The Leaf Peepers Concert Series Plans A Bold 35th Season
By Amy Krzanik
Composer Tonia Ko
Borrowing its name from our region’s annual fall phenomenon, The Leaf Peeper Concert Series, presented each year by Clarion Concerts in Columbia County, will hold four unique performances at four different area venues every other Saturday from Sept. 10 to Oct. 22. The series — born in New York City in 1957 by the late musicologist and conductor Newell Jenkins and his partner, Jack Hurley — is helmed by acclaimed flutist Eugenia Zuckerman, who took over from Sanford Allen, a former violinist with the New York Philharmonic who directed the series from 1996 until his retirement in 2014.
Although it’s the oldest classical music organization in the county, the series doesn’t dwell in the past, and is known for mixing traditional and contemporary chamber music, providing performance opportunities for promising young artists, and commissioning new works.
Zuckerman, who served as artistic director of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival for 13 years, is excited about the stellar lineup of musicians participating in this year’s series. You can witness two of these superstar young musicians, pianist Jeewon Park and cellist Edward Arron — who will be performing with violinist Tessa Lark and Paul Green on clarinet — right out of the gate during “Autumn Echoes,” the first of the series’ concerts this Saturday at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School in Ghent, NY. Along with works by Beethoven, Schoenfeld and Brahms, “Echoes” will include “Elegy for Cello and Piano,” which the series commissioned from Tonia Ko and which will be performed for the first time ever during the concert.
The Shanghai String Quartet
“Our opening concert will take place at a school on a working farm,” says Zukerman, “and I think that speaks to the whole concept of this area and what I love about it. Even though houses are far apart, there’s a real sense of community here, and an interesting mix of older and younger people.”
The rest of the lineup is no less thrilling, and we can see why Leaf Peepers almost doubled its attendance during its 2015 season. The second concert, “From East To West,” will feature the much in-demand Shanghai Quartet, who will be joined by Zukerman on flute, at St. James Church in Chatham, NY.
“Classically Romantic,” at Our Lady of Hope Church in Copake on Oct. 8, will feature Daniel Chong, first violinist in the Parker Quartet, along with Melissa Reardon, a violist in the Grammy-nominated Enso String Quartet, and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan who is a founding member of the Horszowski Trio.
“What I love about the musicians I’ve invited is that these are people who play a lot with their own groups, but also they’re curious and interested in playing with other people,” says Zukerman. “They’re very enthusiastic, fun and flexible performers.”
Leaf Peepers concludes with “Basking in the Baroque” at Hillsdale Methodist Church on Oct. 22. Cellist Astrid Schween of the Juilliard String Quartet and pianist Giovanni Reggioli will be joined by baritone Gustavo Ahualli and Zukerman’s daughter, soprano Arianna Zukerman.
The Leaf Peeper Concert Series
Sept. 10: “Autumn Echoes” at Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, Ghent, NY
Sept. 24: “From East to West” at St. James Church, Chatham, NY
Oct. 8: “Classically Romantic” at Our Lady of Hope Church, Copake, NY
Oct. 22: “Basking in the Baroque” at Hillsdale Methodist Church, Hillsdale, NY
All concerts begin at 7:30 p.m.
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Oldtone Roots Music Festival Is A Fun New Frolic
Lauren Ambrose and Kip Beacco at 2015’s festival
By Amy Krzanik
As the Duke Ellington song says, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing,” and the Oldtone Roots Music Festival does got that swing, and that bluegrass, that old-time country, as well as Cajun, contra and Appalachian folk music. Held for one day in Wassaic in 2015, Oldtone will go big this year, with a four-day fest at Cool Whisper Farm in Hillsdale, New York from Thursday, Sept. 8 to Sunday, Sept. 11.
The festival’s founders and producers, Berkshire County musicians Kip Beacco, Matt Downing and Jim Wright, are well known in the roots music world from their bands The Lucky Five, The Hunger Mountain Boys, The Hayrollers and other groups. The trio have used their connections to curate a lineup that includes respected Louisiana Cajun musician Jesse Lége and his Bayou Brew, banjo player Tony Trischka, Michael Daves, The Two Man Gentlemen Band from California whose set will be its only public performance of 2016, NYC’s Raya Brass Band and other singers, duos, trios and full bands from our area and beyond.
Cool Whisper Farm
Friday evening will feature The Oldtone Classic Country Revue offering a convergence of all-star musicians Caleb Klauder, Lauren Ambrose, Andy Bean, Bradford Lee Folk, Pete Adams, Brian Kantor, Sauerkraut Seth Travins and others taking the stage together for a big howdy-doo.
A dance tent will offer live music each night so folks can get their ya-yas out contra, swing or square dancing. There will even be traditional Appalachian clogging. Roots music bands and instrumentalists are invited to participate in contests, and there will be intimate workshops with festival artists on Friday and Saturday.
In true family-friendly style, Oldtone is offering three nights of camping, food and plenty of activities for kids such as music by Hopalong Andrew, face painting, instrument lessons and more. A Friday night Cajun gumbo prepared by The Farmer’s Wife will be overseen by real live Southerner Jesse Lege, and the farm will host a pig roast on Saturday. Hoo-boy! That’s a lot of action.
Hopalong Andrew photo by Bernie DeChant
“We really wanted to do a full-on festival this time, and it just snowballed,” says Beacco. “If we’re doing Friday and Saturday, we might as well do Thursday, and people will camp over Saturday, so we should have some bands on Sunday morning… It’s like when you sit down to eat and your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”
We’re excited to participate in the hoedown and we won’t be alone. “Some people don’t go to festivals because they have an idea that it’s going to be another Lollapalooza or Woodstock, but Oldtone is really for everyone from newborns to 95-year-olds.”
Oldtone Roots Music Festival
Thursday, Sept. 8—Sunday, Sept. 11
Cool Whisper Farm
1011 County Road 21, Hillsdale, NY
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It’s Un Bel Di As We Welcome The Berkshire Opera Festival
By Lisa Green
Since the Berkshire Opera Company folded in 2008, opera productions have been conspicuously absent from the performing arts scene in the Berkshires. So when Jonathon Loy and Brian Garman, both accomplished opera directors and conductors, announced plans to form the Berkshire Opera Festival, it wasn’t only opera aficionados that applauded the venture. While the principals in the cast of the first production, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, come from elsewhere, Loy and Garman didn’t have to go far to cast and hire many of the chorus, musicians and creative team members.
“I’m very happy to say that about 90 percent of our chorus is from the area, and nearly half of the orchestra is local,” says Garman. “There’s such a wealth of talent in the Berkshires that it would have been foolish not to tap into it. Employing local musicians whenever possible is central to the vision of Berkshire Opera Festival.”
The 2016 inaugural festival season opens on Aug. 27. You’ll appreciate it even more knowing who some of the locals are — on stage, behind it, and in the pit.
Beckie Kravetz, Wigs and Makeup Designer
Kravetz [in photo, above] is a world-renowned theatrical mask maker, which is how she started in the business, but through that segued into designing wigs and makeup. In 1988, she became the resident mask maker for the Los Angeles Opera, where she also worked as a principal makeup artist and assistant wig maker. Now living in Cummington, she’s missed working on opera productions. “I had a connection with an LA Opera colleague who had worked with Jonathon Loy at the Met (Opera Company), so when I read about the new company I introduced myself to him. Coming back to work in my own backyard is an incredible thrill.”
International costume designer Charles Caine, a 20-year Met veteran (and Egremont resident), is also working on this production. He had done a previous “Butterfly” with another wig and makeup designer, Steven Horak, who had a big wig stock, and those will be put to use in the Berkshire production. So Kravetz is primarily focusing on the makeup. While Kravetz often does dramatic, stylized painting for opera singers, she says Loy wants a subtle version of the Butterfly look, so the makeup will be only slightly dramatized.
The biggest challenge, she says, is that everybody is on stage in the first 15 minutes of the opera. “That’s a lot of people to get into wigs and makeup before the show,” she says. Fortunately, she has two assistants — Horak and an intern — and she’ll also be doing a training session with the cast to show them how to get started on their makeup. “Cat’s-eye (liner) works well as Asian eye makeup, and that’s really in style right now, so a lot of people know how to do it.”
Steve Hassmer, Chorus and Uncle Yakuside
The tenor, who lives in Great Barrington, has a small part in Madama Butterfly’s story, as the uncle in the wedding scene. Hassmer’s degree was in music education, but he’s done more performing than teaching; he was in a national tour of My Fair Lady and worked on cruise ships for a while (a “survival job,” he calls it).
“After my wife finished dental school, we moved back east and I’ve been a stay-at-home dad, but in the past year I’ve been looking to get back into performing,” he says. He gave a concert last year in Stockbridge, has been taking voice lessons with the renowned opera singer Maureen O’Flynn, and has sung with Berkshire Lyric and The Cantilena Chamber Choir.
“It’s been such a treat listening to the world-class opera singers,” Hassmer says. “The Berkshire Opera Festival is super professional. Brian Garman is a fabulous musical director, and Jonathon Loy is great at running the rehearsals. It takes a lot of courage to do what these guys are doing, start up a company. They should be commended for trying to bring opera back to the Berkshires.”
Deane Prouty, Orchestra Contractor and Timpanist
Splitting his time between New Marlborough and New York City, Deane Prouty has to be one of the busiest guys in any music scene anywhere. As the orchestra contractor, he is responsible for hiring all of the musicians, holding auditions for the string players and many of the brass and wind players, to put together an orchestra of the highest quality. “We try to fill the roster first with local musicians, then we reach out farther to Albany, Springfield, and then New York,” he says.
Contracting also entails arranging the payroll schedule, collecting paperwork, and managing as a go-between for musicians and staff. He is responsible for arranging the venues for rehearsals and attending to the necessities — such as adequate lighting and room temperature — for the musicians. All of this is on top of being the timpanist, and schlepping the big kettle drums to and from the venues. (Aside from playing in both the Berkshires and New York, Prouty also runs a percussion rental and repair business in the city.)
Prouty was a member of the former Berkshire Opera for eight seasons, so he was able to bring many of those musicians into the BOF. With his familiarity of the region, he says, “I’ve been able to help Brian Garman with Berkshire issues.”
Maia Robbins-Zust, Technical Director
Loy and Garman contacted Robbins-Zust, owner of Berkshire Production Resources, about three years ago when they were first dreaming up BOF. “They said they knew I was a technical director in the area, and could I advise them,” she says. She was the technical director for the Berkshire Opera Company until it folded, so it was a natural for her to take on the position again.
Robbins-Zust is responsible for everything on the production end — building the sets, adjusting the lighting, overseeing the wardrobe staff and supertitles. There are separate scenic and lighting designers, and it just so happens that the scenic designer, Steven Dubay, was a student of hers at Williams College (where she is the technical director of the theater department) a decade ago.
The company is renting theater space at Berkshire Community College to build the sets, and have hired some of the students there to work on the production. Which is a good thing, because there’s a growing need for technical services. “For a rural area like Berkshire County, there are more stagehands than usual because there’s so much here, and theater companies are producing year round now.”
Paula Farbman, Chorus Member and Cio Cio San’s Mother
Lee resident Paula Farbman was a voice major in college (she studied at Juilliard when she was in high school) and a high school chorus teacher in Long Island. She also taught private voice lessons. The soprano sings with The Cantilena Chamber Choir and several other local choruses, but this is the first costumed stage production she’s been in.
“I auditioned for the chorus, and got the role of the mother, singing within the chorus,” Farbman says. “It’s going to be fun. It’s not easy memorizing parts as we get older, but it’s nice singing with a lot of younger singers.”
Farbman thinks the chorus has a good blend, and she’s just as complimentary of the Berkshire Opera Festival staff. “They’re certainly very professional,” she says. “Every day is planned out, and they’re respectful of our time. I really have to say I’m impressed with all of the staff. Having sung a lot, I have a pretty good idea if people know what they’re doing, and these people really do.”
Richard Mickey, Cellist
Opera has been an essential element of Richard Mickey’s career from the beginning, having played with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company and the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company as a young student. As a member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, he worked under music directors who were major opera conductors, so he played a number of concert-form operas.
A Fellow of the Tanglewood Music Center for three years, he moved to the area in 1980, and is a busy freelancer. The Stockbridge resident is also a regular member of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Berkshire Lyric Theatre and many other orchestras.
Like some of the other musicians and creative staff, Mickey introduced himself to the Berkshire Opera Festival directors when he saw a news article announcing its intentions. “I’m very impressed with the group and the leadership,” Mickey says. “And I love the Colonial Theatre. It’s a wonderful asset to the Berkshires.”
Berkshire Opera Festival at The Colonial Theatre
August 27, August 30 & September 2 at 7:30 p.m.
111 South Street, Pittsfield, MA
Reserve tickets here or call (413) 997-4444.
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Chatham Dance Festival: Last Time In The Tent
By Amy Krzanik
RIOULT Dance NY
This August might be your last opportunity to see a Chatham Dance Festival performance in the tent at PS21. No, not because it’s closing up shop, but a key feature of it is changing forever. According to founder and board president Judy Grunberg, the organization hopes to retire its famous saddlespan tent next year in favor of a brand-new black-box theater being built a few hundred yards away.
So now is the time to experience one (or more — an all-dance pass is the best deal) of the hand-picked performances to get the full PS21 experience that audiences have been enjoying for the past decade.
Weekend one kicks off this Friday and Saturday with RIOULT Dance NY, Pascal Rioult’s modern dance company known for its sensual, articulate and musical works.
The second weekend, August 19 and 20, welcomes The Chase Brock Experience, a Brooklyn-based contemporary dance company led by Brock, who’s choreographed everything from Broadway shows (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The program will include a pieced titled The Song That I Sing; Or, Meow So Pretty, which the company describes as “equal parts Blue Ridge and Brooklyn” and a “restless, sexy, strummy work [that] employs a mash-up of tap, finger-tutting, clogging, hip-hop, square dance, step dance, jumpstyle and jazz.”
The Chase Brock Experience
On August 26 and 27, Dance Heginbotham (whose founder, choreographer John Heginbotham, received the 2014 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award), will perform some of its favorite works. The group is celebrated for, among other things, its “athleticism, theatricality, disarming wit and strangeness.”
PS21 favorite Parsons Dance will return to close out the season on Sept. 2 and 3. Warning: tickets to their annual performances sell out fast.
Each year the Festival tries more and more to incorporate the “behind the scenes” of dance, says Grunberg, so the audience can learn more about the companies. Dancers go into the schools, give lectures, and hold workshops for children and adults. This year, the Chatham Public Library will host a talk with Chase Brock; members of Dance Heginbotham will lead an inter-generational dance class for all ages and abilities; and Parsons Dance will hold three sessions geared toward teens.
“We want to bring the very best companies in so as to develop a knowledgeable dance audience in this area,” Grunberg says. The goal is to curate a varied lineup, with each troupe having its own unique flavor and style. “Everyone has a body and everyone moves,” she says. “Even people who think they aren’t interested in dance can find something they like here.”
Chatham Dance Festival at PS21
Friday, August 12—Saturday, September 3
2980 State Route 66, Chatham, NY
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Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) Plays On
Leonard Bernstein at BUTI. Photos courtesy Boston University Tanglewood Institute.
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
One of Andrew Hitz’s fondest memories from his four summers at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) is the night he got in trouble.
As a wide-eyed teenager soaking up all things musical, the aspiring tuba player had the chance to see the great Leonard Bernstein conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, in what would turn out to be the maestro’s last concert ever. (He died a few months later.)
Determined to shake Bernstein’s hand after the performance, Hitz missed the last shuttle bus up the road to campus, and straggled in long after curfew.
“We got yelled at by the resident assistants. We said, ‘But we met Leonard Bernstein!’ They didn’t care,” Hitz says with a hearty chuckle. The incredible thing in retrospect is that, in the context of a program that gives its students a kind of skeleton key to the behind-the-scenes action at Tanglewood, this particular rendezvous with greatness was not an adequate excuse.
“Experiences like that were a little surreal then and they are even more surreal now, looking back on them,” the tuba player says. Hitz, who relishes time at his family’s lakeside cottage in Otis during the summers, toured the world as a member of Boston Brass for 14 years, and now teaches music students, plays selected gigs, and hosts a podcast about the world of professional brass players.
Pianist Lang Lang coaching a BUTI student.
The BSO’s own Tanglewood Music Center, whose fellows are college-aged or older, has the higher public profile. But BUTI creates its own beehive of activity while mostly serving high school students. Some of those teenagers you sometimes see lugging instrument cases alongside Rt. 183 on the way from the West Street campus to Tanglewood will be some of tomorrow’s classical-music stars. But you can hear them now; BUTI presents more than 70 performances each season that are open to the public. Almost all are free.
This is BUTI’s 50th season. On August 6, a day of campus tours, a piano recital and an alumni panel discussion will culminate in a 50th anniversary show at Ozawa Hall at 2:30 p.m., emceed by Berkshire favorite and BUTI alumna Lauren Ambrose. Other alumni range from Harry Connick, Jr. to Ken-David Masur, assistant conductor for the BSO, who led a program earlier this summer at Tanglewood featuring famed soprano Renee Fleming.
Lauren Ambrose, BUTI alumna.
The August 6 concert will feature commissions by BUTI alumni Nico Muhly and Timo Andres.
“I would like to think that there are a million such places scattered around the world,” Muhly says of BUTI, “but to me it feels like a unique thing. It certainly was in my life. It was a defining musical and social thing. It’s why I’m a composer at all.”
After his time in the program, which gives students access to leading professionals in the field and all the musical magic of Tanglewood, Muhly became the youngest composer to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, and has been a rising star on the scene, writing across genres. He’s written a score for the New York City Ballet, arranged work by pop stars like Rufus Wainwright and Sufjan Stevens, and wrote the music for the 2013 Broadway revival of “The Glass Menagerie.” He’s also been no stranger to the Berkshires since his time at BUTI, writing a commission for the Aston Magna Festival in 2014.
Composer/alum Nico Muhly.
“It was the first time I realized that this is a viable way an adult can behave,” Muhly says of his time in Lenox. “As a kid, saying you want to be a composer is like saying you want to be an astronaut. Then you turn up and go, not only can I do it, but it can be this great thing that happens in this beautiful landscape with all these fun people.”
New BUTI executive director Hilary Field Respass is the first person to hold that job in a full-time capacity; her predecessors doubled as Boston University faculty. Along with another full-time hire, she’s been charged with finding ways for the program to be more self-supporting and not wholly dependent on the university.
“We’re in a period of really focusing on expanding our network of support,” Respass says, citing outreach among alumni and other fans of the program. “We’re really being aggressive and assertive about finding partners to expand our base of support and expand our programming.”
And so, 50 years on and largely outside of the public eye, the aspiring musicians at BUTI continue to play, practice and soak it all in. All of Tanglewood is their classroom, and, once in a while, there’s even a really good reason to miss curfew.
Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) 50th Anniversary Celebration
Saturday, Aug. 6
9-10:30 a.m. Campus tours
11:30 a.m. Piano recital featuring students and alumni from the Young Artists Piano Program
12:45 p.m. Alumni panel discussion: “Changing Lives, Influencing the World”
2:30 p.m. 50th Anniversary Concert at Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood. Tickets: $20
4:30-6:30 p.m.: BUTI@50 Soiree post-concert reception. Tickets: $30
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Egremont Village Inn Brings Music Back To The Barn
By Lisa Green
When a family of professional musicians (plus one videographer) revitalize an inn that has a barn on its property, you can be sure the old saw, “hey kids, let’s have a show,” has entered their thoughts. If only it were that easy, or immediate. But after several years of renovations, the circa 1830s barn behind the Egremont Village Inn in South Egremont, Mass. is ready for its closeup. On July 8 and 9, the barn doors open and a live music series commences with a celebratory concert featuring Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw.
Gigi Teeley [left], a singer who has owned and run the Egremont Village Inn with family members since 2012, recalls how she fell madly in love with the barn when they bought the property, despite its failing roof, frequent flooding and odor strong enough to chase most people away. While the house was originally built in 1786, the barn followed some 40 years later and served as the horse stables. More recently, in the 70s and 80s, it was the site of the rather infamous Robbie Burns Pub, a honky tonk where folklore has it that legends such as Arlo Guthrie and Jerry Garcia exhibited some less-than-decorous behavior. Neighbors then weren’t amused, but Teeley says they needn’t worry about The Barn. The music will be acoustic, and the audience is limited to 50 max.
“We had to make fixing up the inn itself a priority, so we didn’t get to the barn right away,” Gigi says. “We weren’t even sure we were going to be able to tackle it. But during the brutal winter of 2014-2015, the barn was so stoic. If it didn’t collapse then, I figured it wanted to be here.”
The work in progress. Photo courtesy Egremont Village Inn.
A year-and-a-half of aggressive rebuilding ensued. Although the barn won’t be totally finished by the Crenshaw concert, it will be ready for music and listeners, who will settle themselves into an assortment of leather lounge chairs, church pews and tables. A new, sweet-smelling roof now sits up top, but vestiges of the old barn remain: a replacement bar rests upon the remnants of old barn doors; the guts of the old piano hang above the shelves of liquor, and an original stained glass window overlooks the staging area. A few old cigarette burns on the handsome original floors serve as echoes of the barn’s roadhouse past.
Like the group endeavor it takes to run the Egremont Village Inn, The Barn’s evolution has been a family project, and the Keene-Teely collaboration is distinctly suited to the task. Matriarch Sara Keene is a former singer and opera coach whose husband was Christopher Keene, longtime conductor and music director of the New York City Opera. She moved from Rhinebeck to purchase the old Weathervane Inn, and the family rallied around the business. Daughter Gigi, who performs and teaches at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, primarily manages the inn; her husband Tom Teely, a professional guitarist and singer/songwriter, is the jack-of-all-trades when he’s back from the road or producing albums for other musicians; Keene’s son, Nick Keene, a videographer, helps with management if he’s not off on a shoot. The Teely children, Jackson and Caitlin, who have inherited the music gene, have been hands on from the beginning.
The old honky tonk piano now adorns the wall.
As for The Barn’s musical lineup, Tom and Gigi have pulled in friends and connections (both Tom and Gigi performed with Marshall Crenshaw in the Broadway musical “Beatlemania”). Nick contributed to the wish list, and they’ve been assisted by Seth Keyes, a booking agent, to help curate an eclectic lineup they’re calling “Gems of Many Genres.” The family plans to add more events to get maximum usage of the facility, and add more food to go with the full bar, but for now, The Barn will offer “noshes.”
Don’t be surprised to find some of the family members accompanying the acts every once in a while. After all, they put in the sweat equity to get the barn ready for a show.
Gems of Many Genres
The Barn at The Egremont Village Inn
17 Main Street, South Egremont, MA
July 8-9 Grand Opening Celebration: Marshall Crenshaw and Friends, 8 p.m. $35
July 15-17 Steph Campbell Live: “It Ain’t Over ‘til the Phat Lady Sings!” 8 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
July 23 Trout Fishing In America, family show at 2 p.m. (kids 12 and under $10); then again at 7 & 10 p.m.
July 30 Hyams and Lisa Rothauser in “Life, Who Knew,” 7 & 9 p.m.
August 6 John Davidson Sings Broadway Standards, 7 & 9 p.m.
August 13 Karen Oberlin Sings American Songbook/Cabaret, 7 & 9 p.m.
October 1 Roy Zimmerman “This Machine,” political satire, 7 & 9 p.m.
October 14 and 16 Linda Purl in “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Fri. at 8 p.m. & Sun. at 3 p.m.
The Grand Opening Show is $35, all the rest (unless noted) are $25.
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The Skivvies Perform Pop Songs ‘Au Naturel’
By Amy Krzanik
Why would two singers – a duo who harmonize and play cello and ukulele, among other instruments – ever need to coordinate the color of their underwear? It’s not because of some odd superstition the two share, but because their undergarments will be “on display,” so to speak, for their audience to see.
The singers in question, musical theater stars Lauren Molina and Nick Cearley, have been performing together since they met in 2003. But The Skivvies were born when the duo “took it to the next level” about four years ago with the release of a YouTube cover of Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” When Molina couldn’t find anything to wear, Cearley suggested doing their stripped down cover, well, stripped down.
“We were very nervous when we first did it,” he says, “but Lauren said to me, ‘If this is a bad idea, then we’ll just delete it.’” But after four videos turned into a sold-out live show in August of 2012, the two have gone on to tour the country with their act.
“When it started it was a fun little hobby, but it’s taken off and people love the theatricality of it,” Molina says. The goal is to present pop songs in a way the audience has never heard them done before, says Cearley. As you may have noticed, a lot of today’s hit songs offer only a few lines of inane lyrics repeated ad nauseam. “We like to exploit the lyrics of ridiculous songs, and expose the most absurd ones possible,” Cearley says.
For their Saturday, May 28 and Sunday, May 29 shows (three shows in all) at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, the duo will be backed by a live band and special Berkshire Theatre Group guests – Lindsay Nicole Chambers, who will play Audrey in the upcoming Little Shop of Horrors; Jen Harris from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; and three actors from Fiorello. When asked if all guests also are required to perform sans pants, Cearley says… yes and no. “Everyone plays the game, but I think of it more like a sleepover or a costume party.” One of the skits will involve a mash-up of “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” and Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” creating the tale of a grandma who drives too fast, so maybe expect to see some grannie panties alongside the sexy lingerie.
The duo love the Berkshires, and will be back to perform for a third year at the Williamstown Theatre Festival on July 17 and 18 (where Molina made her WTF debut in 2011’s 10 Cents a Dance). You can also catch The Skivvies at Club Helsinki two days before, on July 15, in a benefit performance for AnimalKind. Animal charities are close to their hearts—both are vegetarians, and Molina works for NYC animal care centers as an adoption ambassador, fostering kittens and helping them find homes.
Although there will be skin, there will be no striptease at these shows, as Cearley and Molina like to focus on their music and witty repartee. As Molina says, “This show appeals to all ages. It’s fun and clever, and I think people will be surprised by how much they enjoy it.”
The Skivvies at The Colonial Theatre
111 South Street, Pittsfield, MA
Saturday at 8 p.m. & 10:30 p.m., $40
Sunday at 7 p.m., $40
Sunday show & post-show reception at Hotel on North, $65
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2016 Season Preview (AKA Tickets Not To Miss)
Some people try to tell you their favorite season is autumn. And personally, I do have a soft spot for spring. But here in the Rural Intelligence region, summer is a time like no other. This much we know. So even all you confirmed ski addicts and avid leaf peepers must render unto Caesar and just dive into the summer smorgasbord. It’s a cultural buffet like no other. And I, for one, always have great trouble quelling the urge to go back up for another round. (Anyone who’s been with me to the Sunday buffet at Bombay in Lee can attest to this.)
Our annual season preview scopes out the performing arts situation. Elsewhere on this site, as always, you’ll find coverage of the most notable fine art events, restaurants, and all the rest. But if it happens this summer on a stage, this season preview of theater, live music and dance will have you covered.
So get going and fill up that calendar. After all, ‘tis the season. —Jeremy D. Goodwin
Rosanne Cash at Helsinki Hudson
Rosanne Cash isn’t slowing down; just last year she won three Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, quite appropriately. When she plays the Rural Intelligence region, we’re not quite sure if she’s coming straight from New York City or from her country retreat in Columbia County, but we’re more used to seeing her play in stately theaters like the Colonial in Pittsfield. Catching the legend amid the intimate ambience of Helsinki Hudson should be a particular treat.
The National at MASS MoCA
The National has been busy recently, assembling a magisterial Grateful Dead tribute in the form of a 59-track box set featuring a phone book’s worth of leading indie acts. The National itself has a place on any such list, and this booking seems to be something of a coup — it’s billed as the band’s only headlining show in the Northeast this year (not counting the odd, abbreviated festival appearance). We love when MASS MoCA brings tastemakers from this world to North Adams. Rock (or thereabouts) on.
Bob Dylan with Mavis Staples at The Shed at Tanglewood
Granted, Bob Dylan’s live shows can be a mixed bag for those who aren’t 100-percent committed to all things Bob — and even to some who are. But Dylan at Tanglewood? Come on. This is a must-see. The Bard of Hibbing played the venerable Lenox shed once before, in 1997, and most recently played the Berkshires in 2005, at Pittsfield’s Wahconah Park. This time we can trade the hot dogs for the usual Tanglewood picnic. His opening act is the similarly lauded, golden-voiced Mavis Staples, who Dylan used to talk about wanting to marry back in the day. To this pairing, just say ‘I do!’
Aston Magna Festival: J.S. Bach, Sacred and Secular
at Laszló Z. Bitó Conservatory Building, Bard College
at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
The themed programs of the Aston Magna Festival always add a layer of wit and intellectual curiosity to what is already a captivating concert of early music, played on period instruments by some of the great practitioners of that particular craft. As per usual, this program will be offered in three venues: Brandeis University, Bard College Conservatory, and the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. The program includes three pieces that offer different views of the prodigious and multifaceted talents of the composer.
Photo by Andrew Eccles.
Emerson String Quartet with Renée Fleming at Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood
Midweek performances by Emerson String Quartet are in some ways the quintessential Ozawa Hall experience. A group that would be the highlight of many classical music festivals’ schedule can pack ’em in here any day of the week, but there’s something special about catching them on a casual Tuesday and Wednesday, as you can this summer. But get this: they’re joined on the second night by opera superstar Renée Fleming, more likely to be a featured guest with the Boston Symphony Orchestra — as she was for the BSO’s opening night at Tanglewood two summers ago, shortly before opening her run in the charming “Living On Love” at Williamstown Theatre Festival. For decent lawn space on Wednesday, arrive early. Maybe just go Tuesday and camp out.
Bang On A Can All-Stars at MASS MoCA
The annual Bang On A Fan festival — aka “Banglewood” — is an event that offers more rewards the more time you give to it. It’s hard to go wrong with an afternoon-long visit to MASS MoCA framed around a featured gallery recital by one of the leading lights of the new-music movement and perhaps an evening concert by the All-Stars. (And at least once in your life, treat yourself to one of the late-night chalet parties, where mini-recitals by Bang On A Can Institute fellows and faculty are known to give way to a dizzy dance party fueled by super-group jams on “Mustang Sally.”) In its featured concert this year, BOAC’s signature ensemble offers a live performance of Brian Eno’s seminal Music For Airports.
Chick Corea Trio at Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood
It’s been a few years since Tanglewood nixed its long-running jazz festival, instead sprinkling a handful of well-chosen, high-wattage stars of the genre throughout the season. A big treat this year is keyboard legend Chick Corea, appearing at Ozawa with a trio that is just bursting with talent. Bassist Christian McBride, a frequent headliner in his own right, and drummer Brian Blade (known for long collaborations with Wayne Shorter and with Joshua Redman) will help the Chelsea, Mass. native celebrate his 75th birthday. His show here a few summers ago with vibraphonist Gary Burton and the Harlem String Quartet was a real treat; this appearance should be no different.
Photo by Jason Bell.
Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble at The Shed, Tanglewood
When the Tanglewood season is announced every year, one of the first things we check for is Yo-Yo Ma, to see in what musical contexts he’ll appear. This year he brings his great, poly-ethnic world fusion band Silk Road Ensemble to the Shed. (Mr. Ma will be back to play with the full Boston Symphony Orchestra on August 27.) This group was born here, and first played the venue in 2000. As always, it feels like a hometown crowd when the world’s greatest cellist comes to play.
Kelli O’Hara at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
The ever-hotter Broadway favorite Kelli O’Hara was most recently seen in the popular revival of “The King And I,” winning a Tony Award in the process — though we liked her just as much in “Far From Heaven” and “The Bridges of Madison County” at Williamstown Theatre Festival. She’ll make her solo Carnegie Hall debut in October, but we won’t have to wait that long to see her in the Berkshires; she’s one of the boldfaced names on the schedule of the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. There’s something special about strolling over to see a talent like this after having dinner around the corner in downtown Great Barrington.
Rubblebucket at MASS MoCA
The Boston-spawned group puts on one of the most fun shows out there, propelled by bouncy rhythms, an indefatigable horn section and the smiley charisma of vocalist Kal Traver. In recent years they’ve laid happy waste to Infinity Hall and Northampton’s Pearl Street Nightclub; we can’t wait to see what they do to a courtyard stage at MASS MoCA. The only problem: it may not be so comfortable pogoing up and down on the concrete for hours. Wear sensible shoes.
Berkshire Opera Festival: Madame Butterfly at Colonial Theatre
August 27 & 30 and September 2
Since the closing of the fondly remembered Berkshire Opera Company in 2008, the Berkshires has been without home-grown opera. No longer! Berkshire Opera Festival makes its debut this summer with the Puccini favorite, staged at the stately Colonial Theatre, a great home for opera if we’ve ever seen one. Headed by Jonathon Loy, who has worked as a guest director at the Metropolitan Opera and been a frequent Berkshire visitor, and conductor Brian Garman, the arrival of BOF is well appreciated. Our hopes are as high as one of those glass-shattering notes.
Shanghai Quartet at Music Mountain
September 3 & 4
The esteemed Shanghai Quartet has been making music since 1983, when these talented players came together at the Shanghai Conservatory. (That’s Shanghai, China, not Shanghai City, Illinois.) The group welcomes guests as it plays Labor Day weekend, the penultimate weekend in Music Mountain’s season. The first night includes pieces by Mendelssohn, Zhou Long and Brahms, with guest pianist Jonathan Yates. On Sunday, the quartet is joined by Yates plus another pianist, Gilbert Kalish. Things could get wild! That’s even before you consider that the latter show is a benefit performance, followed by a festive reception.
Presto Change-O at Barrington Stage Company
May 18-June 11
Director Marc Bruni, of Broadway’s “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” directs this world premiere tuner in the cozy environs of the St. Germain Stage. He’s recruited a big, Broadway-tested cast, including Tony Award-winner Michael Rupert (“Falsettos,” “On The Town”), Tony Award-nominees Jarrod Spector (“Beautiful”) and Barbara Walsh (“Company”), Jenni Barber (“Wicked”), Lenny Wolpe (“The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Wicked”) and Bob Walton (“42nd Street”). Surely they have their sights set on a different zip code for this show (say, 10036?), so this could be a good chance to be among the first to have something to say about it.
Photo by WAM Theatre.
The Oregon Trail at WAM Theatre
WAM Theatre’s principal season happens in the winter and spring, but a series of play readings keeps them in the game over the summer. This also gives us an excuse to visit one of our favorite Berkshire beaneries, No. Six Depot Roastery and Café; the performance is in the gallery in back. “The Oregon Trail,” which had its world premiere last year at the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C., looks like a magic-realist coming of age story. Jane is “an awkward middle-schooler with body odor” who is an ace at the titular computer game, which was all the rage, you’ll recall, back when the Berlin Wall was still standing. Her story is intermixed with that of a heroine in the game. (Hopefully no one involved sees their game end with the infamous kicker: “You have died of dysentery.”)
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof at Berkshire Theatre Group
June 22-July 16
Berkshire Theatre Group (nee Festival) is built on a foundation of the classics of 20th-century American theater. So here’s a crazy stat: it doesn’t seem that the troupe has ever mounted this Tennessee Williams classic, which looks to be right in its wheelhouse. We’re happy to see the production will be directed by David Auburn (Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “Proof”), who has made a summer production in Stockbridge a regular part of his schedule. He’s directed Williams here before, spinning gold from the little-seen comedy “Period of Adjustment” in 2011. In 2013, he helmed Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie” on this stage and provided one of the highlights of the season.
The Rose Tattoo at Williamstown Theatre Festival
June 28-July 17
“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” is at Berkshire Theatre Group, but a relatively less familiar slice of Tennessee Williams can be found up in Williamstown, with “The Rose Tattoo.” We may tell our more purist theater friends we’re attracted by the material, which won four Tony Awards — including Best Play — upon its Broadway debut in 1951, and includes familiar Williams elements like hot weather and steamy romance. But let’s face it, the more pressing reason people are cueing up for this one is the leading lady, Academy Award-winner Marisa Tomei. (She was up for a one-time reading of a different play last August.) This should be one of the hottest tickets of the summer. As hot as that tin roof, even.
Photo by Rob Jones.
The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare & Company
July 1-August 21
We want to see whatever Tina Packer is up to — especially when it’s a play in the theater named after her (S&Co.’s Tina Packer Playhouse). But now that the esteemed director (and founding artistic director of the Company) has been focusing on lesser-known plays to fill out the roster of Shakespeare works she’s directed, we take notice when she brings to the stage a title as well-beloved as this one. Longtime Company favorite Jonathan Epstein, who has assumed leading roles here only occasionally in the past several years, plays Shylock. This show is the anchor of Company’s season, and we can’t wait to see what Tina & Co. have in store.
Photo by Todd Norwood.
Demolishing Everything With Amazing Speed at Bard SummerScape
This world-premiere production is described as a “surreal puppet noir” based on four “beautiful but disquieting” plays written by the Italian futurist Fortunato Depero during World War I. You had me at surreal puppet noir. Hudson Valley-based puppet artist Dan Hurlin adapted the plays, which have never before been translated or performed in English. This deliciously original piece includes a live score, 3-D printing and, of course, puppets. Lots of puppets, we’re figuring.
Maureen Keiller and Will Lyman, courtesy of Israeli Stage.
Oh God at Chester Theatre Company
This production appeared first in Watertown, Mass. in April, before taking the stage again in Chester’s first season under new producing artistic director Daniel Elihu Kramer.
“Oh God” concerns the titular being’s first session with a new therapist. It features two of the Boston theater scene’s justly decorated actors, Will Lyman and Maureen Keiller. They’re directed by Guy Ben-Aharon, wunderkind founder of Boston’s up-and-coming company Israeli Stage.
Pirates of Penzance at Barrington Stage Company
July 15 – August 13
It looks like Julianne Boyd is setting up a shuttlebus from Broadway to Pittsfield for two big musicals this season, including a staging of this Gilbert & Sullivan favorite. The cast includes Will Swenson (“Hair”), whom we loved at Williamstown in “A Moon for the Misbegotten” last season alongside his wife, Audra McDonald. He’s joined by Scarlett Strallen (“Mary Poppins”), Kyle Dean Massey (“Pippin,” “Next To Normal”), Tony Award-nominee David Garrison (“Wicked”), Jane Carr (“A Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder”) and Tony Award-winner Phillip Boykin, who was seen on Broadway in Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” and “On The Town,” the latter originating at Barrington Stage. Tony Award-winning director John Rando and Emmy Award-winner Joshua Bergasse will look to replicate their success with that production, which was a highlight of the 2013 summer season before migrating city-ward.
The Wolves at Powerhouse Theater
This is the first fully staged production of Sarah DeLappe’s dark comedy, written for 10 female actors. It examines a girls’ indoor soccer team and the freewheeling, no-holds- (or feelings) barred conversations over the course of their warm-ups for five different games. Each character is identified by the position she plays — plus a “soccer mom.” The script calls for the warm-ups to be accomplished “in perfect unison and with military precision.” Sounds like quite a workout for those onstage, but audience members should be primed for the refreshing sound of a new theatrical voice.
Photo by Peter Wise.
Kickwheel Ensemble Theater: Passage at Shire City Sanctuary
After ten years of bringing compelling theater and live music to the region, the folks behind Berkshire Fringe switched gears to focus on their own work. The latest fruit of their creative labor is this devised piece of satirical physical comedy, described as a “climate change romance” and inspired by the ever-melting Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Whatever this gang is up to, we want to see it.
And No More Shall We Part at Williamstown Theatre Festival
New artistic director Mandy Greenfield, who arrived last season, landed in Williamstown with a slew of world premieres and American premieres. Put this one in the latter category. It stars Alfred Molina, who was most recently seen in the Tina Fey film “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” but has been nominated for three Tony Awards, and Jane Kaczmarek (“Malcolm in the Middle”), who’s checked off seven Emmy nominations over the years. The play, about the effect of a grave illness on a couple’s marriage, isn’t brand new — it was first performed in 2009, in Australia — but Greenfield sees something here and so the chances are very high that she’s right.
Photo by Robert Cooper.
Christopher Williams Dances at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center
Choreographer Christopher Williams describes himself as an alchemist of theater who “commingles contemporary dance with visual art, puppetry, poetry and live music.” I’m into that stuff; aren’t you? For this appearance, he culminates a residency at Kaatsbaan with a performance by his troupe with excerpts from two pieces: “Dardanus Suite” (2015) and the brand-new “Il Giardino d′Amore,” inspired by the love story of Venus and Adonis.
Viva Momix at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
This accessible dance company, led by choreographer Moses Pendleton, describes its performers as dancer-illusionists. This will be the Connecticut-based troupe’s third visit to the Mahaiwe. Sounds like a great, family-friendly event, and an alternative to weather-dependent Independence Day Weekend festivities.
Photo by James Houston.
Paul Taylor Dance Company at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
We did a double-take when we noticed that this year marks the Mahaiwe’s ninth annual visit from the Paul Taylor Dance Company. This no-longer-new tradition is well appreciated indeed. Among the dances featured this year will be the 2009 piece “Beloved Renegade,” inspired by the life and writings of Walt Whitman. And to warm everybody up, the theater is showing the 1998 documentary “Paul Taylor, Dancemaker,” the previous weekend.
Dorrance Dance at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
Tap-dance artist Michelle Dorrance has become a real favorite at the Pillow, performing a variety of original programs and thoroughly charming the Gala crowd in 2013 when she won the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award. This year, she brings along “ETM: Double Down,” an expanded version of a dance she developed in residence here and premiered in 2014. Fame is tapping at Dorrance’s door, and we love seeing her artistry reach new and greater heights.
Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks, with Brooklyn Rider at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
When Wendy Whelan left her position as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet to take off the pointe shoes and pursue new dance interests, we got one of the first looks at “Restless Creature,” a collection of four new duets, including one with Brian Brooks. Now comes a deeper collaboration between the two, with live accompaniment from Brooklyn Rider, whom we loved at the Pillow three seasons ago in a performance by Dance Heginbotham. This is a can’t-miss program of solos and duets.
Photo by Lou Damars.
Compagnie Hervé KOUBI at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
We’re told this is a rare U.S. appearance by the French dance company, which presents a dance described as “highly physical and awe-inspiring.” These types of companies always get a high-energy response from audiences, and we’re looking forward to the exploits of these 12 male dancers, who hail from Algeria and Burkina Faso and are said to combine capoeira, martial arts, hip-hop, and contemporary dance. Sounds like you may break a sweat just sitting in the audience.
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Sarah Aroeste Brings Ladino Music To A New Generation
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
Inspiration doesn’t always have a practical application. But it’s nice when it does.
And so it was for musician, mom and self-styled cultural ambassador Sarah Aroeste, whose latest album came to be because she wanted some music to play for her daughter that would celebrate her family’s specific cultural background. (More on that background in a moment.)
When she was expecting first child Irit, now two-and-a-half — who was joined last fall by sister Dalia — Aroeste realized there was no Ladino children’s music. “I wanted to write an album of songs in her family tradition that she could relate to, because I couldn’t find them anywhere else. They didn’t exist. There is no such thing as a Ladino children’s record,” she says, on the phone from her home in Alford, Mass.
Not until now. Aroeste’s album of Ladino music geared for children, Ora de Despertar (Time to Wake Up), was just released.
Oh, right. We Googled so you don’t have to: Ladino is the language and culture of Sephardic Jewry that emerged after the historically infamous expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal in 1492. The language is rooted in medieval Spanish, but picked up pieces of French, Greek, Turkish, Bulgarian and assorted Mediterranean dialects, reflecting the emerging Jewish diaspora.
Its musical culture, similarly, is a mix of influences from in and around the Mediterranean basin. The culture of eastern European Ashkenazi Jews is a more familiar presence in American life. The Ladino legacy has gotten more attention in recent years, Aroeste says, but is still in danger of flickering out. Thus the double meaning behind the title of her new album — the title track is a fun, jaunty number about kids waking up and brushing their teeth and starting their day, but it’s also a message to parents to keep this rich culture alive before it’s too late.
“Certainly people are waking up to the fact that Sephardic culture is important, and represents a really big part not only of Jewish history but world history,” she says. “Ladino is so universal. It’s pan-Mediterranean. And you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy the culture or the music.”
This album is her fourth, and her second composed of all original songs. All her work is based in Ladino folk music but with a very contemporary spin. Her last album, Gracia, makes use of an 18-piece orchestra and plenty of electronic beats. Her musical vision is decidedly international, but Aroeste’s home base is a bucolic nook in the Berkshires.
She, husband Jeff Blaugrund and their two daughters have lived in Alford the past few years after moving up from New York City. (Jeff’s a software engineer who works remotely for a Palo Alto firm.)
But she’s no Berkshire novice. Her family habitually rented a summer house here when she was growing up in Princeton, Penn., and her mom bought a home in Alford 20 years ago, where she still resides.
Aroeste studied classical voice at Tanglewood in the summers, and it remains a favorite destination. If you want to bump into her, Jeff and the kids on a sunny summer Sunday, the Tanglewood lawn is the first place to look. Jacob’s Pillow and MASS MoCA are other favorite destinations. They worship at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire in Great Barrington. They’re also both avid fans of the local food movement.
Her family, which she traces back to upper Greece and lower Yugoslavia, came to the United States in flight from the Balkan Wars. The Ladino culture was very much present in her childhood home.
“During family occasions like the Jewish new year or any major family gathering, I had a very clear understanding that my family’s tradition was a little bit different from my friends. The foods that we ate were different. They were very Mediterranean and Greek,” she says, noting that the table would be laden with meze, and the cookie known as a tadlikoo was her favorite treat. “The songs and tunes that we sang were different from the ones I knew my Jewish friends were singing,” she adds, “and I had a clear understanding that I came from this very interesting Sephardic background.”
Sarah Aroeste in performance at the Internationales Klezmer Festival of Fürth in Germany last month.
But when she wanted to learn more about the history, no one in her parents’ generation seemed to be an expert. It was only while she was studying classical voice in Israel that she became fully awakened to the richness of Ladino music. She started mixing a few of the songs into classical recitals, and noticed she was getting the most audience response from those pieces. Eventually she realized she agreed with her audiences. But she wasn’t interested in an austere rendering of traditional folk music.
“I knew I wanted to do it in a way that felt very authentic to me. I wasn’t born in the Balkans. I’ve never shied away from the fact that I’m American-born and my influences are contemporary. I was raised on American rock and roll. And so when I told people I wanted to start a Ladino rock band, I got a lot of raised eyebrows. But here I am, 15 years later and I’m still doing it.”
Those raised eyebrows have been replaced by lots and lots of tapping feet and clapping hands. But though her performing career has taken her to the Rock of Gibraltar and back again, the key source of inspiration for her newest work sits much closer to home.
“When my daughter hears the music being played, she says ‘Oh my gosh, that’s mommy, she wrote the music for me!’ It’s so sweet — obviously my heart just melts.”
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Life is a Cabaret (Again)!: A Divine Evening With Charles Busch
By Robert Burke Warren
Photo by Frederic Aranda.
Few, if any, entertainers are more full service than actor-singer-playwright-novelist-librettist-screenwriter-director-drag pioneer-force of nature, Charles Busch. Opportunities to see him in action, up close and personal, are rare, especially outside Manhattan, but if you’re within driving distance of Hudson, you’re in luck. The two-time MAC Award winner, Tony nominee, and Drama Desk Lifetime Achievement Award recipient alights at Helsinki Hudson for one night only on Sunday, Feb. 21 with A Divine Evening with Charles Busch: The Lady at the Mic.
The event is a special sneak preview of Busch’s upcoming Lincoln Center American Songbook performance. With longtime accompanist Tom Judson, plus accordion and stand-up bass, Busch will veer effortlessly from Sondheim to the Beatles, saluting his friends Elaine Stritch, Polly Bergen, Mary Cleere Haran, Julie Wilson and Joan Rivers.
“Vaudeville is back!” Busch says from his Manhattan apartment. For someone who’s reached several pinnacles of artistic achievement, Busch is refreshingly down-to-earth and chatty; his voice, contoured by decades of singing and projecting from the lip of a stage, still brims with boyish enthusiasm.
“Someone recently told my manager he was turning into Broadway Danny Rose,” he laughs, “and I gotta say, it’s true.” We’re talking about the resurgent popularity of cabaret, which Busch does now more than ever. We agree the demand may be a kind of “corrective” to hi-tech amusements, a means of satisfying the innately human need to experience storytellers live and in person (see also The Moth, Selected Shorts, et al).
A Divine Evening with Charles Busch: The Lady at the Mic, is, essentially, top-notch storytelling, with music. Busch says the cornucopia of song, story, drag, impersonation, and comedy is a return to his early 80s New York cabaret experiences, before he co-created groundbreaking downtown ensemble Theatre-in-Limbo (Vampire Lesbians of Sodom).
“I drifted in and out of low-rent cabaret,” he says of those early days. “It was more like performance art, and so much easier to get booked than to get a play on. It was more out of necessity than anything. I stopped around ’83, when my career as an actor-writer took off.”
Busch has worked consistently ever since, earning plaudits from notoriously hardboiled critics, and garnering an ardent fanbase. He made a foray to the Great White Way in 2000, with his play The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, starring Linda Lavin. It ran at the Ethel Barrymore Theater for 777 performances, winning an Outer Critics Circle Award and three Tony nominations. Hyperion published his novel, he wrote and appeared in movies, and garnered much acclaim as Nat Ginzburg in HBO’s Oz. (This is actually a shortlist.)
But cabaret gave him a callback. “Four years ago,” he says, “I was asked to perform on a gay cruise, and I didn’t have an act. But the fee was good. [Pianist] Tom Judson and I were friends, and he’s good looking and fun, so I called him up, he said sure, and we had a great time. And it’s taken off. It’s marvelous.”
The timing was good. Busch had become frustrated with the playwright’s life: “You work two years on a play and it usually only plays its seven-week nonprofit subscription run,” he says. “Every playwright dreams of a Broadway transfer and that is extremely rare nowadays. I like the simplicity of doing this act, telling my story, singing these songs that are actable. It’s a challenge, especially because I’m in drag, but I don’t have a drag persona. I’m Charles Busch, who comes out looking like Ginger in ‘Gilligan’s Island.’ But I’m actually more comfortable in costume, in a mask. And I’m comfortable with my own androgynous nature.”
Lincoln Center has taken note. “The American Songbook guys like a theme show,” Busch says. “So I sold them on The Lady at the Mic. I’ve known some remarkable New York cabaret women, and in this show I share personal anecdotes about them. It’s a tribute to my friends.”
Enter Hudson-based event planner and impresario Lee Tannen, who has turned Helsinki Hudson into a frequent showcase for New York-based cabaret artists. “Lee invited us to bring the show to Helsinki Hudson before Lincoln Center,” says Busch, “so we could get more than one crack at it. And I love the room. It’s very theatrical. And you can sit down and have your vaudevillian supper!”
Dinner and a show, cabaret style; the old is new again, and the people line up to laugh, sing along to the songs, and let their lives be a cabaret, for one night only. But what a night.
A Divine Evening with Charles Busch: The Lady at the Mic
Sunday, Feb. 21 at 7 p.m.
405 Columbia St., Hudson, NY
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Prodigal Percussionist: Kenny Aronoff’s Berkshire Rock Star Homecoming
By Robert Burke Warren
“I was born with a lot of energy,” says drummer extraordinaire and rock star Kenny Aronoff, on the phone from a Tempe, Arizona hotel. It is the understatement of the day. Technically, he is on a break from touring with John Fogerty, taking time to talk about his upcoming event “An Evening with Kenny Aronoff,” at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on Sunday, August 23 at 7 p.m.
But Kenny Aronoff is never really “on a break.” His astonishing resume attests to that. After spending much of the ‘80s and ‘90s as the groove engine in John Mellencamp’s band, Aronoff became the most in-demand drummer in the world, recording and/or touring with The Rolling Stones, Smashing Pumpkins, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Sting, Lady GaGa, Bruno Mars, Pharrell Williams, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Aaron Neville, Beyonce, Avril Lavigne, Melissa Etheridge, and Crosby, Stills & Nash, to name but a few.
Needless to say, if he were to sound tired or distracted, it would be understandable, even expected. But he is neither. Although sleep-starved, Aronoff is friendly, funny and eager to talk about his Mahaiwe show, in which he shares his adventures in the upper (and lower) reaches of the music pantheon, as well as his system for how to achieve one’s full potential.
“I was up most of the night working on the show,” he says, sounding like a man in his twenties (he’s 62) who just got a solid eight hours of rest. “And my editor wants the manuscript of my autobiography…”
Aronoff with Elton John and Jon Bon Jovi, and Rod Stewart.
Of course he does. No musician has a story to match Aronoff’s. In “An Evening with Kenny Aronoff,” the drum master delivers that story with the verve of a real rock n’ roll raconteur, interspersing it with his own seven-step system for unlocking personal potential. He’ll recount his unique road from bar bands to the Kennedy Center Honors, and all the glitz, glamour and adventures (“I was in a near-death plane crash,” he says) of the archetypal rock star life. And he’ll play those drums, too, showing why such a wide variety of icons have him on speed dial. That alone is worth the price of admission.
He’s particularly excited to tread the boards of the Mahaiwe, where, he is delighted to tell me, everything actually began for him. Aronoff grew up in nearby Stockbridge and, as a teen, studied and performed at Tanglewood (it took him four years to get in). None other than Leonard Bernstein conducted him, which he says made his mother cry tears of joy. For Aronoff, the Mahaiwe show is a homecoming. (Proud mom is still kicking at 89.)
“Six months after I saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, I saw A Hard Day’s Night at the Mahaiwe!” he says. “And now I’m on the marquee! How did this happen?”
That question is one he’ll address on August 23rd. “It seems like a miracle,” he says, “but it’s not. I fly in fancy planes, stay in fancy hotels, I’ve played SNL, I’ve beenon all the late night shows, toured the world, I’ve played for four presidents (Carter, Clinton, and Bush I and II). I am a rock star. But I grew up in a town of 3,000 people, with no blueprint for how to be a rock star, how to have this life, or how to sustain it. I figured out how to do it by myself, and now I want others to know how they can use the same steps to get the life and career they want.”
Not surprisingly, one of the steps centers on diet and exercise. Although a sexagenarian, Aronoff is an athlete, and that is key. “Doctors say my eyes and bloodwork test like I’m under 30,” he says. “Healthy life, wealthy life. Even tonight at 4 a.m., after Fogerty, I’ll be running my routine, stretching.”
Even before he was a drum god, Aronoff was a sought-after teacher, and he continues to give lessons when he’s able. He’s carved out time prior to An Evening with Kenny Aronoff to conduct a 4 p.m. master class at the Mahaiwe, which promises to be a must for musicians of any skill level or genre. As a self-taught rock drummer who subsequently studied theory and learned to read music, Aronoff, whose three instructional DVDs are still in print, is that rare player who speaks several musical languages. And he loves to share. “People started asking me for lessons by the time I was in my twenties,” he says. “I teach people how to be great at what they already can do.”
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Season Preview 2015: RI’s Can’t-Miss Picks
Another summer, another embarrassment of riches when it comes to performing arts in the Rural Intelligence region. As usual, there’s enough theater, music and dance (and just about everything else) to go around. Though we know the winter months offer their own pleasures, the arrival of the long-awaited spring weather provides the perfect excuse to start mapping out our own summer schedules. There are the events you anchor a night (or a week, or a month, or a season) around, and the ones you slip in to your schedule spontaneously, or as part of a decadent double-header. Fortunately there’s plenty to choose from. Here’s our annual list of 30(ish) can’t-miss picks from around the region. Now that you’ve dug out from the winter, it’s time to dig in. —Jeremy D. Goodwin
Man of La Mancha at Barrington Stage Company
June 10 - July 11
Barrington Stage’s season-opening musical has become an event not to miss, particularly after the celebrated New York run of the production of On the Town that delighted us two seasons ago. Julianne Boyd directs this musical take on Cervantes’ Don Quixote, starring BSC’s Jeff McCarthy, who is equally able to knock us dead as a cross-dressing southerner (Southern Comfort) or the demon barber of Fleet Street. Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, Pittsfield, MA.
Thoreau or, Return to Walden at Berkshire Theatre Group
June 18 - July 11
David Adkins has earned his place as one of our perennial favorites, with too many memorable roles at BTG to count. Adkins wrote this brand new, one-man play about the great Massachusetts individualist and nature-lover. It’s sure to go well with a leisurely hike in the Berkshire hills… but don’t worry, if you head back home afterward and turn the air-conditioning on, we won’t say anything to Mr. Thoreau. The Unicorn Theatre, Stockbridge, MA.
You Are Nowhere at Mass Live Arts
July 9 - 11
We were happy to see the arrival of this company two years ago, providing a Berkshire pipeline for selected plays pulled right from the burbling New York City underground. This is a co-commission by MLA, coming after its January premiere in PS122’s influential COIL festival. This piece is by Andrew Schneider, a multimedia artist who has been known to spin theater, video, sound, dance and inventive devices (see: the Solar Bikini) into a unique, immersive experience. The Daniel Arts Center, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington, MA.
Kinship at Williamstown Theatre Festival
July 15 - 25
With a penchant for new works and old classics and the juice to lure stars of stage and screen, WTF always stirs up a fascinating mix. So here comes the festival debuts of Cynthia Nixon—who hopefully will forgive us for always thinking of her as Miranda, though she has a Tony award for best actress (Rabbit Hole) in addition to her Grammy and two Emmys — and fellow Emmy-winner Penny Fuller. This American premiere looks at the politics of love and journalism. Nikos Stage, ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance, Williamstown, MA.
Mother of the Maid at Shakespeare & Company
July 30 - September 6
Everbody’s buzzing lately about Tina Packer’s book, Women of Will, which follows up on the theatrical version we caught in Lenox before it went to New York. But she’s back onstage for this story about the mother of Joan of Arc. (And given Packer’s status as a force of nature, it’s likely to make us see Joan as a chip off the old block.) Emmy winner Jane Anderson, a veteran of Mad Men and Olive Kitteridge, penned this intriguing new work that Berkshire Playwrights Lab first brought to the area with a reading last summer. Bernstein Theatre, Lenox, MA.
A Moon for the Misbegotten at Williamstown Theatre Festival
August 5 - 23
We love when the great concert singers of our time swing by this neck of the woods to multitask. Last year, opera star Renée Fleming sang with the Boston Pops while preparing for her theatrical debut at WTF. This year, none other than Audra McDonald will be in town for a concert at Tanglewood and a role in this classic by Eugene O’Neill. With six Tony Awards to her credit though, McDonald is no newcomer. With a terrific cast and design team on board, this take on O’Neill’s late work is music to our ears. Main Stage, ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance, Williamstown, MA.
Red Velvet at Shakespeare & Company
August 6 - September 13
Since John Douglas Thompson caught the attention of the theater world with his Othello at Shakespeare & Company in 2008, we’ve watched carefully to see how the company would feature him each season. He’s back in town this year for the regional premiere of this imaginative telling of the story of Ira Aldridge, who in 1833 became the first African-American actor to play the Moor of Venice in England. Talk about the perfect combination of actor and role. Packer Playhouse, Lenox, MA.
Engagements at Barrington Stage Company
August 13 - September 6
This looks to be an intriguing way to round out the summer season. Described as a pitch-black comedy, it examines the all-too-familiar plight of the defiantly single gal who is surrounded on all sides by the engagement parties of her friends. The world premiere treads this familiar ground from a decidedly Millennial point of view. St. Germain Stage at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, Pittsfield, MA.
Art Garfunkel at Infinity Hall
We were crushed when Simon and Garfunkel canceled their 2010 date at Tanglewood, when Garfunkel was in the midst of some protracted throat issues. He’s back on the road though, and the Rural Intelligence region is soon to get a double dose—before his November show at the Mahaiwe, he’ll be at this even more intimate space. Hey, we’re not complaining. (I promised myself I wouldn’t include any puns about “Bridge Over Troubles Water” here, but you get the picture.) Norfolk, CT.
Boston Pops: Simply Sondheim at Tanglewood
Though some fans of the Pops will no doubt plan around its appearances at Tanglewood on Parade or the epically popular Film Night, this early season treat is a boon for theater lovers as well as Pops fanatics and their families. We love hearing the Pops take a spin with classics from the Great American Songbook, so an evening dedicated to Sondheim looks delectable. Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA.
Mark Morris Dance Group at Tanglewood
June 25 - 26
This appearance became a favorite early-season activity, so we’re glad to see it return after a year off in 2014. The exciting program this year looks forward and back (but still kinda forward), with the world premiere of a BSO/Tanglewood Music Center commission, plus Cargo, which made its world premiere on the same stage ten years ago. Tanglewood Music Fellows will accompany the dancers with compositions by J. S. Bach and Darius Milhaud, respectively. (Though, with respect, we don’t expect Mr. Morris to dress up for the occasion.) Ozawa Hall, Lenox, MA.
Dressing and Dancing at the court of Louis XIV at Aston Magna Festival
June 26 - 27
Though we loved the chance to hear a commissioned work by red-hot composer Nico Muhly for Aston Magna’s anniversary season last year, we’re also intrigued when it presents wheelhouse programs like this one. Though this early music festival keeps a lower profile than others in the RI region, it’s well worth a visit even if you don’t know your harpsichord from your forte piano. (But you do, right?) Olin Hall, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY and Daniel Arts Center, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington, MA.
Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA
June 26 - 28
How fortunate we are to be the home base for Wilco’s biannual summer festival. Well, given how well MASS MoCA runs these things (additional festival facilities are even built into its big-deal expansion in the works), the good fortune runs both ways. This is something to build your weekend around, with two headlining shows by the Chicago band and a deep, deep undercard. Not least, the festival also shows North Adams at its best, with local restaurants, galleries and everybody else getting in on the fun one way or another. (My favorite extracurricular Solid Sound-related event from past years might be DJ Spooky spinning a set under the marquee of the Mohawk Theatre.) North Adams, MA.
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga at Tanglewood
“What do you want to do this weekend, honey?”
“Let’s go see Lady Gaga at Tanglewood.”
Yes, it’s true. While the incomparable Lenox venue has hosted Tony Bennett in the past (his show last August was a winner), this will mark the local debut of Lady Gaga. While she’s not likely to put her “Poker Face” on, her standards collaboration with Tony is no bluff. They launched the project at the Montreal Jazz Festival last year, released an album, and we’re happy to see they’re back on the road and heading this way. As of this writing there are a handful of (obstructed view) seats available inside the Shed, but lawn tickets can be had for $30. Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA.
Toshi Reagon at MASS MoCA
Reagon has a great lineage — she’s the daughter of two co-founders of the Freedom Singers and Sweet Honey in the Rock, and her godmother and namesake is the late Pete Seeger’s wife. But her sights on this evening will be on the love songs of Prince and Michael Jackson. This program was assembled for an appearance at Joe’s Pub in New York, so we’re glad for the chance to experience it out in MASS MoCA’s courtyard. North Adams, MA.
Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at Tanglewood
Though its once-familiar jazz festival is no more, Tanglewood sets its sights on booking a few high-profile jazz shows throughout the summer. Wynton and the JLCO are the perfect match for this venue. He stopped off at Symphony Hall two years ago for his terrific devotional program (complete with gospel choir), but this Ozawa Hall appearance will be a much cozier affair. Don’t sleep on this ticket. Ozawa Hall, Lenox, MA.
Yo-Yo Ma with Mike Block, Monika Leskovar, Giovanni Sollima and the Boston Cello Quartet, cellos at Tanglewood
Yo-Yo Ma is not only the most uproariously popular guest soloist with the BSO, but perhaps the biggest gentleman as well—check him out taking photos with the young music students and fans when he’s on the grounds as an audience member. He uses Tanglewood as a laboratory for his wide-ranging musical interests, be it the Silk Road Project or this celebration of the cello. We don’t know quite what to expect from this all-cello program, but can’t wait to find out. Ozawa Hall, Lenox, MA.
Graham Nash at Mahaiwe
Nash is a believer in second careers—he’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee twice over, with The Hollies as well as Crosby, Stills and Nash. This puts him somewhere in the “legendary” category, so it should be a particular treat to stroll down Great Barrington’s Main Street (with no shade from the now-departed pear trees, alas!) and catch his distinctive tenor at the Mahaiwe. Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA.
Harlem Quartet at Music Mountain
Harlem Quintet showed its versatility when it was a very welcome guest with jazz great Chick Corea at Tanglewood a few summers ago. Here, the young group on the rise gets back to its roots, presenting a fascinating program that ranges from Beethoven to Dvorak to a 1925 piece by the Spanish composer Turina. A great excuse to visit this somewhat tucked-away gem of a venue. Falls Village, CT.
Bang on a Can Marathon at MASS MoCA
An annual highlight of the season, this 12-hour event caps three weeks of music making by the best and brightest young players in new-music, working with some of the most accomplished composers and bandleaders in the field. Recent years have included visits from forward-looking musicians ranging from Steve Reich to Wilco’s Glenn Kotche. Though the Marathon is the most boisterous and accessible way to take a dip into “contemporary classical” music, do yourself a favor and visit the museum during the weeks prior to catch gallery recitals by BOAC fellows and faculty.
The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord at Chester Theatre Company
June 24 – July 5
Over at Barrington Stage Company, Mark St. Germain has given us a taste for probing one-act plays (Freud’s Last Session, Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah) that imagine meetings between historical contemporaries. This piece by Scott Carter, longtime producer of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, goes a step further, riffing off Sartre’s No Exit by planting Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy in a hell of their own making. Each of the three writers penned an alternative version of Biblical stories, and now they’re stuck in one room with all the time in the world to sort out their different perspectives on life, love and God. Chester, MA.
The Wreckers at Bard SummerScape
July 24 – August 2
This French-language opera, written in the early 20th century, borrows for its source material the little-remarked-upon stories of poor English villages whose residents made a practice of extinguishing seacoast beacons and thereby prompting ships to wreck upon the rocky shore. (The part-time pirates would steal the cargo and murder the crew, apparently. With the American Symphony Orchestra on board, this is an intriguing choice for the summer series at Bard—though it probably won’t inspire you taking to any seaborne vessels anytime soon. Sosnoff Theater, Fisher Center at Bard, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.
Audra McDonald at Tanglewood
The chance to see Broadway legend and Grammy winner Audra McDonald onstage at Ozawa, performing a hand-selected program of tunes and accompanied by her intimate combo? Yes, please. McDonald is also in town to star onstage at Williamstown Theatre Festival, but does us a solid by booking this concert as well. It’ll be just like cabaret… where the singer has won 6 Tony Awards and the venue is one of the most beautiful on the continent. Ozawa Hall, Lenox, MA.
Paul Taylor at Mahaiwe
July 9 - 12
How great is it that a residence by the world renowned Paul Taylor at the Mahaiwe is now a no-biggie annual event? This year’s schedule offers a veritable orgy of dance, with five performances and six different pieces, including “Company B,” “Eventide” and “Esplanade,” three dances from different points in Taylor’s career that meditate upon American life. And there’s plenty of time to wash up and recover from your July 4 barbecues before heading on down. Mahaiwe Center for the Performing Arts, Great Barrington, MA.
Big Dance Theater in Alan Smithee Directed This Play: Triple Feature at Jacob’s Pillow
July 8 - 12
Fresh from its U.S. debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, this piece by rock-star choreographer Annie-B Parson (directed by Parson and Paul Lazar, the directors of Big Dance Theater) takes a postmodern view of 20th century history and the creative process, with fragments of film scripts, novels and other found text assembled into what the company calls a “kinetic collage of political rhetoric, pathos, paranoia and suburban love.” Please sir, may I have some more? Doris Duke Theatre, Becket, MA.
Daniil Simkin’s INTENSIO at Jacob’s Pillow
July 22 - 26
This startling program boasts four world premieres by four noted choreographers, performed by ballet heroes from the American Ballet Theatre and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal including the great Daniil Simkin. Expect to elbow your way past plenty of pilgrims from out of town when you pick up your tickets to this one. Ted Shawn Theatre, Becket, MA.
La Otra Orilla at Jacob’s Pillow
This world premiere dance comes courtesy of a Montreal company with a deep love of traditional flamenco, seasoned by music from the mountainous Andalusa region of southern Spain. No mere traditionalists, though, La Otra Orilla present this electric, crowd-pleasing style through a contemporary lens. Doris Duke Theatre, Becket, MA.
Lar Lubovitch Dance Company at Kaatsbaan
This New York-based company, perhaps best known for the Othello-based dance it crafted in collaboration with American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet, has been going strong for nearly 50 years. Though the program on this evening is yet to be announced, we look forward to what Lubovitch has in store for this visit to the Hudson Valley. Tivoli, NY.
Pam Tanowitz and FLUX Quartet at Bard SummerScape
This Bessie Award-winning choreographer is known for combining classical dance styles with contemporary forms of movement. The program this evening includes a piece for nine dancers with live string-quartet accompaniment, and the world premiere of a solo to be performed en pointe by former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Ashley Tuttle. A full meal indeed. Sosnoff Theater, Fisher Center at Bard, Annandale-on-Hudson.
Man of La Mancha: Courtesy Barrington Stage Co.
Shakespeare & Company: Kevin Sprague
Audra McDonald: Autumn DeWilde
Mark Morris: Amber Star Merkens
Wynton Marsalis: Danny Clinch
Boston Cello Quartet: Jesse Weiner
Yo-Yo Ma: Todd Rosenberg
Harlem Quartet: Paul Wiancko
The Wreckers: Todd Norwood
Big Dance Theater: Mike VanSleen
Daniel Simkin: Ken Browar and Deborah Ory
La Otra Orilla and Pam Tanowitz Dance: Christopher Duggan
Lar Lubovitch: Yi-Chun Wu
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Basilica Hudson’s 24-Hour Drone: A Sound And Social Scene
Photo by Matt Charland
By Jamie Larson
A whisper, a warning, a quick snap or an unceasing tone — sound is elemental. Starting Saturday, April 25, at 3 p.m., the waterfront industrial cathedral that is Basilica Hudson will become a “temple of sound” as it embarks on a super collaborative, inaugural event, the 24-Hour Drone: Experiments in Sound and Music.
Drone, simply defined, is a tone or group of tones held for a long period of time, occasionally shifting and evolving, a sound that some find is a mind-altering, meditative experience. From Saturday to Sunday, the Basilica drone event will feature well-known names from the noise, music and sound art world as well as more conventionally understood musicians and even performances on instruments used in religious worship like gongs and Tibetan singing bowls.
Basilica cofounder and celebrated musician in her own right Melissa Auf der Maur admits the Drone may seem like an unusual season opener for the venue. But after five years growing the former glue factory’s reputation as a premier arts and culture venue, it’s time for something truly different to set the tone.
“We were inspired to open our season with an experiment, which represents the heart of our organization,” says Auf der Maur, who runs the Basilica with husband and fellow artist Tony Stone. “This event is the most cutting-edge example of our love of sound and space.”
Auf der Maur said the idea for the event came to her before she even owned the space, when overlooking the imposing Basilica with Bob van Heur, organizer of Le Guess Who?, a four-day experimental sound and music festival that takes place each November in the Netherlands. He also is now the co-host of the Hudson 24-Hour Drone.
“We are interested in the power of sound on its own, outside of music,” Auf der Maur continues, adding she hopes future drone events will run 48 hours. “This is a way to analyze the essence of sound. The power of sound has a history of use in rituals, to help people transcend. There is a metaphysical effect.”
Photo by Bill Stone
A ticket to the 24-Hour Drone gives you a pass to come and go during the event but there will undoubtedly be diehards there for the duration. Food will be available for purchase: dinner Saturday night (the bar will be open) and brunch Sunday morning. The performances will take place in the center of the Basilica’s massive 7,000-square-foot hall and attendees will surround them. People are encouraged to bring mats and anything else needed to remain comfortable during the long-duration experiment.
Some of the most well-known and influential names in noise music as well as local artists will perform in the Drone. The lineup boasts Prurient, one of the genre’s biggest names; Montreal-based futurists SUUNS; Patrick Higgins of ZS, polyglot NYC composer and out-of-the-box classical guitarist; Arone Dyer, of musical duo Buke and Gase; and Randy Gibson, a minimalist composer/performer who creates enveloping and ritualistic works in Just Intonation and many more.
Picture by Matt Charland
One of the more structured, though no less experimental, performances on the schedule will be when the Drone intersects exactly with the 150th anniversary of the very hour President Lincoln’s funeral train stopped in Hudson on April 25, 1865. Organized by local historian Carole Osterink, a reenactment at 8:45 p.m. will set forth from the outdoor grounds of Basilica, cross over the train tracks, and honor Lincoln’s passing with a dirge, sung by women dressed all in white. The original event was reportedly described by the train commander as “one of the weirdest ever witnessed.”
After this beautiful and bizarre temporal convergence, Bobby Previte, a legendary percussionist and exceptional composer/orchestrator in the thriving jazz and experimental music scene will conduct an ensemble of Hudson Valley musicians back in the Basilica. The performance will feature his drone-inspired interpretation of Aaron Copland’s masterpiece, “Lincoln Portrait,” to be narrated by local musical wizard Brian Dewan.
Dewan, who will be performing at different points during the event, will play an instrument he created with his cousin, Leon Dewan, called a Swarmatron. The eerie electro-Theremin-like instrument, which Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor popularized on his Academy Award-winning soundtrack for The Social Network, is controlled by moving one’s hands over two bands of eight-track ribbon. The device seems well suited for Drone and Dewan, who is better known for his often comic rock-folk. He’s contemplative about his part in the unique event.
“I like the idea that in a drone, which is such a static thing, all the action is in the slight variation. The trick is to have it always mutating,” he says. “[24-Hour Drone] is not a focused experience. It’s more of a sound and social experience than a concert. You’re just steeping in it.”
Saturday, April 25, 8 p.m. - Sunday, April 26, 3 p.m.
$15 Early Bird Tickets, $20 at the door
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The ‘New Brooklyn’ Redux, But This Time In Music
Looking out from Dope Jams, a vinyl mecca that moved from Brooklyn to Oak Hill, NY at the base of the Catskills.
By Jaime Lowe
It’s official: Brooklyn has migrated. These days, Brooklyn is more than just a borough in New York. For better or worse, it’s an ethos that has seeped into the suburbs, retail awareness and — most significantly to Vassar professor Leonard Nevarez and writer Piotr Orlov — into the countryside, where urbanism has impacted the music and community of Hudson Valley and upstate New York.
“There’s a huge rich scene — this area has championed people like Pete Seeger, so folk is a big part of the foundation,” says Nevarez, chair of the sociology department at Vassar who studies and teaches about musical urbanism (he also writes about it here). That foundation fosters a more palatable and more accessible community — a folk-based Americana revival that complements artisanal, DIY, homespun sensibilities.
But can there be — and is this recent influx of ex-Brooklynites evidence of — a New Brooklyn? “There’s been a more visible stream of musicians moving to places like Hudson, and Kingston and New Paltz are bubbling with musical activity as well,” Navarez says.
The musical migration of artistic communities, micro-scenes, and the exodus of artists from major cities will be the subject of a panel on Wednesday, April 8 at Vassar featuring Navarez and Orlov, who calls himself a techno analyst, media forager, editorial voice and digital strategist on his blog, Raspberry Fields. Hua Hsu, an associate professor in the English Department at Vassar College, will also be joining the discussion.
“This event is inspired by and addressing that trend,” Nevarez says. “We’re also interested in talking about how the entertainment options have expanded — even things like an electronic music dance festival is up near Albany.”
EDM isn’t what normally emerges from the rural landscape, Nevarez acknowledges. “We hear that the Bohemians are aging out, into their 40s and 50s and are leaving the city. New Paltz has become a cluster of Indie rock, and it’s where Team Love Records relocated from the city. There are shows that have a much younger profile and are linked with the contemporary indie scene through singer/songwriter Conor Oberst. There’s also the type of music playing out of The Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie — like working class metal.” According to Nevarez, there are at least three different overlapping scenes.
Basilica Hudson, a space that influences performers.
As an ex-Brooklynite population moves north, does the culture shift with the new creative sensibilities? Nevarez thinks it goes both ways. “The larger issue here is that the Hudson Valley is now being absorbed into the NYC metropolitan economy. People have urban ties. For a certain kind of professional class, creative class, freelance class, their work is still centered in urban economy; the style of life and the style of work is very much an urban milieu.” But it’s now an urban milieu with rural twist.
“Americana music certainly strives to convey a kind of solitary atmosphere. It conveys an intimate communion and feel. More than a few artists have moved up here to commune with the rustic architectures and landscape.”
And does the environment affect the way musicians create, the communities they build and the sound that emerges?
“I tend to think the environment doesn’t influence choices as much. This is not native, these are not generations of people with a tradition,” says Nevarez. But it is a place that offers space and time to contemplate expression. “I think in the Basilica Soundscape festival, where they encourage artists with this fantastic industrial space, the space dictates what people are doing.”
So maybe it’s not a New Brooklyn, but a Brooklyn that’s expanded Upstate, a place where an industrial warehouse won’t sell so quickly to real estate developers for hundreds of millions of dollars?
“It’s hard for anyone to root their cultural practices in direct rural practice. People have more choices now. But that’s the big question, why a musician would want to live and work in a rural place? It’s a place to focus on music and to get away from distractions.”
Photos courtesy of Kate Glicksberg.
Looking for the New Brooklyn:
Creative Migrations and Musical Landscapes in Upstate New York
Wednesday, April 8 at 8 p.m.
Taylor Hall 203
Vassar College, Poughkeepsie
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BSO’s Free Chamber Concert Is A Tease To Tanglewood Season
Poring over the 2015 Tanglewood season brochure is a pretty delicious activity, but it also leads to jonesing for the Boston Symphony Orchestra to get here already. You’ll have to wait until June for the entire orchestra to arrive, but a healthy contingent will be giving a (free) concert this Sunday at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.
The BSO Community Chamber Concerts were created to provide relevant and engaging free chamber music concerts performed by BSO musicians in communities limited in access to the BSO. We’re lucky enough to have the BSO as our neighbor during the summer, so for those of us in the Rural Intelligence region, these spring chamber concerts, going on their fifth year, are really more of a warmup (and tease) to the season that starts in little more than three months from now.
“The Community Chamber Concert in Pittsfield is special, in that it allows the BSO to continue to personally and musically connect with the Berkshires area community during the ‘non-Tanglewood’ season, ” says Jessica Schmidt, the BSO’s director of Education and Community Engagement.
On Sunday at 3 p.m., six members of the BSO will offer the Moazart Quintet in E-flat for horn and strings and the Brahms String Quartet No. 2 in A minor. The program will last approximately an hour and will be followed by a coffee and dessert reception for the audience and musicians.
Short, sweet, and a welcome harbinger that Tanglewood season is, indeed, on its way.
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MASS MoCA Keeps It Fresh With Festivals…Bluegrass and Otherwise
Fans gather at the 2013 FreshGrass festival. Photo: Danielle Poulin
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
So it came as no surprise when the institution announced it was converting another old factory building into a gallery dedicated to the large-scale work of German artist Anselm Kiefer, including a sculpture made from undulating waves of jagged concrete.
But a bluegrass festival? That was a bit of a surprise when FreshGrass debuted in September of 2011. Yet the growing success of the event, in tandem with the much higher-profile Wilco bonanza known as the Solid Sound Festival, is living proof that this museum has become a first-class performance venue. And its specialty is exceedingly well-run festivals.
Joe Thompson has led MASS MoCA toward a new specialty — exceedingly well-run music festivals. Photo: Olympia Shannon
“We’re interested in new ideas and the formation of culture today,” the museum’s founding director, Joe Thompson, says. “We just think American roots music and bluegrass is going through a really interesting and lively and idea-filled moment right now, and that’s very much what MASS MoCA is about.”
This year’s FreshGrass festival runs Friday evening through Sunday, featuring headliners Emmylou Harris, The Infamous Stringdusters, David Grisman Sextet, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Sam Bush and the duo of Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn. (Talent in previous years has included lots of other big names in the field, like Yonder Mountain String Band, Del McCoury Band, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Trampled By Turtles and The Devil Makes Three.)
FreshGrass is no boutique event. It has quickly earned a place as a major bluegrass and roots-music festival in the region. This reckoning is based on the names it draws as well as its burgeoning popularity. The first year, the event — conceived in July and hurriedly executed just two months later — sold a disappointing 400 tickets. The next year, that number jumped to 1,600. In 2013 the attendance total shot up again, to 4,000.
“Because it’s made a little bit of a splash in that world, there’s a lot of enthusiasm from artists and their agents and managers,” says Ollie Chanoff, an associate curator for performing arts at MoCA. “Whereas we were hustling to book acts the first couple years, now we have a lot of people contacting us and asking to be on the festival.”
An unidentified band plays a pop-up set in one of the MASS MoCA galleries during the FreshGrass festival. Photo: Bill Wright
This museum has long had a sharp eye for forward-thinking live music. It’s the longtime host of the Bang on a Can music institute and festival, and has hosted concerts by Beck, Kim Gordon’s new project Body/Head, Marc Ribot, Jeff Mangum and Talib Kweli, to name some examples from just the last few years.
But the story of MASS MoCA’s burgeoning sideline in big festivals starts with Wilco. When that Chicago-based band created its first-ever festival around the MoCA facility in 2009, the museum folks got their first taste of five thousand people walking around the grounds at once. Thompson says he was initially concerned about the “beer at the threshold” issue — how to encourage a boisterous, hands-on attitude outside at the performances and vending areas, but still enforce proper museum etiquette inside the galleries.
As for those beers (and waters and iced coffees), concert-goers placed them on tables set up outside the main gallery entrance. But moreover, Thompson says, Wilco’s audience — and later, the FreshGrass crowd — proved to be model candidates for recruitment into the world of contemporary art.
“The audience is just a spectacular audience to have in a museum. They were not only engaged and intensely inquisitive and curious but they were also deeply respectful of the art as well as the music,” Thompson says. “Every museum sits around thinking about how to attract an ever-widening and ever-more-diverse audience. It’s easy to talk about, it’s hard to do. Having six or seven or eight thousand people a day come in to your galleries, people who may not have spent a lot of time in front of contemporary art before — that warms a museum director’s heart.”
The music is hot, but the vibe is casual. Photo: Danielle Poulin
Of course, MoCA has done more than just pull off the three Solid Sound and four FreshGrass festivals. Each one received conspicuously positive audience reviews, and with good reason. As the headline to one review in Metroland described it, they were each “a civilized affair.” From the free water to ample wi-fi to a range of reasonably priced, tasty food and drink options sold by locally based vendors, music festivals at MASS MoCA have been very fan-friendly. This is accomplished with help from a veritable army of volunteers, as well as support from Wilco’s Easthampton-based management team and FreshGrass producing partner Manitou Media, now known as Freshgrass, LLC.
Thompson says he expects an attendance this weekend of 5,000 to 5,500 festival-goers. With three years’ distance, and lots of intervening success, Thompson aptly sees the first year of FreshGrass as an investment in something bigger.
“Even though it was a financial black hole,” he says, “the quality was great. The musicians were coming up to our staff and our board and saying, ‘We know this must be tough financially, but please do it again. We know there’s an audience out there.’ That turned out to be true.”
FreshGrass Bluegrass Festival at MASS MoCA
Friday, September 19—Sunday, September 21
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA
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There’s Still Room At The Inn
The spirit of the 1960s endured at Lenox’s Music Inn.
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
The goings-on at the late, great Music Inn surely provided lots of good (though perhaps hazy) memories for folks who attended concerts and other events there. David Rothstein, the third in a series of owners, has long served as the steward of the legacy of that onetime countercultural bastion sitting next door to Tanglewood.
But soon, he says, the Music Inn—or at least, an incarnation of its spirit—may be ready to help people make some new memories.
In a free presentation at Bascom Lodge on August 24, Rothstein will talk about the history of the place he took over in 1970 and ran through the summer of 1979, before the funky oasis was felled by some combination of the worsening economy, competition from Boston-based music promoters and Tanglewood itself, and resistance from the neighbors in Lenox and Stockbridge. (A gate-crashing incident at an Allman Brothers concert is said to have been the last straw.)
Rothstein’s gaze is directed at the future as well as the past. He’s drafting plans to start promoting concerts at other, existing venues as Music Inn events. He hopes to announce the first concert in this series on Sunday at Bascom Lodge, pending finalization of the details.
“The Music Inn name seems to be alive and well in the Berkshires,” he says.
Van Morrison (at right) offstage during a visit to The Music Inn. Photo by Nanette Sanson.
The point was driven home for him earlier this month, when he was heading out of a Tanglewood concert featuring Yo-Yo Ma. He mentioned the Music Inn after striking up an idle conversation with a man directing traffic, who immediately offered a list of the acts he’d seen there himself. “Maybe I’m loony, but I think it would be fun to do,” he says of the concert series. “Saying that the Music Inn never really stopped. We just took a little break.”
New York City public relations professionals Stephanie and Phillip Barber started the Music Inn in 1950, when they bought some of the outbuildings on the grounds of the Wheatleigh manor. They scheduled jazz and folk concerts with the likes of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, plus groundbreaking musical roundtables where academics sat alongside artists and unpacked the recent history of music.
The Barbers’ little operation blossomed into the first-ever school of jazz (for four summers), and a pioneering concert series that anticipated the (slightly) later jazz festival at Newport. Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Ornette Coleman are among the many jazz greats who taught, studied or played there. (Miles Davis arrived late and missed his one scheduled gig, but legend holds that he played a few songs for the kitchen staff out in the field.)
Richie Havens. Photo by Nanette Sanson.
After an intervening owner shifted the focus toward pop and rock acts in the 1960s, the place sat idle for three years before Rothstein and partners took the helm. During this third act of the historic venue’s history—the era best remembered by Music Inn “alumni” kicking around today—acts like the Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, the Kinks, and Bob Marley and the Wailers came to town.
But wait, there was more.
“It wasn’t just concerts,” Rothstein says,” we had a theatre company, a movie house, restaurants, poetry, chamber music. It was whatever was happening. So I just want to fill in some blanks so that people see it in a bigger context.”
There’s been renewed interest in this history lately, with the creation of an online archive of Music Inn photos and stories, plus a couple reunion events featuring live music and memorabilia. (There’ll be another this fall.)
Photo by Nanette Sanson.
“It’s a little amazing to see how long the memories last. People just come out of the woodwork, off the street,” Rothstein says, “and talk about it. They seem to remember more about it than I do, maybe. It really was a time that doesn’t compare in any way to more recent times.”
Though these memories are preserved mainly in photographs (and an unreleased documentary about the Music Inn’s early days), the physical evidence of this remarkable episode in the Berkshires’ cultural history has not faded entirely from view.
Near the site of the venue’s old supper club, on land that is now occupied by the White Pines condo development, there’s a plaque listing the artists who played the Music Inn, sitting inconspicuously on a tree.
“The History of the Music Inn” with David Rothstein
In the lobby of Bascom Lodge atop Mount Greylock
Adams, MA at 6 p.m., free
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Drummer Bobby Previte Cooks A New Brew In Hudson
Photo: Michael DiDonna
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
Bobby Previte has long been associated with New York’s once-thriving “Downtown” scene, where avant-jazz excursions and other musical experiments used to happen with regularity at venues like the Knitting Factory.
Though that spirit lives on in certain pockets, the ever-creeping cost of living in the City has helped kill the sense of kinship that used to predominate, he says. So when the much-accomplished drummer and his wife bought a house in Claverack last year, he started playing regular gigs at Helsinki Hudson with the goal of importing some of that old Downtown spirit.
In fact, he created a Hudson version of the shape-shifting ensemble with which he used to hold court in the City, dedicated to Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis. Voodoo Orchestra North, as he calls it, has played a series of Monday-night residencies at Helsinki. They’re currently booked through the end of August, and more dates are sure to come.
“Really, what I was trying to start was a community. A community of musicians playing a kind of music they might not get a chance to play up there. We can play anything we want, because we’re not trying to please some bandleader, or anybody,” he says on the phone from Manhattan, where he still keeps an apartment. “That speaks to one of the larger reasons I moved to the area. I missed the Downtown community, which I thought was fragmented and not there anymore. I wanted to go back to where there was a scene, where people knew each other and there was cross-pollination and everybody spoke to each other.”
It sounds like he’s finding it by the Hudson.
“I thought it might be like that,” he adds, “and I’ve been very happy that my suspicions were confirmed. There’s a lot of great musicians there and a lot of cool people, and there’s more all the time.”
Photo: Kate Previte
His Monday-night happenings feature local players from assorted musical backgrounds, as well as the occasional New York-based cat. Previte has found the local music scene so rich, in fact, that he’s started a new quintet made up of some City players and some Voodoo Orchestra North folk, and will debut the group at Hudson’s Half Moon on August 30.
Previte is particularly associated with John Zorn, Elliot Sharp and Wayne Horvitz—guys who aren’t household names in Peoria (or Hudson, necessarily), but are near-deities to in-the-know fans of various shades of experimental music. Among his many current projects is Omaha Diner, a quartet with Charlie Hunter, Skerik and Steve Bernstein that plays radical re-imaginings of former Number 1 hits. He started the Voodoo Orchestra concept for a weekly residency at the Knitting Factory in 1999, and held court there for years. He’s also taken the concept on the road, using Miles’s music as a proving ground for students and young musicians in various cities.
“Other than the fact it changed my life?”
He remembers buying the album [cover at left] upon its 1969 release and wearing out the grooves despite finding the contents, in a sense, mystifying. Though Miles had been tinkering with electronic elements in sessions for the previous year, the whopper of a double album served startling notice that he was leaving the world of postbop behind. Dark, dense and filled with swirling cross-currents of rhythm and (occasionally) melody, it’s an album that yields up its many secrets slowly, upon repeated listening.
Mammoth in size, scope and ambition, the album is not an easy one to “cover.” Previte painstakingly created his own transcriptions of the music, a process he likens to an archeological dig as he created, in effect, his own arrangement of the full piece. “My Bitches Brew is one version of Bitches Brew. I’m sure there are many others that are possible,” he says.
Previte enjoys having a new respite from the City.
The idea is to create a musical platform within which he and his collaborators can create something new every time they’re on the bandstand. He’s also quick to point out the key, partnering role played by Helsinki Hudson, which he lauds as a “world-class club with a world-class sound system and sound engineers.” And to encourage the sense of community surrounding the residency, he and the venue keep ticket prices ridiculously reasonable: $5 in advance, and $7 day-of-show. (That’s not a typo.)
“I wanted to create a scene. I wanted people to be able to just kind of go, off the cuff: Oh right, that’s tonight. Let’s go!” Previte says. “I wanted it to be spontaneous — like the music.”
The music may be spontaneous, but the effect is by design. Indeed, if you’re looking to join a new musical scene, what better way than to invite everybody over to toss their own ingredients into the brew?
Voodoo Orchestra North
Club Helsinki Hudson
August 18 & 25
Bobby Previte New Quintet
The Half Moon in Hudson, NY
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In Its 25th Year, Bard Music Festival Focuses on Schubert
By Robert Burke Warren
Every summer, the Bard Music Festival invites audiences into the world of a specific composer, presenting musical works alongside lectures about the artist’s life and times, plus panel discussions and Q & A sessions. While many past subjects – Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich, et al – might be flummoxed by the wide-ranging, jam-packed nature of the agenda, Austrian Franz Schubert, 2014’s Silver Jubilee honoree, would find the bustling, many-platformed event right up his alley. Schubert, who died at age 31 in 1828, was quite the multi-tasker, creating an astonishing amount of music in what little time he had. He left behind 1500-plus works, including songs (lieder – over 600), symphonies, and operas, most of which he’d performed only for his friends. Much of that work, both known and unknown, will shine at Bard Music Festival’s 25th anniversary.
Chirstopher H. Gibbs photo by China Jorrin.
“The way Schubert presented himself in Vienna in the 1820s was exactly Bard programming,” says BMF artistic co-director and eminent Schubert scholar Christopher H. Gibbs. He is referring to the composer’s “Schubertiades,” informal gatherings during Schubert’s brief life, usually in a private home, held by and for a small circle of admirers and patrons.
“When he presented the one concert of his music during his lifetime in 1828,” Gibbs says, “it began with the first movement of a string quartet, then songs, then a choral piece, then a piano trio. That’s exactly what we do that no one else does.” Among many other events, BMF 2014, entitled “Schubert and His World,” recreates that historic 1828 night of music, exactly as envisioned by Schubert when, unbeknownst to him, he had but eight months to live.
All told, “Schubert and His World” features twelve concert programs over two weekends – August 8–10 and August 15–17 – complemented by pre-concert lectures, panel discussions, special events, and expert commentary.
As with every BMF, co-founder and artistic co-director (and Bard dean) Leon Botstein looks forward to providing an outing in which audiences don’t just sit passively, but actively engage as they delve into the society, politics, literature, art and music of a composer’s times.
Leon Botstein photo by Steve J. Sherman.
“One of the things that attracts our regular concert-goers,” he says, “is they get to know the artist, either in a musical connection, or from a pre-concert talk, or a panel.” As for “Schubert and His World,” Botstein promises gritty stories. “What was urban life like in Vienna in the 1820s?” he asks. “That’ll be an interesting dimension.”
Schubert’s life was, indeed, interesting; although a genius, he struggled financially most of the time, chased women but sired no children, and faced frequent rejection from publishers, all while turning out copious, revolutionary work that was performed, then shelved for decades. Perhaps because of his early demise from syphilis, combined with undaunted determination and a fervent emotionality in his compositions, he looms large in the hearts of romantics.
“He is probably the most ‘Hollywood-ized’ of the great composers, in terms of film and legend,” says Botstein. “He achieved fame only posthumously, emerging gradually, and, over the nineteenth century, was turned into somebody else.” In addition to showcasing the well-known Schubert works saved for posterity by the composer’s friends, Botstein and Gibbs have also dug deep, in the hopes of fleshing out the “real” Schubert. “We’ll be presenting a lot of music that people don’t know,” he says.
Considering Schubert both as he was known in his lifetime and as posterity has come to understand him, Weekend 1, “The Making of a Romantic Legend” (Aug 8–10), offers an immersion in Schubert’s Vienna, contextualizing the composer’s early life and career within the contradictions of his native city, while Weekend 2, “A New Aesthetics of Music” (Aug 15–17), addresses the nature of Schubert’s originality and of his subsequent legacy and influence.
“Schubert and His World” continues Bard’s great tradition of revolutionizing and enriching the concert experience, unearthing buried treasure, and lighting up the Fisher Center and the tree-shaded grounds of Annandale-on-Hudson with music and much more.
Bard Music Festival
“Schubert and His World”
Friday, August 8 – Sunday, August 10
Friday, August 15 – Sunday, August 17
Box Office: (845) 758-7900
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Hear This: ‘Beethoven’ Mixes Music And Theater At The Mount
Photo: Jacqueline Chambord
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
Though we may tend to think of it nowadays in terms of visuals, theater is an art form that’s always been very concerned with listening. In Shakespeare’s day, audiences went to “hear” a play, not see one. There’s a reason theater artists refer to sub-units of a scene as “beats.”
So, the pairing of music with onstage drama is a natural fit. But in the hands of the Ensemble for the Romantic Century, the live music does more than enhance the emotional rhythms onstage. It is both a form of storytelling, and the subject of the story.
“Beethoven Love Elegies” is the troupe’s latest blend of history, music and biography, all in service of a story that means to enhance our understanding of a great artist from the past, and the context of that artist’s work. It depicts a young Beethoven making the scene in Vienna, teaching music lessons and looking for a wife as he grew increasingly deafer. Recorded music is integrated into the action, though four onstage musicians also play fare like the “Moonlight” sonata (dedicated to a young music student with whom Beethoven fell in love), his “Ghost” piano trio, and assorted lieder on the topic of romance.
Eve Wolf: writer, pianist, company founder
“When I play music, I already time travel. I feel I’m in another era with that person,” says ECR founder, pianist, and frequent playwright Eve Wolf. “Because I also like music history, I reconstruct in my mind the whole milieu. And I want to give that to other people.”
Though the troupe frequently plays in New York, it made its Berkshires debut last summer at Shakespeare & Company. (Longtime S&Co. members Jonny Epstein and Ariel Block have performed with ECR.) The premiere of “Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart” in Lenox was a hit here, and the show went on to play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this year. The theatrical/musical alchemists return to the region again this year, playing 12 performances of “Beethoven Love Elegies” at The Mount’s Stables Theatre.
Wolf, who attended the Red Fox summer camp in New Marborough as a child, went on to be a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, and kept a house in Stockbridge for 20 years, says this combination of music and theater is just right for audiences in the Berkshires.
The cast is led by Australian actor Kire Tosevski, a newcomer to Berkshire stages, but includes several familiar faces — including the actress and singer Deborah Grausman, who’s been seen onstage at S&Co. in “Master Class” and a staged reading of an adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility,” among various other projects; Doria Bramante, a veteran of S&Co.’s actor training program; Johnny Segalla, who appeared in youth productions at S&Co., Berkshire Theatre Group and Barrington Stage Company while growing up in Berkshire County; and the ever-dapper Colin Gold, who temporarily left the area last year to study at the prestigious London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art.
Don Sanders, the Ensemble’s resident director, is familiar with the 413 area code through his summer house in Belchertown. He says the story of Beethoven’s 20s and 30s is generally unfamiliar to audiences. “Here was this guy, almost like a young rock star,” Sanders says, “coming to the center of his kind of music — Vienna — and making it, both musically and romantically.”
But some of Beethoven’s personality, as depicted in screen stories of his life, will seem familiar. “His difficult personality, which is also very comic,” Sanders says, “is already on display. So is his attitude toward the aristocracy that he spends his time with.”
Wolf intends for this fresh look at Beethoven to be enlightening, with respect to both his personal story and the context of his music.
“I think it’s a side of Beethoven that people don’t know. They always think of him older and completely eccentric, with the wild hair. But this is Beethoven at 30, good looking, with lots of love interests. He’s searching for a wife and not finding one, but also writing his only opera, ‘Fidelio,’ in which he creates the perfect wife as a character.”
The whole piece is based on documentary evidence from Beethoven’s life — letters, diary entries, contemporary accounts. Wolf, who wrote it, says there’s no need to dress the story up with fictional devices.
“You don’t need fiction for Beethoven. The real stuff is already very interesting.”
Ensemble for the Romantic Center presents “Beethoven Love Elegies”
Through Aug. 3
The Stables Theatre at The Mount