It takes gumption, perseverance, and a little bit of luck to pull off the launch of a new music festival. Booking artists and locations and generating buzz for such an event is no small task, but it was one that the co-founders of Bard Music West—SFCM alumni Allegra Chapman ’13 and Laura Gaynon ’14—were up to. The inaugural Bard Music West, an extension of the Bard Music Festival which takes place annually in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, ran from March 17–18 at San Francisco’s Noe Valley Ministry and was dedicated the works, influence, and musical sphere of György Ligeti. The festival’s two full days, comprising four specific events, included talks and performances, featuring world-class musicians such as pianist Lucille Chung and the contemporary music chorus Volti.
“The World of György Ligeti exceeded our hopes for our first festival,” reflected Allegra Chapman. “Getting a festival like this off the ground took a lot of planning. Every time something went wrong, or we hit a dead end, we had to pick ourselves up and keep going. Until we got to the week of the festival, I had a hard time believing that it was finally happening. The positive energy of the musicians was contagious and the audience joined in the excitement.”
The idea behind Bard Music West is to “explore the music and influences of 20th-century and contemporary composers.” According to Chapman, this first year saw some contemporary music converts as a result of the programming. “There were quite a few audience members who weren't contemporary music fans, but attended because they were intrigued by the eclectic programs,” she said. “Several of them told me afterwards that they were surprised by how much Ligeti's music moved them. Those comments made me feel that the festival truly was a success."
Laura Gaynon echoed the sentiment that this festival was in some way a game changer for audiences and the approach to programming. “I think we managed to make something unique, and programmed work that another Ligeti-centered music festival might not have. The idea that multiple art forms influence a composer's work makes sense, yet you don't often see Samuel Beckett plays, Charlie Chaplin films, or Transylvanian folk music on classical programs. It had the diversity of a variety show, but the focus of a dedicated, composer-themed concert, and that's what we were going for.”
The success of Bard Music West’s first year falls in line with the Bay Area’s keen interest and history with contemporary and pioneering music. Events like Bard Music West and the Hot Air Music Festival, as well as venues and concert series like the San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox, showcase the very present appetite for new and interesting concert experiences in the Bay Area. It’s clear this festival is certainly among friends.