Bard SummerScape 2017 Explores the Life and Times of Romantic Master Fryderyk Chopin

by Florindo Troncelliti

Parisian culture, Polish politics, and the piano are the focus of this summer’s annual Bard SummerScape festival, taking place between June 30 and August 20 in the Frank Gehry-​​designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts and other venues on Bard College’s stunning Hudson River campus.

Bard SummerScape 2017 is seven weeks of music, opera, theater, dance, film, and cabaret keyed to the theme of the 28th Bard Music Festival, “Chopin and His World.” The music festival in August intensively examines the life and times of Fryderyk Chopin, shedding new light on the Romantic era, and on Chopin himself, a composer variously pigeonholed as a salon pianist or Polish nationalist, yet his originality ensures his universal impact and appeal.

The SummerScape 2017 offerings provide new opportunities to discover that, as Time Out New York has said, “the experience of entering the Fisher Center and encountering something totally new is unforgettable and enriching.”  Complementing the music festival, Chopin and some of his most compelling contemporaries provide other key SummerScape highlights.  These include a rare, fully staged production of Dimitrij, a grand opera by fellow Slavic nationalist Antonín Dvořák; the world premiere of PINK CHAIR (IN PLACE OFFAKE ANTIQUE), an homage to Polish artist and director Tadeusz Kantor by The Wooster Group; the SummerScape debut of New York City Ballet MOVES, with a program featuring Jerome Robbins’s Chopin-​​set Dances at a Gathering and In Creases by rising star Justin Peck; a film series exploring “Chopin and the Image of Romanticism”; and the return of Bard’s authentic and sensationally popular Spiegeltent, hosted by the inimitable Mx. Justin Vivian Bond.

Music:  Bard Music Festival, “Chopin and His World”


Chopin performing in the Berlin salon of Prince Anton Radziwill, 1829, Henryk Siemiradzki, 1887

This season, the Bard Music Festival trains its focus on a composer who wrote almost exclusively for the piano, still the instrument most prevalent in Western culture today. “Chopin and His World” comprises an illuminating series of chamber, vocal, choral, and orchestral concerts – as well as pre-​​concert talks and panel discussions – devoted to examining the life and times of Fryderyk Chopin (1810 – 49).

A true original, it is he, more than any other composer, who did most to transform the aesthetic potential of the piano.  Drawing on the latest developments in piano making, he conjured new harmonies, colors, and expressive depths from his instrument, exerting a profound and indelible influence on piano technique and harmonic language for generations to come.

A salient feature of Chopin’s distinctive sound is his predilection for the folk melodies and dance forms of his native Poland.

The numerous offerings that make up the 2017 Bard Music Festival take place during SummerScape’s two final weekends.  On August 11 – 13, Weekend One explores Chopin, the Piano, and Musical Culture of the 19th Century.  Two of the early works for piano and orchestra that propelled Chopin to fame will be heard alongside concertos by his predecessors Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Ignaz Moscheles, and Friedrich Kalkbrenner, and music dating from his early years in Warsaw will be contextualized by that of his teachers and contemporaries Józef Elsner, Wilhelm Würfel, and Maria Szymanowska.  Further programs will explore the world of 19th-​​century piano music, the influence of bel canto opera on instrumental writing, and the role of Jews in European musical culture, before the weekend concludes with an examination of the Romantic virtuoso cult for piano, violin, and voice.

On August 18 – 20, Weekend Two addresses the nature of Originality and Virtuosity, with concerts featuring a generous selection of Chopin’s finest mature writing, including the Op. 10 Etudes; music for the salon, where most of his work was first heard; a performance of the first great Polish opera (something Chopin was continually expected to write):  Stanisław Moniuszko’s Halka, a work rarely heard outside the composer’s homeland; Poland’s neglected choral tradition; and Chopin’s great legacy, which helped shape the future of music from Liszt and Wagner to Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Fauré, and Poland’s Szymanowski and Grażyna Bacewicz.  To draw the festival – and the entire seven weeks of SummerScape – to a climactic close, Bard presents a pairing of masterworks by Chopin and Berlioz: two friends who nonetheless took very different approaches to musical Romanticism.  This lineup will be complemented by two thought-​​provoking panel discussions and informative pre-​​concert talks and commentaries that illuminate each concert’s themes, and are all free to ticket holders.

Opera: Dvorak’s Dimitrij


Melissa Citro, soprano (Marina), and Clay Hilley, tenor (Dimitrij). Photo by Todd Norwood

Antonin Dvorak’s Dimitrij (1882) is rarely staged outside the Czech Republic, and only received its U.S. concert premiere in 1984, more than a century after its composition.  This owes in part to the practical challenges it presents in production.  Yet the opera was a popular success at its Prague premiere and has long been recognized as an exemplar of Dvořák’s signature lyricism and masterfully stirring choral writing.

 Theater:  The Wooster Group’s PINK CHAIR (IN PLACE OFFAKE ANTIQUE) (world premiere)

Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique), Rehearsal

Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique), Rehearsal. Photo by Matthew Dipple

Like Chopin, Tadeusz Kantor (1915 – 90) was one of Poland’s most trailblazing visionaries. The stage director, set designer, creator of happenings, writer, and artist behind such revolutionary theatrical works as The Dead Class (1975) and Wielopole Wielopole (1980), Kantor is to Poland what Andy Warhol is to America: an iconic postwar artist whose influence continues to resonate far beyond his own country. When productions by Kantor’s legendary company Cricot 2 traveled to New York City in the 1990s, they had a profound influence on American theater and dance that is still playing out today.

Dance: The New York City Ballet


NYC MOVES, Photo by Paul Kolnick

SummerScape 2017 launches with the festival debut of New York City Ballet MOVES, with the excitement and spontaneity of an all-​​live music program.  NYCB Moves is composed of a select group of dancers and musicians of the NYCB under the auspices of Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins.  For its first SummerScape engagement, the company gives four performances of a program tracing the NYCB’s outstanding choreographic lineage, from legendary co-​​founder George Balanchine and associate artistic director Jerome Robbins to young rising star Justin Peck (June 30-​​July 2). No choreographer is more closely associated with Chopin than Robbins, who set four major ballets to his music.

Film series: “Chopin and the Image of Romanticism”
Chopin has long represented a source of inspiration for filmmakers, whether as subject or soundtrack contributor, and it is this rich and varied legacy that the 2017 SummerScape film series celebrates.  Held between July 27 and August 20, the ten screenings include two biopics.  Charles Vidor’s highly fictionalized Hollywood account, A Song to Remember (1945), views the composer’s life through the distorting lens of wartime propaganda, whereas in Chopin’s Youth (1952), Poland’s Aleksander Ford successfully eschews a comparably Soviet agenda. Having worked on the latter film in his own youth, groundbreaking Polish director Andrzej Wajda went on to make Kanal (1957) and Ashes and Diamonds (1958), in whose final scene a grotesque account of Chopin’s Military Polonaise crowns a drunken banquet. Likewise, the composer’s A-​​minor Prelude marks a plot point in Autumn Sonata (1978), which – along with Smiles of a Summer’s Night (1955) and Cries and Whispers (1972) – is one of three intimate chamber dramas by Ingmar Bergman that feature Chopin’s music. His works may also be heard in every film made by Krzysztof Zanussi, including Camouflage (1977), and they play an important part in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Camera Buff (1979). Based on a wartime memoir by the Polish-​​Jewish pianist-​​composer Władysław Szpilman, Roman Polanski’s historical epic The Pianist (2002) showcases uplifting performances of the G-​​minor Ballade, C-​​sharp minor Nocturne, and Grande Polonaise Brillante.

Back for a twelfth magnificent summer, Bard’s authentic Spiegeltent has enchanted guests since its introduction to the festival in 2006. A handmade pavilion from Belgium, 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. Back by popular demand, Tony Award-​​nominee Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, “the greatest cabaret artist of this generation” (New Yorker), hosts a fourth season of Bard’s signature cabaret on Friday and Saturday nights. On Thursdays, the Catskill Jazz Factory returns to celebrate the defining moments of jazz, from Roaring Twenties big band to gospel, bebop, cool jazz, and the swinging sixties, all with a twist, in Jazz Through the Looking Glass. Dining is inspired by seasonal Hudson Valley ingredients and served at lunchtime on Saturdays and Sundays and dinnertime on Thursdays through Saturdays, with a full bar offering to complement the menu. For all Spiegeltent events go HERE

SummerScape 2017: chronological list of highlights

June 30 – July 2   SummerScape opens with the first of four performances of Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering and other works by Balanchine and Peck, marking New York City Ballet MOVES’ festival debut

June 30 – Aug 20   Cabaret, live music, and After Hours dancing in the Bard Spiegeltent

July 13 – 23   Ten performances of The Wooster Group: A PINK CHAIR (IN PLACE OFFAKE ANTIQUE) (world premiere)

July 27 – Aug 20   Film Series “Chopin and the Image of Romanticism”

July 28 – Aug 6   Five performances of Antonín Dvořák’s opera Dimitrij (new production)

Aug 11 – 13   Bard Music Festival, Weekend One: “Chopin, the Piano, and Musical Culture of the 19th Century”

Aug 18 – 20   Bard Music Festival, Weekend Two: “Originality and Virtuosity”

Featured Image: Chopin at 25, by his fiancée Maria Wodzińska, 1835

For a full schedule of SummerScape and Bard Music Festival events follow the links below.
Bard SummerScape: fishercenter​.bard​.edu/​s​u​m​m​e​r​s​c​ape
Bard Music Festival: fishercenter​.bard​.edu/​bmf
Tickets and Subscriptions: fishercenter​.bard​.edu/​t​i​c​k​ets; or by phone at 845 – 758-​​7900. Tickets to all mainstage events start at $25.

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