Close Encounters With Music Presents 10th Annual Berkshire High Peaks Festival



SHEFFIELD, New York — “The Grand Italian Tour” is the theme of the tenth edition of the Berkshire High Peaks Festival: Music with Altitude!, July 23-August 2, presented by Close Encounters With Music, the Berkshire-based chamber music organization, and hosted by the Berkshire School in Sheffield, MA.

The ten-day festival, directed by internationally acclaimed cellist Yehuda Hanani, offers a combination of concerts, lectures and master classes, open to the public and featuring distinguished faculty artists and outstanding young musicians from around the world.  Festival events will take place at the Allen Theatre on the campus of Berkshire School, at Saint James Place in Great Barrington and at additional locations in the Hudson Valley and Berkshires.

This summer, fifty young emerging artists of exceptional promise and demonstrated accomplishment gather—from China, Korea, Taiwan, Switzerland, UK, Mexico and the US and Canada.  Hanani and his renowned colleagues infuse students with love and enthusiasm for their musical vocation, instilling them with an appreciation for past traditions and a spirit of adventure and discovery—as well as connecting them to the Berkshire community with nightly performances open to the public.

“We are committed to bringing the very best artists and leading pedagogues to continue this musical tradition, here in the breathtaking environment that inspired generations of writers, artists and musicians,” says Hanani.  Guest faculty / performers include violinist Peter Zazofsky, First Prize winner of the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium Competition; Metropolitan Opera soprano Danielle Talamantes; contemporary music superstar violinist Miranda Cuckson; and opera director and conductor Jay Lesenger, who directs John Corigliano’s Ghosts of Versailles this summer at Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown.

High Peaks not only provides lessons, mentoring and performance opportunities for participants, but also practical, hands-on instruction that will help our brilliant young musicians launch their professional lives:  presentations like “Finding Your Brand,” acting tips for singers and stage demeanor for instrumentalists. Almost daily talks and master classes include a probing into why the great string instrument makers emerged in one remote region of Italy (violin maker Francis Morris, presenter) and how the tradition of fine craftsmanship became associated with Italy; explore the Mediterranean exuberance and Northern German depth and intricacy of Bach and Vivaldi’s works (Venice vs. Leipzig); and demonstrate Italian contributions to modern aesthetics with contemporary equivalents in music.

The centerpieces of the festival are two concerts devoted to Italy as the mother lode of musical culture.  “Souvenir de Florence,” Sunday, July 28, 5 PM at Saint James Place in Great Barrington, is Tchaikovsky’s own musical souvenir of his visit to Italy as he recovered from a disastrous marriage and developed an infatuation with the city that spawned the Renaissance. Florence worked its magic on Tchaikovsky, and the result is one of the most delightful and charming pieces in the repertory, for string sextet.  Violinist Miranda Cuckson performs Salvatore Sciarrino’s technique-stretching Caprices that inject Niccolo Paganini’s demonically difficult violin caprices (1819) with a 20th century vocabulary, timbral palette and startling aural innovations. Soprano Danielle Talamantes and baritone Kerry Wilkerson spin magic with operatic arias and art songs.  And no Italian showcase would be complete without Vivaldi’s Double Concerto for two violins, which features Peter Zazofsky and the High Peaks Festival Chamber Orchestra.

“Years of Pilgrimage,” Thursday, August 1, 7 PM in the Allen Theatre, Berkshire School in Sheffield, traverses two centuries of Italian brilliance and demonstrates how it inspired its famous tourists (Mendelssohn, Byron, etc.) and residents. This concert showcases selections from the mercurial keyboard music of Baroque-era Domenico Scarlatti, to the humor and exuberance of Rossini, the virtuosity of Paganini, and the genius of Verdi.  Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage and Gian Carlo Menotti’s Suite for two cellos and piano are among the featured works. Soprano Danielle Talamantes sings favorite coloratura arias that typify the bravura of Italian vocal tradition. Also being performed are Chrysanthemums, a string quartet in one movement and the only chamber music work from Puccini, and Gian Carlo Menotti’s two cellos and piano work.

Throughout the festival, a range of venues will host performances by talented up-and-coming musicians participating in the festival’s residency, providing audiences with an opportunity to catch a glimpse of some of the classical music world’s future stars. These include a series of “Moonlight Sonata” performances featuring top-tier young artists at Berkshire School’s Allen Theater, which will be free and open to the public.

Historically, the Grand Tour was an educational rite of passage for many young men and women from the 17th through 19th centuries.  The value of the tour was to bring exposure to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and was often the only possibility to view specific works of art and hear certain music.  Grand Tourists would return with crates of art, books, pictures, sculpture, and cultural artifacts which would be displayed in libraries, gardens and drawing rooms. It became a symbol of wealth and freedom.  Berkshire High Peaks Festival’s Grand Italian Tour is an opportunity for 21st century audiences in NY, CT and MA communities to experience the revitalization of the musical aspect of this historically famous tradition.

For a full schedule of events, visit  Berkshire High Peaks Festival is presented by Close Encounters With Music, the thematic chamber music series based in Great Barrington, MA.

Tickets for “Years of Pilgrimage” and “Souvenir de Florence” are  $35; seniors, $25; students, $10

Information about Festival performances, talks, master classes, “Moonlight Sonatas” Stars of Tomorrow concerts and the Funraiser-Barn Party in Gallatin, NY can be found at:  or 800-843-0778.


The Berkshire High Peaks Festival is a performing and teaching summer institute bringing together renowned musicians, pedagogues and exceptionally gifted international students, held in the cultural hub of the southern Berkshires.  The intimate scale and highest level of talent make possible an invigorating ten days of discovery, exploration, bonding and growth. The festival has an all-inclusive atmosphere, fostering camaraderie and cross-cultural exchange and understanding. The faculty is similarly international.  In past summers, in addition to the classical canon, the music has focused on traditions ranging from Latin American tango to Japanese ceremonial drums to the heritage of Jazz and improvisation in addition to the classical canon. Central to the festival’s mission are performance opportunities for young artists on the cusp of their careers.  Faculty and guest performers have included the most respected classical musicians and teachers of our time: guitarist Eliot Fisk; violinists Shmuel Ashkenasi, Elmar Oliveira, Peter Zazofsky, and Stefan Milenkovich; violists Pierre-Henri Xuereb and Michael Strauss; pianists James Tocco, Michael Chertock, and Vassily Primakov and cellists Thomas Landschoot, Sae Rom Kwon and Yehuda Hanani. Berkshire High Peaks concerts have taken place at the New York State Museum in Albany, NY; the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge,MA; Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill, NY; Orpheum Theater in Tannersville, NY; in the orchard at Olana, at Claremont Historical Site and at the Carey Center for Global Good in Rensselaerville, NY.

Berkshire High Peaks Festival Artistic Director YEHUDA HANANI has received acclaim across the globe for his charismatic playing and profound interpretations.  An extraordinary recitalist, he is equally renowned for performances with orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Berlin Radio Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Irish National Symphony, Honolulu Symphony, Seoul Symphony, and BBC Welsh Symphony. His engaging chamber music with commentary series, Close Encounters With Music, has captivated audiences from Miami to Kansas City, Omaha, Calgary, Scottsdale, the Berkshires, and at the Frick Collection in New York City. He has been the subject of hundreds of articles and interviews in the media, and his weekly program on NPR affiliate station WAMC Northeast Radio, “Classical Music According to Yehuda” attracts thousands of fans. A prolific recording artist, he is Professor of Cello at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and joins the faculty of Mannes School in NYC in 2020.


Wednesday, July 24, 2 PM—Masterclass

Italian Arias and Art Songs, Danielle Talamantes, Kerry Wilkerson

4 PM Presentation “Marketing Yourself: What’s Your Brand?”

with former American Express Executive Susan Hillel

7:30 PM Moonlight Sonatas (High Peaks Festival Residents Perform)

Thursday, July 25, 4 PM—Presentation

The Mystique of Cremona, Luthier Francis Morris

7:30 PM Moonlight Sonatas (High Peaks Festival Residents Perform)

Friday, July 26, 2 PM—Lecture

Harold in Italy—Viola as Hero, Michael Strauss

4 PM Workshop “The Acting Singer—Putting the ‘Bel’ into ‘Bel Canto’!” Jay Lesenger, Opera Director/Conductor

7:30 PM Moonlight Sonatas (High Peaks Festival Residents Perform)

Saturday, July 27, 10 AM—Masterclass

Vocalizing the Keyboard, Alexander Shtarkman

4 PM High Peaks Fun-raiser Barn Party! Gallatin, NY

(By Donation) Call for information

Sunday, July 28, 5 PM—Concert

Souvenir de Florence—Works by Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Rossini, Salvatore Sciarrino

(High Peaks Artist FacultyPerform)

Saint James Place, Great Barrington

Tuesday, July 30, 2 PM—Lecture

Contemporary Italian Repertoire—There’s Life After Vivaldi! Miranda Cuckson

7:30 PM Moonlight Sonatas (High Peaks Festival Residents Perform)

Wednesday, July 31, 2 PM—Masterclass

Venice and Leipzig—Vivaldi and J. S. Bach, Yehuda Hanani

4:30 PM Buddy Day Concert

A joint performance by High Peaks Festival residents and Kids 4 Harmony Pittsfield

7:30 PM Moonlight Sonatas (High Peaks Festival Residents Perform)

Thursday, August 1, 7 PM—Concert

“Years of Pilgrimage”—Works by Scarlatti, Paganini, Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Menotti, (High Peaks Artist FacultyPerform)

The Allen Theatre, Berkshire School

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