In The Berkshires Mountains, Cultural Peaks

In The Berkshires Mountains, Cultural Peaks

From Great Barrington to Williamstown, a summer jam-packed with arts, music, dance — and Jewish fare.

You won’t see James Levine, Tanglewood’s storied music director, onstage at the arts festival this summer. But there are more famous faces than ever in the Berkshires, a favorite Jewish destination for serious culture when the temperature rises.

Amid these placid green hills in Western Massachusetts are world-class performers like Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Emanuel Ax, Leon Fleisher and Alisa Weilerstein, along with the Lar Lubovitch and Mark Morris dancers.

Packing the picnic basket is the easy part, and the drive up from New York is a breeze (though less so on Friday afternoons). Much harder is simply choosing among the smorgasbord of tempting offerings: kosher gospel choir or Mahler? Photos by Annie Leibovitz or a retrospective of Pissarro? Lectures on Ladino or the most-buzzed-about Jewish films from Argentina?

And there’s more choice than ever, with an expanding array of free events and reduced-price deals. Plan carefully, and you can take in a full weekend of culture for less than the price of a regular ticket to the Philharmonic.

At Tanglewood, for instance, you can snare a reserved-seat ticket to a Saturday morning rehearsal of the Boston Symphony for $10 and watch the nation’s greatest musicians work out the intricacies of Ravel or Brahms. Kids 17 and under get free lawn tickets to regular concerts, and an Aug. 20 family concert is $10 for all.

What’s more, last year’s popular combination ticket — twin concert tickets and dual admissions to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in nearby Williamstown — was such a hit that it’s back again this year, a full day of art and music for two for $50. As an alternative, this year Tanglewood is also offering a combination ticket for the same price with admissions to the Norman Rockwell Museum, another Berkshires favorite.

The big art draw this year is “Pissarro’s People,” on view through Oct. 2 at the Clark Institute, widely considered the Berkshires’ finest art museum. The French painter best known for his landscapes was also an anarchist committed to social justice, and he reveals this lesser-known side through his renderings of family, neighbors and French society.

The Clark has deals of its own for art lovers: $25 combination tickets with admissions to its collection and the Rockwell Museum or MassMOCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). The latter, a haven of experimental art in North Adams, celebrates the 10th anniversary of its Bang on a Can Festival of contemporary music through the end of July, with this year’s tribute featuring John Adams.

Over by the nation’s most iconic music shed, Tanglewood — the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra — just unveiled a statue of Aaron Copland, whose ashes are scattered on these grounds, and the first in a series of planned “founding father” monuments (Leonard Bernstein is next).

Onstage this weekend are Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops in a Cole Porter tribute. But the stage really heats up in August: that’s when Perlman conducts an all-Beethoven concert, Ax and Ma do chamber music together with clarinetist Anthony McGill, and Berkshire audiences get a rare chance to hear Jerusalem mandolin sensation Avi Avital, the Grammy-nominated winner of Israel’s elite Aviv Competition.

Other highlights include a concert of film music conducted by John Williams and performed by Gil Shaham with Morgan Freeman narrating; a concert version of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”; and the Wine and Food Classic on Sept. 1-2, featuring Joshua Needleman of Lenox’s Chocolate Springs.

Dance is taken just as seriously in the Berkshires, where the world’s fleetest feet converge at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. The festival offers free before-dinner performances (at 6:15 p.m.) from Wednesday to Saturday on its outdoor stage, featuring a mix of young artists and up-and-coming ensembles from around the country.

It’s a season of anniversaries at the festival campus in Becket, where visitors can see a new exhibition of dance photography by renowned lens-woman Annie Leibovitz.

The Trisha Brown Dance Company turns 40, and celebrates from Aug. 10-14 with works spanning the 1980s to the present. The Mark Morris Dance Group is toasting its 30th year later that month, with contemporary works set to live music — the latter a rare luxury these days.

New York-based Lar Lubovitch Dance Company has two new works for dance lovers, including a setting of John Coltrane’s take on “My Favorite Things,” next week and weekend. Two of modern dance’s hottest young stars, Jodi Melnick and David Neumann, will premiere a duet set to live music.

The Berkshires Jewish Film Festival is currently underway, bringing much-needed vibrancy to sleepy Monday nights. Each week through Aug. 22 features a different film from around the world, with a particular emphasis on Jews in the arts — “Mahler on the Couch and Making Music” from Germany, “The Concert” from France. Sponsored by the egalitarian Congregation Knesset Israel of Pittsfield, the Film Festival holds screenings at Lenox High School. Following the final film is a concert by Joshua Nelson and his Kosher Gospel.

The Jewish Federation of the Berkshires once again posts its summer brochure of Jewish Berkshires events online; it’s jam-packed with things to do, from book discussions at Congregation Ahavath Sholom, a Great Barrington Reconstructionist shul, to lectures at the Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, a Reform congregation. Chabad of the Berkshires has a comprehensive kosher guide on its own website,

This Sunday, July 17, Yerachmiel Begun and the Miami Boys Choir will headline a concert at Lenox High School to benefit Jewish communities in Cuba and Ukraine. Then on Aug. 23, it’s Jewish Federation Night at the Williamstown Theater Festival, with “Ten Cents a Dance,” the songs of Rodgers & Hart.

Theater has been a passion in the Berkshires for at least a century, and audiences flock each summer to both the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield and the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, where audiences of all ages will enjoy classics like “Finian’s Rainbow” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”


Tanglewood Festival:

Jacob’s Pillow Festival:

Berkshire Jewish Film Festival:

Berkshire Theatre Festival:

Clark Art Institute:

Barrington Stage Company:

Jewish Federation of the Berkshires (includes summer events brochure):

read more: