Tanglewood is a name that evokes first-rate summer concerts by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, trips to the beautiful Berkshires and quiet picnics on spacious lawns, listening to music under the stars. But sometimes, what takes place behind the scenes is more like hard-edged serial drama.
Last summer was a case in point. The BSO had appointed Latvian-born Andris Nelsons to succeed the ailing music director James Levine, who had opted out of Tanglewood in 2009 — only a few weeks before the season began. The search for fill-ins on short notice was on.
Nelsons was to have made a triumphant entry last summer as music director-designate, leading the Verdi Requiem, but a household accident landed him in the hospital with a concussion. The quickly found replacement, Carlo Montanaro of the Polish National Opera, led an electrifying version.
This year’s episode of drama was set off by the death of 80-year-old conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos on June 11. Fruhbeck was an important musical and father figure at Tanglewood after Levine’s departure. He was there often, guest conducting the BSO and working intensively with the young professionals of the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.
This season with the BSO, he was to have prepared and conducted a Rachmaninoff concerto and Verdi excerpts on July 27, as well as classical period repertory Aug. 3 and, as part of a TMCO concert, Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony on July 28. That’s a lot to find short-notice replacements for.
“There are cancellations every season,” said BSO artistic administrator Anthony Fogg, with apparent calm, “not only among conductors, but among soloists. I sat down with [BSO managing director] Mark Volpe and we hammered it out.”
Fogg thought that the orchestra would have to hire two conductors to do Fruhbeck’s job, but it turned out they needed three. “Everything for Tanglewood had already been wrapped up,” he said.
The July 27 program — Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 with Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero, followed by Verdi excerpts including the beloved “Va Pensiero” with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus — will be led by Jacques Lacombe, in his Tanglewood debut. (That chorus, sung spontaneously in the streets of Milan when Verdi died, may be dedicated to Fruhbeck.)
Lacombe, a Canadian who succeeded Neemi Jarvi as music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in 2010, has been creatively integrating program and performer choices with references to Newark’s troubled history from 1968 on. Some concerts even have visual art.
The first half of the July 28 TMCO concert, like others in the series, begins with student conductors who have been coached by the senior conductor of the week, who leads the second half. Beethoven and Sibelius selections will now be followed by Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony instead of the giant “Eroica” planned by Fruhbeck.
The Pastoral is to be led by the Brazil-born BSO associate conductor, Marcelo Lehninger, who has stepped in for Levine in the past and is already scheduled to lead the BSO Aug. 1.
Juanjo Mena, chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, who comes from Madrid, has also stepped in for Levine. On Aug. 3 he steps in for Fruhbeck in a program of early Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
The opening weekend, preceded today and Friday by back-to-back James Taylor concerts, appears to be marking time until Nelsons arrives to conduct two weeks of concerts. On July 5, soprano Renee Fleming gives a light-music and pops program that would have made Arthur Fiedler proud. The following afternoon, Tanglewood favorite Garrick Ohlsson is featured in the Brahms Piano No. 2.
Nelsons’s triumphant entry is all-Dvorak on July 11, when Anne-Sophie Mutter plays the violin concerto. Even then, this program might be eclipsed by Tanglewood’s new technology pilot program, called a lawncast.
The first 500 device owners to register at www.tanglewood.org/lawncast will be given digital access to program notes, interviews and camera feeds — one from the conductor and another from the orchestra. Parts of these individually crafted versions are to be projected onto the screens on top of the Koussevitzky Music Shed. (This incomplete description should separate those who want to try it from those who prefer to listen hands-free.)
The following evening Nelsons leads the combined BSO, TMCO and opera cast in excerpts from Strauss’s “Rosenkavalier,” Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” and Ravel’s “Bolero.”
Pops concerts are an increasing Tanglewood presence. (It’s hardly possible to resist those big box-office bucks.) In addition to regular Boston Pops concerts and the John Williams Film Night, three events in that genre take place Aug. 16, 17 and 22: of these, Bernstein’s “Candide” is to be led by Bramwell Tovey. (The Old Lady is to be sung by Frederica von Stade. Time flies.)
“The Last Southern Gentlemen” is a Marsalis collaboration: an album tour by Wynton’s pianist father, Ellis, and trombonist brother, Delfeayo, presented in Seiji Ozawa Hall. Finally, Keith Lockhart leads the Boston Pops in new transcriptions of the score to “The Wizard of Oz,” under a re-mastered film print.
What Nelsons will make of this multi-musical glut is anybody’s guess. Fogg’s guess is, “At Tanglewood, he’ll get into Tanglewood mode.”
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