Music Festival and School Down to the Wire

Jun 12, 2013

It’s coming down to the wire for the new Aspen Music Festival and School. Workers are cranking on finishing up construction and landscaping for the sixty-five million dollar project. It’s supposed to be mostly done by this Friday. Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher toured the new digs last week has this report.

Alan Fletcher is President and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival and School. He carefully tip-toes his way across fresh dirt, pipelines and around a pond...finally he stops and points toward three striking buildings that overlook the water.

“These are two of our orchestra rehearsal halls, and then a very beautiful room which is cantilevered over the pond, so that the water will be, when it’s full, will be completely under that room.”

There’s a walkway along the pond, that leads from one building to the next...so, it feels almost like walking on water. Fletcher points to the first building on the left.

“I love these buildings, there’s an aspect to the design which is very poetic. At the bottom is glass, the glass represents the water on the site. Then there is a kind of siding with contours which changes as it goes around the building. And those contours are actually mirroring the landforms behind, three hundred and sixty degrees, all the way around. We’re right under the Highlands Bowl here. And then at the top is a translucent material, it represents the sky. So you have water, trees and sky on the site."

The project broke ground last fall. Fletcher says a new campus was badly needed.

“We did not have enough practice rooms, we did not have enough teaching studios for their lessons, and we didn’t have at all adequate rehearsal space for ensembles, and that’s both chamber music and orchestras.”

And many of the facilities they did have were riddled with problems, like mold. Some were even condemned.

“So the new campus will have three orchestra rehearsal halls, it will have many many beautiful teaching studios for lessons to take place, for chamber music coaching to take place, and it will have really superior individual practice rooms for students to use.”

Local architect Harry Teague designed the new Aspen Music Festival and School. He’s known for several projects in the Roaring Fork Valley--as well as the Music School’s two performance locations. So, what’s the best way to make sure the new buildings are not just beautiful--but good for making music too? I put the question to Fletcher.

“Yeah... well, maybe we’ll get hard hats and go in there. The walls actually curve, there are three primary different materials in the walls and ceiling, which have different acoustic properties, so that the sound is bounced and moved around the room in different ways."

And so far, it seems to be going as planned.

“The acousticians were here, the past two days, doing tests on the room, and we came out really exactly on target. Also a nuance that I like, is how soundproof should the building be. Because this firm said we can make it perfectly sound proof, it can be hermetically sealed if you want. We said no, because we’re on this beautiful site, when you walk around and there’s an orchestra in there playing a Tchaikovsky symphony, you want to know that’s happening. It’s just that when you’re in that building...”

Fletcher points to another rehearsal hall further to the right...

“...You don’t want to hear the Tchaikovsky.”

Which goes back to the materials in the walls... like where to have glass or not... even how many layers of glaze to put on the walls. We decide to go inside, to take a look. First is  the rehearsal hall on the left...

“And you can see now the acoustic treatments. All different angles of curve. Many different little alcoves and things. The black is acoustic fabric with acoustically treated insulation behind it.”

Most of the panels are wood... and across the ceiling are huge air ducts.

“The air movement in the hall has to be controlled very very closely. Because the air has to just trickle in from above, and can’t make any sound. And also you never want to feel a breeze.”

Reporter: “To avoid that classic HVAC sound?”

“Exactly. But they also become part of the acoustic treatment. And so the acousticians wanted to know exactly the diameters and composition of these things because they were going to factor that into how the sound bounces around the building."

The second--rehearsal hall-- is bigger. And between the two is a large glass conference room. It doesn’t have the right sound for playing music, but Fletcher jokes the faculty may fall in love with it anyway.

Toward the end of the tour we walk by the new practice rooms. They’re made of concrete, and act as retaining walls for the thirty degree slopes behind them. As we talk, there are machines moving dirt to the top of the practice rooms, to create living sod roofs. That’s one of several green measures included in the Festival and School campus.

Architect Harry Teague says a few things made this project unusual.

“Well for one there are two clients.”

The other client is the Aspen Country Day School, which will use the campus during the school year. So positioning playgrounds and choosing color schemes took some careful coordinating. Again, architect Harry Teague.

“(Sighs.) The other thing is it’s extraordinarily challenging in terms of the amount of time we had to do a lot of building.”

The ambitious beginnings of the campus sprung from the ground in just ten months...including every day of the winter. That required special machines that thaw the ground. Contractor Shaw Construction says more than five hundred workers are involved in the project, This first phase of the new Aspen Music Festival and School is scheduled to be done by the end of this week. President and CEO Alan Fletcher and others say everything will definitely be done in time for convocation--on June 24th.

For Aspen Public Radio News, I’m Elise Thatcher.