Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 29, 2015

Tanglewood: Selected Concerts, Part 2

Festival of Contemporary Music
Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 20-27, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

Besides the distinctions noted in the first installment of this three-part series, Tanglewood also features a week-long Festival of Contemporary Music that explores “new” music in more depth than most other summer music festivals do. The 75th anniversary of the Tanglewood Music Center, whose students perform most of the Festival repertoire, lends it a special resonance in 2015. Called fellows during their TMC summer residencies, many of these emerging musicians perform in two or more concerts per day, but always at the highest level of professional skill.

This year’s opening FCM program presented music by five former TMC fellows, and three of the four living composers were present to take a bow after their piece was performed. A TMC- commissioned arrangement for violin and strings by Einojuhani Rautavaara of his violin-and-piano piece “Lost Landscapes: Tanglewood” featured recent TMC fellow Samantha Bennett in an affecting performance. TMC faculty member Emanuel Ax was the exuberant soloist in Robert Zuidam’s colorful “Tanglewood Concerto” for piano and orchestra.

Another program featured pieces by six former TMC fellows, several of whom spoke after intermission about their works. Michael Gandolfi’s entertaining “Carroll in Wonderland” showcased soprano Dawn Upshaw (who also more or less conducted the piece) and three TMC vocal fellows in a delightful “mashup” (the composer’s word) of nonsense verse by Lewis Carroll. The other popular hit on this program was TMC fellow mezzo-soprano Kristin Gornstein’s virtuosic account of a clever original text by Steven Mackey in his “Madrigal” for female voice and percussion quartet.

Michael Tilson Thomas
The blockbuster FCM event was the closing concert, lovingly hosted by rock star conductor, TMC alum, and former Boston Symphony Orchestra assistant conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony since 1995. MTT led brilliant accounts of short but challenging pieces by three of his own Tanglewood mentors in the first half of the program: Leonard Bernstein; Lukas Foss; and Aaron Copland. He introduced the second half -  Charles Ives’s astonishing “New England Holidays” symphony, a work he has championed and recorded – with several of the now unfamiliar hymns that Ives quotes in the last movement sung with spirited assurance by the high-school-aged Boston University Tanglewood Institute Chorus.

Reading from Ives’s own descriptive notes before each movement, he conducted only the first movement himself, while two TMC conducting fellows – Marzena Diakun from Poland, and Ruth Reinhardt from Germany - and a guest conductor led the last three movements. While all three were impressive, Christian Reif, a young German-born assistant conductor with MTT’s New World Symphony, exuded the special charisma of a star in the making as he led the orchestra and chorus in a mesmerizing account of the final “Thanksgiving” movement.

The last installment of this three-part series will appear next week.