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
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Bookmark This: No Muss, No Fuss Concerts In The Parks
By Rachel Louchen
There’s the Big One — Tanglewood — looming large over our summer afternoons and evenings of music. But there are also dozens of outdoor concerts taking place throughout our region this summer, with many cities and towns offering a wide variety of musical genres. It might be pure Americana played in the gazebo on the town square or jazz on the lawn at an historic property, but there’s one thing all these series have in common: they’re set against an outdoor backdrop made for music. Most of these events are free and suited for the whole family, so all you need is a chair or blanket and you’re ready to enjoy the sounds of summer.
Schedules may change and weather may affect performances, so it’s best to check before you head out.
Bascom Lodge Music Series
Saturdays, Sundays & Mondays
Dates and times vary.
Featuring a diverse mix of musical genres, including jazz, blues and rock and roll.
Atop Mount Greylock
David Grover & Grover’s Gang
Saturdays in July & August at 10 a.m.
David Grover will perform songs that will delight children of all ages.
Main Street (behind Town Hall), Great Barrington, MA
Great Barrington Summer Bandstand
Fridays at 5:30 p.m.
Now – September 19
Local bands perform jazz, country, folk and soul.
Main Street (behind Town Hall), Great Barrington, MA
Photo by John Seakwood.
Music After Hours at The Mount
Fridays & Saturday from 5-8 p.m.
July 4—August 30
Traditional jazz from local and visiting artists.
The Mount Terrace, 2 Plunket Street, Lenox, MA
Concerts in Lilac Park
Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.
Now – August 27
Blues, country, jazz, big band and Boston University Tanglewood Institute Students
Lilac Park, Main Street, Lenox, MA
Concerts at Windsor Lake
Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.
Now – August 20
A mix of funk and bass-heavy rock-and-roll music. Bring your dancing shoes.
Intersection of Bradley Street and Kemp Avenue, North Adams, MA
Music at the Mansion
Bi-weekly on Fridays at 6 p.m.
Classic rock, 60’s folk and tunes geared towards children will be performed on the lawn.
North Adams Library
74 Church Street, North Adams, MA
Party in the Park
Live music, food vendors and a classic car display
Thursdays from 6-8 p.m.
July 10 – August 28
Noel Field, Route 8, North Adams, MA
Live on the Lake
Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m.
July 9 – August 27
Kicks off with the Who tribute band, Who Are You, and continues with local rockin’ acts for the duration of series.
Burbank Park at Onota Lake, Lakeway Drive, Pittsfield, MA
Outdoor Summer Concerts at The Clark
Tuesdays at 6 p.m.
July 8 – August 26
Jazz, blues, folk, rock and high-energy violin are just a few of the styles that’ll be performed.
The Clark Art Institute, 225 South Street, Williamstown, MA
Photo by Joe Mabel.
Concert Series on the Green
Wednesdays from 7-9 p.m.
Now – July 30
Wednesdays from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
August 6 – 27
Jazz and blues featuring many local performers.
159 West Street, Litchfield, CT
Woodbridge Summer Concert Series
Tuesdays from 6-8 p.m.
July 1 – 29
Early rock and roll, dance band, Motown, swing, soul and a Creedance Clearwater Revival/John Fogerty Tribute Band
Gazebo on the Green
4 Meetinghouse Lane, Woodbridge, CT
Coe Park Summer Concert Series
Tuesdays and Fridays from 7-9 p.m.
Now – August 31
Classic rock, big band, Americana, country, contemporary classics, R&B and the Torrington Civic Symphony
Coe Memorial Park Civic Center, 101 Litchfield Street, Torrington, CT
Greenport Music at Sunset
Fridays at 7 p.m.
Now – August 29
Classic rock and country, plus Beatles and Patsy Cline cover bands
Greenport Town Park, 405 Joslen Boulevard, Hudson, NY
Music In The Parks
Wednesdays at 7 p.m.
Now – July 30
August 6 & 13 at 6:30 p.m.
Big band, jazz, classic rock and the West Point Military Academy Band
Vanderbilt and Mills Mansions
75 Mills Mansion Drive (off Old Post Road), Staatsburg, NY
119 Vanderbilt Park Road, Hyde Park, NY
Music At The Lake
Sundays at 4 p.m.
July 13, August 3 and August 17
Swing, blues, R&B and rock plus food
Lions Club Pavillion
Lake Drive, Pine Plains, NY
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Tanglewood Adds To Its Lineup And Music Is Only Part Of It
By Lisa Green
And the countdown begins: the first official event on the Tanglewood grounds under BSO auspices happens in just a week, marking the definitive start of the season, and bringing with it this year a host of new options, musical and otherwise. The 2014 season offers more events for families and kids, a selection of pre- and post-concert tastings and a long list of artists making their Tanglewood premieres.
Have no fear, though, if you were counting on the regularly scheduled stalwarts. James Taylor is back (but already sold out); Tanglewood On Parade, the John Williams/Boston Pops Film Night, the Festival of Contemporary Music, performances by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra and open rehearsals are all on the schedule. Plan ahead or play it by ear; there’s always a place for a last-minute picnic on the Lawn.
Here’s what’s new.
Andris Nelsons Let’s start with the most obvious, and perhaps the most anticipated: the BSO’s new conductor. Felled by an accident last summer, his Tanglewood debut was postponed until this season. For Nelsons’ first festival appearances as BSO Music Director Designate, he will conduct four concerts in July.
Highwood Manor House Open for Dinner and Brunch Not prone to picnic? This year Tanglewood opens the Highwood Manor House to the public for pre-concert fine dining, with a pre-fixe buffet dinner on Friday and Saturday ($65 per person) or Sunday brunch buffet ($45). Cocktails, bottled wine and a la carte desserts will also be available. For reservations, call (413) 637-4486.
Date Night Tanglewood turns concierge as it plans a date for you and your honey. It includes a pre-concert dinner for two at Highwood and two premium tickets in the Shed ($150), or two lawn tickets and two lawn chairs and the pre-concert dinner at Highwood ($100). If it’s a first date and you need to get the conversation rolling, the package includes a tour of the grounds. Date Nights are scheduled for July 18, July 25 and August 8 (all Friday evenings).
Tanglewood Family Day Not to be confused with the Tanglewood Family Fun Fest (June 27) or Tanglewood on Parade (August 5), Family Day on July 27 will offer activities for the whole family throughout the afternoon, leading up to the 2:30 p.m. BSO concert. Expect arts and crafts, face painting, musical demonstrations, and a gift bag for all the kids (who, by the way, are free, so only the grownups need to buy tickets).
Tanglewood Chocolate Dessert Brunch Music may be the food of love — that’s just a metaphor — but chocolate is the real thing. On Sunday, August 3, you can exit the Shed and follow your nose to the dessert “brunch” featuring decadent chocolate creations. A lawn ticket, which includes a ticket to the brunch, is $40. Shed patrons can purchase brunch tickets separately for $25.
Microbrewery Beer Tasting They don’t miss a trend, these Tanglewood people. The tasting under the tent will offer samples of beers from microbreweries around the region. Appetizers and snacks will be included, as will one lawn ticket for the concert that night, which falls on Friday, August 15.
Artists new to Tanglewood 2014 sees the festival and BSO premieres of conductors William Eddins and Rob Fisher; soprano Marjorie Owens, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop, tenor Issachah Savage and many others. Other soloists and ensembles new to Tanglewood include trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, the Chamber Ensemble from the Boston Lyric Orchestra, violinist Leonides Kavakos and pianist Nikolai Lugansky.
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30(ish) Tix Not To Miss
Let it be said — now is the winter of our discontent finally taking a hike, and letting us plan in earnest for the glorious summer. Somehow it doesn’t seem right to pick out opening-night outfits for summer theater when you haven’t put the snow shovel away yet. But with spring rains replacing winter snowstorms, it finally seems apt to look forward to the summer season in the Rural Intelligence region. With so much to pick from, our annual summer preview is always an exercise in restraint; this list of 30(ish) could easily swell much larger. This year we’ve broken it down into three categories of the performing arts that help define this region — theater, dance and music. Dig in and enjoy. —Jeremy D. Goodwin
Kiss Me, Kate at Barrington Stage Company
You might say Barrington Stage’s big, main-stage musical last year was a success; On the Town filled houses, was toasted by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and will reconvene with its key personnel for a Broadway run this fall. After that burst of Leonard Bernstein, Julieanne Boyd turns to the music of Cole Porter and kicks off her company’s 20th season with a romp through Kiss Me, Kate. This is bound to get the summer theater season going in earnest.
Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, Pittsfield, MA, June 11 — July 12
A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare & Company
Shakespeare & Company was founded in 1978 with a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and later said goodbye to The Mount in 2001 with a production said to be one of the great Berkshire theater moments of recent decades. But a 30th anniversary production in 2007 felt a little “off-brand.” So in his sixth season as artistic director, Tony Simotes — who played Puck in that foundational production in 1978 — will look to restore order to things with a New Orleans-inspired take on the main stage.
Tina Packer Playhouse, Lenox, MA, June 21 — August 30
Madagascar at Chester Theatre Company
This intriguing, time-shifting mystery kicks off Chester’s 25th season with the story of a young man’s inscrutable disappearance. The cast features two actresses who’ve been at Chester before but each had memorable turns lately at Barrington Stage Company — local transplant Debra Jo Rupp, who triumphed so mightily in the solo Dr. Ruth All the Way, and Kim Stauffer, who starred as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Chester Town Hall, Chester, MA, June 25 — July 6
Julius Caesar at Shakespeare & Company
Though she made her name directing Shakespeare in Lenox — and she remains an in-demand guest director around the world — Tina Packer hasn’t helmed one of his plays on her home turf since 2008. These days she typically turns her attention to the few dusty corners of the canon she has yet to visit, so it’ll be a double treat when she directs an all-business cast of seven in a “Bare Bard” production of the ever-popular Julius Caesar at the company’s intimate second stage this summer.
Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Lenox, MA, June 27 — August 30
A Little Night Music at Berkshire Theatre Group
An unlikely mix of Stephen Sondheim, Ingmar Bergman and the titular echo of Mozart, A Little Night Music has charmed since its initial bow on Broadway in 1973. For Berkshire Theatre Group’s fourth summer musical on the big stage at the Colonial Theatre, Berkshire-born operatic talent Maureen O’Flynn will get the chance to show her musical-theater chops. BTG seems to sense a rising star in young director Ethan Heard, who appears poised for what could be his breakout production.
The Colonial, Pittsfield, MA, June 30 — July 19
Love in the Wars at Bard SummerScape
Irish writer John Banville is nothing if not prolific — his literary fiction has netted him a bevy of awards (including the Booker Prize and Franz Kafka Prize), but he finds time to slum as author of a series of crime novels under the name Benjamin Black. Now he turns to classical/mythological themes with a stage adaptation of Penthesilea, Heinrich von Kleist’s 1808 play about an Amazonian queen with the hots for Achilles. The resulting work, called Love in the Wars, makes its world premiere at Bard SummerScape.
Fisher Center (Theater 2) at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, July 10 — 20
The Golem of Havana at Barrington Stage Company
Barrington Stage Company’s musical theater lab — the domain of William Finn, whose most recent Broadway production came this past season with Little Miss Sunshine — scored last year with Southern Comfort, one of the highlights of the Berkshire season. This year’s world premiere musical, The Golem of Havana, depicts the unexpected juxtaposition of a Hungarian-Jewish family in Havana on the eve of Castro’s revolution.
St. Germain Stage, Pittsfield, MA, July 16 — August 12
Fool For Love at Williamstown Theatre Festival
We’ve come to expect our summer movie-star fix from Williamstown Theatre Festival, and the company delivers again with the return of Williamstown veteran and enigmatic film star Sam Rockwell. 2012 Tony Award winner Nina Arianda is on board as well, in a work about two former lovers holed up in a seedy motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert.
Nikos Stage, Williamstown, MA, July 23 — August 2
Cedars at Berkshire Theatre Group
The beguiling Keira Naughton has become a familiar sight on Berkshire stages, but she’ll switch things up by directing her Tony Award-winning father James in this world premiere solo comedy. (The Naughton family theme at BTG continues later in the season with the arrival of James Naughton’s son Greg to direct A Hatful of Rain on the same stage.)
Fitzpatrick Main Stage, Stockbridge, MA
July 23 — August 9
LA Party and An Evening With William Shatner Asterisk at Mass Live Arts
Mass Live Arts made a good impression with its inaugural season last summer, serving up nervy theater troupes like Radiohole and Half Straddle, followed by post-show outdoor hangouts with local beer and local(ly sourced) burgers. This year’s run of three weekends culminates with a two-fer from Phil Soltanoff including LA Party, his multimedia, conceptual staging of a short story about a “fanatical vegan” going on a bender.
Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington, MA, July 24, 25, 26
The Visit at Williamstown Theatre Festival
Broadway legend Chita Rivera — she was the original Anita in a little show you may have heard of called West Side Story — is on the short list of actresses who’ve won multiple Tonys and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. She must see something special in The Visit, a musical she’s returned to repeatedly since stepping in for a grieving Angela Lansbury for the show’s initial run in 2001. Perhaps it’s the inimitable work of lyricist Fred Ebb and book-writer Terrence McNally; her star turn in their Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1992 netted her the second of her two Tonys.
Main Stage, Williamstown, MA, July 31 — August 17
Retro Spectacle at Berkshire Fringe
Sara Katzoff, Great Barrington native and co-founding artistic director of Berkshire Fringe, coined the term “fringe-stitution” to describe her scrappy, irrepressible company as it heads towards its tenth summer of boundary-breaking work. From tour-de-force monologues to conceptual, group confections of devised-theater, Berkshire Fringe has reflected many of the forward-thinking onstage trends in recent years — and its invigorating opening party and performance is always a bright spot in the summer calendar. For this landmark anniversary year, it heads north for the first time to Pittsfield, where it will perform at the former Notre Dame church.
Shire City Sanctuary, Pittsfield, MA, August 2 at 6 p.m.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid at TriArts Sharon Playhouse
Chances are good your young child or grandchild knows the music from the Disney movie by heart. But you don’t have to be a kid to appreciate the stage spectacle, which has the makings of a great (almost) back-to-school outing for your little prince or princess.
TriArts Sharon Playhouse, Sharon, CT, August 13 — 24
ECLIPSE with Jonah Bokaer & Anthony McCall at Basilica Hudson
We love getting the chance to see the latest experimental work by wunderkind dancer/choreographer Jonah Bokaer, whether in his regular visits to Jacob’s Pillow or intimate urban-swank happenings in Hudson like this one, a multimedia collaboration (of course) with visual artist Anthony McCall, who specializes in film and projection. If you didn’t see this piece at BAM — or even if you did — this should be a dancingly delicious opening to the Basilica’s season.
Basilica Hudson, Hudson, NY, April 25 & 26
David Neumann: Solo Works at Mass MoCA
This manically creative dancer knows how to hold an audience’s attention, as he’ll do in this survey of solo works in the Hunter Center. He’s been described as “effervescent, delightfully odd, and frequently funny.” We’ll take some of each, please.
Hunter Center, North Adams, MA, April 26 at 8 p.m.
Oliva Contemporary Dance Project at Kaatsbaan Studio Theatre
This company from New York via Italy makes its reach for international recognition with a style it describes as abstract and surreal, while still highlighting the traditional foundations of contemporary dance. It premieres a new show as recipient of one of Kaatsbaan’s two annual residencies.
Kaatsbaan Studio Theatre, Tivoli, NY, May 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Trisha Brown Dance Company at Bard SummerScape
As its title indicates, Proscenium Works 1979-2011 provides a wide view of the work of this innovative choreographer across more than two decades of postmodern dance-making, amid the pomp and sniffles of her still-busy company’s three-year “farewell” tour of her key works.
Fisher Center (Sosnoff Theater) at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, June 27 & 28
Dorrance Dance at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
Tap sensation Michelle Dorrance was utterly charming last summer in her genial acceptance of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award and a subsequent performance that included a spell of the tastemaker improvising onstage, her musical dance steps speaking volumes in a darkened Ted Shawn Theatre. She’s in residence as director of the Pillow’s student tap program this summer, offering audiences the world premiere of a collaborative new piece on two consecutive weekends.
Doris Duke Theatre, Becket, MA, July 16 — 27
Ballet 2014 at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
There’s a particular thrill in catching a visiting troupe like the Hong Kong Ballet exhibit its distinctive group approach at Jacob’s Pillow, but there’s also something to be said for a high-protein variety pack of top-line American stars pushing their personal limits. For Ballet 2014, a hand-picked assemblage of principal dancers and soloists from New York City Ballet will offer a sort of variety pack of virtuosity, spanning newer works to Fancy Free, the Jerome Robbins/Leonard Bernstein collaboration that gave birth to On the Town.
Ted Shawn Theatre, Becket, MA, July 16 — 20
Mark Morris Dance Group and Music Ensemble at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
Dance legend Mark Morris is a perennial crowd-pleaser, and a very familiar face in the Berkshires after years of collaboration with Jacob’s Pillow and Tanglewood. He’s the subject of five days of programming at the Pillow this summer, including musical seminars and a concert, lectures, and main stage performances by the Mark Morris Dance Group of a program ranging from the epochal Festival Dance to Crosswalk, one of the troupe’s newest works. The Pillow calls the Morris-centric week a “festival within a festival.”
Ted Shawn Theatre, Becket, MA, July 23 — 27
Paul Taylor Dance Company at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
We’re thrilled that the Paul Taylor Dance Company not only continues to keep an annual engagement at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, but uses these shows to offer New England debuts of new work. Four performances across three days will include the first regional look at 2014 dance Marathon Cadenzas, as well as other pieces from throughout Taylor’s estimable career. The executive director of the Taylor troupe says: “Our performances at the Mahaiwe have become one of the most anticipated events of our year.” Same here.
The Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA, July 24, 25, 26
doug elkins choreography, etc. at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
Choreographer Doug Elkins has a knack for wrapping his conceptual works in a crowd-pleasing package. Dance fans already familiar with his Fräulein Maria, a re-imagining of The Sound of Music, will want to see the two newer works he’s bringing to Jacob’s Pillow this summer, including Mo(or)town/Redux, an exploration of Shakespeare’s Othello to the beat of a Motown soundtrack.
Dorris Duke Theatre, Becket, MA, August 13 — 17
TAKE Dance Company at PS21
We love when art is situated with setting; more so when it’s particularly evocative of the imaginations of the community. For this special program, TAKE’s founding artistic director Takehiro Ueyama will dance a memory piece of his own composition, matched with the premiere of a new piece he’ll choreograph with co-director Jill Echo based on memories and impressions of Chatham submitted in advance. Now that’s some good crowdsourcing.
PS21, Chatham, NY, August 27 & 28
The Autumn Defense at Helsinki Hudson
This is an off year for Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival, but we still have a chance to exercise something that’s been underlined each year: a healthy appreciation for its members’ other projects. Autumn Defense, helmed by bassist John Stirratt and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, is a particular favorite.
Club Helsinki, Hudson, NY, June 5 at 8 p.m.
Emerson String Quartet at Music Mountain
Approaching its 40th year, Emerson String Quartet is long established as a leading heavyweight in the chamber music world. Yet there’s particular interest in seeing them these days, to hear the inflections of new(ish) cello ace Paul Watkins. Though the Emerson makes regular visits to Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall, there’s the special chance to see the group this summer at the even cozier environs of Music Mountain. The group is the highlight of the opening gala of Music Mountains’ 85th season.
Music Mountain, Falls Village, CT, June 7 at 6:30 p.m.
Roger McGuinn at Infinity Hall
The former Byrds frontman is on something of a never-ending tour in which he splits the difference between work and retirement, driving around the country in an RV sightseeing with his wife Camilla and keeping a steady schedule of shows besides. They’re a bit of an old-fashioned sort; the couple doesn’t fly, and when they visit Europe they get there by ocean liner. McGuinn’s mixture of adapted folk tunes, ‘60s and ‘70s chestnuts, and more recent material is similarly vintage.
Infinity Hall, Norfolk, CT, June 14 at 8 p.m.
Beck at Mass MoCA
Beck is the cut-and-mix auteur of dance-friendly Millennial irony, but he complements his neon-bright sound with the occasional understated masterpiece. It’s on the heels of the laid-back Morning Phase, a sort of sequel to much-adored 2002 effort Sea Change, that Beck visits North Adams for the most-anticipated pop concert of the season.
Joe’s Field, North Adams, MA, June 24 at 8:30 p.m.
James Taylor at Tanglewood
James Taylor’s summer visit to Tanglewood seemed like it had been on the calendar as firmly as Independence Day itself, before JT took last summer off from the road to work on a new album. Since his whole shtick is pretty familiar at this point, the X factor becomes the prospect of special guests. Will he cause another ruckus like the one he caused by calling in Taylor Swift in 2012? These shows are long since sold out, so if you don’t have tickets yet it’s time to start calling your friends and offering to take care of their picnics in exchange for tag-along privileges.
Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA, July 3 & 4
Vice Squad at Aston Magna Festival
The conceptual, curatorial programming of the Aston Magna Festival always provides rich food for thought. The early-music pros get a little risqué (such as it is) here, with works by J.S. Bach and others that celebrate some of our favorite bad habits.
Olin Hall at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, July 11 at 8 p.m.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA, July 12 at 8 p.m.
Andris Nelsons at Tanglewood
Last year we looked forward to Andris Nelsons’ first concerts at Tanglewood following his announcement as music director designate of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but a last-minute injury sidelined him on the Continent. So it’s with full pomp and circumstance that he leads multiple programs this month, including an all-Dvořák performance (highlighting guest violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter) on July 11 and a gala performance the next night.
Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA, July 11 & 12
Bang on a Can Marathon with Glenn Kotche and Steve Reich at Mass MoCA
You can almost feel your mind opening and your tastes broadening when you pop in on one of the daily gallery performances during the summer residency of new-music tastemakers Bang on a Can at Mass MoCA. But the headlining concerts are no slouch either, as the Bang on a Can All-Stars and various friends assemble for hours of innovative music-making in the Hunter Center. This year, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche joins the fun for the always-fascinating Bang on a Can Marathon, also featuring an appearance by legendary composer (and avid baseball cap wearer) Steve Reich.
Hunter Center, North Adams, MA, August 2 at 4 p.m.
Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos at Tanglewood
Long established as summer traditions, the visits of part-time Berkshire neighbor Yo-Yo Ma to Tanglewood remain hot tickets, be it as featured soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (as he will be on August 10) or in a small-group configuration over at Ozawa. This intimate performance will feature each of its all-star members, through the works of Brahms — the Violin Sonata No. 1, the Cello Sonata No. 2, and a convergence of the three talents for the closing Piano Trio No. 1. This promises to be a highlight of Ozawa’s 20th anniversary season, and a sublime kickoff to one of those weekends at Tanglewood that remind us about what’s so special around here.
Seiji Ozawa Hall, Lenox, MA, August 7 at 8 p.m.
The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
The bookers at the Mahaiwe have shown a sharp eye for jazz-fueled collaborations that could sail under the radar, but provide a big bounty for fans who are in the know. Last year’s Chris Thile/Brad Mehldau duo was a highlight of the whole year; this summer the theater has netted boundary-breaking jazz trio The Bad Plus, performing with guest saxophonist Joshua Redman, one of the leading horn men of his generation. Someday you’ll be telling people you were there — the only issue is whether you’ll be telling the truth.
The Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA, August 8 at 8 p.m.
Oz with Orchestra at Tanglewood
With its members dressed in open-necked black shirts, the Boston Symphony Orchestra performance of the score from West Side Story (along with a viewing of the film) was one of the most fun nights of the Tanglewood season last year. Looks like the beginning of a tradition, though the crew will be organized under the banner of the Boston Pops this year for a look at (and a listen to) The Wizard of Oz. The yellow brick road leads to Lenox, it seems.
Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA, August 22 at 8:30 p.m.
Roomful of Teeth at MASS MoCA
Fresh from its Grammy win in February (and member Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize in Music last year!), the innovative vocal group founded by Bradley Wells, the choral director at Williams College (among many other activities), presents a program of music by Sam Amidon. Don’t know him? He’s the quirky electro-folkie who was last seen in these parts playing a violin underneath Xu Bing’s Phoenix sculpture at last year’s Solid Sound Festival.
MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA, August 29 at 8 p.m.
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Folk Legend Peggy Seeger: Ballad Of The Righteous Woman
By Robert Burke Warren
When folk legend Peggy Seeger graces Hevreh of Southern Berkshire in Great Barrington on Tuesday, March 18, she’ll be playing and singing as she’s done for more than 60 years, but she’ll also be on a mission to restore dignity to female characters in song. Seeger is billing this appearance as an interactive musical lecture entitled “A Feminist View of the Image of Women in Anglo-American Traditional Songs.” Before each number, she’ll offer critical insight into women’s roles in old folk songs, and she’ll compare these songs to contemporary pieces in which women are portrayed with more empathy, hope and depth.
Seeger, the daughter of Ruth Crawford Seeger and half sister to the recently departed Pete, is a folk singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and activist who has made 23 solo recordings and participated in more than 100 others. Her career spans more than six decades of performing, travel and songwriting. Her appearance next week is a special event to benefit the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and WBCR-LP (Berkshire Community Radio).
From her home in Oxford, England, Seeger tells Rural Intelligence how her husband, playwright-actor-songwriter-activist Ewan MacColl (he wrote “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” for her) sparked her feminism. “It was 1969,” she says, “and Ewan had written the script for a stage show, and he said, ‘Peggy, write a song about women.’ And this rather complicated song, ‘Gonna Be An Engineer,’ just popped out of my head. I never wanted to be an engineer, but it sang well. The song took off and became a feminist anthem. I didn’t know anything about feminism, but I suddenly found myself at these feminist do’s, and when I finished they said, ‘Sing something else,’ and I didn’t have anything except bland songs in which women were unclaimed property, or being sent away because they nagged their husbands, or they were complaining single mothers with babies in their arms.”
Ewan and Peggy, 1977
Seeger realized many of the timeless tunes she knew portrayed women as a disempowered gender. In the following decades, as she and MacColl raised a family in England, the couple concentrated on using music to affect social change, with Seeger’s focus falling ever more on women’s issues. “I started to catalog songs,” she says. “I built up categories, and I still sing them, but I always say something before: these are historical pieces, with women singing about their position in society.”
At the Hevreh, armed with a variety of instruments — banjo, guitar, concertina — Seeger will perform age-old songs in which women are chattel and/or victims of male sexual desire; she’ll offer mother-in-law-as-laughingstock songs, and “fallen woman” ballads in which women who try to escape their condition suffer. To offset the narrow perspective of the public domain material, Seeger says, “I’ll play tunes featuring all kinds of subjects that these folk songs do not cover at all. There’s ‘A Stitch In Time,’ by Mike Waterson, about a battered wife who sews her husband into a bed and batters him. And in one of my own songs, a woman goes off and becomes a sailor, and the ship captain falls in love with her and they live happily ever after.”
Seeger has high hopes for the lecture. “I want people to look at the role of women in all the songs we listen to,” she says. “The language that we use when we refer to sex. Women are often portrayed as objects, clotheshorses, as a gender that things happen to rather than one that makes things happen.”
While Seeger’s engagement is woman-centered, she emphasizes her desire for a desegregated audience. “The lecture is for men and women,” she says. “We don’t thank men for coming, it’s their job to come. Men are in this bind as well as women.”
A Feminist View of the Image of Women in Anglo-American Traditional Songs
Tuesday, March 18, 4 p.m.
Hevreh of Southern Berkshire
270 State Road, Great Barrington, MA
$10.00; $5.00 for students
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Darlingside Rising: Indie Folk Quartet Brings Harmony to Pittsfield
By Robert Burke Warren
When Rural Intelligence last spoke to Massachusetts-based indie folk band Darlingside, they were upstarts who’d charmed noted producer Nate Kunkel (Maroon 5, James Taylor) into flying from L.A. to produce their debut CD, Pilot Machines, and were thrilled to be opening for The Grand Slambovians at Infinity Hall. Barely a year later, they’ve streamlined and upgraded; now a drummerless quartet – down from a quintet – Darlingside offers a more austere sound and, after a very successful tour with singer-songwriter Heather Maloney, they’ve inked a deal with Maloney’s label, Signature Sounds. Today, RI catches multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Auyon Mukharji, in the studio with his cohorts, putting finishing touches on a soon-to-be-released EP featuring both Darlingside and Maloney, and prepping for a (Maloney-less) gig Friday, Jan. 24 at 8 p.m. at the Garage in Pittsfield. This is an ascending band you want to catch in a small space while you still can.
“Things are getting pretty crazy,” Mukharji says. “We’ve got a lot of great things happening, so we’re assembling a team. We toured as Heather’s band and co-headliner last year, and seeing how well she and her label and booking agents worked together was really instructive. We got to play NPR in Rochester, articles were coming out and we didn’t have to email anyone. It was great.”
Darlingside, who met and formed out of cover bands and a cappella groups at Williams College in 2009, could host a seminar in how to build a career for a successful, touring, merchandise-producing indie band. “In the beginning, we received some good advice,” Mukharji says. “We were told, ‘you don’t want to outsource anything until it becomes too much for you, because no one’s going to care as much as you.’ As much as you can build it yourself, that’s a great thing, because you’re in complete control.”
Still, after amassing an ardent following in the Northeast, self-releasing a breathtaking, award-winning video for Pilot Machines’ “The Ancestor” and wowing the press, the writing was on the wall (and the email load was too great). Time to move up to the next level, where Beirut, Fleet Foxes, and Arcade Fire, all bands to whom Darlingside is compared, await.
“It’s an exciting time for us,” Mukharji says. “Getting a team together is part of the equation of capitalizing on everything.”
Another harbinger of bigger things ahead began as a suggestion from New York Times blogger and music tastemaker Val Haller. Last November, Haller, who recently released an app designed to keep busy folks apprised of new music, hosted a house concert featuring Darlingside-Maloney. As they were packing up, Haller suggested they cover Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” but arrange it like the Crosby-Stills-Nash version, with four-part harmonies. Within days, they did, with violin, banjo, bass and guitars. They filmed their haunting-yet-hopeful performance in one take, incorporating lush, layered vocals around one microphone, old school and authoritative. Upon receiving the stunning video (below), Haller made it the centerpiece of a December New York Times post. Many laudatory comments ensued, and the much-shared clip is pushing 10,000 views on YouTube. Sometime in late spring, the Darlingside-Maloney rendition of the classic paean to the hippie dream, which showcases the band’s impressive vocal prowess and musical versatility – not to mention Maloney’s soaring chops – will be on the forthcoming CD.
But that’s all to come. For now, the quartet brings its original brand of multi-genre songcraft to Pittsfield, where attendees will experience uncommonly tight multi-voiced singing, acoustic pop sensibility, and an exciting live show. “The gig at the Garage is our first time working with the Berkshire Theatre Group, and we’re all looking forward to it,” Mukharji says.
Join the club.
The Garage at Berkshire Theatre Group’s Colonial Theatre
Friday, January 24 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $15 Advance, $18 Day of Show
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Bettye LaVette: Powerhouse Song Interpreter Goes Soul Deep
By Robert Burke Warren
Legendary R & B vocalist Bettye LaVette, a 52-year veteran of the concert stage, wants to set the record straight about her reputation as a superlative song interpreter; when she appears at Helsinki Hudson on Saturday, January 11, she will not “inhabit” her material.
“I don’t inhabit the songs,” she says, laughing. “The songs inhabit me!”
LaVette considers her unusually emotive power a mixed blessing. While it has brought her worldwide fame, the ability to go deep, which makes for riveting performances, takes a toll. “I’ve tried to think about something else when I’m singing,” she says, “but I can’t. It makes me so damn mad. I have no control over it. For some reason I go somewhere else. Sometimes I want to be able to sing it really sad and not be sad, but I have to get sad for that moment. It makes me absolutely angry.”
LaVette’s been angry a lot in her 67 years, and justifiably so. Her 2012 memoir, A Woman Like Me, recently optioned by Alicia Keyes for a possible biopic, is a harrowing tale of ultimate triumph over a dizzying string of disappointments and hard luck, interspersed with just enough tantalizing tidbits of success to keep our heroine inching ever forward. LaVette’s remarkable story includes albums recorded for Motown and Atlantic, among other labels, a six-year stint in the late 70s Broadway hit Bubbling Brown Sugar, and family life (she’s now a grandmother), but it also features recurrent poverty and dashed hopes (plus very juicy gossip on her fellow Motown artists Diana Ross and “Little” Stevie Wonder). It is certainly the only memoir to open with a pimp dangling the protagonist by her feet from the 20th floor of a Manhattan apartment building, and ending with that same protagonist singing “A Change Is Gonna Come” at a president’s inauguration (Barack Obama’s, of course).
“It’s just what happened to me,” LaVatte says. “I don’t think of it as inspirational. But I do hope someone can look at my story and be both inspired and forewarned about several things, how things can go.”
Her career turned around when ANTI- Records, home of Tom Waits, Eddie Izzard, Neko Case, and a slew of similarly hip artists, released her acclaimed 2005 album I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise, produced by Grammy-winning producer Joe Henry, and featuring tunes penned by Fiona Apple, Dolly Parton and Aimee Mann, among other noted women songwriters. Broader exposure ensued, and this brazenly original song stylist, capable of investing material with new light and gravitas, finally got her due.
“People began looking at me contemporarily and not nostalgically,” LaVette says. “It was great to not be a revival-type thing. ANTI- looked at me as new.” Her 2006 ANTI- album, The Scene of the Crime, co-produced by LaVette and recorded with Drive-By Truckers at historic FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, garnered a Grammy nomination and continued the upward trajectory that carries on today. While she once scrounged for gigs, LaVette now routinely tours the world.
Attendees to LaVette’s Helsinki Hudson performance can expect a wide array of musical styles; she’s recorded disco, country, pop, soul, rock and roll, R & B, blues and Tin Pan Alley classics. She can slay an Elton John song, then turn on a dime and deliver a haunting rendition of the classic “Cry Me A River” or Sinead O’Connor’s spare “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” or her grooving original “Hustlin’In the Motor City,” the theme to the new AMC series Low Winter Sun.
“I don’t think in genres,” she says, “because I know when I sing it, I don’t have to change it, I know I’m not gonna sound like Loretta Lynn or anybody else when I sing. I’m gonna sound like Bettye LaVette. When I love a great melody, I can’t let it go.”
Helsinki Hudson audiences, no doubt, will feel the same about Bettye LaVette.
Saturday, January 11th, 9 PM
405 Columbia Street
Hudson, New York 12534
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Pizzarelli Parlor: John Pizzarelli Brings the Family to the Mahaiwe
By Robert Burke Warren
Singer, guitarist, and showman extraordinaire John Pizzarelli plans to say good-bye to 2013 with even more class than usual. The Grammy nominee, who plays close to 150 dates a year, routinely leaves audiences smoldering with his quartet, drawing on a wide array of everything from Duke Ellington, to the American Songbook, to jazzed-up renditions of pop tunes. But for his engagement at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on Saturday, December 28th, at 8 PM, he’s shooting higher, and calling in the big guns. Appearing alongside him will be legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, i.e. his dad, and actress-chanteuse Jessica Molaskey, i.e. his wife and co-host of Pizzarelli’s acclaimed syndicated broadcast Radio Deluxe. Molaskey, an artistic force in her own right, is fresh from the cast of Carrie Underwood’s live network presentation of The Sound of Music, and, like all members of this dazzlingly musical family, she’s eager to see the year out in style.
RI caught up with Pizzarelli as he was heading up a mountain, en route to Knoxville, Tennessee, for a gig. He’s looking forward to performing with his father and spouse (and brother, Martin Pizzarelli, on double bass) as well as a new drummer and keyboardist. (Longtime pianist Ray Kennedy, a leading light of jazz, has contracted MS and could use your help HERE.) Regarding Molaskey, he confirms that their delightful, dulcet-toned rapport is as natural as it sounds on Radio Deluxe. Married for 15 years (they recently renewed their vows) they bring a sweet-to-piquant George n’ Gracie or Bogie & Bacall to the airwaves and the stage, offering one another affection, appreciation, exasperation, and gentle ribbing in equal doses. In the live shows, their dynamic intensifies as they walk the improv tightrope, engaging audiences with their couple-speak, until they bring the house down with stunning chops, reminding everyone how unusual they are after all.
“There’s so much going on in what I do with Jessica,” Pizzarelli says, laughing. “Little moments happen. She’s really looking forward to this show.”
Pizzarelli’s eager, too, and not just because he’ll be in his home-away-from-home, i.e. the spotlight; on the contrary, appearing with Molaskey and Bucky allows Pizzarelli to slide into sideman mode, as he’s done with James Taylor, Paul McCartney, Frank Sinatra, and Rosemary Clooney, among others. As a noted front man, he may appear to easily assume leadership, but Pizzarelli admits: “It’s fun to do different things on these family gigs. I get to play a little rhythm guitar, play more solos, sit back a little and let them be the focus.”
And when 87-year-old jazz guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli is the focus, all is well in the world. A former sideman with Benny Goodman, Les Paul, and Stephane Grappelli, and a one-time member of The Tonight Show band, Bucky Pizzarelli is the real deal, and sharp as a tack. “He’s the oldest guy on the bandstand,” John Pizzarelli says, “but when he plays, he’s the youngest guy in the room.” As paterfamilias of the Pizzarellis, Bucky got the whole ball rolling when he invited his young son, John, who’d been rockin’ a six string since age six, to join him onstage in 1980. In the decades since, John Pizzarelli has never stopped touring, recording, and slyly introducing pop fans to jazz and jazz fans to pop, a la his idol, Nat “King” Cole. (Many consider Pizzarelli’s 1994 Cole tribute, Dear Mr. Cole, to be the best of his many albums.)
Pizzarelli has been active throughout the recent cultural sea change that includes MP3’s, YouTube, and smartphones, all of which impact performers of any vintage or genre. How has the digital age affected him? “The only thing that’s changed is people want to take pictures all the time,” he says, with a rare hint of annoyance. “The live performance aspect has changed. Like [Pizzarelli’s good friend] Pat Metheny used to love to sit in with bands and play off the cuff. But people always want to video everything, so he doesn’t anymore.” And when Pizzarelli and Molaskey recently performed their annual stint at the tony Café Carlyle in Manhattan, a patron ignored a “no photos” request and held up his iPhone with the light on during the performance. “He still thought it was OK,” Pizzarelli says.
But it was a very good 2013, despite the clueless smartphone addicts. After memorable gigs in Napa Valley, L.A., and Europe (where his teenage daughter, Madeline, got to meet The Who) Pizzarelli is excited to return to the Mahaiwe, which, at 108 years in operation, is one of the oldest surviving theaters in the country. “It’s a throwback,” he says enthusiastically. “Such a sweet little theater, a great team. Lots of folks will be up for the holidays. We’re all really looking forward to it.”
Come join the coolest family in town. Fancy attire encouraged. Smartphones, not so much.
John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey with Special Guest Bucky Pizzarelli
Saturday, December 28th at 8 p.m.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle St.
Great Barrington, MA
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Season of the Son: Teddy Thompson Closes Out 2013 at Helsinki Hudson
By Robert Burke Warren
In a career spanning almost a decade-and-a-half, Teddy Thompson, the only son of folk icons Richard and Linda Thompson (pictured below in earlier days), has worn several hats; he’s been a sideman for Rosanne Cash and Rufus Wainwright, an acclaimed recording artist in his own right, a heralded journeyman performer, and a producer. He is a busy man. Yet, when RI catches up with him to discuss his upcoming December 20th solo show at Helsinki Hudson, he’s donned yet another chapeau: bass player.
“I can’t play at all,” he says in his soft London accent. (This will be the first example of frequent, amusing self-deprecation.) “I thought it would be easy, but it’s not.” Thompson, a Manhattanite, is sequestered in a New York City studio, putting finishing touches on what he calls “a family album,” featuring both his father and mother – a rarity to have them together – plus his siblings. All contributors are relatives, with Teddy producing. “There are no session players,” he says. Unlike the densely arranged, string-laden pop of his last album, 2011’s lush Bella, the as-yet-untitled disc will be pared down, mostly because, Thompson says, “no one in the family plays a classical instrument. Thank God. It’s quite a relief, because strings are too complicated for me to fathom right now. It’ll be very homemade-sounding, although everyone sounds frighteningly accomplished. It’s scary.”
When presented with the fantasy of a Thompson Family Travelling Show, a caravan tour in which the Thompsons – all noted performers, save reclusive mum Linda – drive from town to town like old time showfolk, Teddy laughs and says, “You’re way off. That’ll never happen. We probably won’t play live at all.”
Well. Working in an austere setting is good prep for the upcoming Helsinki Hudson date, which will be solo acoustic. It’s Thompson’s second gig at the venue. “It’s great,” he says of both the club and the town. “It’s a cultural oasis up there. And I haven’t been on the road much in 2013. We booked these shows (Helsinki and several others) because I’ve forgotten how to play a bit. I must keep these things moving, keep the machinery oiled.”
The machinery is, in fact, plenty oiled. Although he didn’t record an original CD in 2013, Thompson appeared on tributes to Nick Drake, Kate McGarrigle, and Paul McCartney. On the live front, attendees to his recent performances at Woodstock’s Bearsville Theater, and Albany’s The Egg, walked away wowed. And then there’s his NYC trio Poundcake, begun around the time he was working on Bella. The trio – drums, stand-up bass, and Teddy – performs originals, but also delves deep into the pre-1960 canon of early rock and pop, covering Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, and the Everly Brothers, among others, to rapturous audiences. “Poundcake was a relief,” Thompson says. “To just play stuff, and not have to think about making it right, not looking at every little detail. It’s nice to have something that’s very free and loose. Bella was heavily produced, and I’ve reached my limit with that stuff. I yearn to do something quite opposite, which is where the family album and Poundcake came from; doing something live and simple.”
Performing his original material solo acoustic holds a particular allure for Thompson. “Playing solo gives you a lot of freedom,” he says. “I’m trying to get to a place where I’m relaxed in the same way I am as when I’m playing other people’s songs, when I’m playing 50s covers with my friends. You’re in a place that’s very loose. There’s a magical spot you want to get to, that’s as free as when you’re messing around playing somebody else’s music. There’s a nexus in there where you’re relaxed and focused, it’s an ideal performance state we’re all looking for.”
In addition to material from his four albums of original songs, Thompson is likely to present some classic country from his country covers CD Upfront and Down Low. “My voice sounds quite country,” he says, accepting the oddity of an Englishman sounding, on occasion, like a Nashvillian. “That’s just the way it is. It’s always in me. It’s all the same, anyway – country is English, Scottish and Irish folk music with banjos and fiddles.”
And… holiday songs? The 20th is the last day of autumn, the day before the Winter Solstice. “I’ll have to do a couple of Christmas songs,” he says, resigned. “It’s gotta be done.”
With the Thompson family album and another original CD slated for 2014, Teddy Thompson is looking at a busy year ahead. The December 20th Helsinki Hudson show will be his last gig of 2013, and no matter which version of Teddy you prefer, he will be in fine, celebratory form in Hudson.
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The Queen of Arts: Kim Taylor Joins the President’s Committee
By Nichole Dupont
When President Obama calls, Kim Taylor answers. The Lenox resident and longtime trustee and employee (some 30 years) of the Boston Symphony has just been appointed to the president’s committee on the Arts and Humanities. Taylor joins a powerhouse gang that includes actor Sarah Jessica Parker, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and actors Kerry Washington and Forest Whitaker. Herself a singer, actress, and writer (and the wife of beloved American singer James Taylor), Mrs. Taylor says that she is excited about bringing the arts culture of the Berkshires to Washington.
“It’s fun to contemplate the possibilities,” she says. “I’ve spent all my life working in some way in the arts – the last 30 years with the BSO and Tanglewood and the last 10 years with Berkshire Theatre Group. Anything I can do to raise the visibility, to raise the flag so to speak, about what’s going on in the Berkshires, I will. I’m not shy about that sort of thing.”
The committee was conceived in 1982 under the auspices of President Regan, and oversees the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, acting as an advisory board to address the nation’s cultural issues (and heroes) and to push for arts education. While the PCAH isn’t the Department of Homeland Security, Taylor understands intrinsically the need to carry out the heady mission of arts.
“The arts are vital to our society,” she says. “If you start with our community in the Berkshires – hearing what Jane Fitzpatrick has done with the Norman Rockwell Museum. And Tanglewood and the Colonial. One day I was driving with a friend, coming from The Clark and passed by so many arts institutions. It was profound. When I think of how these places have contributed to my children’s development and how arts is a huge economic factor in the Berkshires – it’s truly the fabric of our lives. It’s the highest achievement of our society to be surrounded by this culture.”
Of course, Taylor has a soft spot for classical music, which she plans on bringing to the forefront of the arts conversation at the White House.
“We all speak from our own lens. I think kids should at least be familiar with the idiom of classical music at a young age,” she says adamantly. “It’s a universe unto itself. Just think of what John Williams has done for movies and for exposing young people to this music. It’s so much better because of him and composers like him.”
While Taylor will push for the importance of arias and concertos and putting cellos in the hands of eager first graders, she is also planning on using the Berkshires to lure some Washington stakeholders from their desks to show off the cultural stars in hill country. Not the least of which will be the First Lady herself, who is the committee’s honorary chairman.
“The First Lady came to the Berkshires last year and fell in love with the area. I’m hoping to bring her back here,” she says. “I’m sure she won’t need much convincing.”
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“First Flight” at Shakespeare & Co: Berkshires Duo Takes Off
By Robert Burke Warren
We live in a noisy, often dissonant age. Harmony is all too rare, so when we happen upon it, we’re captivated, especially if it emanates from the up-and-coming Tyringham, MA, duo (and devoted couple) Oakes & Smith. They’re bringing that sweet sound to Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre in Lenox, MA, where they’ll be celebrating the release of their debut CD First Flight, on Saturday, November 23rd, at 8 p.m. Like Richard and Linda Thompson, Ian & Sylvia, or current sensation The Civil Wars, Oakes & Smith’s combined voices offer a unique tonal blend, greater than the sum of its parts, showcased perfectly in their heartfelt, acoustic-based material. (Video for their single “Being Broken” HERE.)
Since meeting four years ago, guitarist-vocalist Robert Oakes and vocalist-visual artist Katherine Smith have been working toward this moment, performing anywhere and everywhere they could, honing their distinctive brand of melodic, lyrical folk. They’ve played bars, festivals, concert halls, and street corners, most often as a have-guitar-will-travel duo. Need an act to appear unplugged and un-miked at the Guthrie Center? Check. Require musical accompaniment in a “yoga for love” class? No problem.
Although the duo format is most common for Oakes & Smith, the release party for the impressively fleshed-out First Flight will be a rare full-band show, in a proper listening room with a stage, lights, a backstage… the works. “We wanted to create an event,” says Oakes. “We wanted it to feel like a show. The Bernstein Theatre is in the round, and seats about two hundred people. It’s intimate. And Shakespeare & Company is presenting It’s A Wonderful Life as a vintage radio show in December, so the stage will be set for that. The set will look like an old-timey studio.”
Old timey suits the duo, especially Katherine Smith, who comes from a family steeped in choral church music. While most twenty-somethings’ first musical memories comprise TV, pop CDs, and/or the radio, Smith recalls singing harmony with her parents and extended family in a group of mostly adults called Mass Production. This background gives her a rich, resonant vocal presence, confident and assured against Oakes burnished baritone. Still, she’d not considered making a stab at singing professionally until she met Oakes, a journeyman rocker looking for artwork for his 2009 solo CD, Heart Broken Open.
“I was working on my album, and Kate and I started to brainstorm ideas for a video,” says Oakes. “She drew up beautiful sketches, then we started singing together, and it was a revelation. It was like ‘whoa.’ When the chemistry between two voices works, it’s profound. It was so exciting for me. I hadn’t been performing a lot, I just was recording. But when we made this discovery, it was a rebirth. All I wanted to do was perform with Kate as much as possible.”
After wowing the room at a 2010 performance workshop conducted by famed singer-songwriter-keyboardist Joy Askew (Joe Jackson, Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson), Oakes & Smith was born. “Joy said, ‘You guys have something special,’” Oakes recalls.
Like many acts, both established and new, Oakes & Smith launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund First Flight. By producing a brief, entertaining video, and offering rewards like signed CDs, prints of Smith’s artwork, and a house concert at which they will also cook the donor dinner, they succeeded in raising a little over six grand. (Note: In a Kickstarter campaign, acts must raise their desired amount in a specified time, or they get nothing.) “It was nervewracking,” says Oakes. “Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform, and we had six weeks to raise six grand. We really put it out there, really made a case and, toward the end, people started to respond. In the last week we tripled the amount of money we raised. My high school class even started a Facebook page to help raise funds. The final hours of the campaign were like New Year’s Eve. But we got what we needed. It was incredible, very heart-warming.”
Oakes sees Kickstarter as part of the new paradigm between indie artists and fans: “Kickstarter gives people an opportunity to be a part of the process, and allows the funding of more things than the traditional model, which included gatekeepers who decided what got done and what didn’t. Now, if you believe in an idea enough, and can make a good case for it, you can get what you need in advance.”
After such an outpouring of support, Oakes & Smith are eager to give back as good as they got, starting at the Bernstein Theatre.
Oakes & Smith
Saturday, November 23, 8 p.m.
Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre
70 Kimble Street
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Dramatic, Ecstatic Klezmatics Bring Danceable Joy to the Mahaiwe
By Robert Burke Warren
When trumpeter-composer Frank London formed the Klezmatics in the East Village in 1986, he and his bandmates sought to revitalize and update klezmer music, the Yiddish folk/American jazz amalgam popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the band’s first gigs, the mix of young and old faces in the crowds showed them they were on the right track; elders lovingly recalled the once-dominant Lower East Side Yiddish culture, forgotten as many post World War II immigrant Jews assimilated into American culture. Meanwhile, youngsters tapped into an imperiled heritage, all while everyone got sweaty. Twenty-seven years on, the Klezmatics boast ten CDs, an international touring schedule, bookings on The Late Show with David Letterman and A Prairie Home Companion, stages and studios shared with famed violinist Itzhak Perlman, and a Grammy for their 2006 CD Wonder Wheel. So… mazel tov, already. But they’re hardly finished. Fresh from stints in Sweden and Vienna, the renowned live act brings their “wild, mystical, provocative, reflective and ecstatically danceable” tunes to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on Saturday, November 16 at 8 p.m., presented by the Yiddish Book Center as part of “Yidstock: The Festival of New Yiddish Music.” It’ll be a stop on an ever-changing, revelatory journey. (Photo above: Joshua Kessler.)
“When I first started playing klezmer,” Frank London says from his East Village apartment, “the audience would include old people talking about the old days in New York or Europe. Now, middle-aged people talk about their parents playing our music when they were young. That’s a real transformation.”
London sees the Klezmatics’ continued success in several lights. “We’ve not only presented old music in a new way, we’ve found aspects of our cultural heritage that aren’t so widely known. From the very beginning, we’ve had an integral relationship with archives and research, trying to find new old sources, new old music. There’s a researcher in each of us. In fact, [Klezmatics singer-guitarist-pianist-accordionist] Lorin Sklamberg has worked for years as a sound archivist at YIVO, the Yiddish Institute for Research.”
For those who wonder how the Klezmatics went about updating klezmer, which, in its original form, is very old-world, London says, “We put forth a consistent and coherent political and aesthetic Yiddish/klezmer music that embraces our political values—supporting gay rights, workers’ rights, human rights, universal religious and spiritual values expressed through particular art forms. We eschew the aspects of Yiddish/Jewish culture that are nostalgic, tacky, kitschy, nationalistic and misogynistic. We’ve shown a way for people to embrace Yiddish culture on their own terms, as a living, breathing part of our world and its political and aesthetic landscape.”
This approach provides the Klezmatics a particularly broad range of gig possibilities. In a given year, they’ll play festivals in Europe, rock clubs in the U.S., schools, theaters, cultural centers, private functions, and museums.
London is still buzzing from a recent engagement at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland. The Klezmatics created musical accompaniment for Letters To Afar, a YIVO-sponsored video installation by Hungarian artist Péter Forgács. “American Polish Jews went back to visit their families in Poland in the 20s and 30s,” London says. “The exhibit is largely their home movies, that’s the raw material; it’s found footage. And of course, we’re a dance band, but Forgács wanted ambient, minimalist, unchanging music. It forced us to re-look at how we approach stuff, get a fresh look at things. It’s an extraordinary exhibition.”
London says they may play a bit of that at the Mahaiwe. They’ll certainly dip into their extensive back catalog, packed with traditional tunes evoking Ashkenazi weddings, horas, dances with Roma around fires in the old country, as well as more modern fare, featuring Woody Guthrie lyrics given to them by Nora Guthrie (the entirety of Wonder Wheel), plus… who knows? As-yet-unheard material, certainly, the fruits of recent discoveries in the archives of the New York Public Library, where London and Co. were granted unprecedented access. “It’s yet another treasure trove of Yiddish material,” London says, still excited after all these years. “It’s great. We’re looking through scores of operettas, Yiddish theater pieces from the teens, ‘20s, and ‘30s. We’ve found sources of tunes we know, so it’s an affirmation.”
After a quarter century, does any specific gig stand out in London’s memory? “Not really,” he says, laughing. “Although there was the show in Massachusetts where we met Nora Guthrie, or the one we where we met Holly Near and the Weavers’ Ronnie Gilbert, or when we were the first Jewish band to play in post-communist Hungary… or our last concert in Vienna. That was as stunning as any we’ve done. That transformation of sound into energy always works. It’s a rediscovery every time if done right, a re-transmission of the material, and people experience it anew.”
Saturday, November 16, 8 p.m.
The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle Street
Great Barrington, MA