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Bard Summerscape/Bard Music Festival
Performances June 29-August 18, 2019
Laura Benanti at Caramoor
July 6, 2019
Lunchtime Concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields
June 4, 2019
Violinist Daniel Pioro at Wigmore Hall
June 2, 2019
Composer Erich Korngold
Now that fall is here, let’s backtrack to a summer of performances on both sides of the Atlantic. First, Bard Summerscape, Bard College’s annual summer arts festival on the bucolic shores of the Hudson River, two hours north of Manhattan, and the accompanying Bard Music Festival looked at Korngold and His World: the great Viennese composer Erich Korngold was best known for his fantastic film scores when he went to Hollywood during the golden era of the 1930s but, as artistic director Leon Botsein showed in his usual impeccable and provocative programming, Korngold and his music were so much more.
I caught two Korngold programs at Bard: a concert anchored by his orchestral music and a fully-staged production of his opera Das Wunder der Heliane, both conducted by Botstein and both equally accomplished and mesmerizing musically, if—in the opera’s case—less so dramatically. The orchestral concert, titled The Orchestral Imagination, was highlighted by Korngold’s dazzling piano concerto for the left hand, played with aplomb by stellar soloist Orion Weiss, even at times he and Botstein didn’t seem to be on the same musical page.
Also on the program were works by other underrated Viennese composers Franz Schreker (his Vom ewigen Leben comprises lovely settings of two Walt Whitman poems) and Alexander Zemlinsky, whose Lyric Symphony is a large-scale wonder. Botstein, despite bumpy patches, led the American Symphony Orchestra in a vivid reading of Zemlinsky’s masterpiece, with stellar vocal contributions by soprano Erica Petrocelli and baritone Michael J. Hawk. The same goes for the orchestra’s playing during Korngold’s Heliane, an opera filled with beautiful, memorable melodies but whose libretto—takes convolutedness to another level.
Korngold's opera Das Wunder der Heliane at Bard Summerscape (photo: Stephanie Berger)
If director Christian Räth’s visuals are too extreme—but which still let Thomas C. Hase’s magisterial lighting come to the fore—the orchestra, chorus and the leads, particularly Lithuanian soprano Ausrine Stundyte’s virtuoso Heliane, give the audience a chance to concentrate on Korngold’s music, among his very best.
Closer to Manhattan, the summer festival at Caramoor (in Katonah) comprises orchestral and chamber concerts, jazz performances and sundry other events, including the appearance of Broadway diva Laura Benanti—one of the Great White Way’s brightest lights—and her fabulous new show, Tales from the Soprano Isle.
Soprano Laura Benanti (photo: Jenny Anderson)
In addition to singing both Broadway standards and contemporary tunes, along with a marvelously delivered mini-suite of classics from My Fair Lady, in which she recently starred on Broadway, with her silvery, shimmery soprano, Benanti tells stories about her career and her life which now features her toddler daughter) with her singularly hilarious and pointed sarcasm. Accompanied by pianist Todd Almond, Benanti proves herself (once again) as a multi-threat hyphenate: singer-actor-comedian-storyteller extraordinaire.
The summer music season began early in June on a trip to London, which included terrific concerts at Wigmore Hall and the Church at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The latter hosted the formidable Kennedy Ensemble played Mendlessohn’s Octet in a fiery (and free!) performance that caught the playfulness and seriousness of purpose the 16-year-old composer corralled for one of his greatest works.
Violinist Daniel Pioro (photo: Hugh Carswell)
The storied and acoustically perfect Wigmore Hall was the setting for a superbly programmed recital by violinist Daniel Pioro. Opening with an exquisite version of Biber’s singular G Minor Passacaglia, Pioro was joined by pianist Roderick Chadwick for an arresting rendition of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 10 and then, finally and most thrillingly, was a breathtaking arrangement of Vaughan Williams’ yearning The Lark Ascending for violin, piano, cello and viola by cellist Clare O’Connell (who joined the men and violist Charlotte Bonneton for the performance). Pioro’s passionate playing of Vaughan Williams' lovely violin line allowed us to hear this familiar but gorgeous piece anew.
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