Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra that is celebrating its 75th anniversary Saturday, stands proudly at the crossroads of nature, history, and culture.
The estate upon which it was built overlooks a blue lake, with green hills unfolding for miles. It was a place where Nathaniel Hawthorne once summered, writing mythical tales for his beloved son during a bright interlude in a sometimes reclusive life. Later, it was a retreat for wealthy Northeasterners, one of whom, Mary Aspinwall Tappan, had the public spirit to donate it to the orchestra in 1936.
Today, it is the foremost summer musical campus in the world, where thousands of musicians and scholars are drawn to learn, play, and create. Its main stage is, famously, just a shed, constructed by a local builder after a world-renowned architect threw up his hands at the BSO’s desire for simplicity. But it’s a shed in the same sense that Fenway Park is just a ballyard; it is sturdy and organic and democratic in its attitude, like a symphony by Aaron Copland, one of many composers who have been drawn to Tanglewood as a source of inspiration and contemplation.
With classrooms, rehearsal centers, and smaller concert halls nestled among formal gardens, green lawns, and woods, it sometimes seems like a fully functioning university of the arts. Like Harvard or the Museum of Fine Arts, Tanglewood feels essential in its realm. But these landmarks aren’t natural; they’re man-made. And they weren’t inevitable; they were created, step by step, by people of vision and commitment.
In celebrating Tanglewood’s 75th birthday, its many adherents should remember people like Serge Koussevitsky, the conductor who first envisioned the creation of a summer musical campus; Leonard Bernstein, John Williams, James Taylor, and other popular artists of all styles who’ve embraced Tanglewood and drawn attention to it; and the long list of donors starting with Tappan and continuing through today’s large BSO board who’ve provided the resources to sustain it.
Today, it is the foremost summer musical campus in the world, where thousands of musicians and scholars are drawn to learn, play, and create.
There are, too, the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors, some only lightly acquainted with classical music, who regard it as a place of pilgrimage. Many people who aren’t inclined to sit in an urban concert hall are nonetheless entranced by lying on a lawn and hearing music waft over them. The creators of Tanglewood brought classical music to thousands of people who would otherwise have missed it; and they brought nature and harmony to the sometimes rigid and formalized world of classical music.