Home Music festivals CONNECTIONS: Tales from Tanglewood – The Berkshire Edge

CONNECTIONS: Tales from Tanglewood – The Berkshire Edge



There’s the story of Tanglewood, the music festival, and the story of Tanglewood the venue. Telling the two is more of a book than an article, but both stories are fascinating. So here’s part one: the music festival – next week – part two: the grounds of Tanglewood.

Some place Tanglewood in Lenox (incorrectly), and others place Tanglewood in Stockbridge (correctly). As early as 1941, a Life Magazine writer placed Tanglewood “between Lenox and Stockbridge” as if it were a separate state or mindset. This writer may have found the greatest truth.

Recently, an Edge reader wrote, “For so many years Tanglewood was a good community partner.” If this means that Tanglewood never believed itself to be part of our community, the writer may be wrong. It is quite possible that the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), the owner-manager of Tanglewood, never considered itself part of our community.

Opening act: Tanglewood, the music festival

It was 1934, in the middle of the Depression, when the Berkshire Symphonic Festival was founded. It might seem like a strange time to raise money for a new nonprofit cultural enterprise, but it was precisely because of the depression.

As summer approached, Maestro Henry Hadley stood on the conductor’s podium, looked down at the New York Philharmonic and literally saw the problem. Musicians were out of work, without pay, left to catch for three months every year. Hadley had a dream: what if classical musicians could work all year round? What if there was a summer music festival? And if he brought culture to the country and at the same time employment to his orchestra?

Berkshire Symphonic Festival concert series 1936. Photo courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra.

He knew where, and he knew who: Gertrude Robinson Smith of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He was right on both counts. The Berkshire Symphonic Festival was founded, funds raised, concerts planned (3 in first year), venue selected and Hadley’s baton raised at first performance just three months after meeting Smith at his residence in summer, The Residence. The first concert: August 23, 1934, at 8:30 p.m. in the Hanna Farm riding school in Stockbridge (DeSisto today). Gertrude Robinson Smith – a woman of size, courage and money – enlisted a few friends and made it all work.

The first two years went well. It was Stockbridge. Tickets were sold at the back of what is now Minkler Insurance on Main Street. In New England style, Hadley was publicly praised and thanked, but privately told to step up his game. Between 1934 and 1935 he enlarged the orchestra and refined the programs. It is unknown what he might have been doing in the third year when he fell ill.

As the BSF faced the 1936 season, the BSF had nothing – no orchestra, no conductor, and no hall. Hadley is dead, the kind, helpful farm worker Hanna, who volunteered to lend the property and sell tickets, had pocketed most of the money and was serving her sentence. What could Smith do now?

She enlisted a friend and BSF board member, Georgie DeHeredia in Wheatleigh. Together they approached Mrs. Alfred Gwynn Vanderbilt in Holmwood (today Foxhollow) and secured a place. Smith then contacted Maestro Artur Rodzinski of the Cleveland Orchestra. As he had a summer residence in Stockbridge, he was readily available, but unfortunately not the least bit interested. In fact, of the three major orchestras in the United States, the Cleveland, the NY Philharmonic and the BSO, only one was interested, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Two years – Two key events

The arrangement between the BSO and the BSF was concluded and the summer concert series of 1936 was memorable. August 1936, while Koussevitzky was conducting Wagner, a storm drowned out the music and the audience. The indomitable Smith stood up and shouted over the storm asking for money to build an enclosure for the audience and the orchestra. She raised $10,000 in the blink of an eye (over $200,000 today).

Then, prior to the 1937 season, Miss Mary Tappan and Mrs. Brooks, owners of the 210-acre estate, Tanglewood, gave the estate to Maestro Serge Koussevitzky who in turn gave it to the Boston Symphony Orchestra securing permanent residence for the summer music festival. . Shortly after the first 210 acres were donated to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitzky walked the grounds excited by the spectacular view.

” That’s wonderful. We [will] make great music here. Music festivals grow… on a scale proportional to their environment, Koussevitzky reportedly said.

They did, but on the business side there wasn’t as much harmony. On May 17, 1937, an agreement was reached and a contract signed to lease 25 acres – enough to build the shed and have parking for five years until 1941.

George Edman, Berkshire Evening Eagle editor and BSF board member, explained: “If the BSO fails to live up to its end of the deal (to present an agreed number of gigs), all titles of property and the shed we erected are coming back. at BSF. If we don’t live up to our end of the deal (to run and promote annual concerts in a proper venue), the property, including the hangar, reverts to the BSO. »

Koussevitzky once again visited the grounds of Tanglewood, this time with Eero Saarinen, the famous architect. They planned a music pavilion that was rather Greek and cost the earth – around $200,000 (about $4.2 million today). Smith had raised just over $70,000 after the storm. In her signature style, she commented, “these boys will have to be subdued.”

On the contrary, when Saarinen was informed of the funds available, he resigned. His parting words were the now famous comment, “For that amount of money, all you can build is a shed.”

And Stockbridge did. The brilliant Joseph Franz, councilor of Stockbridge and electrical engineer, built The Shed which still exists today.

The outcome

From 1936, the first profitable year, BSF constituted a “promotional reserve”. It was an unfortunate name because it had nothing to do with promotion. This was the amount set aside annually to ensure that funds would be available to produce concerts the following year. When the contract between the BSO and the BSF was signed, it stipulated that the net profits from the concerts would be shared equally. BSF has included in its expenses the contribution to the promotional reserve.

Berkshire Symphonic Festival-Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 1940 Tanglewood timetable. Note the phrase “Between Stockbridge and Lenox, Massachusetts” near the bottom.

In January 1941, a letter from the BSO board stated that they wanted half the amount before the contribution to the fund was paid. In fact, BSO was asking for reimbursement for the years 1936-1940. BSF lawyer Stuart Montgomery said: ‘I’m surprised any objection is being raised as it has never been raised before. The answer may have been that the contract between BSO and BSF was due for renewal in 1941.

BSO Board Chairman Jerome D. Greene wrote to Edman to make his point. “The acquisition of Tanglewood, the growing success of the festival and the creation of the Berkshire Music Center are a wonderful culmination of the hopes of [your board]. The outcome actually went far beyond what was on everyone’s mind at the start of the festival. Way beyond anything the BSF would be able to do. If this could only be recognized by your board of directors so that the transfer of control to the BSO can result in a generous and sincere acknowledgment of the position, that would be ideal.

Unsurprisingly, BSF Board Chairman Smith disagreed. “The advancement and material gain of the Berkshires” was BSF’s primary concern, classical music being a means rather than an end. Robinson Smith wondered if the BSO’s priorities would be the same. She doubted it and said, “God help the Berkshires if Boston takes over.”

An all-out war, the kind without bloodshed in courtrooms with lawyers and accountants, might have broken out between the two organizations, but Pearl Harbor changed everything for everyone. For three years, from 1942 to 1945, in deference to the war effort, the shed remained silent.

Behind the scenes, there were attempts at compromise. Everything failed. The BSO said, “We will not be employed by any lesser organization. ” It was finished.

On October 5, 1945, Robinson Smith retired with the grace that Greene had hoped for and called ideal. With typical Robinson Smith flair, she quit in a 125-word telegram – 85 of the words follow.

“It is with great pleasure that I inform you that the Board of Directors of the Berkshire Symphonic Festival, at their annual meeting today in Stockbridge, voted unanimously to donate the music shed and its contents at Tanglewood to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, thus giving full control and management of future Tanglewood festivals.Best wishes to your administrators, your great conductor and your excellent musicians for many years of happy and successful festivals.

Greene gladly and eagerly accepted. The old contract was null and void and BSO could set its own schedule. The BSF gave the BSO a 6,000-seat hangar, and the BSO, in a gesture that was meant to be gracious and not ironic, gave Robinson Smith a seat in the hangar for his life.

Tanglewood changes position
Josh Billings race director Patty Spector announced on Sunday evening: “Tanglewood has agreed to allow all participants to use the Lions Gate parking lot from 6am to 4pm for the Josh!”

Spector then thanked Stockbridge Select Chairman Patrick White and many others: “I can’t thank you enough for your support and help. I am overwhelmed with the support from the community.

Part two: location

No one ever writes about Tanglewood without using the magic or mystical word, without raving about the muses, without inventing words to express the natural beauty. This glorification of the earth began 100 years before music.