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Albright Leads Off Tanglewood’s “Big Ideas”


Several years ago, Boston Symphony Artistic Administrator Anthony Fogg suggested a way of expanding the use of the Tanglewood facilities beyond the active period from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and also to provide a greater range of intellectual stimulation to Tanglewood visitors. The suggestion grew into the Linde Center, which consists of indoor spaces (to be cooled in the summer and heated in the winter) as well as a food service. The buildings that form the line of halls strung attractively along a covered walkway a short distance from Ozawa Hall were designed by William Rawn, the architect whose plans for Ozawa Hall proved so exceptional a quarter century ago. The formal opening took place a week ago, and the Linde Center is being used extensively during this summer, with a growing list of activities expected in later months.

In addition to the many types of performances, the Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI) will present open rehearsals, master classes, interviews with leading artists, a series of lecture talks by distinguished participants who are not themselves musicians, but who may include some element of music’s relationship to their life and work. The first of this summer’s high profile lectures featured former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, speaking in Ozawa Hall on Saturday afternoon for about 40 minutes, followed by 15 or 20 minutes of questions posed by Ranny Cooper, who was Senator Ted Kennedy’s chief of staff.

A packed Ozawa Hall  greeted the arrival of the Secretary with wild applause and cheers, reflecting a mood that continued throughout her talk. Given the location, she began with several references to music, including her strong belief in the power of cultural diplomacy, mentioning several situations in which cultural events made political connection between leaders or groups (small or large) in different countries. She cited two classical examples. Noting that Verdi’s Requiem will be performed this weekend, she pointed out that Verdi’s music helped unify the nation-states of the Italian peninsula into the modern country of Italy. And because Dvořàk’s New World Symphony would be heard in a few hours, she talked about how the visiting Czech composer found a way to express his fascination with his host’s country.

Most of her talk dealt with her views on the proper approach to international diplomacy. Though she never mentioned the President or the current administration by name, she made it clear that she would deal with many of the current issues in quite a different way than is currently happening—to a vibrant round of applause from the audience.

Albright explained that she retains an active interest in world situations and that she meets regularly but informally with ex-secretaries of state of a number of democratic countries, so that they can continue to share ideas about diplomacy in today’s world. Her remark that some people refer to this group as “Madeleine and her Exes” generated a hearty laugh.

She commented that one of her favorite activities as Secretary of State was giving out citizenship papers to newly-hatched Americans at periodic official ceremonies, and she remembered how on July 4, 2000,  after handing the document to one man, she heard him say to a friend, “Can you believe it? I’m an immigrant and I receive my papers from the Secretary of State!” She immediately stopped him and said, “Can you believe it? I’m an immigrant, too, and I am the Secretary of State!”

Two more “Big Ideas” talks are planned for later in the summer: Doris Kearns Goodwin on July 27th, and Daniel Shapiro on August 24th. The program is off to an excellent start.

Steven Ledbetter is a freelance writer and lecturer on music. He got his BA from Pomona College and PhD from NYU in Musicology. He taught at Dartmouth College in the 1970s, then became program annotator at the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1979 to 1997.


8 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Did she explain at all about her infamous remark about the children dying in Iraq during the 1990s as a result of the no-flyover zone we imposed on that nation? For her to have been picked to speak at a place of cultural peace is a disgrace.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — July 11, 2019 at 4:32 pm

  2. in full swing, the age of purity testing

    Comment by David R. Moran — July 11, 2019 at 10:01 pm

  3. Well, David, let’s see if the BSO ever invites a Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Ralph Nader, Amy Goodman, Barbara Ehrenreich, or any other leftists to speak at this Learning Institute.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — July 13, 2019 at 12:11 pm

  4. Well, looks as if it has to have a (hoky) musical hook.

    Note presence of DShapiro.

    Perhaps you could think up a musical connection with one from your “leftists” lists and propose such.

    Comment by davidrmoran — July 13, 2019 at 1:24 pm

  5. Don Drewecki: “Did she explain at all about her infamous remark about the children dying in Iraq during the 1990s as a result of the no-flyover zone we imposed on that nation?”

    Don, Madeleine Albright already did that long ago, when she pointed out a little later that Lesley Stahl, her 60 Minutes interlocutor, had been inadvertently advancing Iraqi propaganda. The premise of Stahl’s fateful question was utterly false, and both Albright and US intelligence agencies knew it by the time of that interview in 1996.

    Stahl asserted that “half a million Iraqi children” had died as a result of the sanctions imposed in 1990 by the UN Security Council, when Bush I was in office and Albright was still several years away from becoming UN ambassador. Subsequent research ( has shown that there was no significant increase in Iraqi child mortality during the sanctions, and that the numbers had been doctored – fictions carefully propagated by Saddam Hussein. Thus was Stahl’s question loaded, akin to asking, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”.

    Albright realized shortly after the ’96 interview that she’d committed a grave error in the moment by not directly refuting Stahl’s premise, which the US knew was false, and by merely replying instead that she felt the sanctions had been a “hard choice” that had ultimately proved effective in disarming Iraq – a claim which Saddam himself later acknowledged to be true (

    Albright was right: sanctions are always a hard choice, a painful choice, in which the populace suffers for the lawlessness or aggression of its usually despotic leaders. In retrospect, that the UN-imposed 1990 sanctions did undo Saddam’s military apparatus underscores the fact that sanctions were a demonstrably wiser, more humane collective international response to Saddam’s aggression than the Bush II administration’s tragically unwarranted and ironically consequential 2003 invasion.

    Comment by nimitta — July 13, 2019 at 2:28 pm

  6. I think nimitta’s comment is quite persuasive. I am even more strongly persuaded that this is not the p[lace for such discussions. My prejudice in this matter extends to the entire Tanglewood “Big Ideas” enterprise. It is folly to think that music can either enlighten or be enlightened by the great matters of the world, and it degrades it to reduce it to such a station. One practitioner of another art, W. B. Yeats, has this to say:

    On being asked for a War Poem

    I think it better that in times like these
    A poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth
    We have no gift to set a statesman right;
    He has had enough of meddling who can please
    A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
    Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

    Comment by SamW — July 14, 2019 at 3:28 pm

  7. I’ll refrain from further comment. I am saying, however, that when an enterprise like the BSO enters into the murky world of politics you should think very carefully before plunging forward, and in what I consider a place of peace and humanitarian values bringing in political speakers is a very slippery slope. Look at what happened with Vanessa Redgrave and the BSO 35 years ago.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — July 15, 2019 at 12:17 pm

  8. Who’s “bringing in political speakers”? I don’t disagree that it all seems a kind of dumb idea, though the reviewer mentions it’s off to an excellent start, and I have heard Goodwin’s talk and she is inspiring. (Pairing it w/ Walküre may prove klutzy.)

    Comment by davidrmoran — July 15, 2019 at 2:50 pm

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