A Summer Escape to Tanglewood
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On a brisk August morning, visitors to Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts hauled lawn chairs and spread out picnic blankets to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s (BSO) last open rehearsal. Tanglewood serves as the BSO’s residence over the summer, shedding a spotlight on symphonic and classical music; the Boston Pops Orchestra and artists such as John Legend, James Taylor, and Train also occasionally take the stage. On August 18, the BSO’s music director Andris Nelsons led the orchestra to another musical triumph, featuring renowned Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos and closing out the festival’s 85th summer.
Overlooking a bucolic Berkshire mountainscape and rich forests, the Tanglewood venue has a tranquil atmosphere with acoustics that resonate across the expansive property, allowing listeners to set up camp anywhere on the extensive greenery. The orchestra is hosted at the venue’s core: the Koussevitzky Music Shed. Holding around five thousand people at full capacity, the fan-shaped concert hall’s open air architecture allows light and a natural breeze to flow into the building, making sitting inside a comfortable experience intimately connected to the outdoor setting.
Nelsons opened the performance by cheerfully introducing the audience to his first piece, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, Op. 100, proclaiming “It’s a cold day, but the music will warm you up.” The BSO’s rendition of Prokofiev’s symphony captured its intended show of the “grandeur of the human spirit” in all its splendor. The first movement, the Andante (moderately slow), opened with a bright, creeping melody led by the woodwinds and violins, underscored by dissonant chords from the strings and accompaniments of vivid brass phrases. Following the Andante, the rhythmic Allegro Marcato’s (a briskly played second movement) strings and percussion alternated pounding baselines beneath the bold melodies played by the violins and woodwinds. This sound mimicked the complexities of humanity: indecisiveness, aimless wandering, and uncertainty about the future. However, this built melancholia was abandoned by the last movement: the Allegro Giocoso (a playful, fast movement). Revisiting the rhythmic elements from the Allegro Marcato, the woodwinds piped out staccato whistles and lyrical phrases. The haunted intensity of earlier movements became a whirlwind climax, the symphony’s end a rich, passionate surge of rapid string phrases and percussion.
A 20-minute intermission ensued before the next piece: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. Written in the mountains of Geneva after Tchaikovsky’s marriage fell into crisis, the popular piece is characterized by anguish. Kavakos was the centerpiece. After the orchestra opened the Allegro Moderato with a delicate lyrical phrase, Kavakos’s violin captured the audience with a light yet woeful solo. As the orchestra faded in with soft chord progressions, Kavakos played the bright melody with a vulnerable sensitivity. Echoing the lead violin’s yearns, the cellists and other violinists crept slowly behind Kavakos, deepening the wounded sound and whispering Tchaikovsky’s despair. The slow beginning then devolved into wavering melodies but maintained its warmth. The orchestra played rich yet fleeting chords while Kavakos’s violin frantically cried out scales. As the piece approached its finale, the orchestra came together in unison, releasing the piece's accumulated build-up.
Spirits were high with the sun shining on the countryside and Tchaikovsky’s last chord still ringing in listeners’ ears. Though the BSO bid farewell to the Tanglewood venue to tour Europe for the next season, their remarkable performance will undoubtedly usher U.S.-based fans back for their return next summer.