15 of the Best Festivals, Performances, and Events in the Catskills
A cultural revival is underway in the northern Catskills this summer
Jazz pianist Marcus Roberts headlines Joy of Jazz Week
Photograph by John Douglas
A cultural revival is underway in the northern Catskills. From the kind of “high art” found in Manhattan to ethnic cultural festivals, there’s something for everyone here.
Hunter and Tannersville host some of the most prestigious classical music concerts in upstate New York. The Catskill Mountain Foundation (CMF) operates a performance venue in each village. The Orpheum Film and Performing Arts Center in Tannersville is housed in a renovated movie theater built in the 1930s; Hunter’s Doctorow Center for the Arts offers performances coupled with educational talks by many of the musicians who frequent the area.
“There are more arts organizations coming and developing new programs in the Catskill region,” says CMF founder Peter Finn. “Visitors have the ability to experience our beautiful natural setting while also experiencing the arts.”
Playing at both the Doctorow and the Orpheum in August is the Catskill High Peaks’ Grand Italian Tour, with concerts and lectures that explore the influence of Italy on music around the world. The centerpiece of the program is Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, with Michael Chertock on piano, Yehuda Hanani on cello, and the Catskill High Peaks Festival Chamber Orchestra.
West of Hunter is the Grazhda, an architectural landmark built in the traditional log style of Ukraine. Concert performances this month include an evening of arias and art songs, and a children’s concert of Ukrainian folk music.
At the Windham Civic and Performing Arts Center, Simone Dinnerstein gives a solo piano recital of compositions by Bach, Schumann, and Nico Muhly. Dinnerstein’s work has been described on NPR as “a journey of discovery filled with unscheduled detours.” Taking a detour from Windham back to Tannersville, one comes upon All Souls Church — where violinist Helena Baillie and her string trio play Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Theater productions are also on tap this month. Playwright Alex Webb’s Amelia is a Civil War story of a woman’s journey to find her missing husband after the Battle of Gettysburg. Horton by the Stream Outdoor Summer Theater has been bringing the plays of Horton Foote to Elka Park for the past 20 years. The setting is relaxed, with free admission and homemade brownies and lemonade for all, but the productions are staffed by professionals. Foote’s The Land of the Astronauts — the story of a would-be astronaut who discovers that greatness can be achieved without going to the moon — is this season’s offering.
Speaking of outer space: View that breathtaking expanse in Prattsville, where “Skyman” Bob Berman leads an evening of stargazing on the village green. Across the street, at the Zadock Pratt Museum, you can view the paintings of 19th-century American impressionist (and Catskills native) D.F. Hasbrouck.
Hunter’s summer includes the German Alps Festival (left) and International Celtic Festival
Hunter Mountain’s German Alps Festival features great brats, beer, and both traditional and cutting-edge musicians. Later in the month, Hunter hosts the International Celtic Festival, where the “massed march” of bagpipers down the mountain is a must-see.
One of the highlights of the inaugural 23Arts Initiative — a lineup of events ranging from concerts to car shows — is the Catskill Jazz Factory’s Joy of Jazz Week. And headlining this five-day fest is pianist Marcus Roberts and the Modern Jazz Generation, a 12-piece ensemble of young musicians.
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has called Roberts “the greatest American musician most people have never heard of.” Blinded at the age of five, Roberts has persevered to become, as Marsalis says, “a fearsome and fearless player” who has toured with symphony orchestras and composed “Spirit of the Blues,” a piano concerto.
Roberts and company perform “The Spirit of Louis,” a tribute to Louis Armstrong, at the Orpheum. Armstrong was “our first great jazz soloist. Jazz kind of came from him, if you will,” the pianist says. The schedule also includes late-night jam sessions at Tannersville’s Last Chance Tavern.
“It’s very special to have something of this high quality happening in the village,” says 23Arts Initiative cofounder Piers Playfair. “And being able to go to a concert, walk 10 yards and go to a jam session following the concert, is really cool.”