The Aspen Music Festival and School lures classical listeners to the Rocky Mountains each summer because of the elite musicians on the concert schedule. In 2015 alone, marquee names like violinist Daniel Hope, guitarist Sharon Isbin and the Pacifica Quartet performed there.
But for tomorrow’s aspiring musicians, the sounds made in the student ensembles and private lessons are equally important. The school, which hosted 630 students this year, boasts a dizzying alumni list with names like violinist Joshua Bell, pianist Jeremy Denk and conductor Marin Alsop.
Violinist Natalie Hodges, a recent graduate of Kent Denver School who heads to Harvard University this fall, spent a month this summer studying at the school and playing in student ensembles.
“The level of musicianship here is so high,” the 18-year-old said shortly after arriving at AMFS in late July. “I feel lucky. And intimidated. And I’m so excited to learn from my peers and the teachers and the artists here.”
Hodges checked in weekly with CPR Classical’s David Rutherford to share impressions on what she learned, the music the students played and how the lessons changed the way she thinks about performing.
Hear their discussions below or scroll down for highlights:
First impressions and auditions
Hodges shared her initial thoughts on arriving in Aspen: the gorgeous setting, intense auditions and excitement of learning from top professional musicians.
“I’m a little scared. But that sense of apprehension is really mingled with an excitement and also a sense of peace -- just when you step onto this campus with the beautiful trees. And you see people walking with their (instrument) cases and there’s that beautiful music tent. It’s one of the loveliest places I’ve ever been and it’s such a great sort of cocoon of music in the mountains.”
Eye-opening lessons and rehearsals
Hodges quickly settled into the school's busy schedule, which often includes two rehearsals a day followed by many more hours of solo practice. And she described a thrilling and surprising lesson with her teacher, Donald Weilerstein.
“It was actually probably the most unorthodox violin lesson I’ve ever had, but also the most wonderful. We didn’t work so much on the specifics of the music itself as on how to position your body and how to think about the strength and power in your abdominal core and in your spine.”
'Freedom and time' to think about music
Midway through the four-week session, Hodges reflected on how thinking about music can be as productive as practicing.
"I don’t feel like I have to practice 10 hours a day here. And I feel like I have a lot more freedom and time to think about the music away from my instrument. I can think about it on an emotional and intellectual, and historical and contextual level. And that’s just as valuable a form of practice. So it’s fun for me, and it’s been a freeing thing, too."
A lesson with Pacifica Quartet
Hodges’ student string quartet received coaching from the Pacifica Quartet, a group that's played concerts around the world, and learned some tips on thinking about the sound of an ensemble.
“They talked about feeling a ball of energy between all of our four chairs at the center of the quartet, and feeling like the sound was there -- not in our own individual instruments. That was really interesting and it helped tremendously when we thought about sending sound toward each other and there being push and also a resistance of sound from all sides.”
The joy of making music
In her final days at the school, Hodges reflected on what she learned this summer. The list included lessons about how a music student interacts with her teacher and the importance of remembering the joy in playing music.
“Here, I’ve seen the musicians here collaborate together, and how much joy they have in making music together, with one another’s company. And so I worry now less about being good enough, and I’m still going to work as hard as I can. But here I felt more in the moment with the music, which has been really wonderful.”