The spotlight shines on the Tanglewood Festival Chorus

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LENOX — Tanglewood loves anniversaries, and it will celebrate two of them during the 2020 season — but not the biggie that others are celebrating: Beethoven's 250th birthday.

Every year is a Beethoven year at Tanglewood. Instead of gilding the lily, next summer's concert season, announced Thursday, will honor the Tanglewood Festival Chorus at its 50-year mark and violinist Isaac Stern on his centenary.

The chorus, now under the direction of James Burton, will be featured in six Boston Symphony Orchestra collaborations and other programs throughout the season. They will culminate on the final weekend in Berlioz's vast Requiem and the traditional Beethoven Ninth Symphony. Stern, a frequent BSO soloist until his death at 81 in 2001, will be remembered with a BSO weekend featuring four noted violin soloists: Augustin Hadelich, Midori, Pamela Frank and Joshua Bell.

In another major event, the BSO will give a concert performance of Act III of Wagner's "Tannhauser" on opening weekend, with Sara Jakubiak as Elisabeth and Christopher Ventris in the title role. BSO music director Andris Nelsons will conduct.

Nelsons also will be the conductor in a BSO weekend devoted to Beethoven's five piano concertos, with Paul Lewis as soloist. Though not billed as a BSO contribution to the Beethoven jubilee, the concerts will be the occasion for a Beethoven immersion weekend at the Tanglewood Learning Institute.

The season as a whole lacks lodestar events like the three that illuminated 2019: the launch of the Learning Institute (which will be back for a second season, details of which can be found today in the Eagle's online edition and tomorrow in the Eagle's print edition); Nelsons' complete performance of Wagner's "Die Walkure" with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra; and the world premiere of Kevin Puts' BSO-commissioned "The Brightness of Light," a musical and visual portrayal of the relationship between Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz.

As always, BSO programming in the new season offers debuts and forays into new or unfamiliar music, but relies on such star attractions as pianists Emanuel Ax (in Chopin's Concerto No. 2) and Daniil Trifonov (in Brahms' Concerto No. 1), and cellist Yo-Yo Ma (in the Dvorak Cello Concerto).

Other popular features also return, including Boston Pops concerts and Tanglewood on Parade (this year with Nelsons, John Williams and Thomas Wilkins conducting). Special inducements for kids, families and Berkshire residents include a return of last summer's live video presentation on the Pittsfield Common.

More adventurous fare is offered in Ozawa Hall's midweek chamber and recital series. Among the offerings will be the Silkroad Ensemble's presentation of Osvaldo Golijov's "Falling Out of Time" and Garrick Ohlsson in four programs surveying Brahms' complete solo piano works. Boston's Emmanuel Music will present Kurt Weill's rarely heard "The Firebrand of Florence."

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In its Tanglewood debut, Music from Copland House will present the world premiere of "A Standing Witness," composed by Richard Danielpour to a text by former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove. A BSO co-commission, "A Standing Witness," is a cycle of 13 songs written for mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and the Music from Copland House ensemble. The piece is described as "a sweeping retrospective on pivotal historical events and moments in the U.S. over the past half-century."

Music from Copland House is the resident ensemble of Aaron Copland's National Historic Landmark home in Cortlandt, N.Y. Other Ozawa Hall guests include the Mark Morris Dance Group and cabaret artist Meow Meow.

For its anniversary, the Festival Chorus will also join the BSO in Poulenc's Gloria, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 3 and Barber's "Prayers of Kierkegaard," as well as give its annual Prelude Concert and a special appearance at the Linde Center. "Tannhauser" will also feature the Boston Symphony Children's Choir.

The scheduled conductors for the closing weekend are Mark Elder for the Berlioz Requiem — a rarity because of its four offstage brass bands — and Christoph von Dohnanyi for the Beethoven Ninth.

As was the case last summer, Nelsons will be in residence for the first four weeks of the eight-week season. Last summer, leading 13 full concerts and taking part in two others, he seemed overextended. (The uneven quality was noted in a New York Times "Critic's Notebook" from Boston last week in which David Allen complained that Nelsons "is still trying to pin down his own musical identity.")

Next summer looks easier. Nelsons has cut back to 12 appearances, but his 2019 appearances included three for "Walkure" — one for each act — with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra. The student players needed extended rehearsal time to cope with the challenges.

In his single TMCO program next summer, Nelsons will conduct Brahms' Symphony No. 2.

The Festival of Contemporary Music will continue to be under the direction of BSO artistic partner Thomas Ades. The nearly 20 composers to be performed include such well-known figures as Ades, Golijov, Kurtag, Ligeti and Saariaho. A co-commissioned work by former TMC composition fellow Andrew Haig will receive its American premiere.

Tanglewood brochures with complete program and ticket information will be available in early February by calling 617-266-1492 or visiting tanglewood.org.


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