SeptemberFest has in previous years focused on a single composer. This year, beginning on September 14th, Longy School of Music at Bard College’s festival will focus instead on The Muse, according to Wayman Chin, Dean of the Conservatory and Curator of SeptemberFest. “Listeners would call The Muse a felicitous companion, one that brings delight and whimsy, surprise and epiphanies. Composers, on the other hand, would call her a fair-weather spirit that comes and goes as she pleases. She will stay away for long stretches only to return with ideas enough for a banquet or just a tasting menu. Fickle and unreliable, The Muse will tease and hint; she will set an idea on course or derail it, pour the champagne or pop the balloon. We are featuring five concerts around ideas and themes that have been inspirations for composers — people, lovers, children, places (real and imagined) and youth.”
The first concert, on September 14th, entitled “Portraits,” presents musical portraits by Thomson and Forqueray. Composer Scott Wheeler, who was the organizer and who will be the pre-concert lecturer, noted, “The program features several portraits by my teacher Virgil Thomson. Anthony Tommasini’s book on the Thomson portraits catalogs 140, though as I recall, a few more were written after the book was published. Almost all of them were done ‘from life,’ in the manner of the visual artists who were such important friends and colleagues of Thomson in Paris during the 1920s.
“I met Virgil in 1976, while I was a grad student at Brandeis, and studied privately with him in 1981. During that time I sat for my portrait, which will be played on the September 14 Longy program. Virgil encouraged me to try to portrait writing, but I didn’t really start until a few years after his death, working slowly up to my current pace of one or two a year – not enough to compete with his output, but enough to put out a small volume of my own portraits. This summer I wrote two, including a portrait of the soprano Nancy Armstrong, entitled “Arietta,” which will be premiered by pianist Wayman Chin on this program.
The concert on September 15th, “The Children’s Hour,” is inspired by the experience of children, Chin explained, as “captured in songs by Ives, Bernstein, Kernis along with Laurie Laitman’s poignant settings of poems written by children in concentration camps during World War II.” In addition, Mozart’s first six pieces, K. 1 to K. 6, written when he was five to eight years old, will be featured on the harpsichord.”
“The Beloved Muse,” on September 19, will feature works by Beethoven, inspired by the ‘immortal beloved’ and works of two famous musical couples, Gustav and Alma Mahler and Robert and Clara Schumann. “La Muse en Voyage,” Chin noted, “puts a different spin on journeys and travel, including Lukas Foss’s homage to the US, as a recent immigrant in the ’40’s, and Copland’s meditation on New York, Quiet City. An unusual feature will be a new work by Longy composer John Morrison on honeybees, depicting their ‘journey’ and movement through the world. That will be followed by Ibert’s Histoire Naturelles, akin to a musical Alice in Wonderland.”
These first four concerts will have narration interspersed with the music, including Thomson’s descriptions — often ironic and whimsical — of his ‘subjects,’ excerpts from Victorian etiquette books for children, the teenage Mozart’s letters to his mother and sister, poems for children by Lewis Carroll, letters from Gustav and Alma Mahler and Robert and Clara Schumann, an excerpt from E. B. White’s Here is New York, and an excerpt from a 1901 Baedaker Guide to Paris, Chin explained. “The final concert of the series will be a concert of Schubert’s youthful pieces, an off-shoot of a program we did last year featuring early, middle, and late works of Debussy.
“We’re also pleased to feature some of our new faculty on the series, such as pianists Benjamin Hochman and Rieko Aizawa, violinist Jesse Mills, and tenor Ryan Turner.”
All concerts are free. The program brochure for the series is here.