RICHMOND — If Tanglewood ever issues a command to circle the wagons, the ring will encompass the Shed, the formidable hedges by the Lion’s Gate and all the parking lots.
It is amazing how many conveyances go through the gates, filled with what a group of four or six or eight needs to get them through an evening,
At the risk of sounding like an aging fuddy-duddy (but one who never walked through the legendary 9-foot drifts to get to school), we used to take a blanket, a small basket of supper and jackets for the cool that might descend at dusk. In my first days of living in the Berkshires, sleeping bags were common for the lawn folks — but that’s when air conditioning was provided around here by Mother Nature.
On the lawn for a long-awaited return to the jewel of Lenox and Stockbridge, I watched groups unfurl tarps and quilts and plaid blankets in the midst of carts and wagons and coolers on wheels. While one anxious patron waved and called to get a latecomer’s attention, the new arrival was slowed down by the need to capture the unwieldy legs of two folding chairs that had spilled to the ground. (She had been carrying the bags upside down.)
A few people plunked down a blanket and sat, but most arrived as beasts of burden, provisioned for a week and present for an 80-minute concert. It is the beloved Tanglewood way.
Nearby, an NPR interviewer stopped to talk with a large family gathered around about 20 small containers of food, including hummus, tabbouleh and what appeared to be lobster chunks.
The reporter hit a gold mine — people who were perennials, joyful at Tanglewood’s return, lovers of Beethoven and happy because the father was there for the first time. During the concert, it was obvious that he not only knew the music, but was having the time of his life. And he was agile enough to fold a knee straight back, sitting like a kid playing a board game.
Given the extra wetness of the year and the ordinary dampness of earth in the evening, it was genius of Tanglewood to give out bright yellow plastic sheets to put under blankets or chairs. And fun to watch others wrestle with crackling tarps as they established their territory.
Prior to the music, the sounds of the lawn include the slap, slap of flip-flops, the crash of bottles in a dumpster, the occasional pop of a cork and the constant hum of hundreds of conversations.
But once Andris Nelsons appeared — to a thunderous welcome — silence was the story. The all-Beethoven program was a glorious treat, from start to Nelsons’ dramatic finish of the Fifth. And how perfect to have soloist Emanuel Ax with the “Emperor” concerto.
Ax has established deep roots here over many years, never more visible than when he teamed with Yo-Yo Ma to do a series of pop-up concerts in Berkshire communities during the pandemic, the most recent in South Egremont last week.
With no idea what the music critics thought, I just enjoyed the rapt faces on the people around me while he played. And thought of bird song on a spring morning when he lightly touched the highest tinkly notes of the concerto and made them dance.
The Berkshire evening could not have been nicer, Venus making a brief appearance in the west before falling into bed, fireflies winking and three or four stars appearing, despite a night sky turned gauzy gray.
Welcome back, Tanglewood. A spectacular opening sharpened our awareness of how much you were missed.