Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 10, 2020

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, Week Six

Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival
August 3-9, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

For the sixth week of its virtual 2020 season, Tanglewood presented video streams of no fewer than eight educational programs and five concerts, along with a concert audio stream.

In the Tanglewood Learning Institute’s second Monday afternoon “Roaring Twenties” program, Arizona State University professor Christi Jay Wells discussed African-American dance music in Harlem by showing and analyzing excerpts from two short 1929 films: “St. Louis Blues” (Bessie Smith); and “Black and Tan Fantasy” (Duke Ellington).

In Tuesday’s “TLI Celebrates Beethoven” lecture, College of the Holy Cross professor Megan Ross traced the extensive influence of Beethoven’s Opus 131 quartet on later art forms, from Virginia Woolf’s 1931 novel The Waves to the 2012 Hollywood film A Late Quartet.

Frank and Thomas
TLI’s Wednesday masterclass found pianist Emanuel Ax gently coaxing three accomplished Tanglewood Music Center piano fellows to play Mozart piano sonatas with singing tone. In Thursday’s “TLI ShopTalks” episode TLI Director Sue Elliott (and a live online audience) Zoom-chatted with two American women composers about their busy and distinguished careers: Gabriela Lena Frank and Augusta Read Thomas. “Gabi” and “Gussie” also shared down-to-earth ideas about improving conservatory training and increasing diversity in classical music.   

This week also included three wide-ranging TLI lectures (Tuesday-Thursday) on “The Romantic Spirit,” culminating in a Friday panel discussion, moderated by TLI Director Sue Elliott, with all three presenters: Brown University professor Susan Bernstein, on letters exchanged by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt and French author George Sand about 19th-century arts; University of Michigan professor Gabriela Cruz, on how the 1810 invention of gaslight changed the way music was heard; and City University of New York professor Judy Sund, on the influence of music on the art of French painter Eugene Delacroix.

On Monday evening’s TMC orchestra program, Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Andris Nelsons conducted a powerful 2017 Beethoven Piano Concerto #3, with soloist Paul Lewis, and TMC conducting fellow Gemma New led the vibrant 2018 world premiere of TMC Composition Program Head Michael Gandolfi’s cantata “In America” (modeled after Leonard Bernstein’s “Songfest” to honor his centennial), which featured six outstanding TMC vocal fellow soloists.

In Wednesday evening’s “Recitals from the World Stage” concert, the Danish String Quartet were gripping in Shostakovich’s tenth quartet and affectionate in their own arrangements of several Scandinavian folk songs at an audience-free Copenhagen church. Spoken introductions by violinist Rune Sorensen were genial and informative.    

Daniil Trifonov
The Friday and Saturday evening concerts were recorded with no audience last month in Studio E of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood. High points of Friday evening’s program by BSO musicians were lively traditional selections featuring violinist Bonnie Bewick and world premieres of six delightful one-minute solos commissioned and played by cellist Mickey Katz. On Saturday Russian-born superstar pianist Daniil Trifonov offered a viscerally sensitive Bach “Art of Fugue.”

Sunday morning’s audio stream presented chamber music highlights of the 2017-2019 Festivals of Contemporary Music, with TMC fellows performing music of the present and recent past before live Ozawa Hall audiences. BSO artistic partner Thomas Ades was notably showcased as composer (“Court Studies” from his opera “The Tempest”), arranger/pianist (two studies by Conlon Nancarrow), and conductor (Francisco Coll’s “Four Iberian Miniatures”). 

In Sunday afternoon’s 2018 video stream, Nelsons led the BSO in an epic Mahler third symphony, whose six movements and 100+-minute length comprise, in host Jamie Bernstein’s words, “the longest piece in the standard symphonic repertoire.” Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham sang voluptuously in the fourth and fifth movements, joined in the latter by the Boston Symphony Children’s Choir and the women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

These mostly free programs will stay online at for a week or more after the above dates.