Boston Symphony filming documentary series at Tanglewood
LENOX -- As part of its push to connect with younger concertgoers and aspiring musicians, the Boston Symphony is taking a deep dive into social media by webcasting an insider's look at Tanglewood's prestigious summer academy for up-and-coming professionals.
Six "Fellows" of the Tanglewood Music Center -- so-called because all are on fully paid fellowships -- are showcased in a weekly documentary series, "New Tanglewood Tales: Backstage with Rising Artists." The first two of eight planned webcasts can be viewed at the BSO website's media center (www.tanglewood.org/tales) and at www.youtube.com/bostonsymphony.
The idea is to use new media in ways that the BSO has not explored previously, said TMC Director Ellen Highstein during a conversation on the Tanglewood campus.
The project, funded by BSO trustees Oliver and Cynthia Curme, was approved by the BSO's Media and Technology Committee.
"It's not exactly ‘reality TV,' but it's the idea that following the life experiences of people might be able to focus interest on a particular segment of what we do," Highstein said. "We feel that the TMC is not as well known as it might be, or should be. So, we're experimenting. This is genuine reality. This is about what actually happens."
Producer-director Susan Dangel, the noted documentary filmmaker who has been working with the BSO for three decades, as well as with PBS, is spending the summer at Tanglewood. The mission is to shoot sequences using small, unobtrusive cameras to avoid complex set-ups, making it easy to blend in. Dangel also produces the annual film nights for John Williams with the Boston Pops and other leading orchestras.
After all eight 20-minute episodes, culled from hundreds of hours of video, are posted by late September, an hour of highlights eventually may air on public TV stations.
"I think in the general world, people are intimidated by classical music, which is crazy to me," Dangel said. "It's the idea of getting everybody to see that if you look into something a little differently, you'll like it as much as I do to share the enthusiasm, meet the players, show what a great place Tanglewood is."
"Everybody's always hoping that somebody young will watch and want to either go to see more concerts or know more about music," she added.
The six featured musicians all are second-year participants at the highly selective TMC -- 139 are enrolled this summer out of about 1,400 applicants who vied for the 91 available spots (48 of last year's fellows were invited back for a second summer.)
"We didn't want people to be thrown into Tanglewood, which is incredibly intense and crazy, and also have to cope with another stress factor," Highstein commented. The goal was to make sure the series did not overwhelm the educational benefits, she added.
"In all honesty, I think some of the six freaked," Dangel commented, worrying that the near-constant presence of cameras might interfere with their music studies. "I think that's subsided," she added. "Now some people say, ‘Where are you, you're not around enough.' "
The filmmaker was astonished to find that "nobody is stressed, everybody here is happy and looking good."
"We weren't looking for who has star qualities," said Highstein, "though, amazingly, we got six who have those qualities."
That yielded laughter from one of them, cellist Clare Elizabeth Monfredo of Seal Harbor on Maine's Mount Desert Island.
"I was honored to be asked and it's a fantastic organization to be associated with," she said, "so I've enjoyed doing it. It helps you realize what you love about Tanglewood." The other five participants include a fast-rising TMC conductor, Karina Canellakis, as well as percussionist Jeffrey DeRoche, baritone Conor McDonald, flutist Masha Popova and violist Jacob Shack.
Monfredo acknowledged some initial concern about the phrase ‘reality TV,' given her reluctance to participate in that genre. But once the project began, she trusted Dangel and everyone else involved.
She became accustomed to the camera -- "you know it's there, it's present in your mind but it doesn't make you nervous, there are other things you're thinking about and you want to focus on those. All the teachers and students have really prioritized the music."
A season highlight for Monfredo, captured on camera, was a coaching session with superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma. "He thinks of really big ideas," she said, "and concepts about what you want to get across to the audience, but he's also really good at demonstrating how to do that, note-by-note. It's been wonderful."
As a TMC Orchestra member, working with incoming BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons earlier this summer was also memorable for Monfredo, who is pursuing a master's degree at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. "He uses very emotional concepts to make us play the music together," she commented. "He doesn't talk about boring technical things ... his body language is really amazing, it's really cool."
Monfredo described her overall TMC experience as "fully immersive in what music means at its best. At school, it's very easy to get caught up in very critical, analytical thinking. Being here reminds me of what I'm trying to get across when I play and using that as a guiding light in what I intend to do after I finish school."
She also emphasized the "mutually supportive" community at Tanglewood -- "everyone wants the best for everyone else. You have so much to learn from everyone else."
"I've never seen a place where people are so rooting for each other all the time," Highstein declared. "We're all in this together, we all know why we're mutually here, and that's to make music and communicate."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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On Twitter: @BE_cfanto
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