Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 21, 2021

REVIEW: South Mountain Concerts, Emerson String Quartet

South Mountain Concerts, Pittsfield, MA 
September 19, 2021 
by Michael J. Moran 

Less than a month after they announced their retirement from public performance in 2023, the Emerson String Quartet  – violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton, and cellist Paul Watkins – made their35 th appearance at this venerable chamber music series. A memorable concert and rapturous audience response suggested that they’ll end their 47-year career in top form. 

The program opened with Mendelssohn’s first published string quartet, dating from 1829, when the precocious composer was a youthful but mature twenty years old. The Emerson’s tender but bracing account built from a lively “Adagio non troppo – Allegro non tardante” first movement, a gracious “Canzonetta: Allegretto” (including a delicately fleet mid-section), and a passionate “Andante espressivo,” to a fast and furious “Molto allegro e vivace” finale.
Next, in sharp contrast, came Bartok’s 1927 third string quartet. Reflecting both the influence of Hungarian folk music and the composer’s interest in avant-garde musical techniques, it still sounded strikingly modern in the Emerson’s tightly coiled performance. Their legendary seamless ensemble intact throughout, they brought laser clarity to the thorny first section, controlled energy to the manic second, haunting sensitivity to the eerie third, and intense focus to the frenzied closing “Coda.” 

The concert continued with Tchaikovsky’s popular 1871 first string quartet. From a gentle “Moderato e semplice” opening movement, a heartfelt “Andante cantabile” (famously arranged later by the composer for string orchestra – Drucker’s first violin solos were meltingly beautiful), and a mercurial “Scherzo,” to an exuberant folk-dance-flavored “Finale,” the Emersons played every note with exhilarating warmth. 

That quality was even clearer in the deep affection they brought to their encore (a rare occurrence at South Mountain), George Walker’s lovely 1946 “Lyric for Strings.” Setzer movingly recalled the Quartet’s happy working relationship with the noted African-American composer during the last twenty years of his life (Walker died in 2018 at age 96).
South Mountain requires proof of Covid vaccination and masking inside the hall. Chamber music lovers can still catch three more Sunday afternoon concerts here by world-class musicians (including former Emerson cellist David Finckel) through October 10.

September 17, 2021

Review: Majestic Theater, The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On

Majestic Theater,West Springfield, MA
through October 17, 2021
by Konrad Rogowski

By starting off their season with “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On,” the Majestic is giving their audiences what we all need after 15+ months of social distancing; a lively, fun show as the four Wonderettes reunite for an evening of popular songs from the 60’s and 70’s that folks can identify with and hum along to.

Like its predecessor "The Marvelous Wonderettes" which was performed last season “ The Marvelous Wonderettes,” current show, "Dream On" chronicles the loves, losses and rivalries of Cindi Lou (Kaytlyn Vandeloecht), Betty Jean (Tina Sparkle), Missy (Kait Rankins) and Suzy (Mollie Posnik) as all four actresses reprise their roles in a real-life reunion. 

Act I takes the audience through the 60’s on the date of the quartet's 10th year reunion, and Act II leaps ahead to their 20th. Peppered with upbeat songs and strong vocals, each Wonderette is given the opportunity to shine with solos like “Love Will Keep Us Together,” “I Will Survive,” and a rousing show finish with “We Are Family.”

Greg Trochlil’s set design for Rockville High, with its classic yellow brick gym walls, basketball hoops and PA system speakers sets the scene. The musical accompaniment by Mitch Chakoura’s band is solid. If there is any oddity in the show, it is that, unlike the Wonderettes, the band is not costumed like a high school reunion band, nor does their appearance change as we move from decade to decade. The visual is distracting since they are part of the entire reunion/time has passed concept.

All in all, this installment of the Wonderettes’ adventures is definitely worth a trip back to Rockville High.

Note: Attendees must show both their proof of Covid vaccination, and a personal ID. Masks must also be worn during the performance. 

September 13, 2021

REVIEW: South Mountain Concerts, Calidore String Quartet

South Mountain Concerts, Pittsfield, MA 
September 12, 2021 
by Michael J. Moran 

A nearly full house warmly greeted the first live concert in this venerable series since October 2019 as the Calidore String Quartet – violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry, and cellist Estelle Choi – took the stage at this storied venue. Formed in 2010 at the Colburn School in Los Angeles and named after the “golden state” of their origin (“dore” is French for “golden”), the ensemble has since earned rave reviews across the globe. 

The concert began with Mendelssohn’s second string quartet, written by the 18-year-old composer in 1827, partly in homage to the recently deceased Beethoven and his pathbreaking late quartets. The Calidore’s moving interpretation featured a grave opening “Adagio – Allegro vivace,” a passionate “Adagio non lento,” an elfin (and quintessentially “Mendelssohnian”) “Intermezzo: Allegretto con moto – Allegro di molto,” and a turbulent closing “Presto – Adagio non lento.” 

Next came a shattering account of Shostakovich’s powerful 1960 eighth string quartet, dedicated to the “memory of victims of fascism and war” while he was also writing a World War II film score in Dresden, Germany. Its five short movements (three of them marked “Largo,” or “Slow”) are played without pause and incorporate quotes from earlier Shostakovich works as well as the Russian revolutionary song “Languishing in Prison.” The dark colors of Berry’s viola and Choi’s cello were notably cogent and effective throughout.

A breif intermission was followed by a brilliant rendition of Beethoven’s mercurial 1825 fifteenth quartet, which helped inspire Mendelssohn’s second quartet in the same key - A minor. Its five expansive movements are built around the astonishing central and longest one, which Beethoven titled “Holy song of thanksgiving to the divinity by a convalescent.” The Calidore’s wrenching intensity here was overwhelming, but they were just as compelling in the surrounding four movements, from a bracing “Assai sostenuto- Allegro,” a gentle “Allegro ma non tanto,” and a stirring “Alla Marcia, assai vivace,” to a vigorous “Allegro appassionato” finale.
South Mountain requires proof of Covid vaccination and masking inside the concert hall. This essential 2021 Sunday afternoon concert series of chamber music performed by world-class musicians runs through October 10, 2021.