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Alum of Aspen Music Festival and School takes center stage as conductor

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Dennis Weber
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AMFS
Roderick Cox, an up-and-coming conductor this summer at the Aspen Music Festival and School, is one of relatively few conductors of color to be a conductor for a major orchestra.

Roderick Cox was supposed to be conducting in Aspen last summer, but upon his arrival at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, he tested positive for COVID-19 and was immediately sent home.

Now he’s back, he’s well and he’s ready for action.

A few years ago, Cox was in the Aspen Music Festival and School’s conducting program, where he was studying scores with mentors, practicing technique with student orchestras and watching a lot of rehearsals to see how it’s done.

Moving from being the conductor one minute to playing the French horn the next was more challenging than one might suppose.

In addition to his own time on the podium, Cox is also seeking to promote the progress of young classical musicians — not just conductors.

The Roderick Cox Music Initiative, which began in 2019, has so far awarded $35,000 in scholarships to promising students who aspire to have a future in classical music

Centered on Minneapolis and St. Paul, where Cox served as associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, the organization seeks, in particular, to serve young people from the Native American, Latino and African American communities.

The program, which Cox will be conducting Friday, features two soloists.

There’s no double concerto: Each is featured in a different work.

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein will take center stage for the Saint-Saëns cello concerto, and soprano Raven MacMillan for the Handel Gloria.

Cox says Weilerstein was originally to be the only soloist.

MacMillan was added due to changes in the festival schedule.

Cox said that since Aspen had to eliminate the Philharmonia Orchestra from the season due to the housing shortage, “we all have to be a bit flexible.”

In the meantime, Aspen-based filmmaker Diane Moore has been immersed in the process — and has placed Cox at the center of her new film, "Conducting Life."

She wished to explore how music can change a life, capturing Cox's highs and lows on his musical journey to the conductor’s podium, including his time at the music festival and school.

The film was presented by Aspen Film at the Isis Theatre in Aspen on Wednesday.

The screening was followed by a conversation with Moore and Cox.

Cox will perform Friday with the Aspen Chamber Symphony in the music tent.

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Classical music reporter Chris Mohr has loved classical music since he was twelve. “And I owe it all to radio,” Chris explains. “I grew up in a farm town east of Cleveland. One day I turned on the local classical radio station. They were playing Vivaldi, and it was like the gates of heaven opened up to me!" Chris is also a composer, and is working on a 53-note-to-the-octave oratorio, "Melodies of the Shoreless Sea." This is his ninth summer working for Aspen Public Radio.