Friday night, it's the BSO's turn


LENOX — The big doings at Tanglewood so far this summer have been celebrations of the new buildings and new education program they house. Now it's time to turn to the festival's main business: a busy eight-week classical music season that formally opens Friday night.

As it happens, the two things — Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts and Tanglewood Learning Institute — are interlocked. BSO programming furnished the spark for TLI programming.

The BSO launches its summer season Friday on a high note with two joyful works, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 and Mahler's Symphony No. 5, conducted by Andris Nelsons. Tanglewood favorite Emanuel Ax is the soloist.

Other stars will follow — Yo-Yo Ma and Renee Fleming most starry among them. There will also be, as usual, debuts and reappearances by a younger crop of conductors and soloists. BSO repertoire, as usual, will be strong on standard works, with premieres and less familiar fare salted in.

Invoked in word, performance and statuary during the two preliminary weeks, Serge Koussevitzky would hardly recognize — but probably approve of — the vastly expanded grounds and offerings since he launched a two-weekend festival on a donated estate in the Berkshires in 1937. His vision — that's the term being invoked, again and again — encompassed education in both music and the related arts.

How big?

The summer's repertoire ranges from Bach's unaccompanied cello suites to Wagner's complete "Die Walkure."

All alone on the stage of the 5,000-seat Koussevitzky Shed, Ma will perform the six Bach cello suites as part of his two-year mission to bring the set to 36 venues on six continents. In a "day of action" accompaniment on the Pittsfield Common the day before, he'll lead community groups in communal construction of wooden tables. The finished products will be donated for community use.

And in what must be some kind of record, Nelsons conducts every purely symphonic concert to be given in the Shed during July: 10 BSO concerts and three with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in a concert version of the three acts of Wagner's "Walkure." He'll also make an appearance in Tanglewood on Parade.

Among the music director's other assignments are two major events: the Verdi Requiem and the world premiere of Kevin Puts' "The Brightness of Light," a commissioned vocal work, with projections, based correspondence between artist Georgia O'Keeffe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz. It is described as "the story of a great artist who ultimately turns from a painful marriage to embrace her work and the desert landscape she loves." Fleming and Rod Gilfry are the vocalists.

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These two works also provide examples of the BSO-TLI connection. Each is the subject of a Learning Institute program.

In a "Big Idea" series of discussions, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will explore nation-building in the 21st century in the light of Verdi's 19th-century push for Italian unification. The Puts work will be the subject of a weekend-long immersion in O'Keeffe's world.

The Learning Institute, based in the sleek new $33 million Linde Center for Music and Learning, extends Tanglewood's educational mission from purely musical studies to a realm of culture, film, visual art and more. Each TLI lecture, panel discussion and master class ties in with music to be performed. In each case, the musical programming came first, according to Anthony Fogg, Tanglewood director and BSO artistic administrator.

"That's been a guiding principle at TLI, that everything will be music- and Tanglewood-centric," Fogg said in an interview. He outlined how four immersion weekends of music and study formed the basis:

"So we knew that we had the Georgia O'Keeffe commission, we knew that we were doing `Walkure,' we knew that there would be an FCM [Festival of Contemporary Music], we knew that there would be Film Night. So we had decided that those would be the four key weekends, and everything else flowed from that."

The goal: new ideas to draw in new people and broaden the experience for current patrons, said TLI director Sue Elliott. "And that's what we want. We want new people who find value in an experience here at Tanglewood, for what we're providing."

Four Pops concerts, John Williams' Film Night and a 90th birthday salute to Andre Previn, who did not live to enjoy it, flavor the musical mix. The National Youth Orchestra of the United States, the Venice Baroque Orchestra and the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra lend international spice. The contemporary festival ranges over five days of new and newer music, with many premieres, under the direction of composer-conductor Thomas Ades, the BSO's artistic partner.

The Previn tribute begins tomorrow night with Anne-Sophie Mutter as soloist in his Violin Concerto, "Anne-Sophie." The Emerson String Quartet, Renee Fleming and pianist Simone Dinnerstein will premiere his "Penelope," a BSO co-commission composed in collaboration with playwright Tom Stoppard.

It's no coincidence that Stoppard is one of the speakers in TLI's "Meet the Makers" series of talks. Elsewhere in the TLI season, look for historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, cabaret artist Meow Meow and Fleming and Nelson among the presenters.

But Friday night, music is music. It's the BSO's turn.



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