Shazam! Saturday night at a near-capacity audience at Bard College’s Olin Hall, the Bard College Conservatory of Music presented The Degree Recital of the Graduate Conducting Program featuring conductors Renée Anne Louprette and Michael Patterson. The atmosphere of anticipation was palpable.
Louprette presented choral work with full orchestra. From Ludwig van Beethoven ’s Mass in C, Op. 86 (1807), she chose the Kyrie and Gloria movements. Louprette’s conducting gestures were genial, precise, and graceful. A student of James Bagwell and concert recital organist, she appeared to have an intimate rapport with the large chorus that ringed the orchestra. The orchestra responded to the fierce power of the Gloria which delivered the monumental climax with unified blending of chorus and orchestra while retaining religious euphoria.
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music (1938) followed. Williams selected 33 lines from William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. This excerpt from Act 5, scene 1 was written to honor British conductor Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944), yet the choral arrangement followed later. The lines are written in blank verse with occasional rhymes. Several lines are corrupt in shortness—the text of the play being assembled through interviews with actors after Shakespeare died. My favorite lines with a contemporary ring were:
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.
In the end “those touches of sweet harmony” radiated over the audience like a blessing after the established contrast with those who have neither ear nor conscience. The lovely delicacy of the ending was coaxed from the chorus with rehearsed ease. Tenor Rufus Müller sang in superb form.
Michael Patterson, a student of recently deceased Harold Farberman, conducted the Overture Mozart’s The Magic Flute (1791) with a smaller orchestra. The pace was ever so slightly slow than the last time I heard it at the Metropolitan Opera. Patterson excavated the dramatic subtlety with deep finesse as he let minute silence heft dramatic effect, ably capturing Mozart’s mischievous, teasing humor with haunting effect.
The Firebird, a ballet piece that exists in several formats, by Igor Stravinsky in the 1919 concert version. The ballet recounts a Russian fable of an evil King who maintains his power through a magic egg secreted in an ornately decorated box. Handsome Prince Ivan captures a firebird; in return for not eating the bird, the firebird gives Ivan a magic feather. Ivan eventually employs the feather to discover the secret of the egg and he destroys the magic egg and the ogre dies. The evil spell is broken, and Ivan marries a beautiful princess.
The music opens with mysterious glissando strings evoking a warm summer night followed by a lyrical folkloric dance by the Firebird to winds. Patterson expertly conjured the contrasts of string and winds. The robust dance of the princess to two contrasting folk tunes finds itself shattered by the thunder of the Infernal Dance. This angry, melody delightfully appears twice more as thrilling heart of the piece as a fusillade of horns and drum offer truly shocking delight. Patterson was rhythmically animated with hypnotic gestures using his whole body, as if he was caught in the spell of the rhythm itself. The famous lullaby with solo violin by concertmaster André Rivas provided lyrical contrast with the orchestra, the lullaby being the amusing marriage proposal of Ivan. The finale presents the resounding joy of the happy wedding—it’s the kind of extravagant finale that gets one to rise up from the seat. And it did just that—the enthusiastic audience demanded two bows and both conductors appeared on stage for the second bow.
Both conductors deserve a happy future and we hope to hear them again at new venues.