The Beat Goes On: Classical music in Florence, Amherst and Springfield, roots rock in Northampton, and more

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 01-13-2023 11:27 AM

As John Montanari sees it, the classical music field these days is awash with talent, full of artists who “are so smart, flexible and just damned good that they can pull off virtually anything,” as he noted in a recent email.

Montanari, the artistic director of Valley Classical Concerts (VCC), was referring in part to a concert the group produced last spring, when the pianist in a chamber music ensemble, The Lysander Trio, fell ill a few days before the show. Her replacement, Montanari noted, stepped in and did the show without missing a beat.

Now VCC has produced a new chamber music concert that’s also relying on a replacement musician — but Montanari’s confident this concert will be without a hitch as well. It takes place Jan. 15 at 3 p.m. at the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence and features pianist Orion Weiss, violinist William Hagen and cellist Nicholas ​​​​​​Canelkakis.

All three musicians, who will play selections by Dvorak, Haydn and Mendelssohn, have extensive experience performing with a wide range of orchestras, chamber ensembles, and other groups. They’ve also racked up many accolades: For instance, the Dallas Morning News wrote about Hagen, who’s 30, “Even in an age when brilliant young violinists seem to grow on trees, Hagen … is a standout.”

Hagen and Weiss also frequently perform as featured soloists. Canellakis, whose playing the New York Times has called “impassioned,” is the late addition to the Jan. 15 show at Bombyx, replacing Romanian cellist Andrei Ionita, who was unable to make the gig.

Montanari, the former classical music director at what’s now New England Public Media, says he’s not sure why Ionita can’t perform. But he’s happy to see the music go forward: He notes that VCC originally planned to offer this concert three years ago but had to cancel it because of the pandemic.

 

The Drake in Amherst will also feature classical music in an upcoming show, this one by faculty members from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It’s the first performance in a series of chamber music concerts at the downtown venue that will extend into spring.

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The series, presented by Amherst’s Business Improvement District (BID), begins Jan. 22 at 4 p.m. and will feature Bandwidth, a quintet made up of Romie de Guise-Langlois (clarinet), Cobus du Toit (flute), Jonathan Hulting-Cohen (saxophone), Joshua Michal (French horn) and Rémy Taghavi (bassoon).

That the five are able to get together to play is no small feat, given their teaching duties and busy schedules gigging with a range of musical groups in New England and further afield. Du Toit, for instance, a native of South Africa, has performed in Russia, Taiwan, Japan, Germany, Australia, Norway and France in addition to the U.S.

According to program notes, Bandwidth performs, and also has also commissioned, music by a number of contemporary composers such as Marcos Balter, a highly acclaimed Brazilian writer. They also cover work by composers such as Charles Loeffler, a German-American musician of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Joining the group at the Jan. 22 show will be guest artist Kemp Jernigan, from the New York City area, on oboe.

 

The phrase “Will it play in Peoria?” has been around since the vaudeville era, when it became a way of asking if an artistic event or idea had enough appeal for a mainstream audience — the kind that was assumed to exist in this central Illinois city.

The Way Down Wanderers, who hail from Peoria, seem to have made the cut, generating lots of fans in their hometown, their home state, and elsewhere across the country and in Great Britain, perhaps because they’ve tapped into classic American roots music in their own way.

The five-piece band, which comes to The Parlor Room in Northampton Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m., is a little tough to classify. With percussion, mandolin, guitar, keyboards, bass, banjo and fiddle, they seem to straddle a line between indie rock and bluegrass/folk, but pop and jazz are also part of their sound.

As the Associated Press writes, “Somewhere on the spectrum between Old Crow Medicine Show and Mumford and Sons lies the spirited bluegrass-based artistry of The Way Down Wanderers. It is joyful, daring and occasionally sublime.”

The band is especially noted for its tight harmonies and songwriting, drawing praise from reviewers with No Depression and Rolling Stone Country in particular. They’ve followed their 2019 album “Illusions” with the more recent “More Like Tomorrow,” with 10 songs written by lead singers Collin Krause and his brother-in-law, Austin Krause-Thompson.

The album covers a lot of ground, including Collin Krause’s recovery from alcohol abuse and other hard lessons, but it concludes with the deceptively titled “Everything’s Made Out of Sand,” a jaunty old-time flavored tune recorded live in the studio that pretty much celebrates five guys having fun making music around a single mic.

More music on tap

Amherst native Mtali Banda and his band bring their mix of jazz, funk, soul, R&B and more to The Parlor Room Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m. The show will be a tribute to the late South African anti-apartheid musician Hugh Masekela.

Tem Blessed and Blest Energy will deliver “socially conscious” Hip Hop at the Drake Jan. 14 at 8 p.m.

Valley roots musician, ethnomusicologist, and author Tim Eriksen, who’s currently the resident musician at Historic Deerfield, will perform at the Deerfield Community Center Jan. 14 at 7 p.m.

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra performs Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at Springfield Symphony Hall to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with performances dedicated to Black composers.

The Winter Cajun/Zydeco Festival, featuring the Back O’ Town Cajun Band and Planet Zydeco, as well as dance lessons in both genres, runs from 1 to 5 p.m., Jan. 15 at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield.

Valley Jazz Voices will hold its annual fundraising concert Jan. 15 at 3 p.m. in the Blue Room in CitySpace in Easthampton.

Get the Led Out, a Led Zeppelin tribute band, will be at the Calvin Theatre Jan. 20 and 21 at 8 p.m.

Wolfman Jack, an ongoing project of varied New England musicians who play the songs of the Grateful Dead circa 1965 to 1972, will be at the Divine Theater at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke Jan. 21 at 8 p.m.

Dust Bowl Revival brings its mix of Americana, soul and r&b to the Drake Jan. 26 at 8 p.m. Valley soul specialists The Mary Jane Jones will open the show.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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