Bard Music Festival Presents “Out of the Silence: A Celebration of Music”
Four Free Live-Streamed Concerts Showcasing Black Composers and Subjects of Past Festivals, with The Orchestra Now & Faculty of Bard College Conservatory (Sep 5–26)
Leon Botstein conducts The Orchestra Now (photo: David DeNee)
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON — Next month, the Bard Music Festival joins forces with The Orchestra Now (TŌN) and the Bard College Conservatory to present “Out of the Silence: A Celebration of Music,” a series of four free live-streamed concerts for string orchestra, piano and percussion (Sep 5–26), coming to UPSTREAMING, the Fisher Center’s virtual stage. All programs are free, reservations requested. Pairing works by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák and Bartók – all past subjects of the Bard Music Festival – with music by ten prominent Black composers – ranging from Classical pioneer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges to contemporary Americans Alvin Singleton, Adolphus Hailstork and Jessie Montgomery, the series celebrates Bard’s commitment to neglected rarities and the unquenchable joy of music-making. All four programs will be performed without an audience and with appropriate safety measures on Bard College’s idyllic Hudson Valley campus by its unique graduate training orchestra, TŌN, under the leadership of Music Director Leon Botstein and other members of the TŌN artistic team. Hailed as “a highlight of the musical year” (Wall Street Journal), the Bard Music Festival is the inspiration for Bard’s annual seven-week SummerScape festival, whose devoted fans will no doubt enjoy the chance to experience virtually some of the adventurous Bard music-making they have been missing. Click here to hear Botstein and TŌN perform William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American.”
Since its founding in 1990, the Bard Music Festival has succeeded in enriching the standard concert repertory with a wealth of important rediscoveries; as the New York Times points out, “wherever there is an overlooked potential masterpiece, Leon Botstein is not too far behind.” True to this mission, “Out of the Silence” shines a light on some of the important Black composers so rarely admitted to the canon. Examples of their work will be heard in September alongside music by four composers featured in early seasons of the festival. By celebrating more than three decades of musical exploration at Bard while amplifying some of society’s most unjustly neglected artistic voices, the series looks ahead to a more equitable future.
The Founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Bard Music Festival, the President of Bard College, and “one of the most remarkable figures in the worlds of arts and culture” (THIRTEEN/WNET), Botstein explains:
“These concerts are an affirmation of Bard’s commitment to the centrality of music in our public culture. The series takes its title from the opening work on this series, by William Grant Still. Out of the Silence therefore carries two meanings: the return of music to the public stage after months of silence, and the foregrounding of music too long kept in the shadows, music by Black composers who have never gotten their proper due on the concert stages of the world. As the performance of music begins anew, Bard will pioneer, as it has in the past, on behalf of those composers and works of music left, unjustly, in obscurity.”
It was Botstein who founded TŌN five years ago, to help make orchestral music relevant to 21st-century audiences. He leads the orchestra in all four programs of “Out of the Silence,” which also features appearances by TŌN’s Academic Director and Associate Conductor James Bagwell, Resident Conductor Zachary Schwartzman and Assistant Conductor Andrés Rivas. Keyboard faculty from the Bard Conservatory of Music will join TŌN for several performances.
“Out of the Silence”
“Out of the Silence” opens with two works by the great William Grant Still. The first African-American to have a symphony performed by a major U.S. orchestra, and the subject of a 2009 retrospective curated and conducted by Botstein at Lincoln Center, Still is represented by his meditative miniature Out of the Silence from Seven Traceries, and the evocative tone poem Serenade. Had Bard not been forced to postpone its regular summer season, this year’s attendees would have enjoyed a festival devoted to “Nadia Boulanger and Her World” (now scheduled for summer 2021). It is fitting, then, that Program One(September 5) features a piece by one of the French composer’s many distinguished students: the elegiac Lyric for Strings by George Walker, the first African-American winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music and “one of the greatest composers of our time” (Fanfare magazine). The concert concludes with TŌN’s account of the exuberant String Symphony No. 8 by Felix Mendelssohn, subject of the Bard Music Festival’s second season in 1991.
Program Two (September 12) offers a snapshot of contemporary music with works by three of today’s most compelling Black composers. A former composer-in-residence of both the Atlanta and Detroit Symphonies, Alvin Singleton is blessed with a “unique musical vision” (ArtsATL), while Adolphus Hailstork, another Boulanger student, has accrued a string of honors including Cultural Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia and Distinguished Alumni Award from Manhattan School of Music. Both men were born in the early 1940s, four decades before Jessie Montgomery. “Turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life” (Washington Post), Montgomery’s music has been recognized with the ASCAP Foundation’s Leonard Bernstein Award, and her current commissions include works for the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall. Their compositions share the program with the Serenade for Strings by Antonín Dvořák, subject of the 1993 Bard Music Festival, who championed African-American and Native American music as the foundation for a homegrown U.S. musical style.
After opening with the Adagio trágico by Roque Cordero, who infused twelve-tone writing with the folk rhythms of his native Panama, Program Three (September 19) presents a pair of longer works. In his Four Novelettes, Anglo-African late-Romantic composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor demonstrates graceful lyricism with a light, balletic touch that is almost reminiscent of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, subject of the festival’s 1998 season, whose soulful Serenade for Strings concludes the concert.
The centerpiece of Program Four (September 26) is the Violin Concerto in G by Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Violin soloist Ashley Horne, a member of both the American Symphony Orchestra and the Harlem Chamber Players, can also be seen in Le Mozart noir, a PBS documentary about the composer’s life. The son of a slave and a planter in French Guadeloupe, Chevalier de Saint-Georges was not only the first known classical composer of African ancestry, but also an accomplished violinist, champion fencer and colonel of the first all-Black military regiment in Europe. Bookending his concerto are orchestral arrangements of Solitude and Sophisticated Lady, two mid-century masterpieces by the inimitable Duke Ellington, and the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta by Béla Bartók, subject of the 1995 festival.
The Orchestra Now (TŌN)
The Orchestra Now (TŌN) is a unique graduate training ensemble designed to help make orchestral music relevant to 21st-century audiences. Hand-picked from the world’s leading conservatories, including the Curtis Institute of Music, Juilliard School, Royal Conservatory of Brussels and Shanghai Conservatory of Music, its young members share their insights through on-stage introductions and demonstrations, program notes written from a musician’s perspective, and one-on-one intermission chats with patrons. In regular seasons, as well as giving a concert series at Bard’s Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center, TŌN performs at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other key venues in New York City and beyond.