Tanglewood 2016: Season starts on strong note
LENOX — Although the eight-week Boston Symphony season at Tanglewood opens this Friday at 8 p.m. — the new starting time for BSO events in the Shed — the BSO management, town officials and local businesses are proclaiming the extended "pre-season" of Popular Artists attractions a roaring success.
From Tanglewood's earliest opening on record, Dolly Parton's show on June 17, through Bob Dylan's near-sellout and James Taylor's pair of capacity concerts over the holiday weekend, paid attendance for the 10-performance series topped 100,000, said BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe, "before we play a note with the Boston Symphony."
That gives Tanglewood a flying start toward full-season attendance totals that range from 321,123 last summer to the all-time record, 386,870 in 1998.
"I'm delighted," said Lenox Selectman David Roche. "Tanglewood is our bread-and-butter."
"Keep it coming," agreed Town Manager Christopher Ketchen.
"I couldn't be more thrilled," said Doris Barsauskas, owner of MacKimmie Co. home and lifestyle gift shop on Church Street and a founder of the 36-member Lenox Merchants Group. "It brought people to town early and got us off to a great start."
Volpe said the goal is to "build out the shoulders" of the eight-week BSO and Tanglewood Music Center seasons, extending through Labor Day weekend with four late-summer Boston Pops and Popular Artists bookings beginning with the return of Train on Aug. 23.
"It's the right thing to do, and it has a financial benefit, candidly," he acknowledged, not only for the BSO but also for the hospitality industry.
"They've had their best June because we've had these blockbuster shows," Volpe said. "Obviously, there's demand for it without cannibalizing the classical season," since advance sales for the orchestra are ahead of last summer.
Noting that programming for the BSO's Shed residency is "populist," and that the Ozawa Hall schedule ranges broadly from early music to the annual Festival of Contemporary Music, he described the pre- and post-season bookings as "building critical mass."
There's a record-setting eight performances involving the Boston Pops, five of them led by Keith Lockhart, including this Sunday's matinee with star vocalist Seth MacFarlane.
"We've diversified programming at Tanglewood quite a bit," said Lockhart, who was appointed Pops conductor in 1995, succeeding John Williams. "That speaks to the economic realities, the need to use this space to bring in as many people as possible over a concentrated period of time. I think it's great because it makes the place a resource for more people, besides just our BSO crowd."
For the first time in 22 years, the BSO's summer home has its own designated leader — artistic administrator Tony Fogg has the added title of director of Tanglewood, with responsibility for all aspects of the festival except the facilities.
Volpe said his supervisors, the BSO trustees, felt he had been over-extended.
"I thought it appropriate, given Tony's significant talents and artistic sensitivities, that we consolidate the festival and the school [the Tanglewood Music Center]," he said. Ellen Highstein, in her 20th summer as the director of the TMC, now reports directly to the Australian-born Fogg, who was appointed artistic administrator in late 1994 by Music Director Seiji Ozawa.
"All of the content of Tanglewood is now organized under Tony," Volpe said.
Fogg, a champion of contemporary music and of media activities, emphasized his role as bolstering "the very strong and fertile relationship between the BSO and the TMC, wanting to give added strength to that to reinforce that we are part of this one big canvas and range of activities here. I'm delighted to have the nudge to be even more closely involved in the school."
He also commented that he is charged with planning the overall balance of the summer festival, such as the decision "to front-load all of the Popular Artists this summer, a significant move and a successful one on several levels."
"Many people who have never been to Tanglewood before have been attracted by the prospect of seeing several of their favorite popular artists in a short period of time," said Fogg. A similar approach for the pre-season in future years depends entirely on the availability of top-quality performers.
"There's no point to pursuing this model if you can't get that caliber," he added. "As a shape of the season, that's the model I'd like to strive for, but we're not going to compromise the richness of what we've helped create here."
"Each year we seem to be refining our ideas," Fogg said, while stressing that "the sanctity of the BSO is absolutely paramount in the core of what we have to keep in place, creating programs which we feel will appeal to the broadest audience, that can work within the schedule confines that we have, but nonetheless take audiences in new directions."
Fogg also cited the aim of greater breadth and diversity in programming "in response to what we hear in the community, without cutting into the core of what we do, in fact making it even stronger and being able to add to it."
BSO Opening Night on Friday, featuring violinist Joshua Bell, will be conducted by the French-Canadian Jacques Lacombe for the third straight year. He will also lead Saturday night's program and the season's first concert by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra of advanced young musicians on Sunday evening.
Volpe noted that several of the senior maestros who appeared regularly with the BSO have passed away.
"We have to form relationships with younger conductors and monitor the orchestra's reaction," he said.
He also highlighted the intensity of the Tanglewood rehearsal schedule, typically two per concert.
"Certain conductors can handle that and flourish in that," he said. "Jacques has been terrific, incredibly flexible and obviously a first-rate conductor."
In a statement, Lacombe, 52, who just wound up his tenure as music director of the New Jersey Symphony, called it "a great honor and a real pleasure to be back at Tanglewood a very special and extremely inspiring place, where music-making takes another dimension."
Meanwhile, another top administrator Kim Noltemy is now the BSO's chief operating officer in addition to her previous role as chief marketing and communications officer.
Next June, for the first time in 18 years, Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" annual live broadcast from Tanglewood will be missing now that the host of the public radio fixture he created 42 years ago has retired from "the weekly grind of a radio show," as Volpe put it.
"He did not want to leave Tanglewood," Volpe said of Keillor's June 25 appearance. "I don't want to be too melodramatic, but backstage was very emotional; it was hard."
As for the new 8 p.m. starting time for BSO concerts, a half-hour earlier as prompted by popular demand, he described the feedback as "unbelievably positive."
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
If you go
What: BSO opening weekend
• Friday: Boston Symphony, Joshua Bell, violin soloist; Jacques Lacombe, conductor. Music of Ravel, Saint-Saens, Prokofiev. 8 p.m., Shed
• Saturday: Boston Symphony, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Jacques Lacombe, conductor. Music of Debussy, Ravel, Orff ("Carmina Burana"). 8 p.m., Shed
• Sunday: Boston Pops, vocalist Seth MacFarlane; Keith Lockhart, conductor. Classic pop standards of the '40s and '50s. 2:30 p.m., Shed
• Sunday: Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, Jacques Lacombe and conducting fellows. Music of Bernstein, Schuman, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky. 8 p.m., Ozawa Hall
Info/tickets: Box office (Route 183), Tanglewood.org or 888-266-1200
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