For several years now, with the arrival of the summer solstice, I get an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. After some soul searching, I now attribute this uneasy feeling to the notion that for most of my adult life, the summertime was devoted to several weeks of studying & singing Opera abroad. As I explained this to my husband, I realized the notion of a “summer music festival” is a rather a bizarre ritual to which very few Americans can relate. The average American kid isn’t gallivanting away to Italy for Opera lessons each summer and when I reminisce on all the places I’ve been to sing, I realize how blessed I have been to have loving parents who supported my talent.
The most impressionable of these summer experiences took place in Austria the summer of 2004. Me and a group of college friends enrolled in a summer study abroad program in Vienna that resulted in one of the most magical summers of our lives (Ruth Schauble, Ryan Bede, Humberto Soto can fill in the blanks here – including a lost cellphone story that I should really make a short film about). I was so enraptured by my time in Bavaria, I managed to stay on many weeks later to attend the Salzburg Music Festival. There, in the very town that Mozart called home, I met and studied with Kammersingerin, Patricia Wise – an American, who embodied everything I wanted to be when I grew up. She even ended up vouching for me years later during my audition to Indiana University’s Masters of Vocal Arts program and I befriended a life long friend, soprano Naomi Ruiz.
Having always intended to sing during the summer, my husband and I set out in search of a European experience to celebrate our first wedding anniversary without boarding an airplane. After a little research we decided on the Berkshires, aptly named after the pretty English county of Berkshire. During our three hour trek north, I inundated my husband with hours of classical music education on our way to the “Switzerland of America.” When we finally arrived to The Blantyre, we were awe struck by a huge manor built on a sprawling 110 acres estate. Upon our arrival, we were greeted with champagne by the Membership Director and whisked through the century old castle being immediately transported to somewhere that felt truly European. Success! The opulent home was built by Robert Paterson during the “Gilded Age,” modeled after his mother’s ancestral home in Blantyre, Scotland. Built in 1902, the manor once employed over 300 people. Today, the resort is equipped with a Spa, a music salon, an extensive underground wine cellar in a cave that is the exclusive partner to Dom Pérignon Champagne. After an impressive dinner of lobster and duck pate were serenaded by the staff pianist, holding a DM in Piano Performance from Manhattan School of Music. I was even able to sing a bit for my husband the visiting guests in the picturesque music room, satisfying my to desire to perform again with no planning or preparation.
It’s high time America had its own Salzburg and we are taking a step in that direction” Gertrude Robinson Smith, founder of Tanglewood
The real reason we chose the Berkshires as our travel destination was to visit the legendary Tanglewood Music Center (the summer residence of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937) for the first time. I had wanted to attend this music festival in high school as a student but was sadly waitlisted to the dismay of my mother! Tanglewood is actually comprised of three music schools: the Tanglewood Music Center, Days in the Arts and the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Besides classical music, Tanglewood hosts the Festival of Contemporary Music, jazz and popular artists, concerts, and frequent appearances by YoYo Ma, James Taylor, John Williams, and the Boston Pops. This year, the campus inaugurated its $33 million dollar, four-building, climate controlled facility – the Linde Center, which will likely evolve Tanglewood from a summer festival to a year round music institution.
We toured the campus and enjoyed a String Quartet marathon concert with hundreds of other concert goers listening to some of the best young students in the country interpret Mozart, Haydn, Brahms and Schubert. My favorite quartet being Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” Quartet No,. 14 in D minor, D.810. Kudos to my husband – a sports enthusiast – for enduring 2+ more hours of classical music 🙂 I could have stayed all day along attending performances and picnicking on the lawn.
As our weekend journey ended, we stopped by the spectacular home of author Edith Wharton on our way home – The Mount. In her writing, she often described houses as a physical space with a direct relationship to its inhabitant’s characteristics and emotions. She spent ten years perfecting this home to be a direct reflection of her own soul, where she entertained the elite of American literary society, including novelist Henry James, who had his own designated room at The Mount. He described the estate as “a delicate French chateau mirrored in a Massachusetts pond”. The manicured gardens are an ode to her very favorite French and Italian gardens erected from her fond memories of many summers abroad. She joked she might be a better equipped landscaper than a writer! Although she spent many months traveling in Europe nearly every year, The Mount was her primary residence until 1911. Like me, she loved writing in her bed, playing with her pups, planning parties and traveling Europe.
If you’re a super nerd like me and Tom, a weekend in Lenox might be right up your alley. When you aren’t busy hiking or exploring all that nature has to offer the area, the town itself has many cultural splendors to enjoy. Since moving to the East coast, I’ll admit that Lenox is the first town outside of New York City that has felt like home. We will be sure to hit up the Norman Rockwell Museum the next time we return, which I’m sure will be very soon!
The Carriage House