Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 22, 2020

REVIEW: Playhouse on Park (Streaming), All Is Calm

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
from Dec. 17, 2020 – Jan. 3, 2021
by Shera Cohen

For one exceptional week in the midst of WWI in Europe, with soldiers up to their knees in the
trenches sinking in the mud, surrounded by countless numbers of rats, shells firing in an unsteady rhythm, life was as calm as it could possibly be on Christmas Day, 1914. “All Is Calm” depicted a true story, or at the very least historical fiction. The theme took a smidgen of history out of the textbooks to show the audience how one moment in time could be insignificant or monumental depending on life’s circumstances. This was called, “The Christmas Truce.”

Playhouse Theatre Group, a division of Playhouse on Park, had intended to mount the play on the Playhouse stage in West Hartford. Covid-19 and many of the roadblocks that came with the disease, forced major direction changes, remarkedly puzzled together and alleviated by director Sasha Bratt. Stage or no stage, the play must go on, utilizing outdoor sections of forestry as the sole scenery, never forgetting social distancing between the actors.

The week before Christmas, 1914, the war literally halted. It is not easy to classify “All Is Calm” as a play, although that was the initial intent. “All Is Calm” seemed to fit into its own niche as theatre. It could be considered a play with music [not a musical], or music with a play wrapped around it. Another label might be an extraordinary documentary. Audience members will likely experience far more of this performing arts classification in the future as the post-Covid years go by.

Three actors portrayed as many as 10 roles each. British and German accents intermixed, and at no better time did the sounds and words of “Oh, Tannenbaum” illustrate the perfect example that whether on the “good side” or the “bad side” of war, all men were equal; just doing their jobs and oftentimes not knowing why. Good vs. bad was of little matter on this particular eve and day. Life was by no means a picnic, but a picnic it would be on December 25, 1914.

One might suppose that the playwright’s sparse dialogue subtracted from the play’s affect. In fact, the opposite held true, adding to the milieu of the actual events and the story on the stage. Playhouse’s actors/singers gave life, in the midst of war, to Peter Rothstein’s work, portraying at its core, strength of character, wonder, confusion, and camaraderie.

December 15, 2020

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Spotlight Series

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
December 11-January 10, 2021
by Michael J. Moran

The second concert in the HSO’s monthly virtual “Spotlight Series” of 60-minute performances
by HSO ensembles and guests recorded at Hartford area venues is now available on-demand at the orchestra’s web site through January 10, 2021, at 5:00 pm. Entitled “Music for Strings and Organ,” it included four pieces by Corelli, Bach, Golijov, and Mendelssohn and was recorded amid festive seasonal décor at Hartford’s Asylum Hill Congregational Church, founded in 1864. 

Ten HSO musicians were featured: Concertmaster Leonid Sigal; Associate Concertmaster Lisa Rautenberg; Assistant Concertmaster Sooyeon Kim; Assistant Principal second violin Jaroslav Lis; Principal viola Michael Wheeler; Assistant Principal viola Aekyung Kim; Principal cello Jeffrey Krieger; Assistant Principal cello Gia Cao; Assistant Principal bass Robert Groff; and organist Edward Clark.
The program opened with the whole ensemble in a sprightly account of Arcangelo Corelli’s most famous composition - the eighth of his twelve Concerti Grossi, Op. 6, dating from the 1680s, better known as his “Christmas Concerto.” Its unusual structure of six short movements builds toward a slow pastoral finale, which was played with affecting tenderness. This was followed by Clark’s elegant performances on portable organ of two keyboard preludes written around 1717 by Johann Sebastian Bach.
In his 2000 string quartet “Tenebrae” Argentine-Israeli composer Osvaldo Golijov depicted both political unrest he witnessed in Israel that year and the wonder his five-year-old son felt on seeing the earth from space a week later at the New York planetarium. Sigal, Rautenberg, Wheeler, and Krieger brilliantly rendered the haunting serenity of the long opening and closing sections of this 15-minute single movement, as well as the brief central turmoil which separates them. The program closed with a stirring version by all the string players except Groff of the opening “Allegro moderato ma con fuoco” movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s 1825 octet, written at the remarkable age of sixteen.  
Though the octet’s last three movements were missing, including the iconic “Scherzo,” the warm church acoustics ideally flattered this ensemble. Spoken introductions by different members of the group through Covid masks worn throughout the concert helpfully bridged some of the distance still remaining from their audience.

December 7, 2020

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Masterworks In-Depth

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT

December 4-9, 2020

by Michael J. Moran


The third program in the HSO’s monthly “Masterworks In-Depth” series of virtual conversations about music they would have played this season at concerts cancelled by the Covid pandemic will be available on the HSO web site through Wednesday, December 9, at 5:00 pm. Led by HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan, this 65-minute webinar focused on two of three pieces originally scheduled. 


This month’s concert was to feature some of her favorite music from Act I of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” including the battle of gingerbread soldiers and mice. Kuan noted that while the complete ballet wasn’t widely performed until half a century after its 1892 premiere, the familiar orchestral suite derived largely from Act II and published six months earlier was instantly popular. Recalling that she conducted the full score for New York City Ballet, she showed colorful video clips from their production, which morphed cleverly into a concert performance by the Rotterdam Philharmonic under an animated Yannick Nezet-Seguin.  


Speaking with Kuan via Zoom, German-born choreographer Miro Magloire, who founded New York-based New Chamber Ballet in 2004, marveled that Tchaikovsky “wasn’t happy with” his music for “The Nutcracker,” whose creative ‘rhythms and harmonies” Magloire finds “endlessly fascinating.” Discussing how he found his “voice” in dance, he stressed that since choreography is “an orally transmitted art form,” his work is always collaborative with both dancers and live musicians. 

Italian-born pianist Alessio Bax, who would have performed Grieg’s piano concerto with the HSO this month, next told Kuan via Zoom that his career started with a “small electric keyboard” he received at age seven from his parents. He echoed Rachmaninoff’s description of Grieg’s as a “perfect romantic concerto,” with “not a note wasted.” Bax also expressed his pleasure in playing chamber music with friends like violinist Joshua Bell, whom he partnered at the Bushnell last January.  

Kuan never mentioned Tchaikovsky’s fantasy-overture “The Tempest,” based on Shakespeare’s play, which the HSO had programmed this month and which she elsewhere called “even more dramatic, noble, and beautiful than his famous Romeo and Juliet.” But a delightful video clip of Bax and his wife, pianist Lucille Chung, playing his arrangement for piano four-hands of Piazzolla’s “Libertango” offered lively compensation.

Preview: Playhouse on Park, All is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914.

Playhouse on Park’s 12th Main Stage Season will continue with Peter Rothstein’s "All is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914." This production will be available to stream at home beginning December 16, 2020 through January 3, 2021. There will also be in person screenings at Cinestudio in Hartford, CT on December 18 and 19, 2020.

It’s a remarkable true story of World War One and relives an astounding moment in history; in a
silence amid the combat, a soldier steps into no man’s land singing “Silent Night.” Thus begins an extraordinary night of camaraderie between the Allied troops and German soldiers. They lay down their arms to celebrate the holiday, share food and drink, play soccer, and sing carols. This dramatic retelling weaves together firsthand accounts of World War I soldiers with patriotic tunes, trench songs, and Christmas carols. Musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach. Directed by Sasha Brätt, with music direction by Benjamin Rauch.

This play was originally scheduled to be produced by Playhouse Theatre Group, Inc. live at Playhouse on Park. As a result of guidelines put forth by Governor Ned Lamont and out of concern for the safety of our staff, cast, and crew, the play was filmed outdoors without the presence of a live audience. All involved in the making of the film of this play were required to adhere to an extensive safety plan.

Stream-at-home tickets are $20 per stream plus an additional $3 service charge. Online orders are subject to an additional $1.50 processing fee. In person and phone orders do not have the additional $1.50 fee. All fees are passed on directly to the companies that charge us for their services. You will be able to access the film from December 16th - January 3rd only. For more information on streaming, or to purchase tickets, visit 

In person screenings at Cinestudio in Hartford: Tickets are $20, reserved seating. Screenings will be held on Friday, December 18th at 7:30pm and Saturday, December 19th at 2:30pm and 7:30pm. Tickets must be purchased through Cinestudio. You may either purchase them online at or in person the day of the screening.

REVIEW: TheaterWorks, (Virtual) "Christmas On The Rocks"

TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through December 31, 2020
by Jarice Hanson
As the iconic Jerry Herman song says, “We need a little Christmas this year.” Thanks to TheaterWorks in Hartford, audiences can stream a top notch production of what has become a holiday tradition. For eight years TheaterWorks has produced “Christmas On The Rocks,” a laugh-out-loud comedy for adults that reminds us of the Holiday Specials we knew as children. Six of the seven short segments feature two actors—the featured “character” and the bartender in a run-down tavern on Christmas Eve. In the last segment—well, you just have to see this, because it’s the bow that wraps the whole package! 
This year’s "Rocks" was recorded for home streaming with a special creative twist.  The performers include last year’s cast as well as both ‘men’ from previous seasons - so audiences are treated to the talents of Jenn Harris, Randy Harrison, Matthew Wilkas and Harry Bouvy, with Ted Lange joining virtually from the West Coast as the Voice of the Bartender. The stream is recorded from the perspective of the bartender, and the creative set by Michael Schweikardt and costumes by Alejo Vietti pop on your television or computer screen. Director Rob Ruggeiro, who conceived of the original play, leaves his creative fingerprints all over this year’s virtual production and has come up with an adaptation for the screen that works beautifully.
While “Christmas On The Rocks” is, in itself, a fresh take on holiday fare (along with a few cocktails to set the mood) the wonderfully creative plays by John Cariani, Jeffrey Hatcher, Jacque Lamarre, Theresa Rebeck and Edwin Sanchez weave a spell of nostalgia, humor, pathos, and memories of holidays past. While in the physical theater audiences might react in part to the interaction of the actors, material, and audience responses—this production leaves room for the laughs and still provides the emotion to warm your heart. It’s as fulfilling as a good jolt of spiked egg nogg and it packs the same wallop. 
While many theaters are experimenting with reaching their audiences with virtual programming, TheaterWorks has deftly delved into exploring the medium of video and the distribution form of streaming with exceptional success. They keep the joy and creativity of theater alive and remind us that a good story, well told by people who understand how to communicate with audiences, will keep theater alive until we can share space in an actual venue again. This year, perhaps giving the gift of theater and laughter to your friends and family by way of buying them a ticket to attend “Christmas On The Rocks” can be a way of sharing this Christmas with those you love.

December 3, 2020

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Entering Bach’s World

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA

December 2, 2020

by Michael J. Moran


The last installment of the SSO’s three-program fall series of “90-minute virtual lecture/music events” via Zoom featured guitarist and music educator Andrew Leonard, who presented an overview of Johan Sebastian Bach’s six “Brandenburg Concertos” and “contextualized” them with background information about Bach’s life, musical influences, and the “high Baroque” era in which he worked.  


These concertos were likely written between 1717, when Bach started a “dream job” as music director at the court of Prince Leopold of Cothen, and 1721, when the composer sent them to the Margrave (prince) of Brandenburg in the apparent hope of a new job offer (due to Leopold’s waning musical interest) which never materialized. Leonard’s lively manner and obvious enthusiasm for his subject made his clear explanations of the elegant French and earthier Italian styles of Baroque music and related topics accessible to even his least musically literate viewers.


Illustrating his comments with a variety of video clips played by a wide range of performers, Leonard offered fascinating insights about these now familiar masterworks, considered very difficult, even too “complicated” to play, during Bach’s lifetime, when he was better known as an organist than as a composer. Each concerto, for example, was written for a different, often novel, combination of instruments: Leonard highlighted the first concerto’s hunting horns, the piercing clarino trumpet in the second concerto, and the dominant harpsichord in the fifth.


His delight in the miniscule two-chord middle movement of the third, in the virtuoso interplay between dueling violins and recorders in the fourth, and in the prominence of violas and violas da gamba in the sixth was palpable and contagious. Quoting UMass professor Ernest May, with whom he’s currently studying Bach, Leonard’s description of Bach’s “anything you can do I can do better” approach to composition reminded viewers how far ahead of his time he was.


As a generous incentive to learn more about Bach, Leonard sent every attendee a resource guide with links to all the performances he excerpted. SSO Education Director Kirsten Lipkens, a Yale Music School classmate of Leonard’s, ably oversaw a revealing Q&A session and suggested, in welcome news, that more virtual SSO programs may appear soon.

November 24, 2020

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, A Musicians’ Panel

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA

November 23, 2020

by Michael J. Moran


Formally titled “From the Heart of the SSO: A Musicians’ Panel,” the second in a new three-program series of “90-minute virtual lecture/music events” via Zoom featured five non-principal SSO players in conversation with SSO Education Director Kirsten Lipkens: first violinist Kathy Andrew; second violinist Anne-Marie Chubet; violist Elizabeth Rose; Assistant Principal double bassist Alexander Svensen; and trombonist Paul Bellino.


Like most orchestras, the SSO is a part-time ensemble, so along with their SSO tenures of six (Svensen) to thirty-three years (Rose),  all these musicians have had an impressive range of other professional music experience, such as teaching, being regular or substitute members of other orchestras, and performing in chamber music groups. Despite the challenges of this “patchwork” career pattern, including much long-distance driving from gig to gig, all shared a deep commitment to the “elation” of playing music for a live audience.


Some of their most revealing insights concerned the inner workings of their craft, from auditions (focusing what in any other field would be a traditional job interview into a “very pressure-ful” 2-3 minutes of performance time behind a screen); rehearsals (several weeks of home study with musical scores followed by 10 hours of Thursday-Friday group work before one Saturday concert, which Rhodes’s “ultra-efficient” rehearsal style ensures will be “a good performance”); and working together (learning to listen to each other is “all about blending” and good preparation for life). 


Among their most memorable SSO experiences were: unguarded backstage moments at Symphony Hall with pops concert guest stars Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Short, and Art Garfunkel; and performing “O Fortuna” from Orff’s “Carmina Burana” at a 2015 New England Patriots game in Foxborough celebrating the team’s fourth Super Bowl championship before 75,000 fans (Svensen recalled thinking, “I’ll never hear a louder audience”).  


All five musicians clearly value the great camaraderie and inspiring leadership they experience as committed members of the SSO. Lipkens, who is also a substitute SSO oboist, was a genial and empathetic host. The last event in this series is: “Entering Bach’s World,” with music educator Andrew Leonard on December 2 at 7:30 pm.

November 20, 2020

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Rhodes on Beethoven

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
November 19, 2020
by Michael J. Moran
With Symphony Hall closed by the Covid pandemic, the SSO has not played live since March 7, 2020. But led by Music Director Kevin Rhodes, its musicians quickly launched a weekly “Homegrown” series of short videos performing in their homes which are available for free streaming on the SSO web site. They’ve now launched a new three-program series of “90-minute virtual lecture/music events” via Zoom.
The first program featured the Maestro on “Great Beginnings and Endings in Beethoven’s 9  Symphonies,” with SSO Education Director Kirsten Lipkens projecting Franz Liszt’s two-piano scores of the symphonies and playing excerpts from concert recordings, all but one by the SSO. Bursting with his trademark exuberance, Rhodes clearly conveyed how the revolutionary impact of these masterpieces still resonates in this 250th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth.  
Kevin Rhodes
Presenting the opening and closing notes of Haydn’s last symphony, his 104th, as a “normal” symphony of the era showed how far beyond his teacher’s model Beethoven’s first symphony moved just five years later. Unlike the “regular…no surprises” Haydn 1795 opening, Beethoven began his first symphony slowly, almost tentatively, before shifting “with no pause” (where Haydn stops) into a faster theme. Rhodes showed how Beethoven’s use of this organic "one thing gives birth to another” technique set all his symphonies apart in multiple ways from those of his predecessors and contemporaries.
While providing fresh insights into all nine symphonies (for example, how Mahler’s first reflects Beethoven’s fourth), the Maestro showed particular affection for the sixth, or “pastoral,” symphony, which he called his own “favorite to conduct.” Noting Beethoven’s inscription “Recollections of Country Life” above the score and his explicit titles for all five movements, Rhodes portrayed the piece as “an emotional journey” and reveled in the abrupt but seamless transition from the “Thunderstorm” movement (“so much fun!”) to the peaceful finale.  
Engaging support from Lipkens throughout the program, including an entertaining Q&A session with the live audience, kept it flowing smoothly through its 90-minute length. Upcoming events in this series are: “From the Heart of the SSO: A Musicians Panel” (November 23); and “Entering Bach’s World,” with music educator Andrew Leonard (December 2), both at 7:30 pm.

November 16, 2020

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Spotlight Series

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
November 13-December 6, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

After presenting two successful installments in their “Masterworks In-Depth” series of virtual conversations about the music they would have played at live concerts cancelled by the Covid pandemic this fall, the HSO has just launched a second monthly series of 60-minute performances by HSO ensembles and guests recorded at Hartford area venues, and available on-demand for a limited time.

The first concert was filmed at TheaterWorks in Hartford and featured music of William 
Bolcom, Franz Joseph Haydn, Jessie Montgomery, and Antonín Dvořák, performed by HSO musicians: Associate Concertmaster Lisa Rautenberg; Assistant Principal viola Aekyung Kim; Principal cello Jeffrey Krieger; pianist Stephen Scarlato; and Concertmaster Leonid Sigal, who also hosts.

The program opened with Bolcom’s piano trio “Haydn Go Seek,” commissioned in 2009 on the 200th anniversary of Haydn’s death. Sigal, Krieger, and Scarlato nicely captured the playful spirit of its two short movements, an affectionate “Introduction” and a scampering “Rondo.” Next, Haydn’s own String Trio in B-Flat Major, composed at age 32 in 1765, exuded the same youthful exuberance in a lively account by Rautenberg, Krieger, and Kim of its theme-and-variations “Adagio,” stately “Menuet,” and romping “Presto” finale.

Thirty-something African-American violinist and music educator Jessie Montgomery is also in growing demand as a composer, and her imaginative 2012 string quartet “Strum” suggested why. The four HSO string players plucked their instruments with evident delight in the folk-inspired, dance-like rhythms of this joyful score. The entire ensemble then closed the concert with a glowing rendition of the opening “Allegro ma non tanto” movement of Dvorak’s masterful Piano Quintet in A.
While the TheaterWorks acoustics lacked ideal warmth for this repertoire and the last three of Dvorak’s four movements go missing, Sigal’s spoken introductions to each piece are were engaging and insightful, and the selection of composers and music were admirably eclectic. The musicians’ informal attire was welcoming, but their Covid face masks were poignant reminders of their continuing distance from their audience.
This concert will remain available for viewing through December 6, free to HSO subscribers and at modest cost to anyone else, at the HSO web site:

November 10, 2020

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Masterworks In-Depth

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
November 6-8, 2020
by Michael J. Moran
The second of three fall programs in the HSO’s “Masterworks In-Depth” series of virtual conversations about the music they would have played at live concerts cancelled by the Covid pandemic was presented last Friday-Sunday. Led, like the first program last month, by HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan, this 72-minute webinar was every bit as entertaining and informative as its predecessor. 
The program was to include music by Felix Mendelssohn and contemporary American composer Kevin Puts, whom Kuan has called “our modern-day Mendelssohn.” She began by discussing the overture and several excerpts from the incidental music Mendelssohn wrote for Shakespeare’s play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A fascinating sidebar focused on the composer’s equally talented sister, Fanny Mendelssohn, with several short videos of her music. Two more video excerpts morphed seamlessly from a two-piano version (as the Mendelssohn siblings first performed it) of the overture to the standard orchestral version. 

Kevin Puts
Next, Kuan recalled being asked by her “friend and mentor” Marin Alsop to replace her due to 
illness as conductor of the 2013 world premiere in California of Puts’s flute concerto with English flutist Adam Walker, who would also have played it this month with the HSO. She then chatted virtually with Puts, who described how his childhood interest in improvisation led to a composing career and explained the origins of various themes in the concerto’s three movements, illustrated with audio clips from a recording of it by Alsop and Walker.     

First shown on video as a sixteen-year-old soloist in Carl Nielsen’s flute concerto, Walker then joined the online chat with Kuan and Puts, animatedly discussing the solo flute challenges of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream “Scherzo” and praising Puts’s concerto as “very well written.” Kuan closed with a 2019 video clip of herself leading the Cleveland Institute of Music orchestra in Mendelssohn’s “Italian” symphony, which was to conclude the HSO concerts.
Like this one, the next Masterworks In-Depth program, December 4-6, 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.

November 1, 2020

REVIEW/PREVIEW: Goodspeed Musicals, Shakin' The Blues Away! A Virtual Gala Concert

Goodspeed Musicals, East Haddam, CT
through November 7, 2020, virtually
by R.E. Smith

Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly, and so it is that singers gotta sing and dancers have to dance and audiences gotta support them all. Welcome to our current world of the virtual arts and a finely produced concert to support Goodspeed Musicals.

“Shakin' the Blues Away: A Virtual Gala Concert for Goodspeed” is available to watch on-line in exchange for a monetary donation that will be matched dollar for dollar by the Scripps Family Fund for Education and the Arts. You’re given a link to watch the video as many times as you like until November 7, 2020. At 50 minutes, it is easily re-watchable due to the uplifting playlist and memorable performances.
The song choices are varied in style and era, but each one nicely connects to the reality of being a “remote viewer.” Some speak of hope, or of missing something, or of the joy of performing. One song, from the lesser known “When Pigs Fly” (1996), was especially appropriate, with lines such as “Problems with no answers, hang on like some chronic cough, And every day some brand-new issue, rears its head to piss you off.” That particular piece was delivered in an intimate setting by Klea Blackhurst, just her voice and simple accompaniment proving you don’t need complicated sets or dozens of background dancers to create moving musical moments at the Goodspeed.
The audio mix of all the performances is well engineered, emphasizing the outstanding vocals and stripped-down arrangements that highlight these stellar voices. Due to the editing and location changes involved, the performances were not “live” in the sense of “happening now” and but there is clearly no “audio magic” being applied. . .these are simply very talented performers whose skill is obvious. The intimate format could have proven unforgiving, so the performances must be, and are, flawless.
Rashida Scott opens the proceeding with the title song, using the foyer of the Opera House as her stage, and it really is just nice to see the old familiar haunt again as she dances her blues away up and down the grand staircase. Gizel Jiménez’s performance of “Applause, Applause” wisely takes advantage of her expressive face and physicality, highlighted by outstanding lighting design by Will Johnson playing across the background. Nicholas Ward’s powerful rendition of “The Impossible Dream” wisely lets the performer and song stand on their own, using a drone camera to give us a heavenly view of the iconic structure. Being the Goodspeed, we’re even treated to some joyful tap dancing by the duo of Bryan Thomas Hunt and Kelly Sheehan.
The one difference between watching the original livestream that premiered on October 29, 2020 versus the replay is that you don’t get the benefit of commentary from Goodspeed staff, offering bits of trivia and personalized shout-outs to patrons. You also miss such “in the lobby at intermission” comments like “he is the dreamiest of the Broadway dreamboats!”
Goodspeed has a number of on-line offerings available for theatre-starved patrons, such as their “In the (Home) Office Show”, highlighting behind the scenes personnel and stories or “Staff Picks” featuring clips from various shows over the years. All are worth a look, but the Gala is only available until November 7, 2020 and it well worth the time and donation to experience this memorable, one of a kind experience.

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

Performance: 90 minutes, Q&A: 20 minutes

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


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
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,, nor Hancock Shaker Village,, 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.

August 31, 2020

REVIEW: Berkshire Opera Festival 2020

Great Barrington, MA
through September 4, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

Forced by Covid-19 to cancel the fully staged production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” with which they had planned to celebrate their fifth anniversary this year, the Berkshire Opera Festival pivoted, like Tanglewood, to a virtual alternative. Instead of three live performances in Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre, they are presenting an hour-long concert video stream, with selections recorded mask less but distanced in various locations, by the opera’s principal cast members, which will stay available on their web site through September 4 at 8:30 pm.

Joanna Latini
Hosted by BOF co-founders, Artistic Director Brian Garman and Director of Productions Jonathon Loy, the program opens with a stunningly dramatic account by soprano Joanna Latini of Donna Elvira’s aria of rage, “Mi tradi,” after her betrayal by the title scoundrel in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” She is brilliantly accompanied by BOF staff pianist Christopher Koelzer on the acoustically friendly stage of St. James Place, the company’s home in Great Barrington. Multiple camera angles filmed by Pittsfield Community Television capture Latini’s total immersion in the role through gestures and facial expressions.

Joshua Blue
Bass-baritone Andre Courville next accompanies himself on piano at his Louisiana home in a ravishing rendition of Count Rodolfo’s aria of regret, “Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni,” from Bellini’s “La Somnambula.” Tenor Joshua Blue then sings a fervent “Che gelida manina,” as Rodolfo meets Mimi, in Puccini’s “La Boheme,” at St. James Place with Koelzer. He’s followed by soprano Laura Wilde at her Chicago home, with pianist Pedro Yanez, in a powerful “Du bist der Lenz,” Sieglinde’s love song to Siegfried, from Wagner’s “Die Walkure.”

Berkshires resident and bass-baritone John Cheek, with Koelzer at St. James Place, is a visual and vocal hoot in “O wie will ich triumphieren,” Osmin’s aria of comic vengeance, from Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio.” Even at age 72, Cheek’s sepulchral voice still sounds agelessly agile. Next, from her home in Puerto Rico with pianist Ernesto Busigo, soprano Natalia Santaliz sings a radiant “De Espana vengo,” a love song to Spain, from Pablo Luna’s  zarzuela “El Nino Judio.”

Baritone Brian James Myer, at his Philadelphia home with pianist Michael Sherman, is lush and elegant in Pierrot’s wistful aria, “Mein Sehnen, mein Wahnen,” from Korngold’s “Die Tote Stadt.” Bass Erik Anstine, from his home in New York City with pianist Carol Wong, is robust and virile as Emile in “Some Enchanted Evening,” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” The concert ends quite literally on a rapturous high note as Latini and Blue reunite with Koelzer at St. James Place in Puccini’s ardent love duet “O soave fanciulla” from “La Boheme.”

New York’s Metropolitan Opera may have set the template for virtual benefit concerts like this one with its April 25 At-Home Gala. In that context this BOF event measures up admirably, boasting the same high professional standards of performance and production, with the same variable acoustics from some remote sites. Area opera fans should check out this impressive musical tribute to an invaluable local resource while they can.   

August 26, 2020

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, Week Eight

Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival
August 17-23, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

For the eighth and closing week of its virtual 2020 season, Tanglewood scaled back its video streams slightly from the busy prior week to two educational programs and six concerts.

Dawn Upshaw
In the Tanglewood Learning Institute’s Wednesday afternoon masterclass, soprano Dawn Upshaw, Head of the Tanglewood Music Center Vocal Arts Program, helped four soprano members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus find and give voice to all the “different colors [and] layers of expression” in songs by Beach, Kernis, Strauss, and Debussy. In a follow-up Zoom chat with TLI Director Sue Elliott, Upshaw reiterated the importance of clear diction in all languages and repertoire for TMC vocal students with her trademark warmth and good humor. 

On Thursday’s “TLI ShopTalks” episode, Elliott Zoom-interviewed Keith Lockhart on his 25 years as Boston Pops Conductor and Gus Sebring, Boston Symphony Orchestra assistant principal horn, on his 39 years of experience in the Pops and the BSO. Avowed “musical omnivores,” they agreed on the core Pops mission to reflect tradition and contemporary styles with “no boundaries.” In sharing unforgettable career moments, both recalled a second-balcony “fist fight” that once interrupted a Pops concert in Symphony Hall.

Monday evening’s TMC orchestra concert consisted entirely of a powerful 2019 account of the third and final act of Wagner’s opera “Die Walkure,” led by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons. In a pre-concert interview with BSO artistic administrator Tony Fogg and soprano Christine Goerke, Nelsons stressed the value to these young musicians of this rare opportunity to perform a complete opera (the other two acts were presented in separate concerts) with professional singers. Goerke was magnificent as Brunnhilde, one of her signature roles.

The annual “Tanglewood on Parade” concert presents members of all the festival’s resident ensembles, and Tuesday evening’s video stream featured highlights from several recent “Parades.” Genially hosted by Tanglewood megastar James Taylor, who also sang memorably with the TFC, the program included several delightful excerpts from James Burton’s “The Lost Words,” charmingly sung by the Boston Symphony Children’s Choir under the composer (who also directs the TFC), and ended with the traditional Parade closer, Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” with an expanded orchestra stirringly conducted by Nelsons.

On Wednesday evening, frequent Tanglewood guest pianist Garrick Ohlsson played vibrant renditions of two Beethoven piano sonatas in an audience-free hall at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. His eloquent spoken introductions clarified how the brief but sparkling 24th and the mammoth 29th (nicknamed the “Hammerklavier”) sonatas fit into the composer’s complete cycle of thirty-two piano sonatas. 

Like Wednesday’s masterclass, the Friday and Saturday evening concerts were recorded this summer without audience in Studio E of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood. Violinist Julianne Lee was the star of Friday’s concert, in which she was joined by other BSO string players in a buoyant Mozart duo and a heartfelt Schubert “Rosamunde” quartet, bookending Lee’s whirlwind reading of Daniel Bernard Roumain’s 2001 “Filter” for solo violin.

Joshua Bell
On Saturday, superstar violinist Joshua Bell (who, according to host Nicole Cabell, holds the record among guest artists for the most consecutive annual appearances at Tanglewood – since 1989) and his longtime recital partner, pianist Jeremy Denk, were electrifying in the two greatest of Beethoven’s ten violin and piano sonatas: the fifth (“Spring”) and ninth (“Kreutzer”) sonatas.

Sunday afternoon’s video stream brought the season-long focus on Beethoven’s 250th birthday anniversary to a climax with 2019’s dramatic performance under frequent BSO guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero of the traditional closer for every Tanglewood season: Beethoven’s ninth symphony. Along with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, celebrating their own 50th anniversary this year, the “choral” finale, setting Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” boasted an outstanding quartet of diverse American soloists: soprano Nicole Cabell; mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges; tenor Nicholas Phan; and bass Morris Robinson.   

Most of these programs are free and will stay online at for a week or more after the dates above.

August 25, 2020

On the Road: Liza Donnelly Work Showcased at NRM

Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA
by Shera Cohen

Like the rest of the population on our planet, I had to figure out a reasonable and safe summer vacation for myself. Also, after 25 years of writing “What I Did on My Summer Vacation in the Berkshires,” maybe it was about time to take somewhat of a different journey as well as approach to my articles.

With no theatre, music, and/or dance to attend, I felt abandoned. I cannot imagine how the actors, musicians, dancers, and all of the many behind-the-scenes talent, now jobless and forlorn, felt. How could l help this urgent overwhelming experience besides echoing the words of others (“Things will be better next year.”), making small donations when I could, and using In the Spotlight as a forum that art is not dead, nor is the Berkshires?

Liza Donnelly, copyright 2002
However, as Covid-19 lessened to some degree and doors literally began to open, art and the Berkshires were not as dim as they had seemed. I looked around. Museums were still there, right where I left them. Historic homes, too. With agonizing planning and implementation of staff, and every minutia of preparation acceptable to government health standards, summer could survive. Please refer to to read about the many opportunities that our writers have.

Last weekend, I traveled to Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge. The property includes a large white museum filled with Rockwell originals, a pristine landscape, a workshop/cottage, and scattered whimsical sculptures disbursed. The latter are art pieces created by one of Norman’s sons.

Each summer, I try to focus on the touring exhibit by a guest artist. This year, the works of cartoonist Liza Donnelly’s were a delight. I hadn’t really thought of cartooning as an art form. However, seeing the prolific drawings that filled the large main gallery, taught me that Ms. Donnelly is not only one who can draw, yet at the same time write dialog; two talents that come together, seemingly with ease. Probably few Spotlight readers have heard of Liza Donnelly, but trust me, you have seen her cartoons, particularly in  The New York Times, probably at the dentist’s office.

I have a friend of many years who is a professional cartoonist. What a fun job that must be, I always think. Chris Allard, of Springfield, whose art has been seen on PBS and throughout the United States, told me “I see cartooning as an expression of humor.” Liza Donnelly, who I have never met, says, “Cartoons are a dialogue—a sharing of humor and a sharing of the human condition.”

Observing Chris’ skills over the course of several years gave me somewhat of a base to view Ms. Donnelly’s cartoons. By no means am I a critic of this genre; if the little story is whimsical and clear, I am a happy with what I see. One of Chris’ ersatz mentors was Charles Addams, creator of the New Yorker cartoons. Maybe a model of some of Chris’ style echoes Donnelly’s own New Yorker drawings?

Liza Donnelly, copyright 2004
Donnelly’s curated exhibit includes a handwritten letter by a young Liza to Charles Schultz, of “Peanuts” fame. Little Ms. Donnelly must have been thrilled to read Schultz’ own handwritten letter. Not quoting directly, the famous cartoonist praised Liza’s talent, encouraging her to keep up the good work. That she did. And, Norman Rockwell Museum gives visitors an opportunity to chuckle, laugh out loud, or smile.

This exhibit ends in mid-September. Reservations by phone or online must be made prior. Only 17 visitors are permitted in any one gallery at a time. Please adhere to the museum’s simple rules. Friendly staff are stationed throughout the museum to answer questions. By the way, NRM’s store is one of the biggest, most diverse in the Berkshires. Check the website at or call 413-298-4100.