Andrew Pincus: Tanglewood stays in touch with online summer festival

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LENOX - There is Seiji Ozawa, making a little speech of gratitude at the close of the Tanglewood concert and inviting the audience to join him and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in singing Randall Thompson's "Alleluia," the Tanglewood Music Center's signature anthem.

The camera follows him out into the wings of the Shed. Ozawa is trying to coax the orchestra to follow him off the stage while the players are beckoning him back out for another bow.

The former BSO music director's 2002 farewell concert will return this summer, streamed as part of Tanglewood's "Online Festival." The camera work, done anonymously, is a little shaky, says Anthony Fogg, the BSO's artistic administrator and director of Tanglewood, "but, boy, does that convey the emotions and the occasion."

Other performances in the summer series of streamed programming, including two series, newly recorded, in the year-old Linde Center, are more polished, Fogg says. But archival treasures like Ozawa's farewell, he adds, are "beautiful artifacts, a bit like watching really good home movies."

An online festival is the BSO's response to the coronavirus-forced cancellation of a live season. This is only the second time Tanglewood's 83-year history that a season has been canceled. Tanglewood curtailed its performance scheduled for several years during World War II, canceling the entire season, for the first and only other time, in 1945.

The seven series to be streamed - three archival, three newly recorded, one devoted to the educational offerings of the Tanglewood Learning Institute - open Wednesday, July 1, with a TLI conducting class led last year by BSO music director Andris Nelsons. Musical programming begins Friday, July 3, with a prelude concert of chamber music played by BSO musicians. It is immediately followed by Gil Shaham in a Linde-recorded recital for solo violin.

"Having new material is absolutely central to this conception that we have," Fogg said in an interview on the deserted Tanglewood grounds. "Otherwise, you're just sort of sitting looking at things [that] with a little poking around you could find in other places." The fresh material makes 'the festival absolutely alive and current.'"

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The message to board members, audiences and donors, Mark Volpe, BSO president and CEO, said in the joint interview, is that "we are a mission-driven institution [and] that to the best of our collective ability we are trying to fulfill our mission, realizing that we can't have people congregate in this instance."

Would-be audiences have responded generously, many turning their advance ticket purchases into donations, Volpe said.

Streamed concerts ask you to imagine that what you see and hear on your screen is coming to you live from Symphony Hall, Ozawa Hall or the Met, when all they are is disembodied copies of what did, or might have, come from those haunts. In many cases these days, programs are recorded in musicians' homes.

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Streaming is also the culmination of electronic reproduction of music harking back to the invention of sound recording in 1887. Successive innovations led to the audio disc, the CD, the DVD and now streamed audio-video, which, in this year of COVID-19, has darkened concert halls, theaters and museums across the land.

The avatar of this trend was pianist Glenn Gould, who predicted that live concerts would wither away and die, their function taken over by recordings. In the 1960s, he walked the talk by walking away from the concert stage altogether, committing all his playing to recordings.

"It is my view," he said, "that in the electronic age the art of music will become much more viably a part of our lives, much less an ornament to them, and that it will consequently change them much more profoundly."

Change, certainly. But profundity?

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At its best, classical music is a communal as well as personal experience. Tanglewood exemplifies this truism. A receptive audience, plus the setting amid natural beauty, multiplies the effect of a symphony, concerto or string quartet.

This summer's streamed concerts are scheduled to mimic a normal Tanglewood season. BSO concerts, for example, remain on Sunday afternoon.

One of the three archival series draws on BSO concert recordings dating back to the early 20th century. Two streamed TMC series feature student musicians in past chamber and orchestral concerts. (These three series are free.)

One of three freshly recorded series presents soloists originally scheduled for BSO appearances in recital from the Linde Center. Another Linde series features BSO musicians in chamber music. In yet another series, noted musicians play solo recitals and chamber music in other venues in the United States and Europe. (There is a charge for these concerts.)

Volpe and Fogg point out that besides providing a way for Tanglewood to stay in touch with the Berkshire and musical communities, the experience with streaming will better prepare the BSO to meet the challenges of the post-pandemic era.

Nothing will be the same, the two leaders say, but it's clear that technology will play a greater role for people of all ages as they become familiar with it and, possibly, more wary of being in crowds in enclosed spaces.

It's an experiment, Volpe says - for the BSO, even the paywall is an experiment - but the alternative is to do nothing, and that's "total disruption."


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