Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 26, 2013

Bard Music Festival

Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
August 9-18, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

Fisher Center
Over two weekends every August since 1990, the Bard Music Festival has focused on a single composer, along with predecessors, contemporaries, and successors who influenced or were influenced by that composer. What distinguishes Bard from other music festivals is the annual publication by Princeton University Press of an accompanying book with essays contributed by scholars who also participate as speakers and panelists at festival programs.

The 2013 festival, “Stravinsky and His World,” presented 11concerts, three panel discussions, and two film showings on the Bard College campus. Most evening concerts featured orchestral music played by members of the American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Bard President and ASO Music Director Leon Botstein in the 900-seat Sosnoff Theater of the distinctive Richard B. Fisher Center designed in 2003 by Frank Gehry. Daytime concerts offered mainly chamber and instrumental works in the 200-seat Olin Humanities Building auditorium, where the panels were also held.  

While the “Rite of Spring” centennial was duly observed in Weekend One, a highlight of Weekend Two was a live ASO performance of Hanns Eisler’s modest score for Resnais’ watershed Holocaust documentary “Night and Fog,” projected behind the orchestra (in a rare political statement, Stravinsky defended the Communist Eisler against the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee in 1948). The festival climaxed with a double bill of Stravinsky’s pastoral melodrama “Persephone” and his shattering opera-oratorio “Oedipus Rex,” both imaginatively semi-staged by Doug Fitch.

To hear these pieces in the context of other work by major influences (Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov) and contemporaries (Bartok, Varese), lesser-known colleagues (Tansman, Lourie), and the variety of Stravinsky’s own invention, from solo piano miniatures (“Madrid”) to serial chamber music (the Septet) and austere choral music (“Requiem Canticles”) was to appreciate anew Stravinsky’s protean talent.

Performances by ASO musicians and their guests were consistently fine. Of special note were mezzo-soprano Jean Stilwell as Persephone, tenor Gordon Gietz as Oedipus, and pianist Piers Lane, who turned Antheil’s knuckle-busting “Sonata Sauvage” into a showstopper. James Bagwell led the Bard Festival Chorale in a stunning choral concert that ranged from a glowing “Beatus Vir” by Monteverdi to a lovely, if challenging, lamentation by Krenek, of which Bagwell wryly noted, quoting Ringo Starr, “it don’t come easy.”

With a packed schedule at the festival, time to visit such nearby attractions as the historic town of Rhinebeck and museums in Hyde Park celebrating the Roosevelt and Vanderbilt families can be scarce, but the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley rewards all visitors to the area.