Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 1, 2023

Tanglewood Rehearsals: Almost as Good as the Real Thing

by Shera Cohen
reprinted from "In the Spotlight," 2009

Photo Credit:
The sounds of symphonic music compete with the squawking of crows. It's the Boston
Symphony Orchestra vs. the feathered creatures. Fierce battle ensues. While the birds hold their own periodically, the BSO always wins out. Such are Saturdays each summer at Tanglewood.

Nearly every Saturday in July and August, the musicians of the BSO enter the huge Koussevitzky Music Shed, and music lovers either sit in the shed or on the pristinely mowed lawn for open rehearsals. Starting at 10:30am and ending at various times - whenever the conductor feels that the orchestra is rehearsed to his/her satisfaction (approximately between 12pm-1:30pm) - hundreds of patrons enjoy these quasi-concerts. Usually, the music is that of the upcoming Sunday afternoon program. Tanglewood's program book lists the composers, pieces, conductors, and guest artists. Audiences know in advance what and who they will hear.

Many visitors arrive at 7am to get the "best" seat. But "best" is in the mind of the listener, and for many their folding chairs on the manicured lawn is the best seat in the house. Most of the time, a half-hour talk about the music or composer starts off the morning's program. Rehearsals do start exactly at 10:30am. The dress is casual with the musicians in shorts and t-shirts. The same applies for the crowd. It's not unusual to see rows of people donned in Tanglewood shirts, caps, and sweatshirts.

Symphony rehearsals are extremely popular. Some may think that by attending a rehearsal there is no need to go to the finished product. In fact, the experience is the opposite. Listening to a rehearsal, with its frequent or not-so-frequent stops and starts for the conductor's corrections and comments, makes the ultimate performance clearer in appreciation and understanding of the work.

It is wonderful to see kids, all ages and by the hundreds, usually on the lawn, enjoying the music of Bach, Mozart, Ravel, et al. Sometimes the sounds that they hear are only background to their chatting with siblings or playing video games. That doesn't matter. They are there, soaking it all in, even subliminally. It is likely that these kids will be our future generation of symphony goers and patrons, remembering their wonderful trips to Tanglewood.