Bard plumbs the depths of “Rimsky-Korsakov and His World”

Portrait of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov by Valentin Serov

Bard SummerScape 2018 is as rich, diverse, substantive and positively grueling as usual: a brilliant ragout of interrelated music, theater and dance, film, intellectual discourse and high, serious fun in multiple venues overlooking the Hudson from Annandale. The centerpiece of SummerScape is always the “…and His World” series of concert events, which explore the work of one historically significant composer in the context of tradition; their contemporaries, followers and challengers; the artistic and cultural milieu in which they operated; the political and national currents that inform the work, the musical innovations for which they were responsible.

The 360-degree, cross-disciplinary nature of inquiry at SummerScape inclines the curators toward composers who lived in fractious and interesting times: more to work with, more meaning to tap. Fortunately, that includes most of them. This year, Bard turns its lens on Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The late-19th-century Russian composer is known to popular audiences mostly for the orchestral suite Scheherazade and to a lesser extent for the Russian Easter Festival Orchestra. A member of the circle of nationalistic Russian composers known as the Five, Rimsky-Korsakov’s influence transcends the popularity of his work. He was a master orchestrater who wrote books on the subject that were a direct influence upon Maurice Ravel, among others.

Rimsky-Korsakov thus supplies Bard with all the fodder it needs for a great summer: part of a movement (the Five); antipathy toward a great contemporary (Tchaikovsky); a legacy of highly technical musical innovations; a profound relationship with folk materials; and a late-Romantic expression of Old World nationalism on the eve of the modern world and all of its destructions and rebirths. Field day.

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“Rimsky-Korsakov and His World” features 12 chamber, orchestral, choral and operatic programs – two of which feature the American Symphony Orchestra under Leon Botstein – supplemented by panel discussions and special events (August 10 through 12 and 17 through 19). Rounding out the festival that The New York Times calls a “hotbed of intellectual and aesthetic adventure” is a film series exploring “Rimsky-Korsakov and the Poetry of Cinema” (July 26 through August 19).

SummerScape is always far more than the “…and His World” program. Other SummerScape highlights include a rare, new, fully staged American production of Anton Rubinstein’s grand opera Demon, from European Opera Prize-winning director Thaddeus Strassberger (July 27 through August 5); the world premiere of Four Quartets, an interdisciplinary new dance commission from choreographer Pam Tanowitz, composer Kaija Saariaho and visual artist Brice Marden, which marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s iconic cycle of poems (July 6 through 8); and a dark new take on Leonard Bernstein’s rarely performed gem Peter Pan, commissioned from Olivier Award-winning director Christopher Alden to honor the composer’s centennial (June 28 through July 22).

Cutting-edge cabaret, live jazz, dancing and more events take place in Bard’s authentic Belgian Spiegeltent all summer, hosted by Mx. Justin Vivian Bond (June 29 through August 18). All SummerScape offerings take place in the striking Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts and other venues on Bard College’s idyllic Hudson River campus. The SummerScape section of the Fisher Center website lays it all out in ways lucid, detailed and persuasive as all hell. For tickets and additional information, visit http://fishercenter.bard.edu/summerscape.

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