The saying “You can’t go home again” applies to much of life, but not to this season’s concerts at Tanglewood. The Boston Symphony Orchestra will perform and maintain an advanced school in the Berkshires as it has since 1940, presenting the usual three concerts of solid orchestral repertory in the Koussevitzky Music Shed each weekend through Aug. 23.
Audience favorites — Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, film night — are mixed with adventurous choices of music director James Levine. Programs were in place before last year’s recession, so no cutbacks — yet.
Complete schedules and much else about Tanglewood’s season is online at www.Tanglewood.org.
Opening Monday with chamber music, the season now stretches from late June through the Labor Day weekend’s jazz concerts. Right about now, 154 Tanglewood Music Center audition winners from 31 states and 17 countries are packing their bags for the trip to Lenox, to study intensively with Boston Symphony members and perform with guest conductors who also lead the Boston Symphony.
Until July, when concerts in the Music Shed begin under Levine’s baton, the musical hub is Seiji Ozawa Hall, a smaller venue that presents a growing number of attractive events. Student string players arrive and hit the ground running, with a three-concert quartet marathon on Monday.
On June 26, the Emerson String Quartet plays an American program, and on the 28th, the Juilliard String Quartet weighs in with all-Haydn, marking the 200th year of his death. (June 27 is set aside for “A Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor’s time-out-of-mind Tanglewood appearance.)
By the day of opening exercises (free and open to the public June 29), the students — best described as emerging professionals — will have morphed into the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, to be led by Herbert Blomstedt and two conducting fellows in an all-Sibelius program that evening.
Levine energizes every aspect of Tanglewood he looks at, and after his sudden departure for kidney surgery last summer, he was sorely missed. Now he is back at the Boston Symphony’s helm, conducting eight concerts plus a number of student productions. Concertgoers watching their wallets or the gas pump can plan to attend on days that include more than one event.
Perhaps the most dramatic combined event of the summer is the July 11 concert version of Act III of Wagner’s opera, “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.” The Music Center Orchestra, which Leonard Bernstein loved to conduct, will accompany major stars from the Metropolitan Opera, which Levine directs in his spare time. James Morris, a legendary Wotan, sings the role of Hans Sachs, and tenor Johan Botha is the lad whose song wins the prize in the opera. Vocal Fellows have small roles, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus completes the extravaganza.
According to Boston Symphony artistic director Anthony Fogg, this concert was the most difficult to put together. Except for the chorus (which regularly re-auditions members) each performer had to be auditioned, and preparation was scheduled in several locales.
Ticket holders for this concert can arrive in time for the weekly Prelude concert by Music Center Fellows. For those making a day of it, the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Orchestra performs in the afternoon. Picnicking is encouraged, and the cafeteria on the grounds, open daily for lunch (and celebrity sightings), also serves weekend dinner.
The other opera prepared and conducted by Levine (and staged by the smart and snarky Ira Siff) is Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” July 26 and 27, with a July 29 performance conducted by a Music Center Fellow, when tickets will probably be easier to get. (The operas have something in common: During World War I, they were banned at the Met because of their composers’ nationalities.)
Levine’s genius finds operatic narrative hiding everywhere. What he draws from Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” Symphony has to be heard — and can be, in the Boston Symphony’s opening concert July 3, an all-Tchaikovsky program in which Yefim Bronfman tackles Piano Concerto No. 1. This is ideal music to hear on the lawn — free for the under-17 set — which has big screens as well as stars in the sky.
Chamber music performed by orchestra members precedes all Friday concerts, as does a discussion called “This Week at Tanglewood,” with Martin Bookspan and the weekend’s guest artists.
Guest from west
Another mega-talent is Michael Tilson Thomas of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, whose first Tanglewood appearance in 21 years Aug. 14, leading Rachmaninoff’s blockbuster Piano Concerto No. 3 and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, is one of several he will make before conducting the traditional Tanglewood finale, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
Like all guest conductors, Thomas will spend time coaching and conducting the Fellows, but unique to himself, he brings to Ozawa Hall two performances of “The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater.” Blending music, scholarship and laughs with computer and marketing skills, Thomas transforms his family album into a staged homage to grandparents and the role of Yiddish theater in Jewish culture.
He conducts a chamber orchestra in klezmer songs (as well as tunes composed by his father for fun), interrupts actors and singers to tell stories, leads the audience in the refrains and directs attention toward a rear screen, where an image of a red velvet curtain opens on faded photos and programs that the camera roams in an illusion of movement. Lighting, staging and costume space are a challenge in Ozawa Hall, Fogg says.
The warmup for those expanded uses would be the Mark Morris Dance Group with two new works, which for Morris means new settings of classical repertory. The Aug. 5 and 6 premieres, to be repeated at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, are by Ives and Beethoven, with cellist Yo-Yo Ma in an unexpected role — fronting the backup.
This season didn’t come cheap: “The endowment has been seriously affected,” said Fogg. “We’ll have to look at types of presentations, soloists, fees, and we’ll have to negotiate a little more vigorously. But we are committed to maintaining quality and our responsibility to the public.”
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