Music: Something to Talk About
Yehuda and Hannah Hanani at home in Spencertown.
The first time cellist Yehuda Hanani saw his future wife, Hannah, he was in a taxi heading to his apartment from the airport following an out-of-town engagement. Stopped at a red light at the intersection 95th and Broadway, where the Thalia used to be, he saw two young women hurrying toward the theater, one, a stranger whom he found utterly captivating, the other, someone he barely knew. Yehuda rolled down the window and invited them to his apartment after the movie for tea.
Which has nothing to do with music, but it does illustrate Hanani’s ability to see enormous possibilities in even the most fragile thread, to make imaginative leaps and turn them into compelling narratives. (How long does a NYC red light last? Thirty seconds?) His erudition and natural story-telling gift is what makes Close Encounters With Music, the innovative festival he directs, so unique. People go to the concerts as much to hear what Hanani has to say about the music and the circumstances from which it sprang, as to hear the music itself. “We give them some pegs to hang their attention on,” he says.
This is helpful since Hanani’s taste in music can be challenging. Born and raised in Israel, he was discovered in 1964 by Leonard Bernstein and Isaac Stern, who arranged a scholarship to Julliard for him. Once his studies there were completed, he launched an active career as a soloist. Then more than thirty years ago, he inadvertently created the first of his “concept concerts,” with a program in Aspen. “It was winter, and I arrived with my cello,” he says. “The program notes were supposed to arrive on the next plane.” Due to inclement weather, however, the second plane was unable to land. “So I started ad libbing. It created an air of camaraderie between the performers and the audience,” he recalls. “Like a salon.” Someone in Miami saw it on TV, and invited Hanani to do a series of concept concerts there. Hanani accepted and called the series “Close Encounters With Music.” It was so well received, he was asked to stay on, which he did for the next 25 winters, later alternating it with a summer series in Aspen, while maintaining an active schedule as a performer and teacher.
This year alone, Hanani will spend two weeks doing residencies at conservatories in Shanghai and Beijing, he will be a featured guest performer with orchestras in Puebla, Mexico, Honolulu, and Luxembourg, and he will give master classes at the Royal Academy in London and at Juilliard. But for now he is in Columbia County, where he and Hannah, who have a grown son, own a house, preparing for the Close Encounters season at the 700-seat Mahaiwe in Great Barrington. The season debuts on October 18 with Crown Jewels: A Musical Tour through Europe’s Princely Courts, which promises to be a glittering evening of Baroque and Classical works for chamber orchestra and soloists, written for Europe’s most musically voracious rulers. Esteemed soloists join the Camerata San Marco, the virtuoso all-woman string orchestra, in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D minor; Mozart’s “Musical Joke;” Bach’s Double Concerto for two violins; and Italian gems from Corelli and Vivaldi. Soloists include Jonathan Keren and Cordelia Hagmann, violins; and Yehuda Hanani, himself, on cello. The audience is invited to a reception for the artists immediately following the performance.
The year 2009 marks Mendelssohn’s 200th anniversay, which Close Encounters will commemorate with a gala season-concluding concert on May 30, of music by Eduard Franck, a student of Mendelssohn’s who became a close personal friend. “He was an unconventional celebrity,” Hanani says of Franck, who, despite being a splendid composer, is virtually unknown today. “He got a late start, and he was shy, not a self promoter. I found a descendant of Franck’s, a judge in Hamburg, who sent me stacks of first editions of music that has been out of print for more than 100 years. We’re going to introduce him to modern audiences.”
Close Encounters With Music
Mahaiwe Theater, 14 Castle Street, Great Barrington
October 18 through May 30
Individual tickets: $35/$40
Season (6 concerts) tickets: $150 and up