Lenox, Massachusetts, is a delightful town in itself, but the presence of Tanglewood has given it a special aura, and whenever my wife Lillian and I visit, hearing concerts there becomes a prime objective, along with dining with friends in our favorite restaurants. Our recent visit was no exception. Lenox is also a jumping off point for us to visit nearby attractions, such as the Clark Museum in Williamstown, but more on that later.
Over the years we have attended many concerts at Tanglewood, whether seated in the Shed or picnicking on the lawn with friends. We have been there in good weather and bad, comfortable evenings or times with sweltering heat. But there was special excitement at Tanglewood this summer, as the Boston Symphony Orchestra has acquired a new director, Latvian-born Andris Nelsons, who at the age of 35 arrives with an impressive background and visible enthusiasm. Watching him conduct on two occasions was an important experience, as evidenced by Tanglewood devotees who especially looked forward to his taking the baton.
On Friday night, July 11, we attended the all Dvorak program, highlighted by guest soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter playing the Violin Concerto in A minor, Opus 53. Sitting very close, it was possible to observe her extraordinary finger dexterity and skillful bowing that produced enviable purity in passages of amazing delicacy, as well as rigorous density when required. She is a great violinist who affords the special pleasure of appreciating her interpretations of difficult, demanding challenges. (If I ever needed further confirmation of why I justly gave up playing the violin many years ago, this was it.) Hearing her was certainly one of the summer highlights. So was getting a chance to hear the impressive Boston Symphony, both in its performances of “The Noonday Witch” and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 in G, Opus 88.
The following morning, Saturday, July 12, we attended the rehearsal for that evening’s gala Caroline and James Taylor concert. Rehearsals have their special attraction. One can observe a conductor in action, relating to the musicians, which provides a sense of what he is striving for. Unfortunately, one was unable to hear Nelsons’s comments, but his particular physical directions and the repeating of certain passages made improvements evident. The impression left was that he had established a good rapport with his orchestra members.
For part of the rehearsal, he worked with three soloists in the suite and final scene from Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier,” with Sophie Beven, soprano (Sophie), Angela Denoke, soprano (Marschallin), and Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano (Octavian). With the aid of two assistants, Nelsons tested the sound levels to get the proper balance between the soloists and the orchestra. Bevan, Denoke and Leonard were all impressive. It was also an occasion to hear the spirited Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra under Nelsons’s baton.
The conductor also rehearsed the Boston Symphony Orchestra with Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances,” Opus 45, but did not rehearse the other work scheduled for that evening’s program, Ravel’s “Bolero.” Some had hoped he would have done so, but others may have been relieved.
It is about a 40-minute drive from Lenox to Willamstown, where we visited the just-reopened, renovated Clark Museum. The grounds have extraordinary appeal, with a new reflecting pool where people can sit and enjoy the scenic splendor.
My favorite achievement is the way in which the room with the Impressionist works now has spectacularly clear lighting. The instant one enters, the view of great paintings by Renoir and other masters is breathtaking. A visit to the Clark, with its various exhibits, is now a must to see and appreciate what has been achieved.
As usual, we stayed in Lenox at the Hampton Terrace bread and breakfast accommodation, located in the heart of town at 91 Walker Street, so that one can walk to restaurants and shops without always driving and seeking parking places. It is a very congenial and comfortable inn where one can appreciate the friendly hospitality of owners Stan and Susan Rosen and often have interesting conversations with guests.
Also as usual, we frequented our favorite restaurants, Alta, Zink, the Church Street Café and Haven. Posted July 20, 2014.