Look, Listen, and Learn

5 Don't-Miss Cultural Events Coming to Aspen This Winter

An unprecedented collaboration at Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, the nation’s new poet laureate at Aspen Words, and the 200th show at a locally focused art gallery lead the diverse menu of cultural options.

By Andrew Travers November 18, 2017 Published in the Holiday 2017 issue of Aspen Sojourner

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Joyce Yang will perform with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet on March 24, 2018.


. If you’ve seen Joyce Yang play the piano—with the dramatic flourishes of raised arms between notes and the tap dance of her feet on the pedals—you won’t be surprised to learn she is a passionate ballet enthusiast. Now she has taken her dance fandom to the next level.

After viewing an Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB) performance in New York, Yang reached out to the company about collaborating, a move executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty terms unusual but welcome, and was connected with famed Israeli choreographer Jorma Elo.

Elo—a pianist himself—met Yang at Steinway Hall in Manhattan to choose the music. Yang pushed for an adaptation of Robert Schumann’s Carnaval, a solo piano work comprising 21 short movements, for which Elo has crafted as many distinct miniature ballets.

“It’s like Saturday Night Live skits,” said Yang after an August rehearsal. “One after another in different scenes.”

The wild, virtuosic composition inspired and challenged Elo. “It’s already complex, dramatically,” he says. “[Contemporary] choreographers tend to go toward Philip Glass or [minimalist] music where there’s just a basic landscape to build on. So I’m totally fascinated by this.”

Yang will play onstage amid the dancers and, during the finale, briefly dance herself. At the premiere and during the ensuing tour, Yang will also play for two additional ballets on the program—Jiri Kylian’s Return to a Strange Land and Nicolo Fonte’s Where We Left Off—marking the first time ASFB has produced a program entirely accompanied by live music.

March 24, 2018  
Aspen District Theatre, aspensantafeballet.com

2. Speaking at Aspen Words events isn’t in the job description for a US poet laureate, but you couldn’t blame local audiences for assuming it is. Tracy K. Smith, who began her term in September, will become the fourth poet laureate in recent years to stop in Aspen.

Smith, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the collection Life on Mars, plans to spend ample time on the road during her tenure, reaching beyond big cities and university settings into rural and remote communities across the US.

“I’m excited about the year ahead and the conversations that poetry will allow me to have with my fellow Americans,” she said during her inaugural reading at the Library of Congress.

Smith’s poems span the personal and universal, current events and science fiction, with inspirations as far-flung as David Bowie, her dog, Abu Ghraib, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Winter Words series also brings to town Christina Baker Kline, author of the New York Times best-selling novel Orphan Train (Feb 20 ); New Yorker staff writer William Finnegan, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning surfing memoir Barbarian Days (March 20 ); and poet Luis Alberto Urrea, whose new book, The House of Broken Angels, releases in March (April 3 ).

January 23, 2018 
Paepcke Auditorium, aspenwords.org

3. Jazz legend Dee Dee Bridgewater will explore her Memphis roots at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass JAS Café. The Tony Award–winning star of The Wiz, three-time Grammy winner, and former voice of NPR’s “Jazz Set with Dee Dee Bridgewater” returned to her birthplace to record an album of blues and soul classics by the Staple Singers, Otis Redding, B.B. King, and other greats. She premiered the project on the festival circuit last summer and released the album, Memphis…Yes, I’m Ready, in September. Bridgewater will bring along a large band with a brass section—the kind of big show from a huge star that we’ve come to expect in JAS’s small room.

Says JAS CEO Jim Horowitz, “She played it to 8,000 people in Monterey and 6,000 in Marciac this summer. Our audience is going to see something special in the café.”

JAS Café’s winter season also includes vocalist Niki Haris with the James Horowitz Trio (Dec 21–22 ) and bassist Katie Thiroux (Feb 2–3 ).

December 29–30, 2017 
Cooking School of Aspen, jazzaspensnowmass.org

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Violinist William Hagen will play during the AMFS Winter Music Series. 

4. At age 25, William Hagen may be the next world-class violinist to emerge from the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS), joining the ranks of renowned Aspen alums like Sarah Chang, Robert McDuffie, Adele Anthony, and Joshua Bell.

During AMFS’s Winter Music series, Hagen—who in 2014 won Aspen’s Dorothy DeLay Fellowship—will perform a program of Stravinsky, Beethoven, and Schubert, along with a Bach partita and three Fritz Kreisler pieces.

Recently, AMFS has aimed to spotlight an emerging talent in the winter series alongside more established classical stars. “We try to bookend one musician who is from the Aspen family, but not as much in the forefront,” explains AMFS vice president for artistic administration and artistic advisor Asadour Santourian.

To that end, the three-part series opens with pianist Inon Barnatan (Feb 28 ) and ends with the Pacifica Quartet (March 15 ).

March 10, 2018
Harris Concert Hall, aspenmusicfestival.com

5. Over the past 32 years, the Aspen Chapel Gallery’s openings have been a community staple, as viewers pack the modest space to see work by talented local artists. This winter, town’s longest continuously running gallery celebrates its 200th show.

Says gallery co-director Tom Ward, “The goal has always been supporting local and new artists—or those who are new to the valley.”

Exhibit no. 200 is the annual Small Wonders, now in its 12th year. The group exhibition showcases original works—none larger than 12 square inches—made by 30 artists and sold at ski-bum-affordable prices. This veritable sampler pack from working painters, sculptors, and photographers provides a one-stop opportunity to survey the diverse landscape of the local art scene.

November 29–January 7,  20172018
Aspen Chapel, aspenchapel.org

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