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Summer Arts Preview 2019

Tanglewood Learning Institute sets up to enhance the audience experience, this summer and beyond

The Linde Center for Music and Learning will host Tanglewood Learning Institute events.Winslow Townson/file

On the second floor of Symphony Hall, the white walls of Tanglewood Learning Institute director Sue Elliott’s small office are dotted with printouts. A page of lined paper neatly inscribed with large handwritten letters stands out.

“In the age of information overload, the ultimate luxury is meaning and context,” it reads: the words of Wired magazine editor in chief Nicholas Thompson. These, says Elliott, are the new learning institute’s words to live by.

As she sees it, the Tanglewood Learning Institute aims to provide more of that “ultimate luxury” to people who want to enhance their experience at Tanglewood, the Lenox summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. “TLI provides meaning and context for not only music, but for many of the humanities subjects,” explains Elliott, who came to the BSO after a stint at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory, where she directed a certification program for music teachers. “It brings people together for shared experiences that help create a more civil society.”

TLI’s first summer, says Elliott, will offer more than 140 such experiences. These include The Big Idea, which brings speakers such as Madeleine Albright and Doris Kearns Goodwin for lectures on history and geopolitics inspired by the BSO’s repertoire; the public conversation series Meet the Makers; master classes; film screenings; and visual arts workshops in collaboration with IS183 Art School of the Berkshires. Four weekend packages throughout the summer offer full days of activities connected to what’s happening at the Shed or Ozawa Hall.


“Since Western European classical music came to North America, we have in general relied on nostalgia as a key driver of marketing and engagement,” Elliott says. “For me, if you don’t have meaning and context, you can’t even approach nostalgia.”

Baby boomers are beginning to retire and living longer lives, and the younger portion of that generation might not have had the music education of past generations, says BSO president and CEO Mark Volpe. So a new approach to outreach is needed. “It’s basically about enhancing the experience. More and more people want a composite experience,” says Volpe over the phone. “They want to learn, they want to explore. They’re curious. They want to see the personalities.”


Elliott defines TLI’s approach as participant-centric — “It’s really important to me that the people at the front of the room put the participants first,” she says — and she believes that ethos can readily engage people in an age when information is more freely available than ever, and the nature of lifelong learning is changing. “We talk a lot about the kind of learning that people want to do now. It’s much more active,” says Elliott.

And with the number of second-home owners in the Berkshires on the rise, and Tanglewood as a major attraction in the area, there may be a burgeoning crowd of eager participants. But TLI isn’t just supposed to be an enclave for the most well-off, says Elliott. Certain single-event tickets, which will be made available closer to the Tanglewood season, will be priced as low as $12. School and community-based educators who live in the area will be able to apply for the TLI Berkshire Scholars program and receive $5 passes to any program. TLI offers informal activities before every Sunday BSO concert, for which admission is included with the concert ticket.


In addition to what it offers audiences, Volpe and Elliott believe that TLI will be a boon for Tanglewood’s performers. The new climate-controlled Linde Center for Music and Learning building complex was designed by William Rawn Associates specifically for TLI’s needs, but when it’s not in use for those activities, it provides valuable rehearsal and performance space — something that has long been at a premium at Tanglewood.

“We anticipate that the Linde Center buildings will be in use from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. seven days a week,” says Elliott. Because James Taylor is performing at Tanglewood when the BSO is rehearsing for its opening weekend, its first rehearsals will be in the Linde Center’s largest space, Studio E.

Elliott emphasizes that this summer’s programming is only the beginning; TLI is also planning offerings in Boston for the fall, and an online learning program is slated to be unveiled in 2020. ‘We’re really looking forward to the evolution process,” she says. “One of the important things about TLI is we model learning, and that means we must learn publicly, ourselves.”


Programming begins June 22. At Tanglewood, Lenox. 617-266-1200,

Zoë Madonna can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.