Tanglewood on Parade delivered an unexpected hit this year; James Burton’s new choral work for the Boston Symphony Children’s Choir invigorated the day’s campus-wide events known for their focus on old favorites, “greatest hits,” and bombastic fanfares.
Tuesday afternoon’s activities kicked off with the Chamber Music Hall). “The Strolling Magic of Bonaparté” enlivened the Lawn as the concerts continued: the TMC Wind Ensemble serenading from Tappan House Porch, the BUTI Young Artists Orchestra and Chorus entertaining in the Shed, and the TMC Vocal Fellows presenting a salute to American art song. Just before the evening’s main event, a collaborative string group comprising fiddlers Bonnie Bewick and Sheila Falls joined by BSO members Ala Jojatu (violin), Rebekah Edwards (viola), Mickey Katz (cello), and Larry Wolfe (double bass) played on the Lawn.
The two standout events of the afternoon were the Seiji Ozawa Hall TMC performances. For the 2019 summer season, the Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center include nine local performers, including New Yorkers Eliza Wong (violin), Ethan Brown (cello), Evan Bish (double bass), and Kelsi Landon Doolittle (clarinet); Boston violinists Francesca Bass and Momo Wong; and Massachusetts residents Harrison Honor (percussion, Westborough), Julianne Mulvey (bassoon, Reading), and Ben Wulfman (horn, Belmont).
Five TMC Fellows presented a nuanced and energetic rendering of Paul Hindemith’s effervescent Kleine Kammermusik, with local New York clarinetist Kelsi Landon Doolittle contributing rhapsodic solo moments that recalled David Glazer’s sonorous tone with the New York Woodwind Quintet. Boston violinist Momo Wong led a moving performance of Mendelssohn’s unusual Octet in E-flat, in which the strings are not treated strictly as a double quartet, but as a small symphonic ensemble, with a songlike siciliano and famous virtuosic scherzo. The Vocal Fellows put together a light, entertaining program entitled “Sing, America!” drawn from the American songbook. Gloria Palermo’s charming “Side by Side” (Harry Woods) contrasted with her thoughtful “You Do Something to Me” (Cole Porter) and the 1925 charmer “A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich, and You,” (Joseph Meyer and Billy Rose), familiar to lovers of Carl Stalling’s music for Warner Brothers cartoons. Emily Helenbrook and Elena Villalón were big hits with songs by Rodgers and Hart, and Edgar Vogel picked up the pace with George Meyer’s 1917 “For Me and My Gal” and the 1928 showstopper “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields. The coaches for this concert were Alan Smith and Stephanie Blythe; they teamed up to present three jazz standards (“The World is Waiting for the Sunrise,” “It Had to Be You,” and “Moonlight Becomes You”) that brought down the house.
Tanglewood on Parade is an annual musical extravaganza that has its roots in the connections between the U.S. and Europe. In 1940, BSO conductor Serge Koussevitzky decided to stage a special “Allied Relief Fund Benefit” to assist Britain and France, so it was poignant and appropriate to precede this year’s main evening concert with Aaron Copland’s dramatic Fanfare for the Common Man, composed during the 1942-43 wartime season of the Cincinnati Symphony at the request of British conductor Eugene Goossens (who led the BSO in 1926, 1930, 1938, and 1941). During Koussevitsky’s final decade leading the BSO, Tanglewood on Parade became an established daylong event attracting famous musicians, conductors, and notables such as former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who appeared with Koussevitzky and the BSO in 1950 as narrator for Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Prelude Fanfare groups featured both brass choirs and a consort of alpine horns, played from the Koussevitsky Music Shed stage. The wide-ranging activities concluded with a spectacular concert contrasting and combining the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops Orchestra, the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, musicians from the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, and the new Boston Symphony Children’s Choir.
The evening Shed program opened with conductor Andris Nelsons previewing the most famous music from Die Walküre, which will TMC Orchestra will offer in its entirety by under Nelsons this weekend (Saturday night [Act I] and Sunday afternoon [Acts II-III].The rousing “Ride of the Valkyries,” here heard in its purely orchestral version from the beginning of Act III (without the vocal contributions of eight Valkyrie sisters), showcased flashy brass that overpowered the winds and (Valkyrie) strings. The TMC orchestra endowed this thrilling music with verve and precision, illustrating goddesses collecting and transporting the bodies of fallen heroes to the gods’ home, Valhalla.
Thomas Wilkins led a varied, dramatic account of the sonic splendor of Respighi’s Fountains of Rome. Rome’s impressive fountains, decorated with allegorical sculptures from religion and mythology, were originally powered by a massive system of aqueducts carrying water into the heart of the city. Respighi’s evocative orchestration features four of the most famous fountains at different times of day. “The Fountain of Valle Giulia at Dawn,” was dreamy and relaxed under Wilkins’ direction, contrasting with the brassy fanfares of “The Triton Fountain in the Morning” above trills in the strings and glistening textures. “The Trevi Fountain at Midday” concluded a vanishing procession of distant fanfares, and “The Fountain of Villa Medici at Sunset” brought the work to a serene and well-balanced conclusion, with prominent solos for flute and English horn.
In the concert’s highlight, the Boston Symphony Children’s Choir sang in six movements from The Lost Words, a charming 30-minute choral work “upper voices and orchestra or piano” by James Burton, BSO Choral Director. This 52-voice treble choir became a permanent ensemble of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2018, and draws young voices from the wider Boston Community. Two days ago, they gave the world premiere of the full cantata (with piano) in a lunchtime concert at the Tanglewood Theatre on Sunday, July 21.
Co-commissioned by the BSO and the Hallé Orchestra of Manchester, England, The Lost Words is based on Robert Macfarlane’s and Jackie Morris’ children’s book of the same title, which was written as an attempt “to conjure back the common words and species that are steadily disappearing from everyday life.” Tonight’s performance marked the world premiere of the new orchestral version of six movements (Dandelion, Newt, Lark, Magpie, Willow, and Otter), accompanied by projected words and luminous illustrations from the 128-page book (House of Anansi Press, 2017). Willow was particularly effective, with soaring, wavelike melodies passed between the choir and orchestra. Newt and Otter provided comic relief, calling for precise chromatic singing from the ensemble. The excellence of the choir’s intonation and crisp diction astounded the audience in the difficult scherzo (Magpie), as the young singers were called out to use a variety of vocal tones, including a pitched shout at the movement’s conclusion.
The inspiration for The Lost Words came from Robert Macfarlane’s 2015 deeply moving book about the British landscape, Landmarks. Artist Jackie Morris proposed adapting images from that story to create full-page images facing Macfarlane’s poetry for “a wild dictionary.” She incorporated gold leaf throughout to give a magical sheen to each painting. Writer Robert Macfarlane developed the project into a ‘spell-book’ with three spreads per word: the first marking a loss, the second being a summoning spell, and the third being the word spelled back into language, hearts, minds and landscape. Composer James Burton created a song for each of the spells “so that the words can fly even further.” He remarked to The Berkshire Eagle: “One of the joys of the book is its diversity, and I’ve tried to match that by creating a sound world for each of the poems, which matches the words. I wanted the music to be accessible to the children on first hearing, and indeed lots of the writing is fairly lyrical and tuneful, but I’ve not held back from using the full vocal and dynamic range of the children’s voices, from soft whispering to a brief moment of shouting, and everything in between.”
Macfarlane visited the Boston Symphony Children’s Choir in rehearsal this July, and rehearsal video may be viewed HERE.
Jackie Morris’ illustrative paintings (projected on screens around the Shed) evoked medieval illuminated manuscripts and Russian icons: she intends her work to be “a hymn of praise to the wild around us.” The images and subtitled text greatly enhanced the performance, but the shine and golden glow of the originals was lost in the Shed. Macfarlane remarked, “As the virtual world has moved decisively to the centre of childhood experience, our ‘spell-book’ is an attempt to enchant nearby nature again, much as Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies taught generations of children the names and habits of our plants and flowers.”
Burton’s music aims to reflect the unique connection children have with nature. As he wrote to The Berkshire Eagle: “I was unwinding at home after conducting a Holiday Pops concert in Boston, and I started to explore the idea of the book as a libretto, and the music started coming straight away. A few weeks later, I had an initial chat with Robert and he told me the book was already beginning to stir its readers (both children and adult) in unexpected and lovely ways. Since then, the book itself has become a widespread literary phenomenon, which has engaged children with nature and the beauty of words themselves.”
The Boston-based choristers for The Lost Words included: Chloe Baril, Divi Bhaireddy, Emily Chen, Jacob Choi, Katie Connolly, Orly Diaz, Ava Driggers, Gita Drummond, Jaime Briana Durodola, Hannah Erickson, Olivia Fang, Kylie Goldinger, Marguerite Haddad, Sarah James, Margaret King, Naveen Kothandaraman, Ameya Kothandaraman, Emily Kuang, Annie Kurdzionak, Hannah Laurence, Sophie Li, Amy Li, Isabell Luo, Alexandra Mahajan, Navaa Malihi, Taban Malihi, Nidhi Mallavarapu, Jamie Markey, Cora McAllister, Sarine Meguerditchian, Victoria Miele, Catherine Minihane, Lucy Norman, Alma Orgad, Zoe Paley, Ella P’an, Sophia Peng, Henrick Rabinovitz, Owen Reimold, Sanford Reynolds, Joshua Robins, Victorie Sang, Uli Skoog, Matvei Soykin, Vyom Srivastava, Eleanor Strano, Amelia VanderWoude, Aanya Vishwanath, Marissa Emmie Williams, Luke Wong, Anna Woodward, and Sadie Young.
I interviewed graduating soprano Amy Li about her experiences over the last two years with the choir:
“Singing The Lost Words was a challenge, but it was really inspiring to sing with this amazing choir. I feel so honored to be able to be one of the first to share this with the world. The songs have really changed my life with their beautiful, soaring melodies, and my love for music has grown. The music and lyrics were written and composed so beautifully and I am inspired every time I hear them.”
“One thing in particular I really liked was the variety in the songs and how different and beautiful they were in their own ways. One of the movements, Willow, always makes me cry, because it makes me think of the family connection within the choir: these songs have really brought the chorus together. We hope it has touched the lives of listeners as much as it has us.”
Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops gave two “sunrise” pieces in the second half: the opening fanfare from Also sprach Zarathustra, and Daybreak, from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, which will be heard on full length on Friday night in when the Tanglewood Festival Chorus joins the BSO. To celebrate the musical and technological advances from 50 years ago, the Pops played two arrangements by Rob Mathes of music from 1969: the dramatic Overture and “Pinball Wizard” from The Who’s Tommy and a lighter version of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” illustrated Luna, a film produced by Susan Dangel and Dick Bartlett which included stunning photographs of the moon by Babak Tafreshi.
Thomas Wilkins returned to lead the combined 160 musicians of the TMC Orchestra and the BSO in the 1812 Overture, followed by fireworks. The audience spilled out onto the Great Lawn toward the Stockbridge Bowl, reveling in the warm summer night and looking forward to another great week of music-making.