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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Aspen Music Festival stages Frank Zappa at Belly Up

The day Jonathan Haas arrived on campus to join the faculty of the Aspen Music Festival and School 30 summers ago, he had a memorable message waiting for him in the administration building.
“Somebody said, ‘Frank Zappa just called for you’,” Haas said. “I thought this was a joke.”
Haas had written a letter to the rock-music innovator and prolific composer after hearing his album “The Perfect Stranger” — a collaboration with the French conductor Pierre Boulez. Haas had offered to put together a contemporary ensemble arrangement of Zappa’s work for a concert in New York City. Zappa was unconvinced of the notion, Haas found, when he returned Zappa’s call.
“I know what you want to do,” Zappa said. “You want to produce a concert and play one of my pieces and have a bunch of contemporary music composers and lots of people will be coming because of my one piece and it absolutely won’t happen!”
Haas then explained that he felt “The Perfect Stranger” was written in response to Edgar Varese’s “Deserts,” because of its blend of instrumentals and electronics, and that he wanted to play the pieces together.
“Then there was silence on the phone,” Haas said. “’Mr. Zappa, are you there?’ And he said, ‘That’s a very good idea Mr. Haas, I think we should do it.’”
Thus began a collaboration and professional friendship that continued through Zappa’s death from prostate cancer in late 1993. Months earlier, Zappa and Haas finally had staged the Varese-Zappa concert at Avery Fisher Hall in Manhattan, New York. Haas also played percussion on 1993’s “Zappa’s Universe” with Zappa’s bandmates, taking over for longtime Zappa percussionist Ed Mann after he and Zappa had a falling out. Haas lobbied Zappa to write him a timpani concerto, which Zappa was unable to undertake due to his illness (Philip Glass proved a suitable second choice).
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