A summer highlight: McGegan and Pratt team up for something old and something new

Courtesy of the artists
Bach and Jessie Montgomery, Awadagin Pratt and Nicholas McGegan – two exciting pairings at one concert this summer in Aspen.

Two big names in classical music, conductor Nicholas McGegan and pianist Awadagin Pratt, are meeting for the first time in Aspen this summer. Pratt is making a return to Aspen after more than 20 years. McGegan, on the other hand, has been part of the festival for more than 20 years.

“I’m very much looking forward to collaborating and learning,” says Pratt. Even though he has his own perspectives on Bach, he’s looking forward to working with “baroque specialist” McGegan, and “having that experience of ‘well, I’ve never thought about it that way before.’”

McGegan is one of classical music's foremost baroque specialists. His skills are in demand around the world, but he finds the Aspen Music Festival to be a special experience. “There’s a much greater personal interaction with the people in Aspen and we who are playing there,” says McGegan. “I have a concert on Friday with the chamber symphony, and I have it as part of my religious makeup to go to the farmers market the following morning, where it seems like half the audience is standing in line for the same bagels and vegetables that I am.”

Beyond this connection to the audience, McGegan says he also values working with students in Aspen. “They ask you questions that maybe you never thought about, and that’s terrific. To say ‘Well I never thought of it that way, but now that you mention it, everything I thought was probably wrong, and that you’re probably right!’ And that’s such fun.”

The program is mostly Bach; there's "The Magnificat," which turns 300 this year, and a previously unfinished sinfonia finished by composer Robert Levin for the concert.

There is one notable exception: Jessie Montgomery’s “Rounds for Piano and Orchestra,” a commission from Pratt himself. “It’s a little bit like setting a jewel, when you have something like the Montgomery,” says McGegan. “If you change the setting of the jewelry, the jewel looks different.”

“Audiences love it, and are moved in different ways,” says Awadagin Pratt. He says people are affected by it for different reasons, and that it reveals different elements each time. He attributes some of this to the juxtaposition of the various energies of the piece, “from the very highly kinetic energy, a sparkling energy, to very deep and contemplative and reflective energy.” Part of the excitement comes from the cadenza, which was written by Pratt and is improvised to a certain extent in each performance.

Montgomery’s “Rounds for Piano and Orchestra” comes from a commissioning project Pratt put into motion a few years ago. It’s culminating in his album "STILLPOINT" releasing later this summer on August 25. He commissioned composers to help him re-imagine the works of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Four Quartets,” and he collaborated with the choral group Roomful of Teeth and the ensemble A Far Cry to bring this album to life.

Hear Awadagin Pratt and Nicholas McGegan come together for the first time at The Aspen Music Festival on July 13 at 6 p.m.

If you can’t make the mountainous trek, CPR Classical brings the music to you with Summerfest. Check out our program guide, listen to snapshots of the festivals with Summerfest postcards or find out what Aspen and other festivals across the state have in store for you this summer.

CPR Classical is your guide to summer music

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