Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 27, 2016

“Fiddler Off the Roof"

Close Encounters with Music
Mahaiwe Theatre, Great Barrington, MA
April 17, 2016
by Barbara Stroup

The eclectic “Close Encounters” series at the Mahaiwe continued with “Fiddler Off the Roof,” a program of Jewish (?) music. Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani again offered insights (in the form of questions!) into what might make such a definition possible, noting that the element of “longing” must be included, and referencing the relationship between the inquiring nature of Talmudic study and the uprising (questioning) interval of the syncopated fifth. 

The program varied from Mahler to Gershwin -- and the musicians were of the same high caliber that the audience has come to expect from this series. This review, however, must start by attending not to the performers at the front of the stage, but to the pianist behind them. Michele Levin’s artistry was superb – both forceful and delicate, whichever the music required. Her solid and accomplished support provided the backbone for everything the soloists did, and, finally, was beautifully highlighted in the post-intermission Mendelssohn Trio. 

The program started with a fine example of the inquiring interval mentioned above: two David Schiff Divertimenti featuring clarinet, cello and violin. In all of Sarah McElravy’s violin playing (she was also featured in the “Hebrew Melody” of Paul Ben-Haim), there was fine technique highlighted by a rapt attention to dynamics. She accomplished an incredibly quiet reverence with her ultra pianissimo passages. Paul Green’s clarinet sound was crystal clear – both instrumentalists avoided over-reliance on vibrato – and his “Klezmer Medley” that concluded the first half was rhythmic enough to inspire toe-tapping. Alex Richardson provided vocal selections that ranged from Mahler to Gershwin and his fine operatic tenor was well-suited to them all. 

The program included a premier of “ZEMER” by Paul Schoenfield that featured a folk-like melody by Rabbi Max Roth, who was in the audience; it concluded with an inspired performance of the Piano Trio. Once again, Hanani brought his own cello artistry to the Mahaiwe stage. Audiences hope for much more of his “Close Encounters” programming genius in the future.