The 24 hours of Tanglewood


Sunday July 15, 2012

LENOX -- At precisely 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, two stagehands slowly slid open Ozawa Hall's massive bay doors, opening the building's warm, wooden interior to the hundreds of music lovers spread out across the lawn.

It's a Tanglewood moment -- one of thousands each day that bring the campus to life, making possible the near-daily performances of world-class musicians who have turned the venue into a classical music mecca that draws 300,000 visitors a year.

From parking attendants and ushers to administrators and security guards, scores of employees work in concert throughout the day -- and a few labor late into the evening. That work is disparate; it mostly takes place behind the scenes, but at the end of the night, it all unites into a seamless whole.

On this Wednesday, a flurry of preparations is for the evening recital by violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, but the staff also is getting ready for events to come.

To capture the essence of Tanglewood and those who define it, The Eagle spent 24 hours on campus talking to people on both sides of the stage. We sent a team of reporters and photographers who worked in shifts, documenting every hour of a day in the life of the Berkshires' largest tourist attraction, which this summer is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

Our story is presented in three parts. You'll meet a longtime maintenance man, a choral director, a visitors' guide, and staff librarians, among others. You'll learn about the infamous Tanglewood fox and explore the campus' formal gardens late at night.

And, you'll realize, as our team did, that the venue never sleeps.

Midnight to 7:59 a.m.

The stars were out at Tanglewood.

That's not a literary pun.

So, again, the stars were out at Tanglewood -- before the Wednesday morning dawn wiped them off the nighttime easel.

It was difficult to look into the eastern sky and see the brightest star of all, Venus, and not think of legendary Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Seiji Ozawa.

Venus shined the brightest and for hours conducted the stars around it. In the silence that marks the wee hours at Tanglewood, it takes little imagination to hear the sounds of the BSO in the nearby, empty Shed.

In the overnight, the instruments have been put away and the final notes of the previous evening's concert have drifted into the sky like a child's suddenly free balloon. No one holds a baton, but there remains a rhythm to the night.

At Tanglewood, even no sound becomes some sound. And you wouldn't expect less.

Steve Curley works days on the facilities staff at the venue, but on this day he has drawn the overnight shift to offer assistance to the media. A night watchman at the Main Gate and a security officer in his vehicle fill out the nighttime roster.

Curley, 51, is a Lenox native and resident who has been on staff for 15 years. He carries a bit of Tanglewood DNA in his body. His great-grandfather owned and lived in what is known now as the Tappan House, the main building on the Tanglewood grounds.

Curley assisted two photographers during the morning and did his best to stay busy during atypical hours. The fenced perimeter of the grounds, he said, is rarely breached at night.

"You always have kids trying to sneak in during some of the concerts," he said. "But no body is on the grounds at night. The security is pretty good."

The sounds of silence are pierced only by the occasional sound of the security officer starting his vehicle and making his rounds.

It's not until 6:30 a.m. that traffic drips slowly into the parking lot. Curley wasn't sure, but he thought some of the early vehicles were town employees working on better connecting Tanglewood to the town sewer system.

A few more cars and trucks start to roll in as the sun begins to peek over the treeline. A cleaning crew arrives to empty office waste baskets and to complete other work.

By now, the security guard has moved from his vehicle to a chair outside the ticket window at the Main Gate. Vehicles scheduled for maintenance of the grounds or for other business at Tanglewood need to be let in and out.

As the morning takes hold, several home-for-the-summer college kids arrive. If the grounds at Tanglewood look pristine, then give these folks some praise. Grass cutting, weed-whacking and other duties are handled during the morning.

During the summer, Tanglewood shines 24/7.

-- Brian Sullivan

8 a.m. to 3:59 p.m.

It wasn't a typical Wednesday at Tanglewood.

Sure, members of the facilities crew toiled to clean up after Tuesday night's vocal concerts and to keep the grounds picture-perfect despite the near-drought, and BSO musicians spent five hours in rehearsals in the mid-morning and late afternoon. Meanwhile, young pre-professionals at the Tanglewood Music Center worked almost non-stop at rehearsals and classes.

But behind the scenes, BSO staffers, augmented by summer crews, were completing feverish preparations for Saturday night's gala celebration of Tanglewood's 75th anniversary.

"Large events create a more formidable clean-up challenge on the morning after," Facilities Manager Bobby Lahart said. "But we've noticed in recent seasons that patrons are much more sensitive about how they dispose of the trash."

A TV production team from PBS in New York was snaking cables through the Koussevitzky Music Shed and setting up cameras to record the gala for an Aug. 10 national telecast.

According to Alford's John Oliver, who is in his 43rd year as director of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the celebration is the biggest event here since Leonard Bernstein's 70th birthday bash in 1988.

"In a way, this is even larger," Oliver said. "That was about him; this really is about Tanglewood."

Box Office Manager David Chandler Winn, a Lee native and a 10-year full-time staff member, called Saturday night's gala "a hot ticket ... everybody's here this weekend," including BSO trustees, overseers, board members and hundreds of donors.

Winn calls the place "magical," noting that famed composer John Williams often is seen strolling the grounds, writing a film score in his head.

During a break from the morning's BSO rehearsal, principal horn player Jamie Somerville, who joined the orchestra in 1998, called the Tanglewood setting "inspiring -- just to look at the view gives the music a special quality."

At the Main Gate visitors' information desk, meanwhile, lead guide Bridget Sawyer-Revels is ready for anything.

"People show up in RVs; they've driven from Arizona, ready to go to concerts," she said.

First-time visitors learn that no open flames are allowed, nor can they drive their vehicles through the gate for a self-guided tour.

In her third summer at Tanglewood, Sawyer-Revels is still amazed by the James Taylor fans who line up at 10 a.m. for an evening show and spend seven hours or more holding tailgate parties until the grounds open.

Sawyer-Revels and her staff advise folks who have brought tents, ready to camp out overnight, that the grounds must be cleared after concerts.

She and other staffers still talk about a four-legged visitor in 2009 -- the fox-in-residence that eluded capture and strolled through the Shed midway through two concerts, even visiting the stage.

"We have plenty of wildlife around here," she said.

-- Clarence Fanto

4 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.

Just before 5 p.m., a one-word message crackled over the intercom in the Shed's music library:


The staff librarians -- Jennifer Feldman and Rob Whitaker -- glanced at each other, stood up and pushed toward the stage through a stream of musicians who were clearing the area for the break.

Feldman and Whitaker are responsible for the music at Tanglewood -- all of it. The parts for a typical symphony make up a folder about three inches thick.

During breaks, they have less than 20 minutes to collect and distribute scores, and on Wednesday, they had a problem: A musician who was filling in for a regular member left the grounds with a part -- a major faux pas. The librarians scrambled on the phones trying to get the sheet music back.

Typically, their work is less eventful. In addition to procuring the music required for each performance, they edit the scores, penciling in the concert master's bowings -- the markings that keep the string players in sync.

"Just like you edit a novel, you have to edit music," Feldman mused.

Across the campus at Ozawa Hall, ushers, managers and food service employees milled about the grounds, preparing for the night's recital.

By 6 p.m., a line of patrons had formed outside the nearest gate, and at 7:30, the hall opened.

Bruce Miller, who has been ushering at Tanglewood for 26 years, checked tickets outside one of the many doors, issuing directions to concertgoers in rapid fire: "First aisle on the left. First aisle on the left. Second aisle on the right."

Backstage, the visiting violinist, Anne-Sophie Mutter, warmed up in her dressing room, exiting at exactly 8:05 to take the stage.

"Can we go?" she asked the stage manager. "If you want," he replied.

And with that, she walked into the hall to thunderous applause.

Twenty minutes after the concert ended at 9:48, the ven ue was cleared of patrons, and crew members were on stage setting up for the next night's recital, an ensemble of medie val music sung in old Norse.

The rest of the campus was dark and empty by 11 p.m., save for some last-minute lighting work in the Shed in preparation for the PBS TV crew shooting Saturday night's performance at the 75th-anniversary gala.

As the night sky headed toward the dark of another day, mosquitos buzzed and sprinklers watered the campus' formal gardens, where a bust of composer Aaron Copland sat shrouded in starlight.

In the evening air, only a faint sound remained -- a music fellow practicing piano in a nearby hall.

-- Ned Oliver


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