Parsing programs in past tense
The Boston Symphony Orchestra's Tanglewood season attendance figures show a 5 percent increase over last year's.
Perhaps the rain's dampening effect was offset by lower gas prices. But the eight concerts with the most listeners in the Koussevitzky Music Shed divide into classical concerts on sunny Sunday afternoons (three, anyway, the fourth being a Saturday) and those with some element of Pops.
Pops is the priciest Tanglewood ticket; it ascended to that when the price was raised to match its popularity, and why not?
The largest attendance -- about 16,000 -- was for the annual Boston Pops Film Night with John Williams, beloved pops conductor laureate and film score composer supreme. Williams suavely introduces film clips, then conducts the score live as the clip is screened (Click HERE). His coterie of famous Hollywood chums includes directors Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg -- this year's celebrity was actor Frank Langella. The Pops under its present conductor, Keith Lockhart, drew a crowd, as did singer/pianist Diana Krall on July 4th.
Hovering between pops and classical mode is Tanglewood on Parade, an afternoon of student chamber concerts and food culminating in an evening concert with multiple conductors, combined Boston Symphony and Tanglewood Music Center orchestras, the annual Tchaikovsky finale with real cannon fire that shakes the surrounding homes, and fireworks over the Stockbridge Bowl.
The four best-attended classical concerts had around 11,000 each. Yo-Yo Ma would have broken the bank in a concert with two cello-and-orchestra pieces -- except that one was by Shostakovich. But even that program would have flown because of Yo-Yo, were it not for ferocious rain that plagued the entire area till about the week of Tanglewood's last concert. Joshua Bell performing the Bruch Violin Concerto, in a sunny Sunday concert with Beethoven and Bruch led by Herbert Blomstedt, was a contender, as was Sir James Galway's touring 70th birthday celebration with a cute new piece played by a flock of child flutists (see earlier blog entry: "Let Me Entertain You"). Music Director James Levine's exciting program of Mozart's last three symphonies went five-digital in attendance. (See entry called, "Thoughts on Mahler, Mozart" etc. Missed the broadcast? Watch for the video, made that sunny Sunday.)
Shed seating capacity is 5,000, and the view from its rear sections was enhanced by big screens showing closeups of the orchestra, PBS-TV style. Seiji Ozawa Hall seats about 1,000, so a crowd of 2,000 means half the listeners were on the lawn. Largest in that category was 3,000 for James Taylor, a reliably huge attraction, also outside the classical realm, as was the jazz weekend's live taping of "Radio Deluxe" with John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molasky, which drew about 2,700.
Two twice-performed concerts with visual aspects did about that well: the Mark Morris Dance Group dancing to classical chamber works choreographed by Morris and accompanied -- if that's the term here -- by Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax (see entry, "The Ties That Bind"). The other double was Michael Tilson Thomas' high-intensity creation of "The Thomashefskys," his family album. (See entry under his name.)
Finally, what do you notice? Concerts with pop, jazz or visuals draw crowds without too much effort. Classical music is a less easy listen because using ears alone is a demanding trick. But worth the effort, as a whole segment of our culture will tell you. I can't predict its future -- me, I don't even buy any more green bananas, know what I'm saying -- but Tanglewood will be there next summer, glories, warts and all, and parking lots, now well run, will be full of listeners glad to be back.
If I'm about to blog about the opening of the New York Philharmonic, then I must now be in New York for the winter, where my city blog, Notes on Notes, which I will crank up again, is firstname.lastname@example.org/notesonnotes. There or here, see you again.
(Editor's note: Leslie Kandell writes a letter of appreciation for a favorite Berkshire shop owner she had known for years. Click HERE.)