Two Weeks in the Berkshires
by Allegreta Behar Blau
Few people on the West Coast have heard of the Berkshire Mountains much less Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow. Nestled in the Berkshires are the communities of Pittsfield, Great Barringon, Lenox, Lee, North Adams, Becket, Williamstown and more that are all homes to the arts. These towns of Massachusetts are close to each other and are resplendent with art museums, galleries, music halls, dance, theater, libraries, and magnificent old mansions.
Our home away from home is a condo in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Location is good as it is smack in the middle on the map of places we want to go; Lee, Lenox and Great Barrington to the South and North Adams, Becket and Williamstown to the North. Each place is less than an hour away. The view from our condo is green, green and more green but not especially pretty. A lot of flat trees. Our place is very comfortable and attractive which is a good thing because due to the horrific humidity and heat (hello, East Coast in the Summer) when we are not sightseeing, we spend a good amount of time indoors, reading and resting in powerful air conditioning.
Tanglewood, in the town of Lenox, is sort of like the Hollywood Bowl but not really. The campus consists of a gigantic shed called The Shed which houses 5,000 people, and a few smaller auditoriums on a gigantic lawn. Unlike the Hollywood Bowl which is completely outdoors, The Shed has a roof, a stage, and a floor, and the sides are open. The seats are all benches. But like the Hollywood Bowl, the stage is very very large . It is the Summer home of the Boston Symphony and the Boston Pop Orchestras. One must get tickets months in advance as this is the number one attraction in the Mountains.
Our first adventure was on a Saturday night just one day after leaving Los Angeles. The program featured the Boston Pops with John Williams conducting music from Star Wars and other epics for which he wrote scores. This “movie night” draws a packed house and the lawn holds 18,000 people! (Parking is a wonder — suffice to say it is well handled by a large parking staff giving speedy directions — it is self-parking.)
We were told to get there early –evidently even though we had tickets there is a long line to get in. We gave ourselves about three hours to get there and to enjoy lawn seating before we went into The Shed for the concert. Way too much time! And it was very hot and humid. Very. Lawn seating is very desirable as it is far less expensive than inside seating plus there are large screens dropped down the exterior of The Shed so one can view the concert while drinking a glass of champagne (or water) and relaxing on a lawn chair. But there is no protection from the elements, which we found out shortly after the concert began. We were really happy we had indoor seating.
People come with all the props necessary for comfort — wagons full of chairs, umbrellas, sweaters, rain gear! food and drink. We found a spot on the lawn and looked around. The couple behind us had a lobster dinner, complete with small table, tablecloth, flowers in a small vase, wine and some kind of cool desert. I’m thinking baked Alaska. We graciously (and gratefully) accepted the glass of wine we were offered. We were meagerly prepared, munching on our lowly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, drinking bottled water and sitting on a spread out raincoat.
After way too much time laying on said plastic raincoat in sweltering heat, we entered The Shed — the concert began promptly at 8:00 pm. About 45 minutes later the rains came. Or should I say teemed. The thunderstorm seemingly was not unexpected, except by us. The thunder and lightning was very loud, bright and exciting. John Williams stopped the concert and invited all those who could take shelter from the lawn into The Shed. We talked to many people; they all seemed intrigued by the fact that we came across the whole country to visit Tanglewood. After about 45 minutes the rain subsided and the concert resumed. John Williams and the musicians had a 45 minute rest and when they returned to play, it was truly magical.
We easily exited, jumping over puddles and go to our car and out onto the road with the guidance of the parking attendants.
Tanglewood Two — an Entirely Different Experience
We had tickets for the following Friday night. The first Tanglewood night was the Boston Pops; the second was the Boston Symphony. While a very large number of people attended, it was nothing like the 24,000 plus (including the lawn people) of the previous Saturday night.
A few days previously, we discovered a lovely synagogue nestled in the woods surrounding Lenox. We went in to inquire about Friday night services. The lady in charge told us that on the next Friday night, the synagogue was to hold Friday night services on the Tanglewood lawn. They do this only once or twice a year. I told her this was perfect as we had tickets for the concert that started at 8:00 pm; she said services were at 6:30.
We decided to have a nice dinner in Lenox before we went to Tanglewood and not have to deal with bringing a picnic. Upon our arrival at Tanglewood we searched high and low and could not find the synagogue group. It is a humongous lawn! Acres and acres. We asked a couple if they knew where the services were to be held; they told us and actually walked us to the spot under a huge tree. Then this couple told us of a jazz concert being held the next night, Saturday night, at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home, on its terrace. You can buy food and sit on porch rocking chairs or on the vast lawn and listen to the music. We decided this was something we wanted to do.
Under the tree, we encountered a group of congregants whose very young Rabbi was leading Sabbath services. About a hundred men, women and children stood under a very large tree in the rear of the garden, chanted, sang and afterwards — naturally! — ate. The very large Oneg Shabbat (Friday night dessert) was on a very long table in the middle of the lawn. Yards and yards of sweets and wine. We chatted it up with the people who were very welcoming.
The concert was wonderful. Part of the concert was excerpts from an opera. At this time 160 men and women marched in to become the choir. Also on stage was about 100 musicians. Later, a very special treat was seeing and listening to two piano solos by Menahem Pressler. Mr. Pressler is 92(!) years old and is the head of the music department at Indiana University of Jacobs School of Music. He walked onto the stage with help, but once he started to play the very grand piano he became youthful and very alive. His performances were spirited and emotional. You could see how much he loved the music and the piano. Another great musical experience. We left feeling very rewarded and — no rain.
Next — Architecture and Literature — two visits to The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts a home designed and occupied by Edith Wharton in the early 1900s.