The Berkshire Fine Arts Holiday Preview

Check Over Our List of Events, Both Naughty and Nice

By: - Nov 13, 2007

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While Summer in the Berkshires is a nonstop adventure of the new and different, Fall and Winter brings us a traditional gift basket of the safe and familiar.  From Thanksgiving to New Year's it's Norman Rockwell time in the Berkshires, right? Well not this year. Here and there unexpected sparks, crackles and pops are radiating from the hearth.

Causing the commotion are Pittsfield's Colonial Theatre and Great Barrington's Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. Their programming is far from safe and predictable. Together, they offer quite a buffet of events to choose from, much of it delightfully untraditional. Here is a combined calendar of their best offerings, more or less in chronological order, plus many other suggestions for a cool Yule.

Livingston Taylor and Kate Taylor & Her Band
Friday, November 23 at 8:00 PM at the Mahaiwe

James may be the most famous of the Taylor siblings, but Liv and Kate each have devoted fans. Liv's easygoing style and quirky humor endears him to his followers. Kate blends folk, rock, gospel and country into a style which is uniquely hers. Together, this has the makings of a delightful musical evening.

The Blues Show
Saturday, November 24 at 8:00 PM, at the Colonial

If you love the sound of wailing horns, "The Blues Show" will be downright uplifting. Blues for the Holidays? Well, sure - many have them for real! Discover the great "Roomful of Blues," with its wonderful horn section and contagious grooves. Opening for them will be Ernie Williams with his Wildcats.

The Shaolin Warriors
Sunday, November 25 at 4:00 PM, at the Colonial

The Colonial continues its International Festival of the Arts series on Thanksgiving weekend with the Shaolin Warriors.  Visiting the US from China's legendary Shaolin Temple, this fully choreographed theatrical production brings the remarkable skill, stunning movement, and spectacular imagery of Kung Fu  to The Colonial Theatre.

Known throughout the world for its disciplined spiritualism and deadly martial-arts prowess, the production features many forms of Shaolin Kung Fu, as well as a look at the  daily temple life of the monks and their Zen Buddhist philosophy. This is much more than a chop-socky martial arts demo for Jackie Chan fans. It is fast moving gymnastics and disciplined  spiritualism, cleverly wrapped in a Cirque du Soleil esthetic.

The Kingston Trio
Thursday, November 29 at 8:00 PM, at the Colonial

Could it be half a century since The Kingston Trio first began performing?  Their sound is as fresh today as it was when they first introduced "Tom Dooley" and American folk music to the mainstream.  Amazingly, they still hit the road for 30 weeks each year, bringing back many memories and winning new fans in the process.

James Taylor CD/DVD Release Party
Friday, November 30 - Party begins at 6 PM, film at 7:30 PM at the Colonial

You can enjoy the excitement of a worldwide release party as James Taylor's "One Man Band" CD/DVD goes public. It was recorded at the Colonial. It will be shown on the big screen, and cocktails and popcorn will be served. Live music will be provided by Micah Stone and the Justin Allen Trio.  A silent auction features an autographed James Taylor guitar.

Revenge of the Reindeer: Chicago City Limits
Saturday, December 1 at 8:00 PM at the Colonial

Holidays are great fun for all, but not necessarily if you're a reindeer—especially one that has to spend the holiday season flying from rooftop to rooftop lugging a big fat guy in a red suit who keeps trying to squeeze down chimneys!

Chicago City Limit's special holiday show, Revenge of the Reindeer uses improvisation to put its comedic spin on the trials and tribulations of the past year.  If you want a few laughs served up along with the usual holiday spirits, this is the show to see...and participate in.

The Rose Ensemble: Slavic Wonders. Feasts and Saints
Saturday, December 1 at 6:00 PM at the Mahaiwe

Choral music as performed by the Rose Ensemble is a mesmerizing experience. Back to the Mahaiwe for a second visit, they will explore the virtuosity of 17th Century Russia, Poland and Bohemia through its Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Sunday, December 9 at 7:00 PM at the Mahaiwe

This legendary Dixieland group has been touring for more than 25 years, and reminds us why New Orleans became the music capital of jazz. Sure this band is safe and conservative in its own way, but always with an improvisational twist. What I love about them is that you never lose the melody among all the individual riffs, I think its greatness lies in its authenticity as much as its simplicity. This is jazz music you will instantly recognize, from "Bill Bailey" to "When the Saints Go Marching In."

A Celtic Yuletide with Irish Tenor Michael Londra
Thursday, December 13 at 8:00 PM at the Colonial

Share in a Christmas from Ireland, as celebrated  in song and dance, with classic stories of Michael Londra's childhood in Ireland. Michael is best remembered as the lead singer in Riverdance. His rendition of age-old music is supplemented with the Irish musical group "An Dochas" on pipes and low whistles. Topping off the evening are the Haran Irish dancers performing traditional and modern pieces that are sure warm the heart.

Memories of the Old Country with the Albany Symphony Orchestra
Saturday, December 15 at 7:30 PM at the Colonial

This is a very  unusual concert, with its centerpiece being a work written by a Williamstown composer, Stephen Dankner. It is the impossible-sounding Klezmer Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra. Dankner re-imagines the orchestra as a giant Klezmer band. The Israeli-Amrican  virtuoso Matt Haimovitz is the soloist for this unusual piece, as well as for the haunting Shostakovich Cello Concerto #1. Also on the ambitious program are Shubert's "Unfinished" Symphony and Bartok's Rumanian Folk Dances.

The Metropolitan Opera "Live in High Definition"
Saturday, December 15 at 1:00 PM at the Mahaiwe
Saturday, January 1, 2008 at 1:00 PM at the Mahaiwe

One of the successful innovations that General Manager Peter Gelb has brought to the Metropolitan Opera of New York are the live telecasts of their Saturday matinee broadcasts. With fanatical devotion to sound quality, the High Definition presentations are available in just a few special locations, and in the Berkshires it is the Mahaiwe. You can subscribe to the entire series for the price of a single ticket at Lincoln Center. Opera lovers have scant offerings in the Berkshires each year, and this is a godsend!

On December 15 the live performance will be of Gounod's "Romeo and Juliette" conducted by Placido Domingo and featuring Anna Netrebko. In French with supertitles.

The New Year's Day broadcast is the company's dark and amusing new production of "Hansel and Gretel," in English. The series continues into May, 2008. The full season of  operas can be found here:

"The Nutcracker"  Albany Berkshire Ballet
Thursday, December 13 at 4:30 and 7:30 PM at the Mahaiwe
Friday, December 21 at 4:30 and 7:30 PM at the Colonial
Saturday, December 22 at 1:00 and 4:30 PM at the Colonial

Founded by Madeline Cantarella Culpo, the company has been giving this classic ballet for many years. It features lots of local children. The music is by Tchaikovsky and much of the choreography is still close to that devised by Marius Petipa and Ivanov.

It is wildly popular for two reasons. First because it is has the virtue of being easy to follow, and secondly because it is not too long. (Under two hours including the intermission.) It can be summarized easily. Part one is the Christmas party, the second half the entertainment in a fantasy candy cane world. Children are totally mesmerized.

Frazzled parents and jaded Scrooge wannabes have been known to succumb to tears of joy and waves of nostalgia before the first act is half over. If the story, music and dancing doesn't get them,  the look on the children's faces around them will.

Bach at New Year's with the Berkshire Bach Society
Monday, December 31 at 6:00 PM at the Mahaiwe
Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 3:00 PM at the Colonial

The Brandenburg Concerti Nos. 1, 2 and 3 will be performed by the Berkshire Bach Society, along with two more of Bach's gorgeous Orchestral Suites. The mysterious No. 2 in b minor will feature flutist Judith Mendenhall as soloist,  and the festive No. 3 in D places the ensemble's trumpet team of Allan Dean, Neil Mueller and Gerald Serfass in the spotlight. The featured violinist will be Eugene Drucker.

The Colonial Theatre
111 South Street
413-997-4444 (Box Office)

The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle Street
Great Barrington
413-528-0100 (Ticket Line)

Winter Group Show at North Adams Antiques
December 8, 2007 to February 8, 2008

One of the great joys in life is finding an interesting little gallery in an unexpected place.

One of my favorites is located in the rear of North Adams Antiques. It is next door to the MCLA Gallery 51, and both are an easy hop from the mammoth  Mass MoCA which is around the corner. The proprietors are Jane and Jeff Hudson and what great art they choose!

Their Winter Group Show opens on Saturday, December 8 from 3:00 to 6:00 PM and features previously exhibited artists as well as some new faces. They include:

Larry Alice
Peter Dayton
Stephen Forest
Richard Harrington
Jeff Hudson
Douglas Huebler
Henry Klein
David Lachman
Robin Paine
Piotr Parda
Katherine Porter
Gwendolyn Smith

The Gallery at North Adams Antiques
49 Main St.
North Adams

"LEDs are Pretty" at Greylock Arts
Saturdays from November 16 to December 28

Another out of the way gallery is Greylock Arts, where there is a group exhibition that features work that utilizes tiny LED's (Light Emitting Diodes). They are normally found in traffic lights and autos, and here artists have turned them into something to talk about.  I enjoy seeing how these ubiquitous LED's can not only generate light, display images and patterns, but can also respond to our actions, and reflect on our environment. Open Saturdays 1-4 and by appointment.

Greylock Arts
93 Summer Street

A Christmas Carol at Berkshire Theatre Festival
December 13-30 in the Unicorn Theater

It was 1843 when Charles Dickens first published "A Christmas Carol" which is one of the most popular holiday stories of all time. It has also become a classic play. First  prepared and directed by Eric Hill last season at BTF, it will once again be directed by him, this time re-imagined with  co-director E. Gray Simons III. Much about this classic story will be fresh as the co-directors strive to recreate 19th Century London.  Hill believes "Its powerful message about the redemptive power of kindness and giving is as important today as it ever was."

10:00 AM Matinee on December 18
2:00 PM Matinees December 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30
7:00 PM Evenings December 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 28, 29

Berkshire Theatre Festival
Main Street
413-298-5536 x 33

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill at Barrington Stage Company
December 5 to December 9

Gail Nelson returns to the Barrington Stage to reprise their popular recreation of an evening with Billy Holiday. It was first produced in 1995, and again in 2002.  Funny, sweet, a little naughty, and ultimately heartbreaking, it features Danny Holgate on piano and David Jackson playing bass.

Here's the setup: In the intimacy of a friend's bar in a run-down section of Philadelphia, legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday delivers one of her final performances. A skillful blend of biography and cabaret, this is a poignant glimpse of the real-life person behind an American icon. Features many classics, including "God Bless The Child," "When A Woman Loves A Man," and "Strange Fruit."

Wed. and Thurs. at 7, Fri. and Sat. at 8, Sunday at 3.

Barrington Stage Company
30 Union Street

Festival of Trees at the Berkshire Museum
November 17 t0 December 31.

At this time of year, the Berkshires are full of traditional Holiday activities. Among the more interesting are the 23rd Annual Festival of Trees this year entitled "On the Move" at the Berkshire Museum. (The museum  will be undergoing some exciting renovations this year, and has moved its Gift Shop among other things in preparation.) Once again they will deck the halls with some 200 theme decorated trees and celebrate all things on the move, from trains, planes and automobiles to skis, skates, and sleds.  Great for the young ones as they wander through this enchanted forest, enjoy a model train display, vintage wind-up toys, and antique skis and sleds from the Berkshire Museum's collection.

Berkshire Museum
39 South Street

Renaissonics Holiday Concert at the Clark
Friday, December 7 at 8:00 PM

Joined by two leading Renaissance dancers, the Renaissonics will offer the Williamstown Holiday Walk Weekend a "Carols for Dancing" program of familiar and not-so-familiar carols from the court and country traditions of England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
225 South Street
413 458 0524

There's so much to see and do here in the Berkshires this holiday season. Make it be your best one ever!

More opinion by Larry Murray can be found on his blog: