From Dr. Ruth To Ladino Songs

Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Travel Writer
From Tanglewood’s 75th to 80 years at the modern-dance mecca Jacob’s Pillow, it’s a season of anniversaries in the rolling green hills of the Berkshires. In recent years, the buzz has centered around novel exhibits at the area’s museums, including MassMoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in nearby Williamstown, Mass. But this season, music and theater return to the proverbial spotlight, with a summer rich in Jewish performers and culture, and gala concerts to mark the milestones. When the Tanglewood festival played its first concert under the now-iconic tent, F.D.R. was president and Beethoven was on the program. In commemoration of that season, the Tanglewood Festival Orchestra will play an all-Beethoven concert on opening night, July 6, and an all-Wagner concert on the 21st — another echo of 1937. But there’s plenty that’s new this year, too, starting with a lineup of world premieres commissioned for the occasion. A gala concert on July 14 is Tanglewood’s official birthday party, featuring the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops and artists including Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma and Peter Serkin. Steven Spielberg’s right-hand music man was already five years old when Koussevitzky conducted that first concert under the Tanglewood tent. To fete the film-score maestro’s 80th birthday, Ma, Jessye Norman and Leonard Slatkin will be on hand alongside the Boston Pops, with whom Williams has a storied history. Also 80 years old is the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, which has brought cutting-edge modern dance to Becket, Mass., since the Great Depression. The anniversary season is already underway, with highlights that include Israel’s Vertigo Dance Company from July 4-8 and a week of Joffrey Ballet performances to the music of Philip Glass. One of the greatest Jewish virtuosos of modern times, the violinist Jascha Heifetz, is the subject of the film that opens this year’s Berkshires Jewish Film Festival on July 9. “God’s Fiddler: Jascha Heifetz” is part of a lineup heavy on biographies, with subjects as diverse as Woody Allen, Yonathon Netanyahu (brother of Benjamin) and Sholom Aleichem. Congregation Knesset Israel is the organizer of the 26th annual event, which screens through Aug. 13 in Lenox, Mass. The modern Jewish experience — from Dr. Ruth to Arthur Miller — is also a theme of programming this summer at the Barrington Stage Company. The venerable theater, based in downtown Pittsfield, opened the season with “Fiddler on the Roof” and is currently winning raves for “Dr. Ruth All The Way,” a world premiere play based on the life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer. The one-woman show starring Debra Jo Rupp, the “70s Show” mom, is so popular its run has been extended through July 21. On Monday, July 2, Dr. Ruth herself will take the stage for “Talking Sex with Dr. Ruth,” a talk followed by a Q&A session and a chocolate-and-champagne VIP reception. What is it with Jews and chocolate? Aside from my grandmother’s notorious candy drawer, this particular nosherei never struck me as Jewish, but Rabbi Deborah Prinz begs to differ. Her July 11 talk on the connection between Jews and chocolate, with a sampling from Berkshires chocolatiers, is part of the summer cultural program at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire in Great Barrington. Hevreh is among a half-dozen local congregations with myriad activities catering to vacationing Jewish appetites. For a complete listing of Jewish events, from minyan schedules to bagel-and-book brunches, the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires has once again published its summer guide online at www.jewishberkshires.org. Much of the action involves Jewish music, celebrated in all its diversity in concerts throughout the region. The Zamir Chorale of Boston will perform on Aug. 19 at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, part of the offerings at Berkshire Theatre Group. The Group’s Berkshire Theatre Festival is currently presenting “The Puppetmaster of Lodz,” a well-reviewed play about a concentration camp survivor who escapes into his art. On the village green at New Marlborough, Mass., the Greek Revival meetinghouse is host to an ambitious concert series rich in Jewish performers and composers. “World Fusion,” a Sept. 29 concert with clarinetist Paul Green and Berkshires’ Jewish Jazz Project, features klezmer, Latin jazz and Sephardic songs in Ladino and Portuguese. More Ladino is on offer when Rosalie Gerut performs a multilingual concert of “Songs of the Jewish Experience” at Hevreh. In August, Rabbi Deborah Lecher and guests will sing Broadway highlights of Rodgers, Hart and Hammerstein at the same venue. If you’re headed upstate this weekend, you can catch Chabad’s always-popular “Challahpalooza Berkshires Jewish Music Festival” on Sunday evening. This year’s concert, at Lenox Memorial High School, features “Jazz Rabbi” Greg Wall and friends.  
Picnickers on the lawn at Tanglewood. Courtesy BSO

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