Berkshire High Peaks Festival Preview

Entering its ninth summer, the High Peaks Festival has switched peaks: After years in the Catskills, the educational program of Close Encounters With Music (CEWM) has taken up residence in the Berkshires.

From August 6 through 16, the halls of the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass., will be filled with the sounds of some 50 earnest, aspiring chamber musicians — cellists, violinists, violists, and pianists – studying with 14 master professionals. Both students and faculty come from “every corner of the world,” said founder and artistic director Yehuda Hanani.

The Berkshire School became available with the departure this year of the Berkshire Choral Festival, and Hanani was eager to have the High Peaks Festival “closer to home,” specifically to tap into the audience and supporters of the Berkshire-based CEWM.

Each festival has a theme, and this year’s is “the cross-influence of French and Russian culture and art” in the 19th and 20th centuries. Especially in the early 20th, “Paris was filled with Russian exiles — Diaghilev (impresario and founder of the Ballet Russes), Prokofiev, Stravinsky and others.” At the same time, “French was the language of the Russian intelligentsia.”

The 11-day program will include a wide array of concerts, talks, and master classes that will all be open to the public. Nearly every evening will feature a moon-light sonata, a performance by the talented student musicians. At least two concerts will be performed by faculty, and there may be programs mixing faculty and students.

Hanani touted the “family atmosphere” of the festival. “We eat together, take walks, faculty and students living in close proximity.” And he invited visitors to “join us on any level they want.”

“People are interested in seeing what happens in the kitchen before you put a meal on,” comparing that to “how a musical work is put together. So master classes are very popular, and people are welcome to sit in.”

For Hanani, the greatest satisfaction is the international flavor. “I find it moving to see barriers disappearing between cultures, languages. Students sit together and make music. Nothing else matters. It goes beyond music, beyond borders or political disagreements. It’s a reminder of the power of music.”

“Someday,” he half-joked, “We may have the festival at the U.N.”