The summer is over. In the Berkshires it is hard to ignore the equinox. Rituals and gatherings of all sorts are everywhere, and in Williamstown a friend encountered on Spring Street, or, better, at the local food co-op, may well ask you what your plans are. But it’s not about hamburgers, hot dogs, and beer.
As we ease into the autumn, the season when our roads fill up with rental cars inching along the leafy spectacle that lines them, the Review will be looking back at the summer, while following the trail of high-profile events in New York, Boston, Edinburgh, and wherever else, not to mention the Berkshires: the distinguished South Mountain Concerts are only at their midpoint, and the Berkshire Bach Society is about to begin their season with a Bach recital by the much-acclaimed pianist, Simone Dinnerstein. Still there is a lot to say about some memorable concerts at Tanglewood, superb productions at the Williamstown and Berkshire Theatre Festivals, as well as the Barrington Stage Company, as well as the Bard Music Festival, fascinating as always, this year devoted to the immortally controversial and great Richard Wagner. Among the high points of the summer were a bracingly original production of Peter Brook’s La Tragédie de Carmen at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, New York, with an intense and sexy performance by Kara Cornell as Carmen, and Alon Goldstein’s brilliant piano recital at Tannery Pond, in New Lebanon, as well as the enthralling production of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots at Bard. Then there was that astonishing program of choral works by Wagner, Liszt, Bruckner, and Brahms conducted by the brilliant James Bagwell. Fond memories also linger of our visit to the Pacific Northwest for Seattle’s great Ring Cycle, enhanced by forays into Seattle’s seductive food culture, the beauty of the city and its environs, as well as a brief visit to Victoria, with its own impressive culinary offerings, natural beauty, and the very, very British charm of the Provincial Capital, a city in some ways more British than Toronto or London—England, I mean, and not Ontario.
Look for these over the next week or so. Meanwhile disasters continue to shake the cultural world, and the Swiss appear to be the villains. The great film director, Roman Polanski, has been arrested in Zurich, and the Swiss director Luc Bondy’s production of Puccini’s Tosca has been booed at the Met. This brings back one of our very first postings, on September 24, 2007, when I wrote of Christoph Büchel, the cantankerous Swiss artist, who was suing Mass MoCA over the abortive installation of his “Training Ground for Democracy.” While Americans and the world had the dire Bush administration on their shoulders back then, the Obama administration—a vast improvement at the very worst, but in many ways a disappointment—appears very much a training ground for democracy. The NEA’s Director of Communications was caught encouraging artists who had received grants to support the administrations policies in their work. The administration dealt with the gaffe promptly, and a job will be advertised shortly at the NEA. Closer to home another disaster occurred, which may prove a blessing. A Fire Department employee attended a concert at Williams’ Chapin Hall last year and noticed that the expanded stage used for larger groups violated the fire code. He reported it to his superiors, and now Williams will have to move the Berkshire Symphony concerts and others requiring large performing groups to the ’62 Center. The college newspaper says that the necessary renovations will cost a million dollars. While I sympathize with David Kechley the chairman of the Music Department, who has had to do some rescheduling in a hurry, this is good news to me. While the Fire Department official may be lacking the proper gratitude to the Muses and the lord of the local manor, it is a joyful thing to contemplate a respite from the wretched acoustics of Chapin Hall, which was not designed for music, but for academic pomp. In my opinion the college should not waste a cent on renovating Chapin to meet the fire code. The distinguished Music Department of Williams deserves a purpose-built concert hall, so that its faculty, students, and guest artists can be heard as they should be. Chapin could well be the only place on earth where a Bösendorfer piano sounds bad. In spite of the best efforts of Wall Street, the recession may not last forever, and this usually wealthy college can soon, we hope, hire an architect to build a decent concert hall. Meanwhile I’ll be very interested to hear what an orchestra sounds like in the ’62 Center. I’ve heard a piano recital there, and it sounded quite good, especially from the second balcony.
Meanwhile, The Berkshire Review for the Arts will quietly celebrate its second anniversary. In August the Reviewenjoyed over 738,000 hits and 302,000 page views. What better way can we celebrate, than to thank our readers? We’ll carry on as we have, and readers can look forward to our new column, Keith Kibler’s “A Singer’s Notes,” more audio interviews and enhanced interactivity on the site, as we develop.