The people win at Tanglewood on Parade
Tanglewood on Parade
Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Evening Gala Concert

Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Boston Pops Orchestra
Christoph Von Dohnanyi, Stefan Asbury, Keith Lockhart, John Williams, conductors

Strauss, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks
Prokofiev, excerpts from Romeo and Juliet
Robert Russell Bennett, The Four Freedoms
John Williams, music from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
John Williams, music from The Terminal
Tchaikovsky, 1812 Overture, Opus 49
Smith, The Star-Spangled Banner

review by Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, Mass., August 4, 2004) – Few take the music seriously at the annual Tanglewood on Parade concert. It’s looked down upon as the dog and pony show of the Tanglewood season, a middlebrow affair in which all the players are trotted out for show and asked to perform the lowest of the lowbrow crowd-pleasers of the classical repertoire, old and new. The evening – which caps an all-day event filled with student concerts and fanfares and folk songs and the like – is regarded as a crass attempt at entertainment – hence the video screen on the back of the shed – and entertainment – hence the actual cannon explosions fueling Tchaikovsky’s potboiler and the concluding fireworks.

It’s too bad that this is the conventional wisdom, because the annual Tanglewood on Parade event is really one of the most important concerts of the summer, and should be regarded much more seriously. Not that the seriousness should overwhelm the entertainment factor – more on that in a minute. But for several reasons, Tanglewood on Parade stands out among the summer’s concerts.

For one, the event is a benefit for the Tanglewood Music Center – the summer school that is not only the educational component of Tanglewood but really its heart, soul and raison d’etre. One of the only such arrangements of its kind, wherein the BSO becomes the faculty for a summer school and the musicians work with a cadre of fellows from all over the world – this summer alone students hail from Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Korea, Vienna, Australia, Brazil, Albania, Moldova, Brooklyn, Stockbridge, England and Uzbekistan – all on fully-paid scholarships, the center is plain and simply the future of classical music. Besides Seiji Ozawa, alumni of past summers at the center include Claudio Abbado, Luciano Berio, the late Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss, Oliver Knussen, Lorin Maazel, Wynton Marsalis, Zubin Mehta, Ned Rorem, Dawn Upshaw and Michael Tilson Thomas. Supposedly John Cale fits in there, and allegedly 20 percent of the members of American symphony orchestras – and fully 30 percent of all first-chair players – studied at the Tanglewood Music Center.

That’s nothing to sneeze at.

But back to the program itself. From the opening brass fanfares through the closing national anthem, including the crowd-pleasing classical Top 40 selections and the potboilers in between, the music on Tuesday night was an essential reminder that orchestral music has always played a seminal role in civilization – indeed, in everyday life, in the very functioning of state and civil life. Not only do these pieces reflect the meaning of existence – they give meaning to it, the illuminate it, and are a very part of it.

And the music that is presented in these annual programs – music that may vary in level of creative achievement or challenge and sophistication, but great music nonetheless – reminds listeners that great music communicates on an elemental level, and that accessibility is not necessarily an indication of lack of serious intent.

Not that the regular programming at Tanglewood eschews the more popular repertoire, nor that it emphasizes the cerebral or the arcane. Over the course of a week or a month at Tanglewood, listeners get well-balanced fare for the most part, a good sampling of old and new, tried and true, blue and new – perhaps only lacking in some of the most experimental of the contemporary avant-garde.

But rarely is classical music’s ability to connect with listeners on a most basic, primal level presented with such obvious strength as in a program like Tuesday night’s. Richard Strauss, the composer of “Don Juan,” “Salome,” “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and “Der Rosenkavalier,” was represented in a comic masterpiece, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, which if it hasn’t been made into a cartoon is crying out for such treatment. And why not? What better way to get such deliriously vivid music into the ears of a whole generation of youth who otherwise will probably never be exposed to this manic orgy of orchestral levity.

And year after year, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture sends the crowd into spasms of delight. This year’s version, played by the combined forces of the BSO and the student orchestra under the direction of Keith Lockhart, reached new heights of dramatic fervor. The battle scenes between the French and the Russians were spine-tingling and bone-chilling thrilling, and the best thing about this piece is that the Russians always win. Only the evening’s humidity got in the way of making this the most effective 1812 in years, the thick air dampening the visceral impact one typically experiences from the cannon fire.

There were a few dull points in Tuesday’s show. The Romeo and Juliet fare was innocuous if lively, and the Bennett was third-rate teaching music marred by an insipid narration – how dare the program notes call him a “contemporary” of Copland and Gershwin! Not, at least, by the evidence of The Four Freedoms. But the piece did carry through the theme of the evening, which had something to do with the price of liberty. Only John Williams’s film music strayed from the theme, and if this year’s “Harry Potter” was not up to his best, he more than made up for it with “Victor’s Tale” from The Terminal, which featured clarinetist Thomas Martin in a very Balkan-flavored solo.

The heavens were on the peoples’ side on Tuesday night – threatening to explode in a deluge or torrent up until the very end, but holding back and allowing those out on the lawn to enjoy every last minute virtually free of rain. Instead, they contributed a dazzling light show of their own, filling the sky with bursts of electricity that provided a stunning backdrop and contrast to the man-made fireworks that shot out over the Stockbridge Bowl. The heavens danced with the earth at the end, echoing the most ambitious themes in the evening’s most ambitious pieces, in a language that all could plainly understand and appreciate. Tanglewood truly was feted at its own parade.

[Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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