Tag Archive: Bard Music Festival

Bard Music Festival 2015: Carlos Chávez and his World, Weekend I

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Retrato del maestro Carlos Chávez, oil on canvas, 1948

As the Bard Music Festival has sailed through the great names in European and American music over the past twenty-five years—although there are some people who don’t like Elgar, Liszt, or Wagner, and some who doubt Saint-Saëns’ or Sibelius’ importance (if they attended the Festival they left with their minds changed)—the focal points of the festival have been generally unchallenged. This year, with Carlos Chávez, the first composer from south of the border, there has been more debate. Many attendees—and especially non-attendees—questioned the worthiness of Carlos Chávez as a subject. He is largely forgotten, and many of those who do remember him, do not think of him kindly. Even Leon Botstein himself expressed a critical attitude towards Chávez,

The Bard Music Festival 2015: Carlos Chávez and His World, a Preview

Carlos Chávez by Manuel Álvarez Bravo, ca, 1930-40. © Colette Urbajtel/Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo

This is the first Bard Music Festival, Carlos Chávez and his World, to be devoted to music from south of the border. Up here, Central and South Americans were much more prominent in the classical music world in Chávez’s time (1899-1978) than they are in the present. Today most concert-goers see this music through the window of Gustavo Dudamel and all his good works, and El Sistéma from which he emerged, is all the rage among music educators, possibly destined to become something like a Suzuki method of the twenty-first century.

Bard Music Festival, 2013: Igor Stravinsky and his World, Part I

Albert Gleizes (1881–1953), Portrait of Igor Stravinsky (1914). Oil on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Every year, the Bard Summer Music Festival enjoys excellent attendance, including some, like Saint-Saëns, in 2012, that even surprised the organizers. I think it also came a something of a surprise that this year’s Stravinsky Festival was a sell-out for most events, to the point that the lobby of Olin Hall was filled with long lines of nervous visitors, hoping to get their hands on a return. Why did Stravinsky, the forbidding dandy, who had no interest whatsoever in providing comfort for his audiences, turn out to be such a draw? Was it the popular film about his love life? Robert Craft’s recent, highly dubious “outing” of him, which created a flurry in the newspapers? The hit play, Nikolai and the Others, at Lincoln Center? Or is it simply hip to like Stravinsky these days?

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.

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.

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