Last November Mark Volpe, Managing Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Anthony Fogg, Artistic Administrator, and members of the orchestra presented the 75th anniversary season of the festival in a low-key event, which, as relaxed and friendly as it was, brought back memories of old Boston in its restraint. No one attempted to hide his pride in this important anniversary of what is undoubtedly the key music festival in North America, but nobody did anything that would be out of place at the Somerset Club either.
Quite a lot has already transpired at Tanglewood, from James Taylor and Dian Krall to Mark Morris and the Emerson Quartet, but with Saturday evening’s reprise of the inaugural concert, which took place under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky on August 5, 1937, the 75th anniversary season of the Tanglewood (Berkshire until 1986) Music Festival has begun. The shed was quite well populated, even in the farther reaches of the Shed, and the lawn also looked fairly full. Critics and public alike seemed excited by the prospect of another Tanglewood summer, especially in this anniversary year. And of course there were the fireworks to look forward to!
Mark Volpe and his organization pulled off an impressive feat in creating this season at such short notice. Former Music Director James Levine submitted his resignation only after most symphony orchestras, including the BSO, have established their programming for the next season and published it to waiting subscribers. Add to that the need to corral a feasible number of potential candidates for the open position of Music Director. The Boston Symphony’s 2011-12 is not only solid and nutritious, it is even rather exciting—apart from the added piquancy of the search. The fall will be mainly given over to guest conductors who have worked with the BSO for many years, or at least a few times in the past. The serious contenders for the permanent position will begin later on.
This preview of this year’s Tanglewood season has been revised twice already, and here come James Levine’s cancellations of all his Tanglewood engagements. The Pelléas et Mélisande will be replaced by a TMC Orchestra concert. The other programs will proceed as scheduled. Levine’s replacements will be announced in June. I’ll discuss the wider implications of this later in The Boston Musical Intelligencer. In the last version of this preview I introduced the following paragraph to mitigate the peevish tone in which I began. It still holds true, I think.
Strauss was never more the musical conjurer than he was in Ariadne auf Naxos. With an ensemble of thirty-seven instruments, including harmonium, celesta, piano, harps and percussion, a shimmering and transparent opera emerges and asserts its lean clarity against a perceived Wagnerian monumentalism. Even when Strauss wants his cake after eating it, and strives for a Tristan-like blossom in the second half (the one and only “Act” of this work, the first half being a Prologue), one cannot fault the ensemble for sounding a bit threadbare in its overreaching to the Bayreuth master. After all, this textural contrast of light and heavy is all in line with the clever libretto of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, which is an ironic comment on Love the Ideal and what we know as reality in our all-too-human relationships.