(Sheffield, MA – March, 2018) – Close Encounters With Music, an organization artistically headed up by internationally acclaimed cellist and educator Yehuda Hanani, is making history this summer by moving its High Peaks Festival to The Berkshire School campus in scenic Sheffield, Massachusetts, providing students and faculty from around the world a new setting to make music and share their talents with the region and beyond. Previous editions of the festival have taken place in the Catskill Mountains, most recently at the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, and in Hunter and Tannersville, New York. Now, the pull of the Berkshires, home of Close Encounters With Music, ultimately has drawn the festival back to home base where audiences and supporters have enjoyed 26 seasons of outstanding concerts and other events featuring today’s most brilliant musical performers.

The High Peaks Music Festival was created as a logical extension of the mission of the organization and it’s a natural for it to be located on CEWM’s home turf. “It has been our goal to make great music approachable and to relate it to other artistic disciplines so that it can receive the love and sense of wonder it merits. Music students today are often cut off from inner life and the artistry of the material as they focus on careers, on digital perfection, and on the more pragmatic aspects of the profession. The relaxed atmosphere of the countryside — away from pressures of the conservatory —makes for a perfect point of departure to explore the magic and mysteries that inhabit the works of the greatest composers,” says Hanani.

Marcie Setlow, who serves as president of the board of directors for Close Encounters With Music, loves that the organization provides a strong focus on education. During the ten-day festival, fifty students from around the globe will work with faculty members on music they will then perform for the community. “The magic ingredient, the ‘secret sauce,’ that makes Close Encounters such a success is the genius of our artistic director, Yehuda Hanani. Yehuda brings an infectious enthusiasm, a prodigious knowledge of the repertoire, a respect for his fellow musicians, a unique approach to programming and an amazing ability to bring people together. He has applied all these qualities to the development of the High Peaks Festival, which has grown into a lively and intimate event, bringing together young musicians from all over the world. He is a wonderful teacher and I love seeing him work with students,” says Setlow. “Our hope is that the festival will be discovered by young people in our own area. All our musicians will be young—many of them only teenagers. Those in the music world worry about where the next generation of music lovers will come from. We’d like that next generation to discover and learn to be comfortable with classical music by enjoying the energy and artistry of our amazing High Peaks residents in August.”

Each year’s Festival has a theme and this summer it’s “The French-Russian Connection.” “There was so much reciprocal import-export of ideas, important cultural figures and aesthetic ideals that we have a plethora of pieces to program and talks to schedule. The Czars imported French architects and the aristocracy didn’t drink vodka, they drank Champagne. French was the language of the educated Russian class. In the music and with our fabulous guest speakers, we’ll go back to the days when Paris was the nexus of global culture, throbbing with new ideas, exploding traditions, forging new paths,” explains Hanani.

“Our faculty includes baroque experts and we’ll begin with the French Baroque music, all the way up to Poulenc and Messiaen. It gives us a chance to present some of the most beloved and important of composers: Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Debussy, Poulenc and Fauré. We’ll also look at how cultural hubs are subject to political and economic winds,” he adds. Previous Festival themes have been “Classical Hollywood,” “The Grand Italian Tour,” “The Gilded Age: Bohemia in the Catskills,” and “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman.”

While audience members enjoy the diverse themes from year to year, they also appreciate the top-tier musicians performing. “Our audiences should definitely get excited about the variety of high-level students from all over the world, as well as the superb faculty from institutions such as the Beijing Conservatory, Paris Conservatoire, Peabody Conservatory, Boston University, Oberlin and Cincinnati. Open to the public are master classes, talks, faculty performances and concerts that we call ‘Moonlight Sonatas’ that feature our stars of tomorrow in almost nightly showcases. The improvisatory, experimental and creative spirit of the festival means that not everything is predictable or pre-set. We all collectively contribute to and hone what is a festival-in-progress,” says Hanani.

One of this year’s returning residents is violinist Xiangyuan Huang, a native of China, completing her Master of Music degree at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. “It’s very important for me to participate in a festival that explores artistic and musical values, that gathers musicians from all over the world and helps broaden my horizons. I feel I’m learning from the best, and the fact that musicians come from different cultures, may carry the traditions of different teaching styles as well as varying approaches to understanding different nationalistic styles can be really fascinating and valuable for every Festival participant. The chamber music program is also a very important factor. During the academic year, it is difficult to have concentrated time to focus on chamber music, but in advance of the Festival, everybody is assigned to play in at least one chamber group. We get together with our ensembles, rehearse, have coachings and eventually perform together, which is heaven for someone who loves playing chamber as I do. And most importantly, the faculty includes world-class musicians and performers,” she adds.

The 2018 faculty includes: pianists Alexander Shtarkman (Peabody Conservatory) and Mikael Darmanie (SUNY Stony Brook); violinists Irina Muresanu (University of Maryland) and Peter Zazofsky (Boston University); violists Pierre-Henri Xuereb (Paris Conservatoire) Michael Strauss (Oberlin) and Su Zhen (Beijing Conservatory); cellists Yehuda Hanani (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory), Chagit Glaser (Rubin Academy of Music, Tel Aviv University), as well as Baroque experts Paul Dwyer (cello, Acronym, Chicago Lyric Opera) and Adriane Post (violin, Apollo’s Fire, Handel and Haydn Society).

Hanani and the other faculty members are completely dedicated to the students. “Ultimately, what makes all of this worthwhile was beautifully illustrated this past season when a young violinist named Franz Felkl, who enrolled as a High Peaks student four summers ago, appeared on our Close Encounters With Music stage at the Mahaiwe as a member of the Amernet Quartet. To watch a student move into creative professional life is the most gratifying scenario for us. Our raison d’etre is to help our students find a life for themselves in music by promoting excellence, dedication, and joy in music-making.”

Faculty and student outreach performances have taken place in past years in prestigious locations: the Orpheum Theater in Tannersville, the post-industrial Basilica Hudson, in the orchard at Olana, the New York State Museum in Albany, Clermont State Historic Site, Catskill’s Bridge Street Theater and at the Norman Rockwell Museum. The key players involved hope members of the region and beyond who have not yet experienced this unique gem, will come to a performance at the Berkshire School’s state-of-the-art Allen Theater or drop in for a master class or talk this August. “Once there, a visitor will feel part of the creation of the music and will learn about the joy, persistence and occasional frustration that are all part of learning to play professionally. Berkshire High Peaks offers an unusual window into the process of making music and a behind-the-scenes peek into what can be a transformative experience for a young artist,” concludes Setlow.

Additional Information About the Festival:

For the ninth year, an international group of violinists, violists, cellists and pianists will converge for intensive instrumental study and chamber music coaching with distinguished faculty. At the base of Mount Everett, The Berkshire School’s 400-acre campus in Sheffield, Massachusetts offers a breathtaking setting and a destination for world-renowned arts and culture in the heart of the Berkshire Hills. The Berkshire High Peaks Residency (formerly Catskill High Peaks Festival) has evolved into a training program designed to imbue players with new ideas and approaches, inspiration, and tools for technical advancement. There is a robust schedule of private and instrumental lessons, coaching and master classes, led by eminent faculty members. Students prepare pre-selected chamber music works, with numerous opportunities to play in public performances. For recreation, one can take a guided hike on the Appalachian Trail, in the splendorous beauty and rich culture of the Berkshires. Rehearsals, master classes and concerts will be open to the public throughout the Festival.

(press release sent to WSBS from Media Buzz Solutions for online and on-air use)