This summer marks an historic season for the annual Bard SummerScape festival. Turning for the first time to Latin America, Bard expands its horizons with eight weeks of music, opera, theater, dance, film, and cabaret, all keyed to the theme of, the 26th Bard Music Festival, “Chávez and His World.”
This intensive exploration of the life and times of Carlos Chávez, the central figure in 20th-century Mexican music, also represents something of a homecoming, for it is a full decade since SummerScape last trained its focus on the New World. Addressing questions of American identity, and of marginalization by the classical community, the music festival provides the inspiration for SummerScape’s other key highlights. These include the first fully-staged American production of The Wreckers, the foremost opera by Dame Ethel Smyth, whose work is still only rarely programmed; a revelatory and highly unusual chamber version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s quintessential celebration of Americana, Oklahoma!; an al fresco presentation of Everything by my side, a performance-installation by Argentina’s Fernando Rubio; Pam Tanowitz Dance performing a world première set to the music of Chávez and more, featuring live music by the FLUX Quartet; a film series titled “Reinventing Mexico”; and the return of Bard’s authentic and sensationally popular Spiegeltent, hosted by Justin Vivian Bond. Taking place between June 25 and August 16 in the Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts and other venues on Bard College’s idyllic Hudson River campus, the 2015 offerings serve as a reminder that SummerScape is, as the New York Times put it, “ever a hotbed of intellectual and aesthetic adventure.”
Founded by co-artistic director Leon Botstein, it is the Bard Music Festival – “the summer’s most stimulating music festival” (Los Angeles Times) – that provides the creative inspiration for SummerScape. Drawing on recent scholarship, the festival’s signature thematic programming, multi-disciplinary approach, and emphasis on context and reception history make for a depth and breadth of cultural discovery that appeals to classical music novices and aficionados alike. Since its inception in 1990, the Bard Music Festival has enriched the standard concert repertory with a wealth of important rediscoveries; as the New York Times points out, “wherever there is an overlooked potential masterpiece, Leon Botstein is not too far behind.” “One of the most remarkable figures in the worlds of arts and culture” (NYC Arts, THIRTEEN/WNET), Botstein also serves as music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, which will be in residence throughout SummerScape. Besides leading the music festival’s orchestral programs, he looks forward to conducting this season’s annual staged opera, The Wreckers.
“Chávez and His World”
The 26th season of the Bard Music Festival presents “Chávez and His World,” an illuminating series of orchestral, choral, and chamber concerts – as well as pre-concert talks and panel discussions – devoted to examining the life and times of Carlos Chávez (1899 – 1978). A protean force as composer, conductor, and cultural ambassador, Chávez embodied 20th century Mexican music. While incorporating modernist techniques into his music, he was also among the first to reference his homeland’s indigenous past, and played a crucial part in the “indigenismo” movement, celebrating his native culture. In a handful of major works, Chávez drew inspiration and strength from Mexican themes, and it was his synthesis of markers of Mexican identity with modernist techniques that led Aaron Copland to judge him “one of the first authentic signs of a New World with its own new music.”
As a conductor, Chávez not only founded the Orquesta Sinfónica de México, directing it for more than two decades, but also guest conducted such leading U.S. ensembles as the Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Philadelphia Orchestra, championing works by composers including Copland, Colin McPhee, Henry Cowell, and Amadeo Roldán, and leading Mexican premieres of music by Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Hindemith, Milhaud, and Falla. Through his work as a governmental arts administrator and founder of several major Mexican cultural institutions, among them the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Chávez brought international visibility to Mexican musical and cultural life.
Achieving such visibility remains, however, a work in progress. Despite the tireless efforts of Chávez and other of his compatriots, their compositions are still all too seldom programmed in U.S., European, and Asian concert halls, and very few have achieved anything like broad recognition by the concert-going public. Bard seeks to redress this balance, taking Chávez’s life and career as the prism through which to examine a vibrant cultural period in Mexico and Latin America. His life encompassed the Mexican Revolution, which was followed by a period of cultural renaissance in literature, film, the visual arts, and music, providing rich material for a reassessment of his homeland.
The numerous offerings that make up the 2015 Bard Music Festival take place during SummerScape’s two final weekends: on August 7 – 9, Weekend One investigates The Musical Voice of Mexico, and on August 14 – 16, Weekend Two explores Mexico, Latin America, and Modernism. Eleven concert programs, built thematically and spaced over the two weekends, address such themes as the relationship between the Latin American and U.S. musical scenes; the role of the European emigrés; the legacy and influence of Spain; Mexican musical traditions; Chávez’s work as conductor; and his place among the other outstanding Latin composers of the 20th century. The work of Silvestre Revueltas, Alberto Ginastera, and Heitor Villa-Lobos will be heard, as will Mexican choral music of the past five centuries. Along with music by Chávez’s predecessors, contemporaries, and musical descendants, a broad sampling of his own music will be heard, from his solo pieces for piano and percussion to large-scale orchestral works like the Symphonía india and H.P., Ballet Symphony. Three thought-provoking panel discussions will be supplemented by informative pre-concert talks and commentaries, which illuminate each concert’s themes and are free to ticket holders.
Opera: The Wreckers
As a Victorian-born Englishwoman – and a bisexual suffragette, at that – Dame Ethel Smyth (1858 – 1944) faced challenges comparable to those of the Latin American composers. Her music was largely marginalized by the musical establishment during her lifetime, and even today, her works are rarely programmed. Although her one-act opera Der Wald has the distinction of remaining the only work by a female composer ever produced at the Metropolitan Opera, The Wreckers (1902 – 4), her greatest contribution to the genre, has yet to be staged in the United States. Yet her craft was such that Smyth counted Tchaikovsky and Debussy among her admirers, and thanks to the muscular vigor of her writing, The Wreckers was considered by Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor of its London première, as “one of the three or four English operas of real musical merit and vitality.” Moreover, in its depiction of the nefarious Cornish coastal practice of luring ships onto the rocks to plunder them, The Wreckers addresses the potential dangers of mass hysteria, populist justice, and unquestioned religious faith, all issues with profound resonance for audiences today. Indeed, in 2007, when Leon Botstein led the American Symphony Orchestra in the opera’s first U.S. concert performance at Avery Fisher Hall, it received a warm welcome. As the New York Times realized, “The Wreckers gets your attention. It charges at the audience with all guns blazing. … Smyth knew what she was doing.” As for the performance, the Times noted, “Mr. Botstein responded with a bang-up (literally) performance, one of the best he has ever put on.”
As the long overdue first American staging of The Wreckers, Bard’s production not only offers the chance to hear Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra reprise their celebrated interpretation, but marks a major historical milestone. Returning to direct it is European Opera Prize-winner Thaddeus Strassberger, who scored previous SummerScape hits with Le roi malgré lui, Les Huguenots, Der ferne Klang, and 2013’s first full American staging of Sergei Taneyev’s Oresteia. This was pronounced “a revelation” by the Financial Times, which concluded: “Some of the most important summer opera experiences in the U.S. are not at the better known festivals but at Bard SummerScape.” Musical America agreed: “Bard’s annual opera has become an indispensable part of the summer operatic landscape because the choice of works is invariably inspired and their productions distinctively creative.” Bard’s original treatment of The Wreckers will run for five performances (July 24, 26, 29, & 31; Aug 2), with an Opera Talk, free and open to the public, before the matinée on July 26.
Close contemporaries of Carlos Chávez, Richard Rodgers (1902 – 79) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895 – 1960) were also concerned with the forging of a new relationship between popular music and national identity. Working within the authentically homegrown art form of musical theater, their first collaboration, Oklahoma! (1943), is set in the Territory of Oklahoma during the years before statehood, exploring American cultural identity through her frontier roots. Like Green Grow the Lilacs, the play on which it was based, Oklahoma! combines a sunny romance with the darker story of a community rising up against a reviled outsider. These strands are bound together by Rodgers’s exuberant and complex score, which, besides the title song, includes such favorite numbers as “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” and “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” When it premiered in 1943, Oklahoma! changed the course of musical theater, and won Rodgers and Hammerstein the 1944 Pulitzer Prize. Bard’s boldly intimate chamber production, where audience and performers will come together in the round to break bread and experience this story of a young nation forming its identity, will be mounted in the LUMA Theater in 25 performances between June 25 and July 19, under the direction of Daniel Fish, whose credits include the Royal Shakespeare Company and Opera Philadelphia. It was at SummerScape 2005 that Fish premiered his staging of Clifford Odets’s Rocket to the Moon, which subsequently impressed the New York Times as “heartfelt, freshly conceived, and rich in moments that illuminate the tenderness of Odets’s vision.”
Bard’s theatrical track record is a stellar one. Last season, in response to the festival’s world première theater production Love in the Wars, an adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist’s Penthesilea by the Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville, New York Arts declared: “Bard summer drama has been consistently of the highest order over the years.”
Performance-installation: Everything by my side
The festival continues with an outdoor performance and installation created by contemporary Argentinean theater maker and visual artist Fernando Rubio. Everything by my side takes place in seven pristine white beds ranged under the trees in the beautiful landscape outside the Fisher Center, where audience members individually experience a quiet and dreamlike performance that evokes vivid childhood memories. A meditation on loneliness, intimacy, and the shifting boundaries between public and private, Rubio’s creation has already won praise in multiple cities around the world; depicting it as “seven little islands of intimacy,” the New York Times counseled: “If you can, give it a try.” SummerScape’s seven open-air performances take place between July 9 and 12, under the trees on the Fisher Center lawn.
Dance: Pam Tanowitz Dance & FLUX Quartet
New York’s Pam Tanowitz Dance comes to SummerScape for the first time this season, with the choreography of Bessie Award-winner Pam Tanowitz, a “clear-sighted postmodernist” (New Yorker) who incorporates classical ballet steps into her highly original dances. In two performances on June 27 and 28, Tanowitz will première new works created for the occasion, including a suite of en pointe solos set to the music of Carlos Chávez and danced by Tony Award-nominee and former American Ballet Theatre principal Ashley Tuttle. The program also showcases Heaven on One’s Head (2014), a virtuosic work set to the string quartets of Conlon Nancarrow, a contemporary of Chávez who relocated from New York to Mexico. These will be performed live by the FLUX Quartet, which “has brought a new renaissance to string quartet music” (Village Voice). Calling Tanowitz “the wittiest choreographer since Mark Morris,” the New York Times observes: “The dance steps, phrases and constructions by the choreographer Pam Tanowitz are among the finest being made anywhere today.”
Film series: “Reinventing Mexico”
To illustrate the confluence of forces shaping the work of Carlos Chávez, the SummerScape 2015 Film Series explores the relationship between realism, modernism, and nationalism in films from and about Mexico. The series opens with the landmark, proto-neorealist Redes, which brought together photographer Paul Strand, director Fred Zinnemann, Chávez, and his fellow composer Silvestre Revueltas. In addition to historical films like Vera Cruz, the series also features a retrospective of the peripatetic surrealist master Luis Buñuel (July 11 – Aug 2).
Back for a tenth magnificent summer, Bard’s authentic, one-of-a-kind Belgian Spiegeltent has enchanted guests since its introduction to the festival in 2006, which marked the first time such a structure had appeared in America. A handmade pavilion decorated with mirrors and stained glass, evoking a bygone era of glamour, the mirrored tent provides a sumptuous and magical environment to enjoy cutting-edge cabaret and world-class musical performances – almost all of which have sold out in recent years – capped by dining and late-night dancing throughout the festival. This season’s festivities will be hosted by Tony Award-nominee and Spiegeltent favorite Justin Vivian Bond, “the greatest cabaret artist of this generation” (New Yorker), who returns by popular demand to resume duties as host, emcee, and guest curator for a second season. Dining at the Spiegeltent is inspired by seasonal Hudson Valley ingredients and served at lunchtime on Saturdays and Sundays, and at dinnertime on Thursdays through Saturdays, with a full bar offering designed to complement the menu. As Edinburgh Fringe magazine urges, “Enter the Spiegeltent – the tent of dreams – and you will never be the same again.”
Click here for more about Spiegeltent
SummerScape 2015: chronological list of highlights
June 25 – July 19 SummerScape opens with first of 25 performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
June 27 & 28 Pam Tanowitz Dance and FLUX Quartet make festival debut
July 2 – Aug 15 Cabaret, live music, and After Hours dancing in the Bard Spiegeltent
July 9 – 12 Seven open-air performances of Fernando Rubio’s installation-performance, Everything by my side
July 11 – Aug 2 Film Series “Reinventing Mexico”
July 24 – Aug 2 Five performances of Ethel Smyth’s opera The Wreckers
Aug 7 – 9 Bard Music Festival, Weekend One: “The Musical Voice of Mexico”
Aug 14 – 16 Bard Music Festival, Weekend Two: “Mexico, Latin America, and Modernism”
Featured Image: Carlos Chavez (1930 – 40) — Photo by Manuel Alvarez Bravo
For more information visit The Fisher Center Website
For tickets call the box office @ 845 758 7900