Bard SummerScape Celebrates 20th Anniversary with Seven Weeks of Music, Opera, Music-Theater, and Spiegeltent in New York’s Hudson Valley, June 23–August 13

  • World premiere of Illinois, a New Commission from Sufjan Stevens, Justin Peck, and Jackie Sibblies Drury

  • First Major American Production of Saint-Saëns’s Henri VIII

  • 33rd Bard Music Festival: “Vaughan Williams and His World”

  • Spiegeltent, a day-long Community Celebration, and a Robust Lineup of Livestreams

  • Annandale-on-Hudson, NY—The Fisher Center at Bard and its renowned annual Bard SummerScape festival both celebrate their 20th anniversaries this year. “A hotbed of intellectual and aesthetic adventure” (New York Times), SummerScape returns to New York’s Hudson Valley this summer with seven weeks of live music, opera, music-theater, and more, in the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center and other venues on the idyllic Bard College campus (June 23–Aug 13). In keeping with the Fisher Center’s reputation as a leading incubator of new work, SummerScape opens with the world premiere of Illinois – a new music-theater commission from Grammy nominee Sufjan Stevens, Tony Award winner Justin Peck, and Pulitzer Prize laureate Jackie Sibblies Drury – which is based on Stevens’s beloved 2005 album of the same name. Next, Camille Saint-Saëns’s grand opera Henri VIII receives its first major American production. The opera is set in Britain, home of Ralph Vaughan Williams; through eleven themed concerts, plus panel discussions and special events, the 33rd Bard Music Festival, “Vaughan Williams and His World,” offers an in-depth re-examination of the great but frequently misunderstood British composer. Bard’s beloved Spiegeltent returns for live music and performance, dining, and dancing, and, to complete the summer lineup, Henry VIII and six of the Bard Music Festival concerts will stream live to home audiences worldwide onUpstreaming, the Fisher Center’s virtual stage. Chartered coach transportation from New York City is available for select SummerScape and Bard Music Festival programs; see details below.

    SummerScape offers “one of the best lineups of the summer for fans of any arts discipline” (New York Sun). Through residencies and commissions, the Fisher Center demonstrates its commitment to sustaining long-term relationships with creators and performers, enabling them to develop important new work for the Fisher Center’s stages and beyond. This, along with the Bard Music Festival’s innovative and richly thematic programming, ensures that SummerScape consistently brings some of today’s most compelling creative artists into dialogue with great classics of the past. All told, the festival offers “seven weeks of cultural delight” (International Herald Tribune).

    Click here for other highlights of the Fisher Center’s 20th anniversary season, which runs from April through October.

    Bard SummerScape 2023

    Music-theater: Illinois (world premiere of new SummerScape commission)

    SummerScape’s previous theater and dance commissions include Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma!, which won a Tony Award on Broadway, toured the U.S., and is now playing in London’s West End, where it has been nominated for seven Olivier Awards; Pam Tanowitz’s immensely acclaimed Four Quartets; and Tanowitz and David Lang’s Song of Songs, now embarking on an international tour.

    This summer, three of today’s most imaginative artistic voices come together for the world premiereproduction of Illinois. A new SummerScape commission, Illinois is a full-length theatrical adaptation of the chart-topping 2005 concept album of the same name by Grammy and Academy Award-nominated singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Already enjoying cult status for its lush orchestrations and inventive portrayal of the midwestern state and its people, landscapes, and history, now Stevens’s album forms the basis of an exuberant new pageant of storytelling, theater, live music, and dance. Tony Award-winner Justin Peck, Resident Choreographer of the New York City Ballet, directs and choreographs this version of Illinois, which tells a story he created in collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury. Featuring three vocalists and a live band, who perform Stevens’s music and lyrics in new arrangements that range in style from folk and indie rock to ambient electronics, the production takes audiences on a wild ride through the American heartland.

    SummerScape’s Illinois premieres in six performances at the Sosnoff Theater (June 23–July 2)*, with a pre-performance, opening-night members’ toast (June 23), an exclusive opening-night after-party with the cast and creative team at one of Bard’s historic estates (June 23), a pre-performance talk (June 25) and a post-performance conversation with the artists (June 30).

    * Illinois will have its world premiere at the Fisher Center, with the press opening taking place at a Chicago theater to be announced soon.

    Opera: Saint-Saëns’s Henri VIII (first major American production)

    SummerScape opera has been called “an indispensable part of the summer operatic landscape” (Musical America). This summer’s offering is Henri VIII (1883), a grand opera by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921), the subject of the 2012 Bard Music Festival, whose long and remarkable career helped shape the course of French music. Although he wrote twelve works for the stage, today Saint-Saëns’s operatic reputation rests solely on Samson and Delilah. Henri VIII only received its U.S. premiere in 1974, and revivals remain rare even in Europe. However, in its depiction of the historic love triangle between the infamous Tudor king; his first wife, Catherine of Aragon; and the mistress who would become his second, Anne Boleyn, the opera boasts some of Saint-Saëns’s richest orchestration and most exquisite vocal writing. After a concert performance of the work at SummerScape 2012, the New York Times observed: “Well paced by Mr. Botstein and played with infectious enthusiasm by the American Symphony Orchestra, the music throughout is simply gorgeous.”

    Now Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra reprise their interpretation for a fully staged new production of the work by French director Jean-Romain Vesperini, whose previous credits include original productions for Paris National Opera, Opera Hong Kong, and Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater. Last seen in SummerScape 2019’s The Miracle of Heliane, bass-baritone Alfred Walker sings the title role, with soprano Amanda Woodbury as Catherine d’Aragon and mezzo-soprano Lindsay Ammann as the beautiful but ambitious Anne Boleyn. Featuring projections by Thomas Ocampo, costumes by Alain Blanchot, and sets by regular Vesperini collaborator Bruno de Lavenère, Henri VIII will be presented in five performances in the Sosnoff Theater (July 21–July 30). In addition to Botstein’s annual Opera Talk before the Sunday matinee (July 23), there will be a Premiere Party before the opening night (July 21), an opening-night intermission toast (July 21), and a members’ toast before the final performance (July 30).

    Music: 33rd Bard Music Festival, “Vaughan Williams and His World”

    Founded by co-artistic director Leon Botstein, the Bard Music Festival is widely recognized as “the summer’s most stimulating music festival” (Los Angeles Times). This year’s subject is Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958), one of the 20th century’s preeminent symphonists and most widely performed composers. Today he is seen as an icon of British identity, whose devotion to the folksongs, hymns, and Renaissance composers of his homeland helped shape the national sound. Yet there is a tendency to privilege the pastoral and nostalgic elements of his music over the radically unsparing modernism of some of his greatest works, many of which are rarely heard. To redress this balance, “Vaughan Williams and His World” presents an illuminating series of concerts, pre-concert talks, panel discussions and special events over the final two weekends of SummerScape. On August 4–6, Weekend One contextualizes the composer among his fellow Victorians, Edwardians, and Moderns, and on August 10–13, Weekend Two explores his role in creating what may come to be remembered as A New Elizabethan Age?. Over the two weekends, eleven concert programs explore a variety of themes through the prism of his life and career.

    These programs will present a broad sampling of Vaughan Williams’s own oeuvre, from such audience favorites as The Lark Ascending and the Tallis Fantasia to his biblical ballet, Job, A Masque for Dancing; his Shakespearean opera, Sir John in Love; and his blisteringly uncompromising Fourth Symphony. These will be heard alongside music by his teachers Charles Villiers Stanford, C. Hubert Parry, Max Bruch, and Maurice Ravel; his British friends, classmates and other contemporaries, from such luminaries as Gustav Holst, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and Rebecca Clarke to less familiar figures like Edmund Rubbra and Maude Valérie White; his students, including Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Ivor Gurney, Constant Lambert, and Elizabeth Maconchy; others he influenced, including Samuel Barber and Michael Tippett; and the Tudor composers he revered, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons among them.

    Featuring the newly renovated organ of the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in nearby Rhinebeck, two special events explore “Music for School, Parish, and Home.” Finally, two thought-provoking panel discussions and a series of informative pre-concert talks will illuminate each concert’s themes, and there will be an opening-night social in the Spiegeltent. Showcasing both the American Symphony Orchestraand The Orchestra Now under Botstein’s leadership, the Bard Music Festival “always assembles an edifying mix of academic and aesthetic delights” (New Yorker).

    Spiegeltent: live music, performance, dancing & more in the
    tent of mirrors

    A handmade pavilion of mirrors and stained glass, Bard’s authentic Belgian Spiegeltent has enchanted guests since its introduction to the festival in 2006. The mirrored tent provides a sumptuous environment for cutting-edge live music and dancing on Fridays, Saturdays, and some Sundays throughout the festival (June 23–Aug 12), with a new “Bluegrass on Hudson” series on Thursdays. Weekend highlights will include both long-time favorites and first-time faces. Offering something for everyone, the Spiegeltent extends the Fisher Center’s core developmental mission by developing long-term support for superlative artists. Full programming and schedule will be announced in May.

    20th Anniversary Community Celebration

    On July 15, Bard invites members of the local community to the Fisher Center for a free, day-long 20th anniversary celebration. Local DJ Ali brings her family-friendly Kinder Disco to the Spiegeltent; interactive building tours provide a look behind the scenes in the Fisher Center; and the Latin Grammy-winners of all-female mariachi outfit Flor de Toloache give a special al-fresco performance, filling the lawn with their signature re-interpretations of traditional mariachi music. After hours, over-21s can dance the night away in the Spiegeltent with WKZE radio’s DJ MK ULTRA.

    Round-trip bus transportation from New York City

    Chartered coach transportation from New York City is available for Illinois (June 25 and July 2), Henri VIII (July 23 & 30) and the final program of the Bard Music Festival (Aug 13). This may be ordered online or by calling the box office at 845-758-7900, and the meeting point for pick-up and drop-off is at Lincoln Center on Amsterdam Avenue, between 64th and 65th Streets. More information is available here.

    SummerScape tickets

    Tickets for mainstage events start at $25. For complete information regarding tickets, series discounts, and more, visit or call Bard’s box office at (845) 758-7900.

    The Fisher Center is generously supported by Jeanne Donovan Fisher, the Martin and Toni Sosnoff Foundation, the Advisory Boards of the Fisher Center at Bard and Bard Music Festival, Fisher Center and Bard Music Festival members, the Ettinger Foundation, the Thendara Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature. Fisher Center LAB has received funding from members of the Live Arts Bard Creative Council, the Lucille Lortel Foundation, and the Fisher Center’s Artistic Innovation Fund, with lead support from Rebecca Gold and S. Asher Gelman ’06 through the March Forth Foundation.
       Illinois is a co-commission of the Fisher Center, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and the Perelman Performing Arts Center, and has been made possible with a commissioning grant from The O’Donnell-Green Music and Dance Foundation and residency support from Project Springboard: Developing Dance Musicals. The production is generously supported by Emily Blavatnik and the Blavatnik Family Foundation.
       Henri VIII has received support from Villa Albertine.
       The 2023 Bard Music Festival has received support from the Vaughan Williams Foundation.

    SummerScape 2023: key dates

    June 23–July 2
    Music-theater: Illinois by Justin Peck, Sufjan Stevens and Jackie Sibblies Drury
    (world premiere of new SummerScape commission)

    June 23–Aug 12
    Spiegeltent: live music and dancing

    July 15
    20th Anniversary Community Celebration (free)

    July 21–30
    Opera: Saint-Saëns’s Henri VIII (new production)

    Aug 4–6
    Bard Music Festival: Vaughan Williams and His World
    Weekend One: Victorians, Edwardians, and Moderns

    Aug 10–13
    Bard Music Festival: Vaughan Williams and His World
    Weekend Two: A New Elizabethan Age?

    All programs subject to change
This event was last updated on 04-10-2023