Simone Dinnerstein performs Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and Adam Tendler performs John Cage at Maverick Concert Hall;
West Kortright Centre celebrates its 40th anniversary with a Gala Dance Party;
Stagecoach Run Art Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary – fifty visual artists in the Treadwell – Franklin area will open their studios to the public. Events are scheduled at the Bright Hill Literary Center and Franklin Stage Company, among others;
And Hanford Mills Museum will host a traditional 4th of July family celebration and a fishing derby on Saturday.
Maverick Concert Hall, founded in 1916, is the oldest continuous chamber music festival in the country. The festival, running from June to early September, presents an eclectic program of the Catskills folk songs, jazz as well as classical music. On June 28 this year the original 1916 concert, which featured music by Joseph Haydn, Max Bruch, and Robert Schumann, will be reproduced to mark the beginning of the Maverick’s centennial program. In 2016 the festival will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
I spoke with conductor Alexander Platt, the music director of the Maverick Concerts.
A research scholar for the National Endowment for the Humanities before he entered college, Alexander Platt was educated at Yale College, King’s College Cambridge (where he was a British Marshall Scholar), and as a conducting fellow at both Aspen and Tanglewood. At Cambridge he was the first American to hold the coveted post of Assistant Conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society, and as conductor of the Cambridge University Opera Society he led revivals of both Berlioz’s BEATRICE AND BENEDICT and Britten’s OWEN WINGRAVE, to high praise in the London press. During this time he also made his professional conducting debut at the Aldeburgh Festival, his London debut at the Wigmore Hall, and reconstructed the lost chamber version of the Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, which has gone on to become a classic of the repertoire. In addition to recording for Minnesota Public Radio, National Public Radio, the South-West German Radio and the BBC, his recording of the Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with violinist Rachel Barton Pine is still heard frequently on radio stations across America.
Simona David: Alexander, you are the musical director for several symphony orchestras: the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra, the Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra, the Marion Indiana Philharmonic, and the Wisconsin Philharmonic. You have conducted other orchestras as well. Talk a little bit about your work: what does it take and what does it mean for you to conduct orchestras?
Alexander Platt: It’s important to gain valuable experience over years and decades. Conducting an orchestra whether you have twenty-five people in front of you or a hundred and twenty-five it’s like being in the middle of Grand Central Station at rush hour. You’re hearing all these disperse sounds, and your job is to sort out all those sounds and mold them together. Ultimately it’s a very mysterious process like telepathy, when without saying a word you, as a conductor, blend the sounds together by your physical movements and your inner vision of the music. Some of the greatest rehearsals in the history of orchestras happened without the conductor saying a word.
SD: Your repertoire is so extensive: the level of familiarity you have with hundreds of works – all major composers from the Baroque era, Classical era, modern composers, and you’re also engaged with other musical genres such as folk and jazz – it’s impressive. Let’s talk a bit about your repertoire and what you like most.
AP: What I like most as a conductor is the central line of mid-19th century great composers, starting in the late 18th century with Haydn and Mozart, and then going through Schubert and Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak, Elgar and Sibelius. I’m actually very old-fashioned in that regard. I do have a special love for the music Mahler because my graduate thesis at Cambridge was to reconstruct a lost Chamber version from Vienna in the 1920s of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. I think the works of Dvorak, the great Czech composer, are vastly underplayed. We literally hear two or three pieces by Dvorak, we hear the great New World Symphony, which is great work that brought joy to millions and millions of people, but the man did write eight other symphonies. Each of them is a gem. I’m probably the only American conductor of my generation who has all nine of the Dvorak’s symphonies in his active repertoire. I very much live in the 19th century as a conductor.
SD: You conduct both symphony orchestras and operas. How are they different, and how do you approach them?
AP: That’s a wonderful question. Conducting opera and conducting orchestras are two occupations that are completely different. On the more mundane level they’re completely different in regard to scheduling – one of the reasons why now I’m mostly working with orchestras. If you work with an orchestra to prepare a concert it’s one week of rehearsal, it’s three – four rehearsals over a week, and then one or two concert performances. When you prepare an opera, that is a six week project minimum, often a couple of months with many weeks of rehearsals, and at least two weeks of shows. Also, more importantly, on a musical level, it’s a totally different mode of rehearsing. When you’re a symphony orchestra conductor, you basically run the show. Even in the most egalitarian structure, somebody has to be the boss. It’s just not enough time to open up every question of interpretation. In opera rehearsal it’s inherently much more complicated. The conductor is just one of many planks of leadership, if you will. The conductor is in constant collaboration with the stage director, and the principal singers. So there are two vastly different experiences.
SD: You’ve been the musical director of Maverick Concerts since 2002. The festival will celebrate its centennial this summer. Let’s talk a bit about the beginnings of the festival.
AP: In the midst of WWI a bunch of free thinking artists in the hills around Woodstock decided to mount a festival of classical music for the relief of Belgian war refugees, which was a very noble cause at that time. It was Hervey White who founded the festival. Hervey and his buddies found a book of drawings of French cathedrals and without any engineering or architectural experience they built the concert hall in the fall of 1915 – spring of 1916. The concert hall still stands today. In 1916 began the first series of what we call the Maverick Concerts. The festival has literally been going ever since. It’s a very simple, very pure experience which I think is part of the festival’s charm: the festival has not been over publicized or over engineered. It’s a festival that is really all about the music.
SD: On Sunday, June 28 you will recreate the first concert performed in 1916.
AP: Yes, on June 28 at 4 o’clock we’ll have the Shanghai Quartet with pianist Ran Dank recreating the very first program at the Maverick Concert Hall – one of the great later String Quartet by Joseph Haydn, Max Bruch’s lament for cello and piano Kol Nidrei, and after the intermission the evergreen Piano Quintet by Robert Schumann. A great program that will take us back to the very first summer at Maverick.
SD: The festival includes folk and jazz in addition to classical music performances, and there are also poetry and acting moments as well.
AP: Yes, this will be a glorious season. On Friday, July 3 the great pianist Simone Dinnerstein will be playing the complete Goldberg Variations by Bach, a work that she has literally performed all over the world. Saturday night, the 4th of July, we have a brilliant young pianist Adam Tendler who will play the complete Sonatas and Interludes for Solo Piano by John Cage to celebrate Maverick’s historic connection with John Cage: as you know, Cage premiered his landmark work 4’33” of silence at Maverick in 1952. It will be a great season.
Art in the Catskills, published earlier this year, is an inventory of cultural assets in the Catskills, and it essentially serves as a travel guide for art and history lovers.
I wrote this book, because this is the kind of book I wish I was handed when I moved to the Catskills ten years ago. And, although some of the cultural projects that I discuss in this book were developed later – like for instance The Woodstock Writers Festival, which launched in 2010, and The Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice, which also launched in 2010, most are well-established, well-known historical landmarks. For instance, Thomas Cole’s Old Studio at Cedar Grove Mansion in Catskill was built in 1839; the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild was founded in 1902; the Maverick Concert Hall, the oldest chamber music hall in the country still in existence, opened in 1916; the Woodstock Playhouse opened in 1938; all these are national artistic and cultural landmarks.
People are used to come to the Catskills for its tremendous outdoor recreational opportunities, but what I’m saying with this book is that the Catskills is also an amazing cultural destination – look for instance at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival in Cooperstown – the festival will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year (it opened in 1975). Or Bard Music Festival, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. And, right here close to us, there is Belleayre Music Festival that brought Ray Charles and Wynton Marsalis to the Catskills.
And there is art in all forms and styles. Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown displays works by famed landscape painters like Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand. The Emporium in High Falls houses documents about Cubist painter Marc Chagall, who lived in New York City in the 1940s, and maintained a studio in High Falls – Chagall painted in the Catskills from 1946 to 1948. So, there is a lot of art in the Catskills.
I knew quite a bit about the Catskills prior to writing this book, but during the research phase, I learned many new things:
The National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, founded in 1986 by Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and his wife Marylou, is the only dance museum in the country, and one of the very few in the world. Its collections are extensive;
Thomas Cole’s New Studio, which was built in 1846, and was demolished in the 1970s, is currently being re-built based on the original design model.
There is a lot going on in the Catskills, and I talk about all these in my book. A second edition is coming out early next year.
This weekend in the Catskills brings fabulous events for writers, classical and opera music lovers, and design aficionados.
Writers in the Mountains presents its annual summer reading event this Sunday, August 17, from 1 to 3 pm at the Erpf Center in Arkville. From the event’s description, “On Sunday August 17th, come hear what your neighbors have been thinking and writing about. Be prepared to experience the exhilaration of returned affection, the heart wrenching pathos of ordinary life, and triumph over emotional fears. See and hear writers lay bare their innermost thoughts, indulge fantasies, and lash out at a world gone haywire. Come and meet people who, “Dare to Write”. Open mic to follow fearless readers.” For more information, visit http://writersinthemountains.org/
Great weekend for opera lovers in Cooperstown, Otsego County! This weekend’s performances at Glimmerglass Opera Festival include Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini, written in 1903, to be performed tonight, August 15 at 7:30 pm; the musical Carousel by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, written in 1945, will be performed tomorrow August 16 at 1:30 pm; also, An American Tragedy written in 2005 by Tobias Picker, based on Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel of the same name, will be performed Saturday evening at 8 pm. In addition, Ariadne in Naxos, an opera by Richard Strauss, written in 1912, will be performed Sunday, August 17 at 1:30 pm. This summer, the festival, which began on July 11, runs through August 24. For more information, visit http://glimmerglass.org
Maverick Concert Hall, which celebrates its 99th season this summer, is the oldest continuous chamber music hall in the country. The program this weekend includes a “Trio Solisti” concert Sunday, August 17 at 4 pm: Maria Bachmann, violin, Alexis Pia Gerlach, cello, and Adam Neiman, piano, will perform classical and romantic compositions by Beethoven and Brahms, but also contemporary pieces like Lowell Liebermann’s Piano Trio No. 3, Op. 122, written in 2012. For more information, visit http://maverickconcerts.org
Music at the Olana State Historic Site in Hudson: Frederic Edwin Church’s 1872 estate will host “Music from the High Peaks to Olana’s Orchard” tonight at 6 pm: chamber music by Vivaldi, Gershwin and others will be performed in the orchard – an exhilarating experience. For more information, visit http://olana.org.
Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild presents “Art House,” a documentary by Don Freeman about twelve artists designing their own homes, including painter Frederic Edwin Church’s Olana mansion built in 1872, and the Arts and Crafts Byrdcliffe colony, built in 1903. The film will be shown Saturday, August 16 at 2 pm at the Upstate Films in Woodstock. For more information, go to http://www.woodstockguild.org/arthouse.html.