News / Arts & Entertainment

Boston Symphony Makes Music in Mountains

Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony, at dusk. (Stu Rosner)
Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony, at dusk. (Stu Rosner)
LENOX, Massachusetts — Open-air classical music concerts are now a summer tradition in the United States. However, that wasn't the case 75 years ago, when the Boston Symphony first performed on a former estate called Tanglewood in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts.

Since then, Tanglewood has been the summer home of the Boston Symphony.

When Serge Koussevitzy, the Russian-born conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, opened Tanglewood in 1937, he chose an all-Beethoven program, including the Pastorale Symphony. When conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi opened the 75th anniversary season in early July 2012, he recreated it.

Beethoven’s musical tribute to nature, complete with bird calls, seems a perfect companion to the charms of Tanglewood.
Boston Symphony Sounds in Berkshire Mountains
Boston Symphony Sounds in Berkshire Mountains i
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X


When you walk through the trees and open fields of the campus, you come across music everywhere: French horn players rehearsing Strauss in a cabin in the woods, a string quartet playing contemporary music on a concert hall stage, two trumpets rehearsing Beethoven in a barn.

"It’s a place where music and nature come together in the most wonderfully natural way," says conductor John Williams, who has composed many well-known movie scores.

The Oscar-winning composer has come to Tanglewood every summer since 1980, when he was named music director of the Boston Pops. "We learn something about ourselves as musicians and as listeners, out here every day, when we’re here among the trees and the beautiful weather and so on."
John Williams leading the Boston Pops with James Taylor on July 14, 2012. (Hilary Scott)John Williams leading the Boston Pops with James Taylor on July 14, 2012. (Hilary Scott)
x
John Williams leading the Boston Pops with James Taylor on July 14, 2012. (Hilary Scott)
John Williams leading the Boston Pops with James Taylor on July 14, 2012. (Hilary Scott)

Boston Symphony managing director Mark Volpe oversees the 1,000 employees and volunteers from a Victorian house on the property.
 
"Every city has a concert hall. What makes the Boston Symphony absolutely unique in the world of orchestras is Tanglewood," Volpe says. "Tanglewood really is the grand daddy of this notion of a summer venue."

When Koussevitzky began conducting at Tanglewood during its first season - in the middle of the Great Depression - the orchestra played in a tent. After a thunderstorm damaged the tent, the Boston Symphony built a modest, but more permanent structure: a shed with a dirt floor in the auditorium and wooden seats. And, with the exception of a little acoustical fine tuning, the structure has basically remained the same.  

Over the decades, Tanglewood has attracted some of the world's finest musicians, not only to perform, but to teach. Giants like Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein were fixtures for years and, these days, Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax are among the faculty of the Music Center, which is a training ground for young musicians. Every summer 150 of them, most of whom are in their early twenties, study at Tanglewood for free.  

They also perform at Tanglewood.
Seiji Ozawa talks with Leonard Bernstein during a lecture for Tanglewood students in this undated file photo. (Walter H. Scott)Seiji Ozawa talks with Leonard Bernstein during a lecture for Tanglewood students in this undated file photo. (Walter H. Scott)
x
Seiji Ozawa talks with Leonard Bernstein during a lecture for Tanglewood students in this undated file photo. (Walter H. Scott)
Seiji Ozawa talks with Leonard Bernstein during a lecture for Tanglewood students in this undated file photo. (Walter H. Scott)

Tom Rolfs, now the principal trumpet of the Boston Symphony who also teaches at Tanglewood, first came as an 18-year-old student.

"The very first day I sat down in the orchestra and Seiji Ozawa was on the podium," he says, "and then, Leonard Bernstein. So, if that doesn’t change your life, nothing will. "

All the music making in the world wouldn’t mean  anything without an audience, and they come in droves. About 350,000 tickets are sold every summer.  

One recent weekend, Greg Passin made the three-hour drive from New York City to meet friends, have a picnic and listen to Beethoven.

"It’s relaxed, but it feels very, not formal, but ritualized in a way, right?" says Passin. "People are coming with their chairs and their tables and their bottles of wine and, clearly, it’s something they do all the time and have very specific ways of doing it. So, it’s the social aspect, as well as the musical."

Some, like World War II veteran Bob Rosenblatt, have been coming for decades. His first visit was in 1947 and he's been a volunteer usher for 40 years.   

"Every concert’s my first," Rosenblatt says. "Doesn’t it sound Pollyannaish?  But it’s true."

Tanglewood officially celebrated its 75th Anniversary with a gala concert, featuring Yo-Yo Ma, John Williams and James Taylor. There will be more gala evenings throughout the summer in the Berkshires.

You May Like

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”