Saturday September 8, 2012

LENOX -- Buoyed by its 75th-anniversary programming and near-perfect weather, Tanglewood notched the third-highest attendance in its history this summer with 375,776 concertgoers streaming through the gates.

According to tallies announced by the Boston Symphony Orchestra this week, the total was the most since the record-setting season of 1998 with 386,870 attendees. The second-highest attendance was in 1997 with 376,533.

During this past summer's 11-week season, the BSO rolled out an enhanced assortment of popular artists and an extra Boston Pops Labor Day weekend matinee.

"We've been trying to build out the shoulders and have some popular artists," said BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe during a recent interview in his Tanglewood office.

He noted that "more populist programming" has been scheduled at the Koussevitzky Music Shed, "which is revenue-driven" with 5,100 seats to fill, but the organization remains committed to its central mission of presenting Western art music by BSO and Tanglewood Music Center performers during their respective eight-week residencies.

"Even though the economy's not yet back, we're very pleased with this year," said Volpe. "But what do we do for Tanglewood's 76th?" He acknowledged with a chuckle that he and artistic administrator Tony Fogg "are losing sleep over it, we'll figure it out, but we've got work to do."

The 2012 attendance figures represented a sharp increase from last summer's 349,704, but that total was cut from an anticipated 365,000 by Tropical Storm Irene, which caused the site's first concert cancellation in 74 years by wiping out the season-ending BSO Sunday concert and cutting sharply into the previous night's attendance. The BSO's loss for the late August weekend was put at close to $500,000.

In addition to the past season's mostly sunny skies with only one major rainout, Volpe cited "fantastic" media exposure for the orchestra, including national and international telecasts of the July 14 anniversary bash, as well as more than 300,000 Web users who streamed a daily, free selection from 75 years of BSO and TMC archival performances at Tanglewood.

After 15 years as the BSO's CEO, Volpe acknowledged the challenge of balancing programming catering to the tastes of 40-year Tanglewood concert veterans and to first-time visitors on the lawn.

"Even if they're not so inclined to be consumers of classical music, they want to expose their kids to it. I don't know if it's the age of uncertainty or insecurity, but people's willingness to try" anything beyond the most mainstream orchestral repertoire has declined, Volpe said.

He said the Labor Day weekend lineup of popular artists (Train and Evan escence) and an extra Boston Pops program with Michael Feinstein and guests represented a major box-office gain over the discontinued Tan glewood Jazz Festival, which had attracted only 8,000 patrons and lost $250,000 during its final presentations in 2011.

Instead, Volpe explained, spacing out three major jazz concerts through the summer at Ozawa Hall (Chris Botti, Chick Corea and Wynton Marsalis) along with a well-attended season-opener in the Shed by Diana Krall, represented a big plus for the BSO's bottom line.

Depending on performers' availability, he suggested a similar model of pop and Pops would be slotted in for late next June and for the Labor Day weekend.

James Taylor, a mainstay with a three-performance sellout of 54,385 over the July 4 holiday period, is expected to return next summer, Volpe said, though no details have been resolved yet. The season's fourth capacity event, with just over 18,000 concertgoers, was the John Williams 80th birthday celebration.

Volpe said he "absolutely hopes" that Williams will return with his traditional Film Night event next summer.

"The audience goes nuts for it," Volpe said.

To reach Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto

Tanglewood's 2012 hit parade ...

Here are the past season's best-attended presentations at Tanglewood during the 75th anniversary season of the Boston Symphony's summer home, in order of popularity:

July 2, 3, 4: James Taylor (54,385)

Aug. 18: John Williams 80th Birthday Celebration (18,028).

July 14: BSO 75th Anniversary Gala Celebration (16,597)

July 8: Boston Pops concert featuring Bernadette Peters (15,054)

Aug. 7: Tanglewood on Parade (14,875)

Aug. 24: Boston Pops with Maureen McGovern, Brian Stokes Mitchell (12,037)

Aug. 31: Train (11,403)

Sept. 2: Boston Pops with Michael Feinstein, Christine Ebersole, Betty Buckley (11,289)

Aug. 26: Beethoven Symphony No. 9 (BSO season finale) (10,466)

July 6: BSO Opening Night at Tanglewood (10,188)

July 22: BSO with Kurt Masur and Ken-David Masur (10,141)

July 29: Emanuel Ax with the BSO (9,324)

June 30: A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor (9,114)

Year by year:

Tanglewood's full-season attendance totals for the past five years:

2012: 375,776

2011: 349,704

2010: 356,407

2009: 350,110

2008: 333,068

Source: Boston Symphony Orchestra box office.