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Michael Kaiser

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Tanglewood

Posted: 07/09/2012 8:29 am

It is astonishing to me that this summer marks the 75th Anniversary of Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and even more astonishing that the summer I studied at the festival (1972) was 40 years ago.

By the time I reached Lenox, Massachusetts, having just completed my freshman year at M.I.T., Tanglewood was already a venerable institution. So many great conductors and soloists had performed there; so much musical history was made at that great landmark. It was an honor to be selected to study in the vocal music program.

What made the summer so special to me was the remarkable coaching we received (Phyllis Curtin's master classes in vocal technique were the undisputed highlight), singing in the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (directed by the great John Oliver), the easy access to the musicians of the BSO (I lent my collection of Shubert songs to tuba virtuoso Chester Schmitz) and the opportunity to attend all 24 BSO concerts.

It was at Tanglewood that I began to appreciate fully the role of the conductor. Hearing the same group of musicians perform each week with a different conductor illustrated how a maestro affects his orchestra. It wasn't just a matter of tempi and interpretation, it was also the way the orchestra performed for a conductor (or didn't). Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, Colin Davis, William Steinberg and on and on conducted that summer. Each brought something different to the orchestra. And the orchestra sounded different each week.

Our concerts featured Jessye Norman in her American professional debut (singing the Wesendonck Lieder and the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde), Mahler's Eight Symphony ("Symphony of a Thousand"), and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Choral Fantasy (with Peter Serkin). The repertory was standard but the experience was anything but. We had little rehearsal time and had to learn a great deal of music very quickly. It was my first experience in a professional music environment; this was not a conservatory class but the real world of music; thousands of audience members flocked to every performance. The responsibility was not lost on any of us.

We also performed with student conductors and sang in classes focused on various repertory and languages. Our class on the songs of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg was particularly challenging. I struggled to master my assigned song by Schoenberg ("Tod" which was nearly the tod of me!), to learn my choral music and to prepare arias (by Mozart and Bach) for my master classes while my bunkmate, Fenwick Smith, demonstrated his expertise on the flute. It was clear from the start who was to become the professional musician and who was not!

It was an idyllic place to study music, to attend concerts, to meet artists and to participate in a true artistic community. It made me realize that somehow or other, I wanted to spend my life in this kind of place.

How lucky was I to experience Tanglewood as an 18 year old.

How lucky are we to have this great institution in our nation.

Happy 75th Anniversary Tanglewood!

 
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