By Dave Read, Lenox, MA, August 20, 2023 performance – The best thing about great works of art is that, being products of natural people rather than of nature herself, they may serve us for a hundred generations. If Ludwig van Beethoven were a paternal ancestor, he’d be my 12th or 13th great grandfather.
But, he’s not, because I need a map to find middle C on a piano, and one of those popular DNA/ancestor tests ruled me out of any Teutonic inheritance.
Point is that musical art has eternity within its grasp, but only so long as we mortals breathe life into it. Something like a dozen generations of people, from all over the earth, have been thrilled and uplifted by Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. People of a hundred tongues, practitioners of a hundred religions, members of a hundred political parties, citizens of more than one hundred nations keep alive this sound art made by a virtually deaf man.
Here in the Berkshires, home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer performance venue and training academy, we are invited annually to attend its performance, by world-class musicians in a breath-taking setting. It usually is performed by the BSO with a guest conductor; today it was played by the ephemeral Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra (TMCO), under the baton of Susanna Mälkki, conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.
With the BSO already away on a European tour, the audience had an opportunity to listen to a generous sample of the musicians who will populate the world’s great orchestras for the next fifty years. The TMCO begins life in July as a most casual cohort, singing Alleluia, the choral work by Randall Thompson commissioned by Serge Koussevitsky for the academy’s 1940 opening. [Our report of 2022 opening exercise, w/ video]
After eight weeks of intense instruction and varieties of performance, the TMCO rightly commands Tanglewood’s Shed; they are right at home in this world-class venue. Command and share, I should say, because every bit their equal is the amateur Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which transforms Schiller’s German Ode to Joy into the sung language that stirs the soul of all the world’s people.
The TFC underwent something of a rejuvenation when James Burton became its second director in 2017, following the 45-year tenure of founder John Oliver (1939-2018). After announcing that the entire chorus would have to re-audition for membership, Burton was made to withstand withering criticism. As reported by expert critics and ordinary enthusiasts alike, he did the right thing, and the child of his predecessor is poised now to thrive as it thrills audiences for generations.
Today’s vocal soloists: Amanda Majeski, soprano, J’Nai Bridges, mezzo-soprano, Stephen Costello, tenor, and Jongmin Park, bass. Five Spirituals from A Child of Our Time, composed by Michael Tippett opened the program.