From Bach to Bawdy, Sonnets to Sonatas, Shakespeare to Schubert: Music and More in the Berkshires
By Robert Burke Warren
Attendees of the 2013 Music and More Festival in New Marlborough, Massachusetts enjoy the unique experience of walking into history, both literally and figuratively; the impeccably performed chamber music, jazz, Renaissance reels, and Elizabethan poetry take place in the township’s circa 1839 Meeting House, home to the festival since its inception in 1991. The 250-capacity building, enjoying its 174th year on the New Marlborough Village Green, is remarkably preserved. While it once fell into disuse, it never crumbled, and thanks to the New Marlborough Village Association and Music and More founder and director Harold Lewin, it now thrums with song and story, a stage replacing the dais (the building was last used as a church) and a basement art gallery/post-concert reception area.
“It’s a step back in time,” says Lewin. “You really feel like you’re in a 19th century New England village. The pews still have little doors on them.”
The New Marlborough Village Association had just purchased the historic Meeting House – one of many still-standing structures designed by architect Henry A. Sykes – when Lewin, a concert pianist, met the association’s president at a party in the early 90s. “They asked me to play a concert, and I invited some friends from the New York Philharmonic, and that’s how it started, that one night. It was a lot of fun.”
What began as a one-off has grown into a thriving annual festival. “Over the years, people have been really loyal and devoted,” Lewin says. This year, Music and More offers eight varied programs through October 5th. All programs are on Saturdays at 4:30 p.m., some with pre-program talks at 3:30 (full listing below). No longer just a chamber music event, the festival now encompasses a wide array of entertainments, from Rachmaninoff to Cole Porter to renowned authors reading from their works, and more. “It’s become more multifaceted as it’s enlarged,” Lewin says. “We’ve had the opportunity to present more events. I’m particularly pleased with this year’s programs. On August 24th we’ve got the Daedalus Quartet, these young players doing Schubert and Beethoven like you’ve never heard. They’re fabulous.”
Noted violinist, director of the Aston Magna festival, and Brandeis professor Daniel Stepner is excited, too. He recently brought a Bach concert – “The Art of the Fugue” – to Music and More, and played to a full, rapturous house. On August 31st he returns with pianist Donald Berman and mezzo-soprano Deborah Rentz-Moore for an afternoon of music by iconoclastic American composer Charles Ives. Stepner has been a big Ives fan for decades, ever since his bandleader father brought home a recording of Ives’ 2nd Symphony when Stepner was ten. “There’s this incredible raspberry of dissonance on the very last chord, and I thought it was the funniest thing I ever heard,” he says, laughing.
Ives wrote everything from symphonies to sonatas to songs. What will Stepner and his cohorts bring to New Marlborough? “Our program emphasizes the lyric and melodic aspects of Ives,” he says, “which are really at the basis of his writing, even when he wrote more dissonant things. He wrote an incredible treasure trove of songs, and we’ll be playing a lot of those. We’ve performed them before, and people have come up to me and said ‘Wow, I’m surprised he was so lyrical, so sentimental.’ Because they associate him with his more avant garde works.”
For something completely different, Music and More will present “License My Roving Hands,” on September 7th, featuring Shakespeare and Company’s Jonathan Epstein and Renaissance band Calliope. “Jonny Epstein’s been here three times before,” Lewin says of the much-lauded actor and teacher, whose performances and workshops have made him an in-demand Shakespeare specialist. He’s played Lear, Macbeth, Richard III, and Feste, among many others in the Bard’s canon. “License My Roving Hands,” created by Epstein, features a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets as well as performances of Chaucer’s bawdy tales, Henry VIII’s steamy letters to Anne Boleyn, and the poetry of John Donne (from which the title “License My Roving Hands” is taken). Accompanying Epstein will be Calliope, famous for its authentic replications of Renaissance music played on period instruments. Although all Music and More events are long on romance, this performance is a great date night if ever there was one.
Famed cabaret star Karen Akers (left, photo by Alan Mercer) classes up the joint on September 28th, with an entire program of Cole Porter songs. Akers brings jaw-dropping cred to Music and More; she’s starred on Broadway in Nine - for which she garnered a Tony nomination - and appeared in the original cast of Grand Hotel. Blessed with a voice that invites comparisons to Piaf, Streisand, and Dietrich, Akers has been making audiences swoon from the U.S. to Europe to the former Soviet Union. Her performance will be capped off by a gala wine tasting, courtesy of Domaney’s of Great Barrington.
Speaking of wine, one of the unique aspects of Music and More is the post-performance action, when you know you are definitely not in Manhattan. “After every show we have a post-concert reception for the artists in the art gallery,” Lewin explains. “The exhibits are up, and we have wine and hors d’oeuvres. Everyone joins downstairs, and people can meet the performers and see the art. It’s fantastic.”
Music and More
New Marlborough Meeting House
154 Hartsville-New Marlborough Road
New Marlborough, MA
All performances at 4:30 p.m.
Pre-program discussion at 3:30 p.m.
August 24 The Daedalus Quartet: Schubert, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven
August 31 Shall We Gather at the River: Charles Ives Vocal and Instrumental Selections
September 7 License My Roving Hands: Letters, Lyrics, and Music from Chaucer to Donne, featuring Jonathan Epstein of Shakespeare & Co. and Renaissance band Calliope
September 21 The Apollo Trio: Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Schubert
September 28 Anything Goes!: Karen Akers Sings Cole Porter
October 5 Award-winning Authors Robert Massie, Elizabeth Graver, Elizabeth Hall Page, readings and book signings