Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 29, 2020

BSC & BTG Awarded Million Dollar Gift

Pittsfield, MA (October 29, 2020)

Barrington Stage Company and Berkshire Theatre Group each Awarded Over $1 Million Dollar Gift In Memory of Mary Anne Gross

Barrington Stage Company (Julianne Boyd, Founder/Artistic Director) is pleased to announce that a generous gift of just over $1 million dollars has been made to the company by the family of the late Mary Anne Gross in recognition of her lifelong love of theatre and the Berkshires. This award also recognizes the heroic and tireless efforts of Barrington Stage Company in producing the first live Equity theatre in the United States in summer 2020, following the shutdown of live performing arts due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. 

The Gross Family gift will support payroll and basic operating costs for the next six months in order to ensure that there are no furloughs or layoffs while the theatres continue to raise funds in support of future artistic programming.

October 15, 2020

Preview: Theatre for a New Audience, Moliére's The School for Wives

Live streaming Oct 24th at 2pm EDT and 7pm EDT, in English
Closed captioning in English & French
Performances will be followed by a Q&A.

Molière in the Park and the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), after the success of virtual productions of The Misanthrope and Tartuffe, co-present, in partnership with Theatre for a New Audience, a radically inventive and refreshing take on the classic play, The School For Wives.

At its core, Molière’s biting 17th-century satire about a privileged and misguided man so intimidated by women that he grooms his own ward for marriage, is about gender power dynamics. In this contemporary retelling, Tonya Pinkins (Jelly’s Last Jam, Caroline, or Change) stars as the patriarch Arnolphe, obsessed with keeping 17-year-old Agnès ignorant so that she will remain faithful to him.

Director Lucie Tiberghien examines this classic tale through the lens of an all-woman cast to shine a light on the ultimate absurdity of similar American systems of oppression. Like Agnès, no one's humanity can be snuffed out.

Starring Tonya Pinkins, Tony Award-winner for Jelly's Last Jam, writer-director of the upcoming socio-political horror film Red Pill, and host of the podcast You Can't Say That on BPN.fm/ycst

Performance: 90 minutes, Q&A: 20 minutes

FREE and open to all. RSVP required to receive viewing links.

RSVP HERE

Links will be emailed from Molière in the Park and French Institute Alliance Française on the day of the event.


REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Masterworks In-Depth

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
October 9-11, 2020
by Michael J. Moran
 
Carolyn Kuan
Like all organizations in the arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra has been forced by the Covid pandemic to pivot its programming from live to virtual. While live concerts are scheduled to resume in January 2021, three cancelled fall 2020 concerts are being replaced by online programs about the music that would have been played at those concerts. 

The first in this “Masterworks In-Depth” series was presented last Friday-Sunday on what was to be the opening weekend of the HSO’s 77th season. Essentially an expanded version of the half-hour pre-concert talks led by charismatic Carolyn Kuan, now beginning her 10th season as HSO Music Director, this 75-minute webinar could hardly not be both entertaining and informative. 

Kuan began by discussing Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” which was to open this HSO program of music by American composers. She played video excerpts from a 1980 concert performance under Leonard Bernstein, with the composer narrating on his 80th birthday. Kuan then introduced actress Nilaja Sun, who has appeared at Hartford Stage and would have narrated Copland’s piece, with video footage of her career. They reviewed portions of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches in the text and their meaning to Sun as a 21st-century African American woman.
 
Next, Kuan introduced American composer Laura Karpman, whose 2019 “All American” overture was also on the program, with documentary footage about her career composing music for concert halls, films, and even video games. Karpman said she hoped to “amplify women composers” with this piece, which includes brief quotes from songs by early 20th-century composers Emily Wood Bower, Mildred Hill, and Anita Owen.
 
Kuan skillfully facilitated an enlightening conversation with Karpman and Sun about Bernstein’s score for “On the Waterfront,” also scheduled on the HSO program, while playing several brief excerpts and showing clips from the movie. She closed with “Somewhere” and “America” from the film of Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” from which the “Symphonic Dances” were also scheduled.
 
Like this one, the next Masterworks In-Depth program, November 6-8, will include live chats open to HSO subscribers on Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm, and the webinar recording will be available to anyone between 8:00 pm Friday and 5:00 pm Sunday.

October 14, 2020

REVIEW: Hartford Fringe Festival, Notes on Me and You

Hartford Fringe Festival
www.hartfordfringefestival.org
through November 9, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

Billed as a “new one-man musical” and a “visual album,” “Notes” is one of over twenty pre-recorded virtual productions being presented by the second annual Hartford Fringe Festival via streaming access for thirty days. 

With music by Dawson Atkin and lyrics by N. J. Collay, the show features Sam Vana singing and playing acoustic guitar, or accompanied by Atkin on off-camera piano, through most of its 42-minute length. Vana portrays an unnamed man who chronicles the illness and death of his life partner from HIV/AIDS in the late 1980s. Atkin and Vana are Hartt School students at the University of Hartford; Collay attends Brandeis University.

Documentary film footage of period demonstrations to support AIDS victims and funding for a cure are interspersed at several points. The only set is Vana sitting on a stool with additional backdrops of hand-drawn art. The production is directed and edited by Atkin.

“Notes” is not so much a traditional musical as a song cycle in the style of Adam Guettel’s “Myths and Hymns” or William Finn’s “Elegies.” Though it lacks the power and polish of those mature predecessors, “Notes” shows considerable promise that its young creative team have the talent to reach similar heights in the future.

The show’s modest production values strengthen its impact. While sometimes hampering his microphone access, Vana’s Covid face shield also connects his viewers during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic with the firsthand experience of his character thirty years earlier. And the use of pre-existing film both relieves the claustrophobic stage set and lifts the performer’s personal anguish to the broader level of redemptive social action.

Atkin’s music varies from soft and contemplative, through grief stricken and disconsolate, to rousing and galvanizing. A quiet instrumental interlude featuring piano and guitar is particularly poignant. Collay’s lyrics follow the musical arc with simple eloquence, repeating phrases like “you and me in perpetual motion” and “I’m still reaching for the dead” which become mantras. Vana’s appealing openness captures the full range of his character’s moods, from despair to cautious hope.


October 12, 2020

Oh, the Places We Planned to Go: Arrowhead and Hancock Shaker Village

By Shera Cohen

The title paraphrases a line from Dr. Seuss. He did not realize, nor did he care, that his jolly little sentence described the unexpected disruption of what would have been my 25th straight summer in the Berkshires. I am sure that I have written most of those 24 articles for myself rather than for the readers. I guess that makes me a selfish writer. However, my senior year high school English teacher stressed to her classes, “Write what you know.”

I imagine that many of us, humans using many different languages all in the same dilemma on this planet, have been writing their own versions of what we know. Their own stories about life in the pandemic and its affects is unique to each. Some are or will be best-sellers and others will be pithy tales of daily life.

Discontented Covid 19 quarantiners (I imagine that would all of us) mumble, “I’ll learn to play chess or knitting; that’s really popular now. I should read that book someday.” The more ambitious might blurt out, “Now’s the time to write my book.”

As for my own plans, the focus of my 25th article, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation in the Berkshires,” would have focused on historic homes of the rich and/or famous (note that the famous were not necessarily rich, and vice versa). Prompted by Carole Owens’ book “The Berkshire Cottages” [College Press, 1984] I planned my vacation using Ms. Owens work as a roadmap. I would never get through one-half of the venues cited in her book, but I set out on my journey with destinations marked within the author’s geographical area. This felt good: step #1 is complete.

Next step: to ask venue directors or board presidents if I might visit their sites to include information about their programming and history in my full article and as well as several sidebars. Nearly everyone eagerly said “Yes” to my request.

Stop! Hold the press! Covid 19 makes front page news. Well, now it’s called “Breaking News” on every television network, and thousands of Facebook posts. Those of us over age 40 will have heard the phrase, “Hold the press.”

I recently read an article on-line about the woes of museum personnel. With no one in attendance, there is nothing to program, and no sites to see. The performing arts are in a worse place. At least museums and museum-historic homes still had their venues, even though none of their thousands of visitors were able to enter.

I was determined to write some sort of article about summer in the Berkshires. I would be glad for something cultural than nothing. The doors started to open in late-June, very slowly at first, but enough for me to return to my abbreviated Summer in the Berkshires Plan. Because museums have the advantage of admitting a limited about of patrons at one time, could space them out, and cut out programs involving close-contact, Year #25 was to become my “ Journeys to Berkshires Museums.”

It’s not like there aren’t enough art and cultural sites to attend. Also, at least 10 former homes-turned-art venues pack the pages of Ms. Owens’ book. A bonus was that some museums offer both indoor and outdoor event participation; the latter usually being safer during this Covid era.

I am by no means advocating or giving permission to readers to attend any all of Ms. Owens’ selected Berkshire cottages. These are decisions only you can make. I decided, with some other In the Spotlight writers, to take the risk. A few writers trekked out on their own. Our past articles have included stories on:  Naumkeag Museum & Gardens, Norman Rockwell Museum, Chesterwood, Mission House, Edith Wharton’s The Mount, Bidwell House, Frelinghuysen Morris House. We hadn’t yet broached our requests to visit: Berkshire Botanical Museum, Colonel John Ashley Home, the Friends of du Bois Homestead, and Nathaniel Hawthorn’s summer house.

Last week’s journey took us to Pittsfield: Hancock Shaker Village and Arrowhead. I have learned only recently that I do myself and ITS readers an injustice by writing notes from the tour guides talk, taking excerpts from brochures, and photos. I abandoned my notebook and pen, and simply enjoyed the experience. What a novel idea is, of course!  My Pittsfield mini-vacation would be atypical from my notes and lessons. We would just go for the fun of it.

Herman Melville’s Arrowhead was off the main street in Pittsfield in the middle nowhere. You could easily drive by it. Docents can make or break the tour. Ours was a woman who knew Melville’s life, family, writing, careers, architecture of the house, and some unsubstantiated personal stories. All these years, I had thought that the name Arrowhead referred to the spear-end of a harpoon. Not at all. When Melville and his large, extended family purchased the property, he tilled the soil as any good farmer would. There, in the dirt and muck, he found a  plethora of arrowheads, left from American Indian tribes a century of two prior.

I highly recommend visiting Arrowhead, both the indoor home and surroundings. Having read “Moby Dick” is optional. I cheated in high school, reading only the first several chapters. I opted for the Gregory Peck movie. Interesting about the impetus for his novel was Melville’s view from his porch of the large expense of Mt. Greylock; a perfect image of a giant whale. Unfortunately, Melville’s epic never brought him favor; it was a posthumous success.

Hancock Shaker Village deserves more time than we were able to give. The property is acres and acres of what was once farmland. Spotted throughout were dormitories, church, tool houses, and large dining room/kitchen. While many would disagree with me, think of the Shaker life as that of Quakers. Shaker communities are sparce, religious, help their brethren, and share the success of an individual. The Village had no tour guides, but a character dressed in appropriate garb of the times told us about each building as we entered. Life was segregated; men and women never ate together and praying together was unheard of. It is hard to imagine, yet understandable under the circumstances that in 2020, only three Shakers live in the U.S. One middle-age man is the sole resident of the Shaker Village in Maine.

Neither Arrowhead, www.mobydick.org, nor Hancock Shaker Village, https://hancockshakervillage.org, permanently close, even in the winter. Special events take place, especially focusing on music. Check the Shaker website to register for a genuine Shaker dinner. It won’t be fine cuisine, but it will be authentic.






September 28, 2020

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, Three Viewings (Virtual Reading)

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
September 23 through September 27
By Jarice Hanson

In an effort to engage with, and bring quality entertainment to audiences, Barrington Stage has been streaming works that bow to Covid-19 regulations.  In “Three Viewings” by Jeffrey Hatcher, the talents of an outstanding playwright and three charismatic actors fill the bill.  Hatcher’s three monologs have a common theme.  All take place in a Midwestern funeral home which might suggest decorum, but each actor uses direct address with the viewer to create an intimate, hilarious relationship.

Kirkwood Smith is delightfully smarmy as a mild-mannered undertaker with a passion for the local real estate broker in "Tell-Tale." Angel Desai performs "The Thief of Tears" about a woman who is committed to getting the jewelry she was promised as a child from her dead grandmother.  Finally, the wonderful Debra Jo Rupp gives a funny, but poignant performance in "Thirteen Things About Ed Carpoletti," in which she plays a new widow who finds out her late husband has left her in debt to the bank and the mob.  Each of these actors is brilliant in expressing the comedy and pathos of the monologs, without audience feedback to fuel those performances. Julianne Boyd directs all three pieces and guides her actors in pacing and delivery so that the audience sees three very different individuals who complement each other as believable characters. It should also be noted that Mr. Smith and Ms. Rupp have a long relationship as the Red and Kitty Forman in the television sitcom "That '70s Show."

Hatcher’s script was published in 1996, but the content is timeless. In Barrington Stage’s decision to mount “Three Viewings” with these three actors, the company has hit the mark with seasoned professionals who are as comfortable on the big stage as they are in the intimate rectangle of a television or computer screen. There are many laugh out loud moments and the production does provide a certain satisfaction of watching quality work that is often missing in trying to stage theatrical events for streaming purposes.

Barrington Stage offered the show for a donation of $25 or more, and streaming was available for 96 hours.  Though the experience of the show was not as invigorating as seeing the productions live, the laughter it provided at this time in history was well worth the modest donation, and once again, Barrington Stage shows how quality productions in a variety of venues and formats.

September 4, 2020

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, ITS Presents the "Lenny Awards"

Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival
July 1 – August 23, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

With 78 programs in eight weeks now concluded, it’s time to look back at the Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival and present what In the Spotlight is calling the "Lenny Awards", named in honor of Tanglewood’s favorite son, composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein, for excellence in the following categories:

Seiji Ozawa
Best “Boston Symphony Orchestra Encore Performance from Tanglewood:” Facing strong competition from a thrilling Shostakovich tenth symphony and a sweeping Mahler third, both under current BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, the Lenny Award goes to Seiji Ozawa’s emotional 2002 farewell concert, with a buoyant Berlioz “Symphonie Fantastique,” a rare Beethoven “Choral Fantasy,” and a touching audience-participation finale, Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia.”

Best “Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra Encore Performance:” Despite a lovely conductor-less Tchaikovsky  “Serenade for Strings” and stirring accounts under Thomas Ades of his own “Asyla” and Lutoslawski’s third symphony, the Lenny Award goes to Andris Nelsons for the dramatic reading he led of Act III from Wagner’s “Die Walkure,” featuring soprano Christine Goerke as a searing Brunnhilde. 

Best “BSO Musicians in Concert from Tanglewood” Program: Since each of these seven programs, all recorded without audience this summer in Studio E of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood, beautifully showcased different sections of the orchestra in imaginative repertory selections, the Lenny Award goes to the entire Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

Best “Great Performers in Recital from Tanglewood” Program: Even up against such formidable competition (also recorded audience-free this summer in Studio E) as revelatory Bach from pianist Daniil Trifonov and powerful Beethoven from violinist Joshua Bell with pianist Jeremy Denk, the Lenny Award goes to pianist Conrad Tao for a boldly inventive program that surrounded Beethoven’s “Tempest” sonata with modern experimental pieces which made it also sound new again.

Best “Recitals from the World Stage” Program: This series featured vibrant Shostakovich by the Danish String Quartet from Copenhagen and towering Beethoven by pianist Garrick Ohlsson from San Francisco, but the Lenny Award goes to the multinational Silkroad Ensemble for a stunning concert with their new artistic director, Rhiannon Giddens.

Best “TMC Chamber Concert” (audio): In spite of challenges from two programs featuring string quartets and wind instruments, the Lenny Award goes to the episode showcasing TMC vocal fellows for their virtuoso performances of an extremely broad repertoire, including several recent commissions by TMC composition fellows.  

Stephanie Blythe
Best Tanglewood Learning Institute MasterClass: Even with stiff competition from Midori’s sensitive tutoring of high-school-aged Boston University Tanglewood Institute violinists and from Dawn Upshaw’s empathetic coaching of Tanglewood Festival Chorus sopranos, the Lenny Award goes to mezzo-soprano and TMC faculty member Stephanie Blythe for her matchless verve and magnetic stage presence in working with TMC vocal fellows on Broadway repertoire. 

Best TLI ShopTalk: With two strong runner-up panels featuring saxophonist James Carter with composer Roberto Sierra and composers Gabriela Lena Frank and Augusta Read Thomas, the Lenny Award goes to conductors JoAnn Falletta and Thomas Wilkins, for firsthand stories of their respective pioneering careers as female and African American conductors.

Best TLI Forum Program: Though all three programs in each series offered new perspectives on “The Roaring Twenties” and “The Romantic Spirit,” the Lenny Award goes to pianist Tom Beghin for his fascinating research into the special piano on which the deaf Beethoven “heard” his new music in “Inside the Hearing Machine,” which kicked off the wide-ranging “TLI Celebrates Beethoven” series. 

Sue Elliott
Best Series Host: Berkshire resident Karen Allen was cordial; TMC vocal alum Lauren Ambrose was charming; frequent Tanglewood guest soprano Nicole Cabell was classy; and “famous father girl” Jamie Bernstein was wryly effusive; but the Lenny Award goes to indefatigable TLI Director Sue Elliott, who hosted all TLI programs and moderated all TLI panels, and whose lively and engaging manner drew insightful comments from all her many interviewees.  

Lenny Lifetime Achievement Award: This award goes to Ludwig van Beethoven, the 250th anniversary of whose birth was extensively observed in both musical and educational programming throughout the season. 

Special Lenny Award: This award goes to BSO President and CEO Mark Volpe for his 23 years of distinguished service in this position before he retires next year and for opening the Tanglewood grounds for free within Covid-19 guidelines to the general public three days per week this summer.