My Weekend at Tanglewood

by Bryce Lambert on August 8, 2012

Itook last Friday off work, rented a car, and drove out to Lenox with my girlfriend for a relaxing weekend in the Berkshires, where the clean air and small town quaintness made it difficult to return to urban apartment life. We booked two nights at the Summer White House, a small B&B pleasantly situated on Lenox’s Main Street that was much easier to book than the other, mostly posher, accommodation near Tanglewood–where admittedly, the breakfast might be better. But for that, there’s the best corned beef hash you’ll ever have at the Old Heritage Tavern (12 Housatonic St.)

The digs were frillier than I’m used to, and a whole lot more patriotic (we stayed in the comfortably large ‘Eleanor Roosevelt’ room), but I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I’ll happily return for a weekend next summer. After getting Eleanor’s skeleton key from our innkeeper, we circumnavigated Lenox’s downtown, before finding an open table at the Lenox mainstay Cafe Lucia. I’m sure the ossobuco is as good as people say, but not when it’s 84° and humid and certainly not at North End tourist prices. So, after Campari & sodas, prosciutto & figs, and a chilled cucumber-yogurt soup, we slipped down the road to Nudel.

summer-white-house

The Summer White House in Lenox

lenox library

The Lenox Public Library. It's as nice as the Boston Athenæum inside.

Aside from the Lenox’s one or two $130 haute tasting menus, the compact Nudel is the place to enjoy seasonal fare in line with the foodie trend for comfort food. $10 small plates off a menu that’s re-written daily let us string together a great little tasting menu. Sweet corn chowder with Gruyere and crab meat led into beef tongue pastrami with beets and sautéed kale. I would’ve rather had a raw oyster than the oyster tacos, and by the time we sat down they must have run out of heirloom tomatoes for the heirloom tomato salad, but homey chicken croquettes and a carrot trio left me passing on the dessert menu.

Driving through Stockbridge into Great Barrington, we stopped into Tune Street, whose jaw-dropping hifi inventory allowed me to demo Rossini overtures through a pair of Bowers & Wilkins speakers (driven by a McIntosh set-up with the trade in value of a 2012 Jetta) that outdid the acoustics in the Koussevitzky Music Shed. But, 24bit audiophile demo CDs aren’t a replacement for live music. Fighting the crowds, we put together a small picnic at Nejaime’s, which specializes in the booze, cheese, and prepared cold meals that fill Tanglewood picnic baskets. By any Tanglewood standards, ours wasn’t anything special, but we had Shed tickets and I don’t think I could bring myself to haul in a candelabra and acrylic wine glasses anyways. On an out of the way bench near the Chamber Music Hall we ate spinach pie, stuffed grape leaves, bread, and macaroons.

Tanglewood grounds, near the Visitors' Center

The concert was triumphant. Christoph von Dohnányi’s baton cut through the thick humid air underneath the Shed in the four movements of Shumann’s 4th Symphony, all played without pause. Broad orchestral strokes carried the dynamic and joyful first movement into the tenser second, where a darker forceful theme compounded with a sweet, twirling melody. In the scherzo, the BSO erupted in joyful paroxysms, ushering in Shumann’s climactic finale marked by thundering horns and orchestral fireworks. The music sits deeply in the Romantic tradition, playing the somber against the ecstatic with rapid thematic changes and climbs of tempo, and the BSO scaled this emotional and musical range exceedingly well.

Brahms’s 2nd Piano Concerto brought out pianist Yefin Bronfman’s lush, romantic playing. Set against longish orchestral passages, Bronfman executed beautiful climbing piano phrases with swift, fluttering keystrokes. After a tumultuous and sweeping second movement (Brahms’ ‘extra’ movement, a scherzo that draws the piece out a bit), the third movement began with its famous cello solo. With Brahms’ addition of the scherzo, it becomes kind of an interlude before the fourth movement, which chugs along rhythmically before arriving at Brahms’ showy, virtuoso finish. Here, Bronfman’s playing began a succession of curtain calls. I think we were all a little disappointed he didn’t pull a little boastful encore out of his back pocket.

Christoph Von Dohnanyi at Tanglewood

Christoph Von Dohnanyi conducting Schumann's 4th (Hilary Scott)

Yefin Bronfman playing the Brahms concerto (Hilary Scott)

We went back to Tanglewood the next day to see more of the grounds in the daylight and take one of the free volunteer-led tours, where we stumbled upon a student concert at Ozawa Hall. The beauty of the place (it’s amazing the grass holds up as it does!) and its story and the community around it just make it such a cool place to be.

But, given the demographics of most concertgoers, one wonders how Tanglewood will survive in the coming decades. It’s a massive operation that relies on the regular attendance of huge numbers of people and some big money patronage. Perhaps the greatest thing about Tanglewood is that it hasn’t had to change that much. The Shed stands today pretty much as it was built in 1938. A lot of effort has been put in to make the programming and grounds themselves, on some level, sacred and constant. One stays in the Berkshires and attends Tanglewood concerts almost exactly as they could have 50 years ago. That just can’t be said for something like the Newport Folk Festival. Even Tanglewood’s more recent property acquisitions are seamlessly integrated with the original estate. But unless classical music makes a huge comeback, change is going to have to come if Tanglewood is to keep its gates open. I just hope I can return in 30 years (when lawn tickets cost $200!) and recognize it.

aaron copland statue tanglewood

John Williams donated this Copland bust in 2011. It sits where Copland's ashes were scattered.

Ozawa Hall (Steve Rosenthal)

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