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Live Bard Music Festival Explores NADIA BOULANGER & HER WORLD

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Celebrate the life and times of one of classical music's most important women, August 6-15.

Live Bard Music Festival Explores NADIA BOULANGER & HER WORLD

The Bard Music Festival returns for its 31st season this August, with a rare and intensive two-week exploration of "Nadia Boulanger and Her World." In twelve themed concert programs, performed live with limited in-person audiences, Bard examines Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979), the pioneering Parisian pedagogue, composer, conductor, pianist, organist and indomitable personality who shaped more than a generation of American musicians.

Through the prism of her life and career, Weekend One explores Music in Paris in the first half of the 20th century (Aug 6-8), and Weekend Two addresses The 20th-Century Legacy of Nadia Boulanger (Aug 12-15). Enriched by a wealth of compositions by Boulanger's predecessors, her contemporaries and her unparalleled roster of students, all events take place in the stunning Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center for the Performing Arts and other venues on Bard College's idyllic Hudson River campus. There, as in previous years, the Bard Music Festival will anchor Bard SummerScape and prove itself once again "a highlight of the musical year" (Wall Street Journal).

See Nadia Boulanger discuss teaching and talent. Since its inception more than three decades ago, the Bard Music Festival has enriched the standard concert repertory with a wealth of important rediscoveries. This is in no small part thanks to the festival's founder and co-artistic director, Leon Botstein; as the New York Times points out, "wherever there is an overlooked potential masterpiece, Leon Botstein is not too far behind." "One of the most remarkable figures in the worlds of arts and culture" (NYC Arts, THIRTEEN/WNET), Botstein serves as music director of both the American Symphony Orchestra (ASO) and The Orchestra Now (TŌN), a unique graduate training orchestra designed to help a new generation of musicians break down barriers between modern audiences and the orchestral literature. Both ensembles perform in the festival. As in previous seasons, the Bard Festival Chorale takes part in all choral works under the baton of James Bagwell, and this year's chamber and vocal programs boast a comparably impressive lineup of guest artists.

The first woman to come into Bard's festival spotlight, Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was, as a composer, her own least forgiving critic. Having initially dedicated herself to composition, winning numerous honors at the Paris Conservatoire, she voluntarily gave up the practice in her mid-30s, telling her teacher Gabriel Fauré, "If there is one thing of which I am certain, it is that I wrote useless music." Many critics have disputed her harsh judgement, however. Her cantata La sirène took second place at the 1908 Prix de Rome, and almost a century later the Musical Times spoke for many in observing: "There is much to regret in the self-imposed brevity of her composing career."

As a true musical polymath, however, Boulanger remains of incalculable importance to 20th-century composition, scholarship and performance. Representing styles ranging from modernism to easy listening, tango, jazz and hip-hop, her numerous students include such key figures as George Antheil, Grażyna Bacewicz, Burt Bacharach, Daniel Barenboim, Lennox Berkeley, Marc Blitzstein, Donald Byrd, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, John Eliot Gardiner, Philip Glass, Roy Harris, Quincy Jones, Dinu Lipatti, Gian Carlo Menotti, Thea Musgrave, Per Nørgård, Astor Piazzolla, Walter Piston, Louise Talma and Virgil Thomson, who famously dubbed her "a one-woman graduate school so powerful and so permeating that legend credits every American town with two things - a five-and-dime and a Boulanger pupil."

The first woman to conduct the Boston Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, as well as England's BBC Symphony, Hallé and Royal Philharmonic orchestras, Boulanger also spearheaded the Renaissance and Baroque performance revivals, popularizing Monteverdi's music through her benchmark recordings, and single-handedly ensured that the work of her sister, fellow composer Lili Boulanger, survived the latter's untimely death at just 24. It was Nadia who served as soloist in the first performance of Copland's Organ Symphony and directed the world premiere of Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto, in the creation of which she herself played a part. Considering her to be "arguably ... the most important woman in the history of classical music," BBC Music magazine concludes: "It is frankly unimaginable that a man with a similar degree of influence over 20th-century music would have been so ignored."

The festival will present examples of Boulanger's own, little-known oeuvre, including selected songs and piano pieces, and Lux aeterna, the work with which she commemorated her sister. Other featured composers will include her teachers and mentors, like Fauré, Raoul Pugno, Louis Vierne and Charles-Marie Widor; her Parisian contemporaries, like Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen, Francis Poulenc, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie and Russian expat Igor Stravinsky; her male students, like Jean Françaix, Piazzolla, and illustrious Americans Blitzstein, Carter, Copland, Glass, Piston and Thomson; her female students, like Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Marcelle de Manziarly, Thea Musgrave, Julia Perry, Louise Talma and Lili Boulanger; other women composers, like Jeanne Demessieux, Ethel Smyth and Germaine Tailleferre; and some of the bygone composers whose music she vociferously championed, like Monteverdi, Bach and Brahms. Finally, two thought-provoking panel discussions will be supplemented by informative pre-concert talks, illuminating each concert's themes; these will be pre-recorded and are free to ticket holders.

Weekend One: Music in Paris (August 6-8)

The festival launches with Program One, "The Exemplary Musician." Anchored by TŌN, and exploiting Bard's unusual ability to integrate orchestral, choral, solo and chamber works within a single event, this opening concert pairs several of Boulanger's own compositions - her Mussorgskian piano piece Vers la vie nouvelle, selected songs and Lux aeterna, her brief tribute to her sister, Lili - with music by some of her most distinguished female students. Nadia was both teacher and role model to Louise Talma, the first woman to receive back-to-back Guggenheims; Julia Perry, who synthesized her classical training and African-American heritage; Polish neoclassicist Grażyna Bacewicz; South African-British composer Priaulx Rainier; and Nadia's adored but envied younger sister, Lili. Lili is represented by her haunting Pie Jesu, a piece she dictated on her deathbed, and by Faust et Hélène, the cantata with which she became the first woman to win the coveted Prix de Rome, surpassing the older sister to whom she dedicated it.

Nadia was just ten when she first entered the Paris Conservatoire, where for the next seven years she would rub shoulders with some of the leading lights of French music. Program Two, "Contemporaries and Colleagues," traces these early musical relationships, coupling songs she wrote in her teens with chamber works by then-preeminent Debussy, her composition teacher Fauré, and renowned classmates George Enescu and Ravel. It was in an exam in 1904, the year she swept the Conservatoire prizes, that Boulanger first met Raoul Pugno. From then until his death ten years later, the older composer and keyboardist would become her mentor, friend, probable lover and performance partner, as well as the composition collaborator with whom she co-authored works including the song cycle Les heures claires, from which an excerpt will be heard.

Throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th, piano duets played a vital part in Western musical life. Nadia Boulanger routinely had her students sight-read orchestral works as piano duets, and a pair of grand pianos took center stage at the soirées she hosted each Wednesday. Having toured Europe in her youth playing four-hand recitals and two-piano duets with Pugno, she went on to collaborate with her celebrated young students, performing her own adaptation of the aria from Bach's Widerstehe doch der Sünde with Clifford Curzon, premiering Stravinsky's Sonata for Two Pianos with Richard Johnson, and recording selections from Brahms's Liebeslieder Waltzes with the great Dino Lipatti. In addition, "Program Three, "88 x 2: Music for Two Pianos" will also feature excerpts from Visions de l'Amen, a shimmering wartime masterpiece by Messiaen, who succeeded Boulanger as one of France's foremost music teachers.

France would soon witness a flourishing of forward-looking musical developments. Program Four, "Parisian Elegance: Music Between the Wars," offers a snapshot of the age through vocal and chamber works by both Boulanger sisters and a host of their fellow Parisians. The French capital was home to exiled Russian master Igor Stravinsky, a lifelong friend of Nadia's, who championed him as the model of musical modernism. Drawing on Baroque and Classical forms and aesthetics as the antidote to Romantic excess, Stravinsky's neoclassicism inspired many of their contemporaries, including Albert Roussel, Erik Satie and Les Six, the avant-garde group whose members included Francis Poulenc, another of Boulanger's most respected colleagues, and neoclassicist Elsa Barraine, who followed Lili to become one of the first female winners of the Prix de Rome. Also recalling the younger Boulanger sister was Pierre Menu, another favorite and prodigiously gifted student of Nadia's who died too young.

It was at Pugno's suggestion that Nadia Boulanger transferred from Fauré's composition class to that of her fellow organist Charles-Marie Widor, who became one of her key supporters. Years later, Widor hired her to teach at his new American Conservatory at Fontainebleau, and when he retired from the Conservatoire, her accompaniment teacher Paul Dukas was appointed in his place. Program Five, "Teachers, Mentors and Friends of the Boulanger Sisters," features both Widor's Third Symphony for Organ and Orchestra (a true orchestral work, unlike the solo pieces he designated "Organ Symphonies") and Dukas's masterwork, the consummately orchestrated Symphony in C. These share the program with Francis Poulenc's Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings, which premiered under Boulanger's direction, and Lili Boulanger's own orchestrations of her D'un matin de printemps and of eight songs from her innovative cycle Clairières dans le ciel. After Lili's death, Nadia became her most dedicated advocate, posthumously programming, performing and promoting her sister's music at every turn. Nevertheless, Lili's orchestrated versions of these songs have gone largely unheard, and the complete set of eight has yet to be performed together.

Weekend Two: The 20th-Century Legacy of Nadia Boulanger (August 12-15)

As the first concert of Weekend Two discovers, the Boulanger sisters came from a distinguished musical family. A winner of the Prix de Rome himself, their father, Ernest Boulanger, was a composer of comic opera whose own father taught at the Conservatoire and whose mother, Marie-Julie Boulanger (née Halligner), was a mezzo-soprano who created roles in the Opéra-Comique's world premieres of Daniel Auber's L'ambassadrice, Gaetano Donizetti's La fille du régiment and many more. Presented as a performance with commentary, Program Six, "Esprit français: Entertaining France," explores French music's lighter side through vocal excerpts from operettas, comic operas and popular songs and chansons.

Salons were a haven for the Parisian avant-garde, especially those of Boulanger's colorful friend and patron, the sewing machine heiress Winnaretta Singer, Princesse Edmond de Polignac. It was there that many ensemble pieces first came to life, including Lipatti's neo-Baroque Concertino. Boulanger also led the first performance of Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto, having instigated its creation; it was her idea for Washington's Bliss family to commission the composer to write a Brandenburg-inspired piece for their private salon at the D.C. estate that gave the work its name. Composed during the Nazi occupation of Paris and notable for the triumphant trumpet solo of its Finale, Honegger's Second Symphony for Strings premiered at the Collegium Musicuum in Zurich. In Program Seven, "Crosscurrents: The Salon and Concert Hall," TŌN presents these ensemble works alongside Nadia's post-Impressionist Three Pieces for Cello and Piano and the Prelude for a Pensive Pupil by her Australian-born student Peggy Glanville-Hicks, who would become a critic for the New York Herald Tribune and musical director at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

As Copland said of his famous teacher, "She knew the oldest and the latest music, pre-Bach and post-Stravinsky, and knew it cold." Even as a performer, Boulanger was driven by the urge to educate, and her concert and recital programs offered unorthodox history lessons through bold juxtapositions of old and new. Whether in Polignac's salon or the concert hall, her soulful interpretations of Bach cantatas and Monteverdi madrigals typically shared the program with cutting-edge new music by Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith and others, selected and ordered to highlight compatible key and tempo relationships, as well as their more obvious differences. Program Eight: "Boulanger the Curator," draws inspiration from Boulanger's groundbreaking approach to programming through recreations of some of her own idiosyncratic yet inspired groupings.

The American Symphony Orchestra's first concert opens with Fête galante by Dame Ethel Smyth, a Victorian-born English suffragist whose lovers included the Princesse de Polignac, and whose grand opera The Wreckers received its first fully staged American production at SummerScape 2015. Program Nine, "Remembering Ethel Smyth and Boulanger's Circle at Home and Abroad," also features the harmonically adventurous Fifth Violin Concerto by Boulanger's student Bacewicz, a revered figure in Poland who merits wider recognition worldwide. Boulanger's own reach extended far beyond her homeland, and her impact on American composition was immense. She taught no fewer than eleven Pulitzer Prize laureates, including modernist masters Aaron Copland and Walter Piston, who was one of three Boulanger students to win the award twice. Both composers are represented, Piston by his Fourth Symphony, one of the past century's finest contributions to the genre, and Copland by the popular and patriotic Lincoln Portrait, a work performed on many significant occasions with such venerable narrators as Eleanor Roosevelt, Barack Obama and the composer himself.

Owing to the long dominance of the Roman Catholic Church, France boasts rich sacred choral and organ traditions that even the post-Revolutionary banning of religious music-making did little to stifle. Program Ten, "The Catholic Tradition in France: Clarity and Mysticism," provides a generous sampling of both, with sacred solo organ works by Boulanger herself, a devout believer for whom the concert was a kind of religious ritual, as well as her colleagues and contemporaries. These include her organ teacher Louis Vierne; Jacques Ibert, who dedicated the Fugue from his Trois pièces pour orgue to her; Jeanne Demessieux, the first female organist to perform in Westminster Abbey; and Messiaen, whose La nativité du Seigneur offers a perfect consummation of his musical ideals. Interspersed with these organ works are movements from masses by Fauré, Jean Langlais, André Caplet and Cécile Chaminade, the first female winner of the Légion d'Honneur, and other choral selections, including Ave Verum by Camille Saint-Saëns, who had advocated for Boulanger's elimination from the Prix de Rome; Quatre Motets by her sometime performance partner Maurice Duruflé; the neoclassical Salve regina by her good friend Poulenc; and the highly chromatic O sacrum convivium, Messiaen's only liturgical motet.

"What made Boulanger a great and magnetic teacher," writes Botstein, "was less the imposition of an aesthetic than the transmission of discipline and the encouragement of individuality. Indeed, the sheer range of her pupils' styles and development is astonishing." Program Eleven, "Boulanger's Legacy: Modernities," samples the impressive diversity of her students' achievements, from Paris Violon by Michel Legrand, the Oscar and Grammy-winner whose 250-plus film scores include The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Yentl, to classical chamber works including Enchanted Preludes, Elliott Carter's polyrhythmic duet for cello and flute; a piano sonata by George Walker, the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music; songs by Marc Blitzstein, Thea Musgrave and David Conte; the posthumously rediscovered Adagio, by Roger Sessions; three of Czech-born Pulitzer Prize-winner Karel Husa's Twelve Moravian Songs; Roy Harris's rhapsodic, improvisatory Toccato for piano; Philip Glass's Third String Quartet, "Mishima," originally written for Paul Schrader's film of the same name; a solo flute tango study by Astor Piazzolla, master of Argentina's tango nuevo; and Adolphus Hailstork's moving Adagio for Strings.

In 1962, when Boulanger led the New York Philharmonic in a program featuring the world premiere of Virgil Thomson's powerful orchestral piece A Solemn Music and Fauré's beloved Requiem, the Carnegie Hall audience included Botstein, then just 15 years old. Now, more than half a century later, Bard's founder recreates this characteristic Boulanger coupling in Program 12, "Boulanger's Credo," pairing it, as she did, with music by her sister: in this case, the hypnotic Vieille prière bouddhique for tenor, choir and orchestra, Psalm 24 and Pour les funérailles d'un soldat.

Supplementary events and publication

Besides the twelve concert programs, two pre-recorded panel discussions will add to this investigation of a truly remarkable life: "Women in Musical Life in the First Half of the 20th Century" and "Reminiscences and Reflections on Nadia Boulanger and her Legacy." These will be supplemented by pre-recorded pre-concert talks to illuminate some of the individual programs' themes, all of which will be available online prior to the event. Bard SummerScape also presents the first fully staged American production of King Arthur (Le roi Arthus, 1886-95), the only opera by Boulanger's compatriot Ernest Chausson (July 24-Aug 2).

Since its founding, each Bard Music Festival has been accompanied by the publication of a companion volume of new scholarship and interpretation, with essays and translated documents relating to the featured composer and their world. Published by the University of Chicago Press, the volume, Nadia Boulanger and Her World, is edited by Bard's 2021 Scholar-in-Residence, the University of Southampton's Jeanice Brooks, whose previous publications include The Musical Work of Nadia Boulanger.

All tickets are now on sale. The Box Office can be reached by telephone at (845) 758-7900, on Mondays through Fridays at 11am-4pm EST, or by email at boxoffice@bard.edu. Tickets are also available 24/7 on Bard's website at fishercenter.bard.edu. All programs will also be livestreamed at UPSTREAMING, the Fisher Center's virtual stage.


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