By Dave Read [Lenox, MA, July 12, 2022] – The 2022 season is underway at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, on the vast tract of land given them early in the 20th century by the same cohort of proper Bostonians, who, a century earlier, gave refuge there to Nathaniel of Salem*, the poet who added Tanglewood to our lexicon.
On July 14, 2002, a copy of the 12 page score of Randall Thompson’s Alleliua, was distributed to the audience at Seiji Ozawa’s last concert, which concluded a weekend of festivities, in the Koussevitzky Music Shed. Serge Koussevitzky commissioned Alleluia in 1940, to be performed by the student body during opening exercises of the Tanglewood (nee Berkshire) Music Center.
I witnessed the opening exercises for the first time last week, which now are held in Seiji Ozawa Hall. They consist of a little speechifying, a couple brief recitals, and then “Alleluia, for four-part chorus of unaccompanied mixed voices.” The Fellows (nee students), seated where the paying audience usually does, produced a moment of transcendence, under the direction of Andris Nelsons, conducting from the lip of the stage.
With the student body well underway on the final measure of their professional training, the professionals were in the limelight for the BSO’s opening weekend of concerts, which comprised the orchestra’s familiar breadth of repertoire. They got underway with with their own Opening Prayer (Benediction), which was composed in 1986 by favorite son Leonard Bernstein, to mark the re-opening of the refurbished Carnegie Hall, followed by Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, The Age of Anxiety, inspired by W.H. Auden’s poem, The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue.
From the aftermath of WWII, we go to the eve of WWI to complete the opening night program with Igor Stravinsky’s La Sacre du printemps, Pictures from pagan Russia. The piece usually goes by the more familiar The Rite of Spring; perhaps the orchestra wants to call our attention to the savagery our Russian brothers are inflicting on their Ukraine neighbors today?
Saturday’s program featured a very new composition, with the composer invited to address the audience in advance, which left me unable to properly listen to the first moment of it because I was digesting his remarks about it. Carlos Simon told the audience that Motherboxx Connection has references in phenomena I’m utterly unfamiliar with – yet, I was delighted by the orchestra’s expression of them, in our universal language.
Soprano Nicole Cabell next did a star turn on Knoxville, Summer of 1915, Opus 24, with text by James Agee. She sang with a shimmering, colorful voice that instrumentalists spend their careers seeking to replicate. Two giants of pre-WWII American culture were called upon to close out the evening – Duke Ellington’s New World A-Coming, for piano and orchestra, with Aaron Diehl on piano, and then George Gershwin’s An American in Paris.
If we are to survive much longer, we must recognize the healing and binding qualities of music, and accept it as liturgy – for nothing divides us so readily as our Babel of doctrine and dogma. In the words of our beloved national divine** – “If it sounds good, it is good.”
*In his brilliant critical essay, “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” Herman Melville, of Pittsfield, calls him Nathaniel of Salem to draw a parallel to William of Avon, to suggest an equivalency between our in-state, literary genius and England’s Shakespeare.
**Louis Armstrong was an early participant in the summer seminars that grew into the Lenox School of Jazz, in the 1950s, just down the road from Tanglewood