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Jeremy Yudkin has been giving his Tanglewood Talks for 40 years — and he's still learning from them

Man in blue shirt speaking at a podium

The free eight-week series at 2:30 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. Sundays will be in the refurbished Town Hall auditorium this year, instead of the Lenox Library.

LENOX — Forty years after devising a weekly program of audience-friendly Tanglewood preview talks on the grounds of the Boston Symphony’s summer home, Boston University Professor of Music Jeremy Yudkin remains enthused about forging connections with listeners, especially non-experts. 

Beginning on Friday, the Tanglewood Talks series has relocated, at least for this summer, to Town Hall, as its customary home, the town library, is about to undergo extensive renovations.

The free eight-week series at 2:30 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. Sundays will be in the refurbished Town Hall auditorium.

A resident of Stockbridge, Yudkin has been a professor at Boston University since 1982, continues to teach there full-time, and co-directs the BU Beethoven Center for Research. He has served as Visiting Professor of Music at Oxford, Harvard and the Sorbonne.

“My focus is what a non-expert music lover would enjoy knowing before going to a concert,” Yudkin said. “That has been incredibly popular, because people say they enjoy the concerts much more.”

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A typical 90-minute seminar, which includes a playlist of recorded excerpts from the upcoming Boston Symphony programs and a question-and-answer segment, attracts patrons from all walks of life, he said — doctors, engineers, amateur players, sound engineers.

One patron, Dr. Wallace Lehman of West Stockbridge, an amateur cellist, has attended the series for 38 years.

“I always find something new and exciting about Jeremy’s talks, even when he talks about the same music that he has spoken about previously,” he said. “He speaks to ‘US,’ whatever level our music knowledge is, answers all our questions and makes us understand and appreciate music of all kinds, and he does it with a sense of ‘Jeremy humor.’”

Author of 10 books, Yudkin’s wide-ranging musical interests beyond classical include jazz, medieval music, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Currently, he previews and reviews BSO weekend concerts for The Eagle.

A native of England, he holds degrees from Cambridge University and a doctorate in historical musicology from Stanford University.

When he was first hired at BU, Yudkin was asked to create a summertime seminar series at Tanglewood, which began in 1983, first in the Little Red House opposite the Lion’s Gate. (Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in the original cottage in the 1850s; it was rebuilt after it burned down in 1890).

At the outset, seminar patrons were mostly composed of Boston University Tanglewood Institute students and some BSO staffers. Soon, Tanglewood management urged Yudkin to focus on audience members.

The series relocated several times on the Tanglewood campus, including at the Highwood Manor House, before moving to the Lenox Library about 15 years ago.

After all this time, Yudkin feels that his teaching has evolved, both here and at BU undergraduate and graduate seminars.

“It’s a wonderful thing to be in this career when, after 40 years, you can say you’re actually improving,” Yudkin said. “I feel like I can draw on a huge amount of musical knowledge that keeps on getting bigger.”

He questions whether audiences for classical music are declining, as is widely believed. “The figures are very, very controversial, and we still don’t know whether in fact the audience is declining or not,” Yudkin said.

Because the music presented at Tanglewood keeps changing from year to year, Yudkin finds new avenues of exploration. “But even if I’m teaching the same piece, the people in the room make a difference. As a teacher, you’re receiving energy from the audience, and I get tremendous satisfaction from seeing someone’s face light up when they get a point I’m making about the music.”

As examples, he cited a listener who says, “ ‘I’ve listened to a piece for 20 years and never noticed that.’ That kind of reaction is tremendously energizing.”

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com.

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