By Earl Hitchener
THE PLEASURES OF WINTER: A SOLSTICE CELEBRATION, with John Whelan, Pete
Seeger, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, and Kate Pierson, Bardavon 1869 Opera House, 35 Market St., Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Dec. 14.
“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” Joni Mitchell lamented in her 1970 song “Big Yellow Taxi.” That almost happened in 1975 to the Bardavon, a beautiful, neoclassical, high-domed, grande-dame theater earmarked for the wrecking ball. But the Concerned Citizens to Save the Bardavon quickly formed to halt the parking lot plan for the theater, which was constructed four years after the Civil War and has been host to such luminaries as Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, John Philip Sousa, Frank Sinatra, and Martha Graham.
The oldest continuously operating theater in New York State, the 940-seat Bardavon is now in the skilled hands of executive director Chris Silva, who has done a terrific job of overseeing its structural renovation. But a great physical facility needs, commensurately, great programming, and Silva has accomplished that difficult double feat in this Dutchess County city near the Hudson River. “The Pleasures of Winter” is a recent example of his astute judgment in scheduling, and what a seasonal treat it was.
Backed by Flynn Cohen on guitar, seven-time All-Ireland button accordionist John Whelan, wearing a kilt in the colors of his father’s home county, Wexford, played “The Bucks of Oranmore/Eileen Curran’s/The Green Mountain” reels with fiery precision. Joined by Jay Ungar on fiddle and Molly Mason on piano, Whelan switched from a two-row box to a Cajun-style melodeon for a crisp French-Canadian reel followed by “Miss McLeod’s.” But it was on “Louise,” a slow air he wrote for his wife, that Whelan, Ungar, Mason, and Cohen attained a delicacy and breadth of feeling that were truly breathtaking.
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