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50 Years of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Tanglewood Festival Chorus and Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra
Michael Blanchard
Tanglewood Festival Chorus and Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra

WCRB celebrates one of America's premiere symphonic vocal ensembles in a full week of Boston Symphony Orchestra broadcasts, drawn from three decades of Tanglewood performances.

With live performances at Tanglewood cancelled for the summer, it was impossible for the Boston Symphony Orchestra to carry through with planned celebrations to honor the 50th anniversary of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. But that celebration takes to the airwaves with broadcasts of the following performances, drawn from the TFC's rich history. Tune in or stream WCRB each night at 8pm (except where noted):

  • Mon., Aug. 17 - Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms (translation), conducted by Robert Shaw on Aug. 24, 1996
  • Tue., Aug. 18 - Beethoven's Mass in C, conducted by John Oliver on July 5, 1998, with soprano Dominique Labelle, mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson, tenor Richard Clement, and bass-baritone David Wilson-Johnson
  • Wed., Aug. 19 - Orff's Carmina Burana, conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos on Aug. 8, 2009, with soprano Laura Claycomb, tenor Lawrence Brownlee, baritone Markus Werba, and the PALS Children's Chorus
  • Thu., Aug. 20 - excerpts from Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (translation), conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos on July 17, 2004, with bass-baritone Bryn Terfel
  • Fri., Aug. 21 - Haydn's The Creation (libretto), conducted by Simon Rattle on Aug. 15, 1993, with soprano Barbara Bonney, tenor Robert Tear, and bass David Thomas
  • Sat., Aug. 22 - Berlioz's Requiem, conducted by Seiji Ozawa on Aug. 5, 1995, with tenor Vinson Cole
  • Sun, Aug. 23 (at 7pm) - Randall Thompson's Alleluia, conducted by Seiji Ozawa on July 7, 1994, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, conducted by Andris Nelsons on Aug. 27, 2017, with soprano Katie van Kooten, mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, tenor Russell Thomas, bass-baritone John Relyea (also on the program: Ives's "The Housatonic at Stockbridge," from Three Places in New England)

BSO Choral Director James Burton reflects on his time at the BSO so far in part one of a conversation with WCRB's Brian McCreath:

In part two of their conversation, James Burton and Brian McCreath talk about the repertoire and conductors represented in this week of broadcasts:


John Oliver founded the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in 1970 as a permanent choral component of the BSO family. He was only a handful of years removed from his own student days at Tanglewood and had been inspired when he was in college by a Robert Shaw Chorale performance. Shaw himself had established the vocal culture of Tanglewood many years earlier at the request of BSO Music Director Serge Koussevitzky.

As recounted in Peggy Daniel's Tanglewood: A Group Memoir, Stephen Owades, a charter member of the TFC, said, "One of the things that John took from Robert Shaw was the notion that you could put together a group of really good singers and have it become a chorus. A lot of choral directors choose voices that they think will blend together ... That was not Shaw's way. He would put together a group of really great singers and somehow, by working together and singing intelligently, they would make a chorus without individually giving up what they brought to the performance. And I think that has been very much John's mode of operation."

Oliver trained the all-volunteer chorus to sing from memory and to fill both Symphony Hall and the Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood with a sound both tailored to the character of the BSO and flexible enough to respond to an endless variety of conductors and their individual preferences.

Oliver retired in 2015 (and passed away in 2018), and two years later, James Burton arrived to take on the role of BSO Choral Director, expanding on the rich history of the TFC. In his three years of work in Boston so far, Burton has established the Boston Symphony Children's Choir and has charted new courses for the TFC, like a performance of selections from Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil that was meant for a TFC 50th anniversary celebration in April before being cancelled in response to the global pandemic. Burton has also taken on occasional conducting duties for the Boston Pops.

See previous broadcasts of the 2020 summer season