The violinist speaks about the motivation behind setting up a festival in the Berkshires, MA, ahead of its second edition from 18 to 20 May 2024


Violinist Yevgeny Kutik © Corey Hayes

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Tell us about the Birch Festival - how did it come about?

I grew up in Pittsfield, MA after my family was resettled there after fleeing the former Soviet Union, with the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and Jewish immigrant aid groups. Violin became an outlet for me, and we felt very lucky that we wound up living so close to Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), but I always felt sad during the year when the musicians would go back to Boston for the regular season.  

I will never forget when members of the BSO came to my school to work and perform with the orchestra students when I was about twelve. That kind of outreach made the players and music accessible in a new way, and was one of the most artistically inspiring weeks of my young life.  

My wife Rachel and I wanted to provide something similar to this in the Berkshires – great musicians, student outreach, and community-oriented events during the year–recreating the vibrancy that one can find in a big city, but in the comparatively rural Berkshires, a place that so many call home year round. It felt like a chance to give back to my community, too. My family was helped tremendously by so many in the Berkshires when we first arrived here.  

What’s the ethos behind the festival? 

Our ethos is community, student outreach, fostering an atmosphere of fun and accessibility in great music-making, and communing with the musicians that come to share their gifts.  

Over the past decade and more, I’ve been fortunate to travel across the world for concertos, recitals, and chamber music. I would often come back to the Berkshires, a place so special to me, and find that I would always have to get back on a plane to make music again. Post-pandemic, and in the years since, we as artists have to think more about our role in our art and community. Part of that for me was realising I should create what I was going on tour to do in my own backyard, so that I’m both doing my part as a citizen artist and giving back to this community that took me in and gave me so much.  

There is a big emphasis on community outreach throughout the festival. What sort of things are you offering to open up accessibility for the festival? Why do you think this is important?

In terms of accessibility, we are really interested in getting students to our concerts- so all Berkshire K-12 students and their guardian are able to come for free. As we grow as an organisation (we are still very new!), we hope to have week-long artist residencies in schools throughout the county. Our county spans the entire state from north to south, so again, as we grow, we hope to have performances throughout the region during our festival week, so folks don’t have to drive far to get to us.  

Rachel, a former public school teacher and curriculum writer, is involved in creating accessible curriculum for teachers as we visit the schools. She also offers tandem and free events surrounding our performances, including workshops and classes. We are also looking into commissioning works inspired in part by the Berkshires. 

Tell us about some musical highlights you’re looking forward to

Yes! We’re so excited for Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. The players coming in are fantastic – many are principal players of the BSO, and our conductor is Fernanda Lastra of the Buffalo Philharmonic. We are also so excited to have the amazing singer/actress Alysha Deslorieux (most recently from the show Hamilton), bring her unique voice and perspective to the part of the narrator in the Stravinsky.

Aside from the Stravinsky, we also gave our players free rein to demonstrate their own virtuosity, and they chose some really interesting pieces, including Berio’s Sequenza for solo trombone, Otto Ketting’s Intrada for trumpet, Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet, and a few other surprises. This last October we presented the brilliant clarinetist/composer, Kinan Azmeh, and pianist Renana Gutman in works inspired by folk music by Bartok, Khachaturian, and Kinan’s own compositions. 

Birch Festival-Updated Collage (April 21, 2024)

The artists featured at this year’s Birch Festival (clockwise from top left): Rob Patterson (clarinet), Edwin Barker (double bass), Rachel Barker, Rick Randi (bassoon), Yevgeny Kutik (violin), Alysha Deslorieux (narrator), Tom Siders (trumpet), Fernanda Lastra (conductor), Mike Williams (percussion) and Toby Oft (trombone)

 The second edition of the Birch Festival will be held from 18 to 20 May 2024. Find out more here:

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