Dr. Johnson was much exercised by John Dryden’s ending his Cecilia’s Day Ode with the line: “Music shall untune the sky.” Ridiculous, said he. How can music untune something? Dryden meant the word to describe music as an apocalyptic agent, but as Johnson’s infallible ear heard clearly enough, the word “untuned” jars. Like many good things, music seems weak in any practical sense. Sometimes the idea of music becomes more interesting to us than the music itself. The idea of Glenn Gould has overtaken the performing of Glenn Gould. Maybe he even did this to himself. We must put music to the ultimate test — a yes or no test — no gray area. This is what happens at the end of Don Giovanni. Mozart constructs his greatest scene on stage out of no music, out of the destruction of music. The secret is, even the no music makes us hear music. The negative capability of it makes us know something immense that is not there but is imminent. In the Colonial Theater’s The Music Man this happens again.
The Norfolk Music Festival emerged in the 1890’s from the interest of two generations of the Battells, a wealthy Norfolk family, in Yale University, which brought about both the founding of the Yale School of Music and the Litchfield County Choral Union. Choral and chamber music concerts were originally held in the Battell mansion, and later in the Music Shed, which opened in 1906. Special trains from New York were arranged for the distinguished musicians and the society audience. Ellen Battell Stoeckel, wife of the son of the first professor at Yale Music School, announced her intention to donate her estate to Yale as a music school, and the first classes were held there in 1937. This distinguished summer school and festival continues to flourish today.
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.”
The Berkshire Bach Society pursued its lively and varied work of furthering the legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach in our region with a program focused on Bach the organist. This year’s programs have concentrated on different aspects, some rather unusual, of Bach’s multifarious activities and output. The first explored gypsy dances and improvisations and their influence on the music of Bach, Telemann, and others — of course of a secular nature. The second was a choral concert devoted to Bach’s music for the Thomanerschule in Leipzig. Of course the Brandenburgs didn’t fail to appear at New Year’s. Last week’s program, although it involved a well-known aspect of Bach’s work, his genius as a virtuoso and composer for the organ, brought out some elements we often tend to ignore: the zest, even mischief in his arrangements of Vivaldi concerti, and his sense of humor. One got more of an impression of Bach’s personality than one can find often in his best-known masterpieces.
Our beloved Williamstown Theatre Festival has announced its Mainstage productions for the 2011 season, which will extend from July 1 to August 28. (Information about the Nikos Stage Season, as well as additional details about the Main Stage Season, will be announced at a later date.) This will be the first season under the festival’s new Artistic Director, Jenny Gersten, whose appointment was announced last spring. She is the third Artistic Director of the WTF within the past seven years, but no matter: she, like her predecessors, has had a long involvement with the Festival, as associate producer from 1996 to 2004, the years when Michael Ritchie ran it as Producer 1996-2004. He was succeeded by Roger Rees, who only lasted from 2004 to 2007 as Artistic Director. Nicholas Martin then took over. Mr. Martin suffered a stroke only a year into his tenure. After a period of recovery, the stroke seemed to impair his creative work very little, but it did force him to make choices — to Broadway’s benefit. All of these people have had strong connections with Broadway, as well as the non-profit theatres of New York. Hence there has been a solid continuity at the Festival in spite of this rapid succession of quick changes.
Leonard Freed was born on December 23, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York into a Jewish working-class family from Eastern Europe.
At the end of the 1940s, barely twenty years old, he began to travel around Europe, and in 1954 he returned to the United States. Here, like Robert Frank and and many others, he met Edward Steichen, director at the time of the photography department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and showed him his first works on film. In this way he learned that photography was the right path for him to follow
This is the third year of BEMF’s wonderful new institution of annual chamber opera performances. These not only help us get through the alternate years, when there is no main festival in June, nor any full opera production, they set a standard for authenticity and for the imaginative recreation of centuries-old practices and aesthetics in such a way that an audience of cultivated non-experts can enjoy the performance and walk away exhilarated. This was certainly the mood in late November last year, when BEMF turned to Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. None of the other chamber operas produced so far is particularly obscure — not John Blow’s Venus and Adonis, nor Charpentier’s Actéon, nor Handel’s Acis and Galatea. On the contrary, they are central to the history of the genre, and they are performed, although not very often. This year’s offering, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, is the most popular pre-Mozart opera of all. It fills the needs of conservatories, young sopranos or mezzos, as well as ageing divas, who wish to apply their wisdom to the tragic Queen of Carthage. We have reviewed a number of modest, but very successful productions in the Review over the past year or so.
With the appointment of Francesca Zambello, an internationally acclaimed opera director, Glimmerglass is hoping, it seems, for a metamorphosis of sorts. Zambello has cleverly shifted the musical focus, creating some fresh perspectives, and ultimately hoping to draw more attention to this company which is widely regarded as an Upstate New York musical gem.