"Tanglewood" Revisited: Basking in the Beauty of the Berkshires
In Lenox, we joined our friends for dinner at a new restaurant called the Firefly – a little rushed because we had to make the BSO concert at 8:30 pm – but what we sampled was first-rate. Marita raved about a terrific gorgonzola penne; not as good as a now legendary pasta of the same description enjoyed in Trinidad, of all places, years ago, but excellent nonetheless.
Incredibly, this mecca of music-making was conceived and inaugurated by conductor Serge Koussevitsky in 1936, during the depths of the depression. Shortly after its establishment, America was engulfed in a world war. The festival closed shop during the war years; rationing of rubber, steel and gasoline meant that few Americans had the means to travel hundreds of miles to a music festival. Fortunately, Tanglewood outlived the war and remains today a marvel of imagination and inspiration.
I never had the pleasure of attending Tanglewood as a student – following in the footsteps of the likes of Bernstein, Foss, Abbado, Maazel, Ozawa, Dohnányi, Mehta, Michael Tilson Thomas and so many others – but I was often a member of the audience in the 1970s. I recall with great joy a performance of a lean and lively Messiah and a thrilling Elgar First Symphony conducted by Sir Colin Davis and a resounding and mesmeric Berlioz "Requiem" conducted by Seiji Ozawa. Then there was Scott Joplin’s "Treemonisha" conducted by Gunther Schuller. I also loved the Prelude concerts with members of the Boston Symphony playing chamber music, and not least of all, the numerous events put on by students at the Berkshire (since renamed the “Tanglewood”) Music Center. These gifted young people invariably played with remarkable skill and enthusiasm.
Toronto Symphony’s Maestro Peter Oundjian Guest Conductor
Peter Oundjian conducted the Boston Symphony at the Tanglewood Shed our first night there, with Joshua Bell playing Chausson’s “Poème” and Saint-Saens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. As a former violin soloist himself, Oundjian was an ideal accompanist, especially since Bell played with a lovely but somewhat unpredictable improvisatory quality. According to the program notes, the Chausson was last heard at Tanglewood in a performance by the same Joshua Bell in 1999. Few other violinists play it these days but it remains a unique, brooding masterpiece. We had good seats in about the 10th row on the extreme right of the stage. Not enough violins given our seat locations but otherwise very good sound.
Incidentally, famed architect Eliel Saarinen submitted the original plans for the Shed back in 1936, but the plans were too elaborate and too costly so the Boston Symphony settled for something much more modest from local Stockbridge engineer Joseph Franz. The Shed we enjoy today is still pretty much the handiwork of Franz, and he deserves much of the credit for its surprisingly good acoustics.
After the concert, we made our way backstage to say hello to Peter, whose father had occasionally attended my concerts in Toronto.
Good Eats, Pouring Rain, and Shattered Hopes for Great Golf!
We had breakfast the next morning in a fine and very popular bakery-restaurant in Lennox called Haven. I loved the samplings of apple cake and the blueberry ‘something’ hot out of the oven, served free to patrons waiting in the food line. The service is cafeteria-style but none the worse for that. The weather in this unusually wet summer was nice enough to sit outside. The manager was much amused to see me heading out with a latte in one hand and a bottle of ketchup in the other. “Was I starting a new fad - latte with ketchup - yet another specialty coffee?”
Our friends had arranged golf for the men in our party at the Taconic Golf Club in Williamstown, about a 45-minute drive north on route 7. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. We drove up in pouring rain but it stopped soon after we arrived and we prepared ourselves to get a round in after all. After waiting an hour we started to play. The radar at the club indicated the rain cell had moved on and that clear weather would last through the afternoon. We got to the third hole and the rain came again, this time even heavier than before. The professionals play through rain and only give up in the face of thunderstorms, but there was so much water on the greens here that putted balls barely moved and nearly every fairway had large pools of water. The management at the Taconic Golf Club wisely closed the course for the rest of the day.
Mass MoCa – No, it’s not a Giant Cup of Coffee
With time on our hands we drove east to North Adams to visit the art gallery set up in an abandoned factory and known as Mass MoCa (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). North Adams was a factory town for most of its existence and this was a complex of 27 buildings, renovated when the factory gave up. The facility was built between 1872 and 1900 by Arnold Print Works, a textile printer. Thousands of people had jobs at the print factory in its heyday but times changed and the factory closed in 1942.
The Mass MoCa complex also has offices and restaurants and we had dinner in an eatery called Café Latino. Its menu was just as creative as its surroundings.
After dinner, we made the short drive back to Williamstown for the Williamstown Theatre production of Feydeau’s “A Flea in Her Ear” in a new version by David Ives. John Rando directed a fast-paced and very funny production with terrific sets and finely-tuned ensemble acting. Mark Harelik was particularly outstanding as both Victor Chandebise and Poche. There may never have been quite so many laughs in the disreputable Frisky Puss Hotel.
After the concert we went back to our chairs on the lawn and chatted, a nice way to wind down and avoid the traffic jams as everyone tries to leave at once. Later, we drove down to Great Barrington ‘the back way’ on Hawthorne Road through Stockbridge for dinner at a superb restaurant also owned by the same people who run Café Latino. It is called Allium on Railroad St. Wonderful Spanish tempranillo called Torremoron. The manager/owner claimed to have visited the town where this wine is made. It was only $36 and it was rich and smooth. Marita had a tasty Turkish Lamb that rivaled a wonderful risotto praised by others at our table. We finished off with panna cotta and a selection of house-made ice creams.
Tanglewood remains the unique musical paradise BSO conductor Serge Koussevitsky created more than 60 years ago. His successors have both honored his memory and added to its reputation. Physically, Tanglewood has grown over the years with the addition of more land and a second major concert facility, but the beauty of the site is remarkably unspoiled. The lawn seems as green and spacious as it ever was, and no signs of commercialism have been allowed to penetrate this musical oasis. No wonder the board of the Toronto Symphony is using Tanglewood as a model as it explores Niagara-on-the-Lake as a possible summer home.