Summer Festivals: For New Yorkers, Musical Settings Urban and Verdant

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Ensemble musikFabrik in ‘Michaels Reise um die Erde’ by Stockhausen at Lincoln Center Festival 2013.
(Photo by Stephanie Berger, courtesy Lincoln Center Festival)
Summer Music Festivals in New York: UNPLAY, Lincoln Center, Mostly Mozart; & Glimmerglass, Caramoor, Bard, and  Bridgehampton
By Barbara Jepson

Classical music lovers in Manhattan often head upstate in search of more bucolic settings for their summer listening. This year brings noteworthy programs from scenic magnets like the Glimmerglass Festival, held on the shore of Otsego Lake near the village of Cooperstown; the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, located in a seaside resort on Long Island’s eastern shore; the Bard Music Festival, situated on a college campus in Annandale-on-Hudson, and the Caramoor Summer Music Festival, presented on a verdant country estate in Katonah. But diehard City dwellers also have an abundance of riches available. Below, a few recommendations from both categories in roughly chronological order.

New York City:

Conrad Tao's UNPLAY FestivalUNPLAY Festival, June 11-13, at the powerHouse Arena in the “Dumbo” section of Brooklyn.

The new UNPLAY Festival was conceived and curated by rising star Conrad Tao, a 19-year-old pianist and composer with an inquiring mind and finger-busting technique. Joining him are hip contemporary music groups including Iktus Percussion, laptop ensemble Sideband and composer-performer collective ThingNY. With programs ranging from Chopin, Ravel, Messiaen, Cage, Rzewski, and Adams to the latest post-minimalist or theatrically charged, experimentalist explorations, it should be stimulating.

Lincoln Center Festival, July 6-28.

Known for presenting visually spectacular multi-media works from around the globe, Lincoln Center Festival boasts some intriguing musical offerings this season, though nothing as substantive as the five-concert “Electronic Evolution” series it delivered in 2006.

Marco Blaauw in Stockhausen’s ‘Michaels Reise’ (Berger)

This year’s musical centerpiece is the U.S. premiere of Michael’s Journey Around the World, part of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s seven-opera Licht cycle, in a multi-media production that will reportedly transform Avery Fisher Hall. German contemporary ensemble musikFabrik will do the honors, directed by Carlus Padrissa, founder of an innovative Catalan theater troupe. Michael’s Journey follows on the heels of performances at the Park Avenue Armory in 2011 by New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert of the composer’s riveting Gruppen for Three Orchestras and an Armory presentation a few months ago of the electronic piece OKTOPHONIE from another part of Stockhausen’s Licht cycle. Given Lincoln Center Festival’s venturesome spirit, might there be a complete Licht cycle in the City’s future? (July 18-20 8 p.m., Avery Fisher Hall)

Totally different yet equally irresistible is the prospect of the versatile Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor performing soul gospel music (July 26-27, Alice Tully Hall).And John Zorn fans won’t want to miss a two-day retrospective of his music (July 18, 20), including a program of string quartets and another centered around “Holy Visions,” for five a cappella female voices. Center Charge: 212-721-6500.

Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center and other Westside locations, July 27 – August 24.

ICE (Armen Elliot)
ICE (Armen Elliot)

In its 47th season, the popular Mostly Mozart Festival will explore the musical lineage between Mozart and Beethoven. But the Festival has been revitalized through the three-year, in-house residency of ICE, an expert contemporary music ensemble. Their picks this summer include the New York premiere of The Whisper Opera by Pulitzer-Prize winner David Lang (Aug. 10-12), an accordion arrangement of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture (Aug. 15), a birthday tribute to the inimitable Pauline Oliveros (Aug. 20), and nine world premieres by emerging and established living composers.

One of the standouts of the 2011 Mostly Mozart was the concert staging of Don Giovanni by the Budapest Festival Orchestra under its insightful music director, Iván Fischer. This summer he and his orchestra return with a staged concert version of another Mozart gem, The Marriage of Figaro (August 11, 13 and 15).

On August 13 and 14, Gianandrea Noseda makes his Mostly Mozart debut leading the Festival orchestra with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 and Rossini’s sublime Stabat Mater, a choral masterpiece of sacred solemnity and operatic grandeur. Soloists include Hanno Müller-Brachmann and Laura Tatulescu in their MMF debuts. Center Charge: 212 721-6500.

New York State:

Alice Busch Opera Theater at Glimmerglass Festival (Claire McAdams)
Alice Busch Opera Theater, Glimmerglass (Claire McAdams)

Glimmerglass Festival, July 6 – August 24 . Artistic Director Francesca Zambello again delivers a compelling programming mix at the Glimmerglass Festival: Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, an early comic opera by Verdi, King for a Day, Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot, and various ancillary events. But don’t miss Passions, an ingenious pairing of David Lang’s little match girl passion, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008, and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, an 18th-century masterpiece. Box Office: 607-547-2255.

Caramoor International Music Festival, June 27 -August 4.

Sunken Garden concert at Caramoor
Sunken Garden concert at Caramoor

At the Caramoor International Music Festival, there are strong programs by the ace new-music group Brooklyn Rider on July 7 and the refined Emerson Quartet (with its new cellist, Paul Watkins) on July 21, but the most compelling events are devoted to Verdi in honor of the 200th anniversary of his birth this year. Among them are “The Intimate Verdi,” a program of chamber music and vocal jewels starring the radiant soprano Angela Meade, as well as two semi-staged concert performances of Verdi operas — Sicilian Vespers and Don Carlo, with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s conducted by Caramoor fixture Will Crutchfield. Box Office: 914-232-1252.

Bard Music Festival – August 9-11 and August 16-18.

Igor Stravinsky (Library of Congress)
Igor Stravinsky (Library of Congress)

Bard Music Festival is part of Bard Summerscape (July 6 – Aug. 18), which presents dance, theater, film, cabaret, etc., at Fisher Center on the Bard campus in Annandale-on-Hudson. This year’s theme at the classically oriented Bard Music Festival is “Stravinsky and His World.” The lineup of concerts and lectures is impressive, linking the evolution of the composer’s work to his changing geographical bases and the influences of Russian, French, and other contemporaries. The opening weekend is particularly rich, with the folk-inspired Les Noces and the glorious Symphony of Psalms; the second concludes with the rarely-encountered choral melodrama Perséphone and the opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex. But the work creating the most buzz is a production of the opera Oresteia by his compatriot Sergey Taneyev in what is said to be the first fully staged performance outside Russia. Directed by Thaddeus Strassberger and featuring a predominantly Russian cast, it has been called “highly original” and a “crowning achievement” for its composer. Box Office: 845-758-7900.

Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival – July 24 – August 18.

Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival (Brian Hatton)
Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival (Brian Hatton)

Flutist Marya Martin’s summer venture/outpost, the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, is celebrating its 30th anniversary season this summer. Concerts take place in a local church or tent. Meaty works by Shostakovich and Dvořák, and two pieces by Kevin Puts, one a world premiere, are juxtaposed with perennial favorites by Bach and Mozart. Box Office: 212-741-9403.

Barbara Jepson is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal‘s Leisure & Arts pages whose articles have also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Arts and Leisure, Opera News and other national publications.