At Leading US Music School, a Quest to Revive French Influence

Manila Bulletin, July 20, 2018 | Go to article overview

At Leading US Music School, a Quest to Revive French Influence


By Agence France-Presse

The music teachers spending the summer in the mountain air of Aspen can tell you all about that most famous instructor of them all, Nadia Boulanger, the Parisian whose roster of pupils reads like a historical list of 20th-century composers.

But while the Aspen Music Festival and School, long a premier training ground for US classical musicians, now draws artists through tie-ups with conservatories around the world, it has little relationship with Paris. And the French repertoire, while still loved by many, has taken a back-seat for the young generation in the United States.

Aspen is on a mission to change that. The festival -- which brings 600 students each summer to the posh ski resort in the Colorado Rockies to study and hobnob with top musicians -- has devoted its season to Paris, hoping to highlight the musical contributions of the City of Lights but also to revive its influence on US classical music.

"We realized, looking at Paris, how many cities would there be where you have that richness through so many periods?" said composer Alan Fletcher, who is president and CEO of the festival.

"Even Vienna is primarily important in two places. But Paris has been important to the world of music for centuries," Fletcher said in his office above a crystal-clear stream some 2,400 meters (8,000 feet) above sea level.

As for music in Paris today, "I don't see there being any decline -- there is, though, a decline in the way American musical life responds to Paris."

The eight-week season takes a broad look at the musical legacy of Paris. Under a wind-swept giant tent, the Aspen Chamber Symphony performed Mozart's Symphony No. 31, a witty revision of established conventions written by the onetime child prodigy when he returned to Paris in 1778 in a frustrating search for employment.

Aspen musicians are also putting on a range of works by French composers from Ravel's "La Valse," his fierce take on waltz form interjected with echoes of World War I's devastation, to a swath of pieces by Debussy that examine parallels with the Impressionist movement in painting.

Fletcher said that while US audiences are familiar with celebrated works such as Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique," which will close the festival on August 19, more contemporary composers draw blank stares.

If one asked audience members "how much Dutilleux do you know, they would say I have no idea who this person is," Fletcher said.

"To me as a composer, Dutilleux is absolutely one of the greatest composers of the 20th century and early 21st centuries, and all we need is to show that music to people."

Encouraging individual voice

The festival is also throwing a spotlight on composers who studied under Boulanger, one of history's most consequential piano instructors. …

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