Audience members under the shed roof, and outside on the grass at the Tanglewood Music Festival in the Berkeshires of Massachussetts (Koussevitzsky Music Shed)
About five or so years ago, my husband and I had the joy of attending the concerts at the well-known Tanglewood Music Festival in the beautiful Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. Tanglewood is the famed summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and is an open-air shed, covered by a roof, but no walls on its sides. There is seating under the roof in front of the orchestra, but hundreds of listeners also set up chairs and blankets with picnics on the grass just behind and on its sides. The environment is stunning, surrounded by beautiful woods, secluded in a type of campus atmosphere.
Our latest visit to Tanglewood happened to be on a particularly cold and rainy weekend, despite being in the summer. Listeners under the roof wrapped themselves in blankets, and heavy rain resistant coats, one my husband was forced to buy in the Tanglewood gift shop. But the music was Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, which is among the most powerful symphonic pieces of all time. The intensity of the music, turned out to be warming in itself. This symphony happens to be the longest in the standard repertoire, so we were in for a long afternoon.
Mahler’s music gained fame and respect around the world, but he was also known in his time to be an accomplished conductor. A Czech by birth, he gained fame conducting in music’s heart land in Vienna, Austria. Perhaps it was his love of the orchestra that often led him to compose pieces, like his Symphony No. 3, to include a larger than average group of musicians, utilizing the most instruments possible in some way in the piece, as well as a choir. The stage at Tanglewood was packed to its capacity, as was the seating and even lawn, despite the rain. It was if the numerous bodies warmed each other during the event as the music heightened peoples’ senses. The piece utilized strongly played brass instruments and percussion throughout. No one, not even my husband, would even possibly catch a nap during this piece.
The audience were not the only living beings affected by Mahler’s large orchestra. Around the open shed yelled loud birds, maybe mocking birds and other enthusiastic singers, who sang along and brought a muffled laugh to all of the listeners. It wasn’t as if the conductor could stop and scold these birds. Tanglewood was their home, too. Some birds sang from beyond the covered shed, and others from beneath it taking shelter from the rain and getting a closer look. Even when you thought Mahler’s orchestra could be no larger, these feathered musicians joined the songs.