High Culture In The Hills


If you prefer the strains of Mozart and the strokes of Picasso to the feeling of sand between your toes, head to the Berkshires this summer.

New England’s most storied arts retreat is nestled into the deceptively rural swath along the New York-Massachusetts border, a region named for its lush green mountains. I say deceptive because the bucolic setting, with its fresh breezes and homespun clapboard buildings, has a low-key vibe that belies the intensity of its fine-arts scene.

Indeed, the performers whose words and music echo through these rustic sheds and mosquito-buzzing lawns are among the country’s finest come July and August, while the museum offerings and Jewish events grow more abundant by the year.

Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and perhaps the most iconic name in the Berkshires, will be going without its own icon this year: Director James Levine has announced his absence from the festival to recover from a recent surgery. But the stages in Lenox and Stockbridge, Mass., will have plenty of star power, from Mahler’s Second Symphony on opening night — with San Francisco conductor Michael Tilson-Thomas filling in — to the Emerson String Quartet doing Bach and Mozart next weekend.

Jewish violinist Pinchas Zukerman performs a Mozart violin concerto on July 11, while the ever-popular Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio will offer Shostakovich and Mendelsohn the following week. Pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist Joshua Bell and ex-New York Philharmonic conductor Kurt Masur are among the other celebrity performers this summer.

For culture vultures on a budget, the Tanglewood website has an enticing online offer: $50 for two tickets to a lawn concert and two tickets to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, the region’s most renowned museum. The Clark’s summer blockbuster is “Picasso Looks at Degas,” an exhibition through Sept. 12 that explores Picasso’s fascination with the French post-impressionist painter. Fans of the visual arts will also want to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum (www.nrm.org) and Chesterwood, the home and studio of William Chester French, who designed the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial (www.chesterwood.org). And for those who gravitate to the edgy in art, there’s the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (www.massmoca.org) in North Adams.

In nearby Becket, Jacob’s Pillow is unquestionably the region’s summer dance headquarters. From modern troupes from around the world to classic ballet, the annual Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival offers unparalleled variety, all set amid the barn-like performance spaces and picnic-perfect lawns of its campus. Bill T. Zane, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Sweden’s Goteborg Ballet and the all-male comic group Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are among this summer’s highlights. The Pillow’s Inside/Out stage, set in an outdoor space framed by the rolling Berkshire hills, offers much free programming.

Theater has flourished since the 1920s at the Berkshire Theater Festival, which regularly draws major stars both to its stage and its seats in Stockbridge. Summer productions include “Macbeth” in August and Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance,” through Sept. 4. At the nearby Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, this year brings a lineup of popular titles as well: “Sweeney Todd,” “Art,” “The Crucible” and “A Christmas Story,” to name a few.

If Arthur Miller, Mozart and Picasso aren’t enough to satisfy your cultural hunger, how about some Yiddishkeit? In response to the growing influx of observant and active Jews, both in summertime and year-round, the Berkshires Jewish community has enhanced its summer worship and cultural offerings. For complete information, consult the links below and check out the online summer events publication of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.

Original Jewish music and lyrics will fill a concert of the group SAFAM, which takes place on July 11, sponsored by the Federation. Then on July 25, Andy Statman, the renowned Klezmer musician, will headline “Challahpalooza: The Berkshire Jewish Music Festival,” sponsored by Chabad of Berkshire County on July 25.

Both events take place in Lenox, where Chabad hosts a Shabbat minyan in addition to its weekday minyan in nearby Pittsfield. Chabad also offers a kosher catering service for visitors, and the Chabad website, www.jewishberkshires.com, lists local kosher dining and shopping alternatives.

CNN’s Bill Schneider, Guy Raz of NPR’s “Marketplace” and Walt Mossberg, a Wall Street Journal columnist are among the speakers featured in the summer lectures series hosted by the federation.

Opportunities to engage in serious Jewish study flourish during summertime at synagogues around the region. Lunchtime series include “Nosh and Drosh,” a scripture-discussion group led by Barbara Cohen at Congregation Ahavath Sholom, a Reconstructionist shul, and a seven-week series on the history of Israel led by Rabbi Ari Rosenberg at the Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, a Reform congregation. Both are on Wednesdays in Great Barrington.

Hevreh also hosts an active concert series, including a July 22 performance of contemporary classical works by the Hevreh Ensemble. The music continues on Aug. 1 at Temple Anshe Amunim, a Pittsfield Reform temple, with a concert of traditional Jewish music featuring Cantor Scott Sokol.

The 2010 Berkshires Jewish Film Festival takes place in July at Congregation Knesset Israel, an egalitarian shul in Pittsfield, with films ranging from “A Matter of Size,” a popular Israeli comedy about Jewish friends fed up with being on diets, to “The Jazz Baroness,” the fascinating story of British-Jewish Baroness Rothschild de Koenigswarter, who became the muse of jazz greats like Thelonius Monk in postwar America.

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