Scandinavia’s rich cultural heritage, and the question of artistic conservatism in the modernist age, will be explored at the eighth annual Bard SummerScape festival, which once again features a sumptuous tapestry of music, opera, theater, dance, film, and cabaret, keyed to the theme of the 22nd annual Bard Music Festival. Presented in the striking Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts and other venues on Bard College’s bucolic Hudson River campus, the seven-week festival opens on July 7 with the first of four performances by Finland’s Tero Saarinen Company, and closes on August 21 with a party in Bard’s beloved Spiegeltent, which returns for the full seven weeks. This year’s Bard Music Festival explores “Sibelius and His World,” and some of the great Finnish symphonist’s most fascinating contemporaries provide other SummerScape highlights, including New York’s first fully-staged production of Richard Strauss’s 1940 opera Die Liebe der Danae; Noël Coward’s chamber opera, Bitter Sweet (1929); Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama The Wild Duck (1884); and a film festival, “Before and After Bergman: The Best of Nordic Film.”
Dubbed “part boot camp for the brain, part spa for the spirit” (New York Times), the Bard Music Festival provides the creative inspiration for SummerScape, presenting “Sibelius and His World”: a far-reaching and illuminating program of orchestral, choral, and chamber concerts, as well as pre-concert talks, panel discussions, and a symposium, all devoted to examining the life and times of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). The great Finnish composer’s stirring and evocative music drew inspiration from his homeland’s literary and oral traditions and its prodigious natural beauty, remaining defiantly tonal even during modernism’s most radical musical upheavals. The Bard Music Festival offers an intensive introduction to the world of Scandinavian music, from its luminaries to its lesser-known figures, while also contextualizing Sibelius within the wider musical world, alongside composers both conservative and modernist: fellow late-Romantics, Russian contemporaries, other “nationalist” composers, and the later orchestral writers whom Sibelius would influence. With its recognized gift for thematic programming, Bard achieves a depth and breadth of musical and cultural discovery that is truly unique. The two weekends of the Bard Music Festival will take place on August 12-14 and August 19-21 (see further details below).
The American Symphony Orchestra, under its music director, Leon Botstein, is in residence at Bard throughout SummerScape. Bard’s annual opera will be New York’s first fully-staged production of Die Liebe der Danae (1940), a rarely performed masterpiece by Sibelius’s contemporary Richard Strauss. The production, starring soprano Meagan Miller, will be directed by award-winning opera and theater director Kevin Newbury, both making SummerScape debuts. This season, Bard also presents Noël Coward’s operetta, Bitter Sweet (1929). Returning to helm the chamber opera’s nine performances (August 4-14) is the creative team behind last year’s production, The Chocolate Soldier: conductor James Bagwell and arranger Jack Parton. In theater, Bard will present Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck (1884); considered by many to be the Norwegian dramatist’s finest work, this will be presented in ten performances between July 13 and 24, directed by Caitriona McLaughlin, creator of last year’s Judgment Day. A significant dance performance has opened SummerScape each year since 2005. This year, the Tero Saarinen Company will launch the festival on July 7 with the dance triple bill of Westward Ho!, Wavelengths, and HUNT (four performances, July 7-10).
Imported from Europe for its fifth SummerScape season, Bard’s authentic and sensationally popular Spiegeltent is a handmade pavilion decorated with mirrors, centered on a theater-in-the-round that doubles as a dance floor. Offering food, beverages, and entertainment on Thursdays through Sundays throughout SummerScape, the mirrored tent is the festival’s center for fun and refreshments. During weekend days the glittering “tent of dreams” hosts family programs, and in the evening there’s a lineup of cutting-edge cabaret and musical performances, with post-show dancing and drinks (July 8 – August 21).
Bard SummerScape 2011 – highlights by genre
The numerous offerings that make up the comprehensive 22nd annual Bard Music Festival, “Sibelius and His World,” take place during SummerScape’s two final weekends: August 12- 14 and August 19-21. Through the prism of Sibelius’s life and career, this year’s 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. Sibelius’s orchestral mastery was exceptional; his compositional output includes one of the most revered and beloved symphonic cycles since Beethoven’s and the most frequently recorded violin concerto of the 20th century, besides such favorites as Finlandia, Valse triste, and Tapiola. The twelve musical programs, built thematically and spaced over the two weekends, range from “Jean Sibelius: National Symbol, International Iconoclast” to “Silence and Influence.” As well as music by his contemporaries, a broad sampling of Sibelius’s own compositions will be presented, from canonical works like the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies to such comparative rarities as his choral symphony, Kullervo. Two panel discussions and a symposium will be supplemented by informative pre-concert talks before each performance that illuminate the concert’s themes and are free to ticket holders.
Weekend One, August 12-14 Imagining Finland
It is not surprising that Sibelius is so closely identified with his homeland, since its breathtaking scenery, literature, and mythology – most notably the Kalevala, its national epic – proved his most profound inspiration. His music helped unify a Finland struggling for independence from Tsarist Russia, and established him not only as its leading composer but also as one of its greatest national figures. Nevertheless, Sibelius was neither Finland’s first composer of note nor the first to draw on Finnish legend; Bard introduces the less familiar figure of Robert Kajanus, once the nation’s most prominent composer, in addition to music by other Scandinavian and Russian composers of Sibelius’s time.
Weekend Two, August 19-21 Sibelius: Conservative or Modernist?
In his long lifetime, Sibelius witnessed almost a century of musical change, including the radical innovations of Stravinsky and the Second Viennese School. His own sonorities remained stubbornly consonant, his works gaining, rather than losing, by remaining within the confines of late-Romantic tonality. This inevitably drew criticism, and it was in the aftershock of such succès de scandale as Pierrot lunaire and The Rite of Spring that Sibelius received his first negative reviews. Yet his own musical outlook was far from hidebound; he admired Schoenberg and named Bartók the 20th century’s greatest composer. And the debate continues: while Sibelius’s detractors dismiss his work as overly accessible and populist, there are still members of the avant-garde who revere him as an innovator.
Since the founding of the Bard Music Festival, each season Princeton University Press has published a companion volume of new scholarship and interpretation, with essays, translations, and correspondence relating to the featured composer and his world. Daniel Grimley, professor of music at Oxford University, is editor of the 2011 volume, Jean Sibelius and His World.
Described as “the most intellectually ambitious of America’s summer music festivals” by London’s Times Literary Supplement and “uniquely stimulating” by the Los Angeles Times, the Bard Music Festival has consistently impressed critics worldwide. As the Wall Street Journal’s Barrymore Laurence Scherer observes, “the Bard Music Festival…no longer needs an introduction. Under the provocative guidance of the conductor-scholar Leon Botstein, it has long been one of the most intellectually stimulating of all American summer festivals and frequently is one of the most musically satisfying. Each year, through discussions by major scholars and illustrative concerts often programmed to overflowing, Bard audiences have investigated the oeuvre of a major composer in the context of the society, politics, literature, art and music of his times.”
Opera and operetta
This year’s opera presentation is Die Liebe der Danae (The Love of Danae, 1940), Richard Strauss’s penultimate opera. In this rarely performed work, Strauss employs a comic rendering of a Greek myth – the Midas story – to comment on love, money, and human nature. Sibelius, too, was drawn to Greek mythology, as evidenced by two tone poems, The Dryad (1910) and The Oceanides (1914). The two composers were close contemporaries, and there are a number of noteworthy parallels between them that, in selecting Die Liebe der Danae as its operatic centerpiece, Bard aims to investigate. Like the great Finn, Strauss resisted musical modernity, and this conservatism extended also to politics; both composers, facing different pressures in their respective corners of Europe, made compromising concessions to the Nazis despite their private misgivings.
The new, fully-staged production will showcase the “strong and brilliant” (New York Times) soprano of Metropolitan Opera National Grand Finalist Meagan Miller, under the direction of award-winning opera and theater director Kevin Newbury, with a set designed by Rafael Viñoly. Its five performances (July 29 & 31; August 3, 5, & 7) will be conducted by music director Leon Botstein, who will give an Opera Talk, free and open to the public, before the performance on July 31.
Since the opening of the Fisher Center at Bard, Botstein and the ASO have been responsible for championing and restoring to the stage a growing number of important but long-neglected operas. All of these presentations and their remarkable stagings have been warmly received by audiences, not least last season’s The Distant Sound (Der ferne Klang) by Franz Schreker, which was selected as one of New York’s “Top Ten Classical Music Events of 2010”; as the magazine’s Justin Davidson explained, “A hit in 1912, Schreker’s brilliantly florid opera has recently reemerged after a long dormancy and made its U.S. stage debut at Bard last summer in a performance good enough to whet the appetite for a major opera company’s attentions.”
This season, in addition to a full-length opera, Bard SummerScape presents Noël Coward’s chamber opera, Bitter Sweet (1929). As quintessentially English as Sibelius was Finnish, Coward (1899–1973) is best remembered today as the director of such films as Brief Encounter and the Academy Award-winning In Which We Serve; for plays like Blithe Spirit and songs like “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”; and for his wit and distinctive personal style. In his day, Coward was also successful as an actor, singer, novelist, and painter, besides volunteering for the Secret Service and running the British propaganda office in Paris during the Second World War. It was Coward who wrote both book and music for Bitter Sweet, modeling it after Die Fledermaus in an attempt to revive old-style operetta. True to its name, the work combines a lightness of tone with the regretful nostalgia of its premise; an aging heiress, while advising a younger woman to marry for love, recalls her own youth, when she eloped with her music teacher, only to see him die at the hands of a jealous aristocrat. The whimsical, romantic score features such songs as “I’ll See You Again” and the reflective “If Love Were All”.
With conductor James Bagwell and arranger Jack Parton – the artistic team behind last season’s chamber opera, The Chocolate Soldier – along with director Michael Gieleta, the new production opens on August 4 for the first of nine performances (August 4-14).
Of an earlier generation than Sibelius, fellow Scandinavian Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) nonetheless anticipated and embraced the modernist movement to which the composer remained resistant. Today, thanks to works like Peer Gynt, A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, and The Wild Duck, the great Norwegian playwright is widely acknowledged as the father of modern drama.
The Wild Duck (Vildanden) was published in 1884; classed as a tragic-comedy by Ibsen, it was described by George Bernard Shaw as combining “the profoundest tragedy with irresistible comedy.” Considered by many as Ibsen’s finest and most complex work, The Wild Duck marked a departure for the dramatist, blending the naturalism of his middle dramas with the symbolism of his late period. It portrays the disastrous consequences visited by the truth-seeking impulses of its protagonist upon a family whose peaceful existence is founded on a tissue of lies. In it, Ibsen posits the notion that there are people who depend on their illusions to get by: that absolute truth is sometimes too much for the human heart to bear. In 1963 the play was made into a motion picture by Ibsen’s grandson, director Tancred Ibsen, and in 1983 Jeremy Irons and Liv Ullmann starred in an English-language film adaptation. However, despite the admiration it has inspired, The Wild Duck is only infrequently staged.
Opening on July 13, the production is directed by returning young Irish director Caitriona McLaughlin, creator of last season’s Judgment Day, for ten performances in all (July 13-24).
For the past six seasons, dance has been a vital component of SummerScape, which has opened with celebrated dance performances each summer since 2005. This year, opening SummerScape on July 7, is “outstanding contemporary dance troupe” (Globe and Mail, Toronto) Tero Saarinen Company. One of Finland’s leading cultural exports, the group has appeared in more than 30 countries and Saarinen’s choreography has been incorporated into the repertoire of such prominent dance groups as Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT1), the Batsheva Dance Company, Lyon Opéra Ballet, and the Finnish National Ballet. Dancer/choreographer Tero Saarinen has been recognized for his work as an artist with the Pro Finlandia medal (2005), the most prestigious recognition given to artists in Finland; the International Movimentos Dance Prize for Best Male Performer in Germany (2004); and the title of “Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” (2004) by the French Ministry of Culture.
In a New York Times review of Saarinen’s most recent New York appearance, at the 2010 Fall for Dance festival, the dance critic Roslyn Sulcas described Saarinen as “an extraordinarily compelling stage presence.”
The Tero Saarinen Company launches SummerScape 2011 with a triple bill of works that plumb themes of friendship, love, and death. Westward Ho! is a quietly humorous, lightly melancholy portrayal of friendships that have begun to dip in and out of selfishness and betrayal. Wavelengths focuses on a couple that is trying to escape the threatening ho-hum of their long-term relationship. The triple bill concludes with Saarinen himself performing the solo piece HUNT, one of the most important contemporary interpretations of The Rite of Spring (choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, music by Igor Stravinsky).
The program will be presented in four performances: July 7-9 at 8 pm, and July 10 at 3 pm.
Before and After Bergman:
The Best of Nordic Film
Inspired by the Bard Music Festival’s focus on Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, the SummerScape 2011 film festival celebrates three widely divergent aspects of Nordic cinema. The first is the so-called golden age of the industry, most notably seen in the works of two Swedish directors, Mauritz Stiller and Victor Sjöström, and their Danish counterparts, Benjamin Christensen and Carl Dreyer. These silent films are highly regarded for vividly photographed northern landscapes that serve as a haunting backdrop for sophisticated characterizations and restrained performances. The second is the psychologically penetrating, erotically candid work of the legendary Ingmar Bergman. The festival concludes with a double feature of films by the still-active Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, an artist primarily known for his darkly comic vision of working-class life.
Once again, Bard SummerScape is pleased to present all titles on 35mm film (whenever possible). Silent films have live piano accompaniment.
Films are screened at the Jim Ottaway Jr. Film Center in the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Center.
All film tickets: $8
The Outlaw and His Wife
1918, directed by and starring Victor Sjöström
A land-owning widow runs off into the mountains with a mysterious wanderer who is being hunted by the law.
Silent 136 minutes July 14 at 7 pm
Sir Arne’s Treasure
1919, directed by Mauritz Stiller
The story of the consequences of an unspeakable murder in 16th-century Sweden.
Silent 106 minutes July 17 at 7 pm
The Phantom Carriage
1921; written, directed by, and starring Victor Sjöström
After dying in a brawl, a drunkard is forced to address his life’s failings. Considered one of the great classics of Scandinavian film.
Silent 103 minutes July 21 at 7 pm
1922; written, directed by, and starring Benjamin Christensen
A series of impressive vignettes explores medieval witchcraft from a variety of aspects. A highly celebrated film that can only be labeled an imaginative documentary.
Silent 104 minutes July 24 at 2 pm
The Saga of Gösta Berling
1924, directed by Mauritz Stiller
This romantic epic made its stars (Greta Garbo and Lars Hanson) and director internationally famous.
Silent 186 minutes July 24 at 7 pm
1924, directed by Carl Dreyer
An early Dreyer masterpiece, this restrained, nuanced drama centers on an aging artist’s homosexual love for his young protégé.
Silent 90 minutes July 28 at 7 pm
1928, directed by Victor Sjöström
Considered Sjöström’s best film from his brief Hollywood sojourn. Lillian Gish is unforgettable as a pioneer struggling alone in West Texas.
Silent 95 minutes July 31 at 2 pm
Master of the House
1925, directed by Carl Dreyer.
A rare Dreyer comedy, in which a domestic tyrant gets both his comeuppance and an education.
Silent 107 minutes July 31 at 7 pm
1953; written and directed by Ingmar Bergman.
The film that made Bergman’s international reputation, primarily for its candid treatment of eroticism. Things get tough for a young, carefree couple when they start raising a child.
Swedish (subtitled) 96 minutes August 4 at 7 pm
Smiles of a Summer Night
1955; written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
A woman married to an older man has remained a virgin even after three years of marriage. A lighthearted sex farce, and one of Bergman’s most influential films.
Swedish (subtitled) 108 minutes August 7 at 2 pm
1957; written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
While on a journey to receive an award, an aging professor of medicine recollects and reassesses the coldness and emptiness of his life.
Swedish (subtitled) 91 minutes August 7 at 7 pm
1966; written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
A masterpiece of cinematic modernism in which the writer/director analyzes his own psyche through the dreamlike drama of a neurotic actress and her nurse.
Swedish (subtitled) 85 minutes August 11 at 7 pm
The Passion of Anna
1969; written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
A deeply troubled man befriends an equally troubled married couple, then has a love affair with a grieving widow.
Swedish (subtitled) 101 minutes August 14 at 2 pm
Cries and Whispers
1972; written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
A dying woman is visited by her two sisters; out of their encounter the complications of their relationships come to the surface. Notable for its haunting, painterly beauty.
Swedish (subtitled) 91 minutes August 14 at 7 pm
August 18 at 7 pm
Both films written and directed by Aki Kaurismäki
Shadows in Paradise
A slice of life from the world of a solitary garbage man: a friend is killed; he has an affair. From Kaurismäki’s darkly comic trilogy of films about proletariat life in Helsinki.
Finnish (subtitled) 76 minutes
The Match Factory Girl
A poor working girl, pregnant after a one-night stand, decides to exact revenge.
Finnish (subtitled) 68 minutes
Back for a sixth magnificent summer, the authentic, one-of-a-kind Belgian Spiegeltent has been sensationally popular since its introduction at Bard in 2006, the first time one of these fabulous structures appeared in America. Offering food, beverages, and entertainment on Thursdays through Sundays throughout SummerScape, the Spiegeltent is the festival’s center for fun and refreshments. During weekend days there are family programs, and in the evening there’s a lineup of cutting-edge cabaret and musical performances – almost all of which sold out last summer – with post-show dancing and drinks.
The Spiegeltent is a handmade pavilion decorated with mirrors, centered on a theater-in-the-round that doubles as a dance floor. Its ballooning velvet canopies, ornate bar, and intimate booths make Bard’s Spiegeltent the perfect place to enjoy a dazzling array of entertainment throughout the festival, and provide a meeting place for drink, food, and celebration before and after weekend shows. Food is casual summer fare, à la carte – burgers from the grill, fresh salads, gourmet ice cream, microbrewed beer, local wine, and more, sourced locally whenever possible.
As always, Family Fare shows feature entertainment of every stripe for audiences of all ages, from jazz and circus acts to a one-man science-themed variety show. This summer’s exciting array of Spiegeltent cabaret includes an audience with celebrity chanteuse Ute Lemper, and such favorite returning acts as Weimar NYC with Justin Bond, called “subversive, sexed-up, [and] slashingly political” by Time Out New York; the bawdy vaudeville of the “irreverent, sacrilegious, lascivious” (New York Times) Wau Wau Sisters; and crowd darlings Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, back, no doubt, to sell out the Spiegeltent yet another year.
Once a week, Bard presents Thursday Night Live, featuring live bands of all genres, singing and playing global grooves from klezmer and céilí to Brazilian beats and Punjabi hip-hop. Then on Friday and Saturday evenings, while the night is still young, the SpiegelClub is the region’s most exhilarating summer gathering place, offering $5 admission (free to SummerScape ticket holders) after 10 pm and a late-night bar with music and dancing, where audiences and artists can meet over a drink or a casual bite and enjoy NYC and local DJs spinning a variety of tunes on a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system, after the regularly scheduled performances of SummerScape.