Described by the New York Times as “part boot camp for the brain, part spa for the spirit,” the world-renowned Bard Music Festival in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, returns for its 23rd annual season, filling the last two weekends of Bard SummerScape 2012 with a compelling and enlightening investigation of “Saint-Saëns and His World.” Twelve concert programs over the two mid-August weekends, complemented by pre-concert lectures, panel discussions, and expert commentary, make up Bard’s examination of Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), whose long and remarkable career spanned and helped shape the course of French music from Gounod to Ravel. The twelve concerts offer an immersion in the music of Belle Époque France, with its trademark opulence and emotional richness, presenting masterpieces from all genres of Saint-Saëns’s prodigious oeuvre, including a rare concert performance of his grand opera Henry VIII, alongside a wealth of music from contemporaries and compatriots. Weekend 1 – “Paris and the Culture of Cosmopolitanism” (August 10–12) – situates Saint-Saëns within his native city, which, as the new musical capital of Europe, was attracting a young generation of composers from abroad. Weekend 2 – “Confronting Modernism” (August 17–19) – explores the ways the French late-Romantics set the stage for modernism’s subsequent upheavals. Together, Bard’s offerings present a vivid portrait of a dazzlingly creative and colorful era in European history: a Golden Age of promise and possibility that came to an end with the tragedy of World War I.
As the New York Times observes, “Over two decades, the Bard Music Festival has managed more than its fair share of ambitious feats in its immersive annual examinations of classical music’s major composers,” offering a “rich web of context” for a full appreciation of that composer’s inspirations and significance. The resident American Symphony Orchestra, integral to the Bard Music Festival from the first, celebrates its half-centenary in the coming season, with the 2012 music festival taking place on the eve of the orchestra’s 50th anniversary. Leon Botstein, co-artistic director of the festival and soon to begin his 20th season as music director of the American Symphony, will conduct all three orchestral programs at 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 cellists Edward Arron, Zuill Bailey, and Sophie Shao; violinists Miranda Cuckson, Eugene Drucker, and Giora Schmidt; sopranos Ellie Dehn and Lori Guilbeau; the Horszowski Trio; pianists Anna Polonsky, Gilles Vonsattel, and Orion Weiss; and mezzo-soprano Rebecca Ringel.
With its recognized gift for thematic programming, Bard achieves a unique depth and breadth of musical and cultural discovery. A wide range of Saint-Saëns’s own music will be performed, from popular and canonical works like the Carnival of the Animals and the “Organ Symphony” to such bona fide rarities as Henry VIII, the late solo sonatas for oboe and bassoon, and his finest choral work: the biblical oratorio Le déluge (“The Flood”). Bard also presents a rich and illuminating array of music by Saint-Saëns’s contemporaries, who range from luminaries like his close friend and most famous student, Gabriel Fauré, to lesser-known figures like Cécile Chaminade. Works by foreign-born composers, including Franz Liszt, Pablo de Sarasate, and Igor Stravinsky, reflect Paris’s eclipse of Vienna as Europe’s musical center by the late 1800s.