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2018 Season Preview: RI’s Performing Arts Starter Guide

Photo: John Ferrillo

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

Some of us are chiefly into winter sports and make a beeline for Butternut or Catamount all winter. Some just can’t get enough of the New England autumn, and find their bliss at the Lenox Apple Squeeze. But I vote for summer. Having experienced this seasonal bounty of performing arts first as a full-time local and then lately as more of a weekend-visitor type, I see that it looks just as beautiful from different angles — and even more impressive with a little bit of distance.

I’ve considered it an honor to write this season preview for RI these past six years, but this’ll be my last one for a while. I’m heading west (well, just west of the Mississippi) to cover the arts in a new place. I still hope to enjoy the “Tanglewood diet” occasionally, even if I’ll be live-streaming the music from afar.

But you, dear reader, can still do all this stuff! Please do so. Enjoy. And wave to Yo-Yo Ma for me.


Eilen Jewell
May 4
Helsinki Hudson, Hudson, NY

Jewell came through the Boston roots-music scene via her upbringing in Idaho, and puts her own smoky spin on Americana sounds both old and new. She’s an artist who is compared to the great jazz vocalists of old as well as contemporaries like Gillian Welch, and Helsinki Hudson seems like the perfect place to watch her work. Her well-received 2017 album “Down Hearted Blues” is composed of fresh interpretations of sepia-toned blues chestnuts by the likes of Memphis Minnie, Big Maybelle and Willie Dixon, so don’t be surprised if her set leans in that direction.

Graham Parker
May 18
Infinity Hall, Norfolk, CT

This is a special opportunity to see the legendary English singer-songwriter in the intimate environs of Infinity Hall, a real listening room (on the right occasion) if there ever was one. Parker may be best known for the work he did with his group Graham Parker & the Rumour in the 1970s, but he’s remained busy straight through his solo work of the early 21st century — though there was a Rumor reunion a few years ago. This show is part of a 15-show American tour featuring Parker performing solo.

Close Encounters With Music: Lenny at 100 — Feel the BERNstein
June 9
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA

This summer is a moveable feast for Leonard Bernstein fans, and this gala event offers a scrumptious buffet of the local-favorite composer/conductor’s work. As always, Close Encounters will aim to weave together an informative story along with the music, painting an aural portrait of Bernstein in the year of his centenary. The program ranges from Bernstein originals to the work of composers (like Copland and Ives) he notably championed, and more. It sounds like there’ll be a light touch to the evening, as a five-piece ensemble ranges across genres and time periods in service of a musical biography.

The Decemberists
June 15
Mass MoCA, North Adams, MA

It no longer even counts as an open secret that Mass MoCA is not only the biggest and most important contemporary art museum this side of anywhere, but the Berkshire region’s premiere presenter of major musical concerts — people pretty much get that by now. But yet it still seems like the museum/venue’s performing arts schedule gets more aggressive every season, from creative boundary-pushers to boldfaced headliners with mass (MoCA) appeal. File this concert in the latter category. The Decemberists are touring behind a new album that sees them veer away from their distinctive, old-time maritime-y style into something more poppier and sometimes even ‘80s-ish. We’re interested to hear them gallop through their catalog at this tone-setting event. If you want to squeeze into the Hunter Center for this, though, you’ll need to get your name on a waiting list and cross your fingers.

Roger Daltrey performs The Who’s “Tommy” with the Boston Pops
June 15
Tanglewood’s Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA

One of the strongest seasons at Tanglewood for non-classical acts in many years is highlighted by this gem. Do not expect the raw power of the performance of “Tommy” material that The Who gave at Tanglewood in 1970, but expect all the pomp and pageantry of one of rock’s greatest vocalists revisiting this precious material with help from Keith Lockhart and The Boston Pops. Also on board is Daltrey’s current band of Who-related players, including guitarist Simon Townshend (yes, of those Townshends). This is part of a 10-city tour, following the proper Who’s first complete performance of the classic rock opera in 28 years performed last year at the Royal Albert Hall. (Daltrey previously performed the song cycle on a solo tour in 2011.) This show may not bring eyesight to the blind, but it should be pretty darn powerful. 

Ani DiFranco
June 17
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA

We’re glad to see Ani anytime she’s in the Berkshires, and this appearance right in downtown Great Barrington should be a treat. As a musician, activist, entrepreneur and feminist, she’s more than 20 years into blazing trails. But she’s not into simply resting on her laurels; she’s a busy recording artist and performer who released her latest album last year. Though she relocated to New Orleans ten years ago, we still think of her as the queenpin of Buffalo, and an inspiration to the fertile scene of folk-influenced artists who emerged from there in the 1990s and 2000s. Right now she’s touring with longtime collaborators Todd Sickafoose (bass) and drummer Terence Higgins, who also appear on her latest album. This show may prove something of a regional reunion, as its her last before two gigs in California polish off the tour.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
June 29
Tanglewood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall, Lenox, MA

You might expect Béla Fleck to turn up at Tanglewood in the company of cross-genre collaborators like bassist Edgar Meyer or mandolin whiz Chris Thile. But instead he’s providing one of the likely highlights of the season with his original group. This concert, with bassist Victor Wooten, Howard Levy (harmonica and keyboards) and Roy “Future Man” Wooten on his self-styled instrument known as the synthaxe drumitar, comes after the much-anticipated reunion of the original lineup in 2016. It’ll be a particular treat to enjoy their unclassifiable virtuosity in the beauteous intimacy of Ozawa Hall. (By the way, you can still catch Thile in these parts when he leads a live broadcast of “Live From Here” from the Tanglewood Shed on June 30.)

Courtney Barnett
July 12
MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA

Strictly between us, this may be my favorite thing on the pop music calendar this summer. Courtney is awesome. Her raw-but-catchy sound evokes the fresh air of basement punk plus a spin on the irony-rock of the 1990s that avoids cynicism with slice-of-life lyrics that make no show of pretense whatsoever. At MoCA, she’s playing one of the outdoor courtyard stages — so you’d do well to make ticket arrangements sooner rather than later. She’ll be touring with her regular band, behind her much-anticipated sophomore LP, on a summer tour that otherwise hits a lot of festivals (including her debut at Newport).

BSO performs Puccini’s “La bohème”
July 14
Tanglewood’s Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA

Among BSO maestro Andris Nelsons’ specialties is the classic operatic repertoire, and this semi-staged production (expect evening gowns and music stands) should be a real ear-opener. It also may or may not be the last entry for a while in the exciting artistic collaboration between Nelsons and rising-star soprano Kristine Opolais, a Tanglewood favorite in her own right — we hope not, but they did announce their divorce in March, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they take a break from onstage collaboration once they fulfill all their previously announced commitments. In addition to a raft of other all-star vocalists, the BSO will be augmented for this program by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus — and here’s a tip of the baton to that ensemble’s founder and longtime leader, John Oliver, who passed away in April.

Aston Magna Music Festival’s J.S. Bach: Art of the Fugue
July 21
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA

We enjoy when the folks at this pioneering early-music festival put together surprising and challenging programs from oft-overlooked works of old. But you can’t help but think this festival is really in its element when it lets loose with a program like this, composed entirely of selections by J.S. Bach — and highlighting perhaps Bach’s most well-known move, the fugue, to boot! Artistic director Daniel Stepner will lead an eight-piece ensemble playing baroque instruments in his own orchestration of the Bach pieces. And after the show, you can feel free to go onstage to talk to the musicians and get a better look at the oboe da caccia, harpsichord, baroque bassoon, and other tools of the early-music trade. This should be spellbinding.

American Symphony Orchestra: “Demon”
July 27 - August 5
Bard SummerScape, Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Another season, another epic but overlooked opera presented in an ambitious production by American Symphony Orchestra at Bard SummerScape. This 1871 piece was written by Anton Rubinstein, and though a longtime favorite in his native Russia, it is considered a rarity in the west. This production is conducted by Bard’s Leon Botstein and directed by Thaddeus Strassberger, a past winner of the European Opera Prize who in 2014 earned the distinction of directing the first-ever production of a Philip Glass opera in Russia. “Demon” features an all-Russian cast, including baritone Yefim Zavalny, who makes his American debut as the titular demon, a fallen angel grappling with his unhappy fate.

Photo: Jason Bell

The BSO with Yo-Yo Ma
August 19
Tanglewood’s Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA

After all these years, many of us still plan our summer schedules around Yo-Yo Ma’s appearances at Tanglewood. The frequency of his visitations detracts not a whit from the specialness of each occasion. This summer he’s paired with the BSO (under the baton of Andris Nelsons) in a particularly Tanglewood-y program, featuring works by Aaron Copland (“An Outdoor Adventure”), Leonard Bernstein (“Three Meditations from “Mass,” for cello and orchestra) and a seemingly Tanglewood-inspired world premiere by John Williams called “Highwood’s Ghost.” (Béla Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra” is included for good measure.)


Miki Orihara’s “Resonance II”
June 16
Kaatsbaan International Dance Center, Tivoli, NY

Japanese-American dancer Orihara performed with the Martha Graham Dance Company for nearly 30 years (much of that time as a principal dancer) before branching out as a solo artist in 2014, at a time when many dancers would simply retire. Instead she created an evening of favorite pieces, called “Resonance,” that spanned back to a 1932 dance by Graham herself. This fascinating new chapter continues with Orihara’s latest program of solo dance, “Resonance II.” Performed with accompaniment by pianist Senri Oe, it again explores the history of modern dance, with pieces by Merce Cunningham, Lar Lubovitch and Charlotte Griffin, and a dance Orihara co-composed with Tanroh Ishida.

Photo: Ed Bock

Ragamala Dance Company
June 20-24
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Doris Duke Theatre, Becket, MA

There is a mix of cultural influences at play whenever this Minneapolis-based company performs its work, which brings a contemporary edge to the South Indian classical dance form, Bharatanatyam. Inspired by an Indian board game that dates back to the second century, “Written In Water” is built to be a feast for the senses, with the original dance complemented by projected visual art and a score composed by Amir ElSaffar and performed live, plus a sumptuous, traditionally inspired wardrobe.

Photo: Paul B. Goode

Paul Taylor Dance Company
July 6-7
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA

We love the fact that this prestigious dance troupe has been a regular visitor to Great Barrington for years, courtesy of the Mahaiwe. The company’s (mostly) annual visit typically includes several pieces spread across a few performances. This year’s bounty keeps it simple with a three-piece program, performed three times. The show includes the New England premiere of “Concertina,” which is reckoned as Taylor’s 147th original piece. Taylor has been creating new dances since 1954, and it’s a pleasure to keep up with his latest work alongside “Company B” (1991) and “Gossamer Giants” (2011).

Four Quartets
July 6-8
Bard SummerScape, Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

The inspiration for this multi-disciplinary performance is T.S. Eliot’s poem of the same name. Choreographer Pam Tanowitz, composer Kaija Saariaho, and painter Brice Marden created this extraordinary-sounding adaptation, which comes complete with Tony Award-nominated actress Kathleen Chalfant performing Eliot’s original text and The Knights performing the live score. We’re not sure exactly what to expect in this world premiere performance, but it sounds extremely promising.

Photo: Daniel Roberts

Ronald K.  Brown/Evidence with Arturo O’Farrill & Resist
July 25-29
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Ted Shawn Theatre, Becket, MA

Ronald K. Brown’s dance company is dedicated to exploring cultural styles of the African diaspora. This piece, “New Conversations,” was created (in part) in residence at the Pillow, and this engagement marks the first time it will be performed with live accompaniment — in the form of Afro-Cuban jazz written by Grammy Award-winner Arturo O’Farrill, performed by O’Farrill and his ensemble Resist. This confluence of talent should really make this an electrifying performance.

Bill Shannon’s “Maker Moves”
August 10-11

Bill Shannon assumes the character of a street busker for this lively, humorous movement piece, described as a piece of multimedia clown theater. Among the props Shannon employs are wood, steel and aluminum crutches he has fabricated himself. Shannon describes his work as “body-centric,” and this piece references his artistry as a movement artist as well as an artisan.

BSO and Boston Ballet
August 18
Tanglewood’s Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA

Talk about a name-brand combination of artists. Andris Nelsons conducts the BSO for this collaboration with Boston Ballet on a performance of the legendary collaboration between Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins, “Fancy Free,” which grew from a self-contained ballet into the musical “On The Town.” It was Bernstein’s first ballet score and Robbins’ fully realized dance piece, and it stands on its own merits beyond its curiosity factor as the kernel for the great musical to follow.

Photo: Paul Kolnik

Stars of American Ballet
August 22-26
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Ted Shawn Theatre, Becket, MA

We love the cutting edge work Jacob’s Pillow reliably showcases, but more traditionally minded showstopper programs like this can really scratch the itch as well. It’s also a reminder of the broad artistic reach of Leonard Bernstein, whose centenary is part of the inspiration for this program. New York City Ballet principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht has curated this show, which features an all-star cast of his company-mates, revisiting dances choreographed by legendary Bernstein collaborator Jerome Robbins. Boldfaced selections like “Suite of Dances,” “Interplay” and “Concertino” lead the program.


Royal Family of Broadway
June 7 - July 7
Barrington Stage Company’s Boyd-Quinson MainStage, Pittsfield, MA

We love that William Finn uses Barrington Stage Company as a performance lab to tinker with new work. But even though the Tony Award-winning composer (and amateur black-T-shirt model) is a familiar creative presence in downtown Pittsfield, this show is a special one. The new musical marks Finn’s reunion with Rachel Sheinkin, with whom he wrote “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” the production that really put Barrington Stage on the map back in 2004 before becoming an international hit and eventually winning Sheinkin a Tony Award for her book.

Finn and Sheinkin’s BSC pedigree can’t be beat, but they are joined for this production by director John Rando and choreographer Joshua Bergasse, the team behind BSC’s production of “On The Town” that went on to Broadway success a few years ago, and “The Pirates of Penzance,” a highlight of the summer season two years ago. This may be the buzziest production of the season, and that’s before you take into account the subject matter: a fictionalized version of the legendary Barrymore family that amounts to a love letter to the Broadway world of the 1920s. This is how you spell good times.

Church & State
June 14 - June 30
Berkshire Theatre Group’s Unicorn Theatre, Stockbridge, MA

We’re happy to see Berkshire Theatre Group taking on a new play of political significance. This play by Jason Odell Williams, an Emmy Award-nominated writer who has specialized in television documentaries, premiered Off Broadway last year. Described as a “serious comedy,” it depicts a Republican Senator running for re-election who makes an unscripted remark about a school shooting just days before election day. The remark gets big play on Twitter, and prompts a re-examination of his beliefs about both God and guns. A four-person cast led by director Charlotte Cohn should make this one of those productions you can’t stop talking about after the curtain falls.

Anything Goes

June 15 - July 1
Sharon Playhouse, Sharon, CT

We sure get a kick out of Cole Porter’s peerless songbook, but those witty gems are most frequently encountered outside of their dramatic context, in vocal concerts and cabaret nights. Even if Porter’s musicals were somewhat akin to what we might call a “jukebox musical” today, it’s still a special treat to hear classics like “You’re The Top,” “Anything Goes” and “I Get A Kick Out Of You” performed within the context of the show that brought them to Broadway — and not just because that also means you’re sure to get the sung introductions that are frequently excised when vocalists record or perform stand-alone versions of the songs. This production at the Sharon Playhouse is based on the 1987 revision of the piece by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman (which included the addition of some numbers from other sources) which itself is a classic at this point.

The Closet
June 26 - July 14
Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Main Stage, Williamstown, MA

We admit it’s the star power that first drew our eyes to this new play by Tony Award nominee Douglas Carter Beane (“The Little Dog Laughed”). The inimitable Matthew Broderick stars in the world premiere comedy, which is inspired by a 2001 French-language film (“Le placard”) written and directed by Francis Veber. Williamstown’s plot synopsis for the play is a bit vague, but the film is about a hapless, soon-to-be-fired office worker who improves his workplace cachet by falsely insinuating that he is gay.  It’ll be interesting to see how director Mark Brokaw will handle the potentially problematic politics, but the talent involved here, including Tony Award-nominated actors Jessica Hecht (“A View From The Bridge,” not to mention TV’s “Friends” and “Breaking Bad”) and Brooks Ashmanskas (“Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me”) makes us very curious to check it out.

The Sound Inside
June 27 - July 8
Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Nikos Stage, Williamstown, MA

Williamstown continues to bring the fancy with this new play by the multi-talented Adam Rapp, who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his play “Red Light Winter,” and has also written young adult and graphic novels, directed feature films and written for HBO’s “In Treatment” and Showtime’s “The L Word.” (My favorite Rapp anecdote is that he took a break from “The L Word” to direct one of his plays at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and won the Fringe First Award. That’s some good multitasking.) But the name that drew our eyes to this listing is that of the great Mary-Louise Parker. The synopsis describes her character as an Ivy League professor who “prizes her solitude,” and it’s tempting to expect that this role plays to the strengths of her brainy-but-aloof style, showcased previously on Broadway stages (“Prelude To A Kiss,” “Proof”) and network hits (“The West Wing”) as well as her long-running Showtime showcase “Weeds.”

July 3 - August 5
Shakespeare & Company’s Tina Packer Playhouse, Lenox, MA  

As fluid as the artists at Shakespeare & Company are with the full canon, the company tends to showcase The Bard’s greatest tragedies only once in a while. Eleanor Holdridge’s epochal staging of “Hamlet” in 2006 (and remounted for a tour a few years later), featuring Tina Packer’s return to the stage as Gertrude and her son Jason Asprey as the brooding prince, stands as S&Co’s only main stage take on that play. John Douglas Thompson’s instantly legendary lead performances in “Othello” (2008 and 2009) and “Richard III” (2010) are likely to stand unchallenged for a while longer. And “Macbeth” hasn’t been seen in the Tina Packer Playhouse (nee Founders’ Theater) since a World War II-themed production in 2002.

Besides its mere presence at the top of the lineup, this summer’s production has an interesting twist: the title role will be played by Jonathan Croy, a Lenox veteran best known as one of the company’s great comic actors. Does the casting tip an unorthodox take on the material, or is Croy simply getting a well-deserved shot to stretch his wings? With Tod Randolph, one of the grande dames of Berkshire theater, playing Lady M and Obie Award-winning director Melia Bensussen at the helm, this has the look of one of the summer’s most intriguing productions.

July 5 - 15
Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA

Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a master class in examining contemporary social issues amid a compelling, character-driven context. The tightly wrapped one-act centers on a secularized Muslim lawyer who attracts unwanted scrutiny when his comments supporting a controversial imam are reported in The New York Times. It’s a wonderful piece, and we’re pleased to see WAM Theatre artistic director Kristen van Ginhoven at the helm of this show for her second season at Chester. In his third season producing artistic director, Daniel Elihu Kramer has put together a very good looking season there, which also includes an American premiere (Mark Leiren-Young’s “Bar Mitzvah Boy”) and Annie Baker’s “The Aliens,” the slice-of-life story of suburban ennui that won her second Obie Award before “The Flick” netted her that Pulitzer Prize.

Leonard Bernstein’s “Peter Pan”
July 8-22
Bard SummerScape, Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

In the summer of Bernstein retrospectives, this is a jewel by the composer that’s rarely been seen or heard. “Peter Pan,” with music and lyrics by Bernstein, was originally composed for a 1950 Broadway production. Directed by the internationally renowned Christopher Alden, the musical, filled with the composer’s shimmering score, reveals a darker side to J.M. Barrie’s fantasy of childhood. The always-inventive Bard SummerScape brings to the Hudson Valley a new production, specially commissioned for the worldwide celebration of Bernstein’s centenary year. Lenny’s work never gets old, but we can’t wait to see and hear something new (to most of us, anyway). Note that this isn’t your grandmother’s “Peter Pan.” Right up front, SummerScape states it’s suitable for audiences aged 12 and up.

July 26 - August 16
Berkshire Theatre Group’s Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA

Sometimes you have to play to the room. We love when the theaters in our region take on edgy work of social and political significance. This selection does not fall into that category. But if this is what it takes to pack the glorious Colonial Theatre to its gilded rafters — and perhaps introduce a few new generations of local youth to the magic of live theater — we say go for it. There’s room for all kinds.

This glossy musical is based on Disney’s film version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ story and features music by the critically maligned but popularly adored popster Phil Collins, who won an Academy Award for the show’s centerpiece ballad, “You’ll Be In My Heart.” Though this is a proper BTG production and not the season’s kid-themed show (that would be “The Lion King Junior,” playing April 28 and 29), the cast does feature 100 Berkshire youth. So you may have to compete with their parents for the best seats, but director Travis Daly is likely to swing for the fences with a delightfully entertaining and heartwarming production.

West Side Story
August 3 - September 1
Barrington Stage Company’s Boyd-Quinson MainStage, Pittsfield, MA

There’s a few layers of nostalgia at play in this likely blockbuster. It was with “West Side Story” that Julianne Boyd first established a creative beachhead in Pittsfield in 2007, introducing audiences to the newly renovated theater on Union Street (after a balcony-less test run the year before) and building up a reservoir of goodwill and good word-of-mouth. This is also the year of Bernstein, with many musical and theatrical tributes to the centenary of his birth this summer. And those really in tune to the Berkshire theater scene are interested to see Barrington Stage’s next spin in Lenny’s oeuvre, after the delightful “On The Town” in 2013 that went on to Broadway success.

As of press time we’re still awaiting casting info for this production, but with this evergreen material and Boyd at the helm, its safe to say this production will be one of the hottest tickets of August. How do you solve a problem like no-tickets-left? Get them now.

As You Like It
August 9 - September 2
Shakespeare & Company’s Roman Garden Theatre, Lenox, MA

In the second year of his return to Shakespeare & Company as its new artistic director, Allyn Burrows — who in the meantime founded and led Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Boston’s leading Shakespeare troupe — will again direct at the Lenox campus’s newly fashioned Roman Garden Theatre, which he broke in last season with a very memorable “The Tempest.” The outdoor space, discretely tucked in between the terrace outside the Tina Packer Playhouse and some of the company’s rehearsal studios, is susceptible to the elements but also an inspired setting for something like “As You Like It,” which so winningly depicts the forest of Arden as a kind of idyllic counterweight to the deception and scheming at Duke Frederick’s corrupt court.

The cast includes a reunion of some of the key players in last season’s “The Tempest,” including S&Co. favorite Nigel Gore (then Prospero, now doubled as Duke Senior and Duke Frederick), Deaon Griffin-Pressley (Ferdinand in “The Tempest” and Orlando in “As You Like It”) and Ella Loudon, who made her company debut last season as Miranda and returns as the country girl Phoebe. Popular Boston actress Aimee Doherty comes to town to play Rosalind, one of the great female characters in the canon.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/16/18 at 11:23 AM • Permalink

Jacob’s Pillow Puts Skates on Pittsfield’s 10x10 Festival

By Sharon Smullen

If ice dancing leaves you cold, Jacob’s Pillow knows how to make it sizzle.

Instead of watching sparkly Olympic skaters waltz to bland music, on Friday, Feb. 16 the Pillow will present “Vertical Influences” by Alexandre Hamel’s Montreal-based dance company Le Patin Libre (Free Skate) at the Boys and Girls Club ice rink in Pittsfield, Mass.

You won’t find Disney princesses or points-driven postures in this skating show. Hamel replaces competitive and commercial constraints with cutting-edge choreography that turns fancy frozen footwork on its head.

He mines contemporary dance for inspiration, in particular urban dance forms like hip-hop and b-boy, creating new vocabulary rooted in the unique potential of ice-driven movement, with the “glide” at the heart of the experience.

“We can stand there but keep the momentum going and move through space,” Hamel explained. “Reversely, we can make a movement typical to human locomotion but stay on the spot because of the absence of friction.”

Hamel spoke from Holland during a multi-country engagement — they tour European dance and arts festivals several times a year. A competitive figure skater in hockey-crazed Canada, Hamel didn’t encounter the arts until university. “I didn’t even know contemporary dance existed,” he said. “I was flabbergasted.”

Photos by Alicia Clark, courtesy of Jacob’s Pillow

He created Le Patin Libre in 2005 during a time of “teenage rebellion.” After clumsy early attempts to combine dance with ice skating — they were considered “skating punks” — through hard work and “years of reflection and rethinking of our medium” his efforts paid off. Now the company of four Canadians and one Parisian has earned its place in the contemporary dance world.

While festival appearances reach arts-savvy audiences, general performances attract wider interest.

“Skating is popular and fun, with an aura of glamour and excitement,” Hamel said. “We open a door to art for a new audience, people who wouldn’t necessarily see a dance show.”

Audiences often include strange bedfellows: figure skaters and hockey players. The former, Hamel explained, “will go see anything on ice skates because they love the medium.”  As hockey players can’t skate that night because of the show, Hamel, a big fan, provides tickets.

“Vertical Influences” is viewed first from bleachers, then from chairs on ice mats to feel the chill and moving air. Performers wear street clothes and dance to music composed by cellist, electronic DJ and company skater Jasmin Boivin, his silences accentuating the swish of blades.

Europeans and Canadians embraced Le Patin Libre years ago, but Americans are just discovering them.

“I was astonished by how great they were,” said Pillow director Pamela Tatge. “What impressed me was the caliber of the choreography set in a contemporary dance tradition.” The dancers have the athleticism and ability for tour de force moves, she noted, but “it’s not about virtuosity, it’s about taking people on a journey. Intensive exposure to another artist can sometimes change your creative trajectory,” she said.

The presentation is part of Pittsfield’s annual 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival of art, words and music and more running from Feb. 15 to 25. New this year are Berkshire Historical Society’s time-traveling photo exhibit “Turning Points” and Ted Rosenthal Trio’s Gershwin tribute “10, By George.” Returning favorites include Barrington Stage’s 10 short plays, and short films at Beacon Cinema. 

Pillow Pop-Up: Le Patin Libre
Friday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25; youth tickets: $10, available here.
Pittsfield Boys & Girls Club
16 Melville St., Pittsfield, MA
Following the performance, the audience is invited to a cast party at nearby Methuselah Bar & Lounge.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/05/18 at 09:02 PM • Permalink

At The First Hudson Jazz Fest, The Lineup Doesn’t Miss A Beat

Sheila Jordan

By Jamie Larson

Hudson Hall at the Historic Hudson Opera House has been breathlessly expanding its programming since reopening and relaunching last year, lofting high its immaculately restored performance hall as its figurehead. Even now, during Hudson’s (less and less off) off-season, the Hall is about to put on an ambitious three-day jazz extravaganza sure to please aficionados and casual music lovers looking for something to break up the winter doldrums.

The inaugural Hudson Jazz Festival will run from February 16-18 and features an impressive lineup of performances by musicians from around the globe, films, workshops and more. The truly international event has been curated by Hudson’s own renowned jazz pianist, Armen Donelian, and every evening will be headlined by the likes of Sheila Jordan and Dominique Eade, The Ara Dinkjian Quartet and Quarteto Moderno.

Armen Donelian

You know it’s going to be good when the event has already garnered notice from living legend Sonny Rollins.

“The Hudson Jazz Festival has been a long time in the making,” Rollins said. “I first moved to Germantown in 1971 and I became a contributor to the Hudson Opera House (now Hudson Hall) when it opened in 1992. And here we are in 2018, and I’m proud to support the Hudson Jazz Festival because it enriches our community and makes it a better place to live.”

Holding the festival at this unconventional and chilly time of year makes the event stand out even more. It also gives the busy performers a unique chance to share a stage at a time when they can be the center of attention.

James Francies

“I see this festival as a rare opportunity both to raise regional jazz awareness as well as to reward loyal jazz fans with a first-rate presentation,” said Donelian. “We are extremely proud to grace this beautiful venue with an exceptional lineup of world-class performers.”

This is also the first major event hosted at Hudson Hall since Tambra Dillon officially took over as sole executive director of the organization at the beginning of the year. She had been co-director for a few years and has a mile-long resume, but this festival is still no small undertaking for her first turn at the wheel. But like any good captain, she’s always quick to give the credit to her small but exceedingly able crew.

Thomas Chapin

“I’m really excited that Armen has put together a program where there is really something for everyone,” said Dillon. “We are featuring some all time greats and some things that go beyond the jazz spectrum. Our staff has really stepped up and made the impossible possible. We are trying to create a program that stitches together the main stage and the community. It’s so important that we balance that.”

The festival kicks off Friday evening, Feb. 16 with The Ara Dinkjian Quartet, an instrumental collaboration rooted in Turkish, Armenian and Macedonian Roma; headed by world-renowned oud player Dinkjian; and featuring award-winning clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski. Donelian will open for the quartet with a solo piano set of Armenian-inspired romances.

Ara Dinkjian

On Saturday, Feb. 17, “jazz matriarch” Sheila Jordan and vocalist, composer, lyricist and instrumental arranger Dominique Eade close the evening, following an afternoon of jazz solo piano immersion with “the Picasso of Jazz piano” JoAnne Brackeen, along with critically acclaimed NYC jazz scene favorite Aaron Goldberg, and young lion James Francies. Festival audiences can then enjoy a free screening of Night Bird Song, director Stephanie Castillo’s award-winning portrait of the life and premature loss of the great American jazz talent Thomas Chapin.

Students are invited to a multi-generational hands-on jazz improvisation workshop on Sunday morning taught by Donelian and saxophonist Marc Mommaas, co-founders of Hudson Jazzworks. The festival then comes to a fiery close at mid-afternoon with the wild and spontaneous Quarteto Moderno.

Hudson Jazz Festival
Friday, Feb. 16 – Sunday, Feb. 18
Hudson Hall
327 Warren St., Hudson, NY
Tickets start at $25, with weekend passes available for $90, which include priority entry and seating to every performance. For online ticket purchasing, check the website or call (518) 822-1438.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 01/30/18 at 07:45 AM • Permalink

In ‘Served,’ Forklift Dancers Fuse Food Services And Dance

Photos courtesy of Forklift Danceworks

By Sharon Smullen

According to Allison Orr, dance and dancers can take many forms. As artistic director of Forklift Danceworks, she finds her inspiration in the most unlikely places.

Take the world of institutional food service. Day and night, these often invisible workers move through dining halls and kitchens catering to the needs of hungry hordes. At Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., their lives revolve around feeding wholesome food to students oblivious of their efforts.

Next weekend in Paresky Center, Forklift Danceworks presents “Served,” propelling the kitchen workers into the spotlight by transforming everyday occupational activities into dynamic dance routines.

Instead of burgers and honeybuns, a new menu of moves includes a mop-wielding trio (Gene Kelly fans take note) and some sharp synchronized knife skills. Dinner service will never be the same.

The program begins with small group tours of dining facilities — kitchen prep, bake shop, stockroom — to see staff at work. A 30-minute performance by some 50 employees follows in the Great Hall, viewed from balconies overlooking the large open space. The event ends with a banquet prepared as part of the dance.

Composer Graham Reynolds replaces dining hall clatter and chatter with an original score performed by a nine-piece student jazz ensemble joined by guest luminaries digital violinist Todd Reynolds, bassist Avery Sharpe and drummer alum Jason Lucas. The production is enhanced by Stephen Pruitt’s lighting and set design.

Top: Allison Orr. Below: Krissie Marty.

Based in Austin, Texas, Orr and associate choreographer Krissie Marty spent two years visiting Williamstown, building relationships and researching the kitchen staff’s daily activities. Through observation, dialogue and experimentation they worked with the volunteer participants, forming a creative collaborative community.

For 15 years, Orr has choreographed municipal groups including sanitation workers (captured in the award-winning documentary “Trash Dance”), fire fighters, baseball players — even pole-dancing Venetian gondoliers — attracting crowds of up to 3,000 spectators.

This is her first educational institution, with a tiny audience capacity of 200. ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance producing director Randal Fippinger invited the company east for a non-traditional residency involving staff instead of students.

Orr describes her approach as making dance with people that don’t identify as dancers, through choreography inspired by the movement of everyday work. From the outset, she explains there’s more to dance than toe shoes and tutus. No pirouetting in the pantry here, or a conga line of cooks.

Orr credits her mentor, noted choreographer Liz Lerman, with helping her blend twin passions of dance and anthropology. But there’s nothing new about vocation-driven content, she noted. As Williams director of dance Sandra Burton observes, people have been making dances about work forever.

In this collaboration, participants “curate how they’re represented, what stories they want told about themselves and their work,” Orr said. Many have worked at Williams since high school, and have a real expertise, caring deeply about their work and the students they serve. There’s a long connection to the dignity of labor and hard work in New England, where doing a trade well is admired and respected, she noted.

The finale includes elements of the whole kitchen community. Just like a conventional dance production, in kitchen service everybody contributes to a whole that couldn’t happen without their involvement. “It’s greater than the individual,” Orr said.

As Williams Dining Services takes great pride in its mostly made-from-scratch food offerings, the staff will share a banquet with the audience following the performance. That was very important to the employees, who asked from the very beginning what people would be eating, Orr noted.

While her husband didn’t have silverware in mind when he named the company Forklift, in “Served” Orr will throw everything, even the kitchen sink, into a celebration of food service staff and their work.

“Think of it like a cooking show to music,” she suggests.

To see other Forklift productions in action, check out this video.

“Served,” a dance for college campus employees
Friday, Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. & 3 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 3 at 8 p.m.
Paresky Center, 39 Chapin Hall Dr., Williamstown, MA

Tickets are free and reservations are required.
(413) 597-2425

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/22/18 at 03:42 PM • Permalink

At Hudson Hall, The Mother Of All Operas

R.B. Schlather. Photos by Tobin Del Cuore.

By Sharon Smullen

“The Mother of Us All” is not your grandma’s opera — unless she’s a fan of Gertrude Stein’s words and wit, Virgil Thomson’s modernist music, and Susan B. Anthony’s civil rights and suffrage struggles. Then perhaps it is.

Director R.B. (don’t ask, he won’t tell you) Schlather is staging the 1947 work at Hudson Hall to celebrate the centennial of New York State granting women the vote and the restoration of the country’s oldest surviving theater in the historic Hudson Opera House.

He describes the rarely performed opera about Anthony by longtime collaborators Thomson and Stein (her final work) as a musical pageant that “zig-zags between humor and gravitas,” where real and imagined characters address themes of gender equality, diversity and acceptance, still unassailable anthems of today.

Known for bold staging, Schlather frequently kicks against convention and the cultural elite by hauling opera out of grand concert halls and into art museums and civic venues used by everyday people. He views Hudson Hall as a room, not a theater, one charmed with the weight of many mythic American personalities, where Anthony shared her message three times. “It’s a perfect place for listening,” he says.

Teresa Buchholz as Anne, with Michaela Martens as Susan B. Anthony.

Thomson’s nostalgic, original score evokes the bygone America of a community bandstand, and the reduced 10-piece orchestration plays more like a dance band than a symphony orchestra, says Schlather.

The staging brings to mind Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech town meeting, seen through a 21st century lens.

“You are in the middle of the speeches,” Schlather explains, “in touch with where we are today as a society, and how weird it is we’re still dealing with the same social justice themes.”

Audiences can sit, stand or move about among the diverse, gender-defying characters, real and imagined, from Jo the Loiterer to John Adams.

With globe-trotting Met mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens singing the “huge, bravura role” of Anthony, included in the 30-member cast are a few accidental opera singers like Shakespeare & Company powerhouse Ella Loudon, and Ngonda Badila, aka band singer “Lady Moon” of the exceptionally talented Badila family. Avant-garde composer Phil Kline, for example, has “a fantastic tenor voice,” says Schlather, who was drawn to enthusiastic occasional singers rather than more serious and formal professionals.

Nancy Allen Lundy as Gertrude Stein, Michaela Martens, Teresa Buchholz and Kent Smith as Virgil Thomson.

“The Mother of Us All” is less traditional opera and more about Stein’s idiosyncratic text keenly set to music by Thomson; as Schlather describes it, a vehicle for “starting conversations about the social justice issues that it depicts.”

He first saw a production in 1998 at age 12 at Glimmerglass in his native Cooperstown. “It captivated me,” he recalls, “I saw it six times that summer.”

The 70-year-old work has ripened with age, he says. Stein’s grammar now has a contemporary feel, like a disconnected scrolling Facebook feed, quite visionary by today’s standards. And, based on its creators and context, he adds, “it’s the ultimate gay opera, like a big queer narrative.”

The production marks Schlather’s artistic debut in the town he and his husband, dancer and choreographer Adam Weinert, call home. The local creative team includes designer Marsha Ginsberg, music director Tony Kieraldo and Stein scholar Joan Retallack, plus Schlather’s longtime lighting wizard JAX Messenger.

Schlather’s international career has lately taken the East Coast by storm. Last year, he came close to home with a mesmerizing peripatetic production of David Lang’s Pulitzer-winning oratorio “The Little Match Girl Passion” at The School, Jack Shainman’s Kinderhook, New York uber-gallery.

When it comes to inclusion, Schlather walks the talk, offering low-cost standing room tickets and post-show salon-style “not-talk-backs” on themes from Queer Narratives to Black Dada that are free to everyone. There’s also an experimental reading room, and a pop-up canteen by Lil’ Deb’s Oasis open 3 to 8 p.m. each performance day.

“It’s my response to the community, the history of the site and our shared culture,” he explains. “Since Nov. 8, I’m trying to be a more responsible citizen, and this project is a part of that.”

“The Mother Of Us All”
Hudson Hall, 327 Warren St., Hudson, NY
4 p.m. Saturdays & Sundays Nov. 11–19, plus Wednesday, Nov. 15.
Tickets: $15–$55. 
(518) 822-1438

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/07/17 at 10:21 PM • Permalink

Live On The Lawn: Outdoor Concerts In The RI Region

By Amy Krzanik

This list, by no means exhaustive, offers a starting point for you to explore some of our region’s many outdoor music events, where you don’t need to have RSVPed to drop in on the scene. Some venues offer food and drink for purchase, and some are BYOS (bring your own snacks). Most of the events are free (unless otherwise noted) and all of them are located on the gorgeous grounds of public and private parks, historic mansions, museums and other sites boasting some of the area’s most amazing views. Don’t forget to bring a chair or blanket! 

Shaker Barn Music, Pittsfield
Hancock Shaker Village is kicking off summer with a new American roots music series in its 1910 Barn, which hasn’t seen more than hay and cows in 100 years. Sip local beer and spirits while you take in a view of the fields and forests of an authentic Shaker village. The series kicks off on Friday, June 16 at 7 p.m. with Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and continues through Sept. 23. Tickets: $15 advance/$20 day of show.

Music After Hours, Lenox
Enjoy free music on the Terrace at The Mount on Friday and Saturday evenings in July and August from 5 to 8 p.m. Food and beverages are available from the Terrace Café, and a pop-up of the delicious downtown Pittsfield restaurant Lucia’s Latin Kitchen will offer kebabs, veggie rice, plantains and more. Don’t miss local favorite Wanda Houston, who will perform on the first night, Saturday July 1, and again on Saturday, Aug. 5 as part of the Lift E’vry Voice Festival’s Struttin’ with Some Barbecue.

The Chalet, North Adams
Every Thursday night this summer, beginning June 29 and running through Aug. 31, MASS MoCA opens up The Chalet, artist Dean Baldwin’s riverside beer garden. Mixed drinks are also available. The bar opens at 5:30 p.m. and events begin around 8. Don’t miss a special night of karaoke with Bang on a Can on Aug. 3 and A Musical Celebration of Unity, a community event that begins in the Nick Cave gallery on Aug. 17. The music and chilled out atmosphere are free. Bring cash for the bar. 

Naumkeag at Night, Stockbridge
On Thursday evenings from June 29 – Sept. 7, relax with friends on the patio or lawn and enjoy live music from some of the area’s most popular bands. Sip cocktails while you take in what is sure to be an amazing sunset over Naumkeag’s famous gardens. Members: $5, Nonmembers: $10.  

Concert in The Fields, Ghent
Experience a unique concert of global music with the artists-in-residence of Music Omi, presented in The Fields Sculpture Park. The new music collaborations will be set amid the 80+ works of contemporary sculpture in Omi’s 120+ acre pastoral landscape. Saturday, Aug. 26 at 5 p.m. Free.

Harmonies on the Hudson, Germantown
Clermont State Historic Site will host a free outdoor concert series kicking off on June 22 with local singer Kayla Rae. On one Thursday night each month through September, guests are invited to relax on the shores of the Hudson River with a BYO picnic (no alcohol allowed). Musicians include James Mongan of Star Children in a solo acoustic set and Sin City Woodstock. Concerts begin at 6 p.m.

Front Porch Concert Series, Red Hook
Red Hook Public Library will kick off its second annual free summer music series on Friday, June 9 from 5-8 p.m. This first of three live concerts features performances from four local musicians. Enjoy folk, pop and original music from Dave Feroe, Frank Murasso, Katie Pierce and Matthew Kobalkan. The series will continue on the second Fridays of July and August and will feature 4–5 musicians at each event. Bring a blanket, chairs and dinner and make yourself at home on “the porch.” 

Music in the Parks, Hyde Park
Free Wednesday night lawn concerts at the Vanderbilt National Historic Site and the Staatsburgh State Historic Site will begin at 7 p.m. during the months of June and July, and at 6:30 p.m. in August. The series will offer an eclectic mix of music that includes big band, orchestra, fiddle music and more. Check the sites to see which groups are performing at each venue.

Free Summer Concert Series, Poughkeepsie
You might want to get your dancing shoes ready for the upcoming Tuesday night concerts at Greenvale Park (rain moves them to the Poughkeepsie Senior Center). From June 27 – Aug. 22, shake off the mid-week blahs with rock, country, blues, swing and soul groups. Performances begin at 7 p.m. during the months of June and July, and at 6:30 p.m. in August. 

Summer Sunset Concert Series, Millbrook
The Millbrook Arts Group will host summer concerts on select Saturdays, beginning on June 24 with the band Buffalo Stack. The free concerts will begin at 7 p.m. and include rock, big band, bluegrass, country, funky blues and American roots groups. All performances will be held at the Bandshell on Franklin Avenue except for the final one, on Sept. 9, which will feature the band Long Steel Rail on the Village Green.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 06/05/17 at 09:11 PM • Permalink

Season Preview 2017: As Always, Our Cup Runneth Over

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

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

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


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

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

Sean Rowe
May 18
Club Helsinki in Hudson

Photo: Matt Dayak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Maurice Jerry Beznos and Jason Bell

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

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

Photo: Amy Grantham

Graham Nash
July 11
Infinity Hall in Norfolk

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

Lincoln Mayorga: Chopin and Candlelight
July 16
PS21 in Chatham

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Hilary Scott

Boston Symphony Orchestra with guests
August 5
Tanglewood in Lenox

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

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

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

Shanghai String Quartet
September 2 & 3
Music Mountain in Lakeville

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


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

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

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

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

June 21–July 15
Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield

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

July 4–August 6
Shakespeare & Company in Lenox

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

Skeleton Crew
July 13–23
Chester Theatre

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

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

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

The Clean House
July 19–29
Williamstown Theatre Festival

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

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

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

August 10–September 2
Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield

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

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

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


Carolyn Dorfman Dance
June 3
Kaatsbaan International Dance Center in Tivoli

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

Jonah Bokaer Choreography
June 15–17
Basilica Hudson

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

Photo: PeiCheck Productions

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

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

Photo: Hilary Scott

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

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

Photo: Paul Kolnick

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

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

Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

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

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

Photo: Wm Johnston

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

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

Parsons Dance
August 4 & 5
PS21 in Chatham

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

Photo: Adrienne Bryant

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

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

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

Norman Rockwell Reinterpreted Through Music And Animation

By Lisa Green

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

John Myers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Unsilent, Firelit Night at the 1753 House

By Lisa Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Chamber Series Offer An Embarrassment Of Riches

Crescendo. Photo by Stephen Potter.

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

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

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

Christine Gevert. Photo by Stephen Potter.

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

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

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

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

Yehuda Hanani.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counting Down For The Pittsfield City Jazz Festival

Karrin Allyson and Scott Robinson.

By Lisa Green

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

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

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

The Jazz Ambassadors — America’s Big Band.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Leaf Peepers Concert Series Plans A Bold 35th Season

By Amy Krzanik

Composer Tonia Ko

Borrowing its name from our region’s annual fall phenomenon, The Leaf Peeper Concert Series, presented each year by Clarion Concerts in Columbia County, will hold four unique performances at four different area venues every other Saturday from Sept. 10 to Oct. 22. The series — born in New York City in 1957 by the late musicologist and conductor Newell Jenkins and his partner, Jack Hurley — is helmed by acclaimed flutist Eugenia Zuckerman, who took over from Sanford Allen, a former violinist with the New York Philharmonic who directed the series from 1996 until his retirement in 2014.

Although it’s the oldest classical music organization in the county, the series doesn’t dwell in the past, and is known for mixing traditional and contemporary chamber music, providing performance opportunities for promising young artists, and commissioning new works.

Zuckerman, who served as artistic director of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival for 13 years, is excited about the stellar lineup of musicians participating in this year’s series. You can witness two of these superstar young musicians, pianist Jeewon Park and cellist Edward Arron — who will be performing with violinist Tessa Lark and Paul Green on clarinet — right out of the gate during “Autumn Echoes,” the first of the series’ concerts this Saturday at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School in Ghent, NY. Along with works by Beethoven, Schoenfeld and Brahms, “Echoes” will include “Elegy for Cello and Piano,” which the series commissioned from Tonia Ko and which will be performed for the first time ever during the concert.

The Shanghai String Quartet

“Our opening concert will take place at a school on a working farm,” says Zukerman, “and I think that speaks to the whole concept of this area and what I love about it. Even though houses are far apart, there’s a real sense of community here, and an interesting mix of older and younger people.”

The rest of the lineup is no less thrilling, and we can see why Leaf Peepers almost doubled its attendance during its 2015 season. The second concert, “From East To West,” will feature the much in-demand Shanghai Quartet, who will be joined by Zukerman on flute, at St. James Church in Chatham, NY.

“Classically Romantic,” at Our Lady of Hope Church in Copake on Oct. 8, will feature Daniel Chong, first violinist in the Parker Quartet, along with Melissa Reardon, a violist in the Grammy-nominated Enso String Quartet, and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan who is a founding member of the Horszowski Trio.

“What I love about the musicians I’ve invited is that these are people who play a lot with their own groups, but also they’re curious and interested in playing with other people,” says Zukerman. “They’re very enthusiastic, fun and flexible performers.”

Leaf Peepers concludes with “Basking in the Baroque” at Hillsdale Methodist Church on Oct. 22. Cellist Astrid Schween of the Juilliard String Quartet and pianist Giovanni Reggioli will be joined by baritone Gustavo Ahualli and Zukerman’s daughter, soprano Arianna Zukerman.

The Leaf Peeper Concert Series
Sept. 10: “Autumn Echoes” at Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, Ghent, NY
Sept. 24: “From East to West” at St. James Church, Chatham, NY
Oct. 8: “Classically Romantic” at Our Lady of Hope Church, Copake, NY
Oct. 22: “Basking in the Baroque” at Hillsdale Methodist Church, Hillsdale, NY
All concerts begin at 7:30 p.m.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 09/07/16 at 11:28 AM • Permalink

Oldtone Roots Music Festival Is A Fun New Frolic

Lauren Ambrose and Kip Beacco at 2015’s festival

By Amy Krzanik

As the Duke Ellington song says, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing,” and the Oldtone Roots Music Festival does got that swing, and that bluegrass, that old-time country, as well as Cajun, contra and Appalachian folk music. Held for one day in Wassaic in 2015, Oldtone will go big this year, with a four-day fest at Cool Whisper Farm in Hillsdale, New York from Thursday, Sept. 8 to Sunday, Sept. 11.

The festival’s founders and producers, Berkshire County musicians Kip Beacco, Matt Downing and Jim Wright, are well known in the roots music world from their bands The Lucky Five, The Hunger Mountain Boys, The Hayrollers and other groups. The trio have used their connections to curate a lineup that includes respected Louisiana Cajun musician Jesse Lége and his Bayou Brew, banjo player Tony Trischka, Michael Daves, The Two Man Gentlemen Band from California whose set will be its only public performance of 2016, NYC’s Raya Brass Band and other singers, duos, trios and full bands from our area and beyond.

Cool Whisper Farm

Friday evening will feature The Oldtone Classic Country Revue offering a convergence of all-star musicians Caleb Klauder, Lauren Ambrose, Andy Bean, Bradford Lee Folk, Pete Adams, Brian Kantor, Sauerkraut Seth Travins and others taking the stage together for a big howdy-doo.

A dance tent will offer live music each night so folks can get their ya-yas out contra, swing or square dancing. There will even be traditional Appalachian clogging. Roots music bands and instrumentalists are invited to participate in contests, and there will be intimate workshops with festival artists on Friday and Saturday.

In true family-friendly style, Oldtone is offering three nights of camping, food and plenty of activities for kids such as music by Hopalong Andrew, face painting, instrument lessons and more. A Friday night Cajun gumbo prepared by The Farmer’s Wife will be overseen by real live Southerner Jesse Lege, and the farm will host a pig roast on Saturday. Hoo-boy! That’s a lot of action.

Hopalong Andrew photo by Bernie DeChant

“We really wanted to do a full-on festival this time, and it just snowballed,” says Beacco. “If we’re doing Friday and Saturday, we might as well do Thursday, and people will camp over Saturday, so we should have some bands on Sunday morning… It’s like when you sit down to eat and your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”

We’re excited to participate in the hoedown and we won’t be alone. “Some people don’t go to festivals because they have an idea that it’s going to be another Lollapalooza or Woodstock, but Oldtone is really for everyone from newborns to 95-year-olds.”

Oldtone Roots Music Festival
Thursday, Sept. 8—Sunday, Sept. 11

Cool Whisper Farm
1011 County Road 21, Hillsdale, NY

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 08/30/16 at 10:58 AM • Permalink

It’s Un Bel Di As We Welcome The Berkshire Opera Festival

By Lisa Green

Since the Berkshire Opera Company folded in 2008, opera productions have been conspicuously absent from the performing arts scene in the Berkshires. So when Jonathon Loy and Brian Garman, both accomplished opera directors and conductors, announced plans to form the Berkshire Opera Festival, it wasn’t only opera aficionados that applauded the venture. While the principals in the cast of the first production, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, come from elsewhere, Loy and Garman didn’t have to go far to cast and hire many of the chorus, musicians and creative team members.

“I’m very happy to say that about 90 percent of our chorus is from the area, and nearly half of the orchestra is local,” says Garman. “There’s such a wealth of talent in the Berkshires that it would have been foolish not to tap into it. Employing local musicians whenever possible is central to the vision of Berkshire Opera Festival.”

The 2016 inaugural festival season opens on Aug. 27. You’ll appreciate it even more knowing who some of the locals are — on stage, behind it, and in the pit.

Beckie Kravetz, Wigs and Makeup Designer
Kravetz [in photo, above] is a world-renowned theatrical mask maker, which is how she started in the business, but through that segued into designing wigs and makeup. In 1988, she became the resident mask maker for the Los Angeles Opera, where she also worked as a principal makeup artist and assistant wig maker. Now living in Cummington, she’s missed working on opera productions. “I had a connection with an LA Opera colleague who had worked with Jonathon Loy at the Met (Opera Company), so when I read about the new company I introduced myself to him. Coming back to work in my own backyard is an incredible thrill.”

International costume designer Charles Caine, a 20-year Met veteran (and Egremont resident), is also working on this production. He had done a previous “Butterfly” with another wig and makeup designer, Steven Horak, who had a big wig stock, and those will be put to use in the Berkshire production. So Kravetz is primarily focusing on the makeup. While Kravetz often does dramatic, stylized painting for opera singers, she says Loy wants a subtle version of the Butterfly look, so the makeup will be only slightly dramatized.

The biggest challenge, she says, is that everybody is on stage in the first 15 minutes of the opera. “That’s a lot of people to get into wigs and makeup before the show,” she says. Fortunately, she has two assistants — Horak and an intern — and she’ll also be doing a training session with the cast to show them how to get started on their makeup. “Cat’s-eye (liner) works well as Asian eye makeup, and that’s really in style right now, so a lot of people know how to do it.” 

Steve Hassmer, Chorus and Uncle Yakuside
The tenor, who lives in Great Barrington, has a small part in Madama Butterfly’s story, as the uncle in the wedding scene. Hassmer’s degree was in music education, but he’s done more performing than teaching; he was in a national tour of My Fair Lady and worked on cruise ships for a while (a “survival job,” he calls it).

“After my wife finished dental school, we moved back east and I’ve been a stay-at-home dad, but in the past year I’ve been looking to get back into performing,” he says. He gave a concert last year in Stockbridge, has been taking voice lessons with the renowned opera singer Maureen O’Flynn, and has sung with Berkshire Lyric and The Cantilena Chamber Choir.

“It’s been such a treat listening to the world-class opera singers,” Hassmer says. “The Berkshire Opera Festival is super professional. Brian Garman is a fabulous musical director, and Jonathon Loy is great at running the rehearsals. It takes a lot of courage to do what these guys are doing, start up a company. They should be commended for trying to bring opera back to the Berkshires.”

Deane Prouty, Orchestra Contractor and Timpanist
Splitting his time between New Marlborough and New York City, Deane Prouty has to be one of the busiest guys in any music scene anywhere. As the orchestra contractor, he is responsible for hiring all of the musicians, holding auditions for the string players and many of the brass and wind players, to put together an orchestra of the highest quality. “We try to fill the roster first with local musicians, then we reach out farther to Albany, Springfield, and then New York,” he says.

Contracting also entails arranging the payroll schedule, collecting paperwork, and managing as a go-between for musicians and staff. He is responsible for arranging the venues for rehearsals and attending to the necessities — such as adequate lighting and room temperature — for the musicians. All of this is on top of being the timpanist, and schlepping the big kettle drums to and from the venues. (Aside from playing in both the Berkshires and New York, Prouty also runs a percussion rental and repair business in the city.)

Prouty was a member of the former Berkshire Opera for eight seasons, so he was able to bring many of those musicians into the BOF. With his familiarity of the region, he says, “I’ve been able to help Brian Garman with Berkshire issues.”

Maia Robbins-Zust, Technical Director
Loy and Garman contacted Robbins-Zust, owner of Berkshire Production Resources, about three years ago when they were first dreaming up BOF. “They said they knew I was a technical director in the area, and could I advise them,” she says. She was the technical director for the Berkshire Opera Company until it folded, so it was a natural for her to take on the position again.

Robbins-Zust is responsible for everything on the production end — building the sets, adjusting the lighting, overseeing the wardrobe staff and supertitles. There are separate scenic and lighting designers, and it just so happens that the scenic designer, Steven Dubay, was a student of hers at Williams College (where she is the technical director of the theater department) a decade ago.

The company is renting theater space at Berkshire Community College to build the sets, and have hired some of the students there to work on the production. Which is a good thing, because there’s a growing need for technical services. “For a rural area like Berkshire County, there are more stagehands than usual because there’s so much here, and theater companies are producing year round now.”

Paula Farbman, Chorus Member and Cio Cio San’s Mother
Lee resident Paula Farbman was a voice major in college (she studied at Juilliard when she was in high school) and a high school chorus teacher in Long Island. She also taught private voice lessons. The soprano sings with The Cantilena Chamber Choir and several other local choruses, but this is the first costumed stage production she’s been in.

“I auditioned for the chorus, and got the role of the mother, singing within the chorus,” Farbman says. “It’s going to be fun. It’s not easy memorizing parts as we get older, but it’s nice singing with a lot of younger singers.”

Farbman thinks the chorus has a good blend, and she’s just as complimentary of the Berkshire Opera Festival staff. “They’re certainly very professional,” she says. “Every day is planned out, and they’re respectful of our time. I really have to say I’m impressed with all of the staff. Having sung a lot, I have a pretty good idea if people know what they’re doing, and these people really do.”

Richard Mickey, Cellist
Opera has been an essential element of Richard Mickey’s career from the beginning, having played with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company and the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company as a young student. As a member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, he worked under music directors who were major opera conductors, so he played a number of concert-form operas.

A Fellow of the Tanglewood Music Center for three years, he moved to the area in 1980, and is a busy freelancer. The Stockbridge resident is also a regular member of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Berkshire Lyric Theatre and many other orchestras.

Like some of the other musicians and creative staff, Mickey introduced himself to the Berkshire Opera Festival directors when he saw a news article announcing its intentions. “I’m very impressed with the group and the leadership,” Mickey says. “And I love the Colonial Theatre. It’s a wonderful asset to the Berkshires.”

Madama Butterfly
Berkshire Opera Festival at The Colonial Theatre

August 27, August 30 & September 2 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $20-$98
111 South Street, Pittsfield, MA
Reserve tickets here or call (413) 997-4444.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/23/16 at 11:16 AM • Permalink

Chatham Dance Festival: Last Time In The Tent

By Amy Krzanik


This August might be your last opportunity to see a Chatham Dance Festival performance in the tent at PS21. No, not because it’s closing up shop, but a key feature of it is changing forever. According to founder and board president Judy Grunberg, the organization hopes to retire its famous saddlespan tent next year in favor of a brand-new black-box theater being built a few hundred yards away.

So now is the time to experience one (or more — an all-dance pass is the best deal) of the hand-picked performances to get the full PS21 experience that audiences have been enjoying for the past decade.

Weekend one kicks off this Friday and Saturday with RIOULT Dance NY, Pascal Rioult’s modern dance company known for its sensual, articulate and musical works.

The second weekend, August 19 and 20, welcomes The Chase Brock Experience, a Brooklyn-based contemporary dance company led by Brock, who’s choreographed everything from Broadway shows (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The program will include a pieced titled The Song That I Sing; Or, Meow So Pretty, which the company describes as “equal parts Blue Ridge and Brooklyn” and a “restless, sexy, strummy work [that] employs a mash-up of tap, finger-tutting, clogging, hip-hop, square dance, step dance, jumpstyle and jazz.”

The Chase Brock Experience

On August 26 and 27, Dance Heginbotham (whose founder, choreographer John Heginbotham, received the 2014 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award), will perform some of its favorite works. The group is celebrated for, among other things, its “athleticism, theatricality, disarming wit and strangeness.”

PS21 favorite Parsons Dance will return to close out the season on Sept. 2 and 3. Warning: tickets to their annual performances sell out fast.

Each year the Festival tries more and more to incorporate the “behind the scenes” of dance, says Grunberg, so the audience can learn more about the companies. Dancers go into the schools, give lectures, and hold workshops for children and adults. This year, the Chatham Public Library will host a talk with Chase Brock; members of Dance Heginbotham will lead an inter-generational dance class for all ages and abilities; and Parsons Dance will hold three sessions geared toward teens.

“We want to bring the very best companies in so as to develop a knowledgeable dance audience in this area,” Grunberg says. The goal is to curate a varied lineup, with each troupe having its own unique flavor and style. “Everyone has a body and everyone moves,” she says. “Even people who think they aren’t interested in dance can find something they like here.”

Chatham Dance Festival at PS21
Friday, August 12—Saturday, September 3
2980 State Route 66, Chatham, NY
(518) 392-6121

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 08/09/16 at 11:42 AM • Permalink

Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) Plays On

Leonard Bernstein at BUTI. Photos courtesy Boston University Tanglewood Institute.

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

One of Andrew Hitz’s fondest memories from his four summers at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) is the night he got in trouble.

As a wide-eyed teenager soaking up all things musical, the aspiring tuba player had the chance to see the great Leonard Bernstein conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, in what would turn out to be the maestro’s last concert ever. (He died a few months later.) 

Determined to shake Bernstein’s hand after the performance, Hitz missed the last shuttle bus up the road to campus, and straggled in long after curfew.

“We got yelled at by the resident assistants. We said, ‘But we met Leonard Bernstein!’ They didn’t care,” Hitz says with a hearty chuckle. The incredible thing in retrospect is that, in the context of a program that gives its students a kind of skeleton key to the behind-the-scenes action at Tanglewood, this particular rendezvous with greatness was not an adequate excuse.

“Experiences like that were a little surreal then and they are even more surreal now, looking back on them,” the tuba player says. Hitz, who relishes time at his family’s lakeside cottage in Otis during the summers, toured the world as a member of Boston Brass for 14 years, and now teaches music students, plays selected gigs, and hosts a podcast about the world of professional brass players.

Pianist Lang Lang coaching a BUTI student.

The BSO’s own Tanglewood Music Center, whose fellows are college-aged or older, has the higher public profile. But BUTI creates its own beehive of activity while mostly serving high school students. Some of those teenagers you sometimes see lugging instrument cases alongside Rt. 183 on the way from the West Street campus to Tanglewood will be some of tomorrow’s classical-music stars. But you can hear them now; BUTI presents more than 70 performances each season that are open to the public. Almost all are free.

This is BUTI’s 50th season. On August 6, a day of campus tours, a piano recital and an alumni panel discussion will culminate in a 50th anniversary show at Ozawa Hall at 2:30 p.m., emceed by Berkshire favorite and BUTI alumna Lauren Ambrose. Other alumni range from Harry Connick, Jr. to Ken-David Masur, assistant conductor for the BSO, who led a program earlier this summer at Tanglewood featuring famed soprano Renee Fleming.

Lauren Ambrose, BUTI alumna.

The August 6 concert will feature commissions by BUTI alumni Nico Muhly and Timo Andres.

“I would like to think that there are a million such places scattered around the world,” Muhly says of BUTI, “but to me it feels like a unique thing. It certainly was in my life. It was a defining musical and social thing. It’s why I’m a composer at all.”

After his time in the program, which gives students access to leading professionals in the field and all the musical magic of Tanglewood, Muhly became the youngest composer to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, and has been a rising star on the scene, writing across genres. He’s written a score for the New York City Ballet, arranged work by pop stars like Rufus Wainwright and Sufjan Stevens, and wrote the music for the 2013 Broadway revival of “The Glass Menagerie.” He’s also been no stranger to the Berkshires since his time at BUTI, writing a commission for the Aston Magna Festival in 2014.

Composer/alum Nico Muhly.

“It was the first time I realized that this is a viable way an adult can behave,” Muhly says of his time in Lenox. “As a kid, saying you want to be a composer is like saying you want to be an astronaut. Then you turn up and go, not only can I do it, but it can be this great thing that happens in this beautiful landscape with all these fun people.”

New BUTI executive director Hilary Field Respass is the first person to hold that job in a full-time capacity; her predecessors doubled as Boston University faculty. Along with another full-time hire, she’s been charged with finding ways for the program to be more self-supporting and not wholly dependent on the university.

“We’re in a period of really focusing on expanding our network of support,” Respass says, citing outreach among alumni and other fans of the program. “We’re really being aggressive and assertive about finding partners to expand our base of support and expand our programming.”

And so, 50 years on and largely outside of the public eye, the aspiring musicians at BUTI continue to play, practice and soak it all in. All of Tanglewood is their classroom, and, once in a while, there’s even a really good reason to miss curfew.

Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) 50th Anniversary Celebration
Saturday, Aug. 6
9-10:30 a.m. Campus tours
11:30 a.m. Piano recital featuring students and alumni from the Young Artists Piano Program
12:45 p.m. Alumni panel discussion: “Changing Lives, Influencing the World”
2:30 p.m. 50th Anniversary Concert at Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood. Tickets: $20
4:30-6:30 p.m.: BUTI@50 Soiree post-concert reception. Tickets: $30

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/25/16 at 02:46 PM • Permalink

Egremont Village Inn Brings Music Back To The Barn

By Lisa Green

When a family of professional musicians (plus one videographer) revitalize an inn that has a barn on its property, you can be sure the old saw, “hey kids, let’s have a show,” has entered their thoughts. If only it were that easy, or immediate. But after several years of renovations, the circa 1830s barn behind the Egremont Village Inn in South Egremont, Mass. is ready for its closeup. On July 8 and 9, the barn doors open and a live music series commences with a celebratory concert featuring Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw.

Gigi Teeley [left], a singer who has owned and run the Egremont Village Inn with family members since 2012, recalls how she fell madly in love with the barn when they bought the property, despite its failing roof, frequent flooding and odor strong enough to chase most people away. While the house was originally built in 1786, the barn followed some 40 years later and served as the horse stables. More recently, in the 70s and 80s, it was the site of the rather infamous Robbie Burns Pub, a honky tonk where folklore has it that legends such as Arlo Guthrie and Jerry Garcia exhibited some less-than-decorous behavior. Neighbors then weren’t amused, but Teeley says they needn’t worry about The Barn. The music will be acoustic, and the audience is limited to 50 max.

“We had to make fixing up the inn itself a priority, so we didn’t get to the barn right away,” Gigi says. “We weren’t even sure we were going to be able to tackle it. But during the brutal winter of 2014-2015, the barn was so stoic. If it didn’t collapse then, I figured it wanted to be here.”

The work in progress. Photo courtesy Egremont Village Inn.

A year-and-a-half of aggressive rebuilding ensued. Although the barn won’t be totally finished by the Crenshaw concert, it will be ready for music and listeners, who will settle themselves into an assortment of leather lounge chairs, church pews and tables. A new, sweet-smelling roof now sits up top, but vestiges of the old barn remain: a replacement bar rests upon the remnants of old barn doors; the guts of the old piano hang above the shelves of liquor, and an original stained glass window overlooks the staging area. A few old cigarette burns on the handsome original floors serve as echoes of the barn’s roadhouse past.

Like the group endeavor it takes to run the Egremont Village Inn, The Barn’s evolution has been a family project, and the Keene-Teely collaboration is distinctly suited to the task. Matriarch Sara Keene is a former singer and opera coach whose husband was Christopher Keene, longtime conductor and music director of the New York City Opera. She moved from Rhinebeck to purchase the old Weathervane Inn, and the family rallied around the business. Daughter Gigi, who performs and teaches at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, primarily manages the inn; her husband Tom Teely, a professional guitarist and singer/songwriter, is the jack-of-all-trades when he’s back from the road or producing albums for other musicians; Keene’s son, Nick Keene, a videographer, helps with management if he’s not off on a shoot. The Teely children, Jackson and Caitlin, who have inherited the music gene, have been hands on from the beginning.

The old honky tonk piano now adorns the wall.

As for The Barn’s musical lineup, Tom and Gigi have pulled in friends and connections (both Tom and Gigi performed with Marshall Crenshaw in the Broadway musical “Beatlemania”). Nick contributed to the wish list, and they’ve been assisted by Seth Keyes, a booking agent, to help curate an eclectic lineup they’re calling “Gems of Many Genres.” The family plans to add more events to get maximum usage of the facility, and add more food to go with the full bar, but for now, The Barn will offer “noshes.”

Don’t be surprised to find some of the family members accompanying the acts every once in a while. After all, they put in the sweat equity to get the barn ready for a show.

Gems of Many Genres
Reservations required.
The Barn at The Egremont Village Inn
17 Main Street, South Egremont, MA
(413) 528-9580

July 8-9 Grand Opening Celebration: Marshall Crenshaw and Friends, 8 p.m. $35
July 15-17 Steph Campbell Live: “It Ain’t Over ‘til the Phat Lady Sings!” 8 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
July 23 Trout Fishing In America, family show at 2 p.m. (kids 12 and under $10); then again at 7 & 10 p.m.
July 30 Hyams and Lisa Rothauser in “Life, Who Knew,” 7 & 9 p.m.
August 6 John Davidson Sings Broadway Standards, 7 & 9 p.m.
August 13 Karen Oberlin Sings American Songbook/Cabaret, 7 & 9 p.m.
October 1 Roy Zimmerman “This Machine,” political satire, 7 & 9 p.m.
October 14 and 16 Linda Purl in “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Fri. at 8 p.m. & Sun. at 3 p.m.
The Grand Opening Show is $35, all the rest (unless noted) are $25.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/05/16 at 01:59 PM • Permalink

The Skivvies Perform Pop Songs ‘Au Naturel’

By Amy Krzanik

Why would two singers – a duo who harmonize and play cello and ukulele, among other instruments – ever need to coordinate the color of their underwear? It’s not because of some odd superstition the two share, but because their undergarments will be “on display,” so to speak, for their audience to see.

The singers in question, musical theater stars Lauren Molina and Nick Cearley, have been performing together since they met in 2003. But The Skivvies were born when the duo “took it to the next level” about four years ago with the release of a YouTube cover of Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” When Molina couldn’t find anything to wear, Cearley suggested doing their stripped down cover, well, stripped down.

“We were very nervous when we first did it,” he says, “but Lauren said to me, ‘If this is a bad idea, then we’ll just delete it.’” But after four videos turned into a sold-out live show in August of 2012, the two have gone on to tour the country with their act.

“When it started it was a fun little hobby, but it’s taken off and people love the theatricality of it,” Molina says. The goal is to present pop songs in a way the audience has never heard them done before, says Cearley. As you may have noticed, a lot of today’s hit songs offer only a few lines of inane lyrics repeated ad nauseam. “We like to exploit the lyrics of ridiculous songs, and expose the most absurd ones possible,” Cearley says.

For their Saturday, May 28 and Sunday, May 29 shows (three shows in all) at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, the duo will be backed by a live band and special Berkshire Theatre Group guests – Lindsay Nicole Chambers, who will play Audrey in the upcoming Little Shop of Horrors; Jen Harris from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; and three actors from Fiorello. When asked if all guests also are required to perform sans pants, Cearley says… yes and no. “Everyone plays the game, but I think of it more like a sleepover or a costume party.” One of the skits will involve a mash-up of “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” and Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” creating the tale of a grandma who drives too fast, so maybe expect to see some grannie panties alongside the sexy lingerie.

The duo love the Berkshires, and will be back to perform for a third year at the Williamstown Theatre Festival on July 17 and 18 (where Molina made her WTF debut in 2011’s 10 Cents a Dance). You can also catch The Skivvies at Club Helsinki two days before, on July 15, in a benefit performance for AnimalKind. Animal charities are close to their hearts—both are vegetarians, and Molina works for NYC animal care centers as an adoption ambassador, fostering kittens and helping them find homes. 

Although there will be skin, there will be no striptease at these shows, as Cearley and Molina like to focus on their music and witty repartee. As Molina says, “This show appeals to all ages. It’s fun and clever, and I think people will be surprised by how much they enjoy it.”

The Skivvies at The Colonial Theatre
111 South Street, Pittsfield, MA
(413) 997-4444
Saturday at 8 p.m. & 10:30 p.m., $40
Sunday at 7 p.m., $40
Sunday show & post-show reception at Hotel on North, $65

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 05/25/16 at 02:03 PM • Permalink

2016 Season Preview (AKA Tickets Not To Miss)

Some people try to tell you their favorite season is autumn. And personally, I do have a soft spot for spring. But here in the Rural Intelligence region, summer is a time like no other. This much we know. So even all you confirmed ski addicts and avid leaf peepers must render unto Caesar and just dive into the summer smorgasbord. It’s a cultural buffet like no other. And I, for one, always have great trouble quelling the urge to go back up for another round. (Anyone who’s been with me to the Sunday buffet at Bombay in Lee can attest to this.)

Our annual season preview scopes out the performing arts situation. Elsewhere on this site, as always, you’ll find coverage of the most notable fine art events, restaurants, and all the rest. But if it happens this summer on a stage, this season preview of theater, live music and dance will have you covered.

So get going and fill up that calendar. After all, ‘tis the season.  —Jeremy D. Goodwin


Rosanne Cash at Helsinki Hudson
May 14

Rosanne Cash isn’t slowing down; just last year she won three Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, quite appropriately. When she plays the Rural Intelligence region, we’re not quite sure if she’s coming straight from New York City or from her country retreat in Columbia County, but we’re more used to seeing her play in stately theaters like the Colonial in Pittsfield. Catching the legend amid the intimate ambience of Helsinki Hudson should be a particular treat.

The National at MASS MoCA
June 11
The National has been busy recently, assembling a magisterial Grateful Dead tribute in the form of a 59-track box set featuring a phone book’s worth of leading indie acts. The National itself has a place on any such list, and this booking seems to be something of a coup — it’s billed as the band’s only headlining show in the Northeast this year (not counting the odd, abbreviated festival appearance). We love when MASS MoCA brings tastemakers from this world to North Adams. Rock (or thereabouts) on.

Bob Dylan with Mavis Staples at The Shed at Tanglewood
July 2
Granted, Bob Dylan’s live shows can be a mixed bag for those who aren’t 100-percent committed to all things Bob — and even to some who are. But Dylan at Tanglewood? Come on. This is a must-see. The Bard of Hibbing played the venerable Lenox shed once before, in 1997, and most recently played the Berkshires in 2005, at Pittsfield’s Wahconah Park. This time we can trade the hot dogs for the usual Tanglewood picnic. His opening act is the similarly lauded, golden-voiced Mavis Staples, who Dylan used to talk about wanting to marry back in the day. To this pairing, just say ‘I do!’

Aston Magna Festival: J.S. Bach, Sacred and Secular
at Laszló Z. Bitó Conservatory Building, Bard College
July 8
at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
July 9

The themed programs of the Aston Magna Festival always add a layer of wit and intellectual curiosity to what is already a captivating concert of early music, played on period instruments by some of the great practitioners of that particular craft. As per usual, this program will be offered in three venues: Brandeis University, Bard College Conservatory, and the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. The program includes three pieces that offer different views of the prodigious and multifaceted talents of the composer.

Photo by Andrew Eccles.

Emerson String Quartet with Renée Fleming at Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood
July 13
Midweek performances by Emerson String Quartet are in some ways the quintessential Ozawa Hall experience. A group that would be the highlight of many classical music festivals’ schedule can pack ’em in here any day of the week, but there’s something special about catching them on a casual Tuesday and Wednesday, as you can this summer. But get this: they’re joined on the second night by opera superstar Renée Fleming, more likely to be a featured guest with the Boston Symphony Orchestra — as she was for the BSO’s opening night at Tanglewood two summers ago, shortly before opening her run in the charming “Living On Love” at Williamstown Theatre Festival. For decent lawn space on Wednesday, arrive early. Maybe just go Tuesday and camp out.

Bang On A Can All-Stars at MASS MoCA
July 23

The annual Bang On A Fan festival — aka “Banglewood” — is an event that offers more rewards the more time you give to it. It’s hard to go wrong with an afternoon-long visit to MASS MoCA framed around a featured gallery recital by one of the leading lights of the new-music movement and perhaps an evening concert by the All-Stars. (And at least once in your life, treat yourself to one of the late-night chalet parties, where mini-recitals by Bang On A Can Institute fellows and faculty are known to give way to a dizzy dance party fueled by super-group jams on “Mustang Sally.”) In its featured concert this year, BOAC’s signature ensemble offers a live performance of Brian Eno’s seminal Music For Airports. 

Chick Corea Trio at Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood
July 31

It’s been a few years since Tanglewood nixed its long-running jazz festival, instead sprinkling a handful of well-chosen, high-wattage stars of the genre throughout the season. A big treat this year is keyboard legend Chick Corea, appearing at Ozawa with a trio that is just bursting with talent. Bassist Christian McBride, a frequent headliner in his own right, and drummer Brian Blade (known for long collaborations with Wayne Shorter and with Joshua Redman) will help the Chelsea, Mass. native celebrate his 75th birthday. His show here a few summers ago with vibraphonist Gary Burton and the Harlem String Quartet was a real treat; this appearance should be no different.

Photo by Jason Bell.

Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble at The Shed, Tanglewood
August 7

When the Tanglewood season is announced every year, one of the first things we check for is Yo-Yo Ma, to see in what musical contexts he’ll appear. This year he brings his great, poly-ethnic world fusion band Silk Road Ensemble to the Shed. (Mr. Ma will be back to play with the full Boston Symphony Orchestra on August 27.) This group was born here, and first played the venue in 2000. As always, it feels like a hometown crowd when the world’s greatest cellist comes to play.

Kelli O’Hara at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
August 7

The ever-hotter Broadway favorite Kelli O’Hara was most recently seen in the popular revival of “The King And I,” winning a Tony Award in the process — though we liked her just as much in “Far From Heaven” and “The Bridges of Madison County” at Williamstown Theatre Festival. She’ll make her solo Carnegie Hall debut in October, but we won’t have to wait that long to see her in the Berkshires; she’s one of the boldfaced names on the schedule of the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. There’s something special about strolling over to see a talent like this after having dinner around the corner in downtown Great Barrington. 

Rubblebucket at MASS MoCA
August 27

The Boston-spawned group puts on one of the most fun shows out there, propelled by bouncy rhythms, an indefatigable horn section and the smiley charisma of vocalist Kal Traver. In recent years they’ve laid happy waste to Infinity Hall and Northampton’s Pearl Street Nightclub; we can’t wait to see what they do to a courtyard stage at MASS MoCA. The only problem: it may not be so comfortable pogoing up and down on the concrete for hours. Wear sensible shoes.

Berkshire Opera Festival: Madame Butterfly at Colonial Theatre
August 27 & 30 and September 2

Since the closing of the fondly remembered Berkshire Opera Company in 2008, the Berkshires has been without home-grown opera. No longer! Berkshire Opera Festival makes its debut this summer with the Puccini favorite, staged at the stately Colonial Theatre, a great home for opera if we’ve ever seen one.  Headed by Jonathon Loy, who has worked as a guest director at the Metropolitan Opera and been a frequent Berkshire visitor, and conductor Brian Garman, the arrival of BOF is well appreciated. Our hopes are as high as one of those glass-shattering notes.

Shanghai Quartet at Music Mountain
September 3 & 4

The esteemed Shanghai Quartet has been making music since 1983, when these talented players came together at the Shanghai Conservatory. (That’s Shanghai, China, not Shanghai City, Illinois.) The group welcomes guests as it plays Labor Day weekend, the penultimate weekend in Music Mountain’s season. The first night includes pieces by Mendelssohn, Zhou Long and Brahms, with guest pianist Jonathan Yates. On Sunday, the quartet is joined by Yates plus another pianist, Gilbert Kalish. Things could get wild! That’s even before you consider that the latter show is a benefit performance, followed by a festive reception.


Presto Change-O at Barrington Stage Company
May 18-June 11

Director Marc Bruni, of Broadway’s “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” directs this world premiere tuner in the cozy environs of the St. Germain Stage. He’s recruited a big, Broadway-tested cast, including Tony Award-winner Michael Rupert (“Falsettos,” “On The Town”), Tony Award-nominees Jarrod Spector (“Beautiful”) and Barbara Walsh (“Company”), Jenni Barber (“Wicked”), Lenny Wolpe (“The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Wicked”) and Bob Walton (“42nd Street”). Surely they have their sights set on a different zip code for this show (say, 10036?), so this could be a good chance to be among the first to have something to say about it.

Photo by WAM Theatre.

The Oregon Trail at WAM Theatre
June 19

WAM Theatre’s principal season happens in the winter and spring, but a series of play readings keeps them in the game over the summer. This also gives us an excuse to visit one of our favorite Berkshire beaneries, No. Six Depot Roastery and Café; the performance is in the gallery in back. “The Oregon Trail,” which had its world premiere last year at the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C., looks like a magic-realist coming of age story. Jane is “an awkward middle-schooler with body odor” who is an ace at the titular computer game, which was all the rage, you’ll recall, back when the Berlin Wall was still standing. Her story is intermixed with that of a heroine in the game. (Hopefully no one involved sees their game end with the infamous kicker: “You have died of dysentery.”)

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof at Berkshire Theatre Group
June 22-July 16

Berkshire Theatre Group (nee Festival) is built on a foundation of the classics of 20th-century American theater. So here’s a crazy stat: it doesn’t seem that the troupe has ever mounted this Tennessee Williams classic, which looks to be right in its wheelhouse. We’re happy to see the production will be directed by David Auburn (Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “Proof”), who has made a summer production in Stockbridge a regular part of his schedule. He’s directed Williams here before, spinning gold from the little-seen comedy “Period of Adjustment” in 2011. In 2013, he helmed Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie” on this stage and provided one of the highlights of the season. 

The Rose Tattoo at Williamstown Theatre Festival
June 28-July 17

“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” is at Berkshire Theatre Group, but a relatively less familiar slice of Tennessee Williams can be found up in Williamstown, with “The Rose Tattoo.” We may tell our more purist theater friends we’re attracted by the material, which won four Tony Awards — including Best Play — upon its Broadway debut in 1951, and includes familiar Williams elements like hot weather and steamy romance. But let’s face it, the more pressing reason people are cueing up for this one is the leading lady, Academy Award-winner Marisa Tomei. (She was up for a one-time reading of a different play last August.) This should be one of the hottest tickets of the summer. As hot as that tin roof, even.

Photo by Rob Jones.

The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare & Company
July 1-August 21

We want to see whatever Tina Packer is up to — especially when it’s a play in the theater named after her (S&Co.’s Tina Packer Playhouse). But now that the esteemed director (and founding artistic director of the Company) has been focusing on lesser-known plays to fill out the roster of Shakespeare works she’s directed, we take notice when she brings to the stage a title as well-beloved as this one. Longtime Company favorite Jonathan Epstein, who has assumed leading roles here only occasionally in the past several years, plays Shylock. This show is the anchor of Company’s season, and we can’t wait to see what Tina & Co. have in store.

Photo by Todd Norwood.

Demolishing Everything With Amazing Speed at Bard SummerScape
July 7-17

This world-premiere production is described as a “surreal puppet noir” based on four “beautiful but disquieting” plays written by the Italian futurist Fortunato Depero during World War I. You had me at surreal puppet noir. Hudson Valley-based puppet artist Dan Hurlin adapted the plays, which have never before been translated or performed in English. This deliciously original piece includes a live score, 3-D printing and, of course, puppets. Lots of puppets, we’re figuring.

Maureen Keiller and Will Lyman, courtesy of Israeli Stage.

Oh God at Chester Theatre Company
July 14-24

This production appeared first in Watertown, Mass. in April, before taking the stage again in Chester’s first season under new producing artistic director Daniel Elihu Kramer.
“Oh God” concerns the titular being’s first session with a new therapist. It features two of the Boston theater scene’s justly decorated actors, Will Lyman and Maureen Keiller. They’re directed by Guy Ben-Aharon, wunderkind founder of Boston’s up-and-coming company Israeli Stage.

Pirates of Penzance at Barrington Stage Company
July 15 – August 13

It looks like Julianne Boyd is setting up a shuttlebus from Broadway to Pittsfield for two big musicals this season, including a staging of this Gilbert & Sullivan favorite. The cast includes Will Swenson (“Hair”), whom we loved at Williamstown in “A Moon for the Misbegotten” last season alongside his wife, Audra McDonald. He’s joined by Scarlett Strallen (“Mary Poppins”), Kyle Dean Massey (“Pippin,” “Next To Normal”), Tony Award-nominee David Garrison (“Wicked”), Jane Carr (“A Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder”) and Tony Award-winner Phillip Boykin, who was seen on Broadway in Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” and “On The Town,” the latter originating at Barrington Stage. Tony Award-winning director John Rando and Emmy Award-winner Joshua Bergasse will look to replicate their success with that production, which was a highlight of the 2013 summer season before migrating city-ward.

The Wolves at Powerhouse Theater
July 21-31

This is the first fully staged production of Sarah DeLappe’s dark comedy, written for 10 female actors. It examines a girls’ indoor soccer team and the freewheeling, no-holds- (or feelings) barred conversations over the course of their warm-ups for five different games. Each character is identified by the position she plays — plus a “soccer mom.” The script calls for the warm-ups to be accomplished “in perfect unison and with military precision.” Sounds like quite a workout for those onstage, but audience members should be primed for the refreshing sound of a new theatrical voice.

Photo by Peter Wise.

Kickwheel Ensemble Theater: Passage at Shire City Sanctuary
July 27-31

After ten years of bringing compelling theater and live music to the region, the folks behind Berkshire Fringe switched gears to focus on their own work. The latest fruit of their creative labor is this devised piece of satirical physical comedy, described as a “climate change romance” and inspired by the ever-melting Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Whatever this gang is up to, we want to see it.

And No More Shall We Part at Williamstown Theatre Festival
August 10-21

New artistic director Mandy Greenfield, who arrived last season, landed in Williamstown with a slew of world premieres and American premieres. Put this one in the latter category. It stars Alfred Molina, who was most recently seen in the Tina Fey film “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” but has been nominated for three Tony Awards, and Jane Kaczmarek (“Malcolm in the Middle”), who’s checked off seven Emmy nominations over the years. The play, about the effect of a grave illness on a couple’s marriage, isn’t brand new — it was first performed in 2009, in Australia — but Greenfield sees something here and so the chances are very high that she’s right.


Photo by Robert Cooper.

Christopher Williams Dances at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center
June 11

Choreographer Christopher Williams describes himself as an alchemist of theater who “commingles contemporary dance with visual art, puppetry, poetry and live music.” I’m into that stuff; aren’t you? For this appearance, he culminates a residency at Kaatsbaan with a performance by his troupe with excerpts from two pieces: “Dardanus Suite” (2015) and the brand-new “Il Giardino d′Amore,” inspired by the love story of Venus and Adonis.

Viva Momix at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
July 2

This accessible dance company, led by choreographer Moses Pendleton, describes its performers as dancer-illusionists. This will be the Connecticut-based troupe’s third visit to the Mahaiwe. Sounds like a great, family-friendly event, and an alternative to weather-dependent Independence Day Weekend festivities.

Photo by James Houston.

Paul Taylor Dance Company at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
July 22-23

We did a double-take when we noticed that this year marks the Mahaiwe’s ninth annual visit from the Paul Taylor Dance Company. This no-longer-new tradition is well appreciated indeed. Among the dances featured this year will be the 2009 piece “Beloved Renegade,” inspired by the life and writings of Walt Whitman. And to warm everybody up, the theater is showing the 1998 documentary “Paul Taylor, Dancemaker,” the previous weekend.

Dorrance Dance at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
August 10-14

Tap-dance artist Michelle Dorrance has become a real favorite at the Pillow, performing a variety of original programs and thoroughly charming the Gala crowd in 2013 when she won the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award. This year, she brings along “ETM: Double Down,” an expanded version of a dance she developed in residence here and premiered in 2014. Fame is tapping at Dorrance’s door, and we love seeing her artistry reach new and greater heights.

Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks, with Brooklyn Rider at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
July 27-31

When Wendy Whelan left her position as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet to take off the pointe shoes and pursue new dance interests, we got one of the first looks at “Restless Creature,” a collection of four new duets, including one with Brian Brooks. Now comes a deeper collaboration between the two, with live accompaniment from Brooklyn Rider, whom we loved at the Pillow three seasons ago in a performance by Dance Heginbotham. This is a can’t-miss program of solos and duets.

Photo by Lou Damars.

Compagnie Hervé KOUBI at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
August 3-7

We’re told this is a rare U.S. appearance by the French dance company, which presents a dance described as “highly physical and awe-inspiring.” These types of companies always get a high-energy response from audiences, and we’re looking forward to the exploits of these 12 male dancers, who hail from Algeria and Burkina Faso and are said to combine capoeira, martial arts, hip-hop, and contemporary dance. Sounds like you may break a sweat just sitting in the audience.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/18/16 at 09:32 AM • Permalink

Sarah Aroeste Brings Ladino Music To A New Generation

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

Inspiration doesn’t always have a practical application. But it’s nice when it does.

And so it was for musician, mom and self-styled cultural ambassador Sarah Aroeste, whose latest album came to be because she wanted some music to play for her daughter that would celebrate her family’s specific cultural background. (More on that background in a moment.)

When she was expecting first child Irit, now two-and-a-half — who was joined last fall by sister Dalia — Aroeste realized there was no Ladino children’s music. “I wanted to write an album of songs in her family tradition that she could relate to, because I couldn’t find them anywhere else. They didn’t exist. There is no such thing as a Ladino children’s record,” she says, on the phone from her home in Alford, Mass.

Not until now. Aroeste’s album of Ladino music geared for children, Ora de Despertar (Time to Wake Up), was just released.

Oh, right. We Googled so you don’t have to: Ladino is the language and culture of Sephardic Jewry that emerged after the historically infamous expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal in 1492. The language is rooted in medieval Spanish, but picked up pieces of French, Greek, Turkish, Bulgarian and assorted Mediterranean dialects, reflecting the emerging Jewish diaspora.

Its musical culture, similarly, is a mix of influences from in and around the Mediterranean basin. The culture of eastern European Ashkenazi Jews is a more familiar presence in American life. The Ladino legacy has gotten more attention in recent years, Aroeste says, but is still in danger of flickering out. Thus the double meaning behind the title of her new album — the title track is a fun, jaunty number about kids waking up and brushing their teeth and starting their day, but it’s also a message to parents to keep this rich culture alive before it’s too late. 

“Certainly people are waking up to the fact that Sephardic culture is important, and represents a really big part not only of Jewish history but world history,” she says. “Ladino is so universal. It’s pan-Mediterranean. And you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy the culture or the music.”

This album is her fourth, and her second composed of all original songs. All her work is based in Ladino folk music but with a very contemporary spin. Her last album, Gracia, makes use of an 18-piece orchestra and plenty of electronic beats. Her musical vision is decidedly international, but Aroeste’s home base is a bucolic nook in the Berkshires.

She, husband Jeff Blaugrund and their two daughters have lived in Alford the past few years after moving up from New York City. (Jeff’s a software engineer who works remotely for a Palo Alto firm.)

But she’s no Berkshire novice. Her family habitually rented a summer house here when she was growing up in Princeton, Penn., and her mom bought a home in Alford 20 years ago, where she still resides.

Aroeste studied classical voice at Tanglewood in the summers, and it remains a favorite destination. If you want to bump into her, Jeff and the kids on a sunny summer Sunday, the Tanglewood lawn is the first place to look. Jacob’s Pillow and MASS MoCA are other favorite destinations. They worship at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire in Great Barrington. They’re also both avid fans of the local food movement.

Her family, which she traces back to upper Greece and lower Yugoslavia, came to the United States in flight from the Balkan Wars. The Ladino culture was very much present in her childhood home.

“During family occasions like the Jewish new year or any major family gathering, I had a very clear understanding that my family’s tradition was a little bit different from my friends. The foods that we ate were different. They were very Mediterranean and Greek,” she says, noting that the table would be laden with meze, and the cookie known as a tadlikoo was her favorite treat. “The songs and tunes that we sang were different from the ones I knew my Jewish friends were singing,” she adds, “and I had a clear understanding that I came from this very interesting Sephardic background.”

Sarah Aroeste in performance at the Internationales Klezmer Festival of Fürth in Germany last month.

But when she wanted to learn more about the history, no one in her parents’ generation seemed to be an expert. It was only while she was studying classical voice in Israel that she became fully awakened to the richness of Ladino music. She started mixing a few of the songs into classical recitals, and noticed she was getting the most audience response from those pieces. Eventually she realized she agreed with her audiences. But she wasn’t interested in an austere rendering of traditional folk music.

“I knew I wanted to do it in a way that felt very authentic to me. I wasn’t born in the Balkans. I’ve never shied away from the fact that I’m American-born and my influences are contemporary. I was raised on American rock and roll. And so when I told people I wanted to start a Ladino rock band, I got a lot of raised eyebrows. But here I am, 15 years later and I’m still doing it.”

Those raised eyebrows have been replaced by lots and lots of tapping feet and clapping hands. But though her performing career has taken her to the Rock of Gibraltar and back again, the key source of inspiration for her newest work sits much closer to home.

“When my daughter hears the music being played, she says ‘Oh my gosh, that’s mommy, she wrote the music for me!’ It’s so sweet — obviously my heart just melts.”

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/28/16 at 04:28 PM • Permalink