Celebration and Discovery: New Season Highlights Chopin Bicentennial with Works by Contemporaries

A Painting of Chopin

A smart blend of classical, contemporary, and cutting edge from October through May

Saturday, October 17 marks the beginning of the highly anticipated 2009-2010 Close Encounters With Music season in the Berkshires. In its 18th year, Close Encounters presents six innovative and captivating programs of chamber music, thirty performers, and more than twenty composers at South County’s premier venue, the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. To celebrate the Chopin anniversary year of 2009, Close Encounters will present two programs that include works by Chopin and his contemporaries: Liszt, Hummel, Field, Paganini, Bellini, and Donizetti. In addition, the Conversations With… series resumes on October 11 with “Music Rooms of the Gilded Age” and a “Chopin Hour” on April 25.

Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani will be joined by returning favorites and exciting newcomers to the Close Encounters roster of artists. Pianists Walter Ponce, James Tocco, Lydia Artymiw, and Adam Neiman; violinists Yehonatan Berick, Cordelia Hagemann, and Stefan Milenkovich; violist Toby Appel, and the Avalon Quartet, all familiar to Close Encounters audiences, will perform treasured masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire. Composer Jonathan Keren contributes a world premiere, his Bach-inspired chamber piece to be offered at the March concert. Artists making their first appearances with Close Encounters With Music include the violinists Lily Francis and Erin Keefe, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Houtzeel and English baritone Benjamin Luxon narrating A Soldier’s Tale! by Igor Stravinsky.

The concert season begins on Saturday, October 17, 6PM with Chopin in Paris: A toast to the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth, with Ballades, Mazurkas and Polonaises—framed by works of his contemporaries, including his friendly rival Franz Liszt. Acclaimed in every major concert hall throughout the world, and with a special affinity for Chopin and the Romantics, pianist Walter Ponce has been hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “magical.” Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition laureate Stephanie Houtzeel brings her vocal luster to arias by Donizetti and Bellini, whose operas influenced Chopin’s bel canto style, and to his rarely heard Polish songs.

The Conversations With… series opens Sunday, October 11, 2 PM with Music Rooms of the Gilded Age. Harvey Rosenberg, professor of the History of Interior Design and Architecture at FIT/SUNY for 25 years, and frequent lecturer at Parsons, Pratt and the New School of Interior Design, offers a slide presentation and discussion of how European design principles were incorporated into the Berkshire “cottages” of the Gilded Age. Ventfort Hall in Lenox, the Elizabethan Revival mansion built in 1893 for the sister of J.P. Morgan, provides the perfect setting for this event.

On Saturday, December 5, 6PM Close Encounters presents its annual holiday concert A Soldier’s Tale! Set to music by Igor Stravinsky, with a libretto based on a Russian folk tale, the much-loved l’Histoire du Soldat is a parable about a soldier who trades his fiddle to the devil for a get-rich-quick recipe. The music—orchestral color at the fore—is scored for a septet of strings, winds and percussion; and the story is told by a narrator, in this case renowned English baritone Benjamin Luxon. Virtuoso violinist Yehonatan Berick leads this performance and other holiday fare, with Willam Campbell, trumpet; Daniel Gilbert; clarinet; David Lee Jackson, trombone; Jeffrey Lyman, bassoon; Diana Gannett, bass; Joseph Gramley, percussion; and Yehuda Hanani, cello.

The Avalon String Quartet (“Engrossed, impassioned and imaginative…” –The New York Times) returns on Saturday, February 20, 6PM to offer A Night of Quartets, a striking program of works by Beethoven, Arensky, and Prokofiev, all mining overlapping Russian folkloric themes. The Opus 59 No. 2 Razumovsky Quartet represents the pinnacle of Beethoven’s quartet writing, revolutionary in character and symphonic in reach. Arensky’s arresting work is for two cellos, and Prokofiev’s Quartet No. 2 bears his infatuation with folk instruments. Yehuda Hanani joins the Quartet in the Arensky.

The Romantic Bach, on Saturday, March 20, 6PM features Bach through the filter of Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms (the brilliant Chaconne arrangement for left-hand piano) and Liszt, and unfiltered, in his own voice, in Suites and Partitas. Truly a composer for all seasons and for all times, Bach, like Shakespeare, emerges always relevant through different ages and treatments. A highlight of the program is the world premiere of a new neo-Bach chamber piece commissioned by CEWM in homage to his magisterial presence. Performers are Cordelia Hagemann, violin; James Tocco, piano; Yehuda Hanani, cello.

Saturday, April 24, 6 PM Chopin and His Circle will be a second evening celebrating the Chopin 200th anniversary. From John Field, father of the nocturne, who paved the way to Chopin’s masterworks of the genre, to Hummel, whose music Chopin heard in Poland and whose concerti he played, to August Franchomme, his cohort, and to the charismatic Paganini, a frequent collaborator, this program offers a spectrum of Chopin’s friends and mentors as well as his sublimely poignant, swoon-inducing Ballades and Nocturnes. Adam Neiman, a latter-day Romantic, elicits lavish praise for his Chopin—“Playing of wisdom and light” —The Washington Post. Joining Mr. Neiman are Stefan Milenkovich, violin; Yehuda Hanani, cello; Amy Gillingham, cello.

As a complement to the April 24 concert, Adam Neiman will host a Chopin Hour, the season’s second installment of Conversations With…, Sunday, April 26, 2 PM at the Hudson Opera House, Hudson, NY. Hailed as one of the premiere pianists of his generation, with a burgeoning international career, Mr. Neiman will demonstrate the special place Chopin holds in the instrument’s repertoire and how the composer revolutionized the world of piano, presenting particular challenges to the performer as he pushed piano technique to a level unsurpassed at the time. The Hudson Opera House, built in 1855—only six years after Chopin’s death in Paris, is one of the oldest surviving theaters in America. Another Frederic, Hudson River painter Frederic Church showed his works here; Bret Harte read his poems; and Susan B. Anthony rallied support for women’s suffrage.

Concluding the season will be Prague Spring—Czech Idyll on Saturday, June 5, 6 PM. From the land of Franz Kafka, bucolic landscapes, and Bohemian crystal, music by Dvořak, Smetana, and Janaček that glows with lyricism and melodiousness. Dvořak’s Piano Quintet is a recognized masterpiece and, along with the other selections, it overflows with Mittel-europäische ease, cultivation, and affecting tenderness. It’s never too far from the Czech countryside and a languid summer’s evening. The stellar performers are Lydia Artymiw, piano; Erin Keefe, violin; Lily Francis, violin; Toby Appel, viola; Yehuda Hanani, cello.

Close Encounters continues its tradition of commentary before each performance and of inviting the entire audience to a reception to meet the artists immediately following the concerts.

Tickets, $35 (and $40 for the June 5, 2009 concert) for adults and $10 for students, are available at The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center box office, 413.528.0100, or through Close Encounters With Music at 800-843-0778 or by emailing [email protected]. Subscriptions are $150 for a series of 6 concerts, $130 for seniors (65+). Please visit our website at www.cewm.org.

Chopin in Paris Saturday, October 17, 6 PM
Soldier’s Tale: Holiday Concert! Saturday, December 5, 6 PM
A Night of Quartets Saturday, February 20, 6 PM
The Romantic Bach Saturday, March 20, 6 PM
Chopin and His Circle Saturday, April 24, 6 PM
Prague Spring—Czech Idyll Saturday, June 5, 6 PM

These six performances at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Tickets for the two Conversations with… events are $25 which includes light refreshments:
Music Rooms of the Gilded Age Sunday, October 11, 2 PM at Ventfort Hall, Lenox, Massachusetts
Chopin Hour Sunday, April 26, 2 PM at the Hudson Opera House, Hudson, New York

“A chamber music series on a par with anything heard at the height of the season. For this, we year-rounders are blessed.” —Rogovoy Report

“There’s a palpable mystique about these Close Encounters concerts.” —Berkshire Eagle

“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.”
—Albany Times Union

“An all-star lineup…CEWM’s usual high caliber.” —Metroland