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An aerial view of General Electric's industrial complex that retained the William Stanley title, "The Works," in Pittsfield in 1946. At left is Silver Lake.

Connections: Part II: Defining moments in Berkshire history: GE and Tanglewood

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By Tuesday, Nov 3, 2015 Life In the Berkshires 1

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest map to how we got here: America in the twenty-first century.

General Electric

During the “Patent Wars,” William Stanley was vulnerable. Both Westinghouse and GE meant to take over the Stanley Works. Stanley turned to the only place he could – the people of Pittsfield. It was 1896. The Stanley Works was six years old and flourishing, showing a healthy profit. Still in that business environment, the principal investors, men of Pittsfield, believed it mandatory to increase capital stock to fight off a takeover.

Across the country, the Stanley Works played a leading role in making electric power and machinery available. At home, the Stanley works was Pittsfield largest employer. The owners and major investors were local men, the capital was raised locally, and the managers were locals. These locals reinvested in their hometown. The value of the company to Pittsfield seemed a proven point and the security of its future a municipal interest. The major investors believed Pittsfield citizens would step up to protect the Stanley Works from a takeover by outside interests. All that was needed from ordinary citizens was the last $80,000. And yet…

$80,000 of the capital stock issued remained un-subscribed. It was shocking to the managers: for lack of $80,000 — $2 per citizen of Pittsfield – the Stanley Works was vulnerable. The door was open for a competitor, and the Roebling Company was able to buy a controlling interest. An outlander now controlled Pittsfield’s largest employer. If Roebling moved the plant, it would devastate Pittsfield.

They didn’t move but what they did do was sell the Pittsfield holdings to GE. No other single decision did more to shape Pittsfield during the 20th Century than the loss of local control of the Stanley Works and the entrance of GE.

The Shed and the lawn at Tanglewood. Photo: John Ferrilo.

The Shed and the lawn at Tanglewood. Photo: John Ferrilo.

Virtually forgotten today, a small dapper man with polished manners named Henry Hadley first envisioned the Berkshire summer music festival.

In May 1934, while vacationing in The Berkshires, Hadley, a composer and former associate conductor of the New York Philharmonic, met with Gertrude Robinson Smith to discuss the feasibility. Robinson Smith, a woman of girth, guts and money, seemingly without pausing for breath, set about launching a cultural institution in a midst of a depression. She did it in three months. In August 1934 the first outdoor concerts called the Berkshire Symphonic Festival took place.

Henry Hadley was thanked publicly, but privately he was encouraged to improve the orchestra and the program.

Massachusetts Governor Curley was invited to open the festivities at the first concert of 1935. He pledged $5,000 in state funds to the BSF for the 1936 season. It was a great moment. The Governor beamed, the audience cheered because the future of the music festival was assured. As Maestro Hadley raised his baton, no one knew that the check would never arrive.

In an effort to improve the concerts, Hadley enlarged the orchestra; therefore expenses outstripped the income. Troubles mounted in September 1935, when Minnie Guggenheim engaged the New York Philharmonic for her summer concerts. Hadley scrambled to find musicians and turned to the Metropolitan Opera orchestra. The legacy of the New York Philharmonic as the first Berkshire music festival orchestra was quickly forgotten.

Hadley was suffering from cancer. He was aging, and weary. Throughout the 1935 season, the criticism of Hadley continued. At the end of the season, Hadley resigned as conductor of the Berkshire Symphonic Festival or he was dismissed.

As June 1936 approached, BSF did not have an orchestra, a conductor or a place to hold the concerts. Board member Georgie deHeredia of Wheatleigh contacted her friend and fellow Berkshire Cottager Margaret Emerson (Mrs. Alfred Gwynn) Vanderbilt of Holmwood (Fox Hollow today). deHeredia secured it at no cost. BSF had a place for the 1936 Festival but no orchestra.

The outstanding orchestras in the country at the time were the Boston Symphony Orchestra with Music Director Serge Koussevitzky, the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Leopold Stokowsky, the New York Philharmonic under Arturo Toscanini, and the Cleveland under Artur Rodzinski.

Rodzinski had a summer place in Stockbridge so he was easily available for a chat, but proximity was not enough to cause the parties to come to terms. In fact, of the four the BSO was the only orchestra that expressed an interest in the Berkshire Symphonic Festival.

BSF started the year with almost nothing. At 8:30 p.m. August 13, 1936 as Serge Koussevitzky lifted his baton, and the first notes of the Bach Chorale Prelude poured out over the grounds of Holmwood, the BSF had all the component parts that would define the Berkshire summer music festival for the next eight decades.

In three short years, a small volunteer organization had made The Berkshires the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Then the Tanglewood estate was given to the BSO. The BSO decided it was bigger than BSF, and it could do without BSF. The BSF, like Hadley, was forgotten, and the South County summer experience was shaped.

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One Comment   Add Comment

  1. Austin Brazee says:

    Very interesting and informative articles, nice job to Carole!!

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