Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

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.

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 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
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.

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 and

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
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 for a week or more after the above dates.