There are hundreds of unreleased recordings in the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s archives worth hearing, but Tanglewood’s 75th anniversary gave artistic administrator Tony Fogg a convenient cut-off point. He’s dipped into the library — and even reached outside the BSO’s holdings — for a treat: 75 pieces available for download from Tanglewood’s rich history. On June 20, the programs will begin streaming for free — one each day — before going for sale the following day on the BSO’s website. Cost of the downloads vary from 89 cents for a single, short (7 minutes or less) piece to $16.99 for a full opera.
Fogg recently agreed to remove his headphones for a few minutes to highlight 10 of the pieces featured as downloads.
1Verdi’s “Otello,” 1969
Erich Leinsdorf’s seven-year tenure as BSO music director was not without controversy, as he often clashed with musicians. But his 1969 turn at Verdi’s “Otello” was a truly special moment in Lenox, says Fogg. Richard Cassilly sang the title role, with Sherrill Milnes as the baritone. “It’s just a great performance,” says Fogg. “Leinsdorf was at this best, and the orchestra played fantastically.”
2First intermission talk, 1937, and Mozart Symphony No. 25, 1944
For the Tanglewood opening performance of Beethoven’s Fifth — performed under a tent, with the shed to be built in 1938 — only a short recording excerpt was available, so Fogg used the intermission talk given by legendary critic Olin Downes. It’s a doozy, with 25 minutes of Downes referencing music “burst asunder by its own force” and the architecture of “those invisible sounds.” The download also includes a 1944 recording of the BSO doing Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 under famed music director Serge Koussevitzky. The performance is historically significant, says Fogg, because it marked the BSO’s return to Tanglewood after a two-year hiatus due to World War II.
3Gershwin’s Concerto in F, 1962/1967/1970
Boston Pops founder Arthur Fiedler and pianist Earl Wild teamed up at Tanglewood to perform more works by George Gershwin than by any other composer. With so many performances to choose from, Fogg decided to take a movement from three separate concerts featuring the duo. Sure, the tonal qualities vary, as do the tempi, but Fogg felt he had no choice. “I couldn’t decide between one performance or another.”
4Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, 1966
This is where history and performance quality meet. Van Cliburn was at his peak, not far removed from his Cold War victory in the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958. “The Texan Who Conquered Russia,” Time magazine called him in a cover piece. At Tanglewood, his performance of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3, a piece he played for his victory, is fantastic, according to Fogg.
5Luciano Berio’s “Sinfonia,” 1982
Here’s something modern in the mix. The “Sinfonia” features the orchestra and vocalists/narrators who sometimes sing and sometimes offer spoken or shouted words. There are references to the words of Samuel Beckett and musical references to Mahler, particularly his Symphony No. 2. “It was a very important piece at the time,” says Fogg. “It embraces many many musical worlds. It’s one of the key works of the 20th century, and to have Berio conducting is a very important collaboration.”
6Danny Kaye conducts, 1961
The comic actor (left) led the BSO through part of a concert, offering occasional humorous asides. Listen as he takes the stand and asks music director Charles Munch, or “Chuck,” to take a seat. The recording is a find: Fogg saw the program in the BSO’s archives, but the recording wasn’t in the library. He discovered that the Paley Center for Media in New York had a copy. “It begins with Danny Kaye coming out and someone handing him 12 different batons,” said Fogg. “He tries them out. I had to determine whether it would work in a purely audio context. I thought it did.”
7Mahler Symphony No. 8, 2005
It’s easy to forget now, after a series of ailments have left the BSO without a music director and James Levine without a podium, that there was magic when the maestro first arrived. This performance of the Mahler Eighth, or “Symphony of a Thousand,” marked the conductor’s first performance in Tanglewood in 33 years, with a cast that included Susan Neves, Deborah Voigt, Johan Botha, Yvonne Naef, and Jane Henschel. “The loudest cheers went to Levine, who deserved them because he was master of all he surveyed,” wrote Globe critic Richard Dyer.
Pops conductor Keith Lockhart led this performance of “Carousel” with vocalists Aaron Lazar, Rebecca Eichenberger, and Patrick Shea as well as a group of Tanglewood Music Fellows. For Fogg, the performance highlights Lockhart’s “superb handling of a large cast, chorus, and orchestra, and shows how expert he is in the music-theater idiom.”
9Bizet Symphony No. 1 in C, 1964, and Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia,” 2002
The 29-year-tenure of BSO music director Seiji Ozawa had its critics, but Ozawa’s passion and energy are hard to question. The download program includes the first concert he conducted — not yet 30 years old, and nine years before he would become music director — and his final performance as music director, with Randall Thompson’s vocal piece “Alleluia.” It is a fitting work, a piece premiered at Tanglewood in 1940 and emotionally resonant for a conductor willing to let his tears flow as he stepped down from the orchestra he loved.
10James Taylor with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, 2009
Tanglewood has a rich history with rock bands and singers, from the Who in 1970 to Joni Mitchell in 1974 and Neil Young in 1983. But no popster has had a stronger relationship with the BSO family than James Taylor. After all, he married former BSO communications director and current trustee Caroline “Kim” Taylor and made his summertime Tanglewood shows a tradition. This performance, conducted by John Williams, includes many of Taylor’s most popular songs, including “Carolina on My Mind,” “Mean Old Man,” and “Fire and Rain.”