This summer, Dr. Halina Goldberg, Professor of Musicology at the Jacobs School of Music and affiliate faculty with the Russian and East European Institute, Polish Studies Center, and Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University, spent two weeks in upstate New York participating in the Bard Music Festival. Founded in 1990, the world-renowned summer festival is unique in its approach to bring together scholarship and performance, while highlighting a single composer each year. Over the course of two weekends, the festival presents a series of concerts, panels, pre-concert lectures, and other activities related to the composer. One or two top experts in the field are invited to serve as scholars-in-residence for each festival. Among other contributions, they edit a volume of collected scholarly essays and source documents, which is published by Princeton University Press ahead of the festival.
This year, the festival honored the great Polish composer and virtuoso pianist, Fryderyk Chopin. As one of the world’s leading scholars on Chopin, Dr. Goldberg worked tirelessly with colleague and friend Dr. Jonathan Bellman, Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado, as well as the co-directors of the Bard Festival to bring Chopin’s music and his world to eager audiences. Ph.D. candidate in musicology Christine Wisch had the pleasure of catching up with the busy professor to learn more about the collaborative process and her experience this summer.
CW: How did you come to be part of the Bard Festival, and what was your involvement?
HG: I was invited by the festival organizers and welcomed the opportunity to work with Dr. Jonathan Bellman, my collaborator on several other projects. Our most demanding task was to co-edit, on a very tight timeline, the collection of essays. We solicited chapters from leading scholars who are doing exciting and meaningful work about Chopin, his music, and the context in which his works were created and heard. We also wrote introductory essays and annotations for source documents selected by us for the book. In addition to preparing the book, we collaborated with the directors of the festival on concert and lecture programming. The festival provides audience members with an extensive and visually attractive (mainly, because of the inclusion of high-quality reproductions of relevant artwork) program booklet, which is comprised of an extensive timeline and program notes that contextualize the music they will hear within Polish and French cultures. During the festival, Jonathan and I each led a panel and engaged with audiences through lectures and discussions. This year, Bard Festival for the first time offered a blog feature: my blog post was on the Chopin Piano Competition that took place during the politically turbulent months of 1980 (http://blogs.bard.edu/bmf/category/halina-goldberg/).
CW: The Bard Festival seems to alternate composers who are household names with composers whose music is not yet as well known. Where do you feel Chopin and his music fit, and what made him a successful composer of choice for this year’s festival?
HG: Chopin is the most familiar of composers for these audience members. For many, contact with art music started with the piano, so they have played Chopin’s music and know it intimately. But, they know little about him in relation to Polish and French cultures of his time. Because Chopin wrote primarily for the piano, there was an initial concern that there would not be enough variety of music to feature over the two weeks. However, most audiences know Chopin’s solo piano works but not his songs or chamber pieces, and they may not know what music he heard or performed. So, in addition to compositions by Chopin, we featured music that made up his sonic world, including salon pieces by his contemporaries and close friends such as Pauline Viardot and Auguste Franchomme, concert works by famous virtuosos of his era, including Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Ignaz Moscheles, wind symphonies, and choral music. When you open the programming up to the “and his world” component, it affords great programming flexibility, and an opportunity for audiences to connect with the broader history.
CW: I saw that you gave a pre-concert talk on the opera Halka by Stanisław Moniuszko. How did this opera fit into the festival’s overall program, and why is it an important work to you?
HG: Chopin was an incredibly gifted composer, and everyone expected him to write the “first Polish national opera,” but he never wrote such a work. That task fell to his fellow countryman, Stanisław Moniuszko, who in 1848, just as Chopin’s life was coming to a close, premiered the first version of his Halka, an opera composed to a libretto by Włodzimierz Wolski. The work has come to be regarded as Poland’s “first national opera.” The opera is rarely performed in the United States, so it was my pleasure to give a talk about this work and see it introduced to new audiences.
CW: What was your favorite part about Bard, and what makes it special?
HG: The audience of this festival is unlike any other I have encountered. They are eager to learn from academics, to engage in conversations, and very appreciative of our contributions. It is incredibly fulfilling to speak to hundreds of people in such beautiful venues. Fisher Hall, one of Frank Gehry’s designs, is stunningly beautiful and has terrific acoustics. And, the performers were incredible. It is hard to pick just one “favorite” part, as what makes it special is the combination of variety, quantity, and quality of events. One night I was able to sit at the Spiegeltent, an informal performance space at Bard, and enjoy a concert by members of Bard Music West, a West Coast festival dedicated to 20th- and 21st-century music and modeled on its namesake. Their concert traced Chopin’s influence through present-day Polish composers, and included works by Henryk Górecki and Grażyna Bacewicz, one of my favorite composers, as well as living composers Marta Ptaszyńska and Mikołaj Górecki (the son of Henryk and an alumnus of IU’s Jacobs School of Music). Truly the breadth of thoughtful programming and quality of musicians was astounding.
CW: So, what’s next?
HG: Well, for Bard Music Festival, it is the Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose works and world will be featured next summer—I am especially excited about their plans to perform Anton Rubinstein’s famous opera "The Demon." For me, there are various projects related to Chopin, and my other area of scholarship, Jews and Jewishness in Polish music. At the moment, I am co-organizing the 5th Polish-Jewish Workshop, which will take place March 5-6, 2018 at Rutgers; our topic this year is “Centering the Periphery: Polish Jewish Cultural Production Beyond the Capital.” I am also continuing work on a digital project that focuses on Jewish Life in interwar Łódź. This project brings light to a fascinating Polish city and its diverse Jewish population during such an important period, at a threshold of modernity and on the brink of destruction. I’m committed to seeing this project grow!
Readers interested in learning more about Dr. Goldberg’s digital humanities project, which is the recipient of a New Frontiers Grant, Collaborative Research and Creative Activity Funding, and The Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program Funding, are invited to peruse the website: http://jewish-lodz.iu.edu/en/