LENOX – Friday night may have seemed like business as usual at Tanglewood, with the BSO performing works by Mahler and Brahms in the Koussevitzky Music Shed under the baton of a young visiting conductor.
But three hours before the concert’s downbeat, at the top of the hill behind Ozawa Hall, the occasion was anything but ordinary. It was a ceremonial groundbreaking to mark the official launch of the BSO’s $30 million construction project, a four-building complex to house rehearsal and performance space for the Tanglewood Music Center as well as a new education and enrichment venture to be known as the Tanglewood Learning Institute.
“This is truly a transformational moment, a threshold moment for Tanglewood and the BSO,” managing director Mark Volpe told an assembled crowd of patrons, board members, musicians, and staff. Music director Andris Nelsons was also in attendance, as was Boston Pops conductor emeritus John Williams and the project’s lead architect, William Rawn, whose firm also designed Ozawa Hall.
Since its founding, the festival has always had an educational mission somewhere near its heart; from its earliest days, conductor Serge Koussevitzky pictured “the radiation of the beams of high culture over a nation and the whole world.”
Until now that educational component, however, has focused on training the next generation of professional musicians. The Tanglewood Learning Institute should be a promising addition, one that allows the BSO to extend its educational vision to its own audiences in myriad new ways. The complex will be the first weatherized, all-season structure at Tanglewood, and the BSO plans to make the space available to the Berkshires community beyond the summer months.
The buildings are due to open in summer 2019. Friday’s ceremony had a certain momentousness to it, with speeches that placed the project firmly in the context of the festival’s historical sweep, while also channeling a sense of anticipation. To be sure, with orchestras everywhere trying to find new ways of expanding their missions and making themselves essential to the audiences of tomorrow, this venture will be critical in the BSO’s charting of its own future.
Later that night, the young German conductor David Afkham was on the podium leading a program that paired Brahms’s Second Symphony with selections from Mahler’s orchestral songs “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” and “Rückert-Lieder,” featuring the baritone Simon Keenlyside.
The Mahler selections were capably carried off, though Keenlyside, singing with a cultivated, burnished tone, struggled at times to project over the orchestra. It was also hard to discern precisely why these particular songs had been chosen. The Brahms was a more consistently satisfying affair, despite passing muddiness of textures. The final movement had a forward-thrusting energy and a warmth of string tone that together made for some of the best playing of the night.