Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 22, 2014

Bard Music Festival

Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
August 8-17, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

Over two weekends every August for the past 25 years, 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 2014 festival, “Schubert and His World,” presented 14 concerts, two panel discussions, and several film showings. 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 acoustically excellent 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.  

The highlight of weekend #2 was a concert presentation of Schubert’s rarely performed 1823 opera “Fierrabras,” whose title character, a brave and selfless Moorish knight, survives political conflict at the hands of Charlemagne and a romantic rivalry for his daughter. The gorgeous music, trimmed from its original “heavenly length” to just over three hours, was thrillingly rendered by Botstein and his forces. All the vocal soloists were good, but tenor Joseph Kaiser brought special conviction and beauty of sound to the title role.   

Another festival highlight was a “Schubertiade,” or “evening of music making and socializing with friends,” genially hosted by pianist Piers Lane as Schubert’s friend and host of many Schubertiades, Josef von Spaun. Lane not only introduced a revolving cast of singers and instrumentalists but made amusing and informative comments on the music, some of which he also played at the keyboard. His titanic account of Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A Major, D959, in a different concert was particularly moving.

Other performances of special distinction were a sensitive unabridged reading of Schubert’s second Piano Trio by the young Horszowski Trio, and the ASO’s lively playing of Luciano Berio’s imaginative Rendering, a post-modern “restoration” of another “unfinished” Schubert symphony. Among the many singers who performed, baritone Andrew Garland and mezzo-soprano Teresa Buchholz were standouts. But the protean Bard Festival Chorale under James Bagwell seemed especially tireless and omnipresent.

With a packed schedule at the festival, time to visit such nearby attractions as the historic town of Rhinebeck and the homes of Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole and Frederic Church is often scarce, but the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley is its own reward.