Thursday, April 14, 2011

The 22nd annual Bard Music Festival: “Sibelius and His World”

In-Depth Survey of Music by Finnish Symphonist Jean Sibelius and His Contemporaries (Aug 12–14; Aug 19–21) Is Centerpiece of Seven-Week 2011 Bard SummerScape Festival

Described by the Los Angeles Times as “uniquely stimulating,” the world-renowned Bard Music Festival returns for its 22nd annual season, filling the last two weekends of Bard SummerScape 2011 with a compelling and enlightening exploration of “Sibelius and His World.” Twelve concert programs over the two mid-August weekends, complemented by pre-concert lectures, panel discussions, expert commentary, a symposium, and a special film screening, make up Bard’s examination of Jean Sibelius, the composer once condescendingly dismissed as “easy listening” yet now embraced by audiences and critics alike as one of Beethoven’s great heirs. The twelve concerts present masterpieces from Sibelius’s orchestral and choral oeuvre, as well as many of his chamber, keyboard, and vocal works, alongside a wealth of music from almost 40 of his contemporaries. Weekend One –“Imagining Finland” (August 12–14) – explores Sibelius’s early years and the influence of those who sought to define Finnish and Scandinavian culture, while Weekend Two – “Sibelius: Conservative or Modernist?” (August 19–21) – confronts Sibelius’s reputation, reception, and influence in Europe and America after the First World War.

The Bard Music Festival has won international acclaim for its unrivaled, in-depth exploration of the life and works of a single composer and his contemporaries, offering, in the words of the New York Times, a “rich web of context” for a full appreciation of that composer’s inspirations and significance. Leon Botstein, co-artistic director of the festival and music director of the resident American Symphony Orchestra, will conduct the orchestral programs; these, like many of the other concerts and special events, will take place in the beautiful Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on Bard’s glorious Hudson Valley campus. As in previous seasons, choral programs will feature the Bard Festival Chorale directed by James Bagwell, while this year’s impressive roster of performers includes the Daedalus Quartet, pianists Jeremy Denk, Anna Polonsky, Gilles Vonsattel, and Orion Weiss, cellist Edward Arron, soprano Christiane Libor, and mezzo-soprano Melis Jaatinen.

Through the prism of Sibelius’s life and career, the 2011 festival will explore the music of Scandinavia and examine the challenges faced by those who continued working within a tonal framework after the revolutions of musical modernism. Listeners will encounter music ranging from the Romanticism – both Austro-German and Russian – so prevalent in Sibelius’s youth to masterpieces of the 1930s from both sides of the Atlantic. Usually hailed as the sole and quintessential representative of Finnish music, here Sibelius will be delineated with greater accuracy as a complex, contradictory figure, whose first language was Swedish, not Finnish; who studied in Berlin and Vienna, not just Helsinki; and who wrote some of his most characteristically Nordic music while traveling in the southern warmth of Italy. He will be contextualized among his Finnish and Scandinavian contemporaries, from such well-known figures as Edvard Grieg and Carl Nielsen to less familiar ones like Toivo Kuula and Väinö Raitio. Difficult questions – concerning Sibelius’s politics, his stance toward the Nazi regime, and the mystery of why he all but gave up composing for the last three decades of his life – will be addressed.

Christopher H. Gibbs, one of the three Artistic Directors for the Bard Music Festival – along with Leon Botstein and Robert Martin – observes that “for a long time Sibelius was a victim of his own popularity. He was extraordinarily famous for a small number of overexposed, stylistically conservative compositions and popularly associated almost exclusively with Finland. The festival this summer aims to broaden our appreciation of the scope of Sibelius’s accomplishments and innovations as we unravel key enigmatic and paradoxical aspects of his life, music, and influence.”

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