Chariot’s afire at Bard with Mendelssohn’s Elijah

Elijah by Peter Paul Rubens, Burnstein Collection/Corbis

Following up on last year’s performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s choral piece St. Paul, on Friday and Saturday, February 17 and 18 at 8 p.m. the Bard College Conservatory of Music will be presenting his second oratorio, Elijah, Op. 70, at the Fisher Center. The performance will be a choral extravaganza, with more than 100 singers onstage representing the Graduate Vocal Arts Program, the Bard College Chamber Singers and the Cappella Festival Chamber Choir.

Baritone Sanford Sylvan, a veteran of the New York City Opera – among his many other gigs are the role of Klinghoffer in the film of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer and major roles in Mozart operas broadcast on PBS’s Great Performances – plays Elijah. The American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by music director Leon Botstein (also the president of Bard College), will accompany the singers. More people will be onstage for the performance than for any other event – or nearly so, said publicist Eleanor Davis. (“I hope they all fit,” she said).

Mendelssohn’s preoccupation with religious expression and his deep interest in Baroque music – “He was intent on continuing the Handelian tradition of the sacred oratorio,” according to Peter Laki, Bard College visiting associate professor of Music – come alive in the oratorio, which is also highly dramatic, in the tradition of opera. The Biblical narrative of Elijah is divided into six tableaux, and the piece will be sung in German, with a handout providing an English translation.

The Conservatory is relatively new: Founded in 2005, the five-year program offers undergraduates a dual degree in Music and the Liberal Arts, enabling them to keep their career options open and find exciting correlations in normally diverse fields of study, such as Music and Economics. Currently there are 90 Bard Conservatory double-degree undergraduate students, almost all of whom receive some sort of scholarship assistance. A few of those may further pursue their study of music in the Graduate Vocal Arts Program, which currently has 13 students, all of whom are singers of professional caliber.

Chorus master James Bagwell will give a pre-concert talk at 7 p.m. Tickets are sold at a suggested donation, of $20 for the orchestra and $15 for the first balcony, with a $5 minimum donation. All sales benefit the Conservancy’s scholarship fund. The concert is free to the Bard community with ID. For ticket information, contact the Fisher Center box office at or call (845) 758-7900.


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  1. Lovely article on a stunning piece of music! There is one error, however. The article states that “A few of those may further pursue their study of music in the Graduate Vocal Arts Program…” This clearly implies that there is an undergraduate vocal arts program in the conservatory. There is not. All undergraduate vocal majors matriculate at Bard as music majors. Their teachers are superb (as the caliber of the vocalists attests) and deserve to be independently acknowledged.

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