At Tanglewood this summer: The new and the same


LENOX — Rather than buck the tides in the Netflix age, Tanglewood is swimming with them.

The opening of the Tanglewood Learning Institute, based in the new $33 million Linde Center for Music and Learning, was one of the landmark events in the festival season just past. Supplementing Ozawa Hall, four sleek, modern buildings provide additional rehearsal space for students, a new caf and a spacious 270-seat lecture-concert hall for public, behind-the-scenes events. The Boston Symphony Orchestra set out to raise $64 million for the buildings and associated improvements. The proceeds came in at $70 million.

Classical music, opera and student training remain Tanglewood's principal business, and two events in that category stood out this summer along with the new facilities: the Tanglewood Music Center's three-part performance of Wagner's "Die Walkure" and the BSO's world premiere of Kevin Puts' "The Brightness of Light," both conducted by Andris Nelsons.

More than ever, audiences coming up now have grown up with television, pop, Netflix, digital gadgetry and short attention spans. The 140 TLI public events sought to entice these people, along with classical aficionados, with a gamut of offerings ranging from lectures on world affairs — some only tangentially related to music being performed — to classes in photography and painting; from master classes by Yo-Yo Ma and Renee Fleming to immersion weekends devoted to major musical events such as the "Walkure" performance.

An assessment of the success of these experiments awaits a report of attendance — particularly attraction of newcomers to classical concerts — and programming plans for the winter and summer ahead. Judging by a sampling of events and participants' reports on others, the programs clearly broadened Tanglewood's appeal.

One victim of the several new lecture series, however, was replacement of the popular "Talks and Walks" luncheon-lecture series in the Tent with a more formal "Shop Talks" lecture format, minus food, in the new complex. And an observer has to wonder about the value of a public master class in which a celebrity artist plays to a gaga audience while trying to help students.

This way culture goes. A classical music presenter must keep up with the times, as the half-empty Shed for the gripping "Walkure" programs and several other BSO concerts showed. Classically, the public continues to clamor for stars and safe, familiar works like the Beethoven Ninth.

Nelsons conducted all the July concerts in the Shed — 13 of them, plus appearances in two other programs.

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When he was good, Nelsons was terrific, as with the student orchestra and a starry cast, headed by Christine Goerke as Brunnhilde, in "Walkure." He also made a compelling experience of Puts' BSO-commissioned "The Brightness of Light," a setting of correspondence between Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, accompanied by projections of them and their art. The piece seemed destined for a long life, with the BSO's name attached to it.

When Nelsons was less than good, he made you wonder if he wasn't taking on too much. He seemed especially vulnerable in 20th-century French music such as Debussy's "La Mer."

The revolving door of guest conductors in August yielded bright spots and some not so bright. BSO artistic partner Thomas Ades continued to be impressive as conductor as well as composer, leading a memorable Ives-Beethoven program with Inon Barnatan as soloist.

In the Festival of Contemporary Music, Ades led one of the surprise gems of the season, the American premiere of Richard Ayres' endlessly clever kids-of-all-ages opera "The Cricket Recovers." It was imaginatively sung, staged and played by TMC students. Also in the new-music festival, Ades led the student orchestra in a concert culminating in his own mysterious but intriguing "Asyla."

Violinist Leonidas Kavakos doubled as conductor and soloist with the BSO in a mesmerizing Beethoven Violin Concerto but then, minus violin, couldn't make much of Dvorak's Symphony No. 7. He also partnered with Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax in splendid all-Beethoven recitals.

Most of the guest conductors were new or recent additions to the BSO roster, reflecting the death or departure of such valued veterans as Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, Christoph von Dohnanyi and Charles Dutoit.

Ma continued on his adventurous way with a program of all six of Bach's unaccompanied cello suites in the Shed. Incongruous as the venue seemed for such intimate music, the ever-popular cellist attracted an audience of nearly 13,000 to a Berkshire stop on his "Bach Project" taking the solo program to six continents, each performance accompanied by a "day of action." The action here was a community table-building project on the Pittsfield Common.

Real incongruity was provided by the Emerson String Quartet's world premiere of Andre Previn's "Penelope," in which two celebrity Penelopes (Renee Fleming and Uma Thurman) confusingly alternated in singing or declaiming Tom Stoppard's retelling of her story in Homer's "Odyssey." More confusion was wrought by Thomas Hampson's melting-potted "Song of America: Beyond Liberty" program, in which he belted, narrated, acted and generally went over the top in selections from the American Songbook.                                        

So, just when you think Tanglewood couldn't cram more into an eight-week season, Tanglewood did it. The emerging public demands it. But Beethoven and his kin remain a constant. As they should.

So, just when you think Tanglewood couldn't cram more into an eight-week season, Tanglewood did it. The emerging public demands it. But Beethoven and his kin remain a constant. As they should.


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