Nestled away in the greenery of the Hudson Valley is Bard College, a liberal arts school that also happens to be home to one of the most ambitious music festivals in the world. The Bard Music Festival was founded in 1990, its purpose being to explore exhaustively the output and influence(s) both on and of the great musical figures we think we know and love. Every summer, for two long weekends, with a follow-up weekend in the autumn, music-lovers converge on Bard for an intensive series of concerts, talks, films and symposia, each illuminating various facets of a composer’s life, works and / or world. This year the focus was on Prokofiev. I spent a delightful, if mentally and physically draining weekend (8-10 August) soaking up as much music, information, and enthusiasm as one unaccustomed to sitting through four or five such events per day could be expected to do.
     Concerts at Bard routinely hit the two-and-a-half hour mark. With pre-concert talks, you’re in for three. If there’s a panel beforehand – tack on another two. The approach is novel for several reasons. One, it attempts a synthesis of art, biography, and history, with a healthy portion of its concerts devoted to contemporaries of its subject. Two, its concerts mix genres: orchestral, chamber, solo instrumental music, and song all feature together. Artists come and go, appearing for but one or two works, sometimes only for a few minutes, and then reappear a day or two later in the same capacity on yet another concert. The result is surprisingly stimulating. Three, the sheer volume of information on offer is staggering, with academics and musicians delivering entertaining and informative talks on such topics as the subversion of Soviet authority, Prokofiev’s works for film and stage, and Paris in the 1920s.
     One characteristically fine presentation, by Marina Frolova-Walker, featured a transcript of members of the Stalin Prize Committee debating the eligibility of Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony. The account is side-splittingly hilarious, with most of the participants trying to talk down one especially perturbed official who believed that Prokofiev had sought to depict, in the last movement, galloping youngsters disrespectfully thumbing their noses at their elders (he asks at one point why they couldn’t instead be performing a waltz). Another official insisted that he couldn’t detect anyone thumbing their noses; the passage in question sounded more to him like ice-skating. Shostakovich was among those present, and he must have been dying. Even Tikhon Khrennikov came across as a voice of reason.