Sunday, July 23, 2017

Hail and Farewell

Last night was the final performance ever of the Berkshire Choral International Festival in Sheffield. After 36 years, they will no longer perform at the Berkshire School. David was singing in the chorus for this performance and has had a busy week of preparation at the school.

For the final work. they decided to do the Verdi Requiem. Last week we heard the Mahler 8th Symphony. Both works are gigantic and require enormous resources, which the Institute can provide.

The Verdi was conducted by Tom Hall, who three years ago did the St. John Passion of Bach at the Festival. Last year I felt his Bach was not in what one thinks of as Baroque style. How can one do Bach with 300 singers? This year's choice made a little more sense, considering the large chorus that the Festival provides. The Springfield Symphony again provided the orchestral support.

Image result for jennifer check soprano      Jennifer Check

The soloists were Jennifer Check, soprano, Ann McMahon Quintero, mezzo-soprano, John Bellemer, tenor, and Kevin Deas, bass-baritone. Unfortunately they did not prove to be a well balanced quartet for the many ensemble movements of the work. 

The excellent lecturer again was Laura Stanfield Prichard.

Image result for ann mcmahon quintero Ann McMahon Quintero
Ms. Quintero had the voice that seemed most suited to Verdi; a robust, well focused sound with the necessary vocal range for the mezzo role.

Ms.Check, on the other hand, did not. The voice was too small and did not soar over the chorus as it should have. Of course, when one has Leontyne Price in one's ear, no one will ever satisfy.

  John Bellemer

Mr. Bellemer's tenor voice was at times stentorian but lacked finesse and Mr. Deas, again, had a voice a bit too small for the work. A pleasant sound but too covered for my taste.

Kevin Deas

The chorus and orchestra performed well and Mr. Hall did a fairly good job of keeping everyone together. Last week's concert under Kent Tritle was much more convincing in terms of managing 400-some musicians and providing a fine musical experience.

I know the Institute will be missed in future years. Next year they will be in Saratoga Springs for a week with another week at Goucher College in Towson, MD.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mahler's Eighth

To wind up our cultural week in the Berkshires, David and I heard Mahler's Symphony # 8 at the Berkshire Choral International Festival in Sheffield. This is apparently the final year it will be held in Sheffield after thirty six years there. This coming week David will be there participating in their final week, singing in the chorus for the Verdi Requiem'.

The concert was preceded by an excellent talk by Laura Stanfield Prichard. Her amazing knowledge of Mahler and of music in general opened my eyes and ears to be prepared to hear the first performance of this work I have ever heard. She compared Mahler's work to that of Verdi and of Charles Ives, both of whom were contemporaries of Mahler. Like Ives, Mahler used sound he had grown up with, band music, church music, and folk music in his compositions.

His Eighth Symphony is a massive, sometimes wandering work of enormous proportions. The original performance had a chorus of 800 singers and a huge orchestra. Last night's performance had to make do with a mere 300 singers and the enlarged Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

The excellent solo singers were Rachel Rosales, Kara Shay Thomson, Emily Misch, Sara Murphy, Mary Phillips, Jonathan Matthew Myers, Jesse Blumberg, and Adam Lau. The fine conductor, who managed to keep all these elements together with apparent ease, was Kent Tritle. The Connecticut Concert Children's Choir was conducted by Marc Singleton.

Image result for kent tritle  Kent Tritle

The work took up the entire concert, the first half being based on the Latin hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus, and the second half of the last part of Goethe's Faust.

Throughout the work the orchestra and chorus are divided into multiple sections making it an incredibly busy work to listen to, indeed.

It made for an exhausting musical evening!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Capitol Steps

It's tough being a Berkshire County Jet Setter at my age! Tuesday night, Ragtime, Wednesday night, The Capitol Steps,  and come Saturday Mahler's Second at Berkshire Choral Festival.

But it keeps me off the streets!

The Capitol Steps is always a fun evening with very few Republicans in the audience. Their special brand of satire this year skewered Trump, the Pope, Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Supreme Court, Putin, well- you name it. 

This year's cast at Cranwell included Mike Thornton, Tracey Stephens, Morgan Duncan, Nancy Dolliver, Jack Rowles, and their amazing keyboard person Marc Irwin.

The cast quickly moved from one persona to another with lightning fast costume changes, some more convincing than others.

We felt this year's production was not as funny as some previous years and decided that part of the reason for this was that new scandals occur daily in the Trump administration too fast to keep up with. 

The show was entitled "Orange is the new Barack', so, of course, Obama was lampooned a number of times as well.

They would have to re-write the show almost daily to keep up with the activities of both Donald Trumps, to say nothing of the rest of Washington.

But it was a good evening.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Ragtime, the musical David and I saw at Barrington Stage last night, is an exuberant romp through the early twentieth century. The music by Stephen Flaherty, the lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and the book by Terrence McNally all won awards on Broadway and the production, directed by Joe Calarco is energetic and dramatic.

Image result for darnell abraham Darnell Abraham

The large cast, headed by Darnell Abraham, J, Anthony Crane, David Harris, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Elizabeth Stanley, and Zurin Villanueva is excellent, good actors and good Broadway singers all.

Image result for j anthony crane J. Anthony Crane        

It is very difficult to take an entire novel and turn it into a musical play. Opera composers have had to deal with this problem for years. This operatic musical needs pruning. Act One takes nearly an hour and a half. It has a number of big, climatic numbers that made me think the act was over long before it actually was. Act Two was an hour long.

Image result for david harris australian actor  David Harris

Part of the problem is there are at least three separate story lines that have to be acted and sung involving an upper class white family, a black pianist, his girlfriend, their baby, a Jewish immigrant and his daughter, Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, Emma Goldman, Evelyn Nesbit, and practically everyone else from that era. It's difficult to add music to this much story and not take too long.

Image result for hunter ryan herdlicka  Hunter Ryan Herdlicka

The large cast sang with strong, Broadway voices. To this voice teacher, a 'Broadway' voice is one that has a sharp edge and a tendency to sing final high notes with a 'Judy Garland' terminal vibrato, after holding the note with no vibrato whatsoever.

Image result for elizabeth stanley  Elizabeth Stanley

 It is a very good musical that would be better with some editing.

 Image result for zurin villanueva  Zurin Villanueva

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Birds is for the birds

Last night David and I saw Conor McPherson's play The Birds at Barrington Stage's St. Germain Theatre,based on the short story of Daphne Du Maurier.

He should have left it alone.

Image result for stevie ray dallimore  Stevie Ray Dallimore

Alfred Hitchcock made a scary movie based on the same work which, at least, had thousands of live birds attacking humans.

Image result for sasha diamond  Sasha Diamond

This one act play had sound effects along with films of birds at either side of the  stage. Not the same effect!

Image result for kathleen Mc NennyKathleen McNenny
It also opened with a number of very brief scenes followed by blackouts which were more annoying than anything else. It purports to detail the last people left on earth after being birded to death.


Image result for rocco sisto  Rocco Sisto

The cast included Stevie Ray Dallimore, Sasha Diamond, Kathleen McNenny, and Rocco Sisto. It was directed by Julianne Boyd.

Go see the movie!