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Bernstein, Bang on a Can, and Everything In Between
By Grace Lichtenstein,
01:38PM / Wednesday, July 11, 2018
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Bang On A Can returns to Mass MoCA from July 12-28.

All varieties of popular music blanket the Berkshires in mid-July. At Tanglewood, it's Bernstein. At Mass MoCA, it's singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett and the start of the 17th annual Bang on a Can Festival. At Jacob's Pillow, it's a remarkable group of musical theater dancers plus Dorrance Dance.

Yes, I'm stretching the word by calling the upcoming shows "pop." But they are popular in the best sense of the word —they appeal to everyone. For me, great music knows no boundaries.



How about a zesty lesser-known Bernstein? Thursday evening, July 12, at Ozawa Hall, catch the semi-staged version of Leonard Bernstein's "Trouble in Tahiti," directed by the composer's daughter, Jamie Bernstein. Although called an opera, the work is a jazz-inflected one-act piece from 1952 that recalls Bernstein's revolutionary "On the Town" and even "West Side Story." The subject is suburbia, the libretto by Bernstein himself.

According to the Bernstein family office, "Tahiti" "draws upon popular songs styles to deliver an uncompromising critique of post-war American materialism." Charles Prince will conduct, with lead roles sung by soprano Alexandra Silver and baritone Shuler Hensley.  More info can be found on the Tanglewood website.


Mass MoCA

On Thursday, July 12, 30-year-old Australian native Courtney Barnett appears with her band on the courtyard stage outdoors at Mass MoCA. The singer has reminded many of performers popular in the heyday of rock 'n' roll. Her lyrics are witty and her guitar insistent. Journalist Will Hermes wrote in Rolling Stone that her music sounded like a "cross between Kimya Dawson and Kurt Cobain." You can catch her here before she debuts at the Newport Folk Festival later this month. Also on the bill: Vagabon, a multi-instrumentalist from Camaroon.

Two nights later, Saturday July 14, the comedian Josh Sharp is at Mass MoCA for what is billed as "a music-and-comedy performance that exists entirely within one long cover of a D'Angelo song." I don’t know exactly what that means, but I suspect lots of laughs. Sharp is known to TV watchers for his role as a citizen journalist in Comedy Central's "The Opposition w/ Jordan Klepper."

This is also the week that new-music's acclaimed Bang on a Can begins its Summer Festival at Mass MoCA. It is hardly an exaggeration to describe this collective as one of the two or three most important in contemporary classical music. It's an opportunity to hear works by masters such as Steve Reich, this year's featured composer, as well as dozens of other leading-edge practitioners, famous, emerging, young, older.

BOAC was founded by three young composers, Julia Wolfe, David Lang and  Michael Gordon. Wolfe and Lang have already won Pulitzer Prizes in music, and Gordon seems due for the same.

The festival lineup is as follows: From July 12 through July 28, there will be daily recitals at 1:30 p.m. by BOAC's 30 performance and composition fellows from around the word, who interact with the artwork in the galleries, often playing new works written while in residence at Mass MoCA. Then at 4:30 p.m., BOAC faculty and Festival ensembles give recitals. A feature called Kids Can Too!  — a hands-on, interactive workshop for children and families — takes place on Saturday, July 14, at 11:30 a.m. This program is free and open to the public, inviting everyone to play along with Bang on a Can faculty and fellows.

Next week, I'll preview what for me is a festival highlight, "Anthracite Fields," Julia Wolfe's multi-media, socially incisive Pulitzer-winning masterpiece. I'll also urge everyone to attend the festival finale, the BOAC Marathon on July 28. More info can be found online.


Dorrance Dance comes to Jacob's Pillow for six performances.

Jacob's Pillow

While the Pillow's ticketed programs highlight ballet and contemporary dance, its "Inside/Out" free outdoor programs range beyond those confines. On Thursday, July 12, at 6:15 p.m., Kate Harpootlian & Artists, a musical theater-style ensemble, present a full-length work titled "Better Late Than Never," which explores "the concept of transition versus the finality of destination" with music and costumes from the 1960s.

From July 18 through July 22 at the Ted Shawn Theatre, one of the hottest dance troupes in the U.S., Dorrance Dance, will give six performances. Michelle Dorrance and her tap artists bring to the Berkshires a new piece,  "Myelination," featuring an original live score by Donovan Dorrance and Gregory Richardson with vocals by eclectic soul vocalist Aaron Marcellus, and a world premiere commissioned by Jacob’s Pillow, rooted in solo tap work. More info online.


And there's more…

The hot jazz Laroo/Byrd 4tet is the attraction at the American Legion Hall in Pittsfield at a dinner show Saturday July 14 at 7:30 p.m. (Dinner is an optional buffet starting at 6:30 p.m.) The quartet features pianist Warren Byrd and his wife, the trumpeter and saxophonist Saskia Laroo, who have performed in the past as a duo. They are complemented here by bass and drums.

Barrington Stage's Mr. Finn's Cabaret features a lucky Friday the 13th show in its New Songwriters Cabaret: Jacob Fjeldheim and Paul Pecorella. Their show, "Good Times and Sleepless Nights," is at 9:30 p.m. These fellows are multiple threats — singers, composers and lyricists — backed by a jazz trio.

Finally, raconteur, actor, producer, singer, TV star and activist Alan Cumming appears at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington on Sunday, July 15, in a new cabaret show, "Legal Immigrant." Hurry: it's nearly sold out.

For tips on upcoming popular and jazz music contact Grace Lichtenstein by email.

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