Paris-themed concerts at the Aspen Music Festival

“Like Paris,” the novelist James Salter wrote in a 1981 Geo magazine essay, “Aspen is a city of light.”

Never has the parallel been more pronounced than this summer, as the Aspen Music Festival hosts a Paris-themed season of concerts with nearly 60 Paris-related works spread across its eight-weeks.

The festival‘s programs are filled with Parisian composers, works by Frenchmen and expats who found inspiration in the city.

Friday’s Aspen Chamber Symphony concert, for instance, includes works by Parisian composers Georges Biszet and Jacques Ibert along with Mozart’s “Paris” Symphony.

The summer program is packed with performances of works by French composers like Ravel, Fauré, Poulenc, Gounod, Messiaen and Boulez, as well as Paris-influenced works like Stravinsky’s Parisian ballet score “Petrushka,” which the Aspen Conducting Academy Orchestra will perform Aug. 7.

The season also includes nine performances of works by Debussy, who died 100 years ago in 1918.

“We are doing a number of his works this summer in homage to him,” said Aspen Music Festival and School Vice President Asadour Santourian.

“He is the father of modern music and ‘Afternoon of the Faun’ is the groundbreaking work with which he got that title.”

The festival will present “Afternoon of the Faun” in an Aspen Conducting Academy Orchestra concert on July 17.

Santourian also pointed to the Aspen Opera Center’s production of Jacques Offenbach’s opera “Tales of Hoffman,” running July 14 to 18 at the Wheeler Opera House, as a high point of the Paris-themed summer. Born as Jacob Offenbach in Germany, the composer moved to Paris as a teen, changed his name to Jacques and made his legend there.

“He was an expat who moved to France, changed his name and became famous writing operas in their own language,” Santourian said.

The festival is also devoting an evening to Chopin, the Polish-born composer who moved to Paris at 18.

The festival is hosting the Russian superstar pianist Daniil Trifonov for a recital Tuesday devoted to Chopin, including two Chopin works and six musical homages to him.

The season closes Aug.

19 with an Aspen Festival Orchestra performance of Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique,” a program symphony about lovesick and opium-besotted Paris nights that was written in the city and premiered there in 1830.

The summer also includes a series of concerts highlighting the influence of French music composition teacher Nadia Boulanger on American composers like Aaron Copland, Roy Harris and Virgil Thomson.

Monday’s chamber music concert in the Benedict Music Tent includes Thomson’s “Stabat mater.”

As always, the Music Festival season — with some 400 concerts and events — extends far beyond its stated Paris theme.

“We’re not entirely parochial about the theme,” Santourian said.

When the festival announced its summer Paris theme in February, President and CEO Alan Fletcher said it was a jumping-off point for collaborative presentations with local organizations Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Aspen Film, Anderson Ranch Arts Center and Jazz Aspen Snowmass along with launching new collaborations with nationally renowned groups like Seraphic Fire and the American Brass Quintet.

“Paris has always been a center for collaboration in the arts,” Fletcher said. “Theater, dance, visual arts, literature.

It’s always been a culture — the so-called ‘cafe society’ — where all these different kinds of artists work together and know each other. That’s a nice theme for us, because we really care about collaboration.

Festival music director Robert Spano, on a recent visit to Paris, was struck by the city’s resonance and vitality through centuries of music.

“I was in Paris this winter and was at the Théâtre des Champs Elysée,” he told the 2018 class of students at their convocation last month, “and was floored thinking that ‘The Rite of Spring’ happened there and felt the fact of our work being in this living stream of tradition.

Then I realized Paris is even symbolic — emblematic — of the western European musical tradition.”




Friday, July 6, 6 p.m.

Aspen Chamber Symphony, Benedict Music Tent

Bizet: Symphony No. 1 in C major

Ibert: Hommage à Mozart

Mozart: Symphony No.

31 in D major, “Paris”

Saturday, July 7, 4:30 p.m.

Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, Harris Concert Hall

Faure: Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor,

Saint-Saens:: Piano Trio No.

1 in F major

Sunday, July 7, 4 p.m.

Aspen Festival Orchestra, Benedict Music Tent

Ravel: La valse


July 11 Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major, Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra

July 15 Debussy: La damoiselle élue, Aspen Festival Orchestra

July 17: Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Aspen Conducting Academy Orchestra

July 17 Debussy: Clair de lune, Daniel Hope

July 23 Faure: Piano Quintet No. 2 in C minor, Chamber Music

July 27 Canteloube: Selected Songs, Aspen Chamber Symphony


7 Stravinsky: Petrushka, Aspen Conducting Academy Orchestra

Aug. 12 Debussy: La mer, Aspen Festival Orchestra


12 Ravel: Une barque sur l’océan, Aspen Festival Orchestra

Aug. 14-18 Offenbach: Tales of Hoffman, Aspen Opera Center


17 Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major, Aspen Chamber Symphony

Aug. 19 Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, Aspen Festival Orchestra

Tickets and more info: aspenmusicfestival.