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David Edwards

A spectacular Tanglewood 2018 season, Leonard Bernstein’s centennial year

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By Tuesday, Jan 30, 2018 Arts & Entertainment

Lenox — Staid business executives looked up from their smartphones and shrieked like delirious toddlers. Grumpy old men frolicked openly. Snowy-haired matrons pranced and squealed like little girls. Gurus lost their composure. The Boston Symphony Orchestra had just published its 2018 Tanglewood schedule, and all who had caught a glimpse of it were momentarily rendered incapable of serious thought.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra tunes up before an Aug. 6., 2010, performance at Tanglewood. Photo: David Noel Edwards

So what else is new? Doesn’t this sort of madness erupt every winter around this time? Yes, it does, and frenzied excitement always follows. But 2018 is different: It’s the centennial of conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein’s birth, and nothing in Tanglewood’s past–not even Lenny’s 70th birthday celebration–provides more than a hint of what’s in store for Tanglewood listeners this summer. Here are some of the season’s Bernstein highlights:

  • “Fancy Free” (with the Boston Ballet, fully staged)
  • “On the Town” (fully staged)
  • “Facsimile,“ Choreographic Essay for Orchestra
  • “Trouble in Tahiti“ (semi-staged, directed by Jamie Bernstein)
  • “Serenade (after Plato’s ‘Symposium’),” for violin and orchestra
  • “Candide” (the Knights, fully staged)
  • West Side Story“ (live to picture, David Newman conducting)
  • “Chichester Psalms“
  • “Songfest“
  • “Three Meditations from Mass,” for cello and orchestra
  • “Divertimento for Orchestra “
  • “Ḥalil, Nocturne” for flute and orchestra
  • “A Quiet Place“ (Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, fully staged)
  • “Opening Prayer (Benediction)”
  • “Variations on an Octatonic Scale,” for flute and cello

This may be more Leonard Bernstein than many concertgoers will hear in a lifetime, but it doesn’t include the season’s culminating extravaganza on Aug. 25, Bernstein’s actual 100th birthday. With its unprecedented lineup of conductors, star soloists, special guests, and a program of Lenny’s greatest hits and personal favorites, the “Bernstein Centennial Celebration” promises to surpass all other events of its kind in Tanglewood’s history.

Savvy audiences know that when the BSO signals its intention to “go all out” with a production, it attends to every detail in the grandest style, engaging the world’s most accomplished performers. The orchestra has staged many an extravagant celebration in its history, but the fête on Aug. 25, 2018, will eclipse them all.

Picnickers enjoy a pre-concert meal on the Tanglewood grounds prior to a performance from Dolly Parton on June 17, 2016. Photo: David Noel Edwards

Before the BSO installed video screens on the Shed’s roof, a star-studded production like the Aug. 25 concert would have been audible but not visible from Tanglewood’s great lawn. That’s no longer the case. Nowadays, listeners located on the lawn or at the back of the Shed enjoy views of the stage that rival the best seats in the house. These are the seats you should take if you want to see exactly where principal flute Elizabeth Rowe takes a breath during the opening of “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” or how often principal oboe John Ferrillo wipes off the inside of his instrument while he’s counting rests (more often than you might think).

A quarter century after his passing, the composer of “West Side Story,” “Candide,” “On the Town” and innumerable concert, chamber and theatrical works continues to tower over classical music’s world stage. In fact, Leonard Bernstein’s influence as a composer is today more widespread than ever, with pieces like “Candide” now enjoying a level of worldwide admiration and respect that eluded the composer during his lifetime. And nowhere has that prominence been more conspicuous over the decades than at Tanglewood, especially the Tanglewood Music Center where Lenny came to teach and conduct every summer for 50 years.

Having established that Tanglewood’s 2018 season will be unprecedented in the annals of composer-conductor-100th-birthday celebrations and that the Aug. 25 show in particular will be an event of lavish grandiosity befitting the most flamboyant musician who ever lived, we ought to consider the needs of listeners who are simply not interested in Leonard Bernstein, like, say, the uncontacted tribes of the Andaman Islands or the purple-coiffed, cigarette-brandishing teens idling outside shopping mall entrances. Not to worry. Tanglewood has something for everyone. Opera lovers, for example, will thrill to a semi-staged performance of Puccini’s “La bohème” (sung in Italian with English supertitles) on July 14, in the Shed (another likely sell-out). This production is bound be on par with the BSO’s stunning, first-ever complete concert performance of Wagner’s epic “Das Rheingold” at Tanglewood on July 15, 2017.

If opera doesn’t suit you, then how about superstar keyboard virtuoso Lang Lang dispatching Mozart’s 24th piano concerto on July 6? Or Champion Chopinist Garrick Ohlsson performing Mozart’s ninth piano concerto on July 27? Actually, that’s a trick question. Because if you dislike Bernstein and Puccini and Tchaikovsky and Mozart, then you might be better served by one of Tanglewood’s Popular Artist Series concerts, which don’t get any better than the shows James Taylor puts on every summer. Taylor and his all-star band return to the Shed July 3 and 4. Fireworks follow the July 4 show, the proceeds of which are (as usual) a gift to Tanglewood from Kim and James Taylor. Sixties icons Stephen Stills and Judy Collins appear on June 17, Andy Grammer in his Tanglewood debut on June 22, banjo god Bela Fleck on June 29, comedians Steve Martin and Martin Short on September 2 (Incredibly, the BSO will announce even more Tanglewood pop acts over the next few months).

James Taylor delivers a blistering performance of “Steamroller Blues” at Tanglewood on July 4, 2017. Photo: David Noel Edwards

But perhaps you prefer rock music. As in, “hard rock.” Good. Ever hear of a band called the Who? Of course you have. Which means you also remember Pete Townshend’s rock opera “Tommy” and Roger Daltrey’s unforgettable vocal performances on tunes like “Pinball Wizard,” “I’m Free” and “See Me, Feel Me.”

What you do not remember hearing in your entire concertgoing life is Roger Daltrey performing songs (arias?) from the Who’s rock opera “Tommy” accompanied by Keith Lockhart and The World’s Favorite Party Band, the Boston Pops Orchestra (not to be confused with the highly esteemed runners up, the B-52’s). Lockhart knows more than a few auditorially unimpaired rock guitarists, and he has worked with some of the world’s finest (i.e., loudest) rock drummers, including the Pops’ own monstrously capable percussionists. But you surely must be asking, will Keith Lockhart perform Pete Townshend’s famous windmill power-chord gestures when he conducts “Tommy” on the evening of June 15, 2018? More importantly, do the volume knobs on the band’s guitar amps go all the way up to eleven? The simple answer to these critically important questions is that (with all due respect) this is not your grandmother’s Fiedler-led Boston Pops and, in any case, it’s a sure bet that Keith and band will put on a “Tommy” show of far greater worth than the price of a Shed ticket.

Pop music concerts are much more important to the BSO’s mission than the “extra” million or so in box office receipts they might provide in a given season. Just ask Leonard Bernstein (i.e., read what he, a writer of timeless pop tunes–many of them now standards of the American Songbook–had to say about pop music’s longterm impact on the classical music world. For example, he declared Elvis Presley the greatest cultural force of the 20th century, more important even than Picasso).

Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Andris Nelsons is ready for his trumpet solo on John Williams’ ‘With Malice Toward None’ during Tanglewood’s annual ‘John Williams’ Film Night’ Aug. 16, 2017. Photo: David Noel Edwards

But now, let’s return to more conventional symphonic fare. There is, after all, a good deal more music on the 2018 Tanglewood schedule than Bernstein’s. As much great music, in fact, as one could hope for in a more typical Tanglewood season:

  • July 19: Leon Fleisher and Katherine Jacobson
  • July 24 and 25: The Emerson String Quartet performs all six of Beethoven’s late string quartets.
  • July 29: The world’s happiest violinist, Gil Shaham, nails Prokofiev’s first violin concerto.
  • On August 11, for the second year in a row, John Williams and Andris Nelsons will share the conductor’s podium on “Film Night.”
  • Bernstein protégé Michael Tilson Thomas reaches for the hand of Boston Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Malcolm Lowe following a July 16, 2010, performance of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms at Tanglewood. Photo: David Noel Edwards

    Sunday, August 12: Bernstein protege and Mahler specialist Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the BSO in one of his own compositions, “Agnegram,” as well as Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” and Mahler’s first symphony, “Titan.”

  • Andris Nelsons conducts Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 on August 24.
  • BSO artistic partner Thomas Adès is this year’s director of the Festival of Contemporary Music, which runs from July 26 through July 30. As conductor or performer (sometimes both), Adès makes a number of appearances throughout the 2018 Tanglewood season, including a Shed performance of a suite from his sexually themed opera “Powder Her Face” on July 22.
  • At least four appearances by 2018 Koussevitzky Artist Kirill Gerstein, including performances of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto on August 3 and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” on August 7 (Tanglewood on Parade).

Boston Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Malcolm Lowe and 2015 Koussevitzky Artist Emanuel Ax shake hands Aug. 28, 2010, following a performance of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat, Op. 83 at Tanglewood. Photo: David Noel Edwards

Plenty of other above-world-class pianists will appear at Tanglewood this summer:

  • Emanuel Ax
  • Yefim Bronfman
  • Rudolf Buchbinder
  • Jeremy Denk
  • Leon Fleisher and Katherine Jacobsen
  • Igor Levit
  • Paul Lewis
  • Yuja Wang

Download the 2018 Tanglewood brochure here.

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