Political conventions -- the crowds, the noise, the strange fauna -- put me in mind of Noah's ark, and of Mark Twain's thought that it sometimes seems a pity Noah didn't miss the boat. When Noah's boat finally came to rest, it was against a mountain, which just goes to show that God, who created deluges and conventions as punishments, created mountains as mercies. And just as Noah leapt from the ark to the mountain -- from tribulation to deliverance -- I leap from Detroit to Aspen.
Perhaps the only thing to be said for living far from the mountains is that we flatlanders experience a restoring rush of pleasure when we came into the mountains. Folks who live in Aspen don't know what they're not missing. As Emerson said, if the stars only appeared one night in a million, how mankind would adore them.
The world looks best in long light, early in the morning or, better still, at sundown, especially just as the sun dips -- behind mountains. This mountain town, which in winter is infested with skiers, is in summer redeemed by a music festival -- some of mankind's cultural gems in one of God's grandest settings.
Musically, I am like Ulysses S. Grant, who said: "I know only two tunes. One of them is 'Yankee Doodle' and the other isn't." As a musician, I peaked a little early. I played the triangle tolerably well in kindergarten. Then my parents tried to make a violinist out of me, which was like trying to make a silk purse out of an ear that no self-respecting sow would have minded losing.
Still, I know that if Aspen's famous festival has a flaw, it is the flaw of this age: it is too receptive to the new.
There is one, if only one, thing to be said in defense of modern painting and Solomon Guggenheim said it: All day long I add columns of figures and make everything balance. I come home. I sit down. I look at a Kandinski and it's wonderful! It doesn't mena a damn thing!" The most I can find to say for most modern music is what Rossini said about Wagner's opera "Lohengrin." He said one could not judge it after just one hearing and he had no intention of hearing it a second time.
But I favor performing modern music, for reasons Jascha Heifetz gives: "I occasionally play works by contemporary composers, and for two reasons. First to discourage the composer from writing any more and secondly to remind myself how much I appreciate Beethoven."
Happily, there is loose in the world an elemental force of talent and personality, a musician who believes that people who appreciate the Bee Gees can be brought around to appreciate Beethoven, too. This year's guest artists at Aspen's festival, which runs until August, include James Galway, "the Man With the Golden Flute," whose flute, like a dozen of his recordings, really is gold. He combines his Irish charm with the confidence of Reggie Jackson, and he sees no reason he should not be able to make classical music as popular as "popular music" is:
"Hayden was the Mick Jagger of his day. He used to make more than 300 pounds for a performance. And the aristocrats paid through the nose to get in -- three guineas each, I think. I don't know why classical musicians shouldn't make money the same way today."
Today, most people who know who Haydn was do not know who Jagger is, and -- emphatically -- vice versa. But if anyone can insinuate Haydn into whatever remains of the inner ears of those who "appreciate" the Rolling Stones, it is Galway. For six years, he was principal flutist for the Berlin Symphony, under the baton of the exacting Herbert von Karajan. Today, without relaxing the rigor of his standards, Galway has recorded jazz and popular compositions. Five hundred thousand people have bought his recording of "Annie's Song," written by John Denver. Denver's mountainside home looks down on the meadow where, as the light gets long in the Rockies, people flock to Aspen's music tent.
I have gone to earth here to steel myself for the shocking sight of Madison Square Garden wall-to-wall with Democrats. I can't honestly say columnists deserve vacations, but readers deserve vacations from their columnists. You, gentle reader, may find the silence as soothing as I shall find the sound of music in the meadow.