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A Musical “Cathedral in the Pines”: The 96th Season at Maverick Concerts by Tad Wise

In 1904, when Hervey White broke away from the rarified autocracy of Woodstock’s first utopian experiment “Byrdcliffe,” to found his own Maverick Colony, he took with him only one passion acquired as steward to wealth: a love of classical music. Of course, such music requires a church-like chamber within which its subtleties may be appreciated. Not surprisingly, the hall White built for his all-but-destitute collective proved unlike one any respectable musician had ever performed in before. Yet for all its primitivism, this “cathedral in the pines,” became famous for its bell-like acoustics, and prevailed to become the oldest continuous chamber summer music venue in America, and one of the most cherished destinations for classical musicians throughout the world.

This year, The Maverick Festival celebrates its 96th consecutive year. In keeping with Hervey’s egalitarian roots, the Maverick’s music director, Alexander Platt, has insisted on continually broadening the base of the annual summer program, inviting in edgier performers, providing afternoons of music for children (admitted free), and creating focused explorations of geniuses in relationship to one another. While many guests such as the Miro Quartet, the Leipzig String Quartet, the Daedalus Quartet, and the Tokyo String Quartet (who kick off the formal season on June 26) will perform their own repertoire, others will contribute to this year’s musical exploration called, “The Virtuoso Composer,” an intensive examination of the three controversial innovators: Franz Liszt, Gustav Mahler, and Leonard Bernstein. The list of those participating will include the riveting cellist Zuill Bailey, Trio Solisti, the Shanghai Quartet, the Amernet String Quartet, a small army of astounding pianists including long-time favorite Frederic Chui, Jon Nakamatsu, Navah Perlman, Justin Kolb, Stephen Gosling, Andrew Russell, Joel Fan, and a Maverick debut by rising star Ilya Yakushev, as well as performances by our own Perry Beekman, Bar Scott, Peter Tomlinson, Terry Blaine, Lou Pappas, and soprano extraordinaire (from Rhinebeck way) Nancy Allen Lundy.

Born 200 years ago this year, piano child prodigy and early “rock star” Franz Liszt, broke with musical structures of the past, almost single-handedly fathered the Romantic movement, and championed the notion that music could provide a narrative of the soul. Liszt is considered the innovator of the “symphonic poem.”

Gustav Mahler, a pianist who achieved fame as a conductor of opera, carried the torch lit by Liszt of “music as autobiography” into this century. Invited to America after falling victim to anti-Semitism in Europe, Mahler arrived in New York City revitalizing first, the Metropolitan Opera's orchestra, and later, the New York Philharmonic. His stature as maestro created a sanctuary within which his controversial symphonies were tolerated. Upon his early death in 1911, however, critical backlash gradually marginalized his symphonic outpourings, all but banishing these from performance until after WWII when Europe gradually rediscovered Mahler, thanks in part to the crusade of another young lion of Jewish descent—the first American conductor to achieve worldwide acclaim, Leonard Bernstein.

Bernstein seems to have been born to perform; a fiery young pianist, he soon took to the podium. Compared to the staid postures of his predecessors, the stormy athleticism of his conducting appears to have leapt from a fourth dimension. Considering Mahler’s achievements the most important work of the new century, the firebrand would eventually conduct all of Mahler’s symphonies before audiences around the world, including an unrelenting New York Philharmonic Mahler festival in 1960—a daring gamble which showered glory on composer and conductor alike.

While musical predecessors had long borrowed from quaint “folk melodies,” Bernstein—like Gershwin—went to the street. Praising rock, particularly the Beatles, he was the first “serious” composer to voice electric guitar within a symphony (in his controversial “Mass”). Marrying high art to low, and insisting that “classical” music could and must speak to wider audiences, his pre-performance lectures became legendary, augmenting talks and performances for children (a tradition the Maverick honors to this day). His single most famous, and, in his own estimation, successful work remains the music for “West Side Story,” considered by many to be the single greatest score in the history of modern musical theater.

Exactly what Alexander Platt is up to in this year’s “The Virtuoso Composer” will be understood best when he provides a brisk but brilliant introduction to each and every Maverick performance. These talks remain memorable reminders that passion and eloquence do still co-exist—even in the age of Twitter.

The Maverick Concert Festival also hosts “Jazz at the Maverick,” this year featuring Don Byron, Bill Charlap and others, as well as a pre-season concert by our ever-popular Ars Choralis, and a salute to the Maverick Colony’s theatrical history with a performance by the brilliant Actors and Writers theatre company.

Attention, guitarists and lovers of guitar in the greater Woodstock area! Do not miss Jason Vieaux’s expanded program of “Metheny and the Masters,” a series of traditional guitar masterpieces juxtaposed with five works by the living (and sometimes local) guitar legend, Pat Metheny. Vieaux’s virtuosity must be heard to be believed. But the prize for surprise this season will undoubtedly go to the extraordinarily eclectic “ETHEL String Quartet,” which you will want to investigate on YouTube.

The Maverick Hall is a simple yet magnificent shell constructed of wood and re-cycled windows, yet a shell that is exquisite in its radical simplicity. Extreme heat and accompanying humidity, thunder and lightning, even the occasional hailstorm can and will be braved by performer and audience alike—in extreme instances—with a brief intermission. In fine weather, Hervey White’s tradition of “Rock Bottom” for whatever you can afford, remains an institution for financially challenged aesthetes.

Also highly recommended is a peek at local musicologist Miriam Berg’s superb remarks concerning each classical program, available online—as are advance tickets and additional concert information—at before the concert. Once there, art lovers should be sure to click on “History” for the genesis of the “Maverick Horse” which sits majestically on the Maverick’s stage enjoying every concert. Woodstock sculptor John Flanagan originally carved it from a living chestnut tree at the entrance to the Maverick property. Using little more than an axe, he completed this, his magnum opus, in several weeks, for which Hervey paid him a worker’s wage of 25 cents an hour!

Only in Woodstock! Or more precisely: only at The Maverick.

Maverick Concerts 2011 season runs from June 18 through September 4, at its location on Maverick Road, just off of Rte. 375, Woodstock. Visit for complete schedule, and ticketing information.

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