LENOX — Can Tanglewood have a 2021 summer season, even if the COVID-19 pandemic still is active despite the nationwide rollout of vaccines, and ongoing health and safety policies?
No official announcement is expected until mid- or late-March, Boston Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Mark Volpe said during a remote appearance this past week at the Tanglewood Business Partners Virtual Holiday Festival.
But “the orchestra is determined, if at all possible, to welcome in-person audiences for programs this summer,” according to a follow-up statement issued by the BSO on Thursday, referring to a “robust, organizationwide planning process.
“It is our fervent hope that we will be able to present a season of live performances with audiences at Tanglewood this summer, though the safety and well-being of everyone involved will always remain our highest priority in our decision-making process,” he said, noting that the scale of whatever can be managed would be “contingent on a successful vaccination period.”
Volpe, who is heading for retirement soon after 25 years as the top leader of the BSO, addressed questions about the summer festival’s status during the “Holiday Zoom” organized by Laurence Oberwager, director of the business organization, and Mary Jane White, chairperson of the Tanglewood Business Partners Advisory Council.
Volpe was planning to step down at the end of February, but a spokesperson for the BSO said he had “graciously agreed to extend his time if needed.”
He acknowledged that the pandemic has forced the orchestra to become “a media company of sorts,” offering a vast trove of newly recorded and archival online programs last summer at Tanglewood and currently from Boston.
He emphasized that “we are optimistic, obviously with certain trepidation, in a guarded way.” By the beginning of spring, he said, “we’re hoping to have a much better sense of what’s possible. We continue to evaluate the day-to-day protocols.”
Volpe noted the complexity of planning a Tanglewood season, since the 100-plus buildings on the Tanglewood campus date from the 1840s to last year. But, he told the group via Zoom, “it’s our hope that we’ll be able to have content, we are still going through a variety of scenarios on what scale and proportion.”
BSO Artistic Administrator and Director of Tanglewood Tony Fogg and a task force are exploring the options, along with the orchestra players and engineers. A survey is being sent to 40,000 patrons to explore their feelings about the season, Volpe said, and discussions continue with “our sister organizations in the Berkshires and other music festivals nationwide.”
He also cautioned that “no matter what we do, we have to be modest in our expectations in terms of audience and it’s going to require a bit of an investment. We want to stay connected with our audience, we want to keep our players and staff engaged, and we know how important Tanglewood is to the Berkshire summer economy.”
The BSO has lost over $50 million this year in earned revenue, primarily ticket sales, and orchestra players have accepted a 37 percent cut in salary, on average, in the first year of a new three-year contract that began Sept. 1. Salaries gradually can increase in the following years, only recovering fully if the BSO meets at least one of three financial benchmarks.
Also at the Tanglewood Business Partners event, former co-chairperson Nancy Fitzpatrick who, along with her family, has been a longtime major supporter of the BSO, toasted Volpe on his upcoming retirement.
“It’s really kind of emotional to me to think that Mark is retiring,” she said. “I served my term as a trustee and I’m now a life trustee, and we always felt incredibly grateful for Mark. He made us feel very confident in the management of the orchestra and he rallied the troops to support the orchestra and was an excellent CEO for so many years.
“It’s hard to imagine you’re not going to be there, Mark,” Fitzpatrick said. “As somebody who’s been retired for a few years, it’s not a bad thing, and I hope you’re able to fulfill a lot of your dreams.”
Offering his thanks “for an incredible run,” Volpe stressed that “what makes the Boston Symphony absolutely unique is Tanglewood,” not only the orchestra’s season, but also the Tanglewood Music Center, which trains young musicians for professional careers, and the Learning Institute, launched in 2019.
“It’s the part of my job I’ll probably miss the most,” he said. “It certainly captured my imagination, and I will be visiting as a civilian, or whatever my status will be.”