Escape to Summerscape

A tiny college in the Hudson Valley becomes the most unexpected summer destination worth a day trip.



The Richard B. Fisher Center, designed by Frank Gehry.

We know that when you think “Bard” and “summer performances,” your mind jumps to Shakespeare in the Park. But we’re not talking about that Bard—and, in fact, we’re suggesting that you travel in the other direction.
The destination: Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, a day-trip’s drive into Dutchess County. While, during most of the year, the teeny liberal-arts hub of just 1,600 undergrads probably doesn’t warrant a visit unless you have a college-bound teen, in summer it’s an entirely different environment. That’s because the Bard Summerscape rolls into town, setting up shop in the twisted, Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts and under the circus-like Spiegeltent, which hosts a theater-in-the-round.

     The programming is, well, eclectic, with a gypsy-caravan-meets-the-Philharmonic vibe. There are Viennese operas and orchestrations. There are evening cabarets with performers from Australia, Albania, and Timbuktu. There are 35-mm screenings of Austrian films. There are family vaudeville acts. And, when you’re not catching a show, you can head to the Spiegeltent for locally sourced picnic food—or late-night dancing to DJs. (It closes at 1 am.)

     Here, just a sampling of this month’s offerings:

Bard Music Festival
August 13 to August 22
     Each year, the Bard Music Festival—the festival-within-the-festival—selects one composer and explores everything from his influences to the music he influenced. This year, it’s Alban Berg, best known for his first opera, Wozzeck. Taking place across two weekends, the festival’s organizers designed 12 programs centered around Berg’s work, along with a slew of pre-concert talks, panel discussions, and one free symposium, titled “Rethinking the Modern,” on August 20. The first weekend of the festival focuses on his early work and life in turn-of-the-century Vienna, and the second explores his work for international organizations. The festival kicks off on August 13 with a concert lead by the Daedalus Quartet and Jeremy Denk (ask about the opening-night dinner held in the Spiegeltent).

The Distant Sound (Der ferne Klang)
July 30 to August 6
     Franz Schreker may not be as famous as his Viennese contemporaries, but his operas are critically acclaimed and often still performed in Europe. The festival hosts a fully staged production of his 1912 work, The Distant Sound, directed by Thaddeus Strassberger and backed by the American Symphony Orchestra. Also look for performances of Oscar Straus’s The Chocolate Soldier.

Brian Dewan, appearing on August 5, plays the most normal instrument in his repertoire.

Brian Dewan
August 5
     This offbeat musician, appearing as part of the “Thursday Night Live” series, will probably come out playing instruments you’ve never heard of—many of his own devising—including the electric zither, the lithophone, and the swarmatron. The music he makes with these contraptions sounds equally as kooky.

Kim Smith
August 6
     The Australian singer continues the festival’s spirit of the unexpected by performing Weimar-inspired cabaret shows—in English, German, and French (not bad for an Aussie). His repertoire also contains some surprises, with songs from the Divinyls in the program alongside tunes by Harold Arlen.

Noche Porteña: The Sensuous Music and Dance of Buenos Aires
August 7
     Sounds hot, right? The catch: you have to provide the sensuous dances. Don’t worry—you’ll have help. Woodstock Tango gives a no-partner-necessary introductory lesson to the Argentine tango, and then you’re let loose to shake it on the dance floor with Argentine musicians as your backing band. If you’re a night owl, stick around and DJs will play recordings from the “Golden Age of Tango” even after the band has packed it up and gone home.

Khaira Arby and Her Band
August 12
     When you think of the blues, you probably think of the Mississippi Delta. Khaira Arby’s blues come from someplace entirely different—the desert near Timbuktu in Mali. Hear what happens when electric guitars and bass meet traditional West African instruments.

Albanian Folk Music with Merita Halili and the Raif Hyseni Orchestra
August 20
     From Timbuktu, it’s just a quick flight to Albania, right? There’s no modernizing here—just traditional Albanian instrumentals and folk songs performed by artists known for being the best performers of the form.

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus
August 21 and August 22
     Of course, the children can’t be left out, and the festival offers a whole slate of family performances. But don’t expect your typical kid-targeted theater, either. This performance combines the vibes of a traditional circus with vaudevillian flair and even a bit of those Old Wild West shows. (Later in the evening on August 21, they do an 18+ version of the show with a bit of burlesque thrown in for good measure.)

For information or tickets, call the Richard B. Fisher Center box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit fishercenter.bard.edu/summer scape/2010.

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