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Classical Music, Opera, Theatre, Photography, Art, Books, Travel, Food & Drink – the Best of the Arts in the Berkshires

Mrs. O'Donnell (Kate Maquire) recites the "telltale Heart". Photo Christina Riley/

A Treasurable Account of Poe’s Last Hours from the Berkshire Theatre Group, with David Adkins and Kate Maguire, Closing 10/26 (0)

Oct 18, 2014 • Commentary, Theatre, Upcoming

You can’t really blame the Berkshire Theatre Group for billing Eric Hill’s splendid entertainment, POE, as a Hallowe’en show. As the holiday approaches, Poe’s chilling stories and poems are rolled out in all the many forms they have assumed since their assimilation into two great cultural phenomena, American Literature and American Pop Culture, over the decades since their publication. In fact, however, POE, which most immediately revolves around the bizarre circumstances of the author’s demise, more directly concerns a far scarier day in the American calendar—Election Day

A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler»

A Singer’s Notes 97: It’s Hot Outside—Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Clicks at Oldcastle Theatre, Bennington (Comments Off)

Tennessee Williams

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is an obsessive work which makes wildly different demands on its actors. Renata Eastlick as Maggie starts us off which what amounts to a twenty-five to thirty-minute monologue. She did this superbly. It was just overbearing enough. Listening to her was the excellent Loren Dunn who played her husband Brick, and he has scarcely ten lines in the play. Often he is reduced to single syllables.

Architecture - Urban Design»

Six Degrees, Six Degrees: Sydney Architecture in 2012 (Comments Off)

Darling Harbour with Philip Cox's Exhibition Centre to the right of the freeway. Photo © 2011 Alan Miller.

The other day I installed new brake rotors on my mountain bike [1]. They are beautiful; every scrap of stainless steel not required to withstand structural stress and the build up of heat has been removed. A laciness which could be mistaken for decoration is no more or no less than the result of form following function. As a chain is a chain and a tire inexorably a tire, so the rotors would cease to be themselves were they square or triangular, made of concrete or glass.

Architecture is not like this.

Art»

Two Weekends in the Country: The BSO and the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, the new Clark, Mass MoCA, and Boston Midsummer Opera’s Bartered Bride (Comments Off)

Andris Nelson conducts the BSO at Tanglewood. Photo Hilary Scott.

As life in the city slows down, life in the country west of Boston ratchets up. I went out to the Berkshires to catch as much as I could of Tanglewood’s fiftieth Festival of Contemporary Music, this year curated by Boston composers and longtime Tanglewood faculty members John Harbison (a composition fellow in 1959) and Michael Gandolfi (a fellow in 1986).

At the Bayreuth Festival»

Richard Wagner, Parsifal, directed by Stefan Herheim and conducted by Daniele Gatti, Bayreuther Festspiele (2010 Performance Reviewed) (Comments Off)

Parsifal (Christopher Ventris) and Amfortas (Detlef Roth) before the Bundestag in Act III. Photo Enrico Nawrath.

Ritual is everywhere in Wagner’s operas and music dramas. He even has his way of transforming crucial events in his stories into quasi-rituals through symbolism. Ritual is even more pervasive in his final work, his Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, which is in itself a ritual. The highly ritualized routines of the Grail knights connect their lives and the events of the drama with the continuum of the Grail’s history, back to the Last Supper. Their actions are highly deliberate, replete with the significance of faith and tradition. This creates a quasi-monastic environment in which life unfolds slowly, largely ceremonially, on the structure of a time-honored schedule, in which history and precedent are always present. The narrative unfolds with notable simplicity in terms of what occurs on stage, while beneath it, the backstory related in monologues seethes with incident, conflict, and misfortune. In addition to this dramatic foreground purified of trivialities, there is the pure transparency of Wagner’s score, consisting of simple thematic material set with surpassing clarity, delicacy, and harmonic subtlety. In this way Parsifal lives up to what we have been conditioned to expect from the late work of a great artist, and this is what we see and hear on the stage, if Wagner’s stage directions are observed.

Literature»

The Gore Vidal memorial at the Schoenfeld Theatre, New York, as I saw it… (Comments Off)

Elizabeth Ashley, Chris Ebersole (left) and Candice Bergen, Angelica Houston (right) read famous Gore Vidal one-liners at a noon-time tribute to the writer at the Schoenfeld Theatre today. Vidal died July 31 in Los Angeles at 86.

Most writers fall in love with their words. They greet changes to the text, particularly of a published work, with the blank astonishment of a mother confronted with criticism of her first-born child. This cannot be said of Gore Vidal, who died in Los Angeles at 86 on July 31st. I remember sitting in early rehearsals of the 2000 Broadway production of The Best Man and Vidal asking Jeffrey Richards, the lead producer, “Should I update the international references? Make them more contemporary?” He expected changes in his play and embraced them, but, in fact, there were very few in this production. Prickly references to China were as relevant in 2000 as they were when the play was set in the early ‘60s.

Commentary»

A Treasurable Account of Poe’s Last Hours from the Berkshire Theatre Group, with David Adkins and Kate Maguire, Closing 10/26 (0)

Mrs. O'Donnell (Kate Maquire) recites the "telltale Heart". Photo Christina Riley/

You can’t really blame the Berkshire Theatre Group for billing Eric Hill’s splendid entertainment, POE, as a Hallowe’en show. As the holiday approaches, Poe’s chilling stories and poems are rolled out in all the many forms they have assumed since their assimilation into two great cultural phenomena, American Literature and American Pop Culture, over the decades since their publication. In fact, however, POE, which most immediately revolves around the bizarre circumstances of the author’s demise, more directly concerns a far scarier day in the American calendar—Election Day

Dance»

Mark Morris’s Staging of Britten’s Curlew River and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at Tanglewood (Comments Off)

TMC Fellows perform Curlew River at Tanglewood 7.31.13 (Hilary Scott)6

Tanglewood produced many of the summer’s memorable outings, but with pieces which somehow seem easier for a big Symphony to bring across to a big audience in the summer and in the country; music, like every other living thing in New England, can be highly seasonal and very much of its own place and niche. Many of the programs drew from the theater — ballet music and concert opera especially, or from the church — and extremely fine and satisfying performances of Debussy’s Danses: sacré et profane, l’Après-midi d’un faune, Jeux, Charles Dutoit’s of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloë and Poulenc’s Stabat Mater, and one of Britten’s church parables Curlew River, to leave out many others, seem stick with me for a long time.

Film»

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, with Philip Seymour Hoffman (Comments Off)

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master

Apocalypse then.

As an act of recollection, The Master captures the Fifties with perfect pitch, all the more remarkable because the film’s creator wasn’t there. Two stories collide from opposite directions. One is the story of an invisible man, a World War II veteran who never recovers from combat. The other is a charlatan savant skimming the gullible and rising to become a cult leader, the Master of the title. One life has slipped through the cracks, as adrift as Okies in the Dust Bowl but desolately lonely. The other life is a round-the-clock power play to grab the golden ring.

Food & Drink»

With summer gone…Lagrein, Madiran, Garnacha, Cabernet…Chinon! (Comments Off)

September Tomatoes, Caretaker Farm, Williamstown, MA. Photo © 2005 Michael Miller.

With summer fading into the past, one compensation for earlier nightfalls and chillier water temperatures that limit swims to only intensely sunny midday outings is the pumped-up output happily spilling out of the vegetable garden. The squash vines have wound out into improbable places, and, if one pokes around under those umbrella-like leaves, there are plenty of butternut and spaghetti squashes playing hide and seek. Every day tomatoes are dropping off their stems. And suddenly there are lots of reasons for searching out some ripe, dense, maybe even rustic red wines to accompany all there is to eat.

Music»

A Singer’s Notes 93: Denève, the TMC Orchestra, and Berlioz; McGegan and Handel; Bernstein’s Candide at Tanglewood (Comments Off)

The BSO performs Candide with singers (l-r) Anna Christy, Nicholas Phan, Bramwell Tovey conduting, Richard Suart, Frederica von Stade, Paul LaRosa. Photo Hilary Scott.

The excellent Stephane Denève chose two works of Hector Berlioz for his TMCO concert. Wholly remarkable was a performance of Les Nuits d’Été. The maestro gave these songs a sound I’ve never heard before. It was ravishingly quiet to begin with, not unlike the nearly silent playing Simon Rattle can achieve in his Mahler performances. It was like something in the air. Even more unforgettable was the coaching he had done with the young singers, each a Fellow of the Tanglewood Music Center. So diaphanous was the orchestral environment for each of the songs, the young voices could merely whisper and be heard. “Au Cimitière” in particular benefitted from this. Sara Lemesh said the words as much as she spoke them.

Opera»

Glimmerglass 2013: A Retrospective (Comments Off)

Victoria Munro (center) with the children's chorus in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2013 production of David Lang's the little match girl passion. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

When I interviewed Francesca Zambello in 2011 she had just been named General and Artistic Director of the Glimmerglass Festival. Under her predecessor’s tenure, each opera season had a unifying “theme.”  Ms. Zambello quickly swore off such yearly festival themes as trite convention.  Yet, in 2012, as reported in this journal, one clearly felt the bristling fervency of social activism in every aspect of production.  That season was topped off with a provocative interview with Ruth Bader Ginsberg to a packed audience in her thrall at the Otesaga Hotel.  There were probably more law professors there that day than music lovers.  Her special appearance and the ethical themes woven into each opera production, made for a startling and refreshing season.  AidaMusic Man, Armide and most memorably, Lost in the Stars, were narratives, each quite unique, on the ethics of outworn societal patterns in the face of political, moral or economic change.

Photography»

W. B. Yeats and Ireland: Photographs, Music, and a Reading, with Dorien Staljanssens, James Cleveland, and Lloyd Schwartz—a Christmas Gift from The Berkshire Review (Comments Off)

Portrait of William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) by John Butler Yeats (1839-1922). National Gallery of Ireland.

In the spirit of the Twelve Days of Christmas as a time for quiet reflection and a turning inwards, we’d like to offer a gift of a recording of New York Arts‘s second performance event, held on June 1, 2013, at 7 pm, in connection with my own exhibition of photographs of Western Ireland at the Centerpoint Gallery in New York City: a reading/concert in which the acclaimed poet, Lloyd Schwartz, Senior Classical Music Editor of New York Arts, read poems by W. B. Yeats with interludes of traditional Irish music played by Dorien Staljanssens, flute, and James Cleveland, fiddle.

Places»

Seven Ways to Improve the Tour de France (Comments Off)

Cycling fans watch the opening time trial of Paris-Nice in Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, 3 March 2012. Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

I wouldn’t go so far as the three-time world-champion Óscar Friere, who reckons that the Tour de France is “the most boring race of the year” — has he ever watched the Tour of Qatar? — but this year’s race did make me wonder how many more like it the old institution can take. Institutionalization is the Tour’s great burden, or at least its double-edged sword. For the casual fan it is the ‘race of record,’ cycling itself. Those who follow the sport more closely understand that while the Tour is undeniably the most competitive, and therefore the most prestigious, among the three Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain, it often not the most interesting.

Podcasts»

An Interview with Wu Han and David Finckel: Life after the Emerson Quartet and an Upcoming Concert at South Mountain Concerts (Comments Off)

David Finckel and Wu Han. Photo 2013 Lisa Mazzucco.

Along with the retirement of the Tokyo String Quartet, the departure of David Finckel from the Emerson Quartet has been one of the most discussed events in the world of chamber music over the past eighteen months or so. As people who have heard their concerts know, both David Finckel and the Emerson Quartet, now with the British cellist, Paul Watkins, in place, are as rich as ever in their contributions to our well-being as humans. Wu Han and David Finckel spoke with me just today about their new post-Emerson life, which allows David to travel and play more regularly with Wu Han as a duo and as a trio with Emerson violinist Philip Setzer, who will join them at the venerable South Mountain Concerts on Sunday, September 29, 2013. They will play Beethoven Op. 1, No. 2, Shostakovich’s Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67, and Dvořák’s Trio in E Minor, Op. 90, the “Dumky.”

I hope you enjoy our conversation about their past, present, and future as much as I did.

Recordings»

Sviatoslav Richter (1915 – 1997) on Disc: Hunting the Snark (2)

Sviatoslav Richter in Old Age with Ankh

Angelic demon.

Two musical instruments rise above all others in their humanity — the violin, because it comes closest to imitating the singing voice, and the piano, because it comes closest to conveying human nature. As human nature is vast, so is pianism. You can sequester yourself from territory that is too hot, cold, angry, lustful, domineering, or terrifying. Some pianists base their whole career on safely walling off the troubling aspects of human perversity (Alfred Brendel comes to mind, with his ability to make even Liszt wipe off his shoes at the door), while only one has been courageous enough to venture without a care into heaven and hell.

Richard Wagner»

Un Vaisseau fantôme inoubliable à Montréal…mais comment tuer Senta? (Comments Off)

Senta et le Hollandais à L'Opéra de Montreál. Photo Gary Beechey.

Le but principal de cet article et de louer jusqu’au cieux une représentation tout à fait remarquable—inoubliable, dirais-je—du premier oeuvre canonique de Wagner, mais c’est bien une mise-en-scène contemporaine—une mise-en-scène laquelle rend justice aussi bien à la problématique sociale de 1840 qu’a celle de nos jours—surtout à propos de la rôle des femmes dans la famille, le mariage, les moeurs bourgeois, et l’argent. Dans ce contexte le problème qui me frappe d’abord est celui de la mort de Senta, parce qu’il semble que les metteurs en scène de nos jours se sentent fort mal à leur aise avec sa mort telle que Wagner l’avait conçue, où elle se jette dans les flots tourbillants nordiques. S’agit-il de la vraisemblance, du goût, ou bien des frais toujours montants de l’assurance qui découragent la saute d’une soprano importante même d’une distance de deux mètres? Voyons.

Theatre»

Kander and Ebb’s The Visit at the Williamstown Theatre Festival (Comments Off)

From left: Tom Nelis, Chita Rivera, Chris Newcomer. Photo © T Charles Erickson

Will the town kill him for the money? The townspeople initially proclaim that it’s not right but are too quickly seduced by the promise of riches and do the woman’s bidding. They rationalize it in the name of justice.