LENOX — The Boston Symphony Orchestra anticipates potentially performing before a live audience this summer for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic silenced it 13 months ago except for a robust schedule of online concerts.
The plan is subject to approval by the BSO’s board of trustees at a meeting this month. The decision also is contingent on capacity and approval issues in connection with official recommendations from Gov. Charlie Baker’s office.
If the plan moves forward, the launch at Tanglewood would be in early to mid-July, BSO President and CEO Mark Volpe told The Eagle by phone from his office at Symphony Hall.
Details about the schedule, the number of concerts and the specific performances won’t be announced until after the board meeting that would make the final decision on the season, Volpe said.
But, Tanglewood will not be open in June, meaning the traditional nonclassical preseason lineup won’t be presented at that time, and Berkshire high schools and colleges cannot hold their graduation ceremonies there for the second consecutive year.
Management is working on possibly rescheduling the Popular Artists series to a date later in the summer or during the 2022 Tanglewood season.
The organization decided to temporarily suspend Popular Artists concert sales pending more definitive information about the season, according to a statement from a BSO spokesperson.
“The BSO will provide patrons with further details about the 2021 Tanglewood Popular Artists schedule later in the spring when those plans are confirmed and will honor all ticket purchases,” the statement added.
“Time is our friend, we hope, but with this pandemic, you can’t absolutely have any guarantees, so, we’re going to begin activity in mid-July, with a few things in August,” Volpe said. “We’re trying to keep it as simple as we can. We’re modeling different things, and we haven’t locked into everything yet.”
Whether James Taylor can perform July 4 remains to be determined, he indicated.
But, the likelihood that there will be a Tanglewood season, even though curtailed and with limits on attendance as mandated by state guidelines, will be welcome news not only to music lovers, but also to the hospitality industry, since the concert venue is the engine driving the county’s vital tourism trade.
Volpe appeared confident that the trustees would approve the game plan since “they’ve been part of the process from the get-go.” He has been working with four committees leading up to the full board meeting.
“I’m hoping we’ll get the go-ahead and, hopefully, the vaccination success will ultimately assure that we can have reduced audiences, something that keeps us viable,” he said. “The orchestra’s players and staff have been great partners through this whole process. God willing, and a few other considerations, there you have it.”
Although the current state guidelines would limit the audience to 12 percent of capacity, Volpe is hoping and anticipating an increase to 25 percent.
“Ultimately, the state’s going to decide what’s possible,” he said. “I imagine the public performances are going to be in the Shed, because every other venue we have, arguably, is an indoor venue,” notably Ozawa Hall.
“The public will have access to the entire campus but, obviously, many of the buildings are going to be closed,” Volpe said, except for rehearsals and coaching for a reduced number of Tanglewood Music Center students, probably fewer than half of the normal 150 young players and composers embarking on their careers.
The scaled-down season represents an investment, considering the limited potential for box-office revenue, he acknowledged. Health and safety remain the guiding principles, Volpe pointed out, along with the orchestra’s central, core mission and the need to remain financially responsible.
“Everything we propose has to lead to viability, not just artistic, but financially as well,” he said. “If the trajectory remains as it is, I’m optimistic. It will happen; I can’t imagine it not happening. But, we’ve been thrown a few curves.”
The orchestra’s board includes some senior scientists and medical experts, “and people are certainly feeling a little more optimism than they were a couple of months ago,” Volpe said.
Other details revealed by Volpe for the upcoming Tanglewood season:
• There would be no vocal programs involving the full-fledged Tanglewood Festival Chorus or other singers until the fall season in Boston.
• The stage in the Shed would be expanded, as it has been for special productions in the past, in order to accommodate a complement of 65 to 70 BSO players, enough for much of the classical and romantic repertoire by Beethoven, Dvorak, Schumann and other favorite composers. Programming details are expected to be unveiled in the next few weeks.
• It’s safe to assume that there would be some public performances by the limited number of TMC students who will be able to attend a scaled-down program this summer. Assembling the class is a complex undertaking, Volpe noted, given the traditional international composition of the group.
• The Tanglewood Learning Institute, with its state-of-the-art technology, has robust possibilities for this summer through a combination of virtual/digital presentations and possible live programming.
“There’ll be some TLI presence, but to what extent and how much in-person is being considered and is still taking shape,” Volpe said.
• Once performances resume before a live audience, a hybrid model based on the orchestra’s BSO Now digital presentations is expected, making some performances “live-captured” for virtual programming.
Volpe is set to retire June 20 as his successor, Gail Samuel, the chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and president of the Hollywood Bowl, takes over as the BSO’s first female president and CEO.
Not that he is counting the days. Noting that some peers overseeing other top orchestras had joked that his timing was one year off, Volpe reflected that “with all we’ve invested in the last 23 years, I’m glad I was here to work through this set of complex challenges with the pandemic.”
During his tenure, he emphasized the importance of the BSO’s summer home to the orchestra, culminating in the opening of the Tanglewood Learning Institute in the recently constructed four-building Linde Center, an eventual year-round destination for events in a post-pandemic world.
The BSO’s endowment, the largest of any U.S. classical music organization, was last reported at $509 million, up from $450 million last summer and triple what it was when Volpe took over in 1998.
The BSO’s current operating budget is $57.7 million, a significant decrease from its pre-COVID operating budget for the 2019-20 season of $103 million. Because of the live performance hiatus necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, the BSO has lost $51.5 million in revenue.