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

Image of Yahuda Hanani Playing the Cello

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

In its 17th season in the Berkshires, Close Encounters With Music offers up six innovative and captivating programs of chamber music, forty-five performers, and more than thirty composers at South County’s premier venue, the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. To celebrate the Mendelssohn anniversary year of 2009, Close Encounters will present two programs that include works by Clara and Robert Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, Frédéric Chopin, and the all but unknown Eduard Franck, a prolific composer whose works have not been in circulation for over a hundred years. An accomplished pianist and renowned teacher, his professional circle overlapped that of his teacher, Mendelssohn. The February and May concerts will introduce several of his works to the American public—the masterful String Sextet No. 1 in E-flat major, op. 41; the Piano Trio in E-flat major, op. 22; and a selection of his brilliant solo piano pieces.

Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani will be joined by returning well-loved musicians and exciting newcomers to the Close Encounters roster of artists. Pianists James Tocco and Adam Neiman, violinists Yehonatan Berick and Shmuel Ashkenasi, and the Amernet Quartet, all familiar to Close Encounters audiences, will perform treasured masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire. The superb 12-member Rose Ensemble will return with a holiday program of folkloric American melodies. Composer Stephen Dankner again contributes a world premiere, his klezmer-inspired String Quintet to be offered at the March concert. Artists making their first appearances include the Avalon String Quartet, violinist Stefan Milenkovich, and harpsichordist Aya Hamada.

The season begins on Saturday, October 18, 6PM with Crown Jewels: A Musical Tour through Europe’s Princely Courts, a glittering evening of Baroque and Classical works for chamber orchestra and soloists, written for Europe’s most musically voracious rulers. Esteemed soloists join the Camerata San Marco, the virtuosic all-woman string orchestra, in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D minor; Mozart’s “Musical Joke;” Bach’s Double Concerto for two violins; and Italian gems from Corelli and Vivaldi. Soloists include Jonathan Keren and Cordelia Hagmann, violins; and Yehuda Hanani, cello.

The superb 12-member Rose Ensemble returns for its annual holiday concert on Saturday, December 6, 6PM presenting An American Holiday Tapestry, a performance in which the group reincarnates itself in the 17th and 18th centuries on American shores. Traditional Acadian and Scottish dance music, Shaker melodies, spirituals, wassail songs, and colonial Jewish synagogue hymns are featured. The remarkably broad selection also includes Mexican Baroque and Hawaiian selections with mandolin and vihujela de mano accompaniment, as well as guitar, Native American flute, and foot stomping!

On Saturday, February 21, 6PM, pianist James Tocco and violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi join Yehuda Hanani in the first of two programs entitled Celebrating Mendelssohn—and Discovering Eduard Franck. The astonishingly versatile composer-pianist-conductor-painter Felix Mendelssohn has come to personify genius and musical prodigy. The celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth begins with a tribute to his inner circle: Clara and Robert Schumann’s timeless piano favorites, the darkly romantic Chopin Cello Sonata, and the “other” Mendelssohn Piano Trio in C minor, exquisite and richly melodic. Finally, the program will include an unknown treasure by Mendelssohn’s student—the American premiere of a piano trio by Eduard Franck, a distinguished composer overlooked by history.

“I am honored to be part of the revival of such a worthy composer, and to rectify an unfortunate historical omission,” says Yehuda Hanani, who was introduced to first editions of Franck’s chamber music scores by his descendants in Germany. “Whether because he published his works late in life, or because his innate reticence and lack of self-promotion contributed to the neglect of his output, his is a voice that should be heard.”

The Amernet Quartet returns on Saturday, March 28, 6PM to join maestro Hanani for A Night of Quintets. Schubert’s heavenly last word—and by current consensus, the ultimate statement in chamber music—the Quintet in C major anchors a program of works for string quartet with the addition of guest cello. The combination imparts rich textures to an evening that includes Boccherini’s sprightly Rococo Quintet in C major, and the premiere of a klezmer-inspired quintet by Williamstown composer Stephen Dankner.

The remarkable pianist Adam Neiman will be joined by violinist Stefan Milenkovich and Mr. Hanani for Beethoven and Shostakovich on Saturday, April 25, 6PM. The most uplifting and heart-wrenching—this evening will offer an exercise in extremes, a juxtaposition of the Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2, a wartime elegy for a world gone mad, and Beethoven’s Olympic “Archduke” Trio.

Concluding the season will be the second installment of Celebrating Mendelssohn—and Discovering Eduard Franck on Saturday, May 30, 6PM. Close Encounters’ annual gala finale will present Felix Mendelssohn’s sparkling Songs Without Words and Variations—two forms Mendelssohn brought to their highest points, Robert Schumann’s majestic Piano Quartet in E-flat major, op. 47, and a sampling of Frédéric Chopin’s ballades, mazurkas, and polonaises. Also featured will be works by Fanny Mendelssohn, and the American premiere of the masterful String Sextet No. 1 by Eduard Franck, Felix’s student and friend, with the Avalon String Quartet, pianist James Tocco, violinist Yehonatan Berick, and cellist Yehuda Hanani.

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

In addition, a special children’s concert, An American Quilt for Kids: Living in “Harmony,” will be offered on Sunday, December 7, 9:30AM at the Chatham, NY Middle School. While helping kids to discover the diversity of American musical styles that makes for an exciting and colorful US, the Rose Ensemble’s light-hearted and informative presentation will connect each individual to past generations through songs, instruments, and stories—a holiday treat for families, in collaboration with the Spencertown Academy Arts Center.

Close Encounters With Music will also continue its series Conversations With…, presenting Seth Rogovoy, “cultural czar” of WAMC Northeast Public Radio who will speak on “The Marriage of Classical and Klezmer,” Sunday, December 14, 2 PM, at the Lenox Athenaeum, and composer Judith Lang Zaimont, editor-in-chief of the critically acclaimed series The Musical Woman: An International Perspective presenting Fanny Mendelssohn—A Room of Her Own on Sunday, March 15, 2 PM, at the Lenox Athenaeum. $25 includes light refreshment at both events.

Tickets, $35 (and $40 for the May 30, 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. Visit our website at www.cewm.org.

Crown Jewels Saturday, October 18, 6 PM
An American Holiday Tapestry Saturday, December 6, 6 PM
Celebrating Mendelssohn I Saturday, February 21, 6 PM
A Night of Quintets Saturday, March 28, 6 PM
Beethoven and Shostakovich Saturday, April 25, 6 PM
Celebrating Mendelssohn II Saturday, May 30, 6 PM
These six performances at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington

“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