Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 13, 2020

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, Week One

July 1-5, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

Though forced online this year by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra launched the 2020 Tanglewood festival with a rich video and audio stream of musical offerings in its opening week.

The first two events were presented by the Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI), housed in the newly built Linde Center for Music and Learning, which opened its doors for year-round programming in 2019. BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons led a Wednesday masterclass recorded last summer with Tanglewood Music Center (TMC) conducting fellows Nathan Aspinall and Cillian Farrell, both early-stage professionals. 

It was fascinating to watch Nelsons coach them before a live audience in the Linde Center’s picturesque Studio E as they led a mini-orchestra through portions of Brahms’s second symphony, and to learn about Nelsons’s own teachers in a Zoom interview with BSO Artistic Director Anthony Fogg.

On Thursday TLI Director Sue Elliott spoke via Zoom with the two newest members of the Juilliard String Quartet, Greek-born violinist Areta Zhulla and African-American cellist (and TMC faculty member) Astrid Schween, who both shared insightful reflections on life in a world-class ensemble and the post-pandemic classical music scene.

In the first of two audience-free Friday evening concerts recorded last month in Studio E, BSO Principal Flute Elizabeth Ostling joined pianist Randall Hodgkinson in an affecting account of Copland’s Duet for Flute and Piano and dazzled in James Lee III’s 2011 “Lament without Sadness” for solo flute. Associate Concertmaster Alexander Velinzon then led an ensemble of BSO strings and pianist Jonathan Bass in a vibrant rendition of Brahms’s Piano Quintet. 

Gil Shaham
The second concert showcased riveting violinist Gil Shaham in a varied program of solo violin works, including Bach’s third sonata, Prokofiev’s only such sonata, and appropriate contemporary pieces like Max Raimi’s amusing “Anger Management” and Scott Wheeler’s delightful “Isolation Rag,” written for Shaham during the Covid-19 quarantine. 

A Sunday morning audio stream of TMC string players recorded before live audiences in Ozawa Hall presented highlights of the 2016-2019 “string quartet seminars” which open every summer. For young musicians who had played together for barely a week, these performances of quartets by Haydn and Mendelssohn and quartet movements by composers from Beethoven to Berg showed impressive technical and stylistic mastery.

Sunday afternoon featured a video stream of guest conductor Jacques Lacombe leading the BSO in a 2015 Independence Day program of American music. Kirill Gerstein was the compelling soloist in Gershwin’s Piano Concerto, and John Douglas Thompson a stirring narrator in Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait.” 

Most of these programs will stay online for seven days after the dates above. Classical music lovers are urged to explore them.