Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tanglewood Celebrates 75 Years of Koussevitzky’s Dream

By Erica Miner 

In 1940, as war raged in Europe, beloved Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Serge Koussevitzky fulfilled his dream of creating an academy of learning where the world’s most gifted young music students would study with esteemed members of the BSO and other distinguished artists.

Koussevitzky’s Berkshire Music Center, now named Tanglewood Music Center, opened on July 8 of that year. The impressive composition faculty included Aaron Copland and Paul Hindemith. At the head of Koussevitzky’s elite first conducting class was an outstandingly talented youth named Leonard Bernstein. During the following the years he and another brilliant student, Seiji Ozawa, became guiding lights for the Center.

Over the decades, TMC has become a symbol of unparalleled excellence in musical instruction and coaching. It’s estimated that 20 percent of the members of American symphony orchestras, and 30 percent of all first-chair players, studied at the TMC; an impressive statistic indeed. As a Fellowship student for three summers, I was blessed with the opportunity to partake in this tutelage. Even today I feel that those summers at Tanglewood comprised a significant part of my musical training, and helped prepare me for my career as a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Not often does one have the opportunity to attend a single concert helmed by three different conductors, all of whom are key figures to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. On Aug. 4, 2015, capping a day of festivities in which one could watch white-clad Boston University Tanglewood Institute chorus members parading on the grounds on the way to their concert in the shed, while various TMC vocal students and chamber ensembles performed throughout, TMC celebrated its 75th anniversary with the traditional “Tanglewood on Parade” Gala Concert combining the forces of the BSO, Boston Pops Orchestra and
Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.

At the helm of this evening of panoplies of classical and popular favorites were BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, frequent guest conductor Stéphane Denève and Pops Music Director Keith Lockhart. Homage was paid to some of the orchestra’s past music directors in a spectacular program emphasizing French, Russian, and American music.

For the rousing opening, Nelsons chose the Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture. Having just completed his first full season as the newly minted BSO Music Director, Nelsons clearly was in comfortable command of the orchestra, which showed a continuing bond with and affinity for the music of former music directors Pierre Monteux and Charles Munch. Nelsons’ sweeping gestures and precise baton provided only what was needed to carry along the lush melodies and stimulating rhythms, and the ensemble executed them brilliantly. Nelsons then followed with Ravel's meditative Pavane for a Dead Princess, which the orchestra performed as if in one sinuous long line of shimmering French radiance. Nelsons then transitioned into two contrasting Shostakovich pieces, with a supple, graceful rendition of the dreamy “Romance” from the suite for his film The Gadfly and a lively “Galop” from his satirical operetta Cheryomushki.

Switching gears, Denève appeared on the stage and launched into the first of three pieces paying tribute to one of the conductor’s musical heroes, iconic composer John Williams. After pleasing the crowd by applying his dynamic, impressively flamboyant technique to a virtuoso performance of Williams’ buoyant Sound the Bells!, Denève spoke charmingly of Williams and the importance of the American composer in Denève’s musical journey. “I adore John Williams!” he declared. He further demonstrated his affection in the slow movement of Williams’s Violin Concerto, a lush, evocative piece expertly played by the BSO’s Associate Concertmaster Tamara Smirnova. Denève completed the sequence with JUST DOWN WEST STREET... on the left, a new composition written and offered as a gift for TMC 75, which the conductor described as a paean to Williams’s fondness for Tanglewood. Those who share the composer’s fervor for Tanglewood surely related to this energy-filled, highly descriptive work. All in all, Denève made his mentor’s captivating music soar up and out into the perfect Berkshire night.

Lockhart took over the podium with yet another Russian pick, Kabalevsky’s Overture to Colas Breugnon. Lockhart’s longtime collaboration with the orchestra was unmistakable in the ease with which he led the ensemble: he made even this tricky Russian tour de force look easy. Then, in a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth, “Ol’ Blues Eyes at 100,” Lockhart led stirring performances of several of the beloved crooner’s signature numbers: "Chicago" (Fischer-Nestico), "You Make Me Feel So Young (Myrow/Gordon-Oseer), "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" (Mann-Schwartz), and the ever popular "New York, New York" (Kander/Ebb-Byers). With each succeeding song, and especially the latter, the audience cheered their escalating approval.

Lockhart then introduced a “young guy making his debut conducting the Pops” as Nelsons returned to conduct Williams’s “Throne Room and Finale” from Star Wars. Nelsons, a native Latvian, showed astonishing insight into the composer’s unique American style, drawing yet another dazzling performance from the orchestra. The conductor’s remarkable versatility continues to impress.

As a Fellowship student at Tanglewood, I vividly remember the thrill of performing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture en masse with the combined forces of the TMC and the BSO. In this night’s dazzling rendition Nelsons was in his element. From the achingly beautiful cello playing in the opening through the crisp wind and brass in the military episodes, culminating with the power of the full orchestra in the climax, Nelsons drew one inspiring phrase after another from the orchestra and held the audience in thrall.

I would not have missed celebrating the 75th anniversary performance of the TMC with this glittering performance, capped with fireworks erupting into the starlit sky over Tanglewood. Clearly the audience felt the same.

Photos used by permission of Hilary Scott
Erica can be reached at: [email protected]

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