These days, music scholars are spelling Chopin’s first name the native Polish way: Fryderyk, not Frederic. Though the body of the great Romantic piano innovator lies buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where he spent most of his adulthood, they took his heart home to Warsaw. It was in the folk melodies and patriotic anthems of Poland that he grounded his compositions, which then went on to conquer the affections of the French and other Western Europeans. Through his art, nationalist sentiment was transmuted into something much more universal.
This engagement between still-wild East and overcivilized West supplies the loosey-goosey sort of framework that the minds behind Bard SummerScape seem to like best. “Chopin and His World” is the theme of the 2017 Bard Music Festival, and much attention – in the form of concerts, recitals, lectures and panel discussions – will be paid to his stunning influence on how the piano is used in classical music. Weekend One, August 11 to 13, will examine “Chopin, the Piano and Musical Culture of the 19th Century” and Weekend Two, August 18 to 20, “Originality and Virtuosity.”
But that’s getting ahead of the game; you’ll read more in these pages about the most Chopin-centric aspects of the annual summer music festival on the Bard College campus as August draws nigh. It’s time now for a peek at SummerScape’s first month of offerings, which begin as usual with dance. New York City Ballet MOVES, a subgroup of NYCB directed by Peter Martins, makes its SummerScape debut at the Fisher Center’s Sosnoff Theater with performances at 7:30 p.m. on June 30, July 1 and 2, plus a 2 p.m. Sunday matinée on July 2. The program will trace NYCB’s choreographic lineage from George Balanchine to Jerome Robbins to young rising star Justin Peck. No choreographer is more closely associated with Chopin than Robbins, who set four major ballets to his music; his Dances at a Gathering (1969) will be the centerpiece of the SummerScape program. Works by Stravinsky and Philip Glass are also on the menu.
The seven-week arts festival then moves on to theater: the world premiere of the Wooster Group’s original piece A Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique). It’s a tribute to trailblazing Polish “Theater of Death” director Tadeusz Kantor (1915-90). Associated with such stageworks as The Dead Class (1975) and Wielopole Wielopole (1980), “Kantor is to Poland what Andy Warhol is to America: an iconic postwar artist whose influence continues to resonate far beyond his own country,” according to the official SummerScape writeup, which also calls A Pink Chair “an exploration of ecstasy, despair, nostalgia and memory.” Weaving together live performance, music and video with material from Kantor’s archives, the new piece takes the form of a conversation among the company, Kantor’s ghost and his daughter, Dorota Krakowska, who is collaborating with the Wooster Group on this piece. Elizabeth LeCompte directs; the performers include Zbigniew Bzymek, Enver Chakartash, Jim Fletcher, Ari Fliakos, Dorota Krakowska, Erin Mullin, Danusia Trevino, Kate Valk and – most intriguingly – singer Suzzy Roche (of the Roches). Bard’s black-box LUMA Theater will host ten performances of A Pink Chair between July 13 and 23.
Next comes SummerScape’s annual tradition of dusting off some splendid opera that has been unjustly semi-forgotten. This year’s rediscovery is Antonín Dvorák’s Dimitrij (1882), in a new production by Obie-winning Bard alumna Anne Bogart (Class of ’74). Rarely staged outside the Czech Republic, Dimitrij is set in 17th-century Russia, following the death of the tsar Boris Godunov. Believing himself to be the lost son of Ivan the Terrible, Dvorák’s protagonist leads the Polish army to march on Moscow, only to fall in love with Godunov’s daughter. The opera “has long been recognized as an exemplar of Dvorák’s signature lyricism and masterfully stirring choral writing,” says the press material. “Ultimately tragic, the story of the False Dimitrij pits Orthodox Russia against Catholic Poland, a conflict Dvorák captures by setting Eastern Orthodox liturgical harmonies against the mazurka’s triple time.” With Leon Botstein leading the American Symphony Orchestra, Dimitrij will run for five performances between July 28 and August 6.
While all this mainstage stuff is going on – with ticket prices typically starting at $25 – lighter, fizzier fare can be found within the glittering Spiegeltent beginning June 30. As usual, there are edgy cabaret performances and dance parties on weekend nights, with Justin Vivian Bond presiding as emcee; Thursday evenings are the province of the Catskill Jazz Factory.
At $10 per ticket, SummerScape’s biggest bargain is the Film Series, presented in the Ottaway Film Center on Thursdays and Sundays between July 27 and August 20, this year with the theme “Chopin and the Image of Romanticism.” Besides Charles Vidor’s Hollywoodized 1945 Chopin biopic, A Song to Remember, the lineup will include works by Polish directors Andrzej Wajda, Roman Polanski, Aleksander Ford, Krzysztof Zanussi and Krzysztof Kieslowski. Three Ingmar Bergman films that make powerful use of Chopin’s music will also be screened: Autumn Sonata (1978), Smiles of a Summer’s Night (1955) and Cries and Whispers (1972).
Tickets are now on sale for all Bard SummerScape events, which run from June 30 to August 20. For the full schedule, tickets and further information on all SummerScape events, call the Fisher Center box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit http://fishercenter.bard.edu/summerscape.