The 9 percent drop in attendance at Tanglewood is surprising given that the weather gods were uncharacteristically kind to the Berkshire institution this summer. The main culprit is the 14 percent drop in box office for the Popular Artists concerts, which suggests that, to paraphrase a Wilco song title, the series needs a shot in the arm.
Jackson Browne was the top draw of the summer with 17,316 fans in the usual July 4 James Taylor slot. But with all due respect to Joan Baez and Steve Miller, their time has come and gone as major box office attractions. More contemporary popular music acts may demand a bigger piece of the box office pie, but the pie will presumably be bigger as well. Groups like Wilco, a Tanglewood hit before establishing their Solid Sound Festival at Mass MoCA, bring in a demographically wide audience, and much of that audience may want to try Tanglewood again.
The sixth best box office draw was the Boston Symphony’s performance of the score of "West Side Story" while the movie was shown on the big screens, indicating that a striking new form of the concert experience has arrived. On Film Night, The Boston Pops gave a hint of how enjoyable "Casablanca" would be. On the subject of Film Night, which was the second largest draw of summer, John Williams’ handing over of the baton to David Newman for much of the first half of the concert surely caused many fans to realize with a start that Mr. Williams, though a youthful 81, can’t conduct forever. Grooming a successor is wise, but it is difficult to think of Film Night without the iconic conductor-composer.
The best news of summer is that the audience for classical music increased, suggesting that the largely aging audience received an infusion of youth (or relative youth.) The BSO has hired a youthful music director in Andris Nelsons, who had to cancel his Tanglewood performance of Verdi’s Requiem after suffering a concussion while in Germany. Assuming there is no "curse of the maestro" (Mr. Nelsons’ predecessor, James Levine, missed a couple of summers because of a variety of physical ailments), next summer will be highlighted by Mr. Nelsons’ first appearance as music director, beginning what has the potential to be an exciting new era for the BSO and Tanglewood.