Sigourney Weaver participated in the Ozawa Hall performance “Measure for Measure: Shakespeare in Music” reading texts of the Bard and performing in the world premiere of a work by Kenji Bunch.
Where Music Meets Ideas
Mission and Offerings
Our Mission is to engage the imagination of diverse concert audiences in a welcoming setting; connect listeners to performers and composers; foster the excitement and sense of community that live performance arts builds; and turn performances into intellectually enriching and educational and artistically uplifting experiences.
We present internationally celebrated soloists in thematic chamber music performances; stimulating music-oriented lectures with notable figures; galas and special-themed celebrations October-June. Entertaining, erudite, lively commentary by artistic director Yehuda Hanani puts composers and their times in perspective to enrich and enlighten the concert experience. Our immersive educational residency for string players, pianists and vocalists, Berkshire High Peaks Festival, is held in the summer.
Three decades ago, Close Encounters’ artistic director and cellist Yehuda Hanani began presenting thematic concerts of chamber music with commentary—at the time a novel and innovative format that has since become ubiquitous in the concert hall. In addition to tours that have taken the series to cities such as Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Milwaukee, Omaha, Calgary, Kansas City, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Close Encounters presents concerts each season in the Berkshires. To date, over 100 themes have been explored in the series’ programs. A core group of leading artists appears regularly as guests at Close Encounters concerts: pianists Lydia Artymiw, Ieva Jokubaviciute, Soyeon Kate Lee, Michele Levin, Max Levinson, Walter Ponce, Roman Rabinovich and James Tocco; Violinists Shmuel Ashkenasi, Miriam Fried, Vadim Gluzman, Soovin Kim, Irina Muresanu, Julian Rachlin, Hagai Shaham, Peter Zazofsky, Itamar Zorman, and Yehonatan Berick; clarinetists Alexander Fiterstein and Charles Neidich; vocalists Kelley O’Connor, Jennifer Rivera, Dawn Upshaw, Jennifer Zetlan, and William Sharp; the Ariel, Avalon, Amernet, Borromeo, Dover, Escher, Muir, Manhattan, and Hugo Wolf quartets, and Cuarteto Latinoamericano; and guitarist Eliot Fisk, pipa player Liu Fang and Acronym Baroque among others. Choreographer David Parsons and actors Sam Waterston, Richard Chamberlain, Jane Alexander, and Sigourney Weaver have also appeared as guests, weaving narration and dance into the fabric of the programs.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH MUSIC has also been a commissioning organization and has worked with some of the most outstanding composers of our day: Osvaldo Golijov’s (whose Pasion was declared by the Boston Globe to be the “first masterpiece of the 21st century”) How Slow The Wind, composed for soprano Dawn Upshaw and string quartet and presented during 2001, is already firmly established in the repertoire. In 2002, CEWM collaborated with the David Parsons Dance Company on a new work for musicians and dancers (including Chicago star Desmond Richardson) that received its world premiere at Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood and its New York City premiere at the Joyce Theater. Responding to an environmental threat in the Hudson Valley and environs, Close Encounters commissioned two-time Grammy-award winner John Musto to write River Songs, a cycle for baritone, cello and piano on a range of texts connecting humans to nature and to its waterways.
In addition to a full performance schedule, CEWM has presented master classes and concerts for children. Monkey, a new theater piece for kids by Matthew Guerrieri and based on a 15th-century Buddhist tale, received its world premiere in 2005. In 2000, a Close Encounters CD label was launched. Its 2002 release, Dazzle & Nostalgia, was hailed by Strad Magazine for its “élan and panache…elegant and sparkling.”
Jorge Martin’s Hollywood Variations, written as an homage to composer Leonard Rosenman—based on his original love theme from the James Dean film East of Eden—was premiered on both coasts. Also in the 2004 season, Russian composer Lera Auerbach’s Last Letter received its world premiere in the opening season of the newly restored vaudeville-era Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, MA. Celebrating the rich cultural history of the Berkshires, CEWM has developed stimulating chamber music programs highlighting the Gilded Age, Edith Wharton and Edna St. Vincent Millay.
CEWM presented the world premiere of American composer Paul Schoenfield’s Refractions trio for clarinet, cello and piano, included in an all-Schoenfield CD recorded for Naxos. Other new commissions have looked to Cuban influences (Jorge Martin’s jazz–inflected piece for accordion, percussion and cello), Klezmer roots (Stephen Dankner’s Klezmer Quintet) and Song of Songs (Lior Navok’s Spring Calls).
CEWM helped rectify the historical neglect of Mendelssohn’s student and colleague Eduard Franck with performances at Merkin Hall in New York City, Detroit and Cincinnati as well as the Berkshires, performing some of his superb works for the first time in 150 years.
Close Encounters With Music returned to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and brought its original programming to the Frick Collection in New York City. A CD of Jorge Martin’s cello works in various combinations—solo, with piano, accordion and percussion—was released in July 2011 by Albany Records. Naxos released a recording of Eduard Franck chamber music in 2012 with artistic director Yehuda Hanani, pianist James Tocco, and violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi. The newest recording project is a CD of original guitar and cello arrangements with Eliot Fisk and Yehuda Hanani, released by Albany Records.
CEWM commissioned new works by Robert Beaser and Paul Schoenfield (Shaatnez for Ady), and again in 2015 (Zemer).
CEWM marked the centenary of the granting of the vote to women in NY State with a “Celebration Quilt,” featuring new commissions from Thea Musgrave and Judith Zaimont. In 2017 CEWM marked the centenary of the granting of the vote to women in NY State with a “Celebration Quilt,” featuring new commissions from Thea Musgrave and Judith Zaimont. Close Encounters With Music is particularly proud of its innovative educational programs—Conversations With, a series of talks with notable writers, artists, and thinkers and the Berkshire High Peaks Music Festival, a teaching and performance summer festival now in its 12th year, as well as its community outreach efforts, audience enrichment activities, and artist development initiatives.
Faced with the challenge of the worldwide pandemic, Close Encounters was among the first music organizations to pivot to the internet with free virtual performances throughout the season, an online High Peaks Festival and outdoor concerts at Berkshire cultural sites.
“CLOSE ENCOUNTERS—a celebration of the uncommon in chamber music!”
“…one of the most interesting—and intimate—concert series around. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH MUSIC Artistic director and cellist Yehuda Hanani has a knack for creating theme programs that explore various aspects of music with the help of some notable performers.”
“Great music played with great heart.”
“Hanani is the supreme master builder of thematic programming.”
“The blending of Hanani’s personality and Bach’s provided an exhilarating conclusion to the evening.”
“The Mahaiwe Theatre was thronged…’Orpheus and His Lyre’ emerged as an idea of substance, as well as popular appeal….The afternoon never failed to fascinate.”
“There’s a palpable mystique about these Close Encounters concerts.”
“A Soldier’s Story,’ … was an intriguing project, and a noble effort–exuberant theatrical adventure… Stravinsky’s winsomely galloping waltzes, polkas and marches framing the dialogues were in superb hands with the ensemble.”
The New York Times
RESCUING NEGLECTED COMPOSERS
“ Mr. Hanani’srich tone and thoughtful phrasing made a powerful case for it [Eduard Franck Sonata for Cello and Piano] in a performance that had a convincing subtext: The 19th-century cello repertory is not so vast that cellists (or their admirers) should neglect works this opulently lyrical….Soulful, fiery performance of Mendelssohn Piano Trio No. 2.”
“The Berkshires are home to distinguished cultural events, but none so brilliant, perhaps, as the chamber music series, Close Encounters With Music.”
“CEWM patrons have learned that sooner or later they’ll be blindsided by a performance so sublime it will defy explanation.”
Kansas City Star
“Spontaneity, sophistication and gritty music-making….Hanani’s congenial manner and entertaining anecdotes succeeded in bringing the audience closer to the music.”
“Audiences at the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH MUSIC series have come to expect the unexpected…..This series demonstrates the important lesson that great music-making does not require superstars from the classical music world.”
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
“CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH MUSIC opened its season with a typically imaginative, ambitious program.”
“STUNNER CLOSES SEASON!”
“Though Hanani, Prutsman and Upshaw all performed with that rare combination of mutual understanding and technical finesse which makes for the most satisfying chamber music, Hanani deserves special recognition for his astute program choices.”
“Close Encounters with Music, under the direction of cellist Yehuda Hanani, began its 19th season Saturday night with a leap of faith that paid off in a stunning performance by the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin.”
“The Close Encounters performers were all outstanding, and just to hear them was justification enough for this concert, but the interesting mix of music and imaginative choreography of the whole event, plus Hanani’s helpful comments, made for a very satisfying evening.”
“The program provided stellar performances…played with passion and pathos…”
“It was a brilliant way to kick off a season…demonstrating it to be a chamber music series on a par with anything heard at Tanglewood at the height of the season. For this, we year-rounders are blessed.”
“The Close Encounters With Music series, coming up on its 20th anniversary, scored another success on Saturday night with a program of works performed by the Avalon Quartet at the Mahaiwe that variously addressed the relationship between speech and music.”
WAMC Northeast Radio
“The Close Encounters classical music series is well known for its adventurous, innovative programming. Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani struck gold by presenting a remarkable evening of rarely-heard medieval and Renaissance-era vocal music…The performers were rewarded with a highly enthusiastic ovation by the 400-plus concert-goers.”
“Must see concerts…the mind-and heart-engaging Close Encounters With Music series.”
“The series is designed not only to entertain but also to educate, enhancing listeners’ experience of the music via accessible themes, layman-friendly analysis, and behind-the-scenes details and anecdotes that add color and context to the work.”
“An all-star lineup…CEWM’s usual high caliber.”