Once again for the paltry sum of $75 for Berkshire residents, I enjoyed a magical season of classical music at Tanglewood with a season lawn pass. I offer this advice to improve on what is already a grand and beautiful jewel.
1. Fix the lawn so the performers can be seen.
When Tanglewood was built in 1936, the lawn must have been an afterthought. Unfortunately, much of the lawn to the shed is actually at a lower level than the shed. It might take a significant expenditure of dollars to fix this problem, but it may be worth the investment. That said, the sound on the lawn is excellent and big screens are a wonderful addition at night.
2. Put Yo-Yo Ma on at Night.
Ma is the rock star of classical music. When he comes, he packs in an audience so that the shed and lawn spill over. One of the best things Tanglewood ever did is add the big movie screens so you could see the performance. It would be great if Yo-Yo Ma was scheduled at night so you could see him playing in intricate detail from the lawn. The all-Brahms program featuring Yo-Yo Ma at Ozawa Hall was an unforgettable evening, largely because you could see him from the lawn.
3. Translate the tempo movements in the program.
Classical music almost always have "movements" -- an independent piece within the symphony or concerto. The movements have "names" so to speak that are usually in Italian that signifies the tempo, often with accompanying modifiers.
4. Put translations on screen.
Operas are now routinely staged with translations on a screen called "surtitles" so you can understand the performance. For instance, when the Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra played at Ozawa Hall, performing Handel’s "Teseo," the words of the opera (the "libretto") were translated on a big screen so you could understand the performance. There are numerous vocal pieces performed at Tanglewood were surtitles would have really helped. Sure, they include the translation in the program, but I have observed only about 1 in 30 people try to read them during the performance.
5. Conduct the audience.
Those who do not regularly attend classical performances may not know that one is not supposed to applaud between movements -- one only applauds at the end of the work. The general rule for neophytes is to wait until the conductor turns around before applauding. But enthusiasm often erupts at the wrong moment, such as Tchaikovsky’s sixth (the Pathétique) symphony whose third movement ends with fulminating fanfare and sounds like the end of a symphony, causing the audience to break out in ebullient plaudits. The conductor kept facing the symphony. People didn’t seem to realize the concert was not over until they started to get up and walk out and the fourth movement started playing.
By contrast, when the French conductor Stéphane Denève was leading the Tanglewood Music Festival Orchestra at Ozawa Hall (some of the best performances of the season were there), he would turn around and jocularly put a finger over his mouth or hold his hand up to stop the audience from applauding. Hey, we need it. It would also be helpful if the audience was asked by loudspeaker not leave in the middle of the movement for the same reasons you cannot enter during the movement -- it’s disturbing.
6. Have one or two Pops performances that attract younger audiences.
Film night, last year’s "West Side Story," and this year’s "Wizard of Oz" introduced youth to symphonic music. But there was no Pops’ equivalent of last year’s Warren Haynes concert that brought in the young adults. I would love to see a Joni Mitchell or a Neil Young to symphonic accompaniment.
7. Have a choral piece before Beethoven’s Ninth.
The Boston Symphony ends every year with a Sunday performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, called the "Choral Symphony" because it features a chorus. Beethoven’s Ninth is the great piece of classical music ever written, and is the perhaps the greatest gem of Western Civilization. Nonetheless, it should not stand alone and should be accompanied by another choral symphony to make use of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Proposals would be the Symphony of Psalms, by Igor Stravinsky (which was actually written for the BSO), Bernstein’s third (Kadish) Symphony, or Britten’s Spring Symphony.
That said, Bravo Tanglewood for another spectacular season.
The author is a local attorney whose columns have appeared across the nation.