The Berkshire Eagle – Grammy-nominated beatbox artist kicks off Close Encounters With Music’s 30th season: Season will transport audiences to Berlin, Paris and New York in the 1920s, to Havana for flamenco dancing

Christlez Bacon Performing

By Emily Thurlow, Eagle correspondent Nov 16, 2021

GREAT BARRINGTON — When a chamber music event is mentioned, mental associations don’t tend to include hip-hop or flamenco, but the upcoming season of Close Encounters with Music might change that.

In celebration of its 30th anniversary, Close Encounters With Music is launching into a season that will transport its audience to Berlin, Paris and New York in the 1920s, to Havana for flamenco dancing and back with Grammy-nominated beatbox artist Christylez Bacon.

In addition to the milestone, Close Encounters returns to in-person performances, said Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani.

“We are emerging from this prolonged hibernation that was imposed on us by COVID-19, and it is a very special feeling,” said Yehuda. “Our grand reopening concert on Nov. 21 features works with absolutely universal appeal — Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music, French film composer Claude Bolling’s Suite for Cello and Jazz Trio, Gershwin and the amazing rapper Christylez Bacon, who will regale us with his unusual talents as a human beatbox [oral percussion]. In effect, he continues the oral tradition of storytelling through his lyrics.

“We are returning to the concert stage with redoubled enthusiasm, and with programs more innovative and more exciting than ever.”

Last season, “Music Undefeated!,” musicians performed in front of an empty house, with live performances presented virtually. While the pandemic forced Close Encounters to adapt to the unforeseen circumstances, what was discovered was that people from all over the world — from Phoenix to Chicago to Florida to even Korea and China — tuned in for concerts, said Hannah Hanani, vice president and secretary on Close Encounters’ board of directors. As such, Close Encounters will continue to provide a virtual experience for those who cannot be there in person.

In organizing such a presentation of composers and instruments across styles and genres, Yehuda Hanani likened his process to that of a gourmet chef preparing a menu.

“You try to harmonize the seven concerts and make sure that they flow, and provide a certain continuation and variety, all at the same time,” he said. “We frame each concert with a theme — not necessarily being a musical theme. It could be a social or historical theme, of or relating to painting or literature, and it brings the audience into the music in different ways, in through different doors. People have always told me that they listen differently once they’ve heard this introduction.”

Yehuda was among one of the very first performers to offer an introduction, which was considered rather revolutionary at the time, which is now done everywhere, said Hannah Hanani.

“Thirty years ago people were just stringing together disparate pieces just because they liked the pieces,” she said. “There wasn’t a cohesive theme, so, he’s really been a visionary.”

The process also taps into Hannah’s background of journalism, as it requires a lot of sleuthing, said Yehuda Hanani.

Through their decades of research, the Hananis have uncovered forgotten composers of the past and discovered, for example, Eduard Franck, a student of Felix Mendelssohn, and introduced his music to the U.S. Hannah Hanani described how she “followed the trail” to find detailed records after working with librarians in Pittsburgh and New York.

“Once you have the material, you decide what you do want and you go with it,” she said.

Flamenco Dancing
Classical Spanish and flamenco dancer and choreographer Irene Rodriguez has been the leading figure of Spanish dance in Cuba and will usher that in a performance of Musica Latina on June 12.

Upcoming guest participants for this season include the most recent Van Cliburn Competition Gold Medalist, Yekwon Sunwoo; Liang Wang, first oboe of the New York Philharmonic; Itamar Zorman, a Tchaikovsky Competition award-winning violinist; opera, lieder and choral vocalists; flamenco and classical guitarists; and returning favorites on piano and strings. The season begins at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, with performers, including Bacon, pianist Michael Chertock, violinist Xiao-Dong Wang, double bass James Cammack, percussionist Arti Dixson and cellist Yehuda Hanani.

Yehuda Hanani added that Schoenfield’s runaway classical hit, Café Music for piano trio, sets the tone for an especially celebratory reopening. Café Music combines elements of classical, jazz, klezmer and whimsy. Claude Bolling’s musings in the Suite for Cello and Jazz Trio offer up interpolations of boogie-woogie and ragtime with Baroque underpinnings; Gershwin is represented with his Three Preludes for Piano; and includes a benediction from Beethoven (Romance No. 2 in F Major for violin and piano).

If you go

What: Café Music — Jazz, Rap and Grand Reopening

Who: Michael Chertock, piano; Xiao-Dong Wang, violin; Christylez Bacon, hip-hop artist; Artie Dixson, percussion; James Cammack, double bass; Yehuda Hanani, cello

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts, Great Barrington

Admission: $52, orchestra and mezzanine seats; $28, balcony seats; $15 students

Information and tickets: 413-528-0100;

COVID-19 safety protocols: Proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results within 48 hours, photo ID and masks will be required.


The Roaring Twenties — Berlin, Paris, New York

When: 4 p.m. Dec. 12

What: A tribute to the decade of artistic dynamism in theater, film, art and music almost unparalleled in cultural history.

Who: Heather Johnson, mezzo-soprano; William Ferguson, tenor; Ieva Jokubaviciute, piano; and Yehuda Hanani, cello

Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center

Tickets: $52, orchestra and mezzanine seats; $28, balcony seats; $15 students

Folk and Baroque

When: 6 p.m. Feb. 22

What: From High Baroque to village dances, South American indigenous flavors and ethereal liturgical music, and from the jig to the tango — a program bridging worlds that grew out of common ground.

Who: Eliot Fisk, guitar; Emily Marvosh, contralto; and Yehuda Hanani, cello

Where: St. James Place, Great Barrington

Tickets: $52 general seating; $15 students

A Night of Chopin and Brahms: Presenting Van Cliburn Gold Medalist Yekwon Sunwoo

When: 4 p.m. March 22

What: Some of the most astounding keyboard music ever written, Chopin’s Four Scherzi, which possess an almost demonic power and energy, receive a masterful performance by Yekwon Sunwoo, the most recent Cliburn laureate.

Who: Yekwon Sunwoo, piano; Daniel Phillips, violin; Daniel Panner, viola; and Yehuda Hanani, cello

Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center

Tickets: $52, orchestra and mezzanine seats; $28, balcony seats; $15 students

Skylark A Cappella Vocalists: Hidden Symbols, Secret Codes

When: 6 p.m. April 30

What: What might happen if Robert Langdon of “The Da Vinci Code” were enlisted to explore hidden symbols, secret codes and long-forgotten historical connections buried in manuscripts of choral music over the centuries? Join Grammy-nominated Skylark to find out.

Featuring video introductions by author Dan Brown and stunning new music by Gregory W. Brown.

Who: Skylark Ensemble; Matthew Guard, conductor

Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center

Tickets: $52, orchestra and mezzanine seats; $28, balcony seats; $15 students

Reeds and Strings

When: 4 p.m. May 29

What: Liang Wang, first oboist of the New York Philharmonic, leads the way from Mozart’s Oboe Quartet to Cimarosa’s Oboe Concerto and Britten’s Six Metamorphosis after Ovid, which will be accompanied by historic classical paintings of the mythological tales.

Who: Liang Wang, oboe; Itamar Zorman, violin; Michael Strauss, viola; and Yehuda Hanani, cello

Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center

Tickets: $52, orchestra and mezzanine seats; $28, balcony seats; $15 students

Musica Latina

When: 4 p.m. June 12

What: Classical Spanish and Flamenco dancer and choreographer Irene Rodriguez, a leading figure of Spanish dance in Cuba, performs new dance work specifically choreographed for Close Encounters.

Who: Irene Rodriguez, dancer and choreographer; Giola Schmidt, violin; Max Levinson, piano; Cristian Puig, flamenco guitar; and Yehuda Hanani, cello

Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center

Tickets: $52, orchestra and mezzanine seats; $28, balcony seats; $15 students

See the original The Berkshire Eagle article here.