Wednesday September 14, 2011

LENOX -- Because the Tanglewood season took a major economic hit from Tropical Storm Irene, along with some damage on the campus, the Boston Symphony is exploring whether to seek economic aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or other sources.

"We were fortunate that Tanglewood didn't experience as much damage as other areas in the Berkshires and the Northeast," said Managing Director Mark Volpe in a statement released late Tuesday in response to an Eagle query. "That being said, we're still in the process of assessing the damage that did occur both from a physical plant and an economic point of view."

The impact of the storm turned what had been a solid attendance gain to a 2 percent decline compared to last summer and a loss for the season's final weekend of between $400,000 and $500,000, Volpe added.

Overall results for the organization's full year, including its winter season in Boston, its Boston Pops performances and touring were approaching break-even before the storm, according to Volpe.

"We expect the Tanglewood loss will have a significant impact on those results," he said. "It was a strong summer season with an unfortunate end, but we're now looking ahead to our 75th anniversary season next summer, which we'll announce this fall."

For the full 2011 season, 349,704 concertgoers passed through the gates, according to the BSO. Until the storm zapped the orchestra's final weekend, attendance had been running 5 percent ahead of last year, Volpe said. The cancellation of Aug. 28's Tanglewood season finale was its first weather-related performance casualty in the summer festival's 74-year history.

The record for Tanglewood was set in 1998, when 386,870 attended the orchestra's first and only nine-week residency. The 2010 total, 356,407, ranked fifth in total attendance. Without the storm, the just-ended season would have clocked in at about 365,000, the third-highest ever.

The storm, which dropped torrential rains on the Berkshires on Aug. 27 and 28, not only wiped out the Sunday afternoon season finale with an anticipated audience of more than 10,000 (including a sold-out Shed) but also cut the Saturday night attendance in half, with the Shed at capacity but no lawn crowd of an expected 5,000 or more. The BSO offered full refunds for the Sunday concert.

Volpe acknowledged that annual losses at Tanglewood continue to range between $3 million and $4 million because of "maintenance and operating costs, and the cost of educating the next generation of musicians" at the BSO's summer institute, the Tanglewood Music Center.

On a brighter note, James Taylor's four performances -- two with his band in the Shed, an intimate Ozawa Hall evening and a joint appearance with the Boston Pops -- accounted for 59,363 paying customers.

Taylor's plans for next summer are not yet confirmed.

"One of the great benefits and privileges of my career as a working musician has been my relationship with the Boston Symphony and Tanglewood," Taylor told the Eagle Tuesday. He said he and his wife, Kim, "always look forward to the Fourth of July in the Koussevitzky Music Shed when it can be scheduled as one of the highlights of our year."

Other top draws in the Popular Artists category included Train's Aug. 8 appearance (11,296 listeners) and Steely Dan on July 26 (10,144 patrons). Adding in the June 25 Earth, Wind & Fire concert, with nearly 10,000, and the Labor Day Tanglewood Jazz Festival crowd of more than 8,000, the non-classical attractions at the BSO's summer home accounted for nearly 100,000 customers, nearly 30 percent of the season total.

Volpe said a strong "shoulder season" lineup for next June built around popular artists and the annual "Prairie Home Companion" live broadcast is "starting to take shape."

He noted that early-September pop bookings are also "something we're looking at, something we'll continue to explore. It's got to make sense and keeping the facility open, staffing this place is much harder once the academic calendar begins."

Popular artists that fit into the "Tanglewood ethos" and offer multi-generational appeal are the most attractive for potential engagements, Volpe added.

"There's a lot of pressure on us from a variety of constituencies," Volpe explained. "Part of what we want to do is to keep that eight weeks of the BSO" in the Shed focused on classical repertoire, he added, though "I'm not saying there aren't going to be popular artists during those weeks, that's always been the case."

But there are relatively few "dark nights" during the BSO season -- evenings when there are no performances or rehearsals scheduled on the grounds.

Although the Tanglewood orchestral season is locked up nearly a year in advance, Volpe said, "in the popular artists world, the challenge is they book late, they keep their options open, tour routing is a factor, no one is willing to commit this early. It's a different world."

Next summer, marking the 75th anniversary of Tanglewood of the orchestra's first performances at the site, will be a "big occasion," Volpe said.

"We're going back to see what we did during the first season, 75 years ago," he hinted.

Tanglewood's top 10 for summer 2011

1. James Taylor (three performances): 41,553

2. James Taylor with Boston Pops: 17,763

3. Boston Pops Film Night: 16,917

4. Tanglewood on Parade: 15,016

5. Yo-Yo Ma with Boston Symphony: 12,036

6. Boston Pops Cole Porter Tribute: 11,505

7. Train: 11,296

8. Joshua Bell with BSO: 10,354

9. Steely Dan: 10,144

10. Emanuel Ax with BSO: 10,032

Source: Boston Symphony Orchestra