Rambling About Tanglewood: Listening with your stomach


LENOX -- Random thoughts as autumn nips the air:

Predictably, the crowds were out in force for John Williams' Film Night and Yo-Yo Ma's pair of concerts, and would also have filled the place for Tanglewood on Parade if not for a thunderstorm. More surprisingly, two low-profile concerts - conductor Juanjo Mena's with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the visit by the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen -- also packed the grounds.

There was a connection, according to BSO marketing director Kim Noltemy. Canny scheduling placed the less obviously popular programs in the midst of the blockbusters, causing many out-of-towners to stay for a week and sign on for the extras, she said.

Crowds? Tanglewood logged 3,856 for Ma's recital -- a crush for Ozawa Hall -- and 14,209 for his BSO concert in the Shed. Fans of traffic jams could especially enjoy the one for the BSO concert. It was so thick that some players couldn't get through and the program had to be delayed.

Caution: More blockbusters ahead. Yet to come are the BSO's "Candide" and the Pops' play-along to a screening of "The Wizard of Oz."

Other attractions are undoubtedly boosting the ticket count. The food offerings multiply year by year. This year, in addition to such lures as ice cream stands and a beer garden, plus the Wine and Food Classic, the public can enjoy elegant prix fixe dinners and brunches in the formerly exclusive Highwood Manor House. And how about a Chocolate Dessert Brunch in the formal gardens?

If an army travels on its stomach, does a concert audience listen with its stomach?

New! This! Year! A playpen on the lawn where digital addicts can scroll, twiddle and tweet to their hearts' content while Beethoven (and, sometimes, sightseeing planes) wafts sweetly overhead. In the more mundane Shed, screens light up like fireflies before, during and after a performance.

The standing ovation continues to be a standing joke -- everybody gets one -- and inappropriate applause between movements remains a bugaboo. But only Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" retains the power to send listeners rushing to the gates before it's over. It happened again last Sunday when a large contingent mistook the marchlike third movement for the finale and took flight.


The Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto, Japan, founded by BSO director laureate Seiji Ozawa in 1992, has a new name: the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival.

"I will work hard and that's all I will do," Japan Times quoted the 78-year-old conductor as saying when the name change was announced. Joking about his 2010 surgery for esophageal cancer, he added, "People may say I am close to death, but I will do my best to stop that from happening."

In the Tokyo talk, Ozawa confessed to some reluctance in having accepted the naming of Tanglewood's Seiji Ozawa Hall at its opening in 1994. He said it was like a "tombstone for me." But since music academies in Japan and Europe now bear his name, he's got a whole festival named for him, too.


From the trivia department:

n Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena's unusual given name is a contraction of Juan and Jose.

n The striking outfits worn by the National Youth Orchestra of the USA -- hot orange (some would say red) pants and black jackets, with sneakers to match -- were not for dazzle only. The colors are those of Carnegie Hall, the orchestra's sponsor.

n Conductor Leonard Slatkin let the cat out of the bag in his tent talk. At his request, composer William Bolcom didn't put "Happy Birthday" in his Slatkin birthday piece, "Circus Overture." But, in a reminder that 70 is getting along in years, he did insert a sly quotation from Chopin's funeral march.


Baritone Paul LaRosa, a 2002 graduate of Williams College with a degree in philosophy and English, makes his Tanglewood professional debut in the roles of the Maximilian and the Captain in the BSO's Saturday concert performance of "Candide."

Neither Tanglewood nor its "Candide" is completely new for him, though. In 1997, he recalls, he performed in Ozawa Hall as a vocal student in the Boston University Tanglewood Institute.

Then, two years ago, he was the Maximilian (the tormented heroine's brother) in a "Candide" with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl. Bramwell Tovey, who conducts the BSO, conducted that performance and much of the cast returns for Tanglewood.

LaRosa went from Williams to the Juilliard Opera Center and a training stint with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Highlights of his 2013-14 season included debuts at the Los Angeles Opera as the First Mate in Britten's "Billy Budd" and as Falke in "Die Fledermaus" with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.

Singing in an open space like Tanglewood is a daunting prospect, he says, but having sung at the Bowl, he comes "not totally unprepared for the scale." He's "thrilled," in fact.


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