By Sharon Smullen, Eagle correspondent
As the town of Lenox winds up a year of looking back on its past, pianist composer Moshe Knoll will premiere "Lenox Suite," a multi-movement work he is writing in honor of the town's 250th anniversary. The suite will be performed on Sunday, as part of Cantilena Chamber Choir's annual concert of "The World's Greatest Christmas Carols" at Trinity Church. The festive program will also include Vaughan Williams' famed "Fantasia onChristmas Carols," a medley of Christmas spirituals arranged by Chanticleer that features "Go Tell It On The Mountain" — an apt selection for a concert in the Berkshire Hills — and a sing-along.
"Everybody gets to hear their favorites," said Andrea Goodman, director of Cantilena's 25-member avocational chorus of trained musicians, now in its 14th season. The Lenox tribute continues with a reading by Shakespeare & Company Artistic Director Allyn Burrows that Goodman describes as "a really fascinating history of Lenox in the wintertime in 1888," with descriptions of church going, snowfall and distinguished Cottagers. In "Lenox Suite," Knoll will play piano alongside violinist Laura Goldberg, a Juilliard faculty member and director of ArtsAhimsa Chamber Music Festival at Lenox "Cottage" Belvoir Terrace, home to her family's summer arts camp for girls. Her mother, camp director Nancy Goldberg, was instrumental in encouraging Knoll to create the work as their contribution to the anniversary festivities.
A Venezuelan born, former Israeli and now newly-minted U.S. citizen, Knoll studied music in America, building on a rich childhood music foundation that predated his native country's acclaimed "El Sistema." He dedicates the "Lenox Suite" to both the town and his performing partner Laura Goldberg, describing the work for piano and violin as "a series of musical tableaux describing highlights of the history of Lenox."The widely-traveled composer regards Lenox as "one of the most beautiful cities" he has seen. "There's something about it that is magical," he noted. Citing influences from Bach to Keith Jarrett, Knoll considers his compositional style tonal and neoclassical, a traditionalistic approach whose underlying principles are valid "for all time." A composer since age 7, his works range from orchestral to piano and solo voice. "The music [of 'Lenox Suite'] is very American," he notes. "The feeling is totally today, but using techniques from hundreds of years ago." To date, he has written eight movements, in varying tempos such as a march and dance, beginning in early settlement days and including notable residents such as the Sedgwicks, Hawthorne and Shaw. He plans to add sections on Edith Wharton and also the Housatonic River as an homage to Charles Ives, who was inspired by the waterway. The suite concludes with the choir singing a hymn to Lenox using text from a nature poem by Thoreau. Knoll has greatly admired the New England Transcendentalists since being introduced to their writings at Juilliard. He conducts extensive research to do justice to his material, and expects the suite to run 45 minutes when complete.
Knoll and Goldberg enjoy a symbiotic musical relationship. "She has repertoire that nobody else is playing, and I have somebody who tells me how to make it playable," Knoll said. "She points out to me what is idiomatic for the violin."
Cantilena director Goodman, who has conducted since attending the Aspen Music Festival in 1976 at age 18,first performed with Goldberg in New York City in 1985. "Her part is quite complex, a virtuoso part that he wrote for her," Goodman said. "I think that will be the [concert] highlight."
The program will be reprised at 3 p.m. on Dec. 10 at Sandisfield Arts Center. Future Cantilena performances include a concert of new music at Pittsfield's Intermodal bus station.
In today's political climate, audience interest in attending concerts is brisk, Goodman said.