For many concertgoers, the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) may be only a blip on their personal radar. Some may confuse it with the well-known Tanglewood Music Center (TMC), the famed summer academy of the Boston Symphony that provides a career launching pad for 150 of the best and brightest college-age and young professionals from around the world each summer.
Though it’s less visible, BUTI serves a crucial role by training 350 high school musicians each summer. Anyone who has attended their orchestra performances on Saturday afternoons at Ozawa Hall can attest to the remarkable skill of these teenagers.
Using Facebook, several faculty members sounded the alarm recently -- BU, in belt-tightening mode, is considering either terminating the eight-week Lenox program housed on a campus up the road from Tanglewood, or relocating the institute back to the main campus at 1 Silber Way in Boston.
That would be a major setback for the already shaky state of music education in this country. Although many Berkshire County schools still offer vibrant music programs, that’s the exception rather than the rule elsewhere.
In a testimonial e-mailed to The Eagle, a mezzo-soprano now in her fifth year at New York’s Metropolitan Opera eloquently expressed the role played by BUTI for her career.
Brenda Patterson, who attended the institute in 1994 and 1995, stated: "I speak for many of us when I say that the BUTI grounds are a sacred space, a place of peace, discovery, and creativity. That is the place from which all my inspiration springs, an experience that is not replicable just anywhere."
Patterson went on to attend the Tanglewood Music Center in 1996 and the Juilliard School at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center before pursuing her operatic career.
Likewise, Alexis Lundy, now an elementary school music teacher in Atlanta, told me via e-mail that her summer at the institute in 1999 was "a pivotal moment in my life as a musician. The experience opened me up to a musical world that was alive and important and not just something I studied in school or listened to on recordings."
Lundy explained that "at the urging of my high school chorus teacher, I auditioned and was accepted into this esteemed program. Beyond the amazing instruction from teachers and the influence of peers that were as passionate about music as I was, the real draw was the close proximity to the Tanglewood Festival main grounds."
Although the BUTI program is not connected to the Boston Symphony, it was founded in 1966 at the behest of the music director at the time, Erich Leinsdorf, as the pre-college equivalent of the TMC that Serge Koussevitzky created in 1940.
"My eyes and ears were opened to musical experiences that I still recall to this day," Lundy wrote, citing master classes with Yo-Yo Ma, Mark O’Connor and Edgar Meyer "where they played and talked with us about life."
She recalled singing with Seiji Ozawa and the Tanglewood Fellows, meeting John Williams, and hearing the King Singers and soprano Barbara Bonney.
"In my classroom today hangs a poster that I purchased at Tanglewood," Lundy added. "It is titled ‘Tanglewood Memories’ and features a picture of Seiji Ozawa and different sights on the Tanglewood grounds. I put it up to remind me of what is possible for my students and how the world is wide open with opportunity."
Lundy expressed the hope that when her students reach high school, "they also may have the chance to partake in such a transformative experience."
That wish hangs in the balance as BU weighs the future of the program housed on West Street in Lenox in a facility that has seen better days, to put it mildly. The administration has been tight-lipped, issuing only a terse statement at my request.
"We are reviewing the status of BUTI to determine if we’re making the best use of limited resources to advance the mission of BU’s College of Fine Arts," according to spokesman Colin Riley. "The review is ongoing and no decisions have been made."
BUTI Executive and Artistic Director Phyllis Hoffman, an esteemed professor of voice at the college’s School of Music, told me that the program is expected to survive for one more summer in Lenox. A decision on BUTI’s future is due before the end of this year, she said.
Hoffman acknowledged BU’s concerns about the institute’s finances, but she was not at liberty to discuss the size of annual deficits or whether they are increasing. She also confirmed infrastructure problems at the campus that need to be addressed but do not immediately jeopardize the program.
"The university faces important decisions about BUTI that have the potential to touch many, many lives," Hoffman told me. "I hope that the collaboration between the administration and the faculty will lead to a sustainable path for BUTI well into the future."
The BSO declined a request for comment. The university pays an undisclosed fee to the orchestra for use of the Tanglewood campus.
Faculty members and former students have emphasized that, if relocated to BU’s Boston campus, it would not be the same. For the past 47 years, the program’s location alongside the BSO and TMC has inspired students and BU faculty members.
Arts education has taken an enormous hit in recent decades. Even if it’s suffering from some fiscal setbacks caused by federal budget cuts, the university has major resources. The administration would hit a high note, with a prolonged ovation, if it decides that BUTI is worth preserving.
To contact Clarence Fanto: email@example.com