Many of us who attend the Bard Music Festival look forward to it with the same warm anticipation we once looked forward to Christmas. Two weekends are packed with music, much of it we’ve never heard before, some of it great, some good, some interesting. There are panel discussions and lectures to help tie it all together, usually pitched at a general educated audience, but always with surprises and things one didn’t know before. And there is a feast of discussion, with the musicians, with the speakers, and with each other. It’s not so much that there is music to be enjoyed and a historical context to learn: through the immersion in immediate, live concerts and contact with knowledgeable humans a unique experience emerges in which we can live this whole of sensual and intellectual pleasure, analysis, and a direct understand of the cultural and social whole in which the music was created. The difference between this and the traditional sources of background information available to concertgoers—i.e. program notes—is like a month in Paris against a travel brochure.
The BSO has kindly sent me a group of remarkable files spanning several decades of the Festival’s history. Let me say at the outset that the sound on these files is really something. I download them in FLAC format and convert them to AIFF files using a program called XLD. I then burn these AIFF’s to a cd and play them on my system. I have been amazed time and time again at the accuracy and presence of the sound. And this includes the older material. The superior FLAC files are more than worth the extra $10 in their cost ($60) over the MP3 files also offered. Perhaps my favorite of all is a performance of Strauss’s Don Quixote with Piatagorsky and Munch.
The dual nature of the contemporary orchestral concert experience was clearly displayed last Friday and Saturday nights by the Boston Symphony concerts at Tanglewood. Each offered its own image of how an audience can interact with familiar works. Each featured a central European conductor leading core repertory: one concerto and one symphony each, all works familiar to habitual concert-goers. Each pair of pianists and conductors exhibited strongly-marked contrasts. Both concerts were satisfying, but in very different ways and to markedly different degrees.