GREAT BARRINGTON — When a chamber music event is mentioned, mental associations don’t tend to include hip-hop or flamenco, but the upcoming season of Close Encounters with Music might change that.
In celebration of its 30th anniversary, Close Encounters With Music is launching into a season that will transport its audience to Berlin, Paris and New York in the 1920s, to Havana for flamenco dancing and back with Grammy-nominated beatbox artist Christylez Bacon.
In addition to the milestone, Close Encounters returns to in-person performances, said Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani.
“We are emerging from this prolonged hibernation that was imposed on us by COVID-19, and it is a very special feeling,” said Yehuda. “Our grand reopening concert on Nov. 21 features works with absolutely universal appeal — Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music, French film composer Claude Bolling’s Suite for Cello and Jazz Trio, Gershwin and the amazing rapper Christylez Bacon, who will regale us with his unusual talents as a human beatbox [oral percussion]. In effect, he continues the oral tradition of storytelling through his lyrics.
“We are returning to the concert stage with redoubled enthusiasm, and with programs more innovative and more exciting than ever.”
Last season, “Music Undefeated!,” musicians performed in front of an empty house, with live performances presented virtually. While the pandemic forced Close Encounters to adapt to the unforeseen circumstances, what was discovered was that people from all over the world — from Phoenix to Chicago to Florida to even Korea and China — tuned in for concerts, said Hannah Hanani, vice president and secretary on Close Encounters’ board of directors. As such, Close Encounters will continue to provide a virtual experience for those who cannot be there in person.
In organizing such a presentation of composers and instruments across styles and genres, Yehuda Hanani likened his process to that of a gourmet chef preparing a menu.
“You try to harmonize the seven concerts and make sure that they flow, and provide a certain continuation and variety, all at the same time,” he said. “We frame each concert with a theme — not necessarily being a musical theme. It could be a social or historical theme, of or relating to painting or literature, and it brings the audience into the music in different ways, in through different doors. People have always told me that they listen differently once they’ve heard this introduction.”
Yehuda was among one of the very first performers to offer an introduction, which was considered rather revolutionary at the time, which is now done everywhere, said Hannah Hanani.
“Thirty years ago people were just stringing together disparate pieces just because they liked the pieces,” she said. “There wasn’t a cohesive theme, so, he’s really been a visionary.”
The process also taps into Hannah’s background of journalism, as it requires a lot of sleuthing, said Yehuda Hanani.
Through their decades of research, the Hananis have uncovered forgotten composers of the past and discovered, for example, Eduard Franck, a student of Felix Mendelssohn, and introduced his music to the U.S. Hannah Hanani described how she “followed the trail” to find detailed records after working with librarians in Pittsburgh and New York.
“Once you have the material, you decide what you do want and you go with it,” she said.
Upcoming guest participants for this season include the most recent Van Cliburn Competition Gold Medalist, Yekwon Sunwoo; Liang Wang, first oboe of the New York Philharmonic; Itamar Zorman, a Tchaikovsky Competition award-winning violinist; opera, lieder and choral vocalists; flamenco and classical guitarists; and returning favorites on piano and strings. The season begins at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, with performers, including Bacon, pianist Michael Chertock, violinist Xiao-Dong Wang, double bass James Cammack, percussionist Arti Dixson and cellist Yehuda Hanani.
Yehuda Hanani added that Schoenfield’s runaway classical hit, Café Music for piano trio, sets the tone for an especially celebratory reopening. Café Music combines elements of classical, jazz, klezmer and whimsy. Claude Bolling’s musings in the Suite for Cello and Jazz Trio offer up interpolations of boogie-woogie and ragtime with Baroque underpinnings; Gershwin is represented with his Three Preludes for Piano; and includes a benediction from Beethoven (Romance No. 2 in F Major for violin and piano).