For the fourth year in a row, the first Saturday of the Tanglewood season saw the Koussevitsky Music Shed become the capital of the public radio universe, as “A Prairie Home Companion, with Garrison Keillor” closed their 2002-03 live performance season far away from their Minnesota home.
And for the 3rd time in 5 days (James Taylor-Tuesday, and Wynton Marsalis-Friday) the Tanglewood headliner had a special, personal connection with the venue, and although Keillors’ mayn’t be quite so profound as the others,’ he outdid them in his praise, laying on enough encomia to make a lesser venue blush, calling it “the Mecca, the Vatican, maybe the Cooperstown” of classical music.
(And they even created “A Tanglewood Lollapalooza” about their previous visits to the Berkshires on their website, which is probably the best of its kind.)
This show was just about as good as it gets; a seamless 2 hours of aural entertainment, with just the right mix of humor, comedy, pathos, several examples of musical virtuosity, all knit together by the pretty good singer and great monologist Keillor, who even exposed his really-nice-guy-ness by devoting the show’s closing minutes to a lovely farewell to 3 departing staff members.
(Funny how these things work, but the little tune that’s been looping in my mind for days now is the Irving Berlin song “What’ll I Do (When You Are Faraway And I Am Blue)?” that Keillor personalized for his departing friends.)
The guest line-up was perfect, besides the Nilsson Quartet which augmented the “house band,” there was accordian wizzard Dan Newton, who created the “Norman Rockwell Polka” for the show (he did that by squeezing together 14 or 15 popular American melodies), the brilliant guitarist Leo Kottke, and Tanglewood Music Center fellow Hsing-Ay Hsu, a dazzling talent on the piano with oodles of star quality, too. (Leo Kotke – Photo by Anthony Pepitone, CC BY-SA 3.0.)
She even had a bit of a go -’round with the host, trying to get the audience to decide between Chopin and Debussy compositions, which Keillor nixed, saying “I choose the Chopin, this isn’t a democracy, we tried that, it didn’t work.”
And speaking of democracy, we found the show’s most profound moment to be the line from the Ketchup Advisory Board skit, “Ketchup has natural mellowing agents that help us to accept the fact that the big problem with democracy is that it depends so much on people like us.”
Keillor’s disdain for George W. Bush came through loud and clear in the “Hobo” skit, which featured “Waco George,” but the swipe he took at journalists during the re-working of “Where have all the flowers gone” with guitarist Pat Donohue was more telling (” Are they having too much fun/ Embedded down in Washington,/ When will they look around/ And see what’s going down? “)
A treat available only to the Tanglewood audience was to see the great affection with which Keillor addressed Hsing-Ay Hsu, already seated at the piano, adding an un-heard element to the introduction that told of the Tanglewood Music Center and Boston University Tanglewood Institute being the true heart and soul of the globally-popular Tanglewood experience.
We ain’t picking no nits here, but there were 2 errors of fact that jumped right out at us: Norman Rockwell didn’t paint all his masterpieces in the Berkshires (see current Stockbridge exhibit: “Norman Rockwell’s Vermont Years”) and, despite the the Shed’s nonpareil acoustics, during his July 4, 1991 Tanglewood concert, Bob Dylan was largely unintelligible.