Music and More at New Marlborough

The village of New Marlborough lies on Route 57 about fifteen minutes east of Great Barrington. Its principal feature is the village green, where the well-known Inn on the Green stands next to the historic Meeting House. The latter is the home of New Marlborough’s enterprising “Music and More” series, directed by Harold F. Lewin, which is now in its twenty-third year and aims to bring “a diverse and distinguished group of authors, actors, musicians, artists and films to the Berkshires.” Having attended many concerts and other events at the Meeting House, I can certify that its intimate setting provides a generous but clear acoustic and a warm, friendly atmosphere, and that Mr. Lewin has fully justified the stated intention.

The Apollo Trio at the Meeting House, New Marlborough play Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Dvořák

This recital was part of New Marlborough’s enterprising “Music and More” series, directed by Harold F. Lewin and now in its twentieth year, which has certainly succeeded in its stated intention of “bringing a diverse and distinguished group of authors, actors, musicians and films to the Berkshires.”

Beethoven completed the Variations, Op. 44 in 1792, long before he undertook the task of setting the world to rights. It is remarkable that a year after Mozart’s death and while Haydn was regaling London with a succession of masterpieces, this young man of twenty-two could write music that sounds like Beethoven and could not be mistaken for a product of either of the two older masters. The variations are by turns elegant, soulful, sparkling and exuberant, and the performance characterized them beautifully.

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), Vespro della Beata Vergine, under Kent Tritle, at the Berkshire Choral Festival

In his study of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, John Wenham quotes the musicologist Denis Arnold:

“No doubt all professions have their hazards; and for the student of Monteverdi the principal one is surely that musicological Lorelei, the Vespers (of 1610, of course). To edit it is to receive the kiss of death as a scholar. To perform it is to court disaster. To write about it is to alienate some of one’s best friends. Even to avoid joining in the controversy is to find oneself accused of (i) cowardice, or (ii) snobbishness, or (iii) sitting on the fence, or (iv) all three.”

What is it that makes the Vespers so problematical? A brief historical background will help the reader and listener to understand.

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