IN: Reviews

50 Years of Music- and Musician-Making


Phyllis Elhady Hoffman (Natasha Moustache)
Phyllis Elhady Hoffman (Natasha Moustache)

The Boston University Tanglewood Institute celebrated its 50th anniversary Saturday with a gala concert and “soiree” reception, highlighting the artistic legacy of BUTI (affectionately pronounced “booty”) by featuring students of the 2016 Young Artists Orchestra and Chorus Programs along with a host of alumni performers and composers. Throughout the day, the artistic strength and impact of BUTI on both local and national levels was well-defined, clearly detailing the half-century of dedicated musical pedagogy under its wing, as well as how it fostered the rising crop of classical music’s future. At the same time, it made smashing entertainment.

With the urgent appeal of BSO director Eric Leinsdorf, BUTI began in the summer of 1966 under the leadership of Boston University’s then School of Music director Wilbur Fulbright. BUTI was meant to offer professional level training to high school-aged musicians as the Tanglewood Music Center (TMC) offered to college students. Currently, BUTI offers six-week programs in orchestra, voice, composition and piano, a four-week wind ensemble program, and two-week instrumental and opera intensives, which collectively engage 350+ students per summer.  To this day, BUTI remains the only program of its kind with a direct connection to one of the world’s leading symphony orchestras.

Several alumni performers in Saturday’s program are current members of the BSO, including some that also were TMC fellows. Certainly one of the most magical elements of summers at Tanglewood is the cross-pollination of these various ages and levels of musicians, who study and create musical art. BSO members participating as BUTI alumni included violinists Glenn Cherry (BUTI ’91) and Gerald Elias (BUTI ’69), cellist Owen Young (BUTI ’79, ’80), bassists Todd Seeber (BUTI ’80) and Lawrence Wolfe (BUTI ’66), and percussionists Daniel Bauch (BUTI ’96, ’97, ’98), Kyle Brightwell (BUTI ’04,’05, ’06) and Tim Genis (BUTI ’84), as well as BSO assistant conductor Ken-David Masur (BUTI ’96).

Preceded earlier in the day by a piano recital and alumni panel, the 2:30pm Seiji Ozawa Hall concert was emceed by Lauren Ambrose of Six Feet Under fame, a ’94 and ‘95 alumna of BUTI’s vocal program. Eloquent as she was lovely, Ambrose expressed the nostalgic wonder of someone returning to one of the important foundational building blocks of her life in the arts. Ken-David Masur, who along with his BSO duties throughout the summer, conducted the orchestra in this program, and is coaching and conducting them in their final of three concert rotations, also spoke.

The Overture from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, which opened the 1966 season, as well as this one, allowed the players to give early proof that this is no mere high school orchestra. As usual, the Young Artists Orchestra (YAO) proved impressive not just for their youth, but also for their expressive abilities. Throughout the orchestral sea of young faces following Masur’s steady hand, sat a number of older ones, adorned with red carnations upon their lapels. These BUTI alums included the above-mentioned BSO members, as well as several BUTI faculty members and guest artists. The mix of young and old on stage spoke to the unending nature of the music we create.

Muir Quartet members Peter Zazofsky and Lucia Lin on violins, and Steven Ansell (BUTI ’71) on viola next gave the first movement of Zoltan Kodály’s Serenade, Op. 12 for two violins and viola. The Muir Quartet, a resident ensemble at Boston University, showcased some of the faculty at BUTI. The impassioned performance was what is to be expected from the Muir Quartet, but what was perhaps even more enrapturing was the setting in which the performance took place. The trio was crammed just to the side of the conductor’s podium, with the student orchestra still seated behind them – three musicians in tight quarters, giving an intimate performance in the round. One could not help but notice the young string players sitting behind the trio, watching their elders’ bow strokes with the rapt attention of those realizing that their dreams were a possibility.

In perhaps the most light-hearted moment of the day, the cello and viola sections of the orchestra exited the stage to give clear view of the basses, as filled out with BSO members Wolfe and Seeber, as well as BUTI faculty member and bass coach Brian Perry. An attendee of the inaugural 1966 BUTI season, Wolfe celebrated this with his own arrangement for bass ensemble entitled It All Starts with Koussy. Built as  a stream of excerpts, beginning with Kousevitsky’s bass concerto and continuing with works that Wolfe performed during that inaugural season, including the aforementioned Wagner, Mozart’s Magic Flute, Beethoven’s 5th and 7th Symphonies, Schubert’s “Trout” quintet, Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, the arrangement was endearing for eliciting warm-hearted chuckles. Also unquestionably endearing were the occasional devilish grins that Wolfe flashed to the still-seated violins across the stage. As the upper melodic portions of the arrangement stretched to the end of and beyond the basses’ fingerboards, one could grab a glimpse of a young Wolf back in 1966, relishing in the same excitement he did then.

The first half of the program concluded with a return of long time BU and BUTI choral conductor Dr. Anne Howard Jones to the stage. She entered to a swell of cheers, pointing to the large number of vocal alums that would join the program in the second half. Jones led the combined orchestra and chorus in a performance of Handel’s Coronation Anthem No.1, “Zadok the Priest.” Jones’s warm demeanor and steadfast musicality proved, clearly merited the swelled cheers that marked her arrival.

The second half of the program featured two commissions specifically for this event. The first, Landlines for large mixed-brass choir by New York-based composer Timo Andres (BUTI ’00, ’01), engaged in celebratory brass in a more restrained style. Indeed, the piece exists in majestic long lines set above a subtle, yet constant undulation. The connected waves of sound unfolded like the ups and downs of a not-too distant mountain range, as viewed from a speeding highway—stasis and motion in simultaneous existence. Landlines eventually moved to a more rhythmic apex, but never strayed from its long-lined essence. Well-designed mute changes highlighted its colors by utilizing all the mixed ensemble’s facets. BUTI faculty member and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Principle Trumpeter David Krauss (BUTI ’88), BSO brass section members Thomas Siders (trumpet), Toby Oft (trombone) and Mike Roylance (tuba) joined the group, and BSO Principle Horn Jamie Somerville led the forces adeptly through this fitting, landscape.

Composer (and BUTI alum) Nico Muhly, Lauren Ambrose, longtime BUTI Artistic Director Phyllis Hoffman
(honored at event), and Dean Lynne Allen (Natasha Moustache photo)

The current Young Artists Chorus director Katie Woolf led the BUTI choir in performances of Frank Ticheli’s Earth Song and Tarik O’Regan’s “From Heaven Distilled a Clemency” from Triptych. Ticheli’s overlapping melodic lines and the thick choral texture atop O’Regans rhythmically pulsating marimbas once again showed the artistry of these young singers. Soloist Sarah Nalty’s (BUTI ’16) pure tone sang clearly and brightly throughout Ozawa Hall.

The second of the two commissioned pieces had technically premiered on a percussion recital the prior week. Nico Muhly’s Pulses, Cycles, Clouds disclosed  a 20-member percussion ensemble that comprised the ten composers and five percussionists from BUTI’s class of 2016, as well as five alumni percussionists, including the BSO’s Bauch, Brightwell and Genis, as well as Houston Symphony’s Matthew Strauss (BUTI ’90, ’91) and Jonathan Bisesi (BUTI ’96), a member of the President’s Own Marine Band. Pulses took inspiration from the friendship between Muhly (BUTI ’96, ’97) and the BUTI percussion director Samuel Solomon (BUTI ’95, ’96, ’97) that began 20 years early during a summer at the institute. It perfectly stands for what BUTI can be, a simple friendship that formed between two young students, blossoming into collaborative artistic endeavors between two increasingly important figures in their respective fields.

In correspondence with the author, Muhly wrote of the piece, “…I wanted to write something that reflected my experience of being a [YACP] composer, which was to say, that percussionists were nice to me and I realized the importance of having your music in the fingers of good musicians rather than having it just existing in your head.  So I wanted to make sure that the composers got to participate as musicians, too!”

Like much of Muhly’s music, the piece bubbles with an almost unconstrained, relentless, yet fully controlled energy. A group of marimbas provides a constant undercurrent that exists as a bed for crystalline melodic outbursts of glockenspiel and vibraphone. Above this, quasi-aleatoric swells of sound came from the group of composers seated in front of the pitched percussion, playing choirs of woods and metals at various points in the piece: sonorous bursts of tapping floating above the pitched structures. Midway through, the pitched metals drop out, finding the marimbas in a sudden shift from sound bed to forefront, as though the perspective on a bustling city street just shifted and elements always there, but perhaps semi-unnoticed, came starkly into importance. This tactful shift of sonic space helps propel the structure of the work though time, with the ringing metals eventually wafting back above.  The multi-faceted river of sound pulls through the close of the piece, but speaks to a world that might be now continuing beyond us, never really finishing, just past our ability to hear it.

The orchestra began the concluding set with Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture, which Masur chose, he told us, because the composer was thinking about students, not academic administrations. The students of this festival orchestra enthusiastically brought out the songful and jovial nature of the quotations buried within. Finally, the chorus, now expanded with a large number alumni, entered in the balcony above the orchestra, and to the front of the stage came soprano Sara Heaton (BUTI ’99) and tenor Matthew DiBattista (BUTI ’90, ’91), also accompanied by a small group of BUTI students, as featured soloists. Together, this collection of current and former BUTI students, aspiring amateurs and professionals gave us Bernstein’s “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide.

The orchestra played beautifully behind, but when this orchestral bed dropped out and the full chorus entered with a tutti forte, a clear chill could be felt throughout the hall, as though Bernstein himself had just sauntered in to pay his respects to the semi-centennial celebration. A more perfect close to the program could not have been chosen. It was powerful, nostalgic and magical, all wrapped into a single moment, the type of experience that will sit as strong in the memories of the performers as Wolfe’s first summer in 1966. It reminded us that Bernstein forms part of the essential soul of Tanglewood—the music, the shared experiences, the education—a perfect embodiment of  this place.

Following the concert, long time BSO radio announcer Ron Della Chiesa hosted “BUTI@50 Soiree”. It began with Tanglewood Fanfare for double brass quintet, composed by 2016 Young Artists Composition Program student J.P. Redmond. Selected out of a YACP fanfare project during the summer, the work sparkled with the articulate gestures commonly associated with the genre, while also incorporating flurries of insect-like melodic runs to punctuate the pointed brilliance of the texture. It rose to a blaring, yet dignified apex before ending in its regal tone.

The soiree continued with a number of speeches by speakers including Robert Brown, the president of Boston University; Berkshire area selectmen William “Smitty” Pignatelli; and BU College of Fine Art Dean ad interim, Lynne Allen. While Brown’s speech focused on the respect BU has for its young music makers, Pignatelli’s words called on the importance that BUTI has on the local Berkshire economy, ending with a citation in honor of Wilbur Fulbright.  Allen’s speech was directed at the legacy of long time BUTI executive director Phyllis Hoffman, detailing Hoffman’s unending dedication to the program and how she nurtured it into the top-ranked summer music institution that it is.

The currents students and alumni take a final bow at the end of the performance.
The currents students and alumni take a final bow at the end of the performance. (Natasha Moustache photo)

Humbly accepting the praise bestowed upon her, Hoffman spoke next. In her usual manner, she delivered an unscripted, completely eloquent call to the importance of the arts—with emphasis on the musical arts—as part of our cultural value system. She made clear that this program was not simply about helping young students become better musicians, but really about helping young students be better people that can add value to the world around them. Her words were delivered with the binding presence that her life on the operatic stage lends her. There was no question that her dedication continues past her position. This dedication was honored, as the speeches ended with the now executive director of BUTI, Hilary Field Respass, announcing the establishment of the Phyllis Hoffman Scholarship Fund. Respass stated that, “This fund will support scholarships awarded to Boston University Tanglewood Institute students who demonstrate exceptional talent and financial need, aligning with Phyllis’s vision to ensure that the most talented young musicians from across the country, regardless of socio-economic status, have the opportunity to experience the transformational impact of a summer at Tanglewood.”

Then came a flurry of photos, friendly smiles and group discussions about BUTI’s impact: what it did for individuals and what it does for us all. The day testified to the strength and importance of the Institute as a bastion of musical training. It can perhaps be best summed up in words Lauren Ambrose delivered from the Ozawa stage in her final address the audience, “BUTI has not only been an incredible gift to us, but through us, we hope it has been an incredible contribution to the world.”

BUTI’s 50th anniversary season ends this coming weekend with concerts including the Young Artists Orchestra, Ken-David Masur, conductor, at Seiji Ozawa Hall on Saturday, August 13th at 2:30pm.

The reviewer/advocate is the Associate Director of the BUTI Young Artists Composition Program, as well as a graduate and adjunct faculty member of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts.

Justin Casinghino, a composer, performer and educator living and working in the Boston area, serves on the faculties of Boston University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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