The 28th Bard Music Festival, “Carlos Chavez and his World” opened Friday night with a pot pourri of musical offerings by a dozen Mexican composers from the Baroque to the radical modern of the 1930’s. How Chavez fits into this history was not yet revealed, but it will be over the next two weeks with ten more musical performances, seminars and a book.
The subject of the festival is not just Chavez. The creator of the festival and its music director, Leon Botstein, gave us a broad glimpse into a complex history that included the “pre-Columbian” world before Cortez, the Spanish occupation, a revolution or two, a period of French cultural dominance in the late 19th century and then revolution, dictatorship and democracy of sorts in the 20th century. Program One gave us music that represented each of these periods. The most curious was the attempt by Chavez to recreate Aztec music, an exercise of imagination. Slightly chaotic, ominous, warlike, perhaps with an intention to threaten --- there was a political message here.
Except for the Aztec moment, the rest sounded like pure western music with only hints of a Mexican rhythm.
I thought the guitar concerto by Manuel M. Ponce (1882-1948) from 1941 was a find. Soloist Jason Vieaux, recognized as one of the leading guitarists of his generation, gave this piece a sublime understated, crystal clear rendition. Written for Andres Segovia, it was one of several memorable performances of the evening. The program says it was in the “nationalistic style”. I suppose it was.
Orion Weiss played No 1 and No 10 from the Ten Preludes for piano by Chavez written in 1937, giving it a lively, intense performance that brought out its energy and its modernism. Spare at the outset, it moved into increasing density and speed and ended with a cascade that was joyful and a triumph.
Ana Polonsky (aka Mrs. Weiss) gave lovely renditions of 19th century composers that could have been played in any European chamber setting. Ava Pine was the solo soprano of the evening. Her clear, fine voice worked through Baroque to the ultra modern piece of Silvestre Revueltas. She has a most pleasing way of telling the story. She revealed Revueltas as a composer of real interest and herself as a singer of stature.
The festival continues with the printed program and lots of lectures guiding the audiences though a history few of us know much about. There is much to learn and a rich reservoir of music to hear. If Program One is a guide, both the music and the performances will be of exceptional quality.