About the AMFS


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 eight-week summer season includes hundreds of classical music events: concerts by four orchestras, recitals, chamber music, operas, classes, lectures, and family programs. In the winter, the AMFS presents recitals and robust music education programs for local youth and families.


Mission Statement


Adopted March 2015 by the Board of Trustees in the Long Range Plan

The Aspen Music Festival and School’s mission is to be the preeminent summer institution of classical music education, performances, and presentations; to be transformational and inspirational for all involved; to be innovative and a catalyst for change in the world of music, while drawing on and respecting its great traditions.


  • A school unique in its teaching practice and philosophy, inspiring every student through study and performance;
  • A magnet for the highest-quality students, artist-faculty, and guest artists;
  • A center for great musical performances, where listeners enrich their enjoyment of music;
  • A force for positive change in the world of music.


All in the context of respecting and nurturing the Aspen Idea and the Aspen community, celebrating the union of mind, body, and spirit through the art of music.


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.