Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 20, 2015

Bard Music Festival

Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
August 7-16, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

Fisher Center, Bard College
Over two weekends every August for the past 26 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 2015 festival, “Carlos Chavez and His World,” presented eleven concerts, three
panel discussions, and several 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 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.

Besides a generous sampling of Chavez, Mexico’s greatest composer, Weekend Two featured a variety of American and other Latin American composers who worked with him as a musician and educator. One concert focused entirely on percussion instruments, where rarely heard works by Lou Harrison, performed by the Catskill Mountain Gamelan ensemble, and John Cage, played by a group including several Bard students, were particularly engaging. In a program celebrating Chavez’s New York connections, soprano Sarah Shafer sang Biblical settings by Virgil Thomson and lynching blues set by fellow Mexicans Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas with poignant beauty.

Highlights of a concert showcasing music from post-World War II Latin America included a knockout performance by Orion Weiss of Ginastera’s demanding first piano sonata and sensitive accounts of two short Piazzolla works by an ensemble featuring bandoneon player Raul Jaurena. A fascinating Sunday morning program by the versatile Bard Festival Chorale surveyed “sacred and secular choral music from five centuries,” from Hernando Franco to Aaron Copland.

Two symphonic programs made the deepest impression. One featured the sumptuous cantata “Forest of the Amazon,” by Brazilian master Heitor Villa-Lobos, in which soprano Nicole Cabell sang radiantly, and the large orchestra was a riot of color. The other presented the complete Ginastera ballet “Estancia,” which baritone Timothy Mix and the percussion-dominated ensemble brought to repeated climaxes of thrilling passion. These musicians present much unfamiliar repertoire in performances of unfailing polish and conviction.

With a packed schedule at the festival, time to see nearby attractions like the historic town of Rhinebeck and the homes of Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole and Frederic Church can be scarce, but the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley rewards all visitors.