Bard Music Festival

Bard Summerscape, Bard College, Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts

Saint-Saëns’ Other Grand Opera, Henry VIII at Bard

Saint-Saëns' Henry VIII, Jennifer Holloway as Anne Boleyn, Ellie Dehn as Catherine of Aragon, American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein. Photo Cory Weaver.

One of the valuable things the Bard Music Festival teaches its audiences is just how arbitrary the classical canon is. While that can’t be said of Wagner or Elgar, we learned that Prokofiev and Sibelius are most visible in concert programs and recordings through works which are not necessarily their most personal or interesting, or perhaps even their best. As managers, virtuosi, and critics grind the classical sausage from a noble saucisson de Lyon into a hot dog, the nature of the classical loses its individuality and becomes uniform and bland. The fame of Camille Saint-Saëns, on the other hand, is linked to virtually no work at all — perhaps the Carnival of the Animals or the “Organ” Symphony, which is not really performed all that often today. This immaculate work acquired a bad reputation among critics, largely because it is extraordinarily loud in places — just the right places to produce wild applause from an audience — far too effectively for the tastes of the snobbish American critics of the late 1950s and 1960s, when it had two especially potent advocates, Charles Munch and Paul Paray. Curiously, Saint-Saëns has a bad reputation as an opera composer, although another one of his few works in the standard repertory, his Samson et Dalila, is an opera.

Chabrier’s Le Roi malgré lui, a Forgotten Comic Masterpiece, at Bard Summerscape, July 27-August 5, 2012

This year Bard Summerscape’s annual opera and operetta are fused into one in Emmanuel Chabrier’s Le roi malgré lui, a true opéra comique, written for the homonymous theater in Paris. In this genre, with which Leon Botstein indulged New York audiences with Bizet’s Djamileh this past spring, the effervescent humor we associate with operetta meets the more careful writing and construction of opera. As delightful as Djamileh was—and it did offer something more substantial than the Strausses, Offenbach, and Gilbert and Sullivan—Le roi malgré lui is in a different league. Chabrier painstakingly worked over a worse than mediocre play of the 1830’s, transforming it into a psychologically convincing and witty libretto and setting it to original, even daring music, such as only he could write, to create a sophisticated, forward-looking operatic work. As I go through what has been written about the opera and its composer, everyone who knows it exudes a warm affection and intellectual respect for both.

The Bard Summer Music Festival 2012: Saint-Saëns and his World

See also: “Orientalism in France: Leon Botstein and the ASO play Saint-Saëns, Franck, Ravel, Delage, and Bizet’s one-act opera, Djamileh at Carnegie Hall” Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) is, like his friend Franz Liszt, an exemplary subject for the Bard Summer Music…
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Sibelius II: Larry Wallach on the Bard Music Festival 2011 – Jean Sibelius and his World

Originality is a hard concept to get a hold of — there is no yardstick for measuring it, by its very nature. This makes the evaluation of composers, the assessment of their influence and historical position, one of the most subjective areas of music history and criticism. Contemporary writers have become impatient with their predecessors’ habit of rating composers in terms of “importance” or “greatness” based, at least in part, on their originality. And then there is the issue of “unique voice” — is that the same as originality? Is their any good composer who lacks either one? Can “uniqueness” be evaluated?

Sibelius I: Bard Music Festival 2011 – Jean Sibelius and his World

One shouldn’t let anything get in the way of a Bard Music Festival—and the surrounding Summerscape opera, play, and dance performances, etc., least of all one’s preconceptions about composers. In one case only, Prokofiev (Bard Festival 2008), I approached the Festival with thoughts of taking a mildly rebarbative medicine, but I soon learned how wrong I was, thanks to the Russophile enthusiasm of my friend, Robert Kurilla, who has written about Prokofiev in the Review, and, of course, the lectures and programs of the Festival itself. In Prokofiev’s case the problem was that his best known works give an extremely limited, really inaccurate, idea of him and that his best work is little-known and rather challenging.

Bard Music Festival 2011, “Sibelius and His World” – Program Details (REVISED, with a Note on the Composer)

The announcement of the upcoming Bard Music Festival, “Sibelius and his World,” begins with a note of controversy. Not everyone, especially from the 1930’s on, agreed that he wrote good music. This may surprise some people, since the debate had…
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