The countdown is on. One week from now – after more than a year of arts institutions, theaters, and concert venues forced to shutter their doors due to the global COVID-19 pandemic – live music will again ring forth from Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home in the Berkshires.
Last summer, during the height of the pandemic, Tanglewood was closed for concert goers, the first time since World War II.
Now, as Massachusetts and the country emerge from the pandemic, Tanglewood will once again welcome audiences for live performances with a shortened six-week season July 9 to Aug. 16. Opening weekend features the masterful, Grammy award-winning pianist Emanuel Ax – whose parents were Holocaust survivors – on July 10.
Among the other renown Jewish soloists who will grace the Tanglewood stage with the BSO this summer are pianist Yefim Bronfman (July 25); pianist Kirill Gerstein, under the baton of conductor and composer Thomas Adès, his frequent collaborator (July 31); and popular violinist Joshua Bell (Aug. 7). Ax returns as part of a powerhouse trio July 30, joined by violinist Leonidas Kavakos and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
In addition to the shorter season, other COVID-19 health and safety measures will be in place, including limiting the audience capacity to 9,000 from the usual 18,000. For the first time, Tanglewood’s live performances will be accompanied by select weekly live video performances on the BSO’s streaming portal, BSO Now.
The anticipated reopening of Tanglewood is being greeted with enthusiasm by BSO’s leaders.
“My hope is that we will discover together an even deeper purpose or meaning of music in our lives, as it is sure to fill our hearts and renew our spirits,” BSO music director and conductor Andris Nelsons said in a video message on the BSO website.
The Journal caught up with the globe-trotting Gerstein in a phone conversation from Paris in advance of his return to Tanglewood. Born in the former Soviet Union and now an American based in Berlin, the 41-year-old Gerstein has long ties with the Boston area – and with the BSO.
Known for his virtuosity and richly evocative playing, Gerstein embraces a wide array of music, from classical to jazz, moving beyond the traditional boundaries that often separate the genres.
Gerstein first performed with the BSO at Tanglewood in 2010, and has since been a regular soloist at Symphony Hall and Tanglewood, where in 2018 he served as the Koussevitzky artist-in-residence.
“We’ve had so many wonderful musical adventures together … so yes, it is particularly joyful to come back,” he said.
His enthusiasm for the BSO and Tanglewood were first kindled during his teenage years.
Growing up as a gifted music student in Russia, Gerstein taught himself jazz piano, influenced by his parents’ collection of jazz albums. At age 14, a chance encounter with Gary Burton, the influential jazz vibraphonist, landed Gerstein a spot as the youngest ever student at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where Burton taught and served as vice president.
He eventually chose to focus on classical music, completing his studies at the Manhattan School of Music. But Gerstein’s affinity for jazz has remained.
Gerstein first experienced Tanglewood as a high school student as part of Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute through the mentorship of the late Ralph Gomberg, the BSO’s longtime principal oboist, Gerstein recalled.
“It was this combination of a great orchestra, an abundance of music everywhere, and the incredible nature. This is an incredibly powerful and emotional mix that I remember very strongly,” he said.
For his upcoming appearance at Tanglewood, Gerstein will perform Stravinsky’s “Concerto for Piano and Winds.”
Gerstein’s noteworthy collaborations with Adès, the BSO’s artistic partner, include the 2019 world premiere of Adès’ critically acclaimed “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra,” composed for Gerstein. The live recording, “Adès Conducts Adès,” garnered three Grammy nominations.
Collaboration is vital to music-making, whether in jazz or among classical musicians, said Gerstein.
“Music is not in isolation from society … We are not in a bubble and this cross pollination has always been a catalyst for people,” Gerstein said. “I think one’s personality is only enhanced by being in connection with others. That is something that only makes us and our lives richer.”
In addition to his packed performance schedule, Gerstein is on the faculty of Germany’s Kronberg Academy, where he hosts “Kirill Gerstein Invites,” a free online series of seminars.
Boston continues to hold its appeal for Gerstein, whose parents now live here. He enjoys the city’s walkable streets, especially the Back Bay, Newbury Street, and Symphony Hall neighborhoods.
“That feels the most home,” Gerstein said. “I really adore that area.”