Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 22, 2008

Berkshire Choral Festival

Rovensky Shed, Sheffield
Saturdays in July/August
By Shera Cohen

The experience of Berkshire Choral Festival was three-fold for this reviewer, having the privilege of attending three concerts in a matter of eight days.

For 27 years, thousands of choristers have gathered weekly to BCF for the love of singing and the camaraderie of those like themselves. An average concert includes 180 vocalists, who travel from nearly every U.S. state, the Americas, Europe, and Asian countries. One aspect that does not change is the “back-up” musicians – the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

Each Saturday night features different conductors and selections. Oftentimes, soloists are featured. Be assured that the pieces are all big; nothing but the most challenging.

A musicologist speaks in a free talk prior to each concert, offering better insight into the background of the pieces and composers.

Titled “I Hear America Singing,” under the direction of Craig Jessop, the highlight was “Frostiana.” This was a flowing compilation of seven Robert Frost poems including “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Coupling Frost with music by Randall Thompson made for a wonder to the audience’s ears.

That same week, a select group of BCF members performed a free concert at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. Lead by an assistant conductor, the 20 or so singers crooned several old chestnuts, including big band tunes. Theirs was a nice teaser concert for the upcoming Saturday’s program.

There could not have been a better pair of choral works as Orff’s “Carmina Burana” was teamed with Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony (finale).” Tom Hall was the guest conductor. From the first loud and harsh bang of the instruments and voices to the soft and soothing movements, the lush and humorous songs of baritone Alexander Tall to the superior soprano notes of Penelope Shumate, “Carmina” was a standout piece. Its reputation precedes it as one of the most illustrious choral/symphonic works of the 20th century. To tackle the difficulty in the ebb and flow, ups and downs of the exceptionally long work, was no small task. This performance was without a doubt one of the most memorable music experiences for any in the audience. The well-deserved standing ovation lasted at least five minutes.