Among the rich offerings of the 2017 Berkshire International Film Festival, one of the most fascinating and important films will be Owsley Brown's documentary, Serenade for Haiti. The film could be described as an extended visit to the École de Musique Sainte Trinité in Pétionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. Mr. Brown, who had made other films about music and its role in human society and spirituality, first visited the school in 2006, and was, as he has said, "greatly affected by what [he] found there."
Justin Bischof, who has built a reputation as a brilliant church organist and choirmaster, has found characteristically ingenious ways to integrate his passion, symphonic conducting, with his duties as Director of Music at The Church of St. James the Less in Scarsdale as well as an admirable local charity, the "Transforming the Lives of Children through Music" Benefit, netting over $400,000—and growing—which has enabled over 425 at-risk inner-city children to attend a life-altering summer camp in recent years. The latter benefit concert is traditionally The Canadian Chamber Orchestra of New York City’s (CCO/NYC) seasonal culmination. Dr. Bischof founded the orchestra to enhance the presence of his fellow Canadian musicians in the New York Area. Through these ambitious enterprises, he has enriched the musical life at his church beyond any reasonable expectation for a suburban parish and served an admirable program for enhancing the lives of underprivileged children. And Bischof is as passionate about the charity as about the great music he conducts to further the cause. The powerful performance of Beethoven's Ninth we heard was deeply moving, as it should be, but I was even more moved by the fine young people who gathered before that to sing simple choruses.
This program combines the contemporary with the classics in the first Joyce season under the Company’s new artistic director, Colin Connor. The final work of the altogether gripping evening was made in 2016 with choreography by Kate Ware. Night Light is partly set to the Passacaglia for unaccompanied violin from Biber’s “The Rosary” Sonata and partly to “A Song for Mick Kelly.” The athletic dancers, some of the women wearing what closely resembled black two-piece ‘bathing suits;’ the rest of the group in flowing dark and royal blue tops, weave and leap, almost fighting one another. The work is powerful and haunting. The other 2016 dance, Corvidae, choreographed by Mr. Connor, turns the dancers into Corvids, i.e., crows and ravens, who have been seen throughout the ages as messengers. The dark lighting and black costumes gave the six dancers an edge of menace further expressed by darting, flicking movements.
Diagnosed with a progressive illness at the time of her daughter's birth, Anna made the decision to give her daughter, Una, up for adoption when she was just 2 weeks old. Twenty-seven years later, Anna feels compelled to contact Una in order to pass on her inheritance, "some good and some not so good." Anna's illness has begun to affect her daily function. She assumes her daughter was raised by the privileged family who adopted her, but soon discovers a very different story.
I never seem to get to jazz and cabaret performances very often, but Deborah Stone’s performance, Still Exactly Where I Belong, at Don’t Tell Mama was memorable, and I’ll be ready for her next appearance, probably in the fall. This was a gem of charm, intimacy, and meticulous musical preparation combined with a personal, heartfelt relationship to the songs. Ms. Stone is a versatile artist, having interwoven careers as and actress, singer, and above all dancer. All were active—and interacting—in her show
Every spring for some years now the brilliant Polish actor-director-playwright-poet Omar Sangare has created extraordinary productions at the ‘62 Center for the Performing Arts with his acting students at Williams College, and they keep on getting better. All of them have been highly unusual. There was a double-cast A Streetcar Named Desire: by that I mean that it was performed by two separate casts almost, but not quite simultaneously. Far from an weird distraction, the device emphasized the universality of the play...and gave the many interested student actors a chance to perform. There was Gombrowicz’s classic proto-absurdist farce, Princess Iwona, which was also performed on Broadway.
The Dreyfus Affair feels very appropriate in today’s xenophobic, anxious times. Combining live orchestral music, singing, spoken word, projections and elaborate period costumes , the production relates the chilling story of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a decorated French Jewish officer, who was falsely accused of high treason, arrested, speedily tried, convicted and imprisoned on the hell-hole of Devil’s Island. Written by Eve Wolf and directed by Donald T. Sanders, this multi-media production illuminates the 1894 events that had a decades-long reverberation in the political landscape of France and the rest of the world and still reverberates.
These weeks following following Easter have proven rich in musical events that transcend the usual rationales behind public performances, usually having something to do with attracting large crowds to hear prestigious musicians in prestigious venues, or the annual ritual of Handel's Messiah or one of Bach's Passions. I'm thinking of special occasions, either serving some higher human purpose or deeply rooted in the culture of a particular place—for example, a recent performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Westchester County, which was not only outstanding in itself, but held to benefit an especially inspiring cause...of which more in another place soon. I've already written about the special power of the Bach performances in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which have continued under various local auspices since at least 1823.