Berkshire Music School marks a landmark anniversary with a big bang

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PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Music School is marking its 75th anniversary this weekend with a bang — a big one says the school's executive director, Tracy Wilson.

The theory, she said in a telephone interview from her office at the 30 Wendell Ave. institution, is that moments like this come along only once and so deserve special treatment.

"I wanted to do a big community event," Wilson said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I wanted us to make a big noise. I wanted to make as big a deal as possible."

And so, at 4 p.m. Sunday, nearly 65 performers ranging in age from 3 to 70 — soloists and in ensembles — will gather on the Colonial Theatre stage for Berkshire Music School's "75th Anniversary Gala."

Headlining the show are Berkshire Music School alums:

• violinist Madalyn Parnas, a Doctoral candidate at University of Indiana's Jacobs School of Music who has performed with the London Philharmonic and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco Academy;

• mezzo-soprano Deborah Rentz-Moore, a soloist in early music, oratorio and contemporary music whose credits include performances with Aston Magna, Emmanuel Music, Boston Early Music Festival, Handel & Haydn Society, Boston Camerata, and New York Collegium;

• guitarist and vocalist Billy Keane, a contemporary folk and blues artist;

• composer Kari Steinert, who studied at Tanglewood Music Center and Eastman School and has composed, arranged and produced original compositions across a variety of genres;

• and composer/pianist Ben Talmi, front man for the orchestral pop band, Art Decade, whose work has been seen and heard on film, television, several national touring acts, and a current Microsoft 10 commercial campaign.

Joining them will be Pittsfield native, singer/songwriter/pianist Matt Cusson; current BMS Merit Scholarship winner, pianist YeeJin Suk; returning Merit Scholarship winner, pianist Paul Celebi; and BMS' music ensembles, including Suzuki string groups, youth and adult chamber ensembles, along with their teachers; and members of Teen Voices and Cabaret to Go.

English actor-director James Warwick, who teaches and coaches part-time at the school, will host. Warwick has performed on TV, London's West End and Broadway and directed plays around the country and in the Berkshires, most recently at Chester Theatre Company.

"James seemed such a natural to host," Wilson said, "with his charm and his voice. He's also a good friend and he expressed interest in helping us put this program together."

All the performers are donating their time, Wilson said.

Planning began roughly a year ago as Wilson and the members of the school's board sat down to plan the school's 2015-16 budget.

"We knew the 75th anniversary was coming up and we wanted to do something special, something that showed off our students and faculty, all our different programs," Wilson said; "something that shows that our students can make a life in music in so many ways."

The biggest challenge in putting the Gala together, Wilson acknowledged, has been logistics — moving soloists and ensembles, large and small, on and off stage efficiently; making sure all the technical elements are in place and working smoothly; clearing the stage at the end of the show to set up for the benefactors reception that follows,

The gala comes at a time when the school is on an upswing after a period of stagnation, if not decline, brought on by attrition among faculty and students. There's been a marked shift, said Wilson, who is in her 13th year as the school's executive director, from a younger population to an older one — age 55 and older.

"They are available throughout the day so they come," Wilson said. "They have (wide-ranging) interest(s) and disposable income."

Those who can't come to the school, Wilson said, are being reached at senior centers, senior residences and nursing homes through a BMS outreach program piloted by faculty member Sherri James Buxton, who also runs the school's cabaret program.

"We've been able to create a number of programs for the 55 and over population," Wilson said. "It's allowed us to stabilize things here and expand. We're doing very well in our programs and enrollment.

"I'm very pleased with where the school is now."

What: Berkshire Music School 75th Anniversary Gala

Headliners: Madalyn Parnas, violin; Deborah Rentz Moore, voice; Billy Keane, guitar and vocals; Kari Steinert, composer; Ben Talmi, composer/pianist

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Colonial Theatre, 111 South St., Pittsfield

Tickets: $28 (patrons); $45 (supporters); $150 (benefactors — includes prime seating; onstage post-concert reception; program listing)

How: (413) 997-4444

Note: All proceeds from ticket sales, live and silent auctions, sponsorship and advertising go to BMS education programs


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