The Berkshire Review for the Arts as a name justifies itself easily enough. The county is famous for its music, dance, and theater festivals, its art galleries and museums. A respectable tourist industry has grown up around it, and quite a few people, upon retirement, buy summer houses, at least, in the region specifically to enjoy its cultural resources. New initiatives get started every year. Recently artists and writers, driven from New York and Boston by prohibitive expenses, have been flocking to the area to try it out. Elaine Fine, musician and blogger, the daughter of a Boston Symphony violist, who spent every summer of her childhood at Tanglewood in the sixties and early seventies, tells me that it wasn’t always so. Back then it seemed that Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow ruled here alone in splendid isolation. For example, on the weekend of September 14 which was already in the off-season, there was the sort of wealth of choices that one would have found only in a decent-sized city not too long ago, and the critic is forced to make some uncomfortable choices in deciding what to cover.
There should surely be enough in chronicling these local events, in which figures with reputations in London, Tokyo, and New York are appearing in small-town churches, college museums, a purpose-built chamber music hall on the outskirts of a depressed county seat, and, most strangely of all, a state-of-the-art concert hall built only a few years ago to a design by our most publicly celebrated architect on another college campus. This sketch, based on the events I mentioned, exceeds the offical boundaries of the region, including southern Vermont and the east bank of the Hudson, giving away the fact that I have adopted an extended notion of the Berkshires, perhaps arbitrarily, perhaps following an idea that the intellectual limits of the region in fact reach beyond state lines.
This summer and the year before, I included events as far east as Peterborough, New Hampshire, as far north as Putney, Vermont, as far south as Norfolk, Connecticut, and as far west as the Hudson, where Bard College sits on its rolling estate. The magnets which draw my attention are mostly academic, Bennington, Williams, Bard, the Five Colleges, and Yale, which sends its music faculty into rural seclusion at the western edge of Connecticut, and Peterborough is adjacent to the MacDowell Colony.
The winter finds me not only at home in Williamstown, or in places like Amherst, Northamption, Albany, Troy, or back again in Annandale, but in New York and Boston, following the tracks of the summer visitors back to the cities where their tastes developed, as did my own. True enough, the Berkshires as we know it today are an urban phenomenon. Without the seasoned wealth of New York and Boston, which brought prominent chamber musicians to the area in the early twentieth century, then in the 1930’s members of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony, and then the Boston Symphony Orchestra, along with their music director, Serge Koussevitzky, who saw in this summer festival an opportunity to realize an American version of a dream he had for Moscow many years before, while the patrons saw it as an American Salzburg Festival. (The more I learn about Koussevitzky, the more I am amazed by his power as a visionary.) Jacob’s Pillow and the Berkshire Theater Festival both arose around the same time and under similar circumstances. Sterling and Francine Clark’s eccentric notion of building a proper public museum in Williamstown came somewhat later. Today scholars from all over the world fly in to participate in Clark events, scratching their head in wonderment at how they ended up in such a remote corner of the woods and hills.
Note that Eva LeGallienne, Ted Shawn, and Serge Koussevitzky were people who took their work seriously and strove for the highest standards. However times may have changed, people come to the Berkshires specifically for this “high art,” a diversion closely associated in American popular tradition with elite educations and elite bank accounts. However much Ted Shawn and Leonard Bernstein may have mitigated it, there is an unmistakable element of eurocentrism in it, another quality deplored by anti-elitists.
I understand the Berkshires more as an intellectual phenomenon than as lines on a map. Even politically, Berkshire County feels the pull of Albany and Montpellier almost as strongly as that of Boston—Howard Dean’s joke aside. As a person who grew up in New York City and spent most of his maturity in Cambridge, I see the Berkshires as the confluence of the two cultures, which are still fundamentally different. Even though the arts in Boston have expanded to an inconceivable extent over the past generation, they have grown in different directions than in New York, as is shown clearly enough in the Boston Early Music Festival and the Boston Center for the Arts. Almost as if it were part of Koussevitzky's plan, his Bostonian protégé, Leonard Bernstein, made his mark in New York, achieving things which inherently belonged to New York, and exercising a transformative influence on American music. If you attend a few Tanglewood Music Center performances and hear its immensely gifted Fellows at work, you’ll see this continuing today.
Williamstown with its blue chip liberal arts college is quite different from Pittsfield or Lenox or Sheffield or Great Barrington, but all in their way have acquired an international character, particularly as more and more people settle here from cities. The inhabitants of these towns are more likely to know and care about what happens in Paris or Moscow or Mumbai than most Americans. For that reason The Berkshire Review for the Arts, while reporting routinely about local events, will keep an eye on the world at large. In other words, I see the Berkshires as an open community with connections all around the world, than as a self-contained region.
Submissions are always welcome, above all by contributors writing about their own area of expertise. Please send a proposal first. At present we do not consider unsolicited fiction and poetry.
You should also anticipate a few changes in design and organization, as the bugs are worked out over the next few weeks. Your comments will always be appreciated.
Huntley Dent is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Santa Fe.
Renee Dumouchel, currently the Marketing Manager at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, was trained in classical ballet, jazz and modern dance at Williams College, Jacob's Pillow and the American Dance Festival and continues her dance training and performance at various studios in NYC. She received a dual degree in Studio Art and English Literature from Williams College in 2003, and is an avid patron of the arts. In her spare time she endeavors to further her work as a photographer, videographer and choreographer, with particular interest in the liminal spaces between performer and audience.
Heidi Holder is trained in dramatic literature and theater history, and currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She has published essays on British, American, Irish, and Canadian drama; her performance reviews have appeared in Theatre Journal. When not teaching or attending productions she is engaged in a study of Victorian working-class theater--plays highly unlikely ever to be staged again.
Alan Miller, architect, a graduate, Sydney University after earning his BA in film from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. A fanatical cyclist, he recently won the singlespeed category of a 100k mountain bike race in New South Wales. He reports on cycling, film, architecture, politics, and other sports in his letters from Sydney.
Lucas Miller, a graduate of Edinburgh Academy, has written short stories and essays, some published in the 2006 issue of the journal Somewhere Between. His reviews of The Importance of Being Earnest and Tim Supple's Indian production of Midsummer Night's Dream have been among our most popular.
Michael Miller, editor/publisher, was trained as a classicist and art historian, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews of art exhibitions and classical music to Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and Berkshire Fine Arts, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review for the Arts, he teaches courses related to classics and art history at New York University and elsewhere, writes fiction and pursues photographic work in Williamstown, Massachusetts. More to come!
Web design by Michael Miller, with advice from Richard Harrington gratefully acknowledged.