I — together with kids aged 6, 3 and never fairly 1 — began with the up-and-coming Colorado Music Competition in Boulder, which is inside straightforward attain of Rocky Mountain Nationwide Park. Then it made sense to a climb as much as the ski resorts west of Denver — first to Bravo! Vail, then to the subsequent valley for the Aspen Music Competition and Faculty. Jackson Gap, Wyo., didn’t look all that distant, actually. There, the Grand Teton Music Competition performs simply exterior the park of the identical title, with Yellowstone Nationwide Park an hour to the north. Why not?

After all, we may have left at that, and that will in all probability have been sensible. Nonetheless, there’s additionally an alluring route again south, down via the Canyonlands of Utah and on towards Santa Fe Opera. Tempting.

They’re all fairly completely different, serving discrete audiences in distinct atmospheres even when spending time at a few of them is pricey, regardless of the ticket worth. Every has its personal thought of what — and whom — a summer season competition needs to be for, and every turned out to be beneficial in its personal method.

Look at it from a distance, and also you would possibly mistake the auditorium of the Colorado Chautauqua, the place this 44 year-old, five-and-a-bit week competition relies, for Wagner’s temple in Bayreuth. Inbuilt 1898, it’s perched on Boulder’s southwestern flank, the Flatiron rock formations brooding behind it with mountaineering trails throughout. Get there on the proper time, and you’ll nearly hear a rehearsal from the playground down the hill. Our youngest watched deer wandering the grounds from his swing, whereas I eavesdropped on some John Adams.

Fetchingly ramshackle, the wood corridor provides an acoustic that’s as snug for string quartets as for the competition’s orchestra, and it attracts an viewers that listens intently. It’s a stable platform, one from which the music director, Peter Oundjian, who has just lately taken over the Colorado Symphony in Denver, hopes to show this competition from a primarily native occasion to one thing with broader attain.

That’s a simple sufficient mission to consider in in case you have mates like Adams. Modern scores are dotted via even the extra conventional evenings right here, which this season included commissions from Wang Jie and Wynton Marsalis, and there’s a aptitude to the programming that mixes barely uncommon works with cornerstones of the canon.

Even so, my go to coincided with the beginning of a brand new music week that Adams took half in organizing as composer in residence, albeit with out providing any novelties himself. The Attacca Quartet got here in for an evening to feast on works by Philip Glass and Gabriella Smith, however of the three live shows I heard, the 2 orchestral packages had been most revealing of this competition’s virtues.

Take the second: a quick premiere from Timo Andres, “Darkish Patterns,” prefaced Samuel Adams’s Chamber Concerto, a violin concerto in disguise that well refracts Baroque kinds and was performed amazingly by the soloist Helen Kim, earlier than Samuel’s father, John, stepped as much as conduct his personal, pulsating “Metropolis Noir.”

Adams visibly loved himself on the rostrum, and with good motive: The competition ensemble is an admirable one. The gamers largely hail from regional orchestras — the wind soloists, for example, embody regular-season principals from Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii and Florida — and so they come collectively every summer season to play with terrific dedication and no scarcity of virtuosity.

They’ll play just about something, too. The primary program I heard was one among three that intriguingly paired the piano concertos of Beethoven with works by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Oundjian busily drew crisp, energetic help for Jan Lisiecki, who was a quite clangorous soloist within the “Emperor” Concerto, however the true shock was the rarefied eloquence that his orchestra lavished on the Vaughan Williams’s World Conflict II-era Fifth Symphony. I’m nonetheless desirous about it, weeks later.

Celebrating its thirty fifth season, the delightfully pleasant Bravo! Vail is a completely completely different sort of affair. Digging deep into its donors’ pockets, it brings three main orchestras, in addition to a chamber ensemble, to city for six intense weeks of performances, essentially the most outstanding of them in a shocking outside amphitheater named for the native vacationer-turned-civic-booster Gerald R. Ford (sure, that one).

It’s a jaunt that the ensembles clearly worth. The fourth one rotates from 12 months to 12 months; this season, it was the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. However the Dallas Symphony Orchestra simply signed as much as seem via 2024, whereas the Philadelphia Orchestra is contracted via 2026 and New York Philharmonic via 2027.

The magical setting — cradled in forested mountains, the amphitheater abuts a botanical backyard and backs onto a creek — probably has so much to do with that, and the gamers and their households have time to benefit from the ski resort’s plentiful facilities.

However Juliette Kang, the primary affiliate concertmaster of the Philadelphians, instructed me throughout a break in rehearsals that she and her colleagues additionally take inspiration from the hardy people who flip down a seat within the pavilion, the place the ambiance is relaxed sufficient that no one minded my six 12 months previous drawing the flowers behind the stage throughout Brahms’s Fourth, for the tiered garden. On the market, the place our child babbled his method via Bruch to no complaints, lightning warnings are routinely ignored and no quantity of rain sends the attentive patrons scuttling for canopy; tarpaulins, not simply golf umbrellas, are needed right here.

Classics and pops are largely what these audiences courageous thunderstorms for — the Texans introduced the Beatles in addition to Beethoven — even when the inventive director, Anne-Marie McDermott, has valiantly begun a commissioning mission that this summer season noticed three premieres attain the primary stage. And the chamber music and free group live performance sequence roam extra enthusiastically throughout the repertoire.

Whereas the Philharmonic typically makes use of its time in Vail to check out packages for the Lincoln Middle season to come back, the Philadelphians repeated items from the season prior, given the only rehearsal on supply for every night. Nathalie Stutzmann, their principal visitor conductor, who was on the rostrum for the 2 live shows I heard, stated she finds that performances appear to breathe extra naturally within the mountain air; there was not even a whiff of complacency in hers.

Vail’s amphitheater, with its four-paned roof redolent of ski runs, provides honest sound, and although it’s a tad reticent with particulars, it has sufficient physique that the Philadelphians nonetheless sounded just like the Philadelphians. Deluge be damned, Stutzmann turned in probably the most actually shifting Tchaikovsky Sixths that I’ve heard.

For the musical vacationer, the issue with Aspen is that its title is a misnomer.

Based in 1949 as a part of Chicago businessman Walter Paepcke’s plan to show a sleepy Colorado city right into a haven for the soul and thoughts alike, this venerable endeavor is finest regarded as a ending faculty for budding elite musicians, about half of whom now obtain a free journey scholarship for the appreciable prices.

Though loads of visitor artists go via for recitals, a lot of the tons of of performances within the sprawling, eight-week season right here have a primarily pedagogical objective, as the scholars put to make use of what they’ve discovered from the enviable college. Renée Fleming, no much less, now directs the opera program with the conductor Patrick Summers.

The competition serves the scholars, in different phrases, and the reverse is much less the case.

Not that Aspen sprawls fairly as a lot because it as soon as did, regardless of a stunning, $75 million campus renovation that was accomplished in 2016. Wind the clock again a few many years, and you’d have discovered a thousand college students right here; this 12 months, officers needed to minimize a whole orchestra from this system due to a housing scarcity, leaving the coed physique at 500 or so. Alan Fletcher, Aspen’s chief govt, stated that it’s not but clear whether or not that quantity will develop into the norm.

The Benedict Music Tent, which succeeded two earlier buildings as Aspen’s important venue when it opened in 2000, may do with as a lot of a refresh because the programming, which is dismayingly staid given the normally eclectic tastes of the music director, Robert Spano; subsequent to the ostentatious glamour of town, the tent seems unkempt. Tickets additionally don’t come low cost to sit down on the arduous blue benches indoors, although anybody — households included ­— can pay attention without spending a dime on the meadows exterior.

That might nearly have been price doing for the live performance I heard, a Sunday afternoon characteristic from the college’s main ensemble, the Aspen Competition Orchestra, that Fletcher stated from the stage was “purely emblematic” of what the college goals to realize.

College take the principal seats whereas their college students play alongside them; alumni typically return as soloists, on this case the ever-popular violinist Gil Shaham, who shared the highlight with the wonderful younger cellist Sterling Elliott in a fascinating Brahms Double Concerto. Though the tent’s acoustic is distant, and the conducting of the visitor maestro John Storgards in Saariaho’s “Ciel d’Hiver” and Sibelius’s Symphony No. 6 was oddly brusque, the enjoying requirements had been excessive.

I’m unsure that the residents of Jackson Gap, whether or not they’re lucky sufficient to get pleasure from their first or their fourth properties in sight of the Grand Tetons, fairly perceive what they’ve going for them at Stroll Competition Corridor, a fortunately unpretentious, 700-seat indoor theater beside the gondolas in Teton Village.

Donald Runnicles, the music director right here since 2006, is a no-nonsense man with a no-nonsense competition. Although a piano sequence began this 12 months and there are weekly chamber music nights to attend — if you happen to, not like my spouse, can tear your self away from seeing the solar set from the mountaintop — the primary attraction is the Competition Orchestra, which operates on a subscription-season schedule, performing packages twice and rehearsing totally.

It reveals. That is one other ensemble made up of gamers from throughout the nation: some retreat right here from orchestras as prestigious because the Boston and Chicago symphonies, whereas a quantity normally play in opera pits, together with on the Metropolitan Opera, and some are even conservatory professors who come right here to sharpen their efficiency expertise. Among the musicians keep for the entire season, however most can solely handle two or three weeks. If that consistently altering roster would possibly pose issues — 5 concertmasters are listed in this system guide, and 15 horns — it additionally lends an eagerness to the enjoying.

Runnicles, probably the most underrated musicians of his technology, is aware of learn how to use it. The all-Russian program I heard was of unerring high quality, one through which even a political assertion was fastidiously conceived for its musical worth.

Earlier than a robust, big-boned account of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, which is commonly regarded as the composer’s declaration of liberation after the dying of Joseph Stalin, the Pittsburgh Symphony violinist Marta Krechkovsky, whose household stays in Ukraine, performed the solo line in Myroslav Skoryk’s “Melody,” which has been in extensive use as a hymn to freedom because the Russian invasion. Heard in that context, the Shostakovich grew to become all of the extra rapid.

You possibly can have requested for a mite extra focus to the orchestral sound within the live performance, although you’d battle to listen to a extra astounding rendition of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, or the rest to be sincere, than the one which soloist Augustin Hadelich contributed.

You possibly can ask for a bit of extra selection in Grand Teton’s programming typically, too, though there’s a dexterity to the way it incorporates new music — John Adams’s “Absolute Jest” alongside Stravinsky’s “Petrushka,” for example — and it’s no small feat to placed on Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony and Puccini’s “La Bohème” in a spot the place bears roam the night time.

However to quibble like that will be to overlook the purpose; not each competition must be an Ojai. What Grand Teton provides, like Bravo! Vail and the Colorado Music Competition in their very own methods, is a less complicated sort of pleasure, of excellent music in wonderful environment. I do know the place I’d whereas away my summer season, if I may.



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