The BSO and Tanglewood in 2024
The Boston Symphony Orchestra has announced its next summer season, anchored by Koussevitzky 150, a multi-dimensional celebration of the visionary BSO conductor behind the creation of the orchestra's iconic festival in the Berkshires.
When Serge Koussevitzky accepted an offer to establish a summer residency for the BSO in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, he saw not only the possibilities of performing for vacationing audiences from Boston, New York, and beyond. He also envisioned an academy to train younger generations of musicians, as well as a vibrant center of artistic activity that would expand the reach and ambition of the orchestra. 2024 marks the 150th anniversary of Koussevitzky's birth (and, incidentally, the 100th anniversary of his arrival in Boston as the orchestra's Music Director). In celebration of the anniversary, this summer's Tanglewood season features several works championed by Koussevitzky, and an especially rich set of concerts and events from July 25 to 29.
To learn more about the 2024 Tanglewood season, I talked with BSO Vice President of Artistic Planning Tony Fogg. Hear my conversation using the player above, and read the transcript below.
To see complete details for the 2024 Tanglewood season, visit the BSO.
Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Tony Fogg, Vice President for Artistic Planning of the Boston Symphony, with the newly announced Tanglewood season for 2024. Tony, thank you for a little bit of your time today, I appreciate it.
Tony Fogg Always a pleasure to be here speaking with you, Brian.
Brian McCreath There was a little tiny bit of preview to the Tanglewood season in another announcement from last week, which is that Andris Nelsons is taking on an additional title at Tanglewood: Head of Conducting. So tell me about your talks with Andris and why that felt like the right move for him to be the Head of Conducting for Tanglewood Music Center.
Tony Fogg We're thrilled that we announced a rolling extension of Andris's contract going forward, but one of the things that we've been talking to him about was, really, what are the things that he is most passionate about in his role as Music Director of the Boston Symphony. And invariably we keep coming back to Tanglewood, which is what makes us unique in the orchestral field and the Tanglewood Music Center. And over the last few years, he's been increasingly involved in a teaching capacity in the conducting program. When we asked him to take a master class a few years ago, he was very reticent, and he said, "Oh, you know, I'm not a professor." And if anyone has been to one of Andris's conducting classes, they really inspiring. He's a natural teacher, and within five minutes of the usual sort of nerves that everyone has in situations like this, he's completely so engaging and so analytical.
Anyway, he's going to be doing significantly more work in relation to teaching the conducting program at Tanglewood. And so we felt it appropriate just to formalize that in this title of Head of Conducting at the Tanglewood Music Center. And there are some wonderful things he's going to do. One of the initiatives that was brought to us, in fact, by Hilary Hahn, will be a class about accompaniment because, as Hilary pointed out, it's often a neglected part of the training of a young conductor. And it's one of the most important parts of the conductor's toolset, so to speak. Young conductors often don't know how to approach it. Should they just be following the soloist, do they take the lead? You know, what is the balance? How does the dynamic work? Hilary proposed to us something like that, so, we were very happy under the umbrella of Andris's new role as Head of Conducting to organize exactly such a class. And it'll be fascinating to hear how the two of them who are going to teach the class together, approach this whole subject of accompaniment.
Brian McCreath You cued this up for me perfectly, Tony, because Hilary is the soloist for Opening Night at Tanglewood, with the Beethoven Violin Concerto. And so whatever they're doing in that class is put to practice right on the stage of the Shed.
Tony Fogg That's right. [laughs] The class is afterwards. So we can maybe analyze, retrospectively, how well Andris did the night before. Hilary is a wonderful artist and a great friend of the BSO. She was just given the big Avery Fisher Award a week or so ago. And, that's, I think, a mark of the regard with which she's held and beloved in our field nowadays.
Brian McCreath No question. Andris will be in residence at Tanglewood for the entire first half of the BSO's part of the season, beginning with Opening Night and then through the month of July. And some of the other highlights of what he's conducting include a collaboration with Boston Ballet, doing Stravinsky's Apollon musagète, with the Balanchine choreography, I guess.
Tony Fogg That's correct. We have worked over the years with the Boston Ballet several times. The Pops has done a collaboration in 2018, at Tanglewood, as part of the Bernstein celebration; we did Fancy Free, again with Andris conducting. So this is a relationship that we're very happy to have, and we feel it's an important one going forward. So, the idea came of doing another ballet, and the idea was Stravinsky's Apollon musagète, which is a very, very beautiful choreography by George Balanchine, who became Stravinsky's American muse, if we can put it that way. So we're very happy to be doing this work. It's on a program with Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, which is also often done with choreography. Our version will be purely orchestral, but the two pieces inhabit a similar sort of world in very different ways.
Brian McCreath And then one of Andris's true loves is conducting opera and especially Wagner opera. So Act Three of Götterdammerung. Tell me about the discussions that led to that particular choice for a project this summer.
Tony Fogg We have been slowly working our way through The Ring cycle...
Brian McCreath Is there any other way?
Tony Fogg [laughs] ... if that's the right description. We started with a performance of Das Rheingold with the Boston Symphony in 2017, and then in 2019, the TMC Orchestra over two days performed, Die Walküre. So we're not following a straight path and we're going sort of to the prize, I guess, which is Act Three of Götterdammerung, which contains some of the most wonderful music of The Ring cycle and some of the most wonderful music ever written.
It's a great cast, including Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde. We have a lovely relationship with her going over many years, and she and Andris have a very close musical rapport. So, that'll be, I think, certainly one of the highlights. Andris is a great, great conductor of Wagner. I've now heard him not only with us, but in the opera house doing several, and he somehow gets a sound from the orchestra which is glowing and beautiful and burnished and unique. So that will be a great highlight on the 20th of July.
Brian McCreath Yes, yes. And then some of Andris's activities also overlap with a really major celebration, very significant for the BSO and for Tanglewood, celebrating Serge Koussevitzky. Almost every Tanglewood season is a celebration of Koussevitzky anyway, because his imprint is inescapable when you're there. But this is a very special year to honor Serge Koussevitzky, with the 150th anniversary of his birth and the 100th anniversary of his coming to the BSO. And so, an amazing array of activities, mostly over this one period of time between the 25th of July and the 29th. And when I looked at the schedule, one of the things that looked most exciting to me is actually Koussevitzky's own Double Bass Concerto, being played by your principal bassist, Edwin Barker.
Tony Fogg Koussevitzky wrote a handful of pieces for orchestra, as well as a handful of pieces for solo bass and piano. They're fine pieces, one wouldn't say a masterpiece, but a work of a particular period. One can hear all the influences of the compositional world in which Koussevitzky was immersed at that time. So we hear echoes of Glazunov and Glière and there's a sort of modernism as well. But it's a fine piece, and it was, of course, written as a showcase for his own performance because he was a virtuoso double bass player. But it's a great opportunity to hear our wonderful principal bass Ed Barker as well. So that's just one of the pieces.
And this entire weekend, Brian, we, when thinking about Koussevitzky and his contribution and his music making, there were so many ways that one could have gone about this. He was such a significant figure in terms of bringing about new work, whether literally commissioning them with his own funds or, in some instances, encouraging a composer to take the next brave step and write a large scale work. He was also, in the early part of his career, he was a champion of composers in that he had his own publishing house. It was called Editions Russes Music, and he would publish works by prominent contemporary composers of the time and promote them. There were also many composers that he — older composers, as well as then contemporary composers — who he strongly championed. And then, of course, a lot of the music that we are still bringing into being through commissioning or performance is informed by the spirit and the energy of Koussevitzky.
So what we've done, it's a sort of a sprawling weekend, but it touches on all of those ideas. For instance, on Saturday night, the centerpiece will be [Tchaikovsky's] "Pathétique" Symphony [No. 6], which was one of Koussevitzky's absolute favorite works and a piece that he performed many, many times. That program will also include Khachaturian's Piano Concerto, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet, which was not a commission, but it was a composer from the era in which Koussevitzky was very active. But importantly, Koussevitzky and William Kapell made a recording of the Khachaturian Piano Concerto, which became a sort of big hit. It was an enormous seller. And it's a wonderful piece, big, full, lush orchestration and wonderful melodies. So, we thought that would be a great addition.
And then we have pieces that specifically Koussevitzky brought about, like the Copland Piano Concerto, not a commission, but something he encouraged Copland to write, [Stravinsky's] Symphony of Psalms, which was a commission. We have a wonderful piece for chorus and orchestra by Sibelius, whom Koussevitzky championed really very intensively. So, we sort of get a look into his world, and then some pieces from our own time. A wonderful piece by Tania León called Stride, a piece of Steve Mackey. And Steve and Tania are, in fact, the co-curators of the Festival of Contemporary Music at the Tanglewood Music Center, which is happening at the same time as our Koussevitzky celebration, so the tradition continuing. You'll see it's a patchwork of programming that altogether shows this incredible, paints an incredible picture of Koussevitzky's achievement and his passions and goals.
Brian McCreath And that's what I really love about it, that you have things, as you say, like Symphony of Psalms that are a direct result of Koussevitzky's commissioning, but also the spirit of Koussevitzky through music of our own time, as though he were still here and encouraging just the same things that he was in his own time. And as I say, this concerto that Ed will be playing, because we lack the ability to talk to Mr. Koussevitzky at this moment, we at least can hear his voice through that piece. I think it's really an exciting lineup of concerts that is a really brilliant way to pay tribute. And I believe there's also a TLI [Tanglewood Learning Institute] program on the legacy of Koussevitzky.
Tony Fogg That's right. But Brian, right throughout the summer, you'll see we've got various Koussevitzky works, whether it be music of Stravinsky or Prokofiev or Tchaikovsky. These were composers that he really championed during his lifetime. And so, Bernstein's [Symphony No. 2] Age of Anxiety, which Koussevitzky premiered with Bernstein playing the piano part. So right throughout the summer, we have all of these pieces, which are great reminders of Koussevitzky's contribution. The festival itself, of course, would not exist without his vision, and we'll be doing some wonderful exhibits and talks and so on, right throughout the summer.
Brian McCreath Well, one thing that Koussevitzky didn't really have too much involvement in, but is a long cherished tradition, is the Boston Pops, and there are exciting programs from the Pops, as always, at Tanglewood: a live accompaniment to the film Jurassic Park, and a program at the beginning of the season that is Broadway Today. That looks really exciting because, you know, it's wonderful to hear the Pops in classic Broadway from the Golden Age or whatever you might want to call it, but these are parts of Broadway shows that are going on today or in the very recent past I suppose.
Tony Fogg You know, there's a wonderful new catalog, so to speak, of Broadway musicals which stretch the musical language just as the classic musicals did. And so we've asked Jason Daniely, a great partner, to help us shape a program that brings some of the most recent successful Broadway shows and some current stars from Broadway, too. So that'll be great.
Just on the Pops, one of our most cherished traditions is John Williams' Film Night, and every year we have seemingly thousands more people coming to Film Night or wanting to come. We actually get past our capacity. So, this coming summer, I hope everyone will be happy to hear that we're actually doing two performances of Film Night, same program over two nights, Friday and Saturday. So we're so thrilled that John generously agreed to do this. He'll be sharing the conducting podium with Ken-David Masur, our former BSO assistant conductor, and someone who's conducted a lot of John's music over the years. So, two nights of Film Night, what a great thing that will be. That's early August.
Brian McCreath A rarity for Tanglewood, to do a repeat program. But if there's anything that deserves it, it's because, you're right, those nights are, to say "packed" is a complete understatement. So perhaps we'll have two packed nights then, maybe, in the best case scenario.
Tony Fogg Well, we hope for good weather. You know, weather is always our bugaboo with Tanglewood.
Brian McCreath Right, of course. [laughs] There are many guest conductors coming in and some of them making debuts, really well known conductors who are making debuts. Dalia Stavevska, whom I've seen on calendars of orchestras around the world, as well as James Gaffigan coming to the Boston Symphony for the first time, and a conductor, I'll be honest, I hadn't heard of before, a young conductor named Ryan Bancroft coming to the Boston Symphony for the first time. And along with some of these names that have become really reliable, wonderful partners, exciting partners like Karina Canellakis and Dima Slobodeniouk.
And we are well past now a transition that I sort of experienced along with everybody else, from conductors of an age like Dohnányi and Frühbeck de Burgos and others that had this connection to a mid-century ethos of music. Now, there's a generation of conductors who maybe have studied with them but are not of that generation. You watch conductors all the time. Tell me what this younger generation of conductors brings to a place like Tanglewood that might be different from what those revered names like Haitink, Dohnányi, Frühbeck might have brought?
Tony Fogg Every conductor brings his or her worldview to the podium, and whether it be deep experience over many years in particular repertoire and things that have, in their own lives, helped shape their approaches to those great pieces. Young conductors bring their life experience, but they also bring a certain energy and a sense of discovery and a freshness of relationship. You mentioned James Gaffigan, and James trained here in Boston. He was a Fellow at Tanglewood for one or two summers. He grew up around the Boston Symphony. He clearly has a passion. He has an understanding of the sound of the Boston Symphony. He'll have a deep excitement that he will bring to his debut with us in August. So I can't wait. I can't wait to hear what he does.
You asked about Ryan Bancroft. Ryan is a wonderful, talented young conductor, an American who has a very successful career not only here but in Europe. He's the Music Director of the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, a very wonderful ensemble. So we wanted to have an opportunity to get to know him, and Tanglewood is the ideal situation. So Ryan will be with us towards the end of the summer, a great program with the Enigma Variations, and it's always thrilling to get to hear these new emerging voices alongside conductors whose musicianship we know and respect so deeply, and are always so eager to hear what they have to say about a particular piece. I think it's a very good balance this year, and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing so many new faces on the podium, alongside some some beloved older friends.
Brian McCreath And one of those friends is, as I mentioned, Dima Slobodeniouk, who made his debut not actually all that long ago with the BSO, but every time he's come back, I've felt like there's been an enormous response from both audience and, as far as I can tell, from musicians as well. There's something about Dima's concerts that really embody what you're saying about his perspective and the excitement and discovery. What do you see in Dima's conducting that makes that chemistry so effective with the Boston Symphony?
Tony Fogg He's a beautiful conductor to watch, and if one studies his technique, he has almost a perfect conducting technique, not that there is such a thing as a perfect conductor technique, but he has an ability to actually show everything, through his gestures. He doesn't need to speak much at all. He gives bare minimum comments, but our musicians always respond to that sort of clarity of direction. And he somehow gets to the core of what the musical style is.
He also has won over some admiration from our players. He's had over the years a couple of close shaves in terms of travel, and has had to undertake a couple of his engagements on literally minimal rehearsal, like one rehearsal because a flight had been delayed or there'd been some other issue. And so he's come in and had to just show everything he has in a very, very compressed time. And that always garners the support and admiration of our musicians. But he's also a delight to have around, and he loves Tanglewood, brings his family with him. We were able to partner him a couple of summers ago with Itzhak Perlman, and he admitted to me that Itzhak Perlman's playing was really the reason he became a musician. So, unknowingly, we fulfilled a lifetime dream that he got to work with the great figure in his life.
Brian McCreath Wow, that's wonderful. Among everything else you say, he's so relaxed, he rolls with whatever the circumstances are, and he just brings his best to it.
There are so many guest recitals that we won't be able to enumerate them all, but some of the highlights include a trio concert with Kirill Gerstein, Joshua Bell, and Steven Isserlis; Leonidas Kavakos and Daniil Trifonov are collaborating on a concert. You have [guitarist] Miloš coming in for a recital in the early part of the summer. Tell me what jumps out and sort of stands out in your mind, having been the one at the center of planning this, what what concerts are you looking forward to the most?
Tony Fogg Everything, and I'm not trying to dodge your question...
Brian McCreath It's an unfair question, that's true. [laughs]
Tony Fogg It's a really very strong recital series. I'm thrilled that we've got Les Arts Florissants and William Christie with us for a production of The Faerie Queen of Purcell, and this is in Ozawa Hall. It will be, I say "semi-staged," but there's choreography and there's a whole lot of movement and action in it. And Bill Christie, who was also a Tanglewood fellow many, many years ago...
Brian McCreath I did not know that. That's terrific.
Tony Fogg Yes, it's great to have him back. He's cultivated an entire new generation of singers, especially in the area of early music, and he has a fantastic taste and instincts when it comes to young singers. So it's a whole crop of vocal artists. I don't know any of them personally. I've researched and looked up some of their work, and it's going to be great. So I'm especially eager to hear that performance.
And then, towards the end of the summer, we've, over the years, developed a great relationship with the chamber orchestra, The Knights, which is a wonderful New York-based group under the direction of Eric Jacobsen. And they're collaborating with one of our favorite artists, one of the world's most wonderful people, Emanuel Ax, who is going to do, over two nights, four different Mozart piano concertos. Manny is a wonderful Mozart performer, and he and The Knights have developed a great rapport. So this will be really a wonderful, wonderful pair of programs, towards the end of August.
Brian McCreath There are also a lot of programs from the Tanglewood Learning Institute, ways that audiences can experience some deeper context to what they're hearing in concerts around the TMC and the Shed and from the BSO, etc. We mentioned that The Koussevitzky Legacy is one particular program. I'm so glad that Mark Ludwig is doing a couple of programs based around his work with the Terezín Foundation, highlighting music by Viktor Ullmann and Gideon Klein. And there's a really fascinating project, it looks like to me, that Jeremy Denk is doing wherein he's playing Charles Ives's "Concord" Sonata, along with a work by a composer that goes by Blind Tom from ages ago. And so tell me about TLI and how the integration of those events with the concert life of Tanglewood, is progressing from your perspective.
Tony Fogg The original conception of the Tanglewood Learning Institute was to create the chance to explore in depth a lot of the music and the music making that was already taking place throughout the course of the summer. We realized we had all of these incredible artists and thinkers and composers coming, and we just didn't have a platform in which we could hear from them about what is important in their lives and their insights into the music they're performing. So that was the kernel of the idea of the TLI. And our first season was summer 2019. We then had to go into hibernation during the pandemic period. So we're now just starting to get back to the level of programing that we had in that very first summer, but we feel is worthy of the festival itself and worthy of the great buildings that were brought about to house the TLI program.
But every week there's something that relates to either the programing that's going on across the lawn in the Shed, or, there's a very, very close relationship with the Tanglewood Music Center. So, many of the masterclasses and workshops which the TMC Fellows undertake are made visible through the Tanglewood Learning Institute.
But we have various other focuses on particular subjects. You mentioned Mark Ludwig's work. We're doing, around the weekend Jeremy Denk is playing the Ives "Concord," we're doing a whole exploration on the very difficult subject of trying to define, what is American music. We could go on for months, years about this subject, but we're presenting part of a really fantastic project that the violinist Johnny Gandelsman initiated, where he commissioned, I think, about 27 composers to write short works for solo violin, and we commissioned one of them. And so we'll be hearing from Johnny in two different programs.
We have another wonderful performance by a group called the Palaver Strings and Nicholas Phan, looking at aspects of identity and immigration as it relates to the American context. Many, many themes across this weekend will be tied together. George Lewis, a great composer, a member of the TMC faculty, is going to be giving a talk called "Decolonizing American Music." We hope that this will be a thought-provoking set of offerings in the course of one weekend, and certainly against the backdrop of our Koussevitzky celebration.
And Koussevitzky, of all people, was the one who tried to bring about this American school of composition. I think this will be a wonderful set of programs. So busy, something at the TLI every week. We're also presenting a number of programs specifically for the beautiful Studio E of the Linde Center in the course of the summer. So it's quite a busy season of work at the Tanglewood Learning Institute.
Brian McCreath And one last topic for us to just touch on, which is the Popular Artists series, amazing popular artists that come through Tanglewood, both in the early part of the season and the late part of the season. But maybe, the highlight for a lot of us is James Taylor, celebrating 50 years of performing at Tanglewood. Tell me, in as much of a nutshell as you can, what does James Taylor mean to Tanglewood?
Tony Fogg Oh, he means everything to Tanglewood, means everything to the BSO. James is such a great friend of the institution and personal friend. He's been performing July 3rd and 4th. He could perform anywhere in the world he liked on July 3rd and 4th. But he's opted to come to Tanglewood. And he and his wife, Kim, most generously donate the proceeds from the July 4th concert to Tanglewood and the Tanglewood Music Center.
James is astonishing in that he just somehow appeals to all generations, from young kids to, you know, us, middle aged, to folks older. So he's a wonderful and very, very generous artist. And he loves Tanglewood and we love him. So, James on the 3rd and 4th of July and then a number of other artists, as you mentioned, on the "shoulder seasons" to the BSO. So, in late June and then over late August and the Labor Day weekend. And look, we will be rolling out the final list of these popular artists over the next couple of months. The way this genre is managed and planned, they don't quite follow the same timetable as some other musical genres, but eventually we will have about a dozen or so popular artists in the course of the summer to come and enjoy.
Brian McCreath Fantastic. Tony Fogg, thank you so much for going over all of this with me. It's as always an exciting season, but some really special things going on this year in particular. So I appreciate your time today.
Tony Fogg My pleasure.