Top ten summer 2023 Aspen Music Festival encores


Renée Fleming delivered one of the reviewers top encores of the 2023 AMFS season
Diego Redel/Courtesy photo

Encores at classical music concerts give a soloist, ensemble, or sometimes the whole orchestra a chance to add a little extra delight for the audience — and perhaps show off a little. This year’s Aspen Music Festival had its share of memorable ones.

Here are my top ten, in chronological order:

July 2, Daniel Trifonov (piano): Following an idiomatically informed performance of George Gershwin’s jazzy “Concerto in F,” the encore was even better when he glided into Debussy’s “Reflets dans l’eau” almost as if it were an extension of Gershwin’s style. It created five minutes of bliss.

July 7, Maxim Vengerov (violinist): After a masterful Mendelssohn concerto came a tasty surprise. Rather than playing an encore alone, as is usual, this time Vengerov and conductor Nicholas McGegan teamed up for a smile-inducing rendition of Saint-Saëns’ “Havanaise.” I can’t remember the last time a symphony soloist played an encore accompanied by the orchestra, making this bonbon something to remember.

July 15, Renée Fleming (soprano) and Inon Barnatan (piano): A mesmerizing encore, Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are,” a treasure of the American Songbook, brought out her jazz voice. Barnatan set a gentle pace and Fleming finished with a luscious vocal flourish.

July 18, Augustin Hadelich (violin):  Alone on the stage for this recital, totally unaccompanied, was amazing enough. The encore spun out the Andante from Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in A minor to accent the marvelous detail in his playing. At a dignified pace, the ever-present eighth notes pulsed with just enough energy to let Bach’s endlessly inventive melodic variations and three- and four-voice counterpoint sing freely.

July 22, Edgar Meyer and Christian McBride (double basses): The stunning encore in this one-on-one recital, a meeting of the minds of Meyer’s classical and McBride’s jazz, was a cool and slinky version of Miles Davis’ “All Blues.” It put a sensational cap on a great evening by two superb and innovative bassists.

August 2, Kelley O’Connor (mezzo-soprano) and Robert Spano (piano): Upping the ante on an already high stakes recital that included a lovely new piece by Spano, he played and she sang “Ich bin der welt abhanden gekommen,” from Mahler’s Rückert Lieder, with lofty serenity.

August 4, Steven Banks (saxophone): One of the brightest lights of the season nailed Billy Childs’ concerto, written for him, and for his encore applied a stately pace to The Lord’s Prayer. Placed in the highest range of the soprano sax, it was soulful without being overtly jazzy, and his extraordinary command of the instrument made it unforgettable.

August 7, Michelle Cann (piano). A recital focused on music by the women of the Chicago Black Renaissance added on a juicy transcription of the incomparable mid-20th-century jazz artist Hazel Scott’s boogie-woogie version of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp minor.

August 9, Gil Shaham (violin), Spano (piano): After a recital that included a lush world premiere by Jonathon Leshnoff, Shaham, and Spano treated the audience to a gorgeous reading of “Meditation” from Massenet’s opera “Thaïs.” It brought things to a peaceful close, both musicians letting the music unfurl in an unhurried fashion.

August 18, Yefim Bronfman (piano): To contrast with a delicious performance of Schumann’s piano concerto the pianist flexed his virtuosity muscles and launched into the explosive Prelude No. 5 in G minor by Rachmaninoff with vigor and grandeur, a demonstration of sheer chops that was breathtaking,.

But maybe, just maybe, the most perfect encore of the year was the extra gift at the close of the highly popular concert of John Williams’ film music on July 25. Under conductor Maurice Cohn, the whole orchestra added on the Imperial March (Darth Vader’s theme) from “Star Wars.”

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