Our Opinion: Strong shoulders, and a strong Tanglewood

Nearly half a century after the hard-rocking Who graced (or tarnished depending on your perspective) the stage at Tanglewood, Who guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend was back earlier this month with "Classic Quadrophenia," a rock opera hybrid that proved to be an ideal fit for the iconic concert venue. Its presence spoke to where Tanglewood has been, where it is, and where it is going in the years ahead.

The appearance of the legendarily loud and raucous Who in 1969 and 1970, along with other Woodstock-era bands, didn't sit entirely well with the locals and those acts disappeared from Tanglewood. Efforts to bring them back several years ago were seen as heretical to some, a violation of the towering, glowering spirit of Serge Koussevitsky, but it made too much sense not do so. Baby-boomers with disposable incomes would come to see the bands of their wayward youth and Tanglewood would get a financial shot in the arm.

Popular artists dotted the Tanglewood schedule this summer, in particular during the so-called "shoulder" seasons of June and September. Management scheduled a record number of 10 such concerts (Eagle, September 11), and Mr. Townshend was preceded by another British rock icon in Sting. As Boston Symphony Orchestra managing director Mark Volpe observed in an interview with Clarence Fanto (September 10), adding to the shoulder seasons is important to the BSO as it generates income for the orchestra while boosting the local economy, specifically restaurants, inns and hotels.

June is the weaker of the two shoulders, and the challenge, as Chief Operating and Communications Officer Kim Noltemy observed in Monday's Eagle, is getting June acts booked early enough to make the Tanglewood brochures seen all over the Berkshires. (September acts that don't make the brochure still receive a summer's worth of publicity.) Setting up acts earlier, however, requires the cooperation of the performers and their management, however.

Tanglewood is, and presumably always will be, first and foremost the home of the BSO, and it is also a world-class educational institute specializing in classical music. The increased presence of music director Andris Nelsons certainly boosted the BSO on and off stage this summer, and attendance, which was the fourth highest of the past 10 summers, received a 3.5 percent boost according to the BSO at concerts led by Mr. Nelsons — a charismatic conductor and, as it turns out, gifted trumpeter.

It's unfortunate that Mahler's rousing 4th on July 9 and Wagner's powerhouse "Das Rheingold" featuring 14 opera singers six days later didn't draw top 10 crowds. However, the Summer Sunday series designed to expose audiences to classical music saw a boost in attendance and the success of the programs at Ozawa Hall testified to the loyalty of the hard-core classical audience.

Last month's ground-breaking for a four-building complex overlooking Ozawa Hall speaks to the BSO's commitment to the Berkshires and desire to expand its reach beyond the summer season. Other tasks ahead include persuading more people to give opera a chance — and to keep building those shoulders.


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