The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Edwin Barker will perform at Tanglewood on July 26./ROBERT TORRES/BSO

BSO brings meaningful music to Tanglewood

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BSO brings meaningful music to Tanglewood

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Edwin Barker will perform at Tanglewood on July 26./ROBERT TORRES/BSO

At the turn of the last century, a young Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951), the Russian-born American Jewish musician, composed the Double Bass Concerto, a rare solo piece for the double bass that established the instrument as worthy of taking center stage in the orchestral repertoire.

Two decades later, after he left Moscow and held various positions in Paris and Berlin, Koussevitzky was tapped as the ninth conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and its first artistic director, a rising star who became one of the most influential figures in 20th-century classical music.

Within only a few years, Koussevitzky founded the BSO’s Berkshire Music Festival, its summer music home, later renamed Tanglewood, among his forward-looking innovations that transformed the BSO into a world-class orchestra.

Koussevitzky catapulted Tanglewood’s modest  professional training program into a powerhouse institution headed by Aaron Copland, the renowned American Jewish composer, and launched the careers of a younger generation of musicians, among them Jewish composers and conductors Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas and Lorin Maazel. 

Later this month, on July 26, 100 years after Koussevitzky’s ascension to the prestigious role, and on the 150th anniversary of his birth, his Concerto will soar from the stage of Tanglewood’s famed Koussevitzky Music Shed, named in his honor, under the baton of Andris Nelsons, the BSO’s eminent music director.

This year’s BSO Tanglewood season, that runs from July 4 through Aug. 31, also showcases the works of Leonard Bernstein, the celebrated and much-beloved Boston-born Jewish conductor and composer who taught and performed at Tanglewood for 50 years.

Bernstein’s towering presence across Tanglewood’s sprawling grounds was amplified in last year’s Oscar-nominated film, “Maestro.”

“His impact and legacy are still so palpable at Tanglewood,” Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie, told the Journal.

“The film exposes so many new people of all ages to who our dad was,” she said, reflecting the views of her two younger siblings, Alexander and Nina.

Last weekend’s concerts included Bernstein’s “Symphony No. 2, The Age of Anxiety” (July 19), and honored the maestro at the Leonard Bernstein memorial
concert (July 21), with guest soloist Emanuel Ax, the American Jewish virtuoso pianist.

Based on W.H. Auden’s poem written in 1947, in the first years after World War II, Bernstein’s composition grappled with the question of faith, reflecting a theme Bernstein visited throughout his creative career.

It speaks to the moment in these conflict-ridden times, Jamie Bernstein said.

Bernstein believed deeply in the power of the arts, and music in particular, to bring people together, she said.

“My father really believed that if enough people would get together and listen to a Mahler symphony, they might … set aside their terrible ways of resolving differences. He hated war,” she said.

Koussevitzky’s Double Bass Concerto is part of a weekend-long Koussevitzky celebration that showcases works that he championed.

Edwin Barker, the BSO’s notable principal bassist, is the featured soloist for the concerto, which he’ll be playing on Koussevitzky’s own instrument (on loan from the International Society of Bassists,) he told the Journal in a conversation.

“It’s very elegant, very lyrical,” Barker said about the concerto, which has an improvisational feel to it.

“It’s as if no measure is the same tempo, as if he’s making it up as he’s going along,” a style similar to others at the time, he noted.

“The whole concerto has a Jewish flavor, for sure,” Barker continued. Most of it is composed in a minor key, often associated with Jewish music, said Barker, who has performed at Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton, where he and his wife, musician Pamela Paikin, have been members.

While Koussevitzy was baptized early in his career in Berlin, he never denied his Jewish roots.

In 1950, he conducted two concerts with the Israel Philharmonic in Jerusalem, a much-anticipated performance that was met with a rousing ovation, according to a New York Times review.

Also on the July 26 Tanglewood evening program, Yefim Bronfman, the Grammy-winning Soviet-born Israeli-American pianist, is the guest performer for “Prometheus, Poem of Fire,” a work by Alexander Scriabin that had its premiere there under Koussevitzky.

Before Saturday evening’s shed concert, on the Tanglewood lawn at 5:30, Hebrew Union College and the Hevreh of Southern Berkshires and Temple Anshe Amunim are sponsoring a havdalah program.

Other noteworthy programs this season include “Trauma, Memory and Transcendence in Music,” a two-part Tanglewood Learning Institute program (Aug. 16 and Aug. 17,) led by Mark Ludwig, executive director and founder of the Boston-based Terezin Music Foundation and author of “Our Will To Live: The Terezin Music Critiques of Viktor Ullmann.” Composer Oswaldo Golijov performs on Aug. 17 as part of the second program.

On Aug. 4, Kirill Gerstein, the Russian-American Jewish master pianist, is a guest performer for an all-Beethoven afternoon concert with renowned violinist Joshua Bell. That evening, Gerstein leads a TLI program of cabaret music from 1920s Berlin. Gerstein returns on Aug. 9 as a soloist for the evening shed concert. Θ

For more information, visit BSO.org. For information on the havdalah program, visit huc.edu/berkshires or call 413-528-6378.

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