Boston University Tanglewood Institute’s Summer Concert Series features talented, passionate young performersMore Info
Lenox — For those who want to find it, music is more than in the air in the Berkshire summer. It is in parks, pavilions, school auditoriums, libraries, churches and every other available interior space. On most nights in Lenox, from mid-June through mid-August, sublime and often unusual classical and contemporary chamber works are performed by expert and passionate Boston University Tanglewood Institute faculty and their also-passionate, talented and highly trained students in the acoustically resonant, intimate space of Trinity Church and other nearby venues.
In addition to individual instrument and small ensemble concerts, this summer’s 441 BUTI students will have performed over half a dozen orchestral and large wind ensemble concerts at Seiji Ozawa Hall and the Koussevitzky Music Shed on the Tanglewood grounds (as well as one concert in Boston in collaboration with the Boston Landmark Orchestra).
The repertoire ranges from Bach through Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Dvorak and works of all other well- and lesser-known classical composers to many, many 20th-century and contemporary composers of small and solo works for instruments such as trumpet, tuba, trombone or saxophone or bassoon, or viola that are less frequently highlighted than piano, violin, flute, clarinet and oboe.
The first dozen or so concerts in June were the faculty recital series featuring each one solo or accompanied by a violin or piano. For example, the opening of the series on Monday, June 18, presented 20-year Boston University College of Fine Arts faculty member Terry Everson on the trumpet accompanied by his frequent collaborator pianist Sheila Kibbe, BUTI young artists composition program director Martin Amlin also on piano and freelance violinist Lori Everson. The evening’s music was composed by Rodion Shchedrin, Otto Ketting, Kent Kennan, Martin Amlin (a world premiere) and Eric Ewazen.
The next evening’s recital featured Boston University College of Fine Arts lecturer Kenneth Radnofsky on saxophone along with Boston University lecturer and concert band conductor Jennifer Bill and University of Calgary professor of music Jeremy Brown both on saxophone; and composer and pianist Thomas Weaver, also of the BUTI faculty. The program included a number of works by composer David Amram.
On June 20, BUTI solo string faculty performed. On June 21, Dennis Nulty and workshop assistant faculty gave a concert of music for the tuba. The next night, the string quartet workshop and junior strings intensive (the two-week June program for middle school students as young as 10) faculty performed a gorgeous concert of Brahms and Dvorak.
By the end of that first week, student concerts were beginning with French horn and string quartets.
In a conversation with BUTI executive director Hilary Respass, she said she sees BUTI as “a virtual cycle of inspiration” from the faculty who are professional musicians to the students and the community and back to the program.
I asked her about the purpose of the concerts.
Respass said it was partially so students learn how to be at and to listen to a concert as well as to perform in one. “The faculty create a purposeful model for our students. The faculty curate their own concerts as well as the student programs for their [the students’] educational experience.
“More specifically,” she went on, “it is to hear their teachers play. Then, to hear each other play. ‘Come and see your teacher perform.’
“Of course, there is the interaction with the community. I love this community. The purpose of the recital program is to give back to the community,” she said. “This under-the-radar, free program is a community gem!
“There is a couple from England who have been coming for two or three years. We just want to bring people into this world of classical music. Once people get hooked, they come back,” she noted.
When I asked director of admissions and artistic planning Grace Kennerly how long these concerts have existed she said, “Fifty-two years.”
It was a number of years, however, before BUTI concerts took place anywhere other than at Tanglewood itself.
I felt foolish having missed countless great performances right up the street from my home. This summer alone, BUTI offers more than 70 concerts. Some take place in the morning at 10 a.m. or 11 a. m., some in the middle of the day or the afternoon. On workshop days, concerts may overlap or occur simultaneously at Church on the Hill and/or the BUTI campus concert hall on West Street as well as at Trinity.
In 1966, Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Erich Leinsdorf invited Boston University College of Fine Arts to extend the training of the Tanglewood Music Center, then called the Berkshire Music Center, to include younger music students. So BUTI was born. It is now an eight-week program of the college to train musicians of middle and high school age by immersing them in the world of professional and deeply exciting music making.
The delightful chamber recitals have an audience of many BUTI students but few of the music-loving public. I blush to admit I began attending only last summer, 2017.
There have been trumpet, saxophone, string, tuba, French horn, trombone, flute, clarinet, bassoon, percussion, double bass, oboe, viola, tuba and euphonium, cello, violin, composition, harp, piano, vocal, wind ensemble, string ensemble and brass recitals. Seventeen more chamber and orchestral concerts are coming up, including participation in Tanglewood on Parade Tuesday, August 7, and in John Williams’ Film Night Saturday, August 11, as well as a program of opera scenes on the afternoon of August 11.
Last Saturday, a hot, sunny, breezy day at Ozawa Hall, BUTI assembled an orchestra large enough (start with 70 strings) to present a thrilling afternoon of Rachmaninoff’s “Isle of the Dead” and Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du printemps” under the baton of Boston’s innovative Paul Haas. The orchestra even looked impressive with tuxedo-like black suits, white shirts and black bow ties for the young men and long white dresses/gowns/flowing pants for the young women.
The two dramatic 20th-century works interpreted by Haas and the students left their listeners — who pretty much filled the hall — vibrating. The best thing to do after the performance was to keep re-experiencing the music and the performers by sitting in the sun at a Highwood table, sipping a cool drink and watching the view south over Lake Mah-Kee-Nac and the Berkshires, Taconics and Catskills.
The next afternoon, Sunday, BUTI’s young artists wind ensemble conducted by H. Robert Reynolds, with lots of brass and percussion, the five performers of the Triton Brass and a very special guest played the music of Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland and “Fanfare for Hope,” composed especially for the guest and the concert. Respass thanked “Fanfare” composer Benjamin Beckman, a 2018 Young Artists composition student, for his piece.
At Tanglewood and all over the music world, 2018 is the summer of Lenny. The gorgeous wind ensemble — dressed in tuxedos and gowns as the day before — played his overture to “Candide,” a suite from his Mass, and symphonic dances from “West Side Story” (which had been given a very different fast-paced performance in the Shed the night before by the BSO to synchronize with the on-screen film) — all with a reverent, sinuous, majestic feel, even within the playful and the percussive sections.
Before the last piece of music, Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” Beckman’s “Fanfare for Hope” was performed by the Triton Brass as a tribute to the guest and “the entire BUTI family.”
Not to be coy, many in Sunday’s audience came to the concert to see and hear the special guest, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who donated his time to be the narrator of “Lincoln Portrait.” He stood tall, dignified and warm in a blue suit while reading Lincoln’s words, ending with the Gettysburg Address, “that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”
Patrick and conductor Reynolds embraced, shook hands and encouraged the students while the audience clapped as loudly as possible. Some cheered.
The afternoon’s BUTI concert ended with a final standing ovation — for the program itself, for the young artists, the brass quintet, the feeling for “Fanfare,” conductor Reynolds and Patrick.
This is the sort of event that goes on under BUTI — music, excitement, emotion, fine quality.
Much of BUTI’s Summer Concert Series remains for this summer through Saturday, Aug. 11. If you have gone to BUTI concerts, you will already be a supporter and a fan. If you have yet to experience these young people and their exciting faculty, you have much to look forward to.