I Publius: What to do in winter around here

I once met a woman in a local store who struck up a conversation with me while we were on line. You’ve all met her in one place or another. She really thinks that we’re in the boonies. She asked me when we arrived in the Berkshires and I told her 1971, to which she replied, “My God, you’re a real pioneer!” Things went from bad to worse when she asked what we did up here in the winter. When I told her that we did a lot, she wanted facts and I tried my best to tell her that we were hardly living in the Yukon Territory.

I tell you this story because this is the roughest season. The snow will melt and in its place we will have a lot of mud. This is the time that so many snow birds are away in places with exotic names like Boca, Key Biscayne, Tucson, and the Bronx. We hardy types are left here to sit by the fire, eat at great restaurants like Café Adam or Rouge or so many other wonderful places with all kinds of price ranges. We have been treated to the resurrection of the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield and the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington and to the extended seasons of Berkshire Theatre Festival, Barrington Stage and Shakespeare and Company.

But it is an amazing couple, Yehuda and Hannah Hanani, who I praise here today. Seventeen years ago, Yehuda and Hannah put together a concert series, “Close Encounters with Music,” that turned out to be a tremendous gift to all of us. Yehuda is a mainstay of our community. A master cellist, he was brought to this country by his mentors, one of whom was Leonard Bernstein. He studied with the best in the world including Pablo Casals and is Professor of Cello at the University of Cincinnati College of Music. His list of accomplishments will knock your socks off. He has played internationally with some of the world’s top orchestras. But what is particularly wonderful is this mid-winter gift to all of us. We know that we have Tanglewood and so much more in the summer but now is the time when our spirits need reviving and Yehuda and Hannah have made that possible.

In the old days, “Close Encounters” used to move around. At one point we would all pile into St. James Church in Great Barrington — fine acoustics but a lousy line of sight unless you got to ride up front. Lots of Berkshire-ites have done their parts to help out. Chip and Cindy Elitzer of Great Barrington have gone the extra mile to put up the artists; many fine people have put up the money. Then, when the Mahaiwe came along it looked like the concerts finally found a home. “Close Enounters” rent the theater, there are lots of volunteers taking tickets and showing folks to their seats. The acoustics in the theater are first rate.

 Roselle and I love to sit up in the mezzanine. That we can look down on the audience and watch the swells arriving and giving each other hugs and air kisses. We also get to see things that the folks in the orchestra seats don’t see. Once I wrote about the shoes that the musicians were wearing. Some folks were wearing boots with their tuxedos. Perfectly appropriate for the Berkshires, don’t you know?

At this most recent concert, in addition to listening to some wonderful music with a relatively (too) short explanation of the music from Yehuda, we got to experience the visuals. I was struck by the unfortunate condition of the stage floor. The folks down below couldn’t see it but we did, and it was distracting. It sort of looked like this wonderful music was coming from the movie “Slumdog Millionaire.” It seems to me that there should have been an attempt to run a buffer over the stage floor. I mean, you’d do it with your kitchen or living room. The rental charges are pretty hefty, it only seemed right. I know that at WAMC’s Linda Norris Auditorium, we are very proud of the condition of our much smaller stage.

I really don’t want to detract from the marvelous performance by Yehuda and his cohorts. The concert was brilliant and the audience was appreciative. The Hananis have given us a huge gift and they, and all their supporters, deserve our thanks and support. It costs a great deal of money to mount these concerts. Artists have to be flown in, sometimes from all over the world, and Yehuda and Hannah don’t stint on the talent. We are very lucky to have them. For those who want a musical review, you have only to go the website of this newspaper and read Clarence Fanto, who is a superb student of music and who almost always gets it right.

Originally Published in the Berkshire Eagle, 2/28/09

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