IN: Reviews

Fireworks, Yes; Cannons, No


John Williams  (Hilary Scott photo)

Tanglewood on Parade has traditionally ended (like the July 4th celebration on the Esplanade) with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture accompanied by orchestral bells and cannonfire on the grounds at the celebratory ending. In 2022 many holiday concerts were thinking hard about whether or not to play the Russian piece at all, given the understandable national dismay at the undeclared Russian war on Ukraine since last February. The situation sounded rather like 1914-1918, when German music was largely suppressed in the United States, even well before we were actually involved in the war. At the time a very large part of concert music in American—even more than today—was German, and Wagner was played especially often. Even the Boston Pops offered “Wagner Nights”! But the question of whether or not to perform a Russian composition was resolved by preceding it with a playing of the Ukrainian national anthem, reflecting the sentiments of probably the entire audience, and a brief statement of explanation to the audience, which evoke a round of applause. The final gesture of this concert has always been an extensive and brilliant show of fireworks, beginning almost immediately after the cannons played in the Tchaikovsky piece conclude. The only difference this year was the omission of the cannon (I saw no explanation for the decision), but the festivity of the “bombs bursting in air” over Lake Mackeenac certainly made up for it.

Other then that, the parade on Wednesday, August 2nd went by as it does from year to year with performances by the Boston Symphony, the Boston Pops, and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, under various conductors.

JoAnn Falletta led off the Parade with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, repeating the work she had concluded at its concert on the previous Sunday evening, Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. It made the same strong affect that it had two nights earlier, though now, in the larger space of the Shed, its circusy sonorities could expand to fill both the Shed and the great lawn beyond it.

Then by special request of Ellen Highstein, who is retiring after 25 years as director of the Tanglewood Music Center, John Williams conducted a little tone-poem he had composed in 2015 for the TMC’s 75th anniversary—a musical guide to finding Tanglewood from the center of Lenox, called JUST DOWN WEST STREET…on the left. As always, the 90-year-old composer has long been one of the superstars of this event; he was greeted both before and after with rapturous applause.

Then the British composer Thomas Adės, who completes his term as the Deborah and Philip Edmundson Artistic Partner, led a vivid, well-shaped reading of Ravel’s La Valse, again with the TMCO orchestra.

After intermission came a series of Pops selections. Thomas Wilkins, who is the conductor of Youth and Family concerts at the BSO, led three fine arrangements of popular favorites: Tico-Tico, one of the best-loved of Latin classics, by Zequinhia de Abreu; David Raksin’s Oscar- winning song Laura, from the film of the same name, and the lively music to America from Bernstein’s West Side Story.

John Williams returned to lead a medley of three passages from his score to the Harry Potter films: Hedwig’s Theme—Fawkes the Phoenix—and Harry’s Wondrous World.

Finally we reached the material discussed at the outset of this essay: Verbytsky’s Ukrainian National Anthem, “Ukraine’s Glory has not yet perished,” led by Thomas Wilkins, and the debated Tchaikovsky score, the much-loved 1812 Overture, with the members of both the Boston Symphony and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra crowded onto the stage to make a mighty sound, under the direction of Stefan Asbury, head of the TMC Conducting Program.

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.

Parade Goes By: Stefan Asbury, JoAnn Falletta, Thomas Wikins, and Thomas Ades (Hilary Scott photos)

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