At Tanglewood, Koussevitzky is in everything


LENOX — Take a walk inside Tanglewood. Start at the newly renovated Main Gate, with its newly unveiled statue of Serge Koussevitzky.

Koussevitzky is in everything.

To your right, at the western edge of the original campus, you come to the aging Tappan Manor House and Theater-Concert Hall. They were the center of educational activity at the opening of the Tanglewood (then Berkshire) Music Center for advanced music studies on the original campus in 1940.

On past the 1937 Koussevitzky Music Shed and the 1994 Seiji Ozawa Hall, at the eastern end of the now expanded 320-acre grounds — an amble of about a quarter-mile — you arrive at the sleek new $33 million Linde Center for Music and Learning. Perched on a knoll overlooking Ozawa Hall on one side and Stockbridge Bowl on the other, it opens this week as the home of the Tanglewood Learning Institute, offering a panorama of 140 cultural and musical programs for the general public.

Just so far, in 82 years, has Tanglewood traveled from Koussevitzky's founding vision of a music school (the Music Center) to a lyceum (the Learning Institute) using music and culture as lenses to magnify each other, as well as providing new rehearsal and performance spaces.

The unveiling of the Koussevitzky statue Monday, together with the formal opening of the Linde Center and Learning Institute later next week, recalls the legacy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's music director from 1924 to 1949.

Education is the link. Though well beyond anything Koussevitzky envisioned, the new building and education programs are a testament to his abiding passion for bringing classical music to both students and a wide general audience. And Penelope Jencks' sculpture completes her trinity of sculptures honoring the reigning gods in the Tanglewood pantheon: Koussevitzky, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.     

It was back in Russia that Koussevitzky hatched the idea of an academy where music students and professionals could work side by side. In 1940, three years after launching Tanglewood as the BSO's summer home, he realized his dream with an initial class of 312 students who came for training in composition, conducting, orchestral performance, chamber music, choral music and opera.

The distinguished faculty included Copland as head of composition, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky as head of chamber music and Koussevitzky himself as conducting teacher. Among the students was the young Bernstein, soon to become an international icon and follow Koussevitzky in his passion for education.

"Little did I think," Koussevitzky said in that founding year, "that my own early dream of a Music and Art Center in Moscow, in the heart of Russia, would find its realization in the heart of New England a quarter of a century later. Indeed, miracles cannot be accounted for."

Music directors these days tend to be collegial. Like Arturo Toscanini, Koussevitzky came from an old school that wielded near-dictatorial powers.

Born poor in Russia, he became a double bass virtuoso and then, with money from his first wife, Natalie, the daughter of a rich tea merchant, turned himself into a conductor with his own orchestra. Among other things, he and his 65-man band traveled up and down the Volga on a chartered steamboat bringing symphonic music to people who would never have heard it before.

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As Herbert Kupferberg records in his history, "Tanglewood":

"All his life Koussevitzky was imbued with a passion to discover not only new music and musicians, but also new audiences. Koussevitzky always refused to believe that there were people who could not love music once they were exposed to it."

So education was much on Koussevitzky's mind when he accepted the committee of Berkshire socialites' invitation to found a music festival in their midst.

(Amusing stories abound about "Koussy's" imperial ways, fractured English and malapropisms. In a memoir, "Gentlemen, More Dolce Please," former BSO violinist and associate Pops conductor Harry Ellis Dickson's recalls Koussy exploding during a rehearsal, "Gentlemen, you play all the time the wrong notes and not in time! And please made important, you play like it is something nothing!")

Inevitably, change has come.

The opening of Ozawa Hall as a replacement for the antiquated Theater-Concert Hall in 1994 provided a modern performance space for student and chamber concerts. The original six weeks of Music Center studies expanded to eight weeks, now for 150 full-tuition performing fellows, eliminating a lower-level classroom group of about the same number. To that, Tanglewood has now added the Learning Institute's 10 weeks of lectures, master classes, rehearsals and other programs exploring a gamut of general-interest topics - all in some way tying in with music to be performed.

Tanglewood has presented occasional lectures and panel discussions on musical subjects in the past, but never anything like the Learning Institute's sustained 10-week program ranging over topics from cabaret and film studies to weekend-long immersions into Wagner's "Die Walkure" and artist Georgia O'Keeffe's world. O'Keeffe letters inspired the text for a new composition to be premiered by the BSO.

And just as the BSO is the only major symphony orchestra to run an internationally renowned music academy at a festival in the country, Tanglewood is the only festival to offer a public education component in conjunction with the concerts. Learning institutes are offered at Aspen in Colorado and Chautauqua in New York state, but they are independent of the music schools and concerts, and at different times of year.

The concerts, the schools, the buildings: They all stem from Koussevitzky's vision, which will be invoked and evoked in performances, talks and writings countless times before the season is over.

All this costs sums that Koussevitzky would not recognize: $64 million for a Tanglewood Forever fund drive, $33 million of which is designated for the Linde Center and Learning Institute. Ticket prices range from an easy $12 to for some single events to a steep $399 for a weekend immersion.

In 1940, Koussevitzky declared: "There is hope for humanity, and all those who believe in the value and inheritance of culture and art should stand in the front ranks. If ever there was a time to speak of music, it is now in the New World."                                                                                                                                            

The reference was to the war clouds then darkening Europe, but in the atmosphere of ignorance, fear and hate that prevails today, it seems as pertinent now as it did then.


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