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The quieter music of Berkshires' weekdays

Email|Print| Text size + By Julie Hatfield
Globe Correspondent / July 23, 2003

LENOX - Anyone who has been stuck in the massive traffic jam leading out of Tanglewood and heading back to the turnpike on a Sunday night has probably wondered, longingly, ''What is it like out here on weekdays? Must be nice, without all this traffic.''

It is. The many musical organizations in addition to Tanglewood, the athletic venues, the art festivals, the dance and theater productions that fill the Berkshires' summer weekends, the antiques shops, and the interesting inns: All are here during the week. Not everything stops on Sunday afternoons, as the locals know and appreciate. If you can get away for a three-day midweek summer break, the joys here are enhanced by the empty roads.

We started our midweek trip with two nights at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health to purge our bodies of meat and alcohol and to straighten, flex, and ''wake up'' our spines at the largest yoga center in the country. If you have a good yoga teacher, chances are he or she was trained at this facility.

The middle of the day at Kripalu is wide open for exploring the area if you're not interested in the chanting classes and the touchy-feely art- or sound-therapy seminars scheduled then. You are free to wander the beautiful grounds, walk the labyrinth up in the woods, stroll over to the private beach at the nearby lake, or walk the 10-minute path to the Tanglewood grounds.

On a Monday or a Tuesday, the spectacular Tanglewood lawn is open from 8 a.m. to dusk. Take a picnic, a book, an easel, and/or a lover and sit in the shed or under a tree and absorb the beauty in all its solitude. You may be fortunate and hear the sounds of practicing musicians. There are also paid concerts of string quartets and small musical groups in Ozawa Hall on Monday and Tuesday evenings.

Also within walking distance from Kripalu and Tanglewood is the year-old permanent home of Shakespeare & Company at 70 Kemble St., with its ''footprint'' of the 1587 Rose Playhouse of London that will be re-created here by 2007. The Rose, a small, circular theater built before the the more famous Globe, was the venue for the early Shakespeare plays. The replica will allow modern American audiences to experience Shakespearean drama as the Elizabethans did. Plays are being presented on the site in the middle of the week as well as on weekends.

Shakespeare & Company's new walking trails at the north end of the 63-acre property, which was most recently home to the National Music Foundation, opened in June. Families can hike, explore, picnic, and enjoy a number of free performances outdoors before the regular ticketed performances begin in several theaters on the grounds.

You can also bring along a picnic in midweek to the lovely grounds of Jacob's Pillow and spend a whole day learning about dance from artists and scholars in a program called Pillow Talks. Many of the events are free as part of its Audience Engagement Series, financed by the Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund. One of the Pillow Talks is held on Wednesday afternoons, and ''the Pillow,'' as it is called, offers feature films on dance, pre- and post-show talks, exhibits, and walking tours and trails on the 27-acre compound. There are also afternoon performances on the Inside/Out stage.

A few years ago, a Lenox resident, noticing that Tanglewood's weekend concerts left the early part of the week bereft of live music, organized the Summer Music Series at Seven Hills. The Monday and Tuesday night concerts at the Seven Hills Inn are a five-minute drive from Lenox center. Among musicians who perform regularly in the music room of this lovely 1911 former ''summer cottage'' of Emily Meredith Read Spencer, a Bostonian, are Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart and his wife, violinist Lucia Lin. Musicales at this funky Victorian hotel, where Italian woodcarvers spent two years creating a replica of the Vatican's Bernini columns for the dining room, have a strong history. With its proximity to Tanglewood and its large rooms suitable for pianos, the inn, called Skipton Court in the 1950s, became the place for aspiring young musicians to work and live. Those who waited tables and cleaned bathrooms for their room and board include Seiji Ozawa, Carly Simon, Beverly Sills, and Leonard Bernstein.

Jim Eder bought the hotel at auction in 1994. He is a collector of Victoriana, which plays beautifully into the character of the ''manor house,'' the main building of the complex. The newer buildings, a former carriage house and a motel-like structure, are not as pretty as the original structure. If you stay here, which we did on our third night in the Berkshires, be sure to ask to stay in the manor house. The chef at the inn's restaurant trained at both the Cordon Bleu in Paris and the Culinary Institute of America, so there is no searching for a good restaurant.

We spent our last morning antiquing in this mecca of period furniture and found new but wonderful replicas of the delicate Windsor chair at a decorating/antique store called Wingate, in Great Barrington. The chairs, around $600, while not cheap, were less expensive than a set of the real thing we had seen in a Nantucket antiques shop for $1,000 each.

That afternoon, we played golf at the Cranwell course, which is open to the public as long as the members haven't booked it solid. On Mondays and Tuesdays, of course, it's less crowded than on weekends, and the course wends its way around the beautiful Blantyre estate, another of the massive old summer homes of the early 20th-century robber barons.

We spent our last evening at one of the most riveting theater experiences we have had. An offshoot of the 74-year-old Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, and a 10-minute drive from the Seven Hills Inn, the little Unicorn Theatre opened several years ago as a venue for more intimate presentations. We enjoyed a very powerful presentation of August Strindberg's ''Miss Julie.''

After many summer visits in the Berkshires, we were pleasantly surprised that, except for our annual pilgrimage to Kripalu, yet again we had managed to fill three days and nights with new activities and pleasures. And, because it was midweek, our visit was perhaps half the price of a weekend stay.

Julie Hatfield is a freelance writer who lives in Duxbury.

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