The Aspen Music Festival and School: A Symphony of Opportunities

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A conductor holding his wand with the orchestra playing in the background

The Aspen Music Festival and School: A Symphony of Opportunities

The Aspen Music Festival and School is a renowned institution that plays a pivotal role in the world of classical music education and performance. Situated in the picturesque mountain town of Aspen, Colorado, this annual summer event brings together a diverse community of talented musicians, from students and emerging artists to esteemed faculty members and established professionals.

At its core, the Aspen Music Festival & School serves as a crucible of artistic exploration and achievement, fostering an environment where musicians of all levels can immerse themselves in a rich tapestry of musical traditions and genres. The festival’s multifaceted programs encompass a vast array of musical styles, from classical masterpieces by composers like Beethoven and Mozart to contemporary compositions pushing the boundaries of classical music.

The festival’s concerts are a vibrant showcase of this diversity, with performances that span the spectrum from intimate chamber recitals to grand symphonic spectacles. Audiences can expect to be enthralled by the ebb and flow of musical expression, with moments of hushed beauty followed by exhilarating crescendos that set the heart racing. The festival’s repertoire includes both timeless classics and daring innovations, making each concert a unique and memorable experience.

Founded in 1949, the Aspen Music Festival & School has a rich history of nurturing emerging talent. Students, selected through a highly competitive audition process receive world-class instruction from an esteemed faculty of musicians who have graced the world’s most prestigious stages. The mentorship and guidance provided here often prove pivotal in launching successful careers in classical music.

Aspen, with its stunning natural surroundings, provides an inspiring backdrop for this musical journey. The crisp mountain air, towering pine trees, and pristine landscapes infuse a sense of wonder and tranquility into the learning and performance experience.

In addition to its educational programs, the festival serves as a cultural hub, drawing music enthusiasts and patrons from all over the world. It’s a place where music lovers can gather, exchange ideas, and revel in the beauty of live performances. With its commitment to artistic excellence and innovation, the Aspen Music Festival & School continues to be a beacon in the world of classical music, where perplexity and burstiness combine to create a symphony of inspiration and creativity.

Programs You Can Apply for at The Aspen Music Festival and School


The Aspen Music Festival and School provides orchestra students with the chance to perform alongside experienced faculty members from renowned U.S. orchestras. Students can join as principal players in various ensembles or play alongside these accomplished artists.

The orchestras hold weekly performances in the Benedict Music Tent, featuring prominent conductors and soloists. The rehearsal and performance schedule is demanding so this orchestral program is only open to students aged 18 and above. Additionally, all students receive private lessons on a weekly basis and have the option to take part in chamber music activities.

AMFS offers a wide range of instrumental sections, including bass trombone, bassoon, cello, clarinet, double bass, flute, harp, horn, oboe, percussion, tenor trombone, trumpet, tuba, viola, and violin.

Solo Piano

Pianists have the opportunity to shine in various ways at AMFS. You can receive nominations to showcase your talents in a dedicated weekly recital exclusively for pianists or apply for the chance to perform in Spotlight Recitals!

Students with a competitive spirit can also apply for the annual Piano Concerto Competition, where they have the chance to perform a concerto alongside one of the Aspen orchestras. Detailed eligibility guidelines can be found in the Concerto Competition form.

For those looking to expand their musical horizons, there’s the option to explore mixed-ensemble literature. This encompasses chamber music collaborations with strings or winds, exploring two-piano/four-hand repertoire, participating in duo sonata classes, and engaging in mixed contemporary ensembles. AMFS offers a range of music-related classes, including keyboard studies, piano pedagogy, and lectures led by the artist faculty, covering a diverse array of relevant topics.

The Aspen Music Festival and School welcomes musicians of all ages and career stages. However, it’s important to note that the rigorous professional performance schedule and high standards of excellence make AMFS best suited for those who are deeply committed and dedicated to their musical pursuits.

Collaborative Piano

Solo pianists considering a career in collaborative piano are strongly encouraged to explore the program at The Aspen Music Festival and School, as it offers a comprehensive introduction to all aspects of collaborative music.

The term “collaborative arts” encompasses a broad spectrum of piano performance that goes beyond solo piano work. It includes activities such as accompanying vocalists and instrumentalists, participating in duet performances, working with orchestras, engaging in piano chamber music, coaching opera singers, and accompanying choirs, among others. This program combines hands-on experience with theoretical studies, providing a well-rounded education in the diverse field of collaborative keyboard arts.

Depending on the specific emphasis area chosen by individual pianists, they can participate in various musical experiences, including:

  • Orchestral Performances: Collaborate with resident and guest conductors in orchestral settings.
  • Instrumental Collaborations: Explore sonatas and concertos, performing alongside instrumental partners. Engagement in the Aspen Chamber Music program is also an option.
  • Vocal Collaborations: Focus on art songs and vocal repertoire, with opportunities to perform alongside singers from the Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS Program.
  • Opera Coaching: Dive into opera repertoire, working closely with opera singers and participating in mainstage productions, masterclasses, and auditions.
  • Choral Opportunities: Collaborate with choirs when suitable opportunities arise.

The Collaborative Piano Program at AMFS offers a comprehensive curriculum, including:

  • Weekly individual coaching sessions.
  • Studio classes.
  • Seminars led by the accomplished artist-faculty at AMFS and visiting guest artists.
  • Seminar topics range from sight reading and score reading to vocal and instrumental repertoire.
  • Specialized workshops focusing on song literature, composer-specific exploration, playing orchestral reductions, conducting, and other topics relevant to collaborative artists.

When applying to the program, you are encouraged to select an area of emphasis for the summer, although this choice does not limit your exploration during the season. For instance, an “instrumentally focused” student may choose to participate in art song performances. Students have the flexibility to tailor their experiences to align with their interests and abilities.

Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS

Crafted and guided by some of the foremost opera experts of our era, this program provides young singers with comprehensive training that equips them for a future in the opera industry. The program places a strong emphasis on both opera and concert performances at the highest levels and imparts knowledge about various facets of the business, including off-stage etiquette, financial management, establishing contacts, and more.

Artist Fellows have the opportunity to engage in a wide range of activities, including:

  • Participation in two semi-staged productions under the direction of distinguished conductors and directors.
  • A grand Cabaret Evening showcasing their talents.
  • Weekly opera scene classes and song recitals to hone their skills.
  • Exclusive events are held in private residences.
  • Collaborations with composers from the Susan and Ford Schumann Center for Composition Studies.
  • Optional involvement in acting, meditation, and movement training.
  • Collaborative projects with Theatre Aspen.
  • Participation in the opera chorus.
  • Opportunities to audition for roles in the industry.

The program attracts a substantial number of applications, typically ranging from 300 to 500, from which a select group of around 10 to 15 individuals are chosen as Renée Fleming Artists, and approximately 20 to 30 are invited as Studio Artists.

Pencil and music sheet

Aspen Conducting Academy

The Aspen Conducting Academy (ACA) offers an intensive training program tailored for aspiring conductors. The primary focus is on equipping participants with the skills and experience necessary for a successful career as a conductor. This comprehensive program provides an opportunity to work closely with a seasoned orchestra, gain podium experience, and nurture their growth as conductors.

The core of the Academy revolves around allowing eight to ten conductors to collaborate with an orchestra comprising experienced musicians. These conductors also participate as orchestra members under the guidance of their program colleagues, all of this happening under the mentorship of renowned conductors.

The learning experience at Aspen Conducting Academy encompasses a diverse range of repertoire and performance types. Participants engage in conducting various musical works, including orchestral concerts, concerto performances, opera class arias and scenes, repertoire readings, and composer readings.

ACA is a platform that provides emerging conductors with national exposure, a crucial factor in building a successful conducting career. Established conductors, orchestra managers, artist managers, music critics, and other industry professionals frequently visit Aspen each summer to identify and nurture the most promising up-and-coming talent.

Each ACA participant receives a fellowship and actively conducts the 55-member Academy Orchestra. The program aims to grant each conductor a minimum of 30 minutes of podium time in at least six of the Academy’s eight weeks.

When not conducting, most conductors play an instrument within the orchestra. However, a limited number of conductor positions are available for pianists and non-orchestral instrumentalists.

Participants lead rehearsals and conduct concerts featuring orchestral and concerto repertoire, opera master class scenes, and arias. They also partake in repertoire-reading sessions and rehearse and perform contemporary compositions. All sessions are recorded on video for individual review by the artist faculty.

Beyond conducting duties, ACA offers an extensive curriculum encompassing both musical and non-musical elements. This includes intensive sessions on score analysis.

Participants are expected to attend rehearsals and concerts of The Aspen Music Festival and the School’s other orchestras and are encouraged to organize their own performances. They also have the opportunity to access the full range of AMFS classes. While ACA is a rigorous program with an average of seven orchestral services per week, the AMFS ensures participants have adequate time for study and rest. As a result, conductors are required to focus on their core curriculum and are not eligible to participate in concerto competitions.

Fellowships are available for instrumentalists to join the Academy Orchestra as regular members. Interested applicants should follow the guidelines specified in the Orchestra/Instrumental Program of Study for their specific instrument.

Components of Aspen Conducting Academy:

  • Conducting the Academy Orchestra in readings, rehearsals, and performances.
  • Coaching sessions with renowned conductors.
  • Evaluation through videotape analysis of conducting sessions.
  • Observations and meetings with AMFS guest conductors.
  • Technique classes.
  • Periodic classes in score reading, analysis, and score preparation.
  • Encouragement for conducting students to attend studio classes, performance classes, and other offerings by AMFS artist-faculty.

Susan and Ford Schumann Center for Composition Studies

The Aspen Music Festival and School presents an exceptional opportunity for the exchange of ideas with some of the world’s leading composers and performers in the realm of contemporary music.

The Susan and Ford Schumann Center for Composition Studies offers a rigorous full-session program to eight to ten students, exposing them to diverse perspectives and teaching approaches. This immersive experience allows students to work closely with AMFS’s composition faculty, the composer-in-residence, guest composers, and notable figures like AMFS’s Music Director Robert Spano, and President and CEO Alan Fletcher, both active composers themselves.

Students will benefit from a rich array of classes, lectures, and individualized study sessions delivered by highly acclaimed and frequently performed contemporary composers. Recent years have seen the participation of renowned international figures such as Kati Agocs, Krists Auznieks, William Bolcom, Christopher Cerrone, John Corigliano, Marc-André Dalbavie, Brett Dean, Jacob Druckman, Sebastian Fagerlund, and many more!

As part of the coursework, you will be tasked with composing a chamber music piece lasting between 8 and 15 minutes for the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble. The instrumentation includes Flute (with Piccolo and Alto Flute doubling), Clarinet (with E-flat Clarinet and Bass Clarinet doubling), Percussion, Piano, Violin (2), Viola, and Cello. These compositions will be performed at Harris Hall and professionally recorded.

Furthermore, students are required to submit an orchestral composition, with a duration of up to seven minutes, for reading by the Aspen Conducting Academy Orchestra. The available instrumentation comprises 3 Flutes, 3 Oboes, 3 Clarinets, 3 Bassoons, 4 Horns, 3 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, 1 Tuba, Timpani, 3 Percussionists, Harp, Piano/Celesta, and Strings (6/5/4/3/2 stands). Standard wind instrument doublings (e.g., Piccolo, Alto Flute, English Horn) are permitted, with one doubling per player. These compositions will be read at the Benedict Music Tent and professionally recorded.

During the festival, all Fellows have the option to compose a dramatic scene lasting no longer than 10 minutes, designed for voice and piano.

Aspen Contemporary Ensemble

The Aspen Contemporary Ensemble (ACE) serves as the resident ensemble for the entire eight-week session. This group of eight musicians collaborates closely with the Susan and Ford Schumann Center for Composition Studies, presenting compositions by renowned living composers, twentieth-century classics, and original works by students at the Festival.

The instrumentation for ACE includes flute (including piccolo and alto flute), clarinet (with e-flat clarinet and bass clarinet), two violins, viola, cello, piano, and percussion. ACE members receive weekly private lessons from artist-faculty members and have the option to enroll in elective courses. All student members receive fellowships to support their participation.

Given the demanding nature of the program, members of the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble are expected to maintain a strong focus on their core curriculum and are not eligible to take part in concerto competitions.

Classical Guitar

The Aspen Classical Guitar Program is an immersive program lasting four weeks, aimed at providing in-depth instruction through performance classes led by Director Sharon Isbin and her assistant. These classes focus on various aspects, including refining technique, sound production, interpreting repertoire, and delving into Baroque performance traditions.

Qualified students are presented with numerous opportunities to showcase their talents, including engagements in chamber music collaborations. The program concludes with a class concert, allowing students to demonstrate their progress. Additionally, students have the chance to participate in chamber music and guitar ensemble sessions, which are guided by Ms. Isbin’s assistant.

American Brass Quintet Seminar @ Aspen

The American Brass Quintet Seminar @Aspen stands as the foremost brass chamber music training program in the United States. It is directed by the highly regarded American Brass Quintet, an ensemble recognized internationally. In 2023, the ABQ welcomed its newest members, Brandon Ridenour and Hillary Simms, both alumni of AMFS. They join the longstanding members Kevin Cobb, Eric Reed, and John Rojak.

This program offers an intensive four-week experience entirely dedicated to the study of brass chamber music repertoire, rehearsal techniques, and performance. It is led by the members of the American Brass Quintet, who have served as faculty at AMFS since 1970 and at The Juilliard School since 1987. Participants also benefit from weekly private instruction sessions with the ABQ members.

In addition to daily coaching and rehearsals, participating ensembles partake in various activities, including open rehearsals featuring the American Brass Quintet, public performances, performance classes, and workshops like composer readings and community engagement initiatives.

All applicants have the opportunity to be considered for fellowships or scholarships to support their participation in the program.

College student listening to music as she works on her homework.

AMFS Chamber Music

The Aspen Music Festival and School emphasizes the pivotal role of chamber music in the education of classical musicians. Collaborating closely within a small ensemble setting fosters the development of a musician’s capacity to cooperate, harmonize their sound, and understand their distinct role in contributing to the creation of something artistically beautiful.

Students enrolled in the Orchestra/Instrumental, Solo Piano, and Collaborative Piano programs at Aspen have the opportunity to seek placement within an ensemble and become part of a dedicated project. This entails engaging in intensive coaching and rehearsal sessions aimed at preparing for a Spotlight Recital performance.

The duration of the collaborative work can vary, spanning from two to three weeks to the entire session, depending on the complexity of the selected repertoire. A typical commitment might involve approximately 16 services, encompassing rehearsals and coaching sessions, over a three-week period.

The coaching is provided by accomplished experts from the AMFS artist-faculty roster. For exceptionally talented emerging ensembles, there is also the option to apply for performance class opportunities with guest artist chamber music specialists.

Why Choose the Aspen Music Festival and School?

Experience world-class instruction that elevates your musical skills and deepens your understanding of music. Immerse yourself in artistic exploration as you delve into a rich and diverse repertoire, ranging from classical masterpieces to contemporary compositions. Seize abundant performance opportunities that take you from intimate chamber recitals to grand symphonic concerts, where you’ll share the stage with distinguished conductors and soloists.

Forge valuable connections through networking with fellow musicians, industry professionals, and music enthusiasts hailing from all corners of the globe. And let the inspiring environment of Aspen, with its breathtaking natural beauty, serve as the enchanting backdrop to your musical journey, infusing every note you play with a touch of magic.

If you are seeking guidance from professionals in college admissions, the experts at AdmissionSight are here to help! With more than ten years of experience assisting students in successfully navigating the competitive admissions journey and securing spots at some of the world’s top universities, AdmissionSight serves as a valuable resource. Book your initial consultation today!

College Admissions

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up now to receive insights on
how to navigate the college admissions process.