At Stockbridge Library, music with a touch of history

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STOCKBRIDGE — What was happening in Stockbridge in 1772? In 1900? In 1806?

Those were the years when Mozart composed his Divertimento, K. 136; Ives his String Quartet No. 1 ("From the Salvation Army"), and Beethoven his String Quartet Opus 59, No. 3 ("Rasumovsky"). In its debut Friday evening at 6, the newly formed Berkshire Chamber Players will play those works, drawing a connection between them and local history.

The pre-performance talks will be brief, the founders promise, but the dip into history will be one of the hallmarks of the new series. Another feature: The series is presented by and in the Stockbridge Library. And another: a Tanglewood connection.

The concerts have been organized by John Perkel, who retired last September as a Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Music Center librarian, and violinist Natalie Kress, a TMC student in 2010 through 2012. Though a string quartet will lead off, they say future concerts - they're looking at three or four a year - could feature varied combinations of instruments. The performer emphasis will be on TMC alumni and others with BSO connections, but Berkshire players could also figure in, the founders say.

The brief talks will show "the history of Stockbridge through music," joked library director Katie O'Neil. More seriously, she said, "If there's an actual, direct Berkshire connection, of course that will be mentioned." But the intent is to put "these pieces and the time they were written in the perspective of what was going on here locally."

The concerts will be given in the library's main reading room, whose computer terminals will be moved aside to make space for seating. The library has no piano, but Perkel and O'Neil are hoping to be able to rent one for future programs.

Friday's ensemble is made up of violinists Kress and Robyn Quinnett, violist Charlotte Malin and cellist Alison Rowe. All except Rowe are recent TMC graduates (but Rowe's mother is an alumna). All except Malin, who lives in Boston, live in lower New York state.

The series springs from an acquaintance between Kress and Perkel during their TMC years. Knowing Kress' interest in running a chamber series, Perkel, whose home is in West Stockbridge, proposed the idea to O'Neil and Barbara Allen, the curator of the library's museum and archives. Allen will do the research for the talks.

"Everybody was very enthusiastic," Perkel recalled.Kress, who won the 2012 Jules C. Reiner Violin Prize at TMC, has begun a career that includes playing at the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors with Yo-Yo Ma. She is co-director of Three Village Chamber Players, which gives free chamber and outreach concerts on Long Island and elsewhere in New York state.

"My series on Long Island was started with the mission of bringing music to the community," she said, "especially to people who wouldn't normally engage with classical music." Perkel, she added, "has so many friends and this is a way to bring them back together to share music with his community." The connection to Tanglewood, which gave all there alumnae "inspiring experiences," is a plus, she said.

The other quartet members are variously engaged in postgraduate studies, teaching and performance.Violinist Quinnett, who attended TMC in 2015 and 2016, founded the Montserrat Music Festival, a summer program of music education and chamber music on the island of Montserrat, where she was born.Violist Malin, who spent the last three summers at TMC, recently won a position with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.Cellist Rowe spent last summer at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. She performs in a chamber series at Concordia College with members of the Emerson String Quartet.          

"We're starting small to sort of set ourselves up," Perkel said. "It's possible that we could find other locations such as schools to play at, do some educational programs. Maybe there are other libraries that we could take it [the series] to, or house concerts that we could arrange to get more mileage out of the programs that we're preparing."


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