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'Lempicka,' 'Anthracite Fields' Roll Into North County
By Grace Lichtenstein, Special to iBerkshires
02:09PM / Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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The Choir of Trinity Wall Street directed by Julian Wachner perform the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning multi-media 'Anthracite Fields' by BOAC co-founder Julia Wolfe on Saturday at Mass MoCA.

Our focus this week shifts to north county — Williamstown and North Adams. While that might require a bit of a drive for those coming from farther south, I believe it will be worth it as you discover a brand new musical and a masterwork that combines elements of folk, rock and classical.


Williamstown Theatre Festival

At the Williamstown Theatre Festival, which always has treats in store, the world premiere of "Lempicka" opens its run Thursday, July 19, on the Main Stage, at the '62 Center on the campus of Williams College.

The music is by Matt Gould, with book and lyrics by Carson Kreitzer. It is inspired by the life of the artist "who transformed herself from a penniless refugee to star of the art world" when the world was on the brink of chaos after the Russian revolution.

Tony nominee Carmen Cusack ("Bright Star") and Eden Espinosa ("Rent," "Wicked") star. The story is that aristocrats Tamara de Lempicka (Espinosa) and her beloved husband Tadeusz try to make a new life in Paris with their daughter Kizette. Facing the rise of fascism, Tamara takes to painting to survive. When she meets the free-spirited Rafaela (Cusack), a prostitute on the fringes of Parisian society, she's torn between the life she cherishes with her husband and the passion, ambition and possibility awoken in her by her new muse.

"Lempicka" is directed by Rachel Chavkin. It plays through Aug. 1. More information can be found on the festival's website.


Mass MoCA

Meanwhile, take the short drive east from Williamstown to the ever-adventurous Mass MoCA. While this is primarily a museum of contemporary art, its summer performance schedule is always exciting. As I mentioned last week, the Bang On A Can Summer Festival is already under way.

For me, a major event is the concert scheduled for Saturday, July 21, 2018, at 8 p.m. when the "house band," the Bang On A Can All-Stars, plus the magnificent voices of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street directed by Julian Wachner perform the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning multi-media "Anthracite Fields" by BOAC co-founder Julia Wolfe.

This urgent, haunting full-length oratorio is a tribute to the workers in the coal-mining industry in Pennsylvania. While it is not pop music, per se, it is every bit as compelling, with music in five sections in a score that is part classical minimalist with more than a touch of folk and rock.  

"Anthracite Fields" was originally commissioned in part by Philadelphia’s Mendelssohn Club. As Wolfe has explained, it is a return to her own Pennsylvania roots. "I was born in Philadelphia and am from a small town about an hour north of the city," she said. "Where I grew up, if you took the long country road up to the highway, Route 309, and turned right you'd be heading toward Philadelphia. If you turned left, which we hardly ever did, you would head in the direction of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton – coal country. We hardly ever turned left, maybe once in a while to go to a diner. So I thought that rather than looking toward the big city I'd look the other way."

Theater artist Laurie McCants was her guide. "She took me to some amazing small local historical museums that depicted everything about the miners–from the tools they used to the medical facilities, to the disasters. For over a year I read a lot, interviewed miners and children of miners, gathered information, and went down into the mines," she said. "It’s a vast subject to cover, but powerful themes emerged and called out to be in the piece.

“Anthracite Fields,” Wolfe said, "is about this industry and the life surrounding it. The piece is not directly narrative, but looks at the subject from different angles. My intention was to honor the people that lived and worked there, this dangerous work that fueled the nation."

I heard "Anthracite Fields" at the New York Philharmonic Biennial in 2014. With its rumbling beginning and the chanting of the names of miners killed in work-related disasters to the photos projected behind the players, I was stunned by its musical, social and visual impact. I cannot wait to hear it again.

In addition, an unusual sing-along is in store for Mass MoCA visitors on Sunday July 22, at 4:30 p.m. BOAC's versatile guitarist and singer Mark Stewart, who is also the musical director for Paul Simon's tour, presents "Music for All Folks Present: A 21st Century Hootenanny.” Join in — no experience necessary. Information can be found online.


There's more ...

The Peter and Will Anderson Quartet

At the Berkshire Theatre Company, there are still a few days left to see "Coming Back Like a Song," the new show about Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen and Jimmy Van Heusen. It's at the Fitzpatrick Main State on BTG's Stockbridge Campus and closes Saturday July 21. Ongoing at BTG’s Unicorn Theater, also in Stockbridge, is "Hair," through Aug. 11. Information online.

At Jacob's Pillow in Becket, tap along with Dorrance Dance from July 17-22 at the Ted Shawn Theater. And/or catch "Cie Art Move Concept," reviewed as “a thrilling fusion of hip-hop and contemporary dance" in the New York Times. This is their Pillow Debut, at the Doris Duke Theatre from Wednesday through Sunday as well. Check out the website for more info.

Finally, jazz buffs can head for Music Mountain in Lakeville, Conn., for the Twilight Concert series, every Saturday at 6:30 p.m. This Saturday, the Peter and Will Anderson Quartet performs the music of Duke Ellington. Visit the website.

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

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