As life in the city slows down, life in the country west of Boston ratchets up. I went out to the Berkshires to catch as much as I could of Tanglewood’s fiftieth Festival of Contemporary Music, this year curated by Boston composers and longtime Tanglewood faculty members John Harbison (a composition fellow in 1959) and Michael Gandolfi (a fellow in 1986).
This summer’s Festival of Contemporary Music is so different from its predecessors that it really ought to be given a different title. In fact, “contemporary” music, in the sense of brand new works by up-and-coming young composers, will be conspicuously absent. Perhaps “Retrospective of Seventy Years of ‘New’ Music” would offer a more accurate description. In the past, the Fromm Foundation has offered commissions for new works to be premiered during this week with the composers presiding; this summer, the five-day event will look back on the entire seventy years of Tanglewood rather than the fifty-four years of the Festival of Contemporary Music, as supported by Fromm.
It was a “playful” afternoon, with so much young talent to admire that the occasional boisterous interpretation seemed completely in line with the mood of the day. Celebrating the spirit in beautiful sounds was as fitting a ceremony as I could imagine on such a stunning Easter Sunday. The presence of performing genius, such as that of Melvin Chen or Dawn Upshaw, made the day even more celebratory. Leon Botstein’s direction allowed these young performers to shine and impress both as individuals performers – since the three pieces sported many solo passages – and, as well, as a polished, cohesive ensemble.