BSO musicians reach out

Sunday July 7, 2013

LENOX -- At the intersection of education and marketing, musicians become spokesmen for their art.

In a bid for audiences, Tanglewood will present more of its conductors, players and singers in public as speakers at this year. The emphasis is on non-technical, listener-friendly talk about concert fare and how to enjoy it more.

The newest offering is "BSO 101: Listening Up Close," a biweekly series beginning this Wednesday. BSO publications director Marc Mandel and orchestra members will introduce the coming weekend's orchestral programs, with emphasis each time on two particular works.

Imported from Boston, the series has been "incredibly popular" there, according to marketing director Kim Noltemy. The Symphony Hall audiences, averaging 250 to 300 per session, have been made up about half of loyal, longtime listeners and half of students, mostly at the college or graduate school level, she said.

"BSO 101" joins such established Tanglewood programs preconcert and pre-rehearsal discussions, luncheon talks and weekend activities for kids. Most programs are either free or open to ticket holders without further charge.

Add to the mix $20 Shed tickets for listeners under 40 -- another wrinkle imported from Boston this summer.

With such programs, concert attendance in Boston has increased "significantly," according to Noltemy. Over the past five years, she said, the age group that has grown fastest is the 18 to 30 cohort.

The $20 admission, which scatters seats throughout the venue, makes attendance affordable, she said. "And apparently that was a huge barrier for them."

She's looking for similar results at Tanglewood, though the market is clearly different. Even so, she said, many of the tourists and second-homers who make up a large part of the audience bring young adults with them, and it's partly that group she's targeting. She also hopes to entice followers of the Popular Artists concerts.

Reaching new listeners -- especially young people -- has become a major concern for symphony orchestras as cultural shifts and digital media make inroads on potential audiences. Orchestras are increasingly relying on pops programming and community outreach in addition to education. The BSO has an extensive outreach program involving both performance and teaching in Boston. At Tanglewood, a variety of ticket deals is part of the strategy.

"BSO 101" is a music-made-easy appreciation series. It is free, and each session is self-contained, requiring no preparation or attendance at other sessions. Classes take place from 12:45 to 2 p.m. on alternate Wednesdays in the Tent Club. Lunch may be brought or bought.

Recorded examples will illustrate composers' styles. The specific works to be discussed this Wednesday are Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 and Ravel's Piano Concerto for the left hand.

In Boston, Noltemy said, the program has brought in about 2,000 new BSO listeners a year for the three years it has been running. At Tanglewood, she sees it as a free supplement to the long-running "Talks and Walks" series, which presents BSO speakers and guest artists at Thursday luncheons but is open only by payment.

"So I thought it would be nice," Noltemy said, "to have an alternative for those who have thought, ‘Oh, I'd like to learn more about classical music' or ‘I always have wanted to try a classical concert but I haven't.' For whatever reason, they feel intimidated."

(Separately, Jeremy Yudkin, chairman of the musicology department at Boston University, will continue his weekly preconcert lecture series at the Lenox Library. Classes take place on Friday and Saturday afternoons from 2:30 to 4.)

Also new at Tanglewood this year is "Underscore Fridays," featuring BSO musicians in short talks from the stage about the program before some Friday evening concerts. These talks will follow Martin Bookspan's established "This Week at Tanglewood" interviews onstage with BSO musicians and guests about programming.

Other established programs include "One Day University at Tanglewood," with speakers from academia; "Days in the Arts," a residential program for Massachusetts middle school students; and "Watch and Play" and "Kids' Corner" activities for children, coinciding with weekend concerts.

At the professional level, the Tanglewood Music Center enrolls composers, conductors, instrumentalists, singers and others for eight weeks of advanced study under BSO members and a faculty of other musicians. The Boston University Tanglewood Institute runs a similar program for high school students.

For the public programs, all you need is curiosity.

"They're meant to be for people who don't really know a lot about music, although a lot of people who have been coming to concerts for years have also attended," Noltemy said. The information, she said, is "presented in such a way that it's appealing to them but not over the head of the new people."


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