Two Chamber Series Offer An Embarrassment Of Riches
Crescendo. Photo by Stephen Potter.
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
Tanglewood will always be the grand dame among classical music venues in the Rural Intelligence region, and that’s perfectly fine with us. But it’s in the more intimate venues — theaters, churches, museums — where chamber music fans can reliably find the not-so-hidden gems of the fall and winter seasons. With a relatively lower profile, a host of performance series plot ambitious seasons incorporating a curatorial flair that combines historical expertise with a creative embrace of the future. Two such sturdy leaders of the scene, who have each assembled dedicated fan bases in the RI region and beyond, celebrate anniversaries this season.
Close Encounters With Music, founded by Yehuda and Hannah Hanani, embarked on its 25th season in October at its home base, Great Barrington’s Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. And it’s been 15 years since Christine Gevert moved to the area and started a humble music series at Trinity Lime Rock Episcopal Church in Lakeville, which evolved two years later into the Crescendo concert series and is now a leading proponent of early music.
Christine Gevert. Photo by Stephen Potter.
Gevert arrived in Lakeville in 2001 by way of a childhood spent in her native Germany, college studies in Chile, and professional posts in various places in-between — like a Swiss music publisher of early music scores. Her familial background (both German and Chilean) and her professional expertise make her a one-of-a-kind music expert who curates a one-of-a-kind concert series.
Crescendo’s sweet spot is the era of European classical music spanning from the 13th century on up through the early baroque period of the 1700s — but with a twist. Gevert’s deep knowledge of the Latin American baroque tradition led to Crescendo’s invitation to send an ensemble to perform at St. Bartholomew’s Church as part of last September’s New York Early Music Celebration. Crescendo’s 2016-17 season includes performances in Great Barrington at First Congregational Church, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, and the soon-to-open St. James Place, as well as spaces in Lakeville. It’s also premiering a commission of a style-hopping composition by John Myers, written in nine parts to accompany nine works by Norman Rockwell. Both Crescendo’s repertoire and its performing radius keep expanding.
Though Gevert’s early-music bona fides are unimpeachable, she says it’s important for Crescendo to offer a variety of pieces, as performed by a family of house ensembles including a chorus and chamber orchestra playing period instruments. “Sometimes the Renaissance music comes out more when it’s heard in contrast with contemporary music,” says Gervert, who has even programmed a piece by jazz master Dave Brubeck.
She’s also put her skills to work translating, as it were, period musical scores into playable performance editions. By fleshing these out into full arrangements, Gevert has facilitated the United States premieres of pieces written centuries ago.
Close Encounters With Music puts its own curatorial spin on sounds both familiar and new. Yehuda Hanani, an accomplished concert cellist, is its artistic director. Hanani is known for concerts in which he draws connections, from the stage, among different pieces of music and other currents of artistic and intellectual thought. Even in a phone conversation, one gets a taste of Hanani’s approach. Just talking about music with him is a little bit like a private Close Encounters encounter.
“What painters are trying to do with pigment, composers are doing with sound. And what architects are doing in space, composers do in time. A piece of music is really an architectural structure in time rather than in space. So it has a beginning, an end, a climax—it has structure, beams that hold the things together,” he says, “and once you start explaining it to audiences, even people who are not musically literate, who just listen intuitively, begin to relate those things and they start listening differently.”
Close Encounters With Music started out at Great Barrington’s St. James Episcopal Church, and in February will give the first concert there under the space’s new name, St. James Place. Typical of Hanani’s approach, it’ll feature solo pieces by Bach performed by himself on cello and Kivie Cahn-Lipman on viola da gamba, bringing to aural life the difference between period and modern approaches to the material.
Like Crescendo, Close Encounters also commissions new pieces to work alongside an older repertoire. Its 25th season marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the state of New York, and will culminate with a gala concert next June featuring an interconnected “quilt” of short pieces written by women composers and dedicated to heroes of the pro-suffrage movement. Conversations with composer Hannah Lash (Nov. 20 at Hudson Opera House) and author Linda Hirshman (May 14 at The Mount in Lenox) augment the performance schedule.
When Hanani describes the circle of Close Encounters fans, he could also be describing Crescendo—or any of the other cultural offerings that bring together people in the RI region at any time of year.
“It’s like you enter a cultural zone and it’s really like a neighborhood,” says Hanani, who lives with Hannah in Spencertown. “These days when we’re all so mobile, a neighborhood is defined by me as a cultural affinity—members of the same interest, the same passion.”