Running from July 3rd (Prairie Home Companion warmup June 25th) to August 28th, the Tanglewood-to-be promises an abundance of deeper challenges among its harvest of crowd-pleasers. The information received thus far presents preliminary and incomplete teasers of events numerous and varied.
Summertime on the lawn or in the Shed implies a certain relaxation and dolce far niente, in addition to serious concentration. So while I have railed in the past about too many performances of works of lesser quality, I can be sympathetic if a Tanglewood performance is involved. And some of the programming is inspired. Friday July 22nd sees two outstandingly dull warhorses, Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia and Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony, but sandwiched between them is Dvorák’s Violin Concerto, with Lisa Batiashvili. On Saturday, the high point is the complete Sombrero de tres picos of Manuel de Falla, one of the more sparkling creations of Diaghilev’s later years, but to hear it you have to endure Tchaikovsky’s overplayed Piano Concerto no. 1, the consolation being that soloist Garrick Ohlsson is one of the best pianists alive. One BSO program features Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suite no. 2—it’s hard to get tired of either—but winds up with Carmina Burana, vulgar albeit good-natured fun.
On the roster is a feast of top-shelf pianists. Paul Lewis has only relatively recently become well-known to American audiences, but he will give a Prelude concert July 29th and two days later play the Brahms D-minor Concerto. Nelson Freire will perform Mozart’s K.271 concerto on August 7th (some consider this brilliantly original early work the composer’s Eroica). That concerto is paired with Mahler’s Symphony no. 1; a sort-of mirror image of the program will take place July 29th, with Jonathan Biss and Mozart’s K.595 Concerto on the same program as Mahler Nine. (Talk about heavy: I’m reminded a 1959 Karajan and Berlin Phil program for Boston comprising Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Bruckner Eight.) There will also be Daniil Trifonov (Chopin F minor), Yefim Bronfman (Liszt A major), and Yuja Wang (Ravel G major and Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue, a bad pairing).
The Boston Symphony offers plenty of Beethoven (Symphonies 6, 7, and 9; Coriolan; Piano Concerto no. 3 with Igor Levit) and more Mozart (in addition to that mentioned above, Piano Concertos K.482 with Emanuel Ax and 488 with Menahem Pressler), and this year more Prokofiev (Symphonies 1 and 5; Romeo and Juliet) and less Stravinsky (Firebird Suite only, although a chamber program will include l’Histoire du soldat and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra will do The Rite of Spring).
Some programming is daringly original. A concert performance of the first two acts of Aïda? That will be on August 20th, Andris Nelsons conducting. A BSO program with Dohnányi on July 16th seems focused on approaching death: Strauss’s Metamorphosen and Four Last Songs and Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, representing some of those composers’ greatest achievements. On August 14th, Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret, a group from Australia including a cabaret artist named Meow Meow, comes with the caveat “Please note that this concert contains adult themes.” I hope to read a full report, because I can’t be there. On Thursday August 25th there will be a presentation of La gloria di primavera by Alessandro Scarlatti, which the New Grove lists as a serenata for five voices and instruments depicting the four seasons, premiered in 1716 in Naples or possibly Vienna. It seems a genuine novelty to put on such at Tanglewood, but many will welcome it outside of the Boston Early Music Festival, and anything is preferable to Vivaldi’s infernal Four Seasons.
Midweek programs include several of particular interest. There will be piano recitals by Freire, Trifonov, and Jeremy Denk. July 6th will feature a brass-and-percussion concert with BSO players. On July 13th the Emerson Quartet with Renée Fleming will perform Berg’s Lyric Suite with the vocal version of the sixth movement, Largo desolato, plus Egon Wellesz’s Sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (I have just received their recording of both of these works, on Decca). The Browning texts from Sonnets from the Portuguese were translated into German by Rainer Maria Rilke, the Baudelaire, in the Berg, by Stefan George.) Jordi Savall and two ensembles, Hespèrion XII and Tembembe Ensamble Continuo, will present “colonial and folk music from across South America,” ancient and modern. On July 27th Chanticleer will present “Over the Moon,” a “lunar-inspired program.” I note also a sleeper which is a real gem: on Wednesday August 10th, in addition to some smaller pieces and an electronic novelty, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players will play the lovely Nonet by Ludwig Spohr, which I’ll bet hasn’t been heard in New England in decades.
The Festival of Contemporary Music (what used to be called Fromm Week), July 21-25, includes 22 composers, mostly featuring new works and climaxing with Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. This Koussevitzky commission masterpiece was premiered in Boston in 1949, conducted by the 31-year-old Leonard Bernstein; it’s less a symphony than a grand, inspired, often beautiful, often frankly pornophonic concerto in 10 movements, ranging from the utmost bathos and vulgarity to extraordinary brilliance of sound and texture (a student once described it as “Ravel on drugs”).
The list of conductors includes some of the usual suspects, notably Nelsons (five programs), Dutoit (three), Andrew Davis (one), and Dohnányi (three including Beethoven’s Ninth as season wrapup), and at least half a dozen names new to me. The complete program when released in detail will cover more than briefly described here, but it already promises to be a Tanglewood season of special interest. I was a student there in 1959 and have not been back since 1980, when my daughter was a student there; spending some of July and August in Lenox sounds like a real treat. And yes, back then I heard Lukas Foss play five Bach concertos in just one evening.