Berkshire Lyric goes big with Haydn's "The Creation"
LENOX — Before the BSO returns to Lenox for the summer, this weekend Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood will resound to music performed by decidedly more homegrown star power.
For the third consecutive year, Berkshire Lyric will take over the storied hall at 3 p.m. Sunday to perform a work of monumental proportions, Haydn's oratorio "The Creation." The season-ending all-Haydn program will include two other works, Violin Concerto No. 1 and Te Deum in C, and feature violinist Yevgeny Kutik, soprano Maureen O'Flynn, tenor William Hite and bass Woodrow Bynum as soloists.
The event is an epic endeavor in more ways than one. The cast of literally hundreds of singers and musicians is a collaborative effort between many area cultural organizations and educational establishments, all brought together by Berkshire Lyric artistic director Jack Brown, successor to beloved chorus founder Robert Blafield who passed away last year.
With a repertoire spanning classical to pop, in the Berkshire Lyric family of choruses, "we like to think big — and small," Brown said.
Following on from Mozart's Requiem and Beethoven's Mass in C of previous years, the headline choice of Haydn's "The Creation" is much more accessible, Brown explained. Premiered in 1799 and inspired by the work of Handel, "it's in English [with] a big narrative, it has humor, exuberance and charm and has been a big part of the oratorio repertoire for a long time, like Handel's 'Messiah,'" he said in an interview with The Eagle.
The music is a blend of monumental, exultant choruses, with beautiful extended arias, he added.
Brown explored ways to make the occasion even more memorable, "and it has gotten bigger and bigger," he said.
An educator eager to engage and encourage young musicians — he teaches at Hotchkiss School and Simon's Rock — Brown invited 45 singers from Monument Mountain and Mount Everett high school choruses to perform alongside the 80-member Berkshire Lyric in "The Creation." They get to experience the music from inside a concert, rather than just listening to it, he explained, "and they figure out there's something special going on."
Brown recruited violinist Kutik to be concertmaster, leader of a professional orchestra assembled from area musicians. It's a rare orchestral appearance for the international soloist, who last performed "The Creation" while a student at Boston University.
Kutik, an emigre to the Berkshires from Soviet-era Belarus at age 5, is no stranger to the Ozawa Hall stage. He spent three summers as a Fellow in Tanglewood Music Center's prestigious orchestral program, performing in orchestras and chamber ensembles.
His mother and first violin teacher, Alla Zernitskaya, directs the highly respected Pittsfield High School strings chamber orchestra, inspiring dedicated young musicians to rehearse at 6:30 a.m. before school begins. The successful, long-running program proved an effective launching pad for Kutik's considerable talents.
Five of his mother's current students will perform with the orchestra.
"He appreciates the community aspect of it," noted Brown, who "sweetened" the deal with the offer of a violin concerto, more typical material for the soloist.
"[The concerto] is one you encounter formatively and keep coming back to in life," Kutik noted in a separate interview. On this occasion, he will both perform and conduct the orchestra at the same time, something he has done only once before, with the "Four Seasons" in Japan.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge," he said.
Kutik, whose career has taken him from Pittsfield to England, Germany, Japan and South Africa, will debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. next spring.
"It's a very nice feeling to play in the Berkshires," Kutik said. "It's a very special place for me, I grew up here and my family is rooted here."
Brown has included some 60 younger singers aged 11 to 18 from the Blafield and Berkshire Children's Choruses in the concert, performing a short arrangement of Haydn's "Te Deum" in Latin with smaller orchestral backing. Brown described the work as "bright and festive, very cheery."
He revels in the multigenerational makeup of his singers. "I have a granddaughter and grandfather, husbands and wives, young couples with children in the Blafield Chorus," he said. "I think it's a cool thing that families can be in a concert together."
He has seen where this musical foundation can lead.
As a teenager, soprano soloist O'Flynn performed with Berkshire Lyric under the direction of Blafield, her mentor and first voice teacher. She went on to enjoy a dazzling operatic career, singing at the Met and opera houses around the world. She still returns to her Berkshire roots for special performances, on this occasion joined by Hite of Amherst and Bynum from Albany, NY.
While the choruses include a number of trained voices and prepare extensively, these professional guest soloists and musicians draw on their experience to make the most of the limited rehearsal time available, Brown explained.
He is enthusiastic about attracting a local and younger crowd to the annual concert, which draws people from Boston and Albany, N.Y.
He says that until the BSO returns to its summer home, this is an inexpensive way to enjoy great music — and great talent — in a great concert hall.
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