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Enjoy Live Chamber Music in The Berkshires

If you have questions about live chamber music in the Berkshires, we have the answers here. If you’re looking for things to do in the Berkshires – listening to live music is a great choice. During this COVID-19 pandemic, most music venues are closed or only open for small, socially-distanced audiences. Music and arts and culture organizations will run full speed ahead once again with live music and performance. Until then, learn a bit about chamber music and the best places to see and perform chamber music in the Southern Berkshires. We’ll answer the following questions:

Live chamber music in the Berkshires: Close Encounters With Music at Saint James Place
Peter Zazofsky, violin, Max Levinson, Piano, and Yehuda Hanani, cello, perform a chamber music concert for Close Encounters With Music at Saint James Place in Great Barrington, MA.

When visitors come to The Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, they come for the natural beauty, the quiet, the charming towns (such as Great Barrington, Lenox, Stockbridge), and for the culture. The Southern Berkshires has about 30 premier theater, dance, visual arts, historic and heritage venues. Many people who come to the Berkshires enjoy live music, which can be found all over. But what about when they specifically want to listen to chamber music?

Want to enjoy live chamber music in the Berkshires? Read on!

Where are the best places for live chamber music in the Berkshires?

Large Venues

Tanglewood

Tanglewood, founded in 1937 and located in the Berkshire Hills of Lenox and Stockbridge, MA, is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Each summer season, Tanglewood offers the popular Boston Pops concerts and also chamber music and other classical music performances. This venue is always packed because of the great talent it draws and because patrons can sit under cover or choose to sit on the lawn to listen and watch through LED screens that project what’s happening on the stage. Tanglewood can seat 6,000 people in The Shed and an additional 12,000 on the lawn and it draws about 340,000 music lovers each season.

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center

The Mahaiwe is a world-class performing arts center in the heart of Great Barrington, MA. It was originally a movie theater, built in 1905, that fell into disrepair. In 2005, after significant renovations, it opened its doors and has hosted hundreds of events. The Mahaiwe offers live music, including chamber music, dance, theater, classic films, Live in HD broadcasts, and other arts and education programs. The venue offers state-of-the-art lighting and sound. The Mahaiwe seats up to 680 people.

Medium-sized Venues

Saint James Place

Saint James Place is a state-of-the-art cultural center and event space in downtown Great Barrington, MA where Berkshire County residents and visitors enjoy year-round music, including chamber music, theater, dance, and other performances along with lectures, classes and meetings. Since opening, after an extensive restoration in 2017, over 40 arts groups in need of quality performance, rehearsal and office space have brought their creativity to Saint James Place. The venue can seat 350 people in its 3,400 square foot Sanctuary space; 130 people seated theater style in its Great Room; and 80 people seated theater in its East Room. The venue is fully air-conditioned and handicap accessible space with perfect acoustics.

Live chamber music in the Berkshires - piano on Saint James Place stage in Great Barrington, MA
Intimate Venues

West Stockbridge Congregational Church

This historic Congregational church in West Stockbridge, MA, was built in 1882 for a congregation founded in 1774. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and continues to be used by the congregation. It also offers space for some chamber music performances. The venue can seat 250 people in its historic and lovely amphitheater.

Who performs chamber music in the Berkshires?

While there are informal and student chamber music groups that come together, such as music students at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, there are many professional chamber music production organizations in the Berkshires. When you look for live music in the Berkshires – and specifically beautiful chamber music – check out these organizations:

Live chamber music in the Berkshires with Aston Magna Music Festival at Saint James Place.
Aston Magna Music Festival at Saint James Place

Aston Magna Music Festival – America’s oldest annual summer festival devote to music performed on period instruments.

Berkshire Bach – The oldest continuing member-based non-profit music organization in Berkshire County and featuring the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and his musical peers.

Berkshire High Peaks Festival – Berkshire High Peaks Festival is a 10-day summer intensive chamber music seminar in Sheffield, MA for cellists, violinists, violists & pianists. BHPF is a program of Close Encounters with Music (see below).

Cantilena Chamber Choir – The choir is composed of 24 singers who possess vocal training, excellent sight-reading skills, and choral experience. They perform under the direction of Dr. Andrea Goodman.

Clarion Concerts’ Leaf Peeper Series – This series is produced each fall in the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires, and presents the Classics on Hudson program of concerts and educational initiatives under the direction of Eugenia Zukerman.

Close Encounters With Music – This chamber music organization connects chamber-music loving listeners to performers and composers through intellectually enriching, educational and artistically uplifting concert experiences in the Berkshires. Their season runs October – June. The series is produced by artistic director Yehuda Hanani.

Crescendo – Crescendo brings an innovative approach to rarely heard choral and instrumental music, sacred and secular, performed by amateurs and professionals with the Crescendo period instrument orchestras. Crescendo is directed by its founder Christine Gevert. 

Jazz and Classics of Change – This organization presents superb music to draw awareness to social challenges. Jazz and chamber music concerts promote inclusiveness, action, and involvement. Artistic director: Gili Melamed-Lev.

Links for all of these Saint James Place music partners can be found here.

What Is Chamber Music?

Are you a live music lover but unsure of what chamber music is? According to Wikipedia.com, “chamber music is a form of classical music that’s composed of a small group of instruments.” These groups were started to fit in a palace chamber (chambre in French) or large room. Dictionary.com states that chamber music is “instrumental music played by a small ensemble, with one player to a part, the most important form being the string quartet which developed in the 18th century.” Orchestras grew significantly in size beginning in the late 1700s, and so chamber music groups became popular.

If you are still asking what is the difference between chamber music and orchestral music, in a nutshell, chamber music has one musician per instrument (2 – 8 musicians) while an orchestra may have multiple players for each instrument. For a pithy synopsis of chamber music, watch the video below.

What instruments are used in chamber music?

Chamber music can be a group of instruments from two up to eight or nine. Each player plays something different from the others, unlike an orchestra where there may be, for example, several instruments (such as violins) playing the same notes. Chamber music groupings:

Live chamber music in Great Barrington, MA. What is chamber music?

A trio is most often a “piano trio” – piano, violin, and cello – or a “string trio” – violin, viola, and cello.

A string quartet usually features four instruments: two violins, a viola, and a cello.

A string quintet features five musicians: two violins, two violas, and a cello.

A string sextet features six instruments: two violins, two violas, and two cellos, such as this concert produced by Close Encounters With Music at Saint James Place as part of their Berkshire High Peaks Festival, August 2019.

This continues up to eight musicians as an octet.

Vocalists can become part of a chamber music performance.

Some of the most popular chamber music composers are Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, Antonin Dvořák, Edvard Greig, Joseph Hayden, Felix Mendelssohn, Wolgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. You can hear portions of some of the most popular compositions of all time here.

What makes a great concert venue for chamber music?

A quartet can fit in just about any room: so, what makes a great concert venue? We say three elements contribute for an amazing listening experience:

  1. Acoustics. Venues with amazing sound isolation and reverberation are perfect for chamber music. Saint James Place is renowned for the quality of the acoustics in its Sanctuary. Read this review. Saint James Place has always been known for its acoustics from its inception as an Episcopal Church in 1857. Now, with state-of-the-art sound systems, it’s fantastic for any type of live music, including chamber music
  2. Comfort. Most chamber music concerts run between an hour to two hours, so you want to settle in and feel comfortable. While one can get swept away by the beauty of the music, uncomfortable seating or not being able to see the stage detract from the experience. Most chamber music venues in the Berkshires have good seating – especially the Mahaiwe (seating up to 680) and Saint James Place (seating up to 350). Both have tiered and cushioned seating and well-lighted stages with great views from all seats.
  3. Ambiance. Chamber music concerts can run up to two hours, so the surroundings and comfort matters. The two largest performance venues in Great Barrington, Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center and Saint James Place, both offer beautiful spaces and great seating in renovated historic buildings. Read about Saint James Place’s history here.

Want to book Saint James Place for your music performance? Click here.

Want to know the schedule of events at Saint James Place? Click here.