There is good news and bad news from the final performance of the Aspen Festival at Kennedy Center Saturday night.
First the good news. The program was a showcase for the Aspen Chamber Symphony, and its collective talent and exuberance were matched by musicality of the highest order. Particularly impressive was Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 1, with piantist Lee Luvisi. The Aspen musicians wrenched out all its power with assured, effortless playing. A large percussion section engulfed the concert hall in a barbaric aural ambiance. And if Luvisi's dynamic range provided only for forte and sort-of-forte, the explosive precision of the final pages of the first movement and the intensity of his playing throughout the score were worthy of this orchestra.
For openers there was a novelty, the "Royal Invitation, or Homage to the Queen of Tonga" by Dominick Argento. It is not a great work, but it is a pleasant suite with a programme longer than its score and several chances for displays of first-chair virtuosity. These were plentiful, with the oboe's plaintive cadenza in the second movement lingering sweetly in the ear.
The concert closed with Mendelssohn's "Scotch" Symphony, No. 3, a loving remembrance of the land of Queen Mary. With music director Jorge Mester's fine control of this orchestra, the group's obvious enjoyment of the music was a audible as its quality. And throughout the festival it has been no small joy to be able to take granted the highest performance level from these young musicians. Their talent is great news for the future of American music.
So where is the bad news? In the audience. Popular response to this festival has been meager, the size of paying audiences often embarrassing. At a time when support for the arts is not on the rise, such lack of support for high quality is discouraging news indeed.