New choral work highlights a refreshing evening of music at Tanglewood on Parade gala

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LENOX — As a celebration of all things Tanglewood, and as a crucial fund-raiser for the Boston Symphony's summer institute of advanced young musicians, the annual Tanglewood on Parade gala is a crowd-pleasing showcase attracting more locals than typically attend BSO performances.

This year, Tuesday's concert included a keenly anticipated world premiere: James Burton's "The Lost Words" for children's choir and orchestra. Burton, the BSO's choral director and conductor of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, also leads the Boston Symphony Children's Choir, which he formed last year.

The group of Boston area 5th- to 9th graders scored a major triumph in Burton's charming, whimsical score, based on recent lavishly-illustrated book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris for children of all ages. The work was co-commissioned by the BSO and England's Halle Orchestra.

As the composer/conductor has explained, "The Lost Words" contains poems and illustrations of words from the natural world removed from the latest Junior Oxford Dictionary in favor of 21st century lingo like wi-fi. Omitted words such as willow, otter, newt, magpie and lark, among others, were expanded by Burton into an engaging, witty and often poignant libretto.

The polished, enchanting performance of highlights from the score by the BSO and the choir — led by the visibly enthusiastic and inspired Burton, with the text and illustrations projected on screens for the audience — established beyond any doubt that a family-friendly classic has been created that should be widely performed and reprised.

The composition is ideally tailored to the impressive skills of the young singers, whose precise diction was remarkably spot-on, while Burton's orchestration of his original piano score is accessible for audiences who may or not be devotees of classical music. Burton and the performers enjoyed a well-earned standing ovation.

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Heading the parade of musicians and conductors was the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra led by BSO music director Andris Nelsons. As they are all deeply immersed in a marathon of rehearsals for the upcoming concert performances of Wagner's "Die Walkure," the fiery treatment of the ubiquitous "Ride of the Valkyries" signaled a memorable weekend ahead for opera aficionados.

Thomas Wilkins, the BSO's elegant Youth and Family Concerts conductor, led a well-calibrated, refreshingly clarifying performance of Respighi's "Fountains of Rome." Especially in the aftermath of the past weekend's insufferable hot spell, it was easy to visualize the four fountains that inspired the Italian composer.

The Boston Pops contribution to the evening's festivities included a mashup of "Sunrise," the opening of Richard Strauss's "Also sprach Zarathustra" — better known to film buffs as the main-theme soundtrack of "2001: A Space Odyssey" — with "Daybreak" from Ravel's ballet, "Daphnis et Chloe." As led by Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, who marks his 25th anniversary with the orchestra next year, the transition was seamless thanks to a well-crafted performance showcasing the orchestra's virtuosity.

But heavy-handed, inauthentic arrangements of the overture to the Who's rock opera "Tommy" and the Beatles' "Abbey Road" classic "Here Comes the Sun" was the evening's sole misfire, despite a well-intended effort to recapture the pop culture revolution of 1969. "Rock on, as we say in the classical music world," Lockhart quipped afterward. Not quite.

Wilkins, returning to the podium to lead an army of BSO and the TMC players in the gala's perennial "1812 Overture" by Tchaikovsky, succeeded in refreshing this tired warhorse. Galloping to the cannon-fueled finale celebrating the Russian army's victory over Napoleon's invading French forces, as the hymn "God Save the Tsar!" overwhelmed "La Marseillaise," the combined musical forces produced a joyful noise.

By popular demand, some Tanglewood traditions never can die. And on a clear night, the fireworks were especially iridescent and explosive as they reverberated across the landscape.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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