Bard Music Festival receives stellar reviews after Music academic’s role as scholar-in-residence

The Bard Music Festival is a world-renowned season of concerts and events to celebrate and better understand a single composer, which is held every autumn at Bard College, a liberal arts college in New York State.

This year’s festival, which ran for two weeks from August 4th, focused on Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of the most innovative and creative figures in 20th century music. Professor Dan Grimley, who is Professor of Music and Head of Humanities at Oxford University, played a key role in the 33rd iteration of the festival as co-scholar-in-residence with Professor Byron Adams of the University of California, Riverside.

The Bard Music Festival aims to promotes new ways of understanding and presenting the history of music to a contemporary audience. The biography of the chosen composer, the influences and consequences of that composer’s achievement, and all aspects of the musical culture surrounding the time and place of the composer’s life are explored.

This year’s festival certainly delivered on its aims, as demonstrated in a glowing review in the New York Times. The Times’ critic David Allen wrote: “For the conductor Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College and one of the festival’s leaders, sustaining eclectic listening is practically a reason for living. And the Bard Music Festival excels at that. Not only does this year’s iteration argue for Vaughan Williams himself, but with the assistance of a phalanx of academics led by two scholars in residence, Byron Adams and Daniel M. Grimley, it laudably brings to life a musical culture that normally receives no attention outside Britain, and precious little even there.”

Professor Grimley said: “I was delighted to work on this year’s Bard Festival and bring the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams to new audiences in the United States. It was heartening to see such a warm and interested reception from US audiences to a composer who is much more widely known and celebrated in the UK. The Bard Music Festival is an outstanding example of how the research and study of music can inform and enliven the way it is performed and received by audiences.”

The Festival comprised a series of concerts at Bard College’s campus by New York’s Hudson River. Some of the events were also live-streamed, and more information about all the performances and talks can be found on Bard’s website.

What’s more, the festival's legacy will live on through a new selection of specially commissioned essays on Vaughan Williams, edited by Professors Grimley and Adams in collaboration with the Bard Music Festival. It is called Vaughan Williams and His World and published by The University of Chicago Press.

Describing the book, Professors Grimley and Adams said: “After Vaughan Williams’ death, shifting priorities in the music world led to a period of critical neglect. What could not have been foreseen is that by the second decade of the twenty-first century, a handful of Vaughan Williams’s scores would attain immense popularity worldwide. Yet the present renown of these pieces has led to misapprehension about the nature of Vaughan Williams’s cultural nationalism and a distorted view of his international cultural and musical significance. “

The book traces the composer’s stylistic and aesthetic development in a broadly chronological fashion, reappraising Vaughan Williams’s music composed during and after the Second World War and affirming his status as an artist whose leftist political convictions pervaded his life and music. Professors Grimley and Adams added: “This volume reclaims Vaughan Williams’s deeply held progressive ethical and democratic convictions while celebrating his achievements as a composer.”