The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Meet Dame Ethel Smyth –- a Victorian feminist and forceful composer as well as an advocate of women’s rights and same-sex relations.

August 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

You probably don’t know the name Ethel Smyth (pronounced smaith, below).

The Ear certainly didn’t.

ethel smyth

But then he came across this fascinating account of her life and work.

Smythe was friends with Peter Tchaikovsky and Johannes Brahms.

An early feminist leader for same-sex equality, she fell in love with the much younger writer Virginia Woolf.

And her muscular music and politically charged operas reminded people of Richard Wagner.

Now she has been resurrected thanks to Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College who also directs the American Symphony Orchestra and the Bard Music Festival. He staged her 1904 opera “The Wreckers.” (At bottom, you can hear a YouTube performance of the Overture to “The Wreckers.”)

Leon Botstein conducting USE

Tom Huizenga, of the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog, wrote this profile and appreciation for NPR, or National Public radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/07/23/410033088/one-feisty-victorian-womans-opera-revived


Classical music: Mexican modern composer Carlos Chavez gets his first full examination and hearing from the Bard Music Festival this weekend and next.

August 8, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Do you know much about the 20th-century Mexican composer Carlos Chavez (below, in a portrait by famed photographer Paul Strand)?

Carlos Chavez mature CR Paul Strand

Despite the emphasis on cultural diversity these days, have you heard much of his music in concerts halls, on recordings and on the radio? (You can hear his Symphony No. 2 in a YouTube video at the bottom. Furthermore, YouTube has quite a lot of the music written by Carlos Chavez.)

Judging from The Ear’s own experience, probably not.

But that may be about to change.

Once again the Bard Music Festival -– under the direction of Bard College president Leon Botstein (below) who also directs the American Symphony Orchestra -– is known for taking on neglected composers or neglected aspects of well-known composers.

Leon Botstein conducting USE

Leon Botstein and American Symphony Orchestra

This year is no different.

Starting this weekend and continued next weekend, the Bard Music Festival will explore the world and music of Carlos Chavez, who was the foremost Mexican modernist.

Like his American colleague Aaron Copland, Chavez (below) helped to free the classical music of both North America and South America from the grip of European music and especially the excesses of late German Romanticism.

Carlos Chavez young with mss

Here is a link to the website of the festival, the center of which is the concert hall (below) designed by architect Frank Gehry. Looking at the schedule will give you some idea of the range and quality of the events and concerts that are planned.

http://fishercenter.bard.edu/bmf/

bard college fisher center frank gehry

Perhaps the best preview appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/arts/music/carlos-chavez-mexican-modernist.html?_r=0


Classical music: The 24th annual Bard Music Festival finishes its look at the modernist titan composer Igor Stravinsky with an exploration of his late work. Here is a report by The New York Times critic Steve Smith.

August 25, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

As I promised last weekend, here is the update on the conclusion of the 24th annual Bard Music Festival held at Bard College in the Hudson River Valley.

Much or even most of the festival is directed by Bard College president Leon Bostein. Concerts are held in the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts (below) that was designed by the noted architect Frank Gerhy.

Bard Music Festival Frank Gehry Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts hall

This year’s theme was Igor Stravinsky, and the first weekend of the festival examined his Russian roots and his earlier work. Last weekend I offered the insightful account and assessment by The New York Times critic Zachary Woolfe, who has been named by some sources — including famed critic Norman Lebrecht — as the designated successor to senior music critic Anthony Tommasini.

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/classical-music-this-weekend-will-bring-the-conclusion-of-the-exciting-and-intriguing-bard-music-festival-that-this-year-is-exploring-the-music-and-world-of-igor-stravinsky/

Lass weekend saw the conclusion of “Stravinsky and His World.”  It examined later works, with an emphasis on his neo-Classical works (listen to the tuneful clarity of the YouTube video of Stravinsky’s “Pulchinella” Suite at the bottom performed by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic); the composer’s and culture’s reaction against Richard Wagner and the lushness of late Romanticism as well; and the general career and music of Stravinsky (below, in a  photo by Richard Avedon) while he was in exile in France and the U.S.

Igor Stravinsky old 2

The activities included a performance of “Perspehone” with Jean Stillwell as the narrator (below in a photo by Cory Weaver of the New York Times).

Bard Music Festival 2013 Stravinsky's %22Persephone%22 with Jean Stilwell as narrator and the American Symphony Orchestra CR Cory Weaver NYT

Also performing was the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leon Botstein (below).

Leon Botstein Bard Music Festival

Here is a link to another perceptive assessment by another critic for The New York Times, Steve Smith (below):

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/20/arts/music/bard-music-festival-focuses-on-works-in-france-and-us.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Steve Smith New York TImes

I’m sure the festival was filled with great music, great performances and rare insights.

For that reason as I wrote last time, the Bard Music Festival is one that really tempts me. What other festival would treat music more as philosophy and history and less as entertainment? What other festival would devote itself, for example, to Camille Saint-Saens or Jean Sibelius?


Classical music: This weekend will bring the conclusion of the exciting and intriguing Bard Music Festival that this year is exploring the music and world of Igor Stravinsky. Which music festivals do you recommend?

August 17, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Many classical music festivals, in the summer and throughout the year, interest me and I would be happy to attend them. But only a relatively few really call me or beckon me or tempt me to attend.

One is the Van Cliburn competition for AMATEURS, not the professional one. Another is the Gilmore Festival, which chooses winners not really by individual competition – or at least conscious competition – but rather by judges who follow the careers of various pianists and then hand out the awards.

Another festival I would like to attend is the Oregon Bach Festival because Johann Sebastian Bach’s body of work is so rich. A fourth is the annual summer International Keyboard Festival at Mannes School of Music in New York City because it includes relatively unknown performers, intriguing programs and very intriguing master classes.

But a  major orchestral festival that calls me strongly is the annual summer music festival at Bard College in New York State’s Hudson River Valley, whose president Leon Botstein plans and leads the events, (Below is Leon Botstein in conducting the American Symphony Orchestra last Saturday in a photo by Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times. At bottom, in a YouTube video, you can hear him discussing his “Classics Declassified” series.)

Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra at the 2013 Bard Music Festival devoted to Stravinsky CR Hiroko Masuike NYT

Critic Zachary Woolfe of The New York Times this past week gave a terrific account of the opening weekend of the festival, which this year is devoted to Igor Stravinsky (below). It will finish up this weekend and I expect to post something about its conclusion.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

Woolfe (below) makes all the right points about why I find the festival at Bard so tempting, from the quality and importance of the music and often unusual repertoire to the fine performances and performers as well as the unusual angle or focal point that is often adopted.

Zachary Woolfe NYTIMES

Here is a link to Woolfe’s readable and detailed account. See if it doesn’t make you, like me, want to attend the festival:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/13/arts/music/bard-music-festival-celebrates-stravinsky-and-his-world.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Which music festivals have you most enjoyed and would recommend?

Which ones would you most like to attend?

The Ear wants to hear.


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