Tanglewood Flush With Fresh Music To Honor Center
By Leslie Kandell
LENOX, Mass. – The Tanglewood Music Center, teaching arm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home in the Berkshires and go-to place for what’s new, is celebrating its 75th season. From the beginning, young professionals from around the world have come here to compose music, or be coached in performance by eminent faculty and BSO members. Aaron Copland and Paul Hindemith were on the faculty of the first class, in 1940: among its members were Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss, and Norman Dello Joio.
To honor the anniversary, TMC commissioned a whopping 34 new pieces, most of which are threaded through its concerts this summer. It’s a huge, expensive undertaking. At its annual Festival of Contemporary Music, when the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra plays under miracle-worker Stefan Asbury and talented conducting fellows, new commissions reach critical mass.
The works being premiered are by former Tanglewood fellows and faculty members. A substantive, successful concert on July 20 in the 1,000-seat Seiji Ozawa Hall, whose rear wall was opened to the soft twilight on the lawn, introduced compositions by Detlev Glanert, a German; Einojuhani Rautavaara, a Finn; and Andreia Pinto-Correia, from Portugal. The highlight, Tanglewood Concerto by Robert Zuidam from the Netherlands, was elegantly played by pianist Emanuel Ax and enthusiastically received, as it deserved to be.
Several pieces drew inspiration from Tanglewood itself, though their musical images may have evoked the place more clearly to their composers than to the listener.
Three selections, of which the concerto was one, were commissioned by the Paul C. Jacobs Memorial Fund: Tanglewood has made a wonderful choice to keep the name of this great pianist and musical explorer alive. And a select group of “fellows” are called “The New Fromm Players,” invoking both Paul Fromm, naming-gift founder, and the original Fromm Fellowship Players, established in the 1950s to perform new music at Tanglewood.
The concert opened with Glanert’s American Prelude No. 1, one of a triptych that he described in a pre-concert talk as “postcards from Tanglewood.” It is in the current compositional paint box–long string lines with low percussive punctuation. It was led by the petite Ruth Reinhardt, whose firm gestures managed to recall both Ozawa and Anne Manson.
The voluptuous Rautavaara work, Lost Landscapes: Tanglewood, his orchestration for violin solo and strings of a violin and piano duo, is a misty mood piece that owes something to Hovhaness. Also supported by the Paul C. Jacobs Fund, it was conducted by Marzena Diakun–a slender Paganini-like figure–and played by New Fromm violinist Samantha Bennett, whose violin sounded as warm as a viola.
Pinto-Correia’s Timaeus, named for a Plato dialogue and inspired by Elliott Carter’s Concerto for Orchestra, suggested the dark, fertile Amazon jungle, or perhaps a score from a documentary about it. Sustained horn and cello lines were colored by wood blocks and percussion crashes. Trumpets were busy, like chittering animals, and harp tones dripped as if in a rain forest. Maybe a different title would be a better fit.
Zuidam’s Concerto came from summer recollections: a rehearsal when a pianist fled in horror, meditative moonlight chats with Randall Woolf on the porch of Seranak (Serge Koussevitzky’s hillside home overlooking the Stockbridge Bowl), and a ride from Foss, a notoriously bad driver. (Scherzo, perhaps?) The concept was surely influenced by Ives’s portraits of New England life, some of which will be heard on the mini-festival’s final program on July 27.
The first movement is dominated by plunging, soaring piano arpeggios, which Ax played with the crystalline style we’ll hear on July 25 when he performs Mozart with the BSO in the Koussevitzky Music Shed. It’s hard to imagine a better apologist for Zuidam’s concerto, which should be heard again. Piano and orchestra have a good relationship, blending or deftly getting out of the way. The development adds birdlike figures, and movement endings are on modest tiptoe.
Asbury conducted this concerto on the second half, which concluded with Jacob Druckman’s bold, shimmering Aureole. This 1979 piece was no premiere, but Druckman was an early Tanglewood fellow, later spending years on the faculty, and his Summer Lightning was written for the TMC 50th. Furthermore, the first performance of Aureole at the New York Philharmonic was led by Bernstein, the Tanglewood icon to whom it is dedicated, and who is quoted in a few passages.
The full-orchestra work made a good summation for the concert, showing what can be done with many timbres in a short time. The TMCO played impressively under the unassuming Asbury, while bigwigs like Michael Tilson Thomas, who conducts the July 25 program, stared from stage-level boxes. Listeners again left Ozawa Hall wondering, “How does he get them to play like that?”
Leslie Kandell has contributed to The New York Times, Musical America, Musical America Directory, and The Daily Gazette.Date posted: July 23, 2015