Bard Music Festival’s In-Depth Survey of Music by Camille Saint-Saëns and His Contemporaries (August 10–19) Is Centerpiece of 2012 Bard SummerScape Festival
23 Apr 2012
Interchanging Idioms

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.


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AN IMPRESSIVE SUNLIT DUO AT VASSAR Music review The Millbrook Independent by Kevin T. McEneaney Sun Oct 1st, 2017 On a gorgeous afternoon of clear blue autumn skies, Vassar College’s cellist Sophie Shao teamed up with pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute from Lithuania for afternoon at Skinner Hall. They began with Zoltán Kodály’s Sonatina for cello and piano. A railroad station master’s son, Kodály (1882-1967)so loved music that he taught himself the cello in order to write music. He revisited this unfinished 1910 Sonatina intending to complete the second movement in 1922, but after revising the first movement and completing the second, he decided the revised work had little to do with the original work, and so he let the first movement stand by itself; it is generally thought that this resourceful composition remains thoroughly Hungarian in its pentatonic contours and inspiration, yet there is subliminal presence of Claude Debussy’s coloration shading Hungarian folk tunes. Both performers caught the immediacy that sunlit aura of color in this portrait of Hungarian hills, valleys, and streams. Sonata for solo cello, Op. 8 (1915) is perhaps Kodály’s most famous repertoire piece; he predicted that "in 25 years no cellist will be accepted who has not played it”; its fame was slow to catch on: first played by János Starker in 1939 when Starker was 15, it was not played in the United Sates until 1947, but by 1956 the sonata was a set piece for the Casals Competition in Mexico City. Sophie Shao plays on an Honore Derazy cello, the very one that Pablo Casals had once played. The Sonata wavers between B and B-flat to extend the tonal range of the cello with the lower strings tuned down one semitone. In three movements the cello rides the mountains, hills, and plains of Hungary with nationalist zeal, as in the third movement the Hungarian cavalry rides to the rescue, commemorating the 1456 victory over the invading Ottomans, which is still celebrated to this day on July 22. At that time Pope Callixtus III ordered the bells of every European church to be rung every day at noon as a call for believers to pray for the defenders of the Belgrade; and to this day that is why bells are rung at noon (and in secular imitation fire departments ring their sirens at noon, although they may not know why). Full of fireworks, the range of sounds from low to high and the leaps between high and low notes are breathtaking, evoking sounds that display Kodály’s gifted imagination. Shao had no difficulty conquering this mountain with ease and grace in one of the most technically demanding compositions in the cello repertory (it contains much tour-de-force pizzicato). And she invested it all with deep emotion. After brief intermission, Jokubaviciute joined Shao for Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 1 in F major, Op. 5. Beethoven was the first to develop a cello line in his earlier trios and this was the first sonata ever written for the cello as an equal partner in conversation with the piano. Glissando runs of playful feminine joy alternate with the more sober cello in ravishing flirtation. Jokubaviciute ably captured that rapturous, slightly mischievous cheerfulness of happy teen life as Shao recorded the more careful wooing of a possible mate. A standard of every cellist, Antonín Dvorák’s Rondo in G minor, Op. 68, No. 5 was composed on Christmas Day in 1891, just before Dvorák departed to the United States; it was performed at his farewell concert tour before his departure in 1892. This good-humored festive composition, which wavers between despondency and optimism, eventually conjures such sheer cheer that one cannot resist a smile when it is played with the synchronous buoyancy that Shao and Jokubaviciute conjured. They concluded with Dvorák’s Silent Woods in D-flat Major, Op. 68, No. 5 which describes a Thoreau-like transcendent walk in the woods with delicious melody, vivid syncopations, and a gently plodding bass line from the cello which conjure footfall steps in the Czech woods. While Dvorák, a viola player, wrote few works for the cello, those works he did write project remarkable contentment, amusement, and delight—here captured by two players whose instruments were linked in glee.

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