Alan Chartock: Tanglewood as magical as first day I saw it

Saturday July 6, 2013

LENOX -- When I was 14 and a camper at Buck's Rock Work Camp, I first got to see Tanglewood. Story Body:

LENOX -- When I was 14 and a camper at Buck's Rock Work Camp, I first got to see Tanglewood.

It took my breath away.

It was then, and is now, the most beautifully landscaped property I had ever seen. We were out on the lawn and, of course, I fell asleep, but the sense of beauty and serenity was so great that I remember that particular night almost 60 years later.

I never imagined back then that I'd have the opportunity to see the Boston Symphony and Tanglewood from the inside, but life has been kind to me and I have had the chance to do just that.

WAMC has been playing the live broadcasts from Tanglewood from the beginning of our contemporary radio life. We have become true partners with the wonderful people from the Boston Symphony. They have helped the radio station with incredible generosity and we hope that we've been good partners, too, by educating a lot of people about the true value of classical music. It is incredibly important to keep this art form alive and many educators and other groups have been trying to do that for years.

I have always thought that when our children are exposed to beautiful music at an early age, some of that will stay with them. Then, one day in the far distant future, when your child comes to you and announces that he or she is going on a date to Tanglewood, your heart swells and you come close to tears. You cannot imagine how immensely fulfilling it is for those of us who played this music during our school years to hear it played right by the world's greatest, the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Now years later, when WAMC had a chance to broadcast from the press porch at Tanglewood and spend three wonderful hours on Wednesday talking to the best of the Tanglewood group, we couldn't help but believe that there is a natural purpose, a guiding hand, that brought us back to this magical place.

We met Mark Volpe, a true genius, who as managing director runs the whole Boston Symphony shebang. He is smart, a musician himself (clarinet), an attorney and as tough as nails. Oh, and I forgot to mention, he's one of the funniest and nicest men I have ever met. Can you imagine what it must be like to wrangle musicians, grounds people, donors, and a board of trustees, all at the same time?

Mark does it all and you just have to love him.

Ably assisting Volpe is the incredibly brilliant Tony Fogg, the artistic administrator of the orchestra, who puts the musical pieces in place. He knows all the great conductors around the world and, occasionally, has had to find one at a moment's notice when a catastrophe has occurred. Once he had to track down a soloist thousands of miles away because she was the only one who could fill in when an emergency incapacitated the scheduled diva. He negotiates fees (but he sensibly won't tell how much) in order to help keep the symphony solvent.

Then there are the conductors themselves like Rafael Frübeck de Burgos, with whom we spoke with the other day during WAMC's live broadcast. He's a gifted interpreter of Mahler who loves the Tanglewood Music Center and the Boston Symphony. He's particularly enamored of the talented young people who make up the Tanglewood Fellows who he considers among the most talented musicians in the world. He loves teaching them and he loves their music.

We also spoke to Ellen Highstein, the director of the Tanglewood Music Center, the program bringing all these young people to live among us. I expect they will never, ever forget the Berkshires. After all, if I remember a single trip from a summer camp to Tanglewood with such awe, imagine how these kids, our future superstars, will feel.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.


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