Aztecs, Shipwreck & Sooners at Bard SummerScape

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Bard SummerScape brings topnotch performers in the fields of music – including classical, opera and cabaret – as well as theater, dance and cinema to the Bard College campus each summer, and this year is expanding the season from seven to eight weeks. The extravaganza is organized around the Bard Music Festival, which each year examines the life, work and cultural milieu of a single composer through concerts of both orchestral and chamber music, pre-concert talks and panel discussions. This year’s focus will be on Carlos Chavéz (1899-1978), offering “The Musical Voice of Mexico” from August 7 to 9 and “Mexico, Latin America and Modernism” from August 13 to 16. Eleven concert programs, built thematically and spaced over the two weekends, address such themes as the relationship between the Latin American and US musical scenes; the role of the European émigrés; the legacy and influence of Spain; Mexican musical traditions; Chávez’s work as conductor; and his place among the other outstanding Latin composers of the 20th century.

The first time that the Music Festival has ever focused on a Latin American composer, with the stated intent of “addressing questions of American identity and of marginalization by the classical community,” this is a bit of a departure for an institution that usually concerns itself with dusting off and reexamining well-known European masters and peering at them from fresh angles. Although by the mid-20th century Chavéz had established an international reputation as Mexico’s foremost composer and conductor, he remains rather an unknown quantity outside the circles of classical music scholars. A populist and nationalist known for incorporating his homeland’s many strains of indigenous music into his compositions, Chavéz was also a sophisticated, forward-looking, globetrotting academic who championed abstract, polyphonic and electronic music. Doubtless we will all learn quite a bit more this summer about this man, who also founded and toured widely with Mexico’s National Symphony Orchestra.

Opening weekend at SummerScape always spotlights a world-class dance company, and this year, Pam Tanowitz Dance will perform on Saturday and Sunday, June 27 and 28, accompanied by the FLUX Quartet. Dubbed “the wittiest choreographer since Mark Morris” by The New York Times, Tanowitz will premiere new works created for the occasion, including a suite of en pointe solos set to the music of Carlos Chávez and danced by Tony Award-nominee and former American Ballet Theatre principal Ashley Tuttle.

SummerScape is renowned for bringing forgotten or rarely performed operas back into the spotlight, and perhaps the most exciting event in this year’s lineup will be the very first full staging in America of Ethel Smyth’s masterpiece, The Wreckers. As a Victorian-born Englishwoman – and a bisexual suffragette, at that – Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) faced challenges comparable to those of the Latin American composers: Her music was largely marginalized by the musical establishment during her lifetime, and even today, her works are rarely programmed. In its depiction of the nefarious Cornish coastal practice of luring ships onto the rocks to plunder them, The Wreckers addresses the potential dangers of mass hysteria, populist justice and unquestioned religious faith: all issues with resonance for audiences today. Performances of the opera by the American Symphony Orchestra – which has already assailed the opus in a well-received symphonic version – with topnotch guest vocalists will take place on July 24, 26, 29, 31 and August 2. Thaddeus Strassberger directs; Leon Botstein conducts.

This year’s main theatrical offering will be an inventive, interactive restaging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! performed in the round, with audience members seated at long tables in the Fisher Center’s LUMA Theater to share food and song with the actors. Daniel Fish directs. There will be 25 performances beginning this Thursday, June 25 and running through July 19: Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons and Thursday through Sunday evenings. Outdoors, Argentinean artist Fernando Rubio’s performance/installation Everything by My Side will be presented from July 9 through 12.

“Reinventing Mexico,” a series of films related to the Bard Music Festival theme, will run on weekends from July 11 to August 2. This year’s cinematic offerings will feature a retrospective of works by the Surrealist master Luis Buñuel. And it wouldn’t be a Hudson Valley summer without a visit to the glorious Spiegeltent, with food, drink, late-night dancing and great cabaret acts throughout SummerScape’s run. Performers will include the B-52s’ Kate Pierson on August 8 and three “Harlem on the Hudson” evenings from the Catskill Jazz Factory, all hosted by Justin Vivian Bond.

Ticket prices for Bard SummerScape events range from $25 to $95 ($10 for film screenings). For full details on performers, programs, locations, dates, times and prices for all events, visit


Bard SummerScape/Bard Music Festival, June 25-August 16, Bard College, 60 Manor Avenue, Annandale-on-Hudson; (845) 758-7900,



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