Rambling about Tanglewood: Drumming up a spot at summer festival


LENOX, MASS. — If the way to Carnegie Hall is practice, practice, practice, the way to the Tanglewood Music Center is to lug lighting and audio equipment around backstage in the Shed.

At least that's the path percussionist Miles Salerni took to get into the school this summer after two summers as a stagehand. Last winter, he finally passed the TMC auditions on his fifth try.

From all the way back to middle school, Salerni's goal was to become a professional orchestral musician — namely, a percussionist.

"What ended up happening," he recalls, "is that I would audition for these summer festivals — Tanglewood included, the Music Academy of the West, even ones in Japan — and I wouldn't quite make the cut.

And so I decided I wanted to be somewhere where I could be surrounded by music for the summer, but maybe also do some work and make some money."

So, he was up there on the Shed stage, drumsticks in hand, in the TMC Orchestra during Tanglewood on Parade. His ex-colleagues on the five-member stage crew set up the stage for them, just as he had done for Boston Symphony Orchestra musicians the two summers past.

Salerni, 25, is from Bethlehem, Pa. He took a bachelor's at Boston University and a master's at the New England Conservatory. During winters, he's doing further postgraduate work at Duquesne University.

He had had some stage crew experience with the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra when he decided to consult BSO percussionist J. William Hudgins, his teacher during the conservatory years, about how to get ahead. Hudgins arranged an interview with the BSO's stage manager, John Demick.

Salerni had a job.

"Being here, working many long hours, days and weeks, didn't allow for much practice time for me to really build myself up as a musician," he said in a Highwood interview. "But being surrounded by this amazing orchestra and the TMC guys really motivated me to work my butt off." He was determined to pass those auditions and get into one of those festivals.

Work was long — seven days a week, from 7 or 8 in the morning til past 11 at night on concert days. Like concertgoers out front, he thought the job mostly consisted of setting up chairs and music stands onstage. Oh, no. He quickly learned he had to know lighting cables and handle bulky equipment.

Big pop shows, like Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, or the Beach Boys or James Taylor, brought in their own crews. The Shed crew's job was to facilitate things and help out any way it could.

Meanwhile, his own percussion practice was lagging.

Often during BSO rehearsals, when he wasn't needed, he would sit out front and listen. But if he hadn't practiced in a while and felt "I really needed to get my hands moving," he would go backstage and move them for an hour or so.

Salerni is named for Miles Davis, the great jazz musician.

He comes from a musical family. His father is a composer and teaches composition at Lehigh University. His mother is a freelance stage and opera director. His brother plays violin.

And he's not giving up on a career. "Any audition that comes up, I try to take it." That would include the BSO, but there isn't an opening now and probably won't be one any time soon, he says. He says it with regret.

Into electronics

The Boston Symphony Chamber Players venture into the world of electronics in their annual concert on Wednesday, Aug. 10. The usually traditional group will play "Shamu" and "Clinical," two works for horn, electronics and piano by Jeremy Flower. He describes himself as a techno composer who knows no borders between classical and pop.

The program takes another trip off the beaten track with Ludwig Spohr's Nonet, Opus 31. The German composer, now seldom performed, was a contemporary of Beethoven's, and sometimes sounds like him. Also on the bill are Jean Francaix's Divertissement for oboe, clarinet and bassoon and Beethoven's String Trio, Opus 9, No. 3.

The Chamber Players also have a new recording out. On the BSO Classics label, they pair Brahms' Serenade No. 1 and Dvorak's Octet Serenade. Both works are arrangements of pieces for orchestra.

Into politics

BSO trumpeter Michael Martin turned political comedian with his introductory talk at an "Underscore Friday" concert during Republican convention week. Poker-faced, he announced that President Obama had commissioned John Adams to write a sequel to his opera "Nixon in China."

The sequel, he said, is to be titled "Obama in Hawaii" and written on the president's birth certificate. Groan.


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