LENOX — With a limited number of Tanglewood tickets for the general public going on sale this Monday, the Boston Symphony has detailed how ongoing COVID-19 health and safety issues will affect concertgoers during the July 9-Aug. 16 festival season.
Since donor pre-sales have been ongoing for five weeks, it’s unclear how many coveted tickets remain for high-profile events such as the BSO’s opening night concert with Music Director Andris Nelsons; John Williams’ Film Night, with the beloved composer-conductor scheduled to attend, and for performances featuring celebrated soloists such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax.
The status of the Popular Artists series, potentially in late summer, is still very fluid, according to BSO Artistic Administrator and Director of Tanglewood Tony Fogg, including the James Taylor concert, tentatively slated for Aug. 31.
Keep in mind that several annual traditions, such as Tanglewood on Parade and the Beethoven Ninth season finale, are not part of the lineup listed at the BSO’s website, www.tanglewood.org. And there’s no vocal music during the performance season of the BSO, guest ensembles and the Tanglewood Music Center (TMC) training academy for aspiring professionals. All public performances will be presented from an extended stage in the open-air Shed with enhanced ventilation including “heat-reduction elements.”
“We’ve done our best to try to weigh up the practical, physical considerations of attending a concert at Tanglewood along with the psychological and emotional,” Fogg emphasized. “There’s something spiritual about that combination of landscape and great music. For the last 12 months, we’ve muted that landscape, so we want to reignite that spirit.”
Here are some key takeaways from an online briefing by BSO leaders earlier this week, followed by some further observations from this corner:
• Concert attendance will be limited to about 4,500, based on the state’s current 25 percent capacity limit, resulting in 6 feet of separation between parties in the Shed for 1,250 patrons (they can picnic on the lawn “pre-curtain.”) For up to 3,250 concertgoers with lawn tickets, there will be 3 to 6 feet of spacing between groups. “Occupancy” might be eased for the lawn based on later state guidance and the required approval from the Tri-Town Health Department, “our go-to group,” according to the BSO’s Chief Financial Officer Evelyn Barnes.
“They’re immensely helpful, and the local authority rules,” she said. “We’re very comfortable with the protocols that we have in place right now. We’re not going to rush into a situation where we have more people than we feel comfortable with or that we can staff up to manage. … We’re going to maintain a cautious approach.”
But if it’s possible to release additional tickets at some point, information will be released to the public, said Amy Aldrich, director of patron experience.
In response to my query on Friday on the likelihood that Gov. Charlie Baker will “fully open” the state on Aug. 1, if not sooner, Tri-Town Executive Director Jim Wilusz stated that the Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge health boards “are constantly assessing what is going on with respect to COVID data and what is relevant to the towns we cover. We currently have limited occupancy restrictions, and going directly from 25 percent capacity to 100 percent capacity on Aug. 1 is a cause for concern. We are assessing options as we speak and we hope to have a meeting to go over local options, including extended local requirements on COVID rules if the boards feel it’s justified.”
• Dr. Joseph Allen, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health and founder of the 9Foundations nonprofit that guided the BSO’s health and safety rules for Tanglewood, calls the current health and safety rules “a layered defense” against COVID. 9Foundations provides strategic healthy buildings solutions through its team of Harvard-affiliated medical and engineering specialists. As pandemic-era restrictions are lifted nationally and most people are fully vaccinated, Allen explained, “We’re going to keep monitoring disease dynamics over the coming weeks, and if the BSO feels comfortable and the science says things are OK, then maybe there’s a chance to pull back, but right now the plans are to keep this layered defense and all these controls in place.”
• Vaccinations won’t be required for concertgoers so as not to exclude children or anyone else ineligible or unable to receive a shot, Barnes explained. “It’s hard to imagine Tanglewood without children there,” she said. To ensure safety, universal mask wearing, physical distancing and hand hygiene will be required of all visitors. Increased air filtration, ventilation and enhanced cleaning and sanitation are among the additional precautions to minimize health risks.
• There will be no indoor food, beverage or retail sales, no intermissions, with an 80-minute running time for concerts. All parking will be accessed from West Street (Route 183) in Lenox. Ticketing will be digital, although paper tickets can be requested by concertgoers.
• In keeping with the BSO’s necessary pandemic-era transition into a digitally focused media presence, Saturday night concerts and the Monday night TMC performances will be live-streamed at the digital website and remain available for a month after the performance date. That’s a boon for anyone unable to attend or to obtain tickets. “This is a major change in our presentation and who knows what it will mean going forward” beyond this summer, Fogg said.
The virtual BSO Town Hall briefing preceded the CDC’s loosening of mask and distancing restrictions for those fully vaccinated, though that guidance is advisory, and final decisions are up to BSO officials based on guidance from Gov. Baker and Tri-Town Health.
My gentle suggestion is to avoid complaints and concerns, go with the flow and accept the reality that for this summer, it’s a season like none other. Shakespeare’s advice in “Twelfth Night” still rings true: “If music be the food of love, play on. …”