Aspen Music Festival And School

About the AMFS


About the Aspen Music Festival and School

Founded in 1949, the Aspen Music Festival and School is regarded as one of the top classical music festivals in the United States, noted both for its concert programming and its musical training of mostly young-adult music students. The typical eight-week summer season includes more than 400 classical music events—including concerts by five orchestras, solo and chamber music performances, fully staged opera productions, master classes, lectures, and children’s programming—and brings in 100,000 audience members. In the winter, the AMFS presents a small series of recitals and Metropolitan Opera Live in HD screenings.




2017 Summer Festival Season

At the 2017 Aspen Music Festival and School, audiences will be offered an intelligently curated mix of concerts exploring the season theme of “enchantment” through the lenses of myth, fairy tales, magic spells, forbidden love, transformation, and the transcendent delights of nature.

“This summer we look deeply at the magical, transformative power of music,” says Alan Fletcher, now in his 11th year as president and CEO of the AMFS. “The Festival in Aspen offers an unusual opportunity to experience a myriad of works—some new, some favorites, some rediscovered, some revisited—in a way that makes each fresh again. It’s deeply enriching not only for the hundreds of musicians who come together to perform and study, but as much or more for the attending audiences and the international musical community. Musical experiences can transform and expand us, individually and collectively, and we programmed this season, as every season, with that in mind.”

The idea of enchantment-as-transformation has fascinated storytellers since the days of Aesop. Music is full of this kind of enchantment, whether it be the objects-come-to-life of Ravel’s opera L’enfant et les sortilèges ("The Child and the Enchantment”), which sees fairy tale characters, furniture, crockery, plants, and stuffed animals chastise a peevish child who has been tormenting them (conducted by AMFS Music Director Robert Spano in a concert presentation, July 21) or the more subtle musical transformations, like Strauss’s orchestral transpositions of Couperin’s harpsicord dance works (conducted by Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot, June 30).

Other works illustrating “enchantment” in the 2017 program include Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade (July 26), about the spellbinding power of storytelling; Stravinsky’s Petrushka (August 16), about three puppets come to life; Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (July 30), based on this compelling figure popular in Russian fairy tales; Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute (July 7) ; Prokofiev’s Symphonic Suite from The Love for Three Oranges (July 14), a setting of an almost absurdist Italian fairy tale; Christopher Theofanidis’s Dreamtime Ancestors (July 30), based on an Australian aboriginal myth; and Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (July 15), a gossamer work portraying the shifting moods of a faun through an afternoon.

The Aspen Opera Center in 2017 will produce Verdi’s La traviata (July 15, 17, 18), Luke Bedford’s chamber opera Seven Angels (concert presentation, August 5), and Mozart’s La clemenza di tito (August 15, 17, 19).

The summer of 2017 will also include highlights of stellar orchestral repertoire, including the music of Beethoven, Berg, Berlioz, Brahms, Debussy, Dvořák, Berlioz, Mahler, Mozart, Ravel, Augusta Read Thomas, Schubert, Stravinsky, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Vivaldi. Nicholas McGegan will again lead a Baroque evening in Harris Concert Hall.

In addition to AMFS artist-faculty and Music Director Robert Spano, guest artists invited to the 2017 season include conductors Christian Arming, Ingmar Beck, Andrey Boreyko, Johannes Debus, Jane Glover, Hans Graf, George Manahan, Nicholas McGegan, Ludovic Morlot, John Nelson, Rafael Payare, Larry Rachleff, Markus Stenz, Michael Stern, Patrick Summers, Joshua Weilerstein, and Hugh Wolff; violinists Zeynep Alpan, Adele Anthony, Sarah Chang, Veronika Eberle, Augustin Hadelich, Stefan Jackiw, Sergey Khachatryan, Jennifer Koh, Robert McDuffie, Simone Porter, Gil Shaham, and Arnaud Sussmann; pianists Inon Barnatan, Jonathan Biss, Yefim Bronfman, Hung-Kuan Chen, Vladimir Feltsman, Kirill Gerstein, Andreas Haefliger, Marc-André Hamelin, Wu Han, Martin Helmchen, Tengku Irfan, Denis Kozhukhin, Robert Levin, Paul Lewis, Nikolai Lugansky, Garrick Ohlsson, Anna Polonsky, Conrad Tao, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Orion Weiss, and Joyce Yang; cellists David Finckel, Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, and Alisa Weilerstein; bassist Edgar Meyer; singers Sasha Cooke, Michelle DeYoung, Renée Fleming, Bryan Hymel, John Relyea, and Andrè Schuen; flutist Marina Piccinini; guitarist Sharon Isbin; the Pacifica, Takács and American string quartets; the American Brass Quintet, and more.

Composition faculty Stephen Hartke and Christopher Theofanidis are joined by visiting composers Anders Hilborg, Christopher Rouse, Yuko Uebayashi, Judith Shatin, Jonathan Leshnoff, Augusta Read Thomas, Timothy Collins, and Matthew Ricketts.

The season closes with Spano conducting Berlioz’s eternal and infernal The Damnation of Faust (August 20) with soloists Bryan Hymel, tenor, an AMFS alumnus; mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, an AMFS alumna; and bass-baritone John Relyea.

Festival History

The Aspen Music Festival and School was originally founded in 1949 by Chicago businessman Walter Paepcke and Elizabeth Paepcke as a two-week bicentennial celebration of the 18th-century German writer Johann Wolgang von Goethe. The event, which included both intellectual forums and musical performances, was such a success that it led to the formation of both the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival and School.

In the summers that followed, the participating musicians returned, bringing their music students, and the foundation was set for the AMFS as it is known today. In 1951, the School enrolled its first official class, with 183 music students. That same year, Igor Stravinsky became the first conductor to present his own works with the Festival.

Early founding musicians included baritone Mac Harrell (father of cellist Lynn Harrell) and violinist Roman Totenberg (father of NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg). Early performance highlights include then-student James Levine conducting the Benjamin Britten opera Albert Herring in 1964, coinciding with Britten’s visit to Aspen that summer to accept an award from the Aspen Institute. In 1965, Duke Ellington and his orchestra came to the AMFS to perform a benefit concert. In 1971, Dorothy DeLay joined the AMFS strings artist-faculty and attracted more than 200 students a summer to her program. In 1975, Aaron Copland came to Aspen as a composer-in-residence  on the occasion of his 75th birthday. In 1980, John Denver performed with the Aspen Festival Orchestra for his TV special Music and the Mountains, which aired the following year on ABC. Multiple artist-faculty members have also recorded albums while in Aspen, including the Emerson String Quartet, which recorded the Shostakovich: The String Quartets 5-disc set from AMFS venue Harris Concert Hall and won the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Classical Album.

Programs of Study

The Aspen Music Festival and School offers musicians a choice of twelve programs of study: Orchestra, Brass Quintet Studies, the Finckel-Wu Han Chamber Music Studio, Solo Piano, Collaborative Piano, Opera Coaching, the Aspen Opera Center, the Aspen Conducting Academy, the Susan and Ford Schumann Center for Composition Studies, the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, the Center for Advanced Quartet Studies, and Classical Guitar.


The Benedict Music Tent, which opened in 2000, is the Festival’s primary concert venue and seats 2050. The tent replaced an earlier tent designed by Herbert Bayer, which in 1965 replaced the original smaller tent designed by Eero Saarinen. Concerts are held in the Benedict Music Tent on a nearly daily basis during the summer, and seating on the lawn just outside the Tent, where many choose to picnic during events, is always free. The design has open sides; the curving roof is made of Teflon-coated fiberglass, a hard material also used by the Denver International Airport.

The 500-seat Joan and Irving Harris Concert Hall is located next door to the Benedict Music Tent, and was opened in 1993 at a cost of $7 million. The Wheeler Opera House—a Victorian-era venue owned by the City of Aspen—is the home to Aspen Opera Center productions in the summer and the AMFS’s The Met: Live in HD screenings in the winter.

In 2016, the AMFS completed its $75 million, 105,000-square-foot Matthew and Carolyn Bucksbaum Campus, which serves as the center of its teaching activities. The Campus, located two miles from downtown Aspen, sits on a 38-acre site that is shared between the AMFS in the summer and Aspen Country Day School during the academic year. Designed by architect Harry Teague, who also designed the AMFS’s Harris Concert Hall and the Benedict Music Tent, the Bucksbaum Campus includes three expansive rehearsal halls, numerous teaching studios and practice rooms, a percussion building, administrative offices, and a glass-enclosed cafeteria. The Campus was designed with Aspen’s natural setting in mind: the buildings’ roof lines mirror the shapes of the surrounding mountains and hug the contours of the ponds and creek.

Renowned Alumni

VIOLINISTS Joshua Bell, David Chan, Sarah Chang, Ray Chen, Robert Chen, Karen Gomyo, Midori, David Halen, Sirena Huang, Cho-Liang Lin, Robert McDuffie, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Gil Shaham, Elena Urioste, Andrew Wan; PIANISTS Jeremy Denk, Ingrid Fliter, Orli Shaham, Conrad Tao, Yuja Wang, Wu Han, Joyce Yang; CONDUCTORS Marin Alsop, Mei-Ann Chen, James Conlon, James Feddeck, James Gaffigan, James Levine, Tomáš Netopil, Peter Oundjian, Larry Rachleff, Leonard Slatkin, Joshua Weilerstein, Hugh Wolff; COMPOSERS Andy Akiho, Mason Bates, William Bolcom, Philip Glass, David Lang, Hannah Lash, Eric Nathan, Clint Needham, Andrew Norman, Augusta Read Thomas, Adam Schoenberg, Bright Sheng, Sean Sheperd, Joan Tower; VOCALISTS Jamie Barton, Liam Bonner, Danielle de Niese, Sasha Cooke, Ying Fang, Renée Fleming, Haeran Hong, Isabel Leonard, Ryan McKinny, Russell Thomas, Dawn Upshaw, Jennifer Zetlan; ENSEMBLES Calder Quartet, Escher String Quartet, Jupiter String Quartet, Pacifica Quartet, Ying Quartet, CELLISTS Lynn Harrell, David Requiro, Joshua Roman, Alisa Weilerstein; GUITARIST Sharon Isbin; PERFORMER Peter Schickele; BASSIST Edgar Meyer

Robert Spano, Music Director

Alan Fletcher, President and CEO