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Why does the BSO perform in a ‘shed’ in the summer?

The crowd waited for a show to begin at Tanglewood in July 1972.globe staff/file

This weekend, music lovers will gather in a shed to hear some of their favorite artists. If you’re picturing mediocre teenaged bands in a garage, think again. The attraction is the Boston Symphony Orchestra, returning to its summer home in the Berkshires for performances throughout the season at Tanglewood.

The “Shed,” as the performance venue is known, got its name from the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, who proposed a costly and elaborate design. Asked to simplify his plans, Saarinen replied that the concert hall would end up as “just a shed.”

The orchestra’s trustees took this as a challenge, hiring Stockbridge engineer Joseph Franz to build the fan-shaped music hall, which was inaugurated on Aug. 4, 1938.


For the previous two years, the orchestra didn’t have so much as a shed to perform in for its summer concerts. The BSO had performed at another Berkshire estate in 1936, to a crowd of 15,000 people across three performances. The popular Russian-born conductor Serge Koussevitzky helped draw the large reception, and the Shed was later named in his honor.

Money for the building came after an outpouring of support from attendees — following a downpour that doused the entertainment.

In 1937, the orchestra’s Richard Wagner-themed concert was so thrown off by the rain that festival cofounder Gertrude Robinson Smith made an appeal to her guests. Smith reportedly asked them to donate, pleading that the rain demonstrated exactly why they needed a permanent structure for the concert. The Globe reported in 1937 that the festival raised $30,000 to build the Shed.

Tanglewood reports that an average of 300,000 plus people visit for the concerts each year. While tickets cost up to $124, concert-goers under 40 can receive $20 tickets for select Boston Symphony and Boston Pops shows.

The music and the pastoral scenery are not the only draws. Some Tanglewood fans have raised picnicking to an art form — think candelabras, portable tables, elegant flatware, and crystal serving bowls.


Lauren Feiner can be reached at lauren.feiner@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_feiner.