Bard Music Festival
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(1854–1928) was one of only three composers of his time—the others being Giacomo Puccini and Richard Strauss—who succeeded in writing a series of operas in the 20th century that found a permanent place in the standard opera repertory. This year's Bard Music Festival seeks to understand Janáček's success in particular. His fame, unlike that of Puccini and Strauss, came late in his career, in his early 60s. The remarkable embrace of his music has been largely a posthumous phenomenon.

Janáček's musical and dramatic achievements reflect a symbiosis between the composer's own version of Czech nationalism, including a commitment to the close connection between the timbre, inflection, and patterns of Czech language and music, and his engagement with European trends during the 50 years surrounding the end of the 19th century. Though influenced by Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and Italian verismo, as well as by Dvořák, Janáček fashioned his own idiosyncratic ideas and style. He was "discovered" in 1916 by Max Brod, famous as Kafka's closest friend, who paved the way for the introduction of Janáček's opera Jenůfa to Vienna and then to the rest of Europe, creating the foundation of the composer's European-wide success after World War I.

In the last decades of the 20th century Janáček emerged as one of the era's most popular, widely performed, and influential composers. His distinct construct of realism, accessible originality, and capacity to narrate and achieve drama in music without sentimentality has made him and his music resistant to facile categorization.

This year's Bard Music Festival will explore the full range of Janáček's output, from early sacred choral works to the instrumental masterpieces of the 1920s. His intensely dramatic personal life and his lifelong engagement with Czech musical traditions, from the concert stage to the countryside, will be investigated. So too will Janáček's views on art and politics, particularly his notions of nation, folklore, language, music theory, and culture. Music by his contemporaries: Dvořák, Fibich, and Smetana; Suk, Novák, and Martinů; and less well-known figures important to him will be heard. Janáček's achievements as a composer will be considered in the context of European developments outside of Bohemia and Moravia, including late romanticism and on to the work of Puccini, Szymanowski, Stravinsky, and Bartók.

Janáček's growing popularity since the late 1970s will come under scrutiny in terms of the striking revival of opera, the turn away from modernism, and the politics of Europe during the last three decades of the 20th century. In the three-weekend series of concerts, panels, preconcert talks, and special events that make up the festival (two weekends in Annandale, one in New York), the connections between literature, theater, architecture, philosophy, music, and politics in the Czech-speaking lands during Janáček's career will be illuminated. The late-19th-century rivalry between Germans and Czechs and the rise of various national movements in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy (in the shadow of Russia and Pan-Slavism) prior to 1914 provide the context for the emergence of many remarkable aesthetic responses to modern life, of which Janáček's music is among the most significant.

In conjunction with the Bard Music Festival, the new Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College will offer performances of Janáček's opera, Osud (Fate), which he began in 1903 and completed in 1907. The production, the first staged North American performance of Osud, is directed by JoAnne Akalaitis, with scenic design by Frank Gehry.

 


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