Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 1, 2014

2014 Newport Music Festival

Newport Music Festival, Newport, RI
July 11-27, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

Celebrating its 46th season in 2014, the Newport Music Festival is newer but longer, if still perhaps less famous, than its Jazz and Folk counterparts. This year 62 performers presented 68 concerts of music from the Romantic Era and beyond in twelve sites from 18 countries, with 27 making their Newport and/or American debuts. Seven concerts showcased over 100 works by Richard Strauss in observance of his 150th birthday anniversary.

This year’s repertoire continued last year’s expanded focus on jazz and Latin music. The closing weekend, for example, featured “Ragtime Jazztime,” a program that included rags by Scott Joplin and William Bolcom, and a “PercussionFest” marking the Newport debuts of Spanish percussionists Rafael Galvez and Juanjo Guillem. Mike Mower’s “Deviations on The Carnival of Venice,” puckishly played by flutist Goran Marcusson and pianist Tim Carey, and two movements from Claude Bolling’s first Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano, lovingly rendered by Marcusson and pianist Kevin Fitz-Gerald, were audience favorites in the first concert.     

A festival highlight was a “Viennese Evening” program at the Breakers, in which chestnuts by Johann Strauss II, Fritz Kresisler, and Franz von Suppe shared the stage with lesser-known fare like a delightful set of Viennese Waltzes by Robert Fuchs. Violinist extraordinaire Eugen Tzikindelean led two ensembles in rousing and idiomatic performances, but charismatic tenor Jason Karn stole the show with a dramatic account of Lehar’s “You Are My Heart’s Delight.” 

The bane of any festival director’s life must be the occasional last-minute need to replace an ailing performer. But when popular pianist John Bayless was indisposed, impresario Mark Malkovich IV had only to call on his roster of musical stars to whip up an instant new concert that featured knockout renditions of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 by rising young American pianist Chad Bowles and of Ravel’s Violin Sonata in G by Tzikindelean and Fitz-Gerald.

The glamour of the performance venues, including the Newport Art Museum as well as several mansions, and the evident joy of music making by a longtime family of returning artists make the Newport Music Festival a uniquely intimate and enjoyable attraction.


Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through August 9
by Jarice Hanson

Have you ever wished you could tell a parent what you thought of what they had taught you, and not have them interrupt? In Cedars, a one-man play in five acts starring the talented James Naughton, currently at the Fitzpatrick Main Stage theatre, this premise is examined from the perspective of a self-absorbed 59 year old lawyer who talks to his comatose father while his own life is falling apart. The imagined location is the Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles, and the script, penned by Erik Tarloff is full of LA-speak; the criticism of pop culture, morals, and fractured families.

Naughton is commanding on stage. His rich voice is polished and every syllable is clear. Director Kiera Naughton (his daughter) has some good ideas; shifting the passage of time visually with projections and costume changes, and setting up hospital background sounds from the time the house is open are nice touches, but the minute Gabe, the lawyer is introduced by way of jarring music, the hospital illusion falls apart. Gabe could be anywhere, and until the end of the fifth act, the fact that he’s speaking to his father seems irrelevant, if not inappropriate. Naughton spends a good deal of time wandering around the stage, without clear physical moments to help punctuate the story. But when Gabe’s moment of truth emerges, the scene is heartbreakingly beautiful.

The problems with the show are in Tarloff’s script. The over-written dialog is too literary for this type of intimate show, and some of the dialog is crude and insensitive. Naughton gets a few moments where he shines like the star he is, but even he has a hard time overcoming the dialog that masks the truth Gabe and the audience need to find to make this show really memorable.

July 25, 2014

Preview: Achéray Ensemble in Concert

Porter-Phelps-Huntington House Museum, Hadley, MA
August 6, 2014
by Eric Sutter

Heads up Valley families... look to an upcoming concert by Achéray Ensemble to prove to be a delightful love affair with Latin American roots music. There is an enlightening sound here with music that encompasses the heartbeat of grassroots America. The joy of the sound will celebrate the polychromatic mirror of Latin American music that fuses the energy of Afro-Latin rhythms with the spellbinding spirit of South American indigenous music. Band members hail from different musical backgrounds as diverse as Ecuador, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. A menagerie of sound from flute, guitar, guiro, cuatro, cello, bass and percussion including bongos will fill the sunken garden of Porter-Phelps-Huntington House Museum with beautifully mystical sound.

The name "Achéray" derives from the African Yoruba word "ache" which is an affirmation and a way to honor someone as a person. The South American Quechua word "churay" is used in a static moment of music, as a way of inciting the musician to put their full energy and soul into the music. Yoruba culture has roots in Cuba and Brazil with the Quechua language spoken in the Andes.

This concert will be a colorful and wonderfully complex narrative soundscape of Latin American music that translates a warmth and authenticity. The tug from one style, then from the other should make for a beautiful creative musical tension and sound. Giving us a sense of place, a spirit of community, an appreciation of diversity of life and a musical poetry that artfully describes the Latin American saga in song, a concert of this scope and magnitude could help define a rediscovery and renewed vision for our collective soul.

The concert is part of the Porter-Phelps-Hungtington House Museum's Wednesday Night Folk Traditions concert series. The concert's date is Wednesday, Aug. 6 at 6:30 p.m., 130 River Drive (Route 47) in Hadley, MA. Cost is $10.00 per person and $2.00 for children 16 and under. Picnickers are welcome beginning at 5:00 p.m.

Fool for Love

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through August 2
by Jarice Hanson

When one thinks of love stories, one often thinks of the giddiness of falling love, but in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love four characters show us the painful side of obsession, compulsion, and the pain of love.  The Williamstown Theatre Festival’s production, brilliantly directed by Daniel Aukin currently on the Nikos Stage is an immersive sensory experience in storytelling.  From the moments the actors walk on stage to take their places in full light, you realize this is going to be unique production of this iconic one-act play. In the script, Shepard instructs actors to perform the piece “relentlessly.” 

Photo by T Charles Erickson
As May, Nina Arianda radiates desire and vulnerability.  Sam Rockwell as Eddie is threatening and powerful.  As “The Old Man” Gordon Joseph Weiss makes up the trio of id, ego, and super-ego that define the complex relationships that are enacted before Christopher Abbott—a regular guy who show up to take May on a date, only to find that he (like the audience) is the judge of the characters’ stories.  The ensemble is woven together seamlessly, but both Arianda and Weiss have particularly effective moments that create magical realism that create a special bond with the audience.  The action takes place in a sparsely furnished motel room in the Mohave Desert, a metaphor for the west that once was, and a fitting location for lust, impending violence, and struggle—whether real or imagined.

Sam Shepard’s plays are sometimes painful to watch, but few authors reach into the depths of one’s soul with such beautifully crafted words as he, and when a director understands the text, the performance can be magical.   In this 88 minute roller-coaster of emotion, given emphasis by Ryan Rumery’s sound design, Fool for Love becomes a haunting, memorable story of love in an impossible situation.  This production is a masterful realization of one of Shepard’s most morally complex plays.

Living on Love

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 26, 2014
by Walt Haggerty

Summer theatre once had a reputation for presenting light, frothy entertainments as “vehicles” suited to the talents of available stars of Hollywood, television, and Broadway. Often these were tried and true revivals of popular, successful productions. Occasionally they were new works with an optimistic sight-line focused on Broadway. “Living on Love” is a delightful example of the latter.

Whether “Living on Love” actually has Broadway as an objective remains to be seen. What it does have is a more than welcome light comedy by Joe Depietro, based on an earlier work by Garson Kanin. “Living on Love” is performed by an outstanding cast headed by world renowned Metropolitan Opera star, Renee Fleming as Raquel DeAngelis, the latter a diva of the highest order. Here demonstrates a broad range of talent, most especially a natural flair for comedy.

The story opens with Douglas Sills giving a bravura performance as Vito DeAngelis, Raquel’s husband and an internationally acclaimed symphony conductor in his own right. Vito is currently reluctantly working on his (ghost written) autobiography, assisted by frustrated writer Robert Samson, impeccably played by Justin Long. Considering the high velocity nature of the principals, Raquel’s decision to write HER (ghost written) autobiography complicates the situation. With Robert, already “fired” by Vito, Raquel quickly recruits him as her ghost writer. Vito immediately selects Iris Peabody, charmingly portrayed by Anna Chlumsky, as his new writer. Complications develop as jealousy and tempers rise and fall and romance, as always, or almost always, triumphs.

Blake Hammond and Scott Robertson, as a Tweedledee-Tweedledum team of servants in the DeAngelis house, should be charged with grand larceny for stealing every scene in which they appear.

Director Kathleen Marshall has given “Living on Love” the bright sheen of a fast-paced, often hilarious comedy, ready for Broadway – or whatever. Special credit must be given to Fleming for treating audiences to this delightful bit of summer nonsense during what should have been her summer vacation.

“Living on Love” is a skillfully crafted refreshing summer treat.

The Knights

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 23, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

The Knights are a genre bending “orchestral collective” founded several years ago to create “programs that encompass their roots in the classical tradition and passion for musical discovery.” Their Tanglewood debut achieved that goal with easily the most eclectic concert of the season.

The featured soloist in the first half of the program was Swedish trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger, who played lush but spare arrangements by Roland Pontinen of music by Joni Mitchell (“Both Sides Now,” sounding like Arvo Part), Kurt Weill (“Speak Low”), and Michel Legrand (“Sans Toi”). Hardenberger’s playing was incisive but flexible, and a mute added warmth and glow to “Speak Low.” His trumpet captured the Latin rhythms of selections by Rolf Martinsson (bossa nova) and Astor Piazzolla (tango) with surprising drama and flair.

Up to 14 Knights accompanied Hardenberger and performed music by Gyorgy Ligeti (“Old Hungarian Ballroom Dances”) and Ljova (“Ori’s Fearful Symmetry”) around his two sets. Their easy camaraderie was evident in their relaxed but lively accounts of this colorful music, some pieces conducted by Knights co-founder and cellist Eric Jacobsen, and others led from the concertmaster’s stand by his brother and fellow Knights co-founder, violinist Colin Jacobsen. Their helpful comments before several pieces clearly engaged the large audience, which included many Tanglewood students.

The second half of the concert opened with an exuberant rendition of Stravinsky’s pungent “Dunbarton Oaks” concerto. But the evening’s highlight was jazz bandleader Maria Schneider’s song cycle “Winter Morning Walks.” Setting nine poems by Ted Kooser about his recovery from cancer, it featured, in addition to the Knights, a soprano soloist and jazz trio.

Cancer survivor Dawn Upshaw, in fine voice, combined her characteristic clarity of diction and depth of feeling to achieve a profound emotional catharsis. The lines in the final poem, “How important it must be to someone that I am alive,” must have had special resonance for her. The Coplandesque score was lovingly rendered by all the musicians, particularly trio members Frank Kimbrough on piano, Scott Robinson on clarinets, and Jay Anderson on double bass.

Programs of this distinction suggest a bright future for classical music.

July 23, 2014

Fromm Concert

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 21, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

The final program in the 2014 Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, the Fromm Concert, featured four pieces that pay tributes of some kind.

The opening “Concerto for Orchestra” was the last work completed by Roger Sessions. A tribute to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which he first heard as a child of 14 and which later premiered several of his works, the concerto was both the oldest (1981) work on the program and in some ways still the most difficult to listen to. Yet, the brilliant playing of the young musicians and the deft balancing of conductor Stefan Asbury revealed surprising moments of lyrical warmth amid the composer’s more characteristic dissonance.

Sarah Silver
Steven Mackey’s 2008 concerto for violin and orchestra, called “Beautiful Passing,” is a tribute to his mother, whose last words were “Please tell everyone I had a beautiful passing.” Former TMC fellow Sarah Silver played the challenging solo role with poise, abandon, and a rich, creamy tone. Lovingly shaped by conducting fellow Daniel Cohen, the performance highlighted the disarming beauty of the score, including a poignant passage with the “Dies Irae” in soft strings and an echo of “Taps” on solo trumpet.

Intermission was followed by the American premiere of Charlotte Bray’s 2012 piece “At the Speed of Stillness.” A tribute to her fellow English composer Benjamin Britten, its eerie soundscape evokes the Sizewell nuclear power station just north of Britten’s home in Aldeburgh on the east coast of England. The haunting score was forcefully led by conducting fellow Karina Canellakis and flawlessly played by the youthful orchestra.

TMC conducting program director Asbury was back on the podium for the best known work on the program, “Slonimsky’s Earbox,” the 1996 tribute by John Adams to Russian-born author and musician Nicolas Slonimsky. With electronics amplifying its colorful mix of timbres, the piece was played to the hilt and brought the concert and the festival to a rollicking close.

The presence of Mackey and Bray, who were applauded by performers and audience alike, gave TMC students the kind of exposure to working musicians that could prove invaluable for their careers.