Ahh, that looks idyllic, doesn’t it? There’s something so wonderfully Alpine about that picture. Makes you want to go listen to Strauss while relaxing in a sunny field, or maybe practice under a tree while a pleasant breeze cools you.
Yeah, that picture is a lie.
I can’t hide it at all. I can’t even equivocate, and I’m a master equivocator. I despise Aspen. The festival, the town, the experience of being there. It’s not at all Strauss in a meadow with a pleasant breeze. I’ll expand more in later posts, but I thought I should put out a public service announcement now, while people are still preparing for festivals. I hope this reaches at least one person going to Aspen for the first time this summer, maybe someone who’s in a similar situation to mine, the first time I went. Young, deliciously alone, and excited for the big leagues. I can tell you some things right now.
Yes, it is the big leagues.
But unless you’re a child prodigy/first timer with a fellowship/the faculty’s absolute favorite in some way, you won’t get to taste that big league chew from anywhere but the audience.
Even so, you’ll see the most famous soloists and chamber groups in the country right now, mostly for free. And you’ll meet faculty from far-flung conservatories, and maybe you’ll impress them.
However, unless you present yourself as a social equal to all the wealthy visitors that are constantly roaming the streets of Aspen, chances are, someone in town will treat you badly simply because you’re carrying an instrument.
You’ll also probably be treated like a cute little lamb in a petting zoo by some well-meaning but condescending old patron. (But that’s most festivals.) Maybe you’ll be invited to their fabulous mountain chalet for a free steak dinner—you can hope.
But still, artifice, entitlement, and pretension abound. It’s the most artificial place I’ve ever been, and I just got back from Miami. Even the trailer park outside of Aspen costs over half a million dollars to live in, and the residents (should you be unfortunate enough to engage in conversation with one of them) will be all too happy to tell you so—even proud. People will bring their dogs absolutely freaking everywhere and, when poor Princess the Pomeranian gets thirsty, ask the clerk at the shoe store for some Fiji water for the little rat, without even a hint of irony or embarrassment. And the store clerk will apologize profusely for only having Evian, and proceed to serve the dog out of a bowl they keep behind the counter for just such an occasion. It’s a strange, strange place.
I’ll tell my full story a little later, but just know, if you’re preparing to go—be on your guard. It’s truly a unique place, but not for all the reasons they’d like you to think.