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Bard Music Festival 2015: Carlos Chávez and his World, Weekend I

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David Alfaro Siqueiros, Retrato del maestro Carlos Chávez, oil on canvas, 1948

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Retrato del maestro Carlos Chávez, oil on canvas, 1948

Bard Music Festival 2015: Carlos Chávez and his World, Weekend I

Program One

Chávez and Mexico’s Musical Heritage
Sosnoff Theater
Friday, August 7
8 pm Performance with commentary by Leon Botstein; with members of the American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director

Manuel de Sumaya (c. 1678–1755) – Como aunque culpa (n.d.)
Ava Pine, soprano

Juventino Rosas (1868–94) – Sobre las olas (1888)

Felipe Villanueva (1862–93) – Vals poético (1890)
Anna Polonsky, piano

Gustavo Campa (1863–1934) – Amoroso (n.d.)
Ava Pine, soprano
Erika Switzer, piano

Ricardo Castro (1864–1907) – Chanson d’automne (1910) (Favin)
Ava Pine, soprano
Erika Switzer, piano

Ernesto Elorduy (1854–1913) – Airam (c. 1897)
Orion Weiss, piano

Manuel M. Ponce (1882–1948) – Concierto del Sur (1941)
Allegretto
Andante
Allegro moderato e festivo
Jason Vieaux, guitar

Carlos Chávez (1899–1978) – From Ten Preludes (1937)
No. 1 Andantino espressivo
No. 10 Allegro
Orion Weiss, piano

José Pablo Moncayo (1912–58) – Muros verdes (1951)
Anna Polonsky, piano

Mario Lavista (b. 1943) – El pífano (1989)
Lance Suzuki, piccolo

Julián Carrillo (1875–1965) – Meditación (1926)
Daedalus Quartet

Carlos Chávez – String Quartet No. 3 (1943)
Allegro
Lento
Allegro
Daedalus Quartet

Carlos Chávez – Xochipilli: An Imagined Aztec Music (1940)
Bard Festival Chamber and Percussion Ensemble

Carlos Chávez – H.P. Danse des hommes et des machines (1926)

Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) – Ranas (1931) (Castañeda)
Ava Pine, soprano

Silvestre Revueltas – Toccata (sin fuga) (1933)
Min-Young Kim, violin

Panel One

Culture and National Identity: The Case of Mexico
Olin Hall
Saturday, August 8
10 am – noon: Leonora Saavedra, moderator; Lynda Klich; Claudio Lomnitz; Alejandro L. Madrid

Program Two

The Parisian Influence
Olin Hall
Saturday, August 8
1 pm Preconcert Talk: Byron Adams 1:30 pm Performance

Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) – 5 Mélodies populaires grecques (1904–6) (trans. Calvocoressi)
Chanson de la mariée
Lá-bas, vers l’église
Quel gallant m’est comparable
Chanson de cueilleuses de lentisques
Tout gai!
Joseph Eletto, baritone
Brian Zeger, piano

Carlos Chávez (1899–1978) – Trio for Flute, Viola, and Harp (arr. 1940)
The Snow Is Dancing (Debussy)
Asturiana (Falla)
Polo (Falla)
Golliwogg’s Cakewalk (Debussy)
Lance Suzuki, flute
William Frampton, viola
Sara Cutler, harp

Paul Dukas (1865–1935) – La plainte, au loin, du faune (1920)

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) – Tango (1940)

Simon Ghraichy, piano

Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) – Rapsodie nègre (1917)
Prelude
Ronde
Honoloulou Pastorale
Final
Joseph Eletto, baritone
Lance Suzuki, flute
Benjamin Fingland, clarinet
Amphion String Quartet
Brian Zeger, piano

Carlos Chávez – 36 (1925)
Sonatina for Piano (1924)
Simon Ghraichy, piano

Manuel M. Ponce (1882–1948) – Sonata for Guitar and Harpsichord (c. 1926)
Allegro moderato
Andantino
Allegro non troppo e piacevole
Jason Vieaux, guitar
Bradley Brookshire, harpsichord

Catalogue de fleurs, Op. 60 (1920) (Daudet)
La violette
Le bégonia
Les fritillaires
Les jacinthes
Les crocus
Le brachycome
L’eremurus
Joseph Eletto, baritone
Lance Suzuki, flute
Benjamin Fingland, clarinet
Monica Ellis, bassoon
Members of the Amphion String Quartet Jordan Frazier, double bass

Carlos Chávez – Seis exágonos (1923–24) (Pellicer)
Amar, Toda la vida en llamas . . .
Llegad, oh dulces horas . . .
Amada, déjame ver la luna . . .
El buque ha chocado con la luna . . .
A dónde va mi corazón . . .?
Cuando el trasatlántico pasaba . . .?
Ava Pine, soprano
Lance Suzuki, flute
Melanie Field, oboe and English horn
Monica Ellis, bassoon
William Frampton, viola
Brian Zeger, piano

José Rolón (1876–1945) – String Quartet, Op. 35 (1935)
Allegro moderato
Allegro vivace
Air varié (Andantino)
Fuga (Allegro enérgico)
Amphion String Quartet

Program Three

Mexico: The Crossroad of Antifascism
Sosnoff Theater
Saturday, August 8
7 pm Preconcert Talk: Sergio Vela
8 pm Performance: American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director

Silvestre Revueltas (1899–1940) – Redes (1934–35)
Part I: The Fishermen.
The Child’s Funeral

Part II: The Fight.
The Return of the Fishermen with Their Dead Friend

Conlon Nancarrow (1912–97) – Piece No. 1 for Small Orchestra (1943)

Carlos Chávez (1899–1978) – Piano Concerto (1938)
Largo non troppo, Allegro agitato
Molto lento
Allegro non troppo
Jorge Federico Osorio, piano

Carlos Chávez (1899–1978) – Sinfonía de Antígona (1933)

Arthur Honegger (1892–1955) – Symphony No. 3 “Liturgique” (1945–46)
Dies irae: Allegro marcato
De profundis clamavi: Adagio
Dona nobis pacem: Andante. Adagio

Panel Two
Mexico and the United States: Past, Present, and Future
Olin Hall
Sunday, August 9
10 am – noon: Luisa Vilar-Payá, moderator; Leon Botstein; Mario Lavista; Richard I. Suchenski

Program Four

Music and the 10-Year Mexican Revolution Olin Hall
Sunday, August 9
1 pm Preconcert Talk: Ricardo Miranda
1:30 pm Performance

Manuel M. Ponce (1882–1948) – Tres canciones populares mexicanas (c. 1925–26)
La pajarera
Por tí mi corazón
La Valentina
Benjamin Verdery, guitar

Manuel M. Ponce – Lejos de tí (1912) (Dávalos)
Por tí mi corazón (1912) (Urbina)
Cuiden su vida (c. 1915) (trad.)
Cecilia Violetta López, soprano Nicholas Phan, tenor

Erika Switzer, piano

Manuel M. Ponce – Preludio mexicano “Cuiden su vida” (c. 1928)
Orion Weiss, piano

Carlos Chávez – La Adelita y La cucaracha (arr. 1915)
Anna Polonsky, piano

Alfredo Tamayo (1880–1957) – Soñó mi mente loca (c. 1910) (Tamayo)
José Pomar (1880–1961) – Dos puros lirios (1920) (Ortiz)

Ignacio Fernández Esperón “Tata Nacho” (1894–1968) – La borrachita (c. 1918) (Esperón)

Blas Galindo (1910–93) – Madre mía, cuando muera (1943) (Galindo)
Cecilia Violetta López, soprano
Nicholas Phan, tenor
Erika Switzer, piano

Carlos Chávez (1899–1978) – Las margaritas (1919)
Anna Polonsky, piano
Jarabe (1922)
Orion Weiss, piano

Silvestre Revueltas (1899–1940) – String Quartet No. 4 “Música de feria” (1932)
Daedalus Quartet

Carlos Chávez (1899–1978) – Cuatro melodías tradicionales indias del Ecuador (1942)
Qué te parece, Pirucha
Santo, San Juanito
Tristezas me depara
Quisiera ser danzantito
Cecilia Violetta López, soprano
Diva Goodfriend-Koven, flute
Erin Gustafson, oboe
Laura Flax, clarinet
Charles McCracken, bassoon
Daedalus Quartet
Jordan Frazier, double bass
Kory Grossman and Javier Diaz, percussion

José Rolón (1876–1945) – Tres danzas indígenas mexicanas (Jaliscienses) (1928)
Allegro
Allegro moderato
Allegro
Anna Polonsky, piano

Alfonso Esparza Oteo (1894–1950) – Stambul, foxtrot oriental (1920)
Anna Polonsky, piano

Carlos Chávez (1899–1978) – Foxtrot (1925)
Orion Weiss, piano

Agustín Lara (1897–1970) – Imposible (c. 1935) (Lara)
Mujer (c. 1935) (Lara)
Nicholas Phan, tenor
Erika Switzer, piano

Carlos Chávez (1899–1978) – Three Pieces for Guitar (1923)
Largo
Tranquillo
Un poco mosso
Benjamin Verdery, guitar

Silvestre Revueltas (1899–1940) – Tierra pa’ las macetas (c. 1924)

Carlos Chávez (1899–1978) – Sonatina for Violin and Piano (1924)
Maria Bachmann, violin
Orion Weiss, piano

Silvestre Revueltas (1899–1940) – Ocho por radio (1933)
Laura Flax, clarinet
Charles McCracken, bassoon
Carl Albach, trumpet
Members of the Daedalus Quartet Jordan Frazier, double bass
Kory Grossman, percussion

Program Five

Music, Murals, and Puppets
Sosnoff Theater
Sunday, August 9
5 pm Preconcert Talk: Roberto Kolb-Neuhaus
5:30 pm Performance: Members of the American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by

Leon Botstein, music director, and Zachary Schwartzman; projections by Tim McLoraine; lighting by JAX Messenger; costumes by Moe Schell; directed and designed by Doug Fitch

Silvestre Revueltas (1899–1940) – Troka (1933)
El renacuajo paseador (1933, rev. 1936)

Carlos Chávez (1899–1978) – Suite for Double Quartet, from Dark Meadow (1943)
Preludio
Interludio
Incantamento
Sarabande
Peana
Postludio
Lance Suzuki, flute
Alexandra Knoll, oboe
Benjamin Fingland, clarinet
Monica Ellis, bassoon
Amphion String Quartet

Manuel de Falla (1876–1946) – El retablo de maese Pedro (1922)
Don Quijote – Louis Otey, baritone,
Maese Pedro – Nicholas Phan, tenor
Trujamán -Cecilia Violetta López, soprano
Puppeteers: Tao Bennet, Andy Manjuck, Nick Lehane, Rowan Magee

As the Bard Music Festival has sailed through the great names in European and American music over the past twenty-five years—although there are some people who don’t like Elgar, Liszt, or Wagner, and some who doubt Saint-Saëns’ or Sibelius’ importance (if they attended the Festival they left with their minds changed)—the focal points of the festival have been generally unchallenged. This year, with Carlos Chávez, the first composer from south of the border, there has been more debate. Many attendees—and especially non-attendees—questioned the worthiness of Carlos Chávez as a subject. He is largely forgotten, and many of those who do remember him, do not think of him kindly. Even Leon Botstein himself expressed a critical attitude towards Chávez, a strong-willed man, accustomed to wielding power and influence, who was a towering figure in Mexican arts during much of his career, as well as a prominent ambassador for Mexican culture in the United States—from his New York apartment, where he spent a great deal of time over the course of his career. His position in a 1971 labor dispute with the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional (which he had founded in 1947), led to his resignation as the orchestra’s director and as head of the Mexican department of culture. After that he stayed away from Mexico, having left a sour taste with the people who opposed him. The progressive of the 1920s had become an authority figure in the 1970s.

He enjoyed an established position as a conductor, composer, and representative of Mexican culture in New York since the 1920s. He regularly conducted the New York Philharmonic-Symphony. He was a prominent figure in the International Composers’ Guild, founded by Edgard Varèse in 1921 and the Composer’s League, which flourished in New York from 1921 to 1927 and from 1923 to the present, respectively. He was a close friend of Aaron Copland, Henry Cowell, and other leading American composers. His presence in New York was one reason Mexican and South American music was so much more familiar to a broader audience of Americans than it is today.

The vast majority of the music was new to me, and I found most of it very appealing. Furthermore, the Festival, which customarily goes beyond music to literature, theater, and the visual arts (especially important in this case) opened up a vast perspective of the rich and ancient culture south of the  United States. One came away with a deeper understanding of where the heart of the Western Hemisphere lies. Carlos Chávez and his World fulfilled the Festival’s mission as compellingly as any of the others.

I also came away liking Chávez’s music quite a lot. His compositions are fundamentally conceptual in nature, as he wills his forms, melodic, and rhythmic ideas to serve a definite purpose he established beforehand. He rarely if ever attempted to create the illusion of spontaneous inspiration, even in songs of a folkish character. There is a strong intellectual foundation to his works. Even if his conceptualism narrows the scope of individual works, I was struck by an inherent straightforwardness and honesty in Chávez’s musical personality.

Silvestre Revueltas

Silvestre Revueltas

Maestro Botstein made no attempt to conceal his entirely understandable enthusiasm for the music of Chávez’s associate Silvestre Revueltas, which is wild and messy—at least on the surface—where Chávez’s music is ordered—and every bar exudes the spontaneity of informal, populist locales and situations. There is more to Revueltas than that, however. His music invites and stands up to repeated listening and reflection.

The programs were populated with teachers, colleagues, rivals, and pupils of the central figure, most significantly Manuel M. Ponce, José Pablo Moncayo, Mario Lavista, José Rolón, Julián Carrillo, and Robert Sierra, a student, who is still in his prime today. One concert embraced the Parisian influences Chávez either tasted or assimilated during his brief visit to the city at the beginning of his career (and marriage) in 1922: Dukas, Ravel, Stravinsky, Poulenc, and Milhaud. Another collected his New York friends and colleagues: Copland and Cowell above all, but also Edgard Varèse, Dane Rudhyar, Ruth Crawford, Virgil Thomson, Roger Sessions, Paul Bowles, Conlon Nancarrow, and William Grant Still. In the long term, Chávez found a more congenial connection to Europe in New York than in Europe itself.

The first concert explored the musical traditions Chávez’s parents would have grown up with—basically parlor music of a European character—in its first half, and the new, far more sophisticated and far more Mexican music introduced by the generation born in the late nineteenth century.

The earlier music that begins the program reflects the protected bourgeois world of the Porfiriato, when the military leader Porfirio Díaz governed Mexico as President from 1876 to 1911. To oversimplify grossly, he brought stability and modernization to Mexico at the cost of oppressive policies, which affected the lower classes and political liberals. The bloody Mexican Revolution which lasted ten years, from 1910 to 1920, created a gulf between the old social and cultural order, and the new, laborist government of Álvaro Obregón, which brought government support for the arts along with its social, educational, and economic reforms. That period of the revolution is when both Chávez and Revueltas grew to early adulthood, and they began their careers around the time of Obregón’s accession, entering an atmosphere of social support and engagement for artists and cultural nationalism, formulated during the revolution in music by one of Chávez’s teachers, Manuel M. Ponce (1882-1948), in his 1913 lecture, “La musica y la canción mexicana.” The painters who remain the most prominent figures with whom the arts in Mexico are identified, Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros, were closer to Ponce’s generation than Chávez’s, hence more mature, when the new order was established. The Union of Mexican Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors, was founded in 1923, and its manifesto, first published the previous year, placed public monumental art and popular and indigenous artistic traditions at the center of their goals. Chávez, Revueltas, and their contemporaries embraced this, and Chávez in particular was attracted to administration. In 1928 he became music director of the Orquesta Sinfonica de México as well as the director of the National Conservatory of Music. His influence spread beyond music when he was appointed head of the Department of Fine Arts in the Secretariat of Public Education in 1933. He didn’t serve long in that capacity, but he was to return to similar offices later. Conducting, education, and administration defined his career, with important gaps, when he repaired to New York to conduct and to collaborate with Varèse, Copland, Sessions, and Cowell in the concerts of new music they organized. Throughout his life he managed to return to composition. The energy he put into his public roles never weakened his hand as a composer.

Soprano Ava Pine played a prominent role in this first concert, which included chamber music and music for solo instruments, above all the piano and guitar, as well as vocal music. Pine’s alluring voice and her musical and dramatic abilities seemed more comfortably placed in Revueltas’ “Ranas,” (1931, text by Castañeda) than in the entertaining, but bland, even trite songs of the previous century. She received an enthusiastic accompaniment from Erika Switzer, except for “Ranas,” which was written for voice alone.

Manuel M. Ponce’s Concierto del Sur of 1941, which closed the first half of the program, ushered in the new order in a work for solo guitar, which looked back with nostalgia to the aesthetic nationalism of the past three decades, stretching as fas as the Revolutionary days. Like all of Ponce’s work played at the festival, the Concierto aroused enthusiastic appreciation among the audience, not to mention the standing ovation for Jason Vieaux’s virtuosic, stylish playing. The delicacy of his pianissimi was unforgettable. It is an exquisitely crafted work, refined and sophisticated while avoiding too much European influence, and confidently took its the first masterpiece of the Festival.

The second half began with two preludes from Chávez’s 1937 collection of ten, virtuosically played by Orion Weiss. There is strong neoclassical flavor to them, via Ravel as much as Stravinsky. They were strong, well-constructed pieces that showed Chávez in his pianist-composer mode—perhaps his original persona as a composer, since he was trained much more thoroughly in piano than in composition, even by Ponce. There followed Moncayo and Lavista, Chávez’s pupils, a microtonal string quartet by Carillo, which had an uncanny conventionality about it, as if the micro-intervals were not really there, played with elegance by the Daedalus Quartet, and two of Chávez’s calling-card pieces: Xochipilli: An Imagined Aztec Music (1940) and H.P. (Horsepower) Danse des hommes et des machines (1926). The former was the composer’s attempt to recreate Aztec music, about which only slightly more is known than about the music of ancient Greece. The latter showed Chávez’s cosmopolitan vein, in which he indulged in the modernist fascination with the Machine Age. This was played in its chamber version. The version for full orchestra followed later in the festival. There seemed to be something forced and artificial about Xochipilli, but Chávez himself told us what to expect: imagined music of pre-columbian cultures. Above all, the piece was enjoyable, interesting, and serious in its effort. Leon Botstein also conducted the Bard Chamber and Percussion Ensemble in H. P. As fine as this performance was, I thought I’d be intrigued to hear some fanatically precise performance, with every entrance, every rest sharp and exact, in imitation of the soul of machines.

Revueltas’ vocal solo, “Ranas,” closed the concert along with a Toccata (sin Fuga) for solo violin. Ava Pine outdid herself in this demented song about frogs.

The Saturday afternoon concert, The Parisian Influence, showed a panorama of the French influences Chávez already knew before he made his brief stay in France. Chávez never attached himself to Paris as he did to New York. As widely as he was influenced by the Group of Six, he was more comfortable with Edgard Varèse, who had settled in the American cosmopolis. Chávez wanted programmatically to create Mexican music and to serve populist nationalism, but, like other Mexican and South American composers, he wanted to be on the horizon of the great European centers of music. Among them, Paris was the most open to music from outside Europe. Exoticism was the arena where Chávez and the French most easily met; hence the program included Ravel’s 5 Mélodies populaires grecques (1904-06), antique echoes from Dukas in La Plainte, au loin, du faune (1920), Stravinsky’s Tango (1940), Poulenc’s Rhapsodie nègre (1917), and Milhaud’s Catalogue des fleurs (1920). The performances benefitted from Joe Eletto’s well-focused lyrical baritone. Simon Ghraichy made his first appearance here. His brilliant, deceptively relaxed playing was much appreciated throughout the festival. He was the young musician to remember of this year’s festival. The Mexican responses in this program were Chávez’s Trio for Flute, Viola, and Harp (arr. 1940), which consisted of arrangements of pieces by Debussy and Falla for that characteristically French ensemble, his 36 (1925) and Sonatina (1924) for solo piano, and Seis exágonos (1923-24). Manuel M. Ponce’s Sonata for Guitar and Harpsichord (c. 1926) stood out, for the grace and attractiveness of the composition, as well as the outstanding performance by Jason Vieaux and Bradley Brookshire, a harpsichordist who has been attracting much admiration in early music circles. José Rolón’s String Quartet (1935), superbly played by the Amphion Quartet, closed the concert with a work one would like to hear again more than once. He was a bit over a decade older than Chávez, who premiered several of his orchestral pieces.

Mexico: The Crossroad of Antifascism was the title of the first Saturday’s orchestral concert, featuring major works by Chávez and others: Revueltas of course, but also the American expatriate leftist, Conlon Nancarrow, and the Swiss Arthur Honegger, whose Symphony No. 3 “Liturgique” (1945-46), a somber post-war meditation, was—one had to admit—the most significant and moving work of the entire festival. Leon Botstein has conducted the symphony before and is especially fond of it—entirely to his credit—and it received an especially eloquent and committed performance. Still, this concert gave Chávez his chance to impress us, whilst Revueltas, Rolón, and Ponce had already won our affection, and his Sinfonia de Antigona of 1933 and Piano Concerto of 1938 did just that.

Chávez developed the Sinfonia de Antigona, his first symphony, from seven minutes of incidental music he wrote for a Jean Cocteau production of Sophocles’ Antigone in Mexico City. The symphony, only half as much longer than the stage music, is dense, complex, tightly constructed, but still evokes the moods of a performance of the play. This was a work in which Chávez’ feeling for the stage met his intellectual rigor and moved him forward in his art. The Piano Concerto is a hugely ambitious work, of great complexity and technical difficulty. Jorge Federico Osorio has been the expert on it for years. He performed with bravura, energy, and total alertness to its many shifts of harmony, texture, and mood, not to mention its constant barrage of virtuoso turns for the pianist. Señor Osorio brought the house down with his feat, which was entirely musical, never vacuously technical or showy. The ASO under Leon Botstein’s direction gave a sympathetic, colorful, and enthusiastic performance of the equally difficult and complex orchestral part.

Nancarrow’s jazzy Piece No. 1 for Small Orchestra (1943) brought up memories of the Harlem Renaissance in a subtle, highly intelligent structure and form. Revueltas’ score for the film Redes (1934-35), photographed by Paul Strand and directed by Fred Zinneman, still relatively fresh in exile and a stranger to Hollywood, is a major work, rich its rendering of surf and sea. Not having seen the film, I felt I could follow the story from the score. The ASO and Maestro Botstein have their special feeling for Revueltas’ music, and it came through in their surging, vivid reading of the score.

The afternoon of Sunday, August 9, was devoted to music related to the 10-year Mexican Revolution. The backbone of this program of many short songs, guitar and piano solos, and chamber pieces was popular—songs sung on streets, in camps, and in cabarets. Composers of art music joined in: Ponce, Revueltas, Rolón, and Chávez himself all wrote songs, foxtrots, and more formal music reflecting the tunes of the Revolution. Ponce, in particular had definite ideas about how Mexican composers should relate to the folk songs of their country. To quote John Koegel’s essay in the Bard program book:

Manuel M. Ponce, the elder statesman among the group of leading Mexican composers of the first half of the 20th century—including Carlos Chávez, Silvestre Revueltas, José Rolón, and Blas Galindo, gave a lecture in 1913 titled “La canción mexicana” (“The Mexican Song”) that had a far-reaching impact on art music composition in Mexico. Ponce believed the Mexican folk song should serve as a basis for a national compositional style and the inspiration for larger compositions such as symphonies and operas. But composers of popular music, such as Agustín Lara, Alfonso Esparza Oteo, and Ignacio Fernández Esperón “Tata Nacho,” also set Mexican topics and melodic types in their music in the 1920s, after the disruption of national life during the tumultuous Mexican Revolution of the 1910s subsided. In the decade following the Revolution, prominent figures such as Secretary of Public Education José Vasconcelos promoted an adoption of rural indigenous and mestizo themes in the creation of nationalist art forms. Ponce, however, had first advocated a related position in the 1910s, well before Vasconcelos’s mission began. According to Ponce, Mexican composers should “ennoble the music of their own country, clothing it in polyphony while lovingly preserving popular melody, which is the expression of the national soul.”

In terms of performance, the guitar, piano solos, and chamber music, brilliantly executed by Benjamin Verdery (guitar), Anna Polonsky and Orion Weiss (piano), the Daedalus Quartet, and soloists from the ASO, came off more successfully than the songs, which lost quite a lot in Nicholas Phan’s overly refined, classical performances. It’s really not appropriate to sing cabaret songs as if they were Schubert. I was yearning for a singer who truly knows the genre. By contrast, soprano Cecilia Violetta López had much less trouble entering in to the spirit of the music.

The first weekend closed with Music, Murals, and Puppets, consisting of stage music by Revueltas, Chávez, and Manuel de Falla. The program began with Revueltas’ incidental music for two performances for children. The first, Troka (1933) was written for a dance pantomime about Troka el Poderoso, a mighty robot who works for progress in the world. Although Revueltas works in allusions to a popular children’s song, “A la vibora de la mar,” the score is a sophisticated avant-guard work, which can only have mystified or annoyed the juvenile audiences. Revueltas wrote the second piece, El renacuajo paseador (The Wandering Tadpole, 1933, rev. 1936) as a puppet ballet for his daughters.

Carlos Chávez, Suite for Double Quartet (Dark Meadow), performed by Amphion String Quartet, Lance Suzuki, flute; Alexandra Knoll, oboe; Benjamin Fingland, clarinet; Monica Ellis, bassoon. Projection design by Doug Fitch and Yoav Gal.

Carlos Chávez, Suite for Double Quartet (Dark Meadow), performed by Amphion String Quartet, Lance Suzuki, flute; Alexandra Knoll, oboe; Benjamin Fingland, clarinet; Monica Ellis, bassoon. Projection design by Doug Fitch and Yoav Gal.

Carlos Chávez’s haunting suite (1943) for double quartets of strings and winds reflects his continuing interest in classical subjects. This was based on a score originally commissioned by Martha Graham as Daughter of Colchis: Medea. Graham rewrote the scenario as Dark Meadow, a ballet with a much less definite story line. Chávez not only spun off this suite, but also incorporated some of the music in his Third String Quartet, which was performed in Program One. The Martha Graham Company, I should note, will perform Dark Meadow in its next season in early 2016.

Manuel de Falla’s El retablo de maese Pedro (1922) is a one-act opera written for the Princesse Edmond de Polignac (Winaretta Singer) and premiered in a private performance in her Parisian residence. Its libretto was taken directly from Chapter 26 of Part II of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, in which Don Quixote and Sancho Panza see a puppet show at an inn where they are spending the night. In it a nobleman reluctantly tears himself away from his favorite amusement, chess, to rescue his wife from a castle where she is being kept prisoner. When the fighting starts, Don Quixote thinks the conflict is real and enters with his sword out to rescue the lady in peril, doing much harm and damage. Falla’s little opera sheds light on the Parisian musical world Carlos Chávez so briefly, but significantly, touched. The Spanish composer stayed longer and became a part of that world, first absorbing Debussy’s influence, and later, virtually beginning with this work, Stravinsky. The puppet show, designed and directed by Doug Fitch, was throughly entertaining. After his hasty-looking, decidedly twee semi-productions of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex and Persephone, it was a relief to find Fitch working on material that was more suitable for his talents. The performance was delightful, from Leon Botstein’s direction of the ASO to superb acting and singing by the human members of the cast, Louis Otey (Don Quixote), who brought the same resonant baritone and assured acting which had proven such an asset in Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers, a hilarious Cecilia Violetta López, and Nicholas Phan, who was back in his element, singing with his characteristic elegance and wit. A truly excellent light opera was well-served. And so the first weekend of the Bard Music Festival 2015 closed on a jolly note.

By then it was already clear that Leon Botstein’s gamble had payed off—and splendidly. Festival regulars will surely remember this as one of the years in which the mission of the Festival was especially richly achieved, opening up a culture, a nationality, and a group of composers who are unfamiliar to many even knowledgeable music-lovers north of the border. I was struck that Mexican composers had a rather more sophisticated attitude towards their national style than the Spanish, who seemed to accept the French exoticist version of their national music at face value. Revueltas above all was quick to identify and criticize Mexican music that seemed to be written for tourists.

Two excellent panels, Culture and National Identity: The Case of Mexico (Leonora Saavedra, moderator; Lynda Klich; Claudio Lomnitz; Alejandro L. Madrid) and Mexico and the United States: Past, Present, and Future (Luisa Vilar-Payá, moderator; Leon Botstein; Mario Lavista; Richard I. Suchenski), helped us in our understanding and appreciation. Above all, it was enlightening to hear directly from one of Chávez’s important pupils, Mario Lavista, who is happily still with us.

To be continued…

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