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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Trumpeter, percussionist and bandleader Etienne Charles was born in Trinidad and blends island rhythms with modern jazz. He and his stellar band perform a rich gumbo of jazz, calypso, reggae, and rock-steady that Charles calls “Creole Soul” on "The Hamilton Live."