Nadia Boulanger in spotlight as streamlined Bard SummerScape returns

Nadia Boulanger (courtesy of Centre international Nadia et Lili Boulanger)

Besides all being prodigies of 20th-century music, what do Jean Françaix, Astor Piazzolla, Marc Blitzstein, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Walter Piston, Virgil Thomson, Burt Bacharach, Daniel Barenboim, John Eliot Gardiner, Roy Harris, Quincy Jones, Dinu Lipatti, Igor Markevitch, Grazyna Bacewicz, Idil Biret, Marcelle de Manziarly, Thea Musgrave, Julia Perry and Louise Talma have in common? They were all trained in the art of composition by the great musical polymath Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979).

Both Boulanger’s home salon in Paris and her Fontainebleau School were for many decades magnets for gifted young musicians from all over the globe. She was also a prizewinning composer, celebrated keyboardist and the first woman ever to conduct the London Philharmonic, the Royal Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the National Symphony. BBC Music magazine has dubbed Boulanger “the most important woman in the history of classical music.”

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Had a global pandemic not upended all plans for summer cultural programming in 2020, “Nadia Boulanger and Her World” would have been the theme for the 31st annual Bard Music Festival – the first time that the annual extravaganza ever spotlighted a woman composer. It didn’t happen, of course. All the programming planned for last year’s Bard SummerScape was punted to 2021. And now it’s all finally coming together, beginning on July 8, with tickets going on sale Wednesday, June 2. A variety of social-distancing measures are being implemented, including unprecedented use of outdoor spaces on the Bard College campus and the adjoining Montgomery Place grounds and stage. Boulanger will get her days in the sun in early August, with “Music in Paris” the focus for Weekend One, August 6 to 8, and “The 20th-Century Legacy of Nadia Boulanger” the subject of Weekend Two, August 13 to 15.

But there’s plenty of other SummerScape programming leading up to the Bard Music Festival. A dance concert is traditionally the opener, and this year audiences can attend the world premiere of a site-specific piece specially commissioned for the occasion and the Montgomery Place setting, by Pam Tanowitz, choreographer-in-residence at Bard’s Fisher Center. Titled I was waiting for the echo of a better day, the dance is set to new arrangements of chamber music composed by Jessie Montgomery and will be performed from July 8 to 10.

Choreographer in Residence Pam Tanowitz and Composer Jessie Montgomery. (Photo by Jeremy Jacob)

Another highlight of each year’s SummerScape is always a revival of an “unjustly forgotten” opera – often that work’s first fully staged American production. This year’s rediscovery is King Arthur (Le roi Arthus), the sole completed opera by a French Romantic composer, Ernest Chausson (1855-1899), who also wrote the libretto. This musical depiction of the tragic love triangle between the mythological English king, his wife Guinevere and his trusted knight Lancelot enjoyed recent revivals in Edinburgh and Paris, winning praise for its rich lyricism, ravishing harmonies and otherworldly final chorus. Louisa Proske will direct, with baritone Norman Garrett as Arthur and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke as Guinevere, under the baton of Leon Botstein. King Arthur will run in the Fisher Center’s Sosnoff Theater on July 25, 28 and 30 and August 1, with the number of tickets available to be determined based on still-evolving state protocols regarding the density of seating at reopening indoor performance spaces.

Norman Barrett as King Arthur. (Photo by Maria Baranova)

Concerts on the Stage at Montgomery Place this summer will include the return of cabaret by SummerScape favorite Mx. Justin Vivian Bond July 15 to 17, followed by two weekends curated by jazz vocalist Michael Mwenso and Jono Gasparro under the heading of Black Roots Summer. Mwenso and the Shakes give two performances of their set of music of the Black diaspora, Love Will Be the Only Way, on July 23 and 24. On July 29, Mwenso leads a lineup of guest vocalists in Genius Mother Mary: A Sonic Retrospective of Mary Lou Williams. On July 30 and 31, Mwenso and Gasparro lead 20-plus BIPOC vocalists and instrumentalists in an Afrofuturistic reimagining of songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein in The Sound of (Black) Music.

Director Daniel Fish, whose Tony Award-winning revival of Oklahoma! debuted at SummerScape 2015 before scoring a hit on Broadway, returns to Bard August 5, 6 and 7 with a cast of seven female and non-binary vocalists and a 13-piece instrumental ensemble to perform Most Happy in Concert. This sunset concert is a tribute to legendary composer/songwriter Frank Loesser, focusing on his 1956 show The Most Happy Fella.

This year’s slightly scaled-down SummerScape will not include a Spiegeltent series, alas, and a film series has not been announced. Some events, including the talks panel discussions that accompany the Bard Music Festival, will be presented via online streaming. For updates, schedule details, health and safety protocols and to order tickets, visit https://fishercenter.bard.edu/summerscape. The Fisher Center Box Office can also be reached by telephone at (845) 758-7900, Mondays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by e-mail at boxoffice@bard.edu.

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