This August, Bard Music Festival in New York State presents special programming that focuses on the life and music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose 150th anniversary was celebrated last fall.
The music of Ralph Vaughan Williams published by Oxford University Press is promoted here under license by Boosey & Hawkes.
Bard Music Festival presents Vaughan Williams and His World, an extensive exploration of the life and music of one of the 20th century’s foremost British composers, with programming spanning two weekends from August 4-13 including 11 programs, two special events, and two panels. The series of concerts will take place at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on Bard College’s campus, where six will also be livestreamed on the Fisher Center’s virtual stage. The American Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra Now—both led by music director Leon Botstein—and the Bard Festival Chorale are joined by multiple guest artists, including violinist Bella Hristova, tenor Nicholas Phan, bass-baritone Craig Colclough, pianists Danny Driver and Piers Lane, and the Horszowski Trio.
> August 4-13: Vaughan Williams and His World at Bard Music Festival
Weekend One: Victorians, Edwardians, and Moderns (Aug 4-6) launches with a focus on Vaughan Williams’ English identity—featuring his beloved Down Ampney, Serenade to Music, and Old Hundredth Psalm Tune—followed by a program that contextualizes him among his mentors and peers such as C. Hubert Parry, Charles Villiers Stanford, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Afterwards, another all-Vaughan Williams event highlights three of his mature orchestral works: including his one-act ballet Job: A Masque for Dancing, Concerto in C for two pianos, and Symphony No. 4.
The symphonic program is juxtaposed with a focus on British Art Song, featuring selections from Songs of Travel, and works from next generation composers Benjamin Britten and Gerald Finzi, whose Let Us Garlands Bring was written as a gift to Vaughan Williams. The weekend concludes with a spotlight on British impressionism, featuring the Ravel-inspired On Wenlock Edge, and selections from The Poisoned Kiss in a concert touring through British Light Music during the first half of the twentieth century.
Weekend Two: A New Elizabethan Age? (Aug 10-13) kicks off with two special concerts in the Episcopal Church of the Messiah, starting with music by Vaughan Williams and contemporaries such as Gustav Holst, and ending with a survey of English choral music interspersed with organ works. This is followed by a program of more well-known Vaughan Williams works for chamber orchestra, including The Lark Ascending, Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, and Flos Campi, amongst works by Elgar, Delius, and Grace Williams.
The World War II years come into focus next, featuring his String Quartet No. 2 alongside works by Egon Wellesz and Robert Müller-Hartmann, two of the Jewish refugees interned as “Alien Musicians” whose release he secured as chair of a dedicated Home Office committee. Next, the American Symphony Orchestra makes their first appearance of the festival with two of his late symphonies, Sinfonia Antartica and Symphony No. 8, paired with large orchestral works by Elizabeth Maconchy, William Walton, and Jean Sibelius.
The penultimate program shines a light on Vaughan Williams’s legacy, featuring works by students and younger associate composers such as Constant Lambert and Samuel Barber, along with the first performance of the newly corrected score of his last instrumental work, Sonata for Violin in A Minor. The festival draws to a close with a semi-staged production of his opera Sir John In Love, directed by Alison Moritz, with performance materials from a brand-new second edition by David Lloyd-Jones.
Accompanying the festival is the new publication, Vaughan Williams and His World, edited by Bard’s 2023 Scholars-in-Residence: Byron Adams, a contributor to both the Cambridge Companion to Vaughan Williams and Vaughan Williams Studies, and Daniel M. Grimley, Professor of Music at the University of Oxford.
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