Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

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 www.bso.org 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
www.nrm.org
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 www.inthespotlightinc.org 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 www.nrm.org or call 413-298-4100.

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, Judgement Day

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through August 26, 2020
by Jarice Hanson

Barrington Stage Company is one of the most innovative regional theaters in the Berkshires. In an effort to keep in touch with its audience, keep the stage (and office) lights on, and reaffirm its creative identity, it has foiled the Covid 19 pandemic to bring quality entertainment to audiences in their own homes. "Judgement Day," is written by Rob Ulin and skillfully directed by Matthew Penn, who is no slouch when it comes to theater or television-screen directing. With a first-rate cast, creative special effects, simple line-drawing sets and even a catchy tune, this reading provides more than smiles—it engages the audience with full belly laughs and is a much needed antidote to what is becoming common in Zoom-type readings of plays.

Much of the credit goes to Jason Alexander who energetically portrays Samuel Campo, a sleazy lawyer who, in George Bailey fashion, dies and comes back to life while learning important lessons. Patti Lupone is the Angel who, as the former Sister Margaret at Sam’s catholic school terrorizes him into changing his ways. Young Julian Emile Lerner as Sam’s son is delightful, and even though he and Jason Alexander are in different frames, the two “connect” in every possible way. The all-star cast of 12 do a brilliant job keeping the energy going, never letting you know you’re at a reading of a play rather than a first-rate performance.. Tthe use of neutral gray backgrounds in each frame makes you feel you’re on a set, rather than visiting actors in their kitchens or “Zoom rooms.”  

Characters are all in appropriate costumes and by pre-recording the reading, Penn has been able to employ a number of conventions that work for a small screen, such as manipulating sound effects and matching action so that an actor in one frame convincingly passes a document to someone else in another frame, or, cleverly slaps another character despite each actor being in a different location. 

Hats off to Barrington Stage Company for their creativity and connectivity. Readings like "Judgement Day" must be very difficult to orchestrate, but fundraisers have to find creative ways to bring quality entertainment at reasonable prices for audiences starved for something new. Clever plays, creativity, and energetic performances help us deal with the stress of daily life, and remind us that just because we need to do things differently for now, the arts endure and we can find a moment of levity and relief.

By making a $35 donation to Barrington Stage Company, the 90 minute reading can be accessed at any time up until 7:30 Wednesday, August 26  (donations must be purchased by 5 pm on that day). Barrington Stage also has several live outdoor performances scheduled this season, so don’t think that the Berkshires are barren of entertainment this summer.  But "Judgement Day" 

August 18, 2020

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, Week Seven

Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival
August 10-16, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

The seventh week of Tanglewood’s virtual 2020 season offered video streams of four educational programs and five concerts, as well as a concert audio stream.

For the third and final Monday afternoon program in the Tanglewood Learning Institute’s “Roaring Twenties” series, Dean of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts Dr. Harvey Young reviewed the 1920s roots of such new theatrical forms as vaudeville and variety shows. In Wednesday’s panel discussion, moderated by TLI Director Sue Elliott, Young was joined by previous series presenters, Dr. Nadine Hubbs from the University of Michigan, and Dr. Christi Jay Wells of Arizona State University, for a lively conversation on how race, religion, and new media helped shape the arts of the decade.   

Malcom Lowe
In TLI’s Wednesday afternoon masterclass, retired Boston Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Malcolm Lowe coached three accomplished 2020 Tanglewood Music Center violin fellows in solo passages for concertmaster from standard repertory works by six composers, including Rimsky-Korsakov (“Scheherazade”) and Tchaikovsky (“Swan Lake”). He also shared valuable insights from his 35-year BSO career into the many other leadership roles of the typical orchestra concertmaster.

Thursday’s “TLI ShopTalks” installment found Elliott interviewing BSO President and CEO Mark Volpe on his 23 years in that position and his plans to retire next year. While missing live music at Tanglewood this summer, he values the BSO’s strong artistic profile and financial security via “multiple brands” and “relationships,” including the growing international audience which this year’s online festival is reaching. He foresees a productively blended future of live performance and new media activity for the BSO.

On Monday evening’s TMC orchestra concert, BSO artistic partner Thomas Ades led a powerful 2019 account of his own “Asyla” and a stunning 2018 rendition of Lutoslawski’s third symphony, both in Ozawa Hall. In an intermission Zoom interview with TMC Conducting Program Head Stefan Asbury, Ades noted that by playing such recent works during Tanglewood’s annual Festival of Contemporary Music, these young musicians learn that “nothing is impossible” to perform compellingly. 

Like the Lowe masterclass and the Volpe interview, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evening concerts were all recorded this summer without audience in Studio E of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood. Surrounded by trios of Poulenc and Brahms, the centerpiece of Wednesday’s program by the Boston Symphony Chamber Players was Allison Loggins-Hull’s haunting 2017 “Homeland,” in a riveting solo by principal flute Elizabeth Rowe.

Conrad Tao
Friday’s concert began with three BSO string players in an exuberant Beethoven string trio in G and ended with a selection of lower brass pieces, culminating in a riotous world premiere of Kevin Day’s “Ignition” and a soulful arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday.” On Saturday charismatic American pianist Conrad Tao played a sensational program that framed a protean Beethoven “Tempest” sonata with challenging newer rarities by Ruth Crawford Seeger, Tania Leon, and, most memorably, Felipe Lara’s 2017 “Injust Intonations,” which the Brazilian composer calls “a modest gesture in support of #BlackLivesMatter.”

In Sunday morning’s final audio stream of 2016-2019 TMC chamber music concerts before live audiences in Ozawa Hall, a mellow Brahms Piano Trio in C and an exhilarating Beethoven third “Razumovsky” quartet bookended three 21st-century pieces, of which the standout was the “Introit” movement from 2015 TMC composition fellow Nathan Shields’s “funny and terrifying” (in the apt description of co-host TMC Associate Director Michael Nock) brass and percussion tour-de-force “Vigil.” 

Sunday afternoon’s video stream presented one of Volpe’s most beloved BSO “brands,” the Boston Pops, in excerpts from two of their annual Tanglewood concerts, featuring film music (2013) and a tribute to jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman (2009). Highlights included: an electrifyingly brassy John Williams “Summon the Heroes;” BSO associate principal clarinet Thomas Martin in a ravishing first movement of Copland’s clarinet concerto, written for Goodman; and a rousing traditional Pops closer, Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”  

These programs, mostly free, will stay online at bso.org for at least a week after the above dates.

August 13, 2020

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, Godspell Under The Tent

Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA
Outside, under the tent, in The Colonial Theatre parking lot
www.berkshiretheatregroup.org
through September 20, 2020
By Stuart W. Gamble

Godspell has been extended from Tuesday, September 8 through Sunday, September 20 at the current open-air tent adjacent to The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.

Stephen Schwartz’ timeless musical pastiche “Godspell” is a perfect panacea for our dire times. During this unstable moment of political, social, and most especially epidemic-ravaging unrest, this gentle yet deeply felt mainstay of the American musical theater offers hope. Performed by an extremely talented, youthful cast, this is the first outdoor, professional theater production approved by Actors Equity Association, the professional actors’ and stage managers’ union, since COVID-19 struck.

The outdoor venue is set under a spacious, open tent. The 75 or so in the audience are socially distanced and all are required to wear masks throughout the performance. Sanitizer stands are generously set-up around and within the tent. Restrooms and entrances/exits have two-way traffic patterns, a “new normal” part of life with which we’re well-acquainted by now.


Godspell Under The Tent
The stage itself is a long and wide rectangular, raised platform. Various types of chairs (barstools, beanbag, and director) are set apart six feet or more from each other to allow actors ample space. Tall plexiglass dividers on rollers are also used to separate actors throughout the show. Skeptics might think, how is it possible for actors to truly connect with each other in such an array? The simple truth is: they do. This is totally due to their incredible talent and enthusiasm and by the masterful direction of John Michael Tebelak.

“Godspell” has a very loose structure: a group of young people teach and learn about love, hate, truth, lies, revenge, and forgiveness through parables attributed to Jesus Christ in the Book of Matthew of the Holy Bible. But “Godspell” never has been nor is it now preachy or high-minded. It is light, entertaining, and full of humor and life. In addition, many audience asides and quips are tinged with Corona-era references, making it quite contemporary.

The show is headed by JC himself, played with charm and exuberance by Nicholas Edwards.  From the opening moment singing “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” to his final death scene (complete with falling red rose pedals representing his flowing blood), his soaring tenor simply bathes the audience with his charisma. Other highlights include Kimberly Immanuel’s tap-dancing version of “Learn your Lessons Well, ” a bilingual (English/Spanish) version of “Day by Day” sung by Peruvian-American Isabel “Isa” Jordan. Much of the dialogue that is in the hip-hop style of “Hamilton,” stand-up comedy-influenced storytelling (an especially funny Dan Rosales), a gender-reversed rendition of “Turn Back oh, Man” (actor Brandon Lee claims in the song “Social Distancing turns me on”), the lovely “All Good Things”  sung and signed in ASL by Naja Hetsberger, and especially the show-stopping “All for the Best,” in which both JC and Judas (Tim Jones) properly sanitize their hands and props before using them. The actors/singers are ably supported by Andrew Baumer’s musical direction and Gerry McIntyre’s inspired choreography. The actors’ denim-based costumes are quite fitting.

At the play’s start, each cast member presents a short introductory monologue on how they have been affected by COVID-19. The fears, hopes, dreams, and setbacks of these gratefully employed actors present a moving microcosm of our life during this terrible time, but their youth and positivity teach us that there is so much to be grateful for and to look forward to, as well.

August 10, 2020

On the Road: Homes of Berkshires Rich & Famous

by Shera Cohen

By my count, there are seven National Historic Landmarks in the Berkshires of MA. Yesterday, I had the experience of visiting two of these. Seemingly, National Historic Landmark titles might be tossed around to any site that meets the qualification of being old. Not the case. In my past career, a near-lifetime ago, one of my important jobs was to access this illustrious status for a particular building and area of land in Springfield, MA. While I like challenges, this was a grueling task that took many months, interviewing experts in historic fields, surveying land, readings, and much more.

The importance that both The Mount in Lenox, MA and Naumkeag in Stockbridge, MA have been deemed worthy by the Federal government as sights of significance in America’s history is valuable. Equally, significant is that The Mount and Naumkeag were each founded at the turn of the 20th century by women.

This was the era of the Gilded Age, when women, especially daughters of rich New York tycoons, traipsed through society with all of the trappings of finery, folly, and fortune. Yet, other women of this era used their attributes and money to become far more generous than their male counterparts. Whether or not the term “philanthropists” was used, the outcome of wealthy women helping those in poverty became extremely crucial to the women of the Gilded Age.

It wouldn’t have been a surprise if Edith Wharton, owner of The Mount and Mabel Choate, owner of Naumkeag had afternoon tea together on a hot summer day, refreshed by the air that flowed across the long hallway from an open door at each end. These were the days when horsemen drove the carriage into the circular entry in front of the house. They presented a calling card to a servant which was then placed on a small brass dish and delivered to the lady of the house. Conveniently situated was a second-floor window to take a peek at the lady or gentleman caller.

Edith and Mabel were both raised in New York City, where their dads made their fortunes. Edith in 1862 (when the Civic War was very much in progress, and Mabel Choate in 1870 (the anti-bellum era). They found respite, natural beauty, creativity, and solitude in their Berkshire homes, and at the same time, traveled the world; Edith acquiring stories that influenced her numerous novels, and Mabel bringing home tremendous works of art from Asia.

The Mount
Taking a self-guided tour with the help of docents throughout the building was no hindrance to what we saw and learned. Having participated in a formal house tour of the Mount in the past, I had remembered many of the special points to look for; i.e. Edith Wharton’s Suite where she spent many hours writing her novels in bed, all in long-hand. From her window, she could look directly at her pet cemetery on a large grassy hill. Supposedly the cemetery is haunted. I had been on the Ghost Tour in the past, and I highly recommend it. Three floors, each with long and deep hallways were surrounded by bedrooms and separate bathrooms of various sizes. Four to seven servants cooked the meals in two large kitchens and Butler’s Pantry, using the elevator for easy access. Most impressive is the library, a dark room of carved panels of wood containing Edith’s original collection.

Naumkeag
Mabel Choate’s home Naumkeag, in its own and completely differently design, appears out of nowhere as an 15th century stone castle complete with parapet. The design and construction of the house became a project of many years for Mabel and architect Fletcher Steele. Every minutia of Mabel and Fletcher’s suggestions were evaluated by the other. There became a team. Because our tour focused on the gardens, there was certainly enough to fill an hour of time. I have said in previous articles that tour guides/docents can make or break the experience for the guest. This guide, with a blue floppy hat and whose name I missed, was exceptional and humorous. She quoted Mabel, a beautiful woman who remained single, saying, “If you have a garden and a home, you don’t need a man.”

At each turn was another garden with carefully selected flowers and trees; my favorite being the Chinese pagoda with tall colorful stands surrounding, along with serpentine bushes to create an actual home within a home, the bushes becoming a carpet, of course.

I suggest keeping The Mount and Naumkeag on your “to see list” this summer or fall. Our governor and MA is quite vigilant in adhering to Covid guidelines. Call ahead, book tour times or do-it-yourself tours, realize that bookstores and concessions will likely not be open. I found that distancing was never a problem, as patrons were extremely courteous to each other. Parking at both venues is ample, as well as the vista from all sides of the properties. For details, go to the venue websites at www.edithwharton.org and www.thetrustees.org.

Yes, Elizabeth Wharton and Mabel Choate had the pleasure of living in their lovely homes, but like many women of the Gilded Age, they gave back during their lifetime and afterward. Elizabeth and Mabel did not just sit around in their gardens.

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, Week Six

Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival
www.bso.org
August 3-9, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

For the sixth week of its virtual 2020 season, Tanglewood presented video streams of no fewer than eight educational programs and five concerts, along with a concert audio stream.

In the Tanglewood Learning Institute’s second Monday afternoon “Roaring Twenties” program, Arizona State University professor Christi Jay Wells discussed African-American dance music in Harlem by showing and analyzing excerpts from two short 1929 films: “St. Louis Blues” (Bessie Smith); and “Black and Tan Fantasy” (Duke Ellington).

In Tuesday’s “TLI Celebrates Beethoven” lecture, College of the Holy Cross professor Megan Ross traced the extensive influence of Beethoven’s Opus 131 quartet on later art forms, from Virginia Woolf’s 1931 novel The Waves to the 2012 Hollywood film A Late Quartet.

Frank and Thomas
TLI’s Wednesday masterclass found pianist Emanuel Ax gently coaxing three accomplished Tanglewood Music Center piano fellows to play Mozart piano sonatas with singing tone. In Thursday’s “TLI ShopTalks” episode TLI Director Sue Elliott (and a live online audience) Zoom-chatted with two American women composers about their busy and distinguished careers: Gabriela Lena Frank and Augusta Read Thomas. “Gabi” and “Gussie” also shared down-to-earth ideas about improving conservatory training and increasing diversity in classical music.   

This week also included three wide-ranging TLI lectures (Tuesday-Thursday) on “The Romantic Spirit,” culminating in a Friday panel discussion, moderated by TLI Director Sue Elliott, with all three presenters: Brown University professor Susan Bernstein, on letters exchanged by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt and French author George Sand about 19th-century arts; University of Michigan professor Gabriela Cruz, on how the 1810 invention of gaslight changed the way music was heard; and City University of New York professor Judy Sund, on the influence of music on the art of French painter Eugene Delacroix.

On Monday evening’s TMC orchestra program, Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Andris Nelsons conducted a powerful 2017 Beethoven Piano Concerto #3, with soloist Paul Lewis, and TMC conducting fellow Gemma New led the vibrant 2018 world premiere of TMC Composition Program Head Michael Gandolfi’s cantata “In America” (modeled after Leonard Bernstein’s “Songfest” to honor his centennial), which featured six outstanding TMC vocal fellow soloists.

In Wednesday evening’s “Recitals from the World Stage” concert, the Danish String Quartet were gripping in Shostakovich’s tenth quartet and affectionate in their own arrangements of several Scandinavian folk songs at an audience-free Copenhagen church. Spoken introductions by violinist Rune Sorensen were genial and informative.    

Daniil Trifonov
The Friday and Saturday evening concerts were recorded with no audience last month in Studio E of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood. High points of Friday evening’s program by BSO musicians were lively traditional selections featuring violinist Bonnie Bewick and world premieres of six delightful one-minute solos commissioned and played by cellist Mickey Katz. On Saturday Russian-born superstar pianist Daniil Trifonov offered a viscerally sensitive Bach “Art of Fugue.”

Sunday morning’s audio stream presented chamber music highlights of the 2017-2019 Festivals of Contemporary Music, with TMC fellows performing music of the present and recent past before live Ozawa Hall audiences. BSO artistic partner Thomas Ades was notably showcased as composer (“Court Studies” from his opera “The Tempest”), arranger/pianist (two studies by Conlon Nancarrow), and conductor (Francisco Coll’s “Four Iberian Miniatures”). 

In Sunday afternoon’s 2018 video stream, Nelsons led the BSO in an epic Mahler third symphony, whose six movements and 100+-minute length comprise, in host Jamie Bernstein’s words, “the longest piece in the standard symphonic repertoire.” Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham sang voluptuously in the fourth and fifth movements, joined in the latter by the Boston Symphony Children’s Choir and the women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

These mostly free programs will stay online at bso.org for a week or more after the above dates. 

July 29, 2020

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, Week Four

Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival
www.bso.org
July 20-26, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

During the fourth week of its virtual 2020 season, Tanglewood offered exciting video streams of three educational programs and six concerts, as well as a wide-ranging concert audio stream.

Tuesday’s “Tanglewood Learning Institute Celebrates Beethoven” episode featured Nicholas Kitchen, first violinist of the Boston-based Borromeo String Quartet. In an absorbing recorded lecture, which included performances by the Quartet of two Beethoven quartet movements, and a recent Zoom chat with TLI Director Sue Elliott, he used score-writer software to illustrate the remarkable variety and subtlety of the expressive markings in Beethoven’s late quartets. 

Astrid Schween
TLI’s Wednesday masterclass presented Juilliard String Quartet cellist (and Tanglewood Music Center faculty member) Astrid Schween coaching three TMC cello fellows in Bach cello suite movements as recorded earlier this month without audience in Studio E of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood. Schween was warm and insightful with the students and in a subsequent Zoom conversation with TMC Associate Director Michael Nock.

Thursday’s “TLI ShopTalks” program found Elliott jointly Zoom-interviewing two young star singers: African-American soprano Nicole Cabell; and Asian-American tenor Nicholas Phan. In responding also to live-chat audience questions, they recounted their musical beginnings, addressed the different vocal demands of opera performance and recital singing, and expressed lively opinions about how to increase diversity in the classical music field.

Monday evening’s TMC orchestra concert showcased 2016 performances which had “irresistible energy” and “edge-of-the-seat” intensity of the Brahms first piano concerto (with English pianist Paul Lewis and Boston Symphony Music Director Andris Nelsons) and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite #2 (under Stephane Deneve). In an intermission Zoom chat with TMC Conducting Head Stefan Asbury, Lewis described this youthful orchestra with the quoted words above.  
  
Recorded last week in Studio E without audience for Wednesday evening’s “Recitals from the World Stage” concert, the adventurous string quartet Brooklyn Rider were edgy in new music by Caroline Shaw, Matana Roberts, and Philip Glass, and cooler in Beethoven’s “Holy Song of Thanksgiving for a Convalescent” than the Borromeo on Monday. Spoken introductions by three of the musicians added a welcome personal touch.  

Thursday evening’s “virtual gala” tribute to Ukrainian-born violinist Isaac Stern on his 100th birthday anniversary comprised performance excerpts and personal reminiscences. Highlights included: Stern rehearsing in Russian with Music Director Serge Koussevitzky at his 1948 BSO debut; tutoring young violin students during a 1978 visit to China; and a hilarious tale of a Stern concert mishap gleefully told by bandmates cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax.

Augustin Hadelich
On Friday evening, BSO string section members were magisterial in Bach’s Chaconne (Victor Romanul, violin) and heartwarming in less familiar fare by African-American composers William Grant Still and Florence Price. Saturday’s “Great Performers” concert, recorded audience-free in Studio E, like Friday’s, offered young German violinist Augustin Hadelich and rising American pianist Orion Weiss in riveting accounts of sonatas by Debussy and Brahms and John Adams’s delightful suite “Road Movies.”

In Sunday morning’s audio stream of TMC chamber music concerts, recorded before live audiences in 2015 and 2018, TMC piano fellows played music by six composers, including a sterling Beethoven “Archduke” Piano Trio, a luxuriant Amy Beach piano quintet, and a playful “I prefer living in color” (featuring muted piano strings) by TMC 2018 composition fellow Sarah Gibson.

Sunday afternoon’s video stream brought frequent guest conductor Andre Previn to the podium in a 2007 BSO program that moved from a relaxed Mozart Symphony #29 to an incandescent Haydn first cello concerto, with charismatic German cellist Daniel Muller-Schott, a sultry Ravel “Scheherazade,” with plush-voiced American mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, and a sumptuous Ravel “Mother Goose” ballet. Host Jamie Bernstein’s father, Leonard Bernstein, led the BSO at Tanglewood in an impassioned 1974 encore of the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony.   

Don’t miss out on these mostly free programs, which will stay online at bso.org for a week after the above dates.

July 21, 2020

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, Week Three

Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival 
www.bso.org
July 13-19, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

The third week of Tanglewood’s virtual 2020 season offered engaging video streams of three educational programs and five concerts as well as a lively concert audio stream.

In its Tuesday “TLI Celebrates Beethoven” series, the Tanglewood Learning Institute presented Dr. Erica Buurman, Director of the Beethoven Center and Editor of its Beethoven Journal at San Jose State University. In a recorded lecture and a Zoom chat with TLI Director Sue Elliott, the Scottish-born musicologist demonstrated Beethoven’s “genuine interest” in the “Viennese popular style” of dance music, even in several of his late string quartets. 

A Wednesday masterclass found mezzo-soprano (and Tanglewood Music Center faculty member) Stephanie Blythe reviewing performances of musical theater songs by four duos of TMC vocal fellows and pianists recorded last summer before a live audience in Studio E of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood. Her deep knowledge of this repertoire and perceptive advice to these talented students was consistently effective and entertaining.

On Thursday’s “TLI ShopTalks” program, Elliott jointly Zoom-interviewed two Boston Symphony members (Cynthia Meyers, piccolo and flute; and Robert Sheena, English horn and oboe), who also answered live-chat audience questions, sharing much candid history about their musical “origin stories,” playing for different conductors and in various concert halls, and daily life at opposite ends of the same row in the orchestra. 

Monday evening’s TMC orchestra concert featured a glowing conductor-less 2018 performance by a mostly standing orchestra of Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings” and a gripping 2016 Brahms first symphony under BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons. At intermission TMC Orchestral Studies Head Ed Gazouleas tells TMC Conducting Head Stefan Asbury how he coached the students in the Tchaikovsky piece.  
  
The Jussens
From Dutch brother pianists Lucas and Arthur Jussen in Wednesday evening’s “Recitals from the World Stage” concert came charisma to spare in piano four-hands music by Mozart, Schubert, and Ravel, recorded two weeks earlier before a masked, widely spaced, but loudly enthusiastic audience in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. The program’s showstopper was Polish composer Hanna Kulenty’s mysterious “VAN,” written for the Jussens in 2014.

On Friday evening, BSO violinist Lucia Lin and cellist Owen Young joined other BSO musicians in sensuous accounts of music, recorded audience-free in Studio E last month, by Ravel, Loeffler, and Gabriela Lena Frank. A Saturday “Great Performers” concert in the same venue, also without audience, presented frequent Tanglewood guest violinist Pinchas Zukerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth in stirring performances of Kodaly’s Duo and Beethoven’s curious Duet “with two obbligato eyeglasses.”

Sunday morning’s audio stream of TMC chamber music concerts, recorded before live audiences between 2015 and 2019, featured vocal music by a wide range of composers, from Bach to Britten, and insightful commentary by TMC Vocal Arts Program Head, soprano Dawn Upshaw. Most striking were 2015 TMC commission “Fire and Ice,” Fred Lerdahl’s lush setting of Robert Frost’s poem, and Schoenberg’s transcendent second string quartet, with soprano solo.

In Sunday afternoon’s video stream, beloved BSO Conductor Emeritus Bernard Haitink led the orchestra in a 2013 program that began with German violinist Isabelle Faust in an elegant Mozart fifth violin concerto and ended with a ravishing Mahler fourth symphony. Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling sang dreamily in the last movement. Host Jamie Bernstein endearingly recalled her father, Leonard Bernstein, reading the Mahler score at her childhood family poolside.   

Classical music fans can catch these programs, most of which are free, online at www.bso.org for seven days after these dates. 

July 16, 2020

PREVIEW: Barrington Stage Company invites “Harry Clarke” to the Berkshires

A sexually charged and wickedly funny one-man thriller, “Harry Clarke,” by acclaimed playwright and solo artist David Cale and starring BSC Associate Artist Mark H. Dold (BSC’s “Breaking the Code,” “Freud’s Last Session”) is the story of a shy midwestern man leading an outrageous double life as the cocky Londoner Harry Clarke. Moving to New York City and presenting himself as an Englishman, he charms his way into a wealthy family’s life as the seductive and precocious Harry, whose increasingly risky and dangerous behavior threatens to undo more than his persona.

In order to offer patrons the safest and most enjoyable experience possible, social distance policies will be in effect through the 2020 season. If planning to attend with a group larger than 2 or 3, call the box office at (413) 236-8888 for accommodation.

“Harry Clarke” begins August 5.
Show time is 7:30pm.
BSC company is located on Union Street, Pittsfield.

For further information check the website at barringtonstageco.org or call 413-236-8888.

July 15, 2020

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, Week Two

Tanglewood Online Festival
www.bso.org
July 6-12, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

For the second week of its virtual 2020 season, Tanglewood offered video streams of one more educational program and two more concerts than in its opening week.

On Tuesday the Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI) showed Steven Maes’s captivating 54-minute documentary “Inside the Hearing Machine,” in which Belgian pianist Tom Beghin explores Beethoven’s pianos and a special resonator built to straddle his last piano which enabled the deaf composer to “hear” musical vibrations. TLI Director Sue Elliott’s subsequent Zoom chat with Beghin dug deeper into how Beethoven may have “heard” his music as he wrote it.


Paul Lewis
A Wednesday masterclass by English pianist and frequent Tanglewood guest Paul Lewis was recorded before a live audience in Studio E of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood last summer. His unfailingly direct but always encouraging comments as three student pianists at the Tanglewood Music Center (TMC) in turn played Haydn piano sonatas on a keyboard next to his brought out the best in these talented players.

Elliott’s joint Zoom interview on Thursday with Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra and African-American jazz saxophone player James Carter explored the musical “fluidity” which led Sierra to write a concerto for saxophones (tenor and baritone) and orchestra for Carter almost twenty years ago and their projections of a more “diverse” future for classical music. 

On Monday evening, enlivening TMC orchestra accounts of music by Wagner and Haydn (both led by Boston Symphony Music Director Andris Nelsons) and Ravel (led by TMC Conducting Program Head Stefan Asbury) were video streamed from concerts recorded in 2018 and 2019. In a 2020 Zoom conversation, Nelsons then tells Asbury how much better he believes the “unique” TMC educational program is than his own European training.
  
Wednesday evening brought Lewis back for the first of three audience-free concerts, this one recorded last month in London’s Wigmore Hall, with a probing rendition of “arguably Beethoven’s greatest piano work,” the Diabelli Variations, and a sensitive Brahms Intermezzo encore.

On Friday evening, BSO Associate Principal Horn Richard Sebring and other BSO musicians, recorded last month in Studio E, presented music by Schumann, Dukas, and Mozart.  Most memorable were two world premier duets by Sebring himself, one for horn and harp (with former TMC fellow Charles Overton), and one for two long alphorns (with BSO third horn Michael Winter), filmed on the Tanglewood lawn.

In a Saturday concert also recorded last month in scenic Studio E, favorite Tanglewood pianist Emanuel Ax played Beethoven’s early second and third piano sonatas and the beloved Bagatelle “Fur Elise” with his customary fervor and polish.

This Sunday morning’s audio stream of TMC chamber music concerts, recorded before live audiences in 2017 and 2018, featured music for woodwinds, brass, and percussion by eight varied composers, including Poulenc, Tomasi, and Hindemith. But the freshest pieces were recent TMC commissions by Scotland’s Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade and TMC composition fellow Theo Chandler.

In Sunday afternoon’s video stream, Nelsons led the BSO in a 2015 program that opened with the French trio of violinist Renaud Capucon, his brother, cellist Gautier Capucon, and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet in a scintillating Beethoven “Triple” Concerto and closed with a thrilling Shostakovich tenth symphony.  As host Jamie Bernstein astutely notes, camera angles offer unique perspectives on Nelsons’s conducting techniques not easily seen in a concert hall.   


Most of these programs will stay online for seven days after the dates above. Classical music lovers should waste no time in checking them out.

July 14, 2020

PREVIEW: “Godspell” Takes the Outdoor Stage for Berkshire Theatre Group


Berkshire Theatre Group has not given up on producing quality theatre in the Berkshires this summer. Taking the optimum of safe precautions. “Godspell” will run August 6 – September 4, 2020.

Certainly, “Godspell” has been one of the most well-received musical for decades. However, BTG affords these performances something new. Instead of mounting the musical at the Berkshire Theatre main stage, the new location will be outdoors under a large tent adjacent to the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield. Colonial is one of the five venues that compose BTF.

In this timeless tale of friendship, loyalty and love, a group of eccentric disciples help Jesus teach a variety of parables through interactive games and a heaping dose of humor. Led by the international hit, "Day by Day," Godspell features a parade of beloved songs by Tony, Academy and Grammy Award-Winner, Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Children of Eden), including: “By My Side” “Save The People” and “All for the Best.”

Brought to life by director Alan Filderman and choreographer Gerry McIntyre this theatrical sensation is a powerful reminder that through the power of community, love and kindness will live on.
Berkshire Theatre Group has not given up on producing quality theatre in the Berkshires this summer. Taking the optimum of safe precautions, “Godspell” will run August 6 – September 4.

Certainly, “Godspell” has been a well-received musical for decades. However, BTG affords these performances something new. Instead of mounting the musical at the Berkshire Theatre main stage, the new location will be outdoors under a large tent adjacent to the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield. Colonial is one of the five venues that compose BT

In this timeless tale of friendship, loyalty and love, a group of eccentric disciples help Jesus teach a variety of parables through interactive games and a heaping dose of humor. Led by the international hit, "Day by Day," Godspell features a parade of beloved songs by Tony, Academy and Grammy Award-Winner, Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Children of Eden), including: “By My Side” “Save The People” and “All for the Best.”

Brought to life by director Alan Filderman and choreographer Gerry McIntyre this theatrical sensation is a powerful reminder that through the power of community, love and kindness will live on.