Not everyone agreed about the merits of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's music, but he was the occasion of one of the most provocative Bard Music Festivals ever. Four of us have deliberated on either that or important new recordings, which add to our understanding of this sympathetic composer.
Lovers of opera, decadence, and general excess, had reason this year to rejoice. This past summer, Bard Summerscape staged, as its centerpiece, complementary to the Bard Music Festival, Das Wunder der Heliane (The Miracle of Heliane), which is possibly the single most important work by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957). And the work has now appeared in a sumptuous new recording (reviewed here) as well as in a much-praised DVD version from the renowned Deutsche Opera (Berlin), which indeed looks wonderful in this trailer.
After attending the fully staged performance of Korngold’s opera Das Wunder des Heliane and the concerts of the second weekend of the Bard Korngold Festival, I arrived a distinct sense of the shape of the composer’s career trajectory and of the development of his unique musical sensibility, one which I suspect the festival programmers might not have hoped to suggest. To the extent that Korngold’s name is familiar, it is owing to his powerful, compelling, and influential Hollywood film scores. The unique, invaluable Bard Music Festivals usually aim to take us beyond and behind the headlines associated with its central figures and to give us a means to re-evaluate them in a more nuanced way, in the context of their less familiar works as well as those of their contemporaries. In the case of my encounter with Korngold, however, the result was a strengthening of the general view that this composer was born to compose film scores.Up to now, Korngold’s non-film music has not been completely neglected.
As I return to the Bard Music Festival year after year, I notice that the spaces of Olin Hall and the Fisher Center, become more crowded and sold-out notices appear ever more frequently. I also notice that I’ve seen a good many of the attendees before. There is certainly a minority who are passionately interested in one composer or his historical and cultural context and not in the others, but I am confident in saying that the core of the Bard audience consists of recidivists. Lately the choice of focal composers has shifted from the undisputed pantheon to composers who are interesting because of their cultural position in their own time. Saint-Saëns, Chávez, and Rimsky Korsakov fall into this category. The audience keeps on growing. It’s obvious that we share a broad interest in western art music, but the way in which the individual composers are presented is exploratory, and, given the presence of musicians and musicologists, bound to take a controversial course. I always leave not only knowing something I didn’t know before, but with a profound new insight, and, most important of all, questions to mull over during the months that separate us from the next Bard Festival.
Delving into the music of Alberic Magnard is to reach deep into the heart of French culture. Magnard was a subtle, aristocratic composer, trading in understatement. If you enjoy the delicate chromaticism of Gabriel Fauré, or Albert Roussel’s early works, such as his First Symphony, Poème de la forêt, you will love Magnard. If you are looking for the more obvious charms of Berlioz, Dukas, Franck or Saint-Saëns, you may be disappointed. Magnard is like Franck, but turned inward and away from Franck’s saccharine religiosity. Despite all the forte moments one could want, this is music best heard with the lights low and a log in the fireplace.
t's always a pleasure to attend a Yamaha piano event. Some take place in the more intimate halls around Manhattan, but most are in Yamaha’s New York show room on Fifth Avenue. The main room, where the recitals are held, has been acoustically treated, and the sound is as well-balanced and lively as many of the purpose-built auditoria in the city.
Not to be missed—something new and something old! The outstanding musicians who have worked with conductor Justin Bischof for some years with noted success in New York City and Westchester county are now reorganized as The Modus Opera Orchestra, resident in St. Mary's Church in Long Island City. This coming Saturday, November 23rd, their inaugural concert will begin with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, in a performance which is sure to be exciting and fresh, followed my Rossini's William Tell Overture, which is partly inspired by Beethoven's Fifth and his "Egmont" Overture. Follwing that soprano Elyse Ann Kakacek will join the orchestra for Barber's Knoxville, Summer of 1915 and an Alleluia by Mozart. The concert will conclude with Wagner's Overture to Tannhäuser. I think we may assume that the unusual sequence of works, pretty much the reverse of standard classical programming, hints at something new and extraordinary to expect from Maestro Bischof and his superb musicians.
It is perhaps hard for us to imagine what determination Holzbauer, in 1780, must have had to write an opera in German, and sung from beginning to end, on a tragic tale from classical antiquity, at a time when such topics were considered the primary province of French spoken drama and Italian opera seria. Mozart’s two German operas—The Abduction from the Seraglio and The Magic Flute—are from around the same time as Holzbauer, but both are comedies, with often larky spoken dialogue between the musical numbers. (This is not to deny that both Mozart works also have dark or philosophical overtones.)