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Alan Chartock: I Publius. The wonder of Tanglewood

Tanglewood, of course, is not the whole story. COVID-19 is killing the arts scene in the Berkshires.

Anyone who has ever heard me talking about Tanglewood knows that I believe the Boston Symphony is, bar none, the best orchestra in the world and Tanglewood is the best the Berkshires has to offer. You name it: hotels, restaurants, and B-and-B’s are all dependent on the place. I have interviewed the Tanglewood brass over and over. The CEO, Mark Volpe, is an extraordinary man. He’s brilliant and funny and has brought Tanglewood to where it is today. But just as it hit a new high with the Linde Center for Music and Learning coming online and all the wonderful young people working with the top musicians in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Of course I know that a lot of people have been hit very hard by this virus. There are all kinds of people who can barely get food on their tables, but we all have our favorites and I’ve gotta tell you, Tanglewood is mine. When I worked at Camp Bronx House in Copake and we all went to Tanglewood together, it was magic. My parents had limited amounts of money and would get to a New York symphony occasionally. Now here we are in the Berkshire with the very best of the best so accessible. The blankets, the food, the lawn, Yo Yo Ma: It is such a loss, even for a single summer.

For years, Joe Donahue and I would spend a day on the Press Porch interviewing Mark Volpe and the top performers. We would interview the groundskeeper and ask how he managed to get every blade of grass so perfect. We would interview the great Tony Fogg, who knew where every potential performer in the world was at every moment and who had the unenviable task of filling in every time there was a crisis.

When Mark Volpe announced his retirement, I was really heartsick. His contribution to the organization’s success is unparalleled and while we have talked about this for many years, I still fear for what comes next. Ah, well, I am truly heartbroken that we have arrived at this point. I feel for the musicians and the people who sell the ice cream and for all the second-homeowners and their guests. Let each of us take a moment to think back on all the good times and just pray that this terrible thing that is happening to us will fade away. Clearly, we now know that a pandemic like this can happen again. Let us hope that it won’t and do everything in our power to elect leadership who will do a hell of a lot better than the people who are running the country now.

Tanglewood, of course, is not the whole story. COVID-19 is killing the arts scene in the Berkshires. Consider two of our fabulous theater venues. There is the Berkshire Theatre Festival, which we all grew up with. Now it has been renamed the Berkshire Theatre Group. Artistic director Kate Maguire is, of course, a genius. She has done marvelous work and yet the pandemic has put a terrible curse on the success of the BTG. Julianne Boyd has a different kind of genius in her direction of the Barrington Stage Company. Her plays have reached Broadway and she is a hard-driving director, but even more so, she and her wonderful cohort, Mary Ann Quinson, have proven themselves brilliant executives and fundraisers.

We really don’t know what would have come out of this year’s productions. People develop as a result of a night at the theater. People change their professions based on what they saw at the theater. You cannot possibly underestimate the value of the arts in our lives. We are heartbroken that the virus has upended our lives in many ways.


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