Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 30, 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation in the Berkshires in 2011

Memories of last summer & preview to this summer
by Shera Cohen

No, this is not the same article that I wrote last year or the 16 years before that. And, yes, the places that I visit remain essentially the same. The reason? Why mess with perfection?

Summer months in the Berkshires are synonymous with the best in performing and visual arts in New England – perhaps in the United States. We are extremely fortunate to live close by. In my case, I live REALLY close by, spending two weeks in Stockbridge. It's a place of beauty, culture, variety, and tourists (like me).

May 21, 2012

The Daedalus Quartet

Close Encounters with Music
Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA
May 19, 2012
by Michael J. Moran

Introducing this impressive concert by the Daedalus Quartet, CEWM Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani compared the opening piece, Berg’s 1910 “Quartet,” to Kafka in its “opacity,” or “absence of clear rhythmic patterns.” But this rising young American ensemble found clarity and sensuality in both movements of the lush atonal score. Their riveting account highlighted how modern the works by Schubert and Beethoven also on this program must have sounded to their first audiences.

The Schubert was the “Quartettsatz,” which he wrote in 1820 as the opening movement of a twelfth string quartet that he never finished. The technical precision and dramatic momentum of the Daedalus performance were especially remarkable because both second violinist Matilda Kaul and cellist Thomas Kraines only joined the quartet within the past year. They meshed with co-founding first violinist Min-Young Kim and longtime violist Jessica Thompson as if they had all played together much longer.

The second half of the concert was devoted to the first of Beethoven’s three “Razumovsky” quartets, commissioned in 1806 by the Russian ambassador in Vienna. As evidence of this quartet’s “heroic” stature, Hanani cited the “grand proportions” of the first movement, which encompasses four octaves in its opening measures. He called the second movement “the most original scherzo Beethoven ever wrote” and the third movement “unmatched in its sorrow and heartbreaking emotion.” Even its extended length (40 minutes) sets this quartet apart from all prior quartets by any composer, including Beethoven.

The Daedalus rendition of all four movements was thrilling, including the sudden transition from the quiet third movement to the exuberant Russian theme quoted at the outset of the lively finale in honor of Count Razumovsky. Each of the four musicians played expressively in both solo and ensemble work, and they maintained a transparent balance through lyrical and agitated passages alike. The consistent intensity of their playing earned the Quartet an enthusiastic and well-deserved standing ovation at the end of the evening.

Hanani’s perceptive and entertaining commentary could have been usefully supplemented by brief notes about the music in the concert program book.

The Tempest

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through June 10, 2012
by Shera Cohen

A tempest is a violent windstorm, frequently accompanied by rain. (Webster) Save for precipitation, a tempest is exactly what the Hartford Stage audience experiences at Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” The play commences before the first words are said, as the staging speaks volumes. In many ways, the set and the trappings are equal in importance to the story’s plot.

Spectacle abounds through lighting, sound, and a spinning circular set. The actors become the ship with their bodies tossed furiously, others hang from mastheads, and all shriek their lines to the music of lightning cracks. This is only the first three minutes of the play! Director Darko Tresnjak paints an exhilarating start to one of the Bard’s best works.

With mystical powers inherited from over a decade of living on his prison island, former duke Prospero stirs the tempest on his countrymen’s ship. One man aboard is his jealous brother, who banished Prospero and his young daughter. Themes of justice, power, romance, and spirits weave throughout. The key issue is that of physical and spiritual freedom.

Daniel Davis plays Prospero with love and forgiveness. Sara Topham’s endows Miranda with naiveté. Shirine Babb, as the sprite Ariel, is an actress to watch in the future. In body, voice, and movement Babb dons Ariel with intelligence and warmth. Ben Cole portrays the antithesis of Ariel, as the not-quite human Caliban. Assuredly, a difficult character to become, Cole adds a little too much of the grotesque. Michael Spencer-Davis and Bruce Turk (clowns) make their sometimes too-long scenes very humorous.

At the play’s core are decisions – those made by the director and by the playwright. Tresnjak has staged the island awash with blue (water) and steps (land) with Shakespeare’s handwriting as graffiti from floor to ceiling. The island people wear blue with white graffiti. Fairy gymnasts flutter, picture frame backdrops open, and a quasi-cirque de wedding takes place.

This ethereal concept works extremely well. The visual and aural senses are so exquisite that, at some points, the text is supplanted. That said, it is obvious that the spectacle and awe fuses power and life into 500 year old manuscripts. Shakespeare is truly for everyone.

Paradise City Arts Festival

Paradise City Arts Festival
3 County Fairgrounds, Northampton, MA

AmericanStyle readers have chosen Paradise City Arts Festival in the #3 spot of the Top 10 Fairs and Festivals in America. With excellent selections of unique art and crafts, delicious food and exciting live performances, these shows have come up with winning formulas for success. Paradise City has secured its place for the eighth time among the Top Ten Arts Festivals.

This year's festival takes place Memorial Day Weekend at the Three County Fairgounds, Northampton. Juried artists from 30 states, along with live music, ethnic cuisine, craft demonstrations, youth activities, the outdoor Sculpture Garden, and more fill out the three days. Below are examples of just three of the 260 artists who will participate. For information on times and admission call 1-800-511-9725 or check

By Deirdra Wilson, Ann Light, Allan W. Davis