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Best of the Season 


Summer has commenced, and already she beckons insistently, like a giddy teen in a muslin sundress. (Whether her red-rimmed eyes stem from a pollen blast or a draught of summer mead is your call.) Trust that she has numerous events in store. From raucous concerts to genteel recitals, from art installations to theater, from presentations by old masters to new works by young upstarts. All installed in august performance halls, newly constructed venues, or befitting the season, gloriously al fresco.

Economists and trendwatchers are already wagging a stern finger, warning that rising gas prices will restrict our summer wanderings. Even a weekend jaunt could gouge your wallet petrol-wise, without even factoring in food and lodging. Certainly, you can flock like lambs to slaughter to the high-priced, celebrity-stuffed, overcrowded events in New York City this summer, from concerts to Shakespeare in the Park. But factor in life-threatening pollution levels as the thermometer soars, and venturing into the city seems an exercise in folly.

This summer, you don’t need to be frugal or ecologically minded (or be squirming under the greasy boot of the criminal oil cartel) to be convinced to restrict your cultural intake to venues closer to home. A survey of the summer calendar in the Hudson Valley reveals a bounty of concerts, drama, and arts festivals that will keep your synapses firing off like Roman candles from June through Labor Day. Supporting regional arts programs is a great show of neighborhood pride.

The annual Belleayre Musical Festival in Highmount is just one example of a program where the scenery often jostles for attention with the wattage of the stars in concert. Each year, Belleayre savvily programs events for young and old alike, and this year the organizers return to that winning formula. Consider laid-back rockers The Bacon Brothers Band, Kevin and Michael (July 19), and Broadway triple-threat (and erstwhile “Cheers” star) Bebe Neuwirth (July 26). Highbrows will appreciate The Belleayre Festival Opera (August 2) while frazzled parents will welcome The Children’s Opera Theatre (August 3). Or let your mind trip out with local talent Justin Kolb, Abby Newton and Mikhail Horowitz, The Post-Neo Trio (July 25). Consider Irish tenor Ronan Tynan (July 5), cheekbone crooner Chris Isaak (August 30), yahoo Vince Gill (August 23), or jazz legend Ramsey Lewis (August 9). Those who revere troubled national treasures, however, should get a front-row seat on July 12, when Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys again mindsurfs that fine line between genius and madness.
(845) 254-5600; www.belleayremusic.org

Those who favor chamber music have their temples of worship as well. Now in its 93rd season, from June 29 to August 31, Maverick Concerts in Woodstock take place in a rough-hewn 1916 concert hall with ideal acoustics. World-class artists usually found on a Carnegie Hall piano bench gladly come to this sylvan hideaway to play for fanatics. Music director Alexander Platt has assembled 24 concerts of divergent material and performers. Among the embarrassment of riches this season: Shanghai Quartet plays Schubert, Grieg, Ravel, and the works of modern composer Chen Yi (June 29); Daedalus String Quartet assays Mahler and Sibelius (July 13); and Pacifica Quartet showcases Mendelssohn, Prokofiev, and Beethoven. Maverick honors contemporary local artists in its Woodstock Legends series, this year featuring ragas by Steve Gorn (July 26), improvisatory piano by Marilyn Crispell (August 16), and the String Trio of New York performing the works of James Emery and John Lindberg (August 2).(845) 679-8217; www.maverickconcerts.org

Another venue where the landscape enhances the spectacle is the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) in Garrison, New York. For more than two decades, this event has drawn Bard groupies from all over the tri-state area. Shows are performed in a huge tent adjacent to Boscobel mansion, perched on the Hudson. HVSF is known for turning Willie the Shake on his head, teasing modern meaning from sacred texts. Last year’s “Richard III” depicted the emotionally twisted, hunchbacked ruler in all his bipolar glory but steered clear of simplistic parallels with the current occupant of the Oval Office. The players wore shiny, metallic clothes that transformed them into Space Age insects striving to destroy one another in an orgy of power-seizing.

This year, HVSF revives “Cymbeline” (June 10-August 30), a lighthearted tragedy in which true love is tested while identities are obscured to the eventual confusion of all. “Twelfth Night” (June 18-August 31) examines the challenges to romance when women fall in love with women masquerading as men. Expect director John Christian Plummer to play up the gender politics of the text as much as its meditations on love and power. “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” a hilarious sprint through 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in a mere 97 minutes, will be preformed in repertory, July 22 through August 28.
(845) 265-9575; www.hvshakespeare.org

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  • Jay Blotcher highlights this summer's music, theater, and art festivals.

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