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Norman Rockwell Reinterpreted Through Music And Animation

By Lisa Green

Every facet of “Paintings in Song — Visions of Norman Rockwell” involves a “multi” reference. Commissioned by Crescendo, it is a multimedia piece, combining music, voice and art. It is a union of arts organizations, artists and a composer. And it is a multi-generational endeavor, from the family members represented in Norman Rockwell’s painting to the inclusion of both the adult Crescendo chorus and the Berkshire Children’s Chorus.

John Myers

In our neck of the woods, we call it community, and it has taken one to put together this ambitious concert program, which will have its world premiere April 1 at Saint James Place in Great Barrington, Mass. and Mattison Hall in Kent, Conn. on April 2. For “Paintings and Song,” Berkshires-based composer John Myers has taken inspiration from the iconic “Four Freedoms” and five other paintings by Rockwell. The piece includes text, making it a choral piece, as well. The music reflects the subject of each painting as well as the music style of the time period in which it was created.

Myers’ music is accompanied by large-screen animations based on each of the paintings, created by artists Alice Myers and Anna Sabatini, who used digital technology to portray the paintings as dynamic visual elements. The concert also includes selections of traditional American folk songs arranged by choral composer Alice Parker that will complement the themes in the Rockwell paintings.

Christine Gevert, founder and artistic director of Crescendo, will conduct the concert.

And to add another multi, a documentary is being made of the creation of the work by Rich Bradway, an Emmy-winning documentarian; he’s the digital director at the Museum. It’s important to note that the entire effort has been blessed by the Norman Rockwell Museum, which provided critical conceptual and interpretive support with the animations of Rockwell’s paintings by Myers and Sabatini.

“The team’s artistic response to Norman Rockwell’s art offers meaningful and relevant commentary for our times,” says Stephanie Plunkett, chief curator/deputy director of the Museum. “We have greatly enjoyed this special collaboration.”

Following the world premiere, the work will be presented in schools and museums around the region, and will reach a wider audience through film and a CD recording.

Paintings In Song — Visions of Norman Rockwell
Saturday, April 1, 3 and 7 p.m. at Saint James Place, 352 Main St., Great Barrington, MA
Sunday, April 2, 4 p.m. at Kent School, 1 Macedonia Rd., Kent, CT

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/19/17 at 04:12 PM • Permalink

One Unsilent, Firelit Night at the 1753 House

By Lisa Green

The image of people gathered around a piano singing Christmas carols evokes a sense of nostalgia that the holidays allow us to indulge in. Every year, a variation of that tableau comes to life for real, at a holiday group sing at the 1753 House in Williamstown, Mass. This year’s sing happens Wednesday, Dec. 21.

It will be the 43rd annual carol sing in the small house built in 1953 in honor of Williamstown’s bicentennial (it now belongs to the Williamstown Historic Museum), recreated as an historical replica of a regular settler’s home. The singing event is the only day of the year when a fire is lit.  There’s no heat other than that fire, so carolers are advised to dress warmly and bring a candle to see by. Hot mulled cider will be provided, and Deborah Burns, who runs several local choruses, will bring the carol books and lead the a capella singing.

The longtime tradition is the brainchild of the late Hank Flynt and Robert Burns (no relation to Deborah), who recalled a Christmas sing at the Williams Inn he attended in his youth. In a conversation with Flynt, Burns related the memory, and Flynt suggested the 1753 House could be just the place for that sort of thing. And a tradition was born.

It’s lovely and convivial. Also ecumenical, free and appropriate for all ages.

“This is a completely noncommercial and nonreligious event,” stresses Gail Burns (no relation to Deborah, but wife of Robert), who lead the singing for several years. “It’s just getting together in the cold and dark with candles, singing together, enjoying the beauty of the music.”

The 1753 House is located on Field Park between the Williams Inn and the Milne Public Library, at the northern intersection of Routes 2 and 7. Parking is available at the inn and the library.

1753 House Carol Sing
Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m.
Rain/snow date is Thursday, Dec. 22.
For more information, call (413) 458-4246.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 12/12/16 at 04:41 PM • Permalink

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.

Yehuda Hanani.

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.”

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/24/16 at 01:27 PM • Permalink

Counting Down For The Pittsfield City Jazz Festival

Karrin Allyson and Scott Robinson.

By Lisa Green

The 12th annual Pittsfield City Jazz Festival, Oct. 7-16, proves that it takes a village to create — and sustain — a jazz festival.

“We’re at a critical mass now,” says Ed Bride, festival chair and president of Berkshires Jazz, the nonprofit educational arm whose mission is to present jazz events and promote jazz education in Berkshire County. He started the festival with just two events on a weekend. Now, it spans two weekends — one putting the spotlight on local musicians, and the other reserved for “headliners” in the jazz world. And most of the events are free.

Things kick off on Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 7-9, with Jazz About Town, the increasingly popular jazz crawl featuring local musicians in restaurants and lounges throughout Pittsfield’s Upstreet Cultural District. New this year is an exhibit of jazz-inspired photography by award-winning photojournalist Ken Franckling, with a First Friday Artswalk reception at the Whitney Center for the Arts on Oct. 7. Franckling will be signing his book, “Jazz in the Key of Light.”

The Jazz Ambassadors — America’s Big Band.

The “Headline Weekend,” Oct. 14-16, actually kicks off on October 13 with the Jazz Prodigy concert. The next night, saxophonist Scott Robinson will perform at Flavours restaurant. On October 15, at the Colonial Theatre, vocalist and pianist Karrin Allyson, a Grammy nominee, will take the stage, followed by the Jazz Ambassadors — America’s Big Band, the official touring big band of the United States Army. The Berkshires Jazz Youth Ensemble will open the headliner concert, having been coached by members of the Pittsfield Sister City Jazz Ambassadors. The festival concludes with a jazz brunch.

Anyone aware of Pittsfield’s “can-do” spirit won’t be surprised that the festival was propelled by local businesses. Early on, Andy Kelly, a guitarist and chair of Pittsfield’s Cultural Development Board, organized jazz performances in bars and restaurants around town. There was no problem filling the venues, but patrons would leave to go to the festival concerts, and the bar owners felt it as competition. So the jazz crawl was born, as was the new format of locals on Columbus Day weekend and headliners the following weekend.

It was because the Friends of the Athenaeum (Pittsfield’s public library) wanted to include younger musicians that the jazz prodigy concert was created. Underwriting support comes from local foundations and financial institutions, among other businesses. Bride estimates that about 80 percent of festival goers are from Berkshire County, but says the festival also draws people from New York City and even as far away as Maine.

So you don’t have to be from Pittsfield to take in this home-grown festival. You just have to love jazz.

Pittsfield City Jazz Festival, Oct. 7-16
Check website for more details and schedule.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/30/16 at 11:09 AM • Permalink

The Leaf Peepers Concert Series Plans A Bold 35th Season

By Amy Krzanik

Composer Tonia Ko

Borrowing its name from our region’s annual fall phenomenon, The Leaf Peeper Concert Series, presented each year by Clarion Concerts in Columbia County, will hold four unique performances at four different area venues every other Saturday from Sept. 10 to Oct. 22. The series — born in New York City in 1957 by the late musicologist and conductor Newell Jenkins and his partner, Jack Hurley — is helmed by acclaimed flutist Eugenia Zuckerman, who took over from Sanford Allen, a former violinist with the New York Philharmonic who directed the series from 1996 until his retirement in 2014.

Although it’s the oldest classical music organization in the county, the series doesn’t dwell in the past, and is known for mixing traditional and contemporary chamber music, providing performance opportunities for promising young artists, and commissioning new works.

Zuckerman, who served as artistic director of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival for 13 years, is excited about the stellar lineup of musicians participating in this year’s series. You can witness two of these superstar young musicians, pianist Jeewon Park and cellist Edward Arron — who will be performing with violinist Tessa Lark and Paul Green on clarinet — right out of the gate during “Autumn Echoes,” the first of the series’ concerts this Saturday at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School in Ghent, NY. Along with works by Beethoven, Schoenfeld and Brahms, “Echoes” will include “Elegy for Cello and Piano,” which the series commissioned from Tonia Ko and which will be performed for the first time ever during the concert.

The Shanghai String Quartet

“Our opening concert will take place at a school on a working farm,” says Zukerman, “and I think that speaks to the whole concept of this area and what I love about it. Even though houses are far apart, there’s a real sense of community here, and an interesting mix of older and younger people.”

The rest of the lineup is no less thrilling, and we can see why Leaf Peepers almost doubled its attendance during its 2015 season. The second concert, “From East To West,” will feature the much in-demand Shanghai Quartet, who will be joined by Zukerman on flute, at St. James Church in Chatham, NY.

“Classically Romantic,” at Our Lady of Hope Church in Copake on Oct. 8, will feature Daniel Chong, first violinist in the Parker Quartet, along with Melissa Reardon, a violist in the Grammy-nominated Enso String Quartet, and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan who is a founding member of the Horszowski Trio.

“What I love about the musicians I’ve invited is that these are people who play a lot with their own groups, but also they’re curious and interested in playing with other people,” says Zukerman. “They’re very enthusiastic, fun and flexible performers.”

Leaf Peepers concludes with “Basking in the Baroque” at Hillsdale Methodist Church on Oct. 22. Cellist Astrid Schween of the Juilliard String Quartet and pianist Giovanni Reggioli will be joined by baritone Gustavo Ahualli and Zukerman’s daughter, soprano Arianna Zukerman.

The Leaf Peeper Concert Series
Sept. 10: “Autumn Echoes” at Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, Ghent, NY
Sept. 24: “From East to West” at St. James Church, Chatham, NY
Oct. 8: “Classically Romantic” at Our Lady of Hope Church, Copake, NY
Oct. 22: “Basking in the Baroque” at Hillsdale Methodist Church, Hillsdale, NY
All concerts begin at 7:30 p.m.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 09/07/16 at 11:28 AM • Permalink