A season of celebration for Tanglewood


View of The Shed across the lawns at Tanglewood – © John Ferrilo

Tanglewood – like the Proms or Bayreuth – is one of those names which needs no elaboration – it’s familiar even to those with only a slight interest in classical music. Claiming a place amongst the world’s most famous and well-loved music festivals, each year it draws some of the greatest musicians, and over 350,000 music lovers to the Tanglewood estate in Stockbridge and Lenox in the Berkshire Hills, for a celebration of all that’s wonderful about classical music.

This is also where the Tanglewood Music Center – home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer academy for advanced musical study – is to be found, along with its two performance stages, the Serge Koussevitzky Music Shed (an unusual name, but there’s a story behind it) and Seiji Ozawa Hall.


Interior of the Ozawa Hall – © Steve Rosenthal

Tanglewood’s history dates back to 1934, when the New York Philharmonic was invited by a group of music lovers to present a series of outdoor concerts at Interlocken, Massachussetts.  In 1936, Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra were invited to perform there, and the concerts took place under a large tent before an audience of nearly 15,000.

Later that year, the grounds of the Tappan family estate, Tanglewood, were offered to Koussevitzky and the Orchestra, and the following summer, the first Tanglewood concert took place. Because the performance was badly disrupted by inclement weather, an appeal was launched for a permanent structure, however the designs submitted by the chosen architect were deemed too expensive. His response to the Trustees was that if they insisted on remaining within their budget, they would end up with “just a shed”.  A local architect was commissioned, his designs were duly accepted, and his building was inaugurated on the 4th of August, 1938. Some modifications took place over the years – including the installation of the Edmund Hawes Talbot Orchestra Canopy (which produced the world famous acoustics) – and in 1988, on the occasion of the building’s 50th anniversary, it was re-dedicated as The Serge Koussevitzky Music Shed. Today it is affectionately referred to simply as The Shed.


Andris Nelsons, Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – © Marco Borggreve

At the Tanglewood Music Festival this year, two notable anniversaries are to be celebrated – the 75th anniversary of the Music Center, founded in 1940 by Serge Koussevitzky – then Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – and the inaugural season of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s current Music Director, Andris Nelsons.

The season will celebrate highlights of past accomplishments of the Tanglewood Music Center, as well as its position as one of the foremost establishments in the United States for the creation of new music, and opportunities for performers in the realms of recital, chamber, vocal and orchestral music. The Center is also unique in that it is the only summer academy which operates under the auspices of a major symphony orchestra, whose members – along with other prominent musicians – play an important role in preparing its Fellows for their future in music.

Today it’s believed that some 20 percent of the members of American symphony orchestras, and around 30 percent of all first-chair musicians, studied at Tanglewood, and the Festival will pay tribute to all those who have contributed to the success of the academy over the past 75 years. Included are many of the most illustrious figures in 20th and 21st century classical music who have passed through the Music Center’s programs, as Fellows or as faculty members, since its founding – names such as Claudio Abbado, Emanuel Ax, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Charles Dutoit, Lukas Foss, Lorin Maazel, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Zubin Mehta, Sherrill Milnes, Seiji Ozawa, Leontyne Price, Peter Serkin, Bright Sheng, Michael Tilson Thomas, Dawn Upshaw, Christoph von Dohnányi, John Williams and David Zinman.

This tribute also extends to some of the world’s most eminent conductors who have led concerts by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, and worked with the Center’s conducting Fellows. They include Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein,  Charles Dutoit, Erich Leinsdorf, James Levine, Charles Munch, Andris Nelsons, Seiji Ozawa, William Steinberg, Michael Tilson Thomas and Christoph von Dohnányi.


Michael Tilson Thomas will conduct the finale of the Festival of Contemporary Music – Photograph courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The Tanglewood Music Center’s 75th anniversary season opened on June 25th, and runs concurrently with the annual Tanglewood Music Festival. Highlights of the celebratory season include over 30 newly commissioned works from composers with close links to the Center; the annual Festival of Contemporary Music; and the Leonard Bernstein Memorial Concert, in which Andris Nelsons leads the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in a performance of Mahler’s magnificent Symphony No 8 – the Symphony of a Thousand – with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, American Boychoir, BUTI Chorus and a cast of internationally acclaimed soloists which includes sopranos Erin Wall and Christine Goerke, mezzo-sopranos Lioba Braun and Jane Henschel, tenor Klaus Florian Vogt, and baritone Matthias Goerne.

The Festival of Contemporary Music, which runs from July 20th to 27th, is one of the most prestigious activities of the Tanglewood season – and in this anniversary year it will present 15 of the 30 new commissions, as well as works for smaller ensembles, chamber works, string quartets and vocal works. For the finale, Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, leads the TMC Orchestra in a program of music by three composers central to the history of the Music Center – Aaron Copland (the first Director of the Tanglewood Music Center), Leonard Bernstein (a Tanglewood Fellow whose involvement with the Boston Symphony Orchestra spanned more than six decades), and Lukas Foss (a former Composer-in-Residence at the Center) – ending with a work by American composer Charles Ives.  MTT has previously conducted the TMC Orchestra on many occasions, the most recent having been five years ago in a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No 3.


Charles Dutoit conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a performance of Berlioz’s ‘Requiem’ in 2011 – © Stu Rosner

The annual Tanglewood Music Festival season opened on June 20th, and includes performances by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, the Boston Symphony and the Boston Pops Orchestra, as well as a line-up of illustrious guest artists from the worlds of classics, jazz, American Songbook, Broadway, pop, rock, dance and film.

Luminaries from the world of classical music include Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, Gautier and Renaud Capuçon, Vadim Glutzman, Håkan Hardenberg, Leonidas Kavakos, Yo-Yo Ma, Garrick Ohlsson, Kristine Opolais, Sondra Radvanovsky, Bryn Terfel, Christian Tetzlaff, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Pinchas Zukerman.

The list of guest conductors is no less impressive, and includes Stéphane Denève, Charles Dutoit, Keith Lockhart, Sir Neville Marriner, Andris Nelsons, Michael Tilson Thomas, Bramwell Tovey, Christoph von Dohnányi, John Williams and Christian  Zacharias.

The star-studded program also includes Diana Krall, the Mark Morris Dance Company, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, Huey Lewis and the News, Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and Audra McDonald.


Emanuel Ax – © Lisa Marie Mazzucco


Yo-Yo Ma – © Todd Rosenberg

This year, in a first for the Tanglewood Festival, Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma will each take the newly-created honorary title of Koussevitzky Artist – in recognition of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s appreciation for their performance and teaching commitment to the 2015 Tanglewood season, and for the involvement by each of these artists with the BSO, both at Tanglewood and at Symphony Hall in Boston.

Music lovers all over the world will be able to participate in some of the Tanglewood Music Center’s 75th anniversary performances. There’s a free webcast of the performance of the Mahler symphony, with a supplemental video about the anniversary, and free weekly 75th anniversary music downloads, showcasing some of the best performances of the TMC’s 75-year history. These media projects will be available during the summer at www.tanglewood.org.

For a complete overview of the Tanglewood 2015 season, follow this link.


The lawns at Tanglewood – © Stu Rosner

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Stars of the White Nights shine brightly at the Mariinsky


The Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg – Photo: Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

In 1993, Valery Gergiev, general and artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre, presented the city of St Petersburg with a unique “musical gift” – the Stars of the White Nights Festival – a truly stunning showcase for the world renowned artistry of the orchestra, ballet and opera companies of the Mariinsky.

Surely one of the grandest and most expansive annual festivals of the performing arts anywhere in the world, it takes its name from the magical long summer nights in the city of St Petersburg, when the sun never sets, and where audiences emerge from the evening performances at the Mariinsky’s three theatres to stroll in daylight along the streets of the city.

This year, the XXIII Music Festival Stars of the White Nights has a special cause for celebration – the 175th anniversary of the birth of Tchaikovsky who in 1865 was one of the first graduates of the St Petersburg Conservatory. It also celebrates two world premieres – new productions of Tchaikovsky’s opera, The Queen of Spades, and Verdi’s La Traviata – as well as the opening of the terrace of Mariinsky-II, the most recent addition to the Company’s stages, which has a simply gorgeous view over the domes and spires of the centre of St Petersburg.


Scene from Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Queen of Spades’ – Photo: Natasha Razina © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

The 2015 Festival opened on 27th May with the new production of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades – the 1,304th performance of the opera at the Mariinsky since its original world premiere there on the 7th of December in 1890. With libretto by Tchaikovsky’s brother, Modest, the opera is based on a short story, with elements of the supernatural, by Alexander Pushkin. Tchaikovsky began work on the score in Florence during the winter of 1889 and completed his clavier version in just 44 days, writing to his brother that “I wrote the opera with self-abandonment and enjoyment,” adding “ … either I am terribly and unforgivably wrong or The Queen of Spades is truly my chef-d’oeuvre”.

Both the opera and its characters are regarded as the most typical of St Petersburg among Tchaikovsky’s works, with a plot which unfolds in the Summer Garden, along the Winter Palace Canal, at the home of the Countess on Malaya Morskaya Street, and on the public squares and in the army barracks of the city. As Director Alexei Stepanyuk says: “This story could only have taken place in St Petersburg, a city of white nights, a city of ghosts…”.  Maestro Gergiev will conduct the next performance of The Queen of Spades on 26th July at Mariinsky-II.


A scene from Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Queen of Spades’ – Valentin Baronovsky © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

The second world premiere of the Festival is the Mariinsky’s new production of Verdi’s La Traviata which opens this week. With libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, after Alexandre Dumas the younger’s play, La Dame aux camélias, La Traviata is directed by Claudia Solti (daughter of conductor Georg Solti), who debuted as an opera director at the Mariinsky with Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Mariinsky in 2011. This production was described as “spectacular” with its “ethereal flights of fancy and transformations”, and Ms Solti predicts that there will be “the same flights of fancy in the new Traviata”.

Outlining some of the features of her production to Nadezhda Kulygina, writer of programme notes for the Mariinsky, Ms Solti explained that because the heroes of the opera are young, she is casting soloists from the Mariinsky Academy of Young Opera Singers in the leading roles. She also makes the point that this love story is often performed very “politely” because 150 years ago, people were polite. “Whereas to me these are real people, they’re real flesh and blood, they’re young and they’re in love and it’s a party environment. Not people drinking cups of tea politely, I don’t see it like that, I see it much more as sex, drugs and rock and roll.”


Scene from the Mariinsky’s world premiere production of ‘La Traviata’ – Photo: Valentin Baranovsky © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

The set and costumes for Traviata are by Isabella Bywater who says that the opera has been set, loosely, in the period in which it was written, and “The mood is luxurious, indulgent and sensual”. In terms of set design, “I thought of a carousel,” she says, “as a way to show the adjoining rooms of Violetta’s apartment, so that we could follow her movements room to room as she entertains her friends, feels unwell or falls in love, much as one might in a film.”  La Traviata opens on 17th June and runs for five performances, the last one taking place on 28th July.


Oxana Shilova (Violetta) and Alexei Markov (Giorgio Germont) in ‘La Traviata’ – Photo: Natasha Razina © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

The number of operas being presented during this Festival is a staggering 35 – roughly one-third of the vast Mariinsky repertoire – ranging from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, through epic works such as Les Troyens to 20th century works such as Prokofiev’s Betrothal in a Monastery and Rodion Shchedrin’s The Lefthander, commissioned by the Mariinsky in celebration of Maestro Gergiev’s 60th birthday in 2013. Tchaikovsky is, of course, well represented, by Eugene Onegin, Iolanta, and Mazeppa, as well as The Queen of Spades.


The Mariinsky Theatre Ballet in a scene from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’ – Valentin Baronovsky © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

The programme of ballets features 18 works, including Tchaikovsky’s big three – Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. There are works from the Romantic era such as Giselle and La Sylphide; more contemporary ballets such as Jewels and A Midsummer Night’s Dream from one of St Petersburg’s most famous sons, George Balanchine; Yuri Grigorovich’s A Legend of Love and Alexei Ratmansky’s Anna Karenina. Also featured is the Final Graduation Performance of the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet.


Scene from Act I of the Mariinsky Ballet’s production of ‘Giselle’ – Photo: Natasha Razina © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

Some of the world’s finest musicians are performing in the concerts and recitals – names which include Yuri Bashmet, Pinchas Zukerman, Leonidas Kavakos, Daniil Trifonov, Denis Matsuev, James Ehnes, and Rudolf Buchbinder, and guest conductors such as Cristoph Eschenbach, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Paavo Järvi.

The busiest conductor of the Festival, is of course, Maestro Gergiev himself, who – at a glance – looks to be leading 30 or more performances – and is still managing to include some international appearances in his schedule. He is in Moscow with the Mariinsky Orchestra on 3rd July for the Gala Concert of Prizewinners of the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition – and Maestro and Orchestra are in Finland, Germany and Slovenia between 4th and 15th July. Maestro Gergiev also appears with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo on 19th July, as part of the 2015 Russia in Monaco festival, and at the Verbier Festival with the Verbier Festival Orchestra on 23rd July, before an appearance with the London Symphony Orchestra at a BBC Proms performance on 28th July. His onward schedule of home and international appearances is equally breathtaking.


Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra – Photo: Natasha Razina © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

A detailed calendar of events for the XXIII Music Festival Stars of the White Nights can be found on the Mariinsky Theatre website.  A click-through from the title of each performance provides a showcase of some gorgeous images which is not to be missed.


View of St Petersburg from the newly-opened terrace of Mariinsky-II – Photo: Valentin Baranovsky © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre



Scene from Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Queen of Spades’ – Photo: Natasha Razina © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre


Ilya Selivanov and Oxana Shilova in a scene from ‘La Traviata’ – Photo: Valentin Baronovsky © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre


Oxana Shilova as Violetta in ‘La Traviata’ – Photo: Natasha Razina © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre


The tragic ending of ‘La Traviata’ – Photo: Natasha Razina © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre


Scene from the Mariinsky Ballet’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ – Photo: Valentin Baronovsky © State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

The Mariinsky Theatre

XXIII Music Festival Stars of the White Nights

Valery Gergiev

Claudia Solti

Isabella Bywater

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