Tanglewood Music Center Opening Exercises, 1963
Theatre-Concert Hall, June 30, 1963
Erich Leinsdorf, speaker
Thomas D. Perry, Jr., speaker
Joseph Silverstein, violin
Seymour Lipkin, harpsichord
Lorna Cooke deVaron, conductor
Serge Koussevitzky, music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the creator of the Tanglewood Music Center, was a visionary person. His vision for the TMC was that it should become a laboratory in which the future of music would be discovered; it was a place for innovation. But real innovation in music becomes possible only after thorough schooling in tradition, and the Music Center became a place where professional musicians of the highest level could pass on their knowledge and experience to younger musicians - and where these seasoned veterans could also learn from younger musicians, the way Koussevitzky himself did.
In the nearly 75 summers of its existence the TMC has developed some traditions of its own - one of which is not to repeat something this summer only because it was successful last summer. The best traditions are those that are always the same yet always fresh and different, and the Opening Exercises each year provides a splendid example of this.
The format doesn't change much - music performed by faculty members, talks by the Boston Symphony music director or the director of the TMC (or some other administrative official), and, especially in recent years, remarks by a distinguished TMC alumnus or alumna, often a former Fellow who is now a member of the Boston Symphony. The very first Opening Exercises brought the world premiere of a choral work by the American composer Randall Thompson that was commissioned for the opening of the TMC - then called the Berkshire Music Center, or BMC - on July 8, 1940, when it was conducted by G. Wallace Woodworth. It has been sung by the Fellows of the Music Center at all subsequent Opening Exercises.
The 1963 Opening Exercises were particularly significant because the occasion provided the new music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, with an opportunity to survey all the aspects of musical activity at Tanglewood - conducting, orchestral playing, chamber music, singing, and composition - while decrying the way most of these activities were often undertaken in the wider world outside the Tanglewood grounds. Leinsdorf's 30-minute address was one of the two most widely reported speeches in the history of the TMC. (The second, in 1979, was a controversial talk by composer Gunther Schuller, who was then the artistic director of the TMC, and who fiercely denounced the crassness of the music business and the inartistic attitudes of too many professional musicians.)
This download offers a slightly abridged recording of the 1963 Opening Exercises; only some now dated financial material has been omitted. The Boston Symphony's manager, Thomas D. Perry, Jr., leads off. Perry served on the BSO management staff from 1946 until his retirement in 1978, moving up from assistant manager to manager to executive director. But his connection to Tanglewood began before that. He came to the TMC as a member of the very first class of Fellows, and on this occasion offered some amusing anecdotes about his activities that first summer; among other things he donned a Greek toga in order to sing in the chorus of Handel's Acis and Galatea, which was performed in the formal gardens next to the Theatre-Concert Hall. And he paid tribute to a number of Tanglewood icons, including Koussevitzky and Aaron Copland, as well as to the administrator of the TMC at that time, Harry Kraut - who left Tanglewood a few years later to become the business manager for Leonard Bernstein and the producer of many of Bernstein's television shows and other media events.
Next we hear a performance of a Bach Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord by BSO concertmaster Joseph Silverstein and TMC faculty member Seymour Lipkin. André Previn once told a biographer that "Joseph Silverstein is the best concertmaster in the world, and to say that is as obvious as saying the sun rises in the east." When Silverstein joined the BSO in 1955 he was the youngest member of the orchestra. He became concertmaster in 1962 and served in that position for 22 years; in 1972 he was also named assistant conductor. He left the BSO to become the music director of the Utah Symphony, a position he held for 14 seasons. He remains active as a soloist, conductor, and teacher - he is on the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music, his alma mater, and returns every summer to teach at the TMC. Lipkin is an alumnus of the TMC who began his career as a pianist and then spent many years concentrating on conducting before returning in recent years to his instrument; as a conductor he was music director both of the Joffrey Ballet and the Long Island Symphony. His recent recordings of the complete piano sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert have been widely praised, and he is also active as a chamber musician and as director of the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival in Maine. The performance of the Bach is elegant; Lipkin displays lively rhythm, and Silverstein demonstrates his impeccable intonation, patrician taste, and beauty of tone.
Lorna Cooke deVaron, a name the Boston Symphony's radio announcers invariably rolled out with relish, is one of the legendary figures in the history of American choral music. She was a Fellow of the TMC and joined the faculty in 1953. Her home base was the New England Conservatory, where she headed the choral program for 41 years; one of her students was John Oliver, the founder and conductor of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Mrs. deVaron's New England Conservatory Chorus often sang with the BSO in the decades before the creation of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and participated in some notable recordings by the orchestra under the direction of Charles Munch, Erich Leinsdorf, William Steinberg, Claudio Abbado, Michael Tilson Thomas, and others. She continued to conduct small choral ensembles until she was past 90. The balance in the recording favors the sopranos and the altos over the almost inaudible tenors and basses, but one can easily hear, and admire, the suppleness and subtlety of the conductor's phrasing.
We will not paraphrase Leinsdorf's remarks here - the fun comes from listening to him make them, and to hearing the responses of the Fellows. There were many accounts in the press, and the BSO must have made a transcript available once reporters and critics started asking about the speech - most of the articles simply quote Leinsdorf's juicier remarks, without the commentary supplied by the reactions of the audience - 300 Fellows from 18 countries and 35 states, according to the publicity.
The account of New York Times critic Harold C. Schonberg does, however, offer some interesting context and is given below.
"To the public at large the major elements of the Berkshire Music Festival are the week-end concerts in the Shed. To many professionals, though, the work of the Berkshire Music Center and the collateral Fromm Concerts of contemporary music are of even greater importance. [Paul Fromm, a Chicago-based wine importer, was one of the major patrons of new music in the second half of the 20th century. For many years before his death in 1987, Fromm subsidized contemporary music activity at Tanglewood. His work continues at Tanglewood and elsewhere through the activities of the Fromm Foundation.] And in this summer of 1963 a new force entirely is activating the Music Center.
"Erich Leinsdorf is, by all accounts, the force. An energetic man, he seems to find time to conduct his quota of rehearsals and concerts, work on the Center's curriculum, drop into classes, hold conducting seminars, and in general put his personality on the entire festival as has no musician since Serge Koussevitzky. His predecessor, Charles Munch, paid very little attention to the Music Center. Mr. Munch, on becoming musical director of the Boston Symphony made it clear at the outset that he was no teacher. He frankly said that his part in the festival would consist of being in charge of the concerts. Others would have to take charge of the Center: its students, its faculty, its repertory and its workshops.
"One can sympathize with Mr. Munch's attitude. The Boston Symphony is one of the world's great organizations and one of its busiest. The conductor has a full-time job, with relatively few guests or assistants to relieve the work load. After a busy season, most conductors would like to go off and rest, meditate, study new music and restudy old, and prepare new repertory. Not the conductor of the Boston Symphony, though. His summer months have to be taken up with the festival. No wonder Koussevitzky and Munch for the most part repeated items of the winter repertory.
"But Mr. Leinsdorf seems not only prepared but eager to add to the scope of the entire festival. His programs this summer are much more catholic than those of his predecessors, what with several weeks of Mozart (including a gob of Mozart works never before heard at Tanglewood or hardly anywhere else, for that matter), a concentration of Prokofiev and the American premiere on July 27 of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.
"That's the festival part. As for the Music Center, Mr. Leinsdorf has a good many ideas, some of which he has already put into execution. He thinks that not enough care is taken in selecting the students; that in the past there has been too much mediocrity. This season, every applicant has to undergo an audition, and blood flowed. This did not in the least disturb Mr. Leinsdorf. In fact, the weeding-out of unqualified applicants pleased him, for he considers musical culture among professionals and would-be professionals at a low state, and he would not like the Music Center to be a forum for the unqualified. 'There is no necessity for profit in the Music Center,' he said last week, 'so why compromise? Why not search for a higher type of student? Why not stress general musicianship as well as how to finger a violin or shake a stick? After all, if you want to play a Beethoven violin sonata, you have to know the quartets and symphonies.'
"When Mr. Leinsdorf addressed the students at the opening ceremonies last June 30, he put his cards on the table. And he had some hard words to say. 'We will certainly try to make you more fully aware of what is involved in a total commitment to music . . .Our faculty members are determined not to encourage sluggish minds or mediocre ability. That group is unfortunately more than sufficiently represented within our profession.'
"Mr. Leinsdorf put his finger squarely on the major trouble with most advanced music education today. (It is true all over the world, not only in America.) Most music education is aimed at perfecting a vocal or instrumental technique. Young people come out of conservatories with a recital program or two, with a half-dozen or so concertos, with three or four operatic roles and a few dozen songs and arias. But they are blind to other music; indeed in a way they are musical illiterates who have little style or culture.
"As a conductor Mr. Leinsdorf is constantly running into this kind of musician - the musician who can play a concerto but cannot read score. Here Mr. Leinsdorf did not mince words. 'The unhappy auditionist who is seemingly fluent in his sonata or concerto, only to collapse from shock on non-recognition when it comes to "reading" is not as much to blame as his mentors who have encouraged him to pursue musical ambitions without thorough training. Many are the dubious advisors who steer their charges toward great solo virtuoso stardom. The hope of filling a spot vacated by a Kreisler or a Feuermann is a heady enough dream to induce hundreds of hopefuls to drill a stupor of Paganini caprices while neglecting to acquire a real musical education.' [Here listeners to this download will hear a lot of uneasy laughter.]
"A real musical education, of course, cannot be obtained in eight weeks of the Music Center. Mr. Leinsdorf has no illusions on that point. All he hopes to do is fill a need: to raise standards as much as possible, give students new ideas and exposure to all kinds of music, make them read as much as possible, make them play chamber and other ensemble music, have them work with the experienced professionals of the Music Center. For the students this will not be a vacation. It will be work. And it will not be haphazard work.
" 'For the first time in many years,' said a faculty member the other week, 'things are organized around here. Those kids better look out. Big Brother is watching them.' "
-Harold C. Schonberg, New York Times