Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 10, 2020

On the Road: Homes of Berkshires Rich & Famous

by Shera Cohen

By my count, there are seven National Historic Landmarks in the Berkshires of MA. Yesterday, I had the experience of visiting two of these. Seemingly, National Historic Landmark titles might be tossed around to any site that meets the qualification of being old. Not the case. In my past career, a near-lifetime ago, one of my important jobs was to access this illustrious status for a particular building and area of land in Springfield, MA. While I like challenges, this was a grueling task that took many months, interviewing experts in historic fields, surveying land, readings, and much more.

The importance that both The Mount in Lenox, MA and Naumkeag in Stockbridge, MA have been deemed worthy by the Federal government as sights of significance in America’s history is valuable. Equally, significant is that The Mount and Naumkeag were each founded at the turn of the 20th century by women.

This was the era of the Gilded Age, when women, especially daughters of rich New York tycoons, traipsed through society with all of the trappings of finery, folly, and fortune. Yet, other women of this era used their attributes and money to become far more generous than their male counterparts. Whether or not the term “philanthropists” was used, the outcome of wealthy women helping those in poverty became extremely crucial to the women of the Gilded Age.

It wouldn’t have been a surprise if Edith Wharton, owner of The Mount and Mabel Choate, owner of Naumkeag had afternoon tea together on a hot summer day, refreshed by the air that flowed across the long hallway from an open door at each end. These were the days when horsemen drove the carriage into the circular entry in front of the house. They presented a calling card to a servant which was then placed on a small brass dish and delivered to the lady of the house. Conveniently situated was a second-floor window to take a peek at the lady or gentleman caller.

Edith and Mabel were both raised in New York City, where their dads made their fortunes. Edith in 1862 (when the Civic War was very much in progress, and Mabel Choate in 1870 (the anti-bellum era). They found respite, natural beauty, creativity, and solitude in their Berkshire homes, and at the same time, traveled the world; Edith acquiring stories that influenced her numerous novels, and Mabel bringing home tremendous works of art from Asia.

The Mount
Taking a self-guided tour with the help of docents throughout the building was no hindrance to what we saw and learned. Having participated in a formal house tour of the Mount in the past, I had remembered many of the special points to look for; i.e. Edith Wharton’s Suite where she spent many hours writing her novels in bed, all in long-hand. From her window, she could look directly at her pet cemetery on a large grassy hill. Supposedly the cemetery is haunted. I had been on the Ghost Tour in the past, and I highly recommend it. Three floors, each with long and deep hallways were surrounded by bedrooms and separate bathrooms of various sizes. Four to seven servants cooked the meals in two large kitchens and Butler’s Pantry, using the elevator for easy access. Most impressive is the library, a dark room of carved panels of wood containing Edith’s original collection.

Naumkeag
Mabel Choate’s home Naumkeag, in its own and completely differently design, appears out of nowhere as an 15th century stone castle complete with parapet. The design and construction of the house became a project of many years for Mabel and architect Fletcher Steele. Every minutia of Mabel and Fletcher’s suggestions were evaluated by the other. There became a team. Because our tour focused on the gardens, there was certainly enough to fill an hour of time. I have said in previous articles that tour guides/docents can make or break the experience for the guest. This guide, with a blue floppy hat and whose name I missed, was exceptional and humorous. She quoted Mabel, a beautiful woman who remained single, saying, “If you have a garden and a home, you don’t need a man.”

At each turn was another garden with carefully selected flowers and trees; my favorite being the Chinese pagoda with tall colorful stands surrounding, along with serpentine bushes to create an actual home within a home, the bushes becoming a carpet, of course.

I suggest keeping The Mount and Naumkeag on your “to see list” this summer or fall. Our governor and MA is quite vigilant in adhering to Covid guidelines. Call ahead, book tour times or do-it-yourself tours, realize that bookstores and concessions will likely not be open. I found that distancing was never a problem, as patrons were extremely courteous to each other. Parking at both venues is ample, as well as the vista from all sides of the properties. For details, go to the venue websites at www.edithwharton.org and www.thetrustees.org.

Yes, Elizabeth Wharton and Mabel Choate had the pleasure of living in their lovely homes, but like many women of the Gilded Age, they gave back during their lifetime and afterward. Elizabeth and Mabel did not just sit around in their gardens.

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, Week Six

Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival
www.bso.org
August 3-9, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

For the sixth week of its virtual 2020 season, Tanglewood presented video streams of no fewer than eight educational programs and five concerts, along with a concert audio stream.

In the Tanglewood Learning Institute’s second Monday afternoon “Roaring Twenties” program, Arizona State University professor Christi Jay Wells discussed African-American dance music in Harlem by showing and analyzing excerpts from two short 1929 films: “St. Louis Blues” (Bessie Smith); and “Black and Tan Fantasy” (Duke Ellington).

In Tuesday’s “TLI Celebrates Beethoven” lecture, College of the Holy Cross professor Megan Ross traced the extensive influence of Beethoven’s Opus 131 quartet on later art forms, from Virginia Woolf’s 1931 novel The Waves to the 2012 Hollywood film A Late Quartet.

Frank and Thomas
TLI’s Wednesday masterclass found pianist Emanuel Ax gently coaxing three accomplished Tanglewood Music Center piano fellows to play Mozart piano sonatas with singing tone. In Thursday’s “TLI ShopTalks” episode TLI Director Sue Elliott (and a live online audience) Zoom-chatted with two American women composers about their busy and distinguished careers: Gabriela Lena Frank and Augusta Read Thomas. “Gabi” and “Gussie” also shared down-to-earth ideas about improving conservatory training and increasing diversity in classical music.   

This week also included three wide-ranging TLI lectures (Tuesday-Thursday) on “The Romantic Spirit,” culminating in a Friday panel discussion, moderated by TLI Director Sue Elliott, with all three presenters: Brown University professor Susan Bernstein, on letters exchanged by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt and French author George Sand about 19th-century arts; University of Michigan professor Gabriela Cruz, on how the 1810 invention of gaslight changed the way music was heard; and City University of New York professor Judy Sund, on the influence of music on the art of French painter Eugene Delacroix.

On Monday evening’s TMC orchestra program, Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Andris Nelsons conducted a powerful 2017 Beethoven Piano Concerto #3, with soloist Paul Lewis, and TMC conducting fellow Gemma New led the vibrant 2018 world premiere of TMC Composition Program Head Michael Gandolfi’s cantata “In America” (modeled after Leonard Bernstein’s “Songfest” to honor his centennial), which featured six outstanding TMC vocal fellow soloists.

In Wednesday evening’s “Recitals from the World Stage” concert, the Danish String Quartet were gripping in Shostakovich’s tenth quartet and affectionate in their own arrangements of several Scandinavian folk songs at an audience-free Copenhagen church. Spoken introductions by violinist Rune Sorensen were genial and informative.    

Daniil Trifonov
The Friday and Saturday evening concerts were recorded with no audience last month in Studio E of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood. High points of Friday evening’s program by BSO musicians were lively traditional selections featuring violinist Bonnie Bewick and world premieres of six delightful one-minute solos commissioned and played by cellist Mickey Katz. On Saturday Russian-born superstar pianist Daniil Trifonov offered a viscerally sensitive Bach “Art of Fugue.”

Sunday morning’s audio stream presented chamber music highlights of the 2017-2019 Festivals of Contemporary Music, with TMC fellows performing music of the present and recent past before live Ozawa Hall audiences. BSO artistic partner Thomas Ades was notably showcased as composer (“Court Studies” from his opera “The Tempest”), arranger/pianist (two studies by Conlon Nancarrow), and conductor (Francisco Coll’s “Four Iberian Miniatures”). 

In Sunday afternoon’s 2018 video stream, Nelsons led the BSO in an epic Mahler third symphony, whose six movements and 100+-minute length comprise, in host Jamie Bernstein’s words, “the longest piece in the standard symphonic repertoire.” Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham sang voluptuously in the fourth and fifth movements, joined in the latter by the Boston Symphony Children’s Choir and the women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

These mostly free programs will stay online at bso.org for a week or more after the above dates. 

July 29, 2020

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, Week Four

Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival
www.bso.org
July 20-26, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

During the fourth week of its virtual 2020 season, Tanglewood offered exciting video streams of three educational programs and six concerts, as well as a wide-ranging concert audio stream.

Tuesday’s “Tanglewood Learning Institute Celebrates Beethoven” episode featured Nicholas Kitchen, first violinist of the Boston-based Borromeo String Quartet. In an absorbing recorded lecture, which included performances by the Quartet of two Beethoven quartet movements, and a recent Zoom chat with TLI Director Sue Elliott, he used score-writer software to illustrate the remarkable variety and subtlety of the expressive markings in Beethoven’s late quartets. 

Astrid Schween
TLI’s Wednesday masterclass presented Juilliard String Quartet cellist (and Tanglewood Music Center faculty member) Astrid Schween coaching three TMC cello fellows in Bach cello suite movements as recorded earlier this month without audience in Studio E of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood. Schween was warm and insightful with the students and in a subsequent Zoom conversation with TMC Associate Director Michael Nock.

Thursday’s “TLI ShopTalks” program found Elliott jointly Zoom-interviewing two young star singers: African-American soprano Nicole Cabell; and Asian-American tenor Nicholas Phan. In responding also to live-chat audience questions, they recounted their musical beginnings, addressed the different vocal demands of opera performance and recital singing, and expressed lively opinions about how to increase diversity in the classical music field.

Monday evening’s TMC orchestra concert showcased 2016 performances which had “irresistible energy” and “edge-of-the-seat” intensity of the Brahms first piano concerto (with English pianist Paul Lewis and Boston Symphony Music Director Andris Nelsons) and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite #2 (under Stephane Deneve). In an intermission Zoom chat with TMC Conducting Head Stefan Asbury, Lewis described this youthful orchestra with the quoted words above.  
  
Recorded last week in Studio E without audience for Wednesday evening’s “Recitals from the World Stage” concert, the adventurous string quartet Brooklyn Rider were edgy in new music by Caroline Shaw, Matana Roberts, and Philip Glass, and cooler in Beethoven’s “Holy Song of Thanksgiving for a Convalescent” than the Borromeo on Monday. Spoken introductions by three of the musicians added a welcome personal touch.  

Thursday evening’s “virtual gala” tribute to Ukrainian-born violinist Isaac Stern on his 100th birthday anniversary comprised performance excerpts and personal reminiscences. Highlights included: Stern rehearsing in Russian with Music Director Serge Koussevitzky at his 1948 BSO debut; tutoring young violin students during a 1978 visit to China; and a hilarious tale of a Stern concert mishap gleefully told by bandmates cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax.

Augustin Hadelich
On Friday evening, BSO string section members were magisterial in Bach’s Chaconne (Victor Romanul, violin) and heartwarming in less familiar fare by African-American composers William Grant Still and Florence Price. Saturday’s “Great Performers” concert, recorded audience-free in Studio E, like Friday’s, offered young German violinist Augustin Hadelich and rising American pianist Orion Weiss in riveting accounts of sonatas by Debussy and Brahms and John Adams’s delightful suite “Road Movies.”

In Sunday morning’s audio stream of TMC chamber music concerts, recorded before live audiences in 2015 and 2018, TMC piano fellows played music by six composers, including a sterling Beethoven “Archduke” Piano Trio, a luxuriant Amy Beach piano quintet, and a playful “I prefer living in color” (featuring muted piano strings) by TMC 2018 composition fellow Sarah Gibson.

Sunday afternoon’s video stream brought frequent guest conductor Andre Previn to the podium in a 2007 BSO program that moved from a relaxed Mozart Symphony #29 to an incandescent Haydn first cello concerto, with charismatic German cellist Daniel Muller-Schott, a sultry Ravel “Scheherazade,” with plush-voiced American mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, and a sumptuous Ravel “Mother Goose” ballet. Host Jamie Bernstein’s father, Leonard Bernstein, led the BSO at Tanglewood in an impassioned 1974 encore of the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony.   

Don’t miss out on these mostly free programs, which will stay online at bso.org for a week after the above dates.

July 21, 2020

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, Week Three

Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival 
www.bso.org
July 13-19, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

The third week of Tanglewood’s virtual 2020 season offered engaging video streams of three educational programs and five concerts as well as a lively concert audio stream.

In its Tuesday “TLI Celebrates Beethoven” series, the Tanglewood Learning Institute presented Dr. Erica Buurman, Director of the Beethoven Center and Editor of its Beethoven Journal at San Jose State University. In a recorded lecture and a Zoom chat with TLI Director Sue Elliott, the Scottish-born musicologist demonstrated Beethoven’s “genuine interest” in the “Viennese popular style” of dance music, even in several of his late string quartets. 

A Wednesday masterclass found mezzo-soprano (and Tanglewood Music Center faculty member) Stephanie Blythe reviewing performances of musical theater songs by four duos of TMC vocal fellows and pianists recorded last summer before a live audience in Studio E of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood. Her deep knowledge of this repertoire and perceptive advice to these talented students was consistently effective and entertaining.

On Thursday’s “TLI ShopTalks” program, Elliott jointly Zoom-interviewed two Boston Symphony members (Cynthia Meyers, piccolo and flute; and Robert Sheena, English horn and oboe), who also answered live-chat audience questions, sharing much candid history about their musical “origin stories,” playing for different conductors and in various concert halls, and daily life at opposite ends of the same row in the orchestra. 

Monday evening’s TMC orchestra concert featured a glowing conductor-less 2018 performance by a mostly standing orchestra of Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings” and a gripping 2016 Brahms first symphony under BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons. At intermission TMC Orchestral Studies Head Ed Gazouleas tells TMC Conducting Head Stefan Asbury how he coached the students in the Tchaikovsky piece.  
  
The Jussens
From Dutch brother pianists Lucas and Arthur Jussen in Wednesday evening’s “Recitals from the World Stage” concert came charisma to spare in piano four-hands music by Mozart, Schubert, and Ravel, recorded two weeks earlier before a masked, widely spaced, but loudly enthusiastic audience in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. The program’s showstopper was Polish composer Hanna Kulenty’s mysterious “VAN,” written for the Jussens in 2014.

On Friday evening, BSO violinist Lucia Lin and cellist Owen Young joined other BSO musicians in sensuous accounts of music, recorded audience-free in Studio E last month, by Ravel, Loeffler, and Gabriela Lena Frank. A Saturday “Great Performers” concert in the same venue, also without audience, presented frequent Tanglewood guest violinist Pinchas Zukerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth in stirring performances of Kodaly’s Duo and Beethoven’s curious Duet “with two obbligato eyeglasses.”

Sunday morning’s audio stream of TMC chamber music concerts, recorded before live audiences between 2015 and 2019, featured vocal music by a wide range of composers, from Bach to Britten, and insightful commentary by TMC Vocal Arts Program Head, soprano Dawn Upshaw. Most striking were 2015 TMC commission “Fire and Ice,” Fred Lerdahl’s lush setting of Robert Frost’s poem, and Schoenberg’s transcendent second string quartet, with soprano solo.

In Sunday afternoon’s video stream, beloved BSO Conductor Emeritus Bernard Haitink led the orchestra in a 2013 program that began with German violinist Isabelle Faust in an elegant Mozart fifth violin concerto and ended with a ravishing Mahler fourth symphony. Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling sang dreamily in the last movement. Host Jamie Bernstein endearingly recalled her father, Leonard Bernstein, reading the Mahler score at her childhood family poolside.   

Classical music fans can catch these programs, most of which are free, online at www.bso.org for seven days after these dates. 

July 16, 2020

PREVIEW: Barrington Stage Company invites “Harry Clarke” to the Berkshires

A sexually charged and wickedly funny one-man thriller, “Harry Clarke,” by acclaimed playwright and solo artist David Cale and starring BSC Associate Artist Mark H. Dold (BSC’s “Breaking the Code,” “Freud’s Last Session”) is the story of a shy midwestern man leading an outrageous double life as the cocky Londoner Harry Clarke. Moving to New York City and presenting himself as an Englishman, he charms his way into a wealthy family’s life as the seductive and precocious Harry, whose increasingly risky and dangerous behavior threatens to undo more than his persona.

In order to offer patrons the safest and most enjoyable experience possible, social distance policies will be in effect through the 2020 season. If planning to attend with a group larger than 2 or 3, call the box office at (413) 236-8888 for accommodation.

“Harry Clarke” begins August 5.
Show time is 7:30pm.
BSC company is located on Union Street, Pittsfield.

For further information check the website at barringtonstageco.org or call 413-236-8888.

July 15, 2020

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, Week Two

Tanglewood Online Festival
www.bso.org
July 6-12, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

For the second week of its virtual 2020 season, Tanglewood offered video streams of one more educational program and two more concerts than in its opening week.

On Tuesday the Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI) showed Steven Maes’s captivating 54-minute documentary “Inside the Hearing Machine,” in which Belgian pianist Tom Beghin explores Beethoven’s pianos and a special resonator built to straddle his last piano which enabled the deaf composer to “hear” musical vibrations. TLI Director Sue Elliott’s subsequent Zoom chat with Beghin dug deeper into how Beethoven may have “heard” his music as he wrote it.


Paul Lewis
A Wednesday masterclass by English pianist and frequent Tanglewood guest Paul Lewis was recorded before a live audience in Studio E of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood last summer. His unfailingly direct but always encouraging comments as three student pianists at the Tanglewood Music Center (TMC) in turn played Haydn piano sonatas on a keyboard next to his brought out the best in these talented players.

Elliott’s joint Zoom interview on Thursday with Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra and African-American jazz saxophone player James Carter explored the musical “fluidity” which led Sierra to write a concerto for saxophones (tenor and baritone) and orchestra for Carter almost twenty years ago and their projections of a more “diverse” future for classical music. 

On Monday evening, enlivening TMC orchestra accounts of music by Wagner and Haydn (both led by Boston Symphony Music Director Andris Nelsons) and Ravel (led by TMC Conducting Program Head Stefan Asbury) were video streamed from concerts recorded in 2018 and 2019. In a 2020 Zoom conversation, Nelsons then tells Asbury how much better he believes the “unique” TMC educational program is than his own European training.
  
Wednesday evening brought Lewis back for the first of three audience-free concerts, this one recorded last month in London’s Wigmore Hall, with a probing rendition of “arguably Beethoven’s greatest piano work,” the Diabelli Variations, and a sensitive Brahms Intermezzo encore.

On Friday evening, BSO Associate Principal Horn Richard Sebring and other BSO musicians, recorded last month in Studio E, presented music by Schumann, Dukas, and Mozart.  Most memorable were two world premier duets by Sebring himself, one for horn and harp (with former TMC fellow Charles Overton), and one for two long alphorns (with BSO third horn Michael Winter), filmed on the Tanglewood lawn.

In a Saturday concert also recorded last month in scenic Studio E, favorite Tanglewood pianist Emanuel Ax played Beethoven’s early second and third piano sonatas and the beloved Bagatelle “Fur Elise” with his customary fervor and polish.

This Sunday morning’s audio stream of TMC chamber music concerts, recorded before live audiences in 2017 and 2018, featured music for woodwinds, brass, and percussion by eight varied composers, including Poulenc, Tomasi, and Hindemith. But the freshest pieces were recent TMC commissions by Scotland’s Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade and TMC composition fellow Theo Chandler.

In Sunday afternoon’s video stream, Nelsons led the BSO in a 2015 program that opened with the French trio of violinist Renaud Capucon, his brother, cellist Gautier Capucon, and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet in a scintillating Beethoven “Triple” Concerto and closed with a thrilling Shostakovich tenth symphony.  As host Jamie Bernstein astutely notes, camera angles offer unique perspectives on Nelsons’s conducting techniques not easily seen in a concert hall.   


Most of these programs will stay online for seven days after the dates above. Classical music lovers should waste no time in checking them out.

July 14, 2020

PREVIEW: “Godspell” Takes the Outdoor Stage for Berkshire Theatre Group


Berkshire Theatre Group has not given up on producing quality theatre in the Berkshires this summer. Taking the optimum of safe precautions. “Godspell” will run August 6 – September 4, 2020.

Certainly, “Godspell” has been one of the most well-received musical for decades. However, BTG affords these performances something new. Instead of mounting the musical at the Berkshire Theatre main stage, the new location will be outdoors under a large tent adjacent to the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield. Colonial is one of the five venues that compose BTF.

In this timeless tale of friendship, loyalty and love, a group of eccentric disciples help Jesus teach a variety of parables through interactive games and a heaping dose of humor. Led by the international hit, "Day by Day," Godspell features a parade of beloved songs by Tony, Academy and Grammy Award-Winner, Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Children of Eden), including: “By My Side” “Save The People” and “All for the Best.”

Brought to life by director Alan Filderman and choreographer Gerry McIntyre this theatrical sensation is a powerful reminder that through the power of community, love and kindness will live on.
Berkshire Theatre Group has not given up on producing quality theatre in the Berkshires this summer. Taking the optimum of safe precautions, “Godspell” will run August 6 – September 4.

Certainly, “Godspell” has been a well-received musical for decades. However, BTG affords these performances something new. Instead of mounting the musical at the Berkshire Theatre main stage, the new location will be outdoors under a large tent adjacent to the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield. Colonial is one of the five venues that compose BT

In this timeless tale of friendship, loyalty and love, a group of eccentric disciples help Jesus teach a variety of parables through interactive games and a heaping dose of humor. Led by the international hit, "Day by Day," Godspell features a parade of beloved songs by Tony, Academy and Grammy Award-Winner, Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Children of Eden), including: “By My Side” “Save The People” and “All for the Best.”

Brought to life by director Alan Filderman and choreographer Gerry McIntyre this theatrical sensation is a powerful reminder that through the power of community, love and kindness will live on.