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*+-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?
*+-The Bard Music Festival, “Saint-Saëns and his World,” August 10-12 and 17-19, 2012 At first, Saint-Saëns was ahead of his time. Then, following his decade at the apex of French music, he was old-fashioned. We remember him today as if he were a composer of ‘light’ music, suitable for Pops concerts and to be excerpted. […]
*+-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.
*+-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 Festival: his world was large, and he was vitally connected with it. He was recognized […]
*+-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?
*+-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.
*+-Of all the events in the year, I can’t think of anything I anticipate quite as keenly as the Bard Music Festival, which is dedicated to exploring the life and works of major composers in the broad context of the culture in which they lived.[caption id="attachment_256" align="alignright" width="298" caption="Richard Wagner in 1873"][/caption]