Thursday August 2, 2012

LENOX -- Although the Boston Symphony's summer home has many hallowed traditions, the oldest one of all -- and the least changed -- is the annual showcase for the entire campus, Tanglewood on Parade.

The family-friendly, all-day extravaganza, which attracts many repeat visitors as well as Berkshire residents, started in 1940 as the brainchild of Boston Symphony Music Director Serge Koussevitzky, founder of Tanglewood.

With World War II in Europe already well under way, Koussevitzsky set up an "Allied Relief Fund Benefit" concert, which featured performances by students attending the newly created Berkshire Music Center (as the Tanglewood Music Center originally was named).

Much like modern times, the event included full orchestra, chamber music, operatic scenes, choral performances and brass fanfares.

With activities at Tanglewood suspended during the war-year summers of 1942 through 1945, the event returned in 1946 as Tanglewood on Parade, and ticket sales then as now benefit the educational activiies of the campus.

When the Boston University Tanglewood Institute was created in the 1966 as a summer school for especially talented, high school-age musicians, performances by those students were added to the Tanglewood on Parade schedule.

The festivities continue to include elaborate picnics on the lawn as concertgoers arrive when gates open at 2 p.m. to jockey for the best positions right behind the Shed or under a tree.

To entertain the many youngsters who are brought to the celebration, balloon rides, dancers, jugglers and other attractions have been added to the mix.

With very few exceptions, the evening's gala concert -- featuring three orchestras and five conductors -- always ends with Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," performed by the combined forces of the Boston Symphony and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, complete with real cannons on the lawn and fireworks over Stockbridge Bowl.