Rediscovering Nadia Boulanger

Bard College in New York is mounting a two-week festival that seeks to reintroduce a 20th-century musical figure described by one of her pupils, composer Virgil Thomson, as “a one‐woman graduate school so powerful and so permeating that legend credits every U.S. town with two things: a five‐and‐dime and a Boulanger pupil.”

Nadia Boulanger died in 1979, and most of her best-known students – Thomson, Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Walter Piston, Elliott Carter, Marc Blitzstein, Jean Françaix, Igor Markevitch, Grażyna Bacewicz, Dinu Lipatti, Yehudi Menuhin, Astor Piazzolla – also have passed from the scene. A few are still with us: Philip Glass, Quincy Jones, Daniel Barenboim, John Eliot Gardiner.

Boulanger’s stature as a teacher overshadowed her work as a musicologist, conductor and composer. She was the first woman to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and BBC Symphony Orchestra, and led the premiere of Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto. She was one of the most prominent advocates for the modern revival of early music, making pioneering recordings of the works of Claudio Monteverdi in the 1930s.

She might have been one of the first prominent female composers had she not discounted her own work and given up composition in favor of promoting the music of her short-lived younger sister, Lili.

The Bard festival, “Nadia Boulanger and Her World,” beginning Aug. 6, “invites a reconsideration of her life and legacy,” with her music performed alongside works by her sister as well as her contemporaries and students, William Robin writes in The New York Times: