LENOX — They came from 40 states and seven countries — more than 1,500 alumni, current students and supporters helping to fill Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood on Saturday afternoon to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the nation's most prestigious training programs for high school age musicians.
The past, present and future of the Boston University Tanglewood Institute was toasted in a two-hour concert that featured many of this summer's 370 students as well as 15 current BSO members who attended the institute, followed by a "soiree" reception under Tanglewood's party tent.
The summer academy, under the wing of the BU College of Fine Arts, was conceived by BSO Music Director Erich Leinsdorf in 1965 and founded a year later by Wilbur Fullbright, then BU's incoming School of Music director.
BU Robert A. Brown, and interim College of Fine Arts Dean Lynne Allen, as well as the BSO's and Tanglewood Music Center's top leaders, all attended the past weekend's celebration as a significant show of support for the future of the BUTI program.
As BUTI Executive Director Hilary Respass told The Eagle earlier this summer, progress is accelerating to meet the university's mandate for the program to become self-supporting after next summer, though she emphasized that at this point "BUTI continues to be generously supported by Boston University, as it has for decades."
To meet the goal announced in April 2014 by Brown and BU Provost Jean Morrison in a memo to the School of Music faculty and staff, BUTI is expanding earned and contributed income while strengthening a network of financial supporters and partners, Respass explained.
At the post-concert celebration, Respass stated that "we wanted not only to showcase the scope and level of BUTI's programming, but to capture its essence as a place that deeply affects the young artists who come here for the rest of their lives. BUTI has left its mark on the world through its alumni."
The concert, showcasing the BUTI Young Artists Orchestra and Chorus as well as student brass and percussion sections, was hosted by film, TV and stage actress Lauren Ambrose ("Law and Order," "Six Feet Under," "Torchwood: Miracle Day"), a 1994 and 1995 alumna who studied voice and opera.
Ambrose cited the support of Bobby McFerrin and Phyllis Curtin, the late opera singer, 50-year Tanglewood master teacher and longtime Great Barrington resident, and recalled "loving the incredibly patient direction of teachers" such as Phyllis Hoffman, the recently retired BUTI executive and artistic director who devoted more than 20 years to the program.
"Phyllis shaped the program, the experience, and the reach of BUTI, putting BUTI on the map, and leaving an indelible mark on Boston University," said Allen, the interim dean, during the party following the concert.
Citing the creation of a scholarship fund in Hoffman's name, Allen presented her with a superhero cape, recognizing her crucial role in developing the program.
"They say BUTI is transformational. I say, you transformed BUTI, and the lives of your students," the college dean said. "You seem to be able to do it all. Effortlessly. Beautifully. Eloquently. You are part commander, part poet, part advocate, part nurturer, part defender, part sage. You have been called upon to serve in many roles and each time, you have graciously accepted the call."
Respass explained that the new fund will support scholarships awarded to BUTI students who demonstrate exceptional talent and financial need, aligning with Phyllis' goal to ensure that the most talented young musicians from across the country, regardless of socio-economic status, have the opportunity to experience the transformational impact of a summer at Tanglewood.
'Dream a reality'
She thanked the donors "whose generosity will make the Tanglewood dream a reality for many more aspiring musicians. I cannot think of a better way to honor Phyllis's vision, her passion and her contributions to this program."
As host of the concert, Ambrose commented that "our musical journey reflects the legacy of the program, honoring the people and organizations who made it possible. Being neighbors of the Boston Symphony's summer home is integral and extraordinary, we're proud to be part of the Boston Symphony's educational continuum, alongside the Days in the Arts program [for middle-school students] and the Tanglewood Music Center."
Ambrose saluted the "proximity, cooperation, shared values of excellence" of BU and the BSO "and all of the people, past and present within these organizations who have contributed to the success of BUTI over these last 50 years."
Joining Brown, the BU president, and Allen on the stage to acknowledge prolonged applause were BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe and Ellen Highstein, the Tanglewood Music Center director. Also on hand was BSO Artistic Administrator and Tanglewood Director Tony Fogg.
BSO Assistant Conductor Ken-David Masur, who attended BUTI in 1996, led the Young Artists Orchestra in the same work performed at the institute's inaugural program on Aug. 10, 1966 — the overture to Wagner's "Die Meistersinger" ("The Master Singers").
Masur also led the orchestra in the "Academic Festival Overture" by Brahms, appropriate for students about to "jump into a different world, a new world where you're fully committed to your craft. there's no going back," he said.
"We are so grateful to the teachers, staff and supporters who've made this place what it is," said Ambrose. "BUTI has been an incredible gift to us, and a meaningful and resonant contribution to our world."
With that, Masur led eight vocal soloists — all BUTI alumni or current students — and the institute's combined orchestra and chorus to end the celebration on an inspirational and optimistic note. Leonard Bernstein's "Make Our Garden Grow" from "Candide" was performed to honor the mentor to thousands of TMC and BUTI students during his 50 years of conducting and teaching at Tanglewood from 1940 until six weeks before his death in 1990.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.