Tanglewood memories from the stars

John Williams.
John Williams.

Anyone who has spent time at Tanglewood in the summer knows what an enchanting place it is. And probably even has a favorite memory. Mine happened when I was a kid, maybe 12 years old, and my parents had just parked our Volkswagen bus in the grassy lot when an emerald-green gas guzzler with New York plates pulled up next to us. When the door opened, Gene Shalit stepped out, wearing a hideous green jacket that matched the color of the car. I’d always been in awe of the “Today” critic, not for anything he’d said or written, but because I liked his bushy mustache and Bozo-like hair. “Hey, kid,” he said. “Hey,” I replied. And with that, Shalit shuffled toward the Shed and I headed with my parents to the lawn. In honor of Tanglewood’s 75th, anniversary, we e-mailed a few well-known folks to share their own favorite memories.

“My favorite Tanglewood memory was Leonard Bernstein’s 70th birthday concert on August 25, 1988. . . a glorious celebration, which gathered an array of artists, dignitaries, and celebrities that could only have been assembled at that magical place.”


Boston Pops laureate conductor,

Academy Award-winning composer

John Oliver.

“In the summers of 1968 and 1969 I came to Tanglewood to be the Assistant to Erich Leinsdorf for Vocal and Choral activities. The chorus was an ad hoc group consisting of the students of the Berkshire Music Center, most of whom were NYC opera pros looking for a way to spend the summers, as well as local singers whom we recruited from the various choirs in the Lenox area (this was two years before we founded the Tanglewood Festival Chorus). One July afternoon in 1968 I was at the piano rehearsing them for a performance of the Brahms German Requiem in the rehearsal shed at the back of the Tanglewood grounds, and found them to be unusually attentive. I thought to myself with the pride of a young man, ‘Maybe I’m getting a little better at this.’ At a certain moment in the first movement I glanced sideways and realized that Maestro Leinsdorf himself was standing there silently observing. So much for my newfound brilliance! I offered the piano to him, but he said no, ‘You continue.’ I worked my way through the second movement. It wasn’t until the great D major fugue in movement three that he took over the rehearsal. Meanwhile I had had an unexpected examination and after that he was always cordial and very helpful to me. Maybe I had learned something after all!”

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Tanglewood Festival Chorus founder
and conductor

Seiji Ozawa.

“The summer when I first came to the United States as a Fellow of the Tanglewood Music Center in 1960 was a major turning point in my life. I was just 24 and at the very start of my career as a conductor, and was absolutely in awe over all the riches I discovered at Tanglewood. The combination of the beauty of the place, the level of music making, the powerful legacy of the great musicians who created and sustained the tradition of Tanglewood — this all added up to an absolutely unique and fantastic experience. It seems so long ago and like a dream now, but that summer triggered an amazing series of experiences that led to my appointment as BSO music director. Who could imagine such good fortune! And then, the deeply rewarding experience of getting to know the musicians of the BSO and the many guest artists we worked with over the years, as well as the Fellows of the TMC. Though I am disappointed that I can’t be at Tanglewood this summer, these memories make me feel very fortunate to have known one of the most magical places anywhere in the world — a place that brought such deep happiness to my entire family. My heart will be with everyone at the BSO as they celebrate the 75th anniversary of this incredible place.”


former BSO music director

Hilary Scott
James Taylor.

“Back in the early ’80s, I played Tanglewood as part of a tour. At that point, the hallowed spot had been an occasional stop for me, as the schedule (both mine and Tanglewood’s) permitted.


This particular visit did not end well. During the load-out, my road manager was told by his counterpart at Tanglewood to remove his bleeping semi tractor-trailer off of Tanglewood’s side lawn. As a parting gesture, my equally hot-headed guy raced the engine, popped the clutch, and dug 20 yards of trench into the sacred Tanglewood turf.

I was not aware of his bad (to say the least) behavior until three cities later.

I was banned from Tanglewood for a long spell. Until Kim. (My wife who has spent 30 years working with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood.)

Somehow, I have been allowed back into their good graces. We even live in the Berkshires and are raising our kids a stone’s throw from the Main Gate. And Kim, along the way, suggested I donate the proceeds of a show as penance. Maybe that helped. . .”


Tanglewood performer

Larry Busacca/Getty Images
Alec Baldwin.

“I have always had a not-so-secret yearning, among my friends, to move to Stockbridge or Lenox. I think a lot of that has to do with Tanglewood. The New York arts and culture scene is always colored, a bit, by the self-importance of New York (and New Yorkers). Tanglewood truly feels like a place for the people. For all people. A love of music and of the Berkshires is all one needs. That space creates the mood, which is calming and magical. When JT plays there, it’s really a concert in his back yard, with a very large group of his friends.”


actor, Tanglewood fan

Responses have been edited. Mark Shanahan can be reached at