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Basilica Hudson


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Season Preview 2017: As Always, Our Cup Runneth Over

When it comes time to compile this annual season preview, there’s a lot of counting involved. We aim for ten selections from the categories of theater, music and dance, but there’s always some juggling as the list gets longer and one category perhaps loses an item so another can stretch. There’s always too much to fit.

Another number that’s come up is five — this is my fifth year writing this preview, with help, of course, from the RI elves who always spot some great events I missed. Some obvious choices, like James Taylor over July 4 weekend, don’t always need to be noted if there’s a smaller event more likely to be missed that could use the attention. This is not a fully comprehensive guide to summer, of course; elsewhere on the site you’ll find news on the latest culinary options, visual arts and everything else that makes up the rich tapestry of this region. 

It’s always a privilege to act as an initial taster of the buffet on offer, and to help you navigate the season. As each item is added to the list, I take a moment to imagine the event itself happening. But you can do that one better, by heading out, taking in a show and letting us know how it went. ‘Tis the season!  —Jeremy D. Goodwin


Mary Ann McSweeney Quartet
May 13
Whitney Center for the Arts in Pittsfield

Jazz has always been an ecumenical art form. With this concert, presented by Berkshires Jazz, the Brooklyn-based musician gives the local premiere of an original program that works with the traditional Portuguese folk form, the fado. McSweeney plays bass and her band includes guitarist Jason Ennis, Todd Reynolds on violin, Conor Meehan on drums and an appearance by vocalist Natalia Bernal. This should be an interesting exploration of musical influences both old and new.

Sean Rowe
May 18
Club Helsinki in Hudson

Photo: Matt Dayak

Sean Rowe is a man with a big voice, a big beard, and a big talent. But his woodsy look is very far from a pose — his website declares him a singer/songwriter/forager, and we have no doubt he’d be our first pick in a wood-chopping competition. We’ve had the pleasure of seeing him blow away a room of people at The Lantern in Pittsfield during a Word X Word festival, and do the same at an outdoor stage at Solid Sound one year. His intensity scales well. The native of Troy, New York released his latest album in April and is on a tour that takes him across the country and to Europe, but this Helsinki date should be a warm homecoming. Even without a wood stove.

Close Encounters With Music: Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman
June 10
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington

We’re always interested to go on whatever historical/musicological journey Close Encounters artistic director Yehuda Hanani cues up for us. This program offers a welcome earful of pieces by great female composers, some more famous than others — among them Clara Schumann, Fannie Mendelssohn, Germaine Tailleferre, Maria Theresia von Paradis, Ethel Smyth, Lili Boulanger, Amy Beach, Marianna Martinez, and Augusta Holmès. And those historical pieces will be complemented by a “quilt” of newly commissioned short pieces conceived as musical portraits of luminaries like Emma Lazarus and Sojourner Truth, plus a selection from Patricia Leonard’s opera based on the famous correspondence between Abigail Adams and her husband John, the president. Remember the ladies, indeed!

Solid Sound Festival
June 23–25
MASS MoCA in North Adams

It’s a little hard to believe this is only the fifth time Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival will turn North Adams into the literate alt-rock capital of the nation for a few days. The Chicago-based band launched this exciting experiment in 2010, and it has become one of the indelible cultural events of the region. Between twin sets by Wilco, appearances by their many side projects and other bands, and the creative partnership of MASS MoCA, this is one of the great rock festival experiences that I’ve ever sampled. From pop-up sets in the galleries to art installations by Wilco members to ample free water and WiFi, this is a laid-back festival experience designed to please both artist and patron.

Aston Magna: Music for Forbidden Dances
June 16 at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson
June 17 at Saint James Place in Great Barrington

This festival doesn’t always make the biggest splash, but in its 45th season it continues to be a real force to be reckoned with. What began as informal musicales at the Great Barrington estate from which the festival now takes its name has become a trusted institution. Music lovers who have a sweet tooth (or is it sweet ear?) for what’s known in the classical world as early music have long known they can hear top-shelf renditions of Baroque music, madrigals and other delicacies. But you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy such great stuff, especially as found in artistic director Daniel Stepner’s thoughtful curation. This program kicks off the season with dance music like the Spanish saraband, the Baroque chaconne, and the good old tango, featuring featuring Hector del Curto, bandoneon player. Talk about golden oldies.

Photos: Maurice Jerry Beznos and Jason Bell

Schubert’s Summer Journey w/Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax
July 6 & 20; August 3, 8, 17 & 23
Tanglewood in Lenox

The creative partnership between Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma is a fascinating one, from their much-loved performances and recordings of Beethoven’s sonatas for cello and piano (which they performed, in toto, at Tanglewood two summers ago) to this latest project, a six-concert series curated by Ax. The fascinating series of programs focuses on Schubert’s final works, but finds room for a world premiere by violinist/composer Colin Jacobsen, a veteran of Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. It should be a fascinating journey. You aren’t positively required to catch all six concerts, I suppose…but it wouldn’t hurt.

Photo: Amy Grantham

Graham Nash
July 11
Infinity Hall in Norfolk

If you’re planning on catching Stephen Stills and Judy Collins at the Mahaiwe, it’s just poor manners to miss this show, no? This concert will kick off a tour behind Nash’s latest album “This Path Tonight,” which was released last year after a 14-year recording hiatus. It’s a big time of change for Nash, who ended his 38-year marriage and over from Hawaii to New York. He also published a memoir in 2013 — which unfortunately prompted a nasty rift with onetime bandmate David Crosby — so it’s safe to say this honey-voiced artist has been looking both backward and forward lately. For someone who’s inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for two separate bands (Crosby, Stills and Nash plus The Hollies), this seems like a fascinating time to hear what he’s up to now.

Lincoln Mayorga: Chopin and Candlelight
July 16
PS21 in Chatham

Here’s another nice juxtaposition of music and source material. Pianist Lincoln Mayorga has had a fascinating career, from The Standells’ “Dirty Water” to helping with Phil Ochs with the baroque protest pop of his later period to a flourishing career as concert pianist. For this concert, the Columbia County resident will play a series of Chopin’s piano preludes, with actor Nancy Rothman reading from the letters of his lover Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, also known as George Sand. And it does appear that some candles will be expected as well, though the illumination this evening should come in forms both literal and metaphorical.

Tanglewood Takes Flight: A Celebration of Birds and Music with Mass Audubon
July 27–30
Tanglewood & Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary

A visit to Tanglewood always makes for a mixture of music and nature, and sometimes — particularly on a Sunday afternoon — there are some birds in The Shed who are very eager to join in with the sounds coming from onstage. But the combination of musicology and ornithology is flying even further with this program, which spans Mass Audobon’s Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary and Tanglewood across four days of performances. You can mix and match, enjoying an early morning bird walk at Pleasant Valley before enjoying an on-site recital by pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard of selections from Messiaen’s “Catalogue of the Birds,” before catching Aimard at Ozawa Hall playing the composer’s “Oiseaux exotiques.” With all this commingling of real-life and art, we should be glad they’re not also adding any Hitchcock to Film Night.

Dimitrij,” by Antonin Dvořák with the American Symphony Orchestra
July 28–August 6
Bard SummerScape in Annandale-on-Hudson

The annual opera selection at Bard SummerScape has become a foundation of many people’s summer concerts schedules in the RI region. This year, Antonín Dvořák’s 1882 opera Dimitrij, a defining element of Czech concert repertory, will do the honors. Though a smash on the home front, this epic piece wasn’t performed in the US until a Carnegie Hall appearance in 1984. It should prove to be fertile material for the team at Bard to dig into. Title character Dimitrij is erroneously thought to be the son of Ivan the Terrible, and Dvořák’s opera follows a story of political upheaval and intrigue. Acclaimed director Anne Bogart directs this new production, and music director Leon Botstein conducts his American Symphony Orchestra.

Photo: Hilary Scott

Boston Symphony Orchestra with guests
August 5
Tanglewood in Lenox

We had the chance to see the Mendelssohn portion of this program at Boston’s Symphony Hall, and it’s a thoroughly charming piece that is sure to thrive in the open air of The Shed. Bill Barclay, onetime wunderkind of Shakespeare & Company who nowadays wows as music director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, conceives of the composer’s music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in a semi-staged adaptation that proposes the creatively fevered artist at work. Boston-based actors Carson Elrod, Karen MacDonald and Will Lyman (whose voice you know as the indelible narrator of PBS’s “Frontline”) will bring some midsummer magic to the stage… and oh, by the way, Garrick Ohlsson will also be there along with the BSO to perform Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2. If you miss this one, you’re likely to wake up the next morning feeling like an ass.

Stephen Stills and Judy Collins
August 21
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington

Baby Boomer trivia masters (and their children…like me) all know that the Crosby, Stills and Nash classic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” was inspired by Judy Collins, whom Stephen Stills had dated.  So it’ll be a pleasure to catch this inspired pairing in the intimate environs of the Mahaiwe. They’ll dip into each other’s catalogs and combine their singular musical visions for an evening of unforgettable duets…one would imagine. Past tours have included such delicacies as Collins leading lead vocal and acoustic guitar duties on “Helplessly Hoping,” with Stills accompanying on piano. Pretty sweet.

Shanghai String Quartet
September 2 & 3
Music Mountain in Lakeville

This season’s calendar at this Lakeville jewel includes the expected list of top-notch chamber music, as well as a generous selection of jazz and vocal artists. But the season culminates with this visit, featuring Chinese-born pianist Qing Jiang. Her life changed at age 17 when she gave her American debut and was offered a full college scholarship backstage afterward. Her progress as a musician and a scholar hasn’t slowed since, and on the second evening she joins Shanghai String Quartet for two Beethoven string quartets and the Brahms Piano Quartet in G Major. But for the first concert, the quartet presents one of its signature pieces, member violinist Yi-Wen Jiang’s arrangement of several Chinese folk songs… plus some Mendelssohn and Brahms. A fascinating program.


May 7
WAM Theatre at No. Six Depot in West Stockbridge

WAM Theatre’s main season happens in the colder months, but it’s a good idea to catch up with what they have cooking with informal readings throughout the year. This is a fascinating play by Jackie Sibblies Drury, a great young talent on the scene. This reading marks director Alice Reagan’s WAM debut and features a three-person cast probing questions about the nature of love and of photography, and how well you can really know someone. It only requires the slightest nudge to find a reason to visit No. Six Depot anyway, so this should be a night in the gallery there not to miss.

Minor Character: Six Translations of Uncle Vanya at the Same Time
June 9–25
Sharon Playhouse

Ready for some more remixed Chekhov? This one is a mashup of six different English-language translations of “Uncle Vanya,” including some output from Google Translate. This inventive production by Brooklyn theater troupe New Saloon features multiple actors portraying each character, in what it calls an “athletic attempt to say one true thing.” It played earlier this year at Public Theater’s super-buzzy Under the Radar festival, and now make a welcome appearance in Sharon. Dah, this could be a sleeper favorite of the season.

June 21–July 15
Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield

The big, MainStage musical at Barrington Stage has long-ago earned its place as a highlight of the summer season. This year, we get two! Things get going with Tony Award-winning Ragtime, based on E.L. Doctorow’s popular novel about American assimilation… a hot topic in America right now. A story set in the early 20th century intermingling the stories of African Americans, monied whites and Jewish immigrants, has proved a perennial favorite. This production is directed by the multitalented Joe Calarco, resident director and director of new works at New York’s Signature Theatre.

July 4–August 6
Shakespeare & Company in Lenox

How rarely produced is Shakespeare’s Cymbeline? This will be the first time Shakespeare & Company has produced it on its main stage. More significantly, it’s the only Shakespeare play still standing that Tina Packer hasn’t directed. Until now. One of The Bard’s late-period “romances,” the play is based on legends from ancient Britain and involves forbidden romance, poison and mistaken identities. It’ll be fascinating to see Packer take it on, here in the 40th season of the company she founded way back when at The Mount… and completing her tour of the canon, to boot! What a momentous achievement for an interpreter of Shakespeare who has proven herself every inch a queen.

Skeleton Crew
July 13–23
Chester Theatre

The concluding part of playwright Dominique Morisseau’s August Wilson-inspired Detroit Trilogy, this play takes place in the break room of an auto factory that looks to be teetering on the edge of collapse. Amid a blizzard of cheap, post-election think pieces, here’s a fresh and raw look at the face of economic dislocation in America. This is its New England premiere, ahead of a Boston production scheduled for next winter. Morisseau is an important voice, and it’s great to see Chester taking this one on. This production is directed by Awoye Timpo, who served as associate director this year for the first Broadway production of August Wilson’s Jitney —a show that featured Berkshire favorite John Douglas Thompson, by the way, whose duties in Julius Caesar at the Delacorte Theater in the Park are keeping him busy this summer.

At Home At the Zoo (Zoo story)
July 19–August 26
Berkshire Theatre Group in Stockbridge

We look to Berkshire Theatre Group for authoritative interpretations of the classics of American theater, so we look with eagerness to this fascinating juxtaposition of two Edward Albee plays, following the death of the great playwright last fall. This program combines Albee’s 1959 classic “The Zoo Story” with the prequel he wrote nearly 50 years later, “Homelife.” Both plays look at loneliness and the various forms of human connection, as pertaining to both marriage and friendship. Eric Hill directs fellow BTG stalwarts David Adkins and Tara Franklin, plus Joey Collins, who earned a best actor nomination at the inaugural Berkshire Theatre Awards last year for his performance in BTG’s “The Homecoming.”

The Clean House
July 19–29
Williamstown Theatre Festival

Sarah Ruhl has proven to be one of the more inventive and interesting playwrights working today. The Clean House put her on the map in a big way when it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2005. Ruhl may still be waiting for that Pulitzer hardware, but it’s telling that WTF’s forward-looking artistic director Mandy Greenfield has programmed this title amid a season that’s otherwise swimming in premieres. Tony Award nominee Jessica Hecht (A View From The Bridge) leads a sparkling cast that also includes fellow Tony nominee Jayne Atkinson (familiar lately for her role on TV’s House of Cards) and Priscilla Lopez, veteran of Company, A Chorus Line and In The Heights on Broadway. Rebecca Aichman is helming, fresh from directing Marissa Tomei in Ruhl’s latest play, How to Transcend a Happy Marriage, which is playing Off Broadway currently.

Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow
July 26–August 6
Williamstown Theatre Festival

Creative mash-ups of Chekhov are all the rage, and have been for a few years so. So here comes this world premiere, a contemporary adaptation of the Russian master’s melancholy epic Three Sisters by playwright/actor Halley Feiffer, who has had fun with inherited classics of the theater before: Her play, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City, was a hit in New York last year. The cast for Moscow… includes red-hot Tony Award nominee Micah Stock, who was lately seen in last year’s revival of The Front Page. This has all the makings of a quirky favorite headed straight for New York, so catch it here while you can, comrade.

August 10–September 2
Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield

Artistic director Julianne Boyd leads this take on the Stephen Sondheim favorite that gave us “The Ladies Who Lunch” and “Being Alive.” The story of Robert, a perpetually single New Yorker looking for love amid a cluster of couples, challenged Broadway expectations a bit when it debuted in 1970, but now seems like the template for many cosmopolitan relationship stories that have come in its wake. With Boyd at the helm, this is sure to get lots of attention. Sondheim groupies will flock, so be sure to get set up with tickets before this runaway hit leaves the station.

The Wharton Comedies
August 17–September 10
Shakespeare & Company in Lenox

This twofer puts the spotlight on Shakespeare & Company’s very popular side line as perhaps the world’s leading presenter of Edith Wharton’s writings for the stage, typically adapted (as here) by Company co-founder Dennis Krausnick. These two satires, “Roman Fever” and “The Fullness of Life,” are directed by longtime S&Co. favorite Normi Noel. They feature the dashing David Joseph and two women about whose Wharton performances you could write a book: Corinna May and Diane Prusha. This is one of those performances that will have the hardcore fans salivating while also making plenty of new friends. It’s perhaps best paired with a tour of The Mount, just down the road.


Carolyn Dorfman Dance
June 3
Kaatsbaan International Dance Center in Tivoli

The New Jersey-based company presents a varied program, based in part on its proud proclamation of itself as a multi-ethnic troupe. It includes a new work by Dorfman called “Traces,” described as capturing “the richness and depth of the multi-ethnic artists.” Company favorite “Sextet” is on the bill as well, plus the world premiere of a piece by principal dancer As-Soon Kim, who worked with composer Greg Wall to interpolate traditional Korean drumming with electronics in the score. Kim says it explores her roots spanning the continents of Europe, Asia and North America. 

Jonah Bokaer Choreography
June 15–17
Basilica Hudson

Between appearances at Basilica Hudson, Jacobs’s Pillow and the Glass House in New Canaan, we’ve had the enjoyment of seeing Jonah Bokaer hone his approach and try out exciting new ideas over the past several seasons. This third visit to Basilica’s Main Hall features a performance of Bokaer’s 2013 trio piece “Occupant,” which he created with longtime collaborator Daniel Arsham. (The two caused a sensation two years ago with “Rules of the Game,” created with Pharrell Williams.) Pharrell isn’t a part of this piece, but it’ll still make you happy. Basilica Hudson indeed has a roof, but you should feel free to clap along as if it doesn’t. This performance should be memorable on its own, but it’s also a warmup to Bokaer’s appearances at the Pillow on June 21 through 25. 

Photo: PeiCheck Productions

Pilobolus Dance Theater
June 21–23
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket

This is the 85th anniversary season at the Pillow, and you can be forgiven if your impulse is to just camp out in the Becket woods all season and turn up there daily. The full schedule deserves a close look, but among the highlights should be this visit by Pilobolus Dance Theater, presenting a brand new commission composed expressly for the outdoor stage that hosts the free Inside/Out Performance Series. Pilobolus is a forward-thinking troupe that went ahead and became an institution too. It’ll be great to see what they’ve cooked up for this beautiful venue, one of the Berkshires’ iconic performance spaces. You can be forgiven if you feel like stretching out and kicking off your shoes.

Photo: Hilary Scott

Mark Morris Dance Group: “Lou 100: In Honor of the Divine Mr. Harrison
June 28 & 29
Tanglewood in Lenox

We’re delighted to see this annual visit by Mark Morris return to the Tanglewood calendar. And best of all, though it triggers many pleasant memories, this is no nostalgia trip. The conceptually honed program features four pieces set to the music of Lou Harrison, including a world premiere dance piece— “Numerator,” featuring a “varied trio” for violin, piano and percussion. This program celebrates the centenary of the birth of the outspoken microtonal composer beloved by Morris (among others); Harrison died in 2003. Expect the music to be played by the cream of the Tanglewood Music Fellows.

Photo: Paul Kolnick

New York City Ballet MOVES
June 30–July 2
Bard SummerScape in Annandale-on-Hudson

This grab bag shapes up to be a moveable feast, with a select group of NYC Ballet principal dancers, soloists and corps de ballet members performing classics of the company’s repertoire, both old and new. The centerpiece is Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering,” accompanied by the work of Chopin played by live musicians. The program offers a sort of highly condensed choreographic history of the iconic company, filled out with the legendary George Balanchine’s “Duo Concertant” (set to the music of Igor Stravinsky) and “In Creases” (featuring music by Philip Glass), the first piece created for the company by 20-something prodigy Justin Peck, who became its second-ever resident choreographer in 2014. Talk about on point!

Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

Jessica Lang Dance
July 5–9
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket

The Long Island City-based troupe is bringing an interesting program to the Pillow, starting with a Pillow commission making its world premiere. The program also includes “Thousand Yard Stare,” a piece set to Beethoven that looks at the pride and loss experiences by those who serve in the military, and the east coast premiere of “Lyric Pieces,” which is set to the short piano music of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg and features, we’re told, “striking set design” by Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen’s Vancouver-based design company.

Photo: Wm Johnston

Eiko Otake
July 22
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket

We perk up when we hear about a “site specific” work of art, especially if it happens to be a dance piece. Ostensibly commissioned in honor of the Pillow’s big anniversary, this one-time appearance by the Japanese-born artist is part of her ongoing series of solo dances created for specific public places, including train stations and libraries. This dance, called “A Body at the Pillow,” is scheduled to occur on the Pillow’s grounds, with no more-specific info available yet. We don’t know if audiences will have to move around to follow the action, but it never hurts to wear some sensible shoes just in case.

Parsons Dance
August 4 & 5
PS21 in Chatham

This is the 12th season we’re lucky enough to receive a visit from this renowned troupe, who will be in residence at PS21 for two weeks leading up to these performances, developing new work in the creatively rejuvenating environs of the RI region. (Don’t miss two open rehearsals during this residency, on July 20 and 27.) Before they make it up to Chatham, they’ll wrap up a lengthy residency at New York’s Joyce Theatre and an extensive tour of Italy, among other international engagements. The program for Parsons’ performances isn’t available yet, but the work of David Parsons and cohorts is seldom less than revelatory.

Photo: Adrienne Bryant

The Principles of Uncertainty
August 23– 27
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket

This evening-length work by choreographer John Heginbotham and author/illustrator Maria Kalman was developed across several residencies at the Pillow and now makes its world premiere. A true multidisciplinary exercise, it’s set to an original score by Colin Jacobsen of Brooklyn Rider and The Knights; the latter group will perform it live. There has been a healthy relationship between the Pillow and members of Brooklyn Rider’s expanding circle in recent seasons, and we love seeing great artists work at the intersection of dance, visual design and progressive new-music.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/17/17 at 03:27 PM • Permalink

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Norman Rockwell Reinterpreted Through Music And Animation

By Lisa Green

Every facet of “Paintings in Song — Visions of Norman Rockwell” involves a “multi” reference. Commissioned by Crescendo, it is a multimedia piece, combining music, voice and art. It is a union of arts organizations, artists and a composer. And it is a multi-generational endeavor, from the family members represented in Norman Rockwell’s painting to the inclusion of both the adult Crescendo chorus and the Berkshire Children’s Chorus.

John Myers

In our neck of the woods, we call it community, and it has taken one to put together this ambitious concert program, which will have its world premiere April 1 at Saint James Place in Great Barrington, Mass. and Mattison Hall in Kent, Conn. on April 2. For “Paintings and Song,” Berkshires-based composer John Myers has taken inspiration from the iconic “Four Freedoms” and five other paintings by Rockwell. The piece includes text, making it a choral piece, as well. The music reflects the subject of each painting as well as the music style of the time period in which it was created.

Myers’ music is accompanied by large-screen animations based on each of the paintings, created by artists Alice Myers and Anna Sabatini, who used digital technology to portray the paintings as dynamic visual elements. The concert also includes selections of traditional American folk songs arranged by choral composer Alice Parker that will complement the themes in the Rockwell paintings.

Christine Gevert, founder and artistic director of Crescendo, will conduct the concert.

And to add another multi, a documentary is being made of the creation of the work by Rich Bradway, an Emmy-winning documentarian; he’s the digital director at the Museum. It’s important to note that the entire effort has been blessed by the Norman Rockwell Museum, which provided critical conceptual and interpretive support with the animations of Rockwell’s paintings by Myers and Sabatini.

“The team’s artistic response to Norman Rockwell’s art offers meaningful and relevant commentary for our times,” says Stephanie Plunkett, chief curator/deputy director of the Museum. “We have greatly enjoyed this special collaboration.”

Following the world premiere, the work will be presented in schools and museums around the region, and will reach a wider audience through film and a CD recording.

Paintings In Song — Visions of Norman Rockwell
Saturday, April 1, 3 and 7 p.m. at Saint James Place, 352 Main St., Great Barrington, MA
Sunday, April 2, 4 p.m. at Kent School, 1 Macedonia Rd., Kent, CT

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/19/17 at 04:12 PM • Permalink

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One Unsilent, Firelit Night at the 1753 House

By Lisa Green

The image of people gathered around a piano singing Christmas carols evokes a sense of nostalgia that the holidays allow us to indulge in. Every year, a variation of that tableau comes to life for real, at a holiday group sing at the 1753 House in Williamstown, Mass. This year’s sing happens Wednesday, Dec. 21.

It will be the 43rd annual carol sing in the small house built in 1953 in honor of Williamstown’s bicentennial (it now belongs to the Williamstown Historic Museum), recreated as an historical replica of a regular settler’s home. The singing event is the only day of the year when a fire is lit.  There’s no heat other than that fire, so carolers are advised to dress warmly and bring a candle to see by. Hot mulled cider will be provided, and Deborah Burns, who runs several local choruses, will bring the carol books and lead the a capella singing.

The longtime tradition is the brainchild of the late Hank Flynt and Robert Burns (no relation to Deborah), who recalled a Christmas sing at the Williams Inn he attended in his youth. In a conversation with Flynt, Burns related the memory, and Flynt suggested the 1753 House could be just the place for that sort of thing. And a tradition was born.

It’s lovely and convivial. Also ecumenical, free and appropriate for all ages.

“This is a completely noncommercial and nonreligious event,” stresses Gail Burns (no relation to Deborah, but wife of Robert), who lead the singing for several years. “It’s just getting together in the cold and dark with candles, singing together, enjoying the beauty of the music.”

The 1753 House is located on Field Park between the Williams Inn and the Milne Public Library, at the northern intersection of Routes 2 and 7. Parking is available at the inn and the library.

1753 House Carol Sing
Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m.
Rain/snow date is Thursday, Dec. 22.
For more information, call (413) 458-4246.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 12/12/16 at 04:41 PM • Permalink

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Two Chamber Series Offer An Embarrassment Of Riches

Crescendo. Photo by Stephen Potter.

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

Tanglewood will always be the grand dame among classical music venues in the Rural Intelligence region, and that’s perfectly fine with us. But it’s in the more intimate venues — theaters, churches, museums — where chamber music fans can reliably find the not-so-hidden gems of the fall and winter seasons. With a relatively lower profile, a host of performance series plot ambitious seasons incorporating a curatorial flair that combines historical expertise with a creative embrace of the future. Two such sturdy leaders of the scene, who have each assembled dedicated fan bases in the RI region and beyond, celebrate anniversaries this season.

Close Encounters With Music, founded by Yehuda and Hannah Hanani, embarked on its 25th season in October at its home base, Great Barrington’s Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. And it’s been 15 years since Christine Gevert moved to the area and started a humble music series at Trinity Lime Rock Episcopal Church in Lakeville, which evolved two years later into the Crescendo concert series and is now a leading proponent of early music.

Christine Gevert. Photo by Stephen Potter.

Gevert arrived in Lakeville in 2001 by way of a childhood spent in her native Germany, college studies in Chile, and professional posts in various places in-between — like a Swiss music publisher of early music scores. Her familial background (both German and Chilean) and her professional expertise make her a one-of-a-kind music expert who curates a one-of-a-kind concert series.

Crescendo’s sweet spot is the era of European classical music spanning from the 13th century on up through the early baroque period of the 1700s — but with a twist. Gevert’s deep knowledge of the Latin American baroque tradition led to Crescendo’s invitation to send an ensemble to perform at St. Bartholomew’s Church as part of last September’s New York Early Music Celebration. Crescendo’s 2016-17 season includes performances in Great Barrington at First Congregational Church, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, and the soon-to-open St. James Place, as well as spaces in Lakeville. It’s also premiering a commission of a style-hopping composition by John Myers, written in nine parts to accompany nine works by Norman Rockwell. Both Crescendo’s repertoire and its performing radius keep expanding.

Though Gevert’s early-music bona fides are unimpeachable, she says it’s important for Crescendo to offer a variety of pieces, as performed by a family of house ensembles including a chorus and chamber orchestra playing period instruments. “Sometimes the Renaissance music comes out more when it’s heard in contrast with contemporary music,” says Gervert, who has even programmed a piece by jazz master Dave Brubeck.

She’s also put her skills to work translating, as it were, period musical scores into playable performance editions. By fleshing these out into full arrangements, Gevert has facilitated the United States premieres of pieces written centuries ago.

Yehuda Hanani.

Close Encounters With Music puts its own curatorial spin on sounds both familiar and new. Yehuda Hanani, an accomplished concert cellist, is its artistic director. Hanani is known for concerts in which he draws connections, from the stage, among different pieces of music and other currents of artistic and intellectual thought. Even in a phone conversation, one gets a taste of Hanani’s approach. Just talking about music with him is a little bit like a private Close Encounters encounter.

“What painters are trying to do with pigment, composers are doing with sound. And what architects are doing in space, composers do in time. A piece of music is really an architectural structure in time rather than in space. So it has a beginning, an end, a climax—it has structure, beams that hold the things together,” he says, “and once you start explaining it to audiences, even people who are not musically literate, who just listen intuitively, begin to relate those things and they start listening differently.”

Close Encounters With Music started out at Great Barrington’s St. James Episcopal Church, and in February will give the first concert there under the space’s new name, St. James Place. Typical of Hanani’s approach, it’ll feature solo pieces by Bach performed by himself on cello and Kivie Cahn-Lipman on viola da gamba, bringing to aural life the difference between period and modern approaches to the material.

Like Crescendo, Close Encounters also commissions new pieces to work alongside an older repertoire. Its 25th season marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the state of New York, and will culminate with a gala concert next June featuring an interconnected “quilt” of short pieces written by women composers and dedicated to heroes of the pro-suffrage movement. Conversations with composer Hannah Lash (Nov. 20 at Hudson Opera House) and author Linda Hirshman (May 14 at The Mount in Lenox) augment the performance schedule.

When Hanani describes the circle of Close Encounters fans, he could also be describing Crescendo—or any of the other cultural offerings that bring together people in the RI region at any time of year.

“It’s like you enter a cultural zone and it’s really like a neighborhood,” says Hanani, who lives with Hannah in Spencertown. “These days when we’re all so mobile, a neighborhood is defined by me as a cultural affinity—members of the same interest, the same passion.”

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/24/16 at 01:27 PM • Permalink

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Counting Down For The Pittsfield City Jazz Festival

Karrin Allyson and Scott Robinson.

By Lisa Green

The 12th annual Pittsfield City Jazz Festival, Oct. 7-16, proves that it takes a village to create — and sustain — a jazz festival.

“We’re at a critical mass now,” says Ed Bride, festival chair and president of Berkshires Jazz, the nonprofit educational arm whose mission is to present jazz events and promote jazz education in Berkshire County. He started the festival with just two events on a weekend. Now, it spans two weekends — one putting the spotlight on local musicians, and the other reserved for “headliners” in the jazz world. And most of the events are free.

Things kick off on Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 7-9, with Jazz About Town, the increasingly popular jazz crawl featuring local musicians in restaurants and lounges throughout Pittsfield’s Upstreet Cultural District. New this year is an exhibit of jazz-inspired photography by award-winning photojournalist Ken Franckling, with a First Friday Artswalk reception at the Whitney Center for the Arts on Oct. 7. Franckling will be signing his book, “Jazz in the Key of Light.”

The Jazz Ambassadors — America’s Big Band.

The “Headline Weekend,” Oct. 14-16, actually kicks off on October 13 with the Jazz Prodigy concert. The next night, saxophonist Scott Robinson will perform at Flavours restaurant. On October 15, at the Colonial Theatre, vocalist and pianist Karrin Allyson, a Grammy nominee, will take the stage, followed by the Jazz Ambassadors — America’s Big Band, the official touring big band of the United States Army. The Berkshires Jazz Youth Ensemble will open the headliner concert, having been coached by members of the Pittsfield Sister City Jazz Ambassadors. The festival concludes with a jazz brunch.

Anyone aware of Pittsfield’s “can-do” spirit won’t be surprised that the festival was propelled by local businesses. Early on, Andy Kelly, a guitarist and chair of Pittsfield’s Cultural Development Board, organized jazz performances in bars and restaurants around town. There was no problem filling the venues, but patrons would leave to go to the festival concerts, and the bar owners felt it as competition. So the jazz crawl was born, as was the new format of locals on Columbus Day weekend and headliners the following weekend.

It was because the Friends of the Athenaeum (Pittsfield’s public library) wanted to include younger musicians that the jazz prodigy concert was created. Underwriting support comes from local foundations and financial institutions, among other businesses. Bride estimates that about 80 percent of festival goers are from Berkshire County, but says the festival also draws people from New York City and even as far away as Maine.

So you don’t have to be from Pittsfield to take in this home-grown festival. You just have to love jazz.

Pittsfield City Jazz Festival, Oct. 7-16
Check website for more details and schedule.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/30/16 at 11:09 AM • Permalink