A Hidden Gem: The Maverick Concert Hall

Concerts take place on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

How is the historic Maverick Concert Hall a hidden gem? In two ways, I think. First, it’s physically hidden–in the woods just outside Woodstock. It’s easy to find, but you can’t see it from a main road–only after you turn into the well-signposted forest road does it come into view, a rustic architectural wonder with the most astounding acoustics. But it’s also hidden in the sense that it’s rather under the radar compared with, say, Tanglewood or the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (and the tickets are very affordable compared to these). Nevertheless, the Maverick, as the oldest continual summer chamber music series in the country, does have its regular local devotees as well as audience members who come from afar. Some of the most prominent chamber music ensembles in the world, especially string quartets, perform here, and pianist Simone Dinnerstein is a regular! She performed a magnificent concert over the July 4 weekend, which turned out to be the first of four Maverick Concerts I attended in July. Here are some photos I took during the month.

The freshly tuned piano is waiting for Simone Dinnerstein to enter and treat us to her magnificent performance. The concert program she played is actually on her recent CD, Undersong. Except for the intermission, she played each half of the concert without any pauses between the pieces of music–and it worked, the way each piece drifted naturally into the next. One of the compositions was “Mad Rush” by Philip Glass, one of my favorite pieces of music, and hearing her play it was a transcendent experience; I admit to using it occasionally as a meditation piece. You’d think that someone with her reputation and fame might be a bit stuck up or self-important, but I met her briefly after the concert (to thank her for playing the Glass) and she’s the most unassuming person imaginable.

Maverick Concerts director Alexander Platt, an accomplished musician in his own right, does a virtuoso job of coming on stage just before the second half of a performance and talking up some of the upcoming concerts in such a way that, even if you hadn’t considered attending those concerts before, you’re ready to make a beeline for the Box Office and buy a ticket. Such was the case with pianist Daniel Gortler, who performed 15 short Lyric Pieces by Edvard Grieg and then devoted the second half to Schubert’s magisterial Sonata in B-flat Major. Gortler thinks carefully about each note he plays. If someone were to suggest awarding the title “the mindful pianist,” he would be way up there on the list of nominees. After the concert I left wondering how it could have happened that I had never heard of Daniel Gortler before. He’s worth keeping track of.

Besides classical music I also enjoy country, folk, and bluegrass, so when Happy Traum and his friends are around, I want to be at that concert. The program included the numbers from Happy’s newest album, There’s a Bright Side Somewhere. The way these musicians concentrate intently on one another is amazing and is necessary for them to be able to pass seamlessly from one musician’s (semi-)improvisation to the next. Among his friends at this concert were veteran guitarist and harmonica player John Sebastian and the incredible Cindy Cashdollar (her real name) who played a variety of guitar-like instruments that even I couldn’t begin to identify. Here’s a picture of some of them:

All these guitar-like instruments, from the lone one at left to the multicolored ensemble to the right of it, were played by Cindy Cashdollar. Judging by a board full of lights that sits on the floor in front of the one guitar, I’d say you have to be a NASA scientist as well as a musician to play some of these things.

My final July concert was another I hadn’t originally thought to attend, but between Mr. Platt’s customary persuasiveness and Classical WMHT announcer Rob Brown’s pointed weather forecasts featuring beautiful weather that weekend (as well as the fact that a Philip Glass String Quartet was on the program), I ended up going to hear the magnificent Miro Quartet. The photo below was a grab shot I took with a long lens during their rehearsal; there’s a camaraderie among them and a joy at their work that’s obvious even from that distance and that spills over into the audience. The second violinist (program didn’t list the musicians’ names!) kept reminding me of the late great cellist Lynn Harrell, whose sheer joy at what he was doing was a hallmark of his performances.

The Miro Quartet rehearsing.

If you’ve not been to a concert at the Maverick, it’s definitely an experience worth having. This summer’s season ends on September 11 with a solo pianist concert to which I have yet to buy a ticket, but I have a feeling someone will persuade me … And their website is https://maverickconcerts.org/ in case you want to think about the Maverick’s 2023 season.