Within the scope of 20th century music, Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) stands as a kingmaker. Although she was a composer and a conductor herself, it’s her role as the teacher of others that has made her one of the most important and influential figures in Western culture. The diverse list of the French mentor’s students continues to be felt through their art and the art of those who have, in turn, been affected by them; among Boulanger’s pupils were Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Quincy Jones, Phillip Glass, Burt Bacharach, Elliott Carter, Michel Legrand, Astor Piazolla, Daniel Barenboim, Donald Byrd, and other giants. Given her impact as an educator, then, it’s poetically perfect for Boulanger to have been selected as the thematic figurehead of the educational incubator Bard College’s 31st annual Bard Music Festival and “festival within a festival,” SummerScape, which will take place between July 8 and August 15.
“[Boulanger] has had more influence on the lineage of contemporary music than just about anyone,” says Bard Fisher Center Artistic Director Gideon Lester. “But because she was a woman and because the world is very sexist, she’s been neglected. For those reasons, [Bard College president] Leon Botstein felt it was important that she be this year’s focus composer, and I certainly agree. She’s the first woman composer ever to be chosen for the program. It’s a major event.”
Or to be precise, a series of events, presented in settings that are significantly different from those of Bard’s festivals gone by, in response to the pandemic that in 2020 saw the cancellation of the world-class music and arts celebration. Titled “Nadia Boulanger and Her World,” this year’s festival return will feature a curated selection of concerts, films, lectures, and dance, theater, and cabaret performances occurring not only in the main campus’s Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center, but also online via UPSTREAMING, the center’s virtual service, and outdoors on its adjacent campus at historic Montgomery Place.
Highlights include the first fully staged American production of “King Arthur (Le roi Arthus),” the only opera by Boulanger’s quasi-contemporary composer Ernest Chausson; the world premiere of “I was waiting for the echo of a better day,” a dance performance created by Fisher Center Choreographer-in-Residence Pam Tanowitz and Sphinx Medal of Excellence-winning composer Jessie Montgomery; “Most Happy” a concert of songs from Frank Loesser’s musical “The Most Happy Fella” directed by Daniel Fish (the recent Broadway revival of “Oklahoma!”); the two-weekend “Black Roots Summer,” a celebration of Black roots music curated by Michael Mwenso and Jono Gasparro; and a special concert by cabaret favorite Mx. Justin Vivian Bond.
Shelved for 2021 is the iconic Spiegeltent, which due to its intimate size does not allow for adequate social distancing. But the magic of that circus-like festival fixture will nevertheless be in full effect, says Lester. “A positive result of the pandemic is that it’s led us to focus on presenting live music and other events outdoors, with the beautiful Hudson Valley as the backdrop,” he explains. “We’ve built a new stage at Montgomery Place, and the grounds there will be infused with all the panache and elegance that people associate with the Spiegeltent. That aspect is something I think we’ll have even more of in the future.”
The Bard Music Festival and SummerScape’s “Nadia Boulanger and Her World” will take place in Annandale-on-Hudson from July 8 through August 15. Visit the Fisher Center’s website for a full schedule, tickets, and more information.