Mohawk Trails Concerts keeps connection alive with outdoor summer concert series

  • Mark Fraser with his cello in the band shell at the Buckland Shelburne Regional School in Shelburne Falls where Mohawk Trail Concerts will be performed. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

  • Mark Fraser in the band shell at the Buckland Shelburne Regional School in Shelburne Falls where he has scheduled Mohawk Trail Concerts this season. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Mark Fraser with his cello in the band shell at the Buckland Shelburne Elementary School in Shelburne Falls where Mohawk Trail Concerts will be performed. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Mark Fraser with his cello on the lawn of the Federated Church in Charlemont where Mohawk Trail Concert attendees can sit on the lawn while the musicians will be in the function hall with the windows open. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 6/3/2021 1:10:24 PM

Music is about connection. This sentiment is at the heart of the Mohawk Trail Concerts mission, which, after canceling its season in 2020, will hold all eight performances of its 51st summer concert season outdoors and for free at various venues in Franklin County.

From June 13 to July 31, the eight concerts will all be held in three outdoor locations and some musicians will perform twice in one day at the different locations. Performances will be held at the Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School in Shelburne Falls, in Montague Center and on the East Lawn of the Charlemont Federated Church. While all concerts are free, audiences will need to bring their own chairs, blankets and picnic baskets to experience the “connection between performer and listener, between musician and musician, between musician and composer, and between musician and self.”

“Chamber music is the best vehicle for all these connections,” reads the Mohawk Trail Concerts’ mission statement. “And chamber music, played at the highest level, in a beautiful setting with fantastic acoustics, is what Mohawk Trail Concerts is all about.”

With this year’s outdoor performances, Mohawk Trail Concerts is sacrificing some measure of acoustics and trading it for a few beautiful outdoor settings, something Executive Artistic Director Mike Fraser has come to terms with, to provide the missed connection between performer and audience.

“When I took over as executive director in 2014, I vowed to never have an outdoor concert because I’m a musician myself, a cellist, and I’ve had experiences with too much sun, the wind and on top of that, the acoustics are often terrible,” Fraser said. “But here we are, in 2021 and the only shot we have is outdoor concerts. So I said, ‘OK.’”

Aside from 2020, the summer series has been held at the Federated Church in Charlemont “non-stop since 1969.”

Last season brought with it “The first summer in 51 years that we canceled,” Fraser said. For a number of years, we’ve been doing a music series at the Franklin County Jail once a month. Our last concert there was March 10. That was the last thing we did in 2020.”

This year, the summer series is back with performances held at the Federated Church along with the two other locations. Fraser said he is looking forward to seeing audiences turn out and enjoy a picnic and classical music. There is a strong community of classical musicians and “die-hard chamber music fans” within the Pioneer Valley, many of whom Fraser said are “starved” for live performances.

According to a press release, the Steinway grand, a 7-foot Steinway piano moved into the church for the summer season, will be in the coffee room at the Federated Church in Charlemont, where five large windows and a door will be open so the audience outside on the East lawn can hear the beautiful strains of the Steinway. Some performances will be held at the Montague Center Ballfield, with musicians playing on a trailer and listeners sitting in the round, under the trees. Others will play at the Bandshell in Shelburne Falls, where there are “excellent” acoustics and lots of space to spread out picnic blankets.

When the idea to host the concert series outdoors first came about during an April Mohawk Trail Concerts board meeting, Fraser said the excitement among the group was “palpable.” He said experiencing the connection of live music is a large part of board members’ lives and something that had been “totally absent” for the past 14 months.

“One thing said was that a lot of musicians have made a great effort of putting out these virtual concerts, in their living rooms or whatever,” Fraser said. “That’s been good, but the consensus was that was getting pretty stale. It just wasn’t the same. That feeling of being in an audience, sharing an experience with the other listeners. … It’s really a wonderful connection.”

Fraser said he has a long background in presenting concerts. Originally from Quebec, Canada, he and his brother began running a summer festival for music and theater performances roughly 30 years ago.

“I’ve just always been interested in creating concerts and making them available to people,” Fraser said.

While the 2021 Mohawk Trail Concerts summer series is free this year, Fraser said they will be accepting donations to offset regular expenses. To that end, donations and grants will be the Mohawk Trail Concerts’ only form of income in 2021, as the organization usually makes 35 percent of its annual revenue through ticket sales in an average year.

“We just wanted to make it available to people,” he said of the 2021 season. “Anyone can come.”

The 2021 summer season-opening concert is scheduled for Sunday, June 13, and features string sextets by Dvorak and Brahms, in a collaboration of the Adaskin String Trio, of which Fraser is a member, along with the Elm Chamber Players. The group will perform two concerts, the first at noon at the Montague Center Ball Field and the second at 5 p.m. at the Bandshell at the Buckland-Shelburne School in Shelburne Falls.

The rest of the schedule is as follows:

■June 19 — The Rasa String Quartet, from Boston, will be performing works of Mendelssohn, Florence Price and Amy Beech at noon at the Montague Center Ball Field, and at 5 p.m. at the Bandshell at the Buckland-Shelburne School in Shelburne Falls.

■June 26 — The Adaskin String Trio with Thomas Gallant, oboe, will be performing works of Beethoven, Fiala, and Berkeley. The group will hold two concerts with the first at noon at the Montague Center Ball Field, and the second at 5 p.m. at the Bandshell at the Buckland-Shelburne School in Shelburne Falls.

■July 4 — A traditional Jazz concert with John Clark, horn and special guest Rob Peck, a juggler, at 4 p.m. The concert will be on the East lawn of the Federated Church in Charlemont.

■July 10 — Pianist Jiayan Sun will be performing works of Schubert and Chopin at 5 pm on the East lawn of the Federated Church in Charlemont.

■July 17 — Masako Yanagita, violin and Estela Olevsky, piano, will perform works of Beethoven, Liszt and Florence Price at 5 p.m. on the East lawn of the Federated Church in Charlemont.

■July 24 — The Hirsch-Pinkas Piano Duo, from Boston, will perform works of Barber, Rachmaninoff and Milhaud at 5 p.m. on the East lawn of the Federated Church in Charlemont. 

■July 31 — Diva of deliciousness Tinky Weisblat with Jerry Noble, piano, will perform a selection of delicious songs at 5 p.m. on the East lawn of the Federated Church in Charlemont.

Audiences will be asked to wear a mask unless sitting with their household or group members and practice social distancing from other groups. More information, including rain dates, is available online at mohawktrailconcerts.org/2021-season, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mohawktrailconcerts.

Reporter Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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