From Soptember 5-26, the Bard Music Festival in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, joins forces with The Orchestra Now (TŌN) and the Bard College Conservatory to present ‘Out of the Silence: A Celebration of Music,’ a series of four free live-streamed concerts for string orchestra, piano and percussion (Sep 5–26). Pairing works by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Bartok with music by ten prominent Black composers – ranging from Classical pioneer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges to contemporary Americans Alvin Singleton, Adolphus Hailstork and Jessie Montgomery, the series celebrates Bard’s commitment to neglected rarities and the unquenchable joy of music-making. All four programs will be performed without an audience and with appropriate safety measures on Bard College’s idyllic Hudson Valley campus by its graduate training orchestra, TŌN, under the leadership of Music Director Leon Botstein and other members of the TŌN artistic team.

‘Out of the Silence’ opens with two works by the great William Grant Still. The first African-American to have a symphony performed by a major U.S. orchestra, and the subject of a 2009 retrospective curated and conducted by Botstein at Lincoln Center, Still is represented by his meditative miniature Out of the Silence from Seven Traceries, and the evocative tone poem Serenade. Had Bard not been forced to postpone its regular summer season, this year’s attendees would have enjoyed a festival devoted to ‘Nadia Boulanger and Her World’ (now scheduled for summer 2021). It is fitting, then, that Program One (September 5) features a piece by one of the French composer’s many distinguished students: the elegiac Lyric for Strings by George Walker, the first African-American winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music and “one of the greatest composers of our time” (Fanfare magazine). The concert concludes with TŌN’s account of the exuberant String Symphony No. 8 by Felix Mendelssohn, subject of the Bard Music Festival’s second season in 1991.

Program Two (September 12) offers a snapshot of contemporary music with works by three of today’s most compelling Black composers. A former composer-in-residence of both the Atlanta and Detroit Symphonies, Alvin Singleton is blessed with a “unique musical vision” (ArtsATL), while Adolphus Hailstork, another Boulanger student, has accrued a string of honors including Cultural Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia and Distinguished Alumni Award from Manhattan School of Music. Both men were born in the early 1940s, four decades before Jessie Montgomery. “Turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life” (Washington Post), Montgomery’s music has been recognized with the ASCAP Foundation’s Leonard Bernstein Award, and her current commissions include works for the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall. Their compositions share the program with the Serenade for Strings by Antonin Dvorak, subject of the 1993 Bard Music Festival, who championed African-American and Native American music as the foundation for a homegrown U.S. musical style.

After opening with the Adagio trágico by Roque Cordero, who infused twelve-tone writing with the folk rhythms of his native Panama, Program Three (September 19) presents a pair of longer works. In his Four Novelettes, Anglo-African late-Romantic composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor demonstrates graceful lyricism with a light, balletic touch that is almost reminiscent of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, subject of the festival’s 1998 season, whose soulful Serenade for Strings concludes the concert.

The centerpiece of Program Four (September 26) is the Violin Concerto in G by Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Violin soloist Ashley Horne, a member of both the American Symphony Orchestra and the Harlem Chamber Players, can also be seen in Le Mozart noir, a PBS documentary about the composer’s life. The son of a slave and a planter in French Guadeloupe, Chevalier de Saint-Georges was not only the first known classical composer of African ancestry, but also an accomplished violinist, champion fencer and colonel of the first all-Black military regiment in Europe. Bookending his concerto are orchestral arrangements of Solitude and Sophisticated Lady, two mid-century masterpieces by the inimitable Duke Ellington, and the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta by Bela Bartok, subject of the 1995 festival.

Virtual tickets for the concerts are free, yet the organizer requests a reservation.

  • Pizzicato

  • Archives