LENOX — When the gates open at 2 next Tuesday afternoon for the 66th annual Tanglewood on Parade extravaganza, families will set up their elaborate al fresco banquets. By nightfall, unless it’s raining, one of the largest crowds of the season should be on hand for the family-friendly festival that attracts many repeat visitors and Berkshire residents.
The Boston Symphony, the Boston Pops and the Tanglewood Music Center Orches tra all play a prominent role in the evening’s main event, which includes John Williams conducting the Pops in music from two of his film scores and the perennial favorite, Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” with its cannons and fireworks that immediately follow.
But Tanglewood on Parade is an especially big day for the Tanglewood Music Center’s young professionals as well as the high-school age Boston University Tanglewood Institute students, as they perform in multiple venues during the afternoon.
The Tanglewood Music Center’s 155 musicians will be just two weeks away from completing their summer-long deep immersion into all music considered. Ad mission into the Tanglewood Music Center — or TMC, for short — is highly competitive: About 50 players are invited back for second, and occasionally third, summers, leaving about 100 available spots from a field of 1,500 applicants — a number that has doubled since 1998.
After their grueling but rewarding summer, the great challenge for the young musicians is to secure a professional gig. Alumni from the program have had an enviable track record — about 30 percent of players in the nation’s major orchestras attended the Boston Sympony’s summer institute.
In her 15th year as TMC director, Ellen Highstein acknowledged that, given economic realities and the fact that classical music is anything but a burgeoning field, the prospects of gainful, long-term employment are far less bright than in the past.
“Am I worried? Yes, I am,” she said during an interview at her office near Ozawa Hall. But, she quickly pointed out, “if anybody is going to survive, they are because they obviously have an edge. All musicians now need to be flexible, versatile, and evangelical. Our program does not allow people to specialize.”
As Highstein put it, “You can’t just spend all your life alone in your practice room learning concertos. You have to play orchestral and chamber music, you have to play new music, which surprisingly is a very vital field that’s accepting people and paying them a living when other things don’t. They also have to do things that are unusual.”
Highstein stressed that “the tool belt has to be as full as it can be.”
But, she continued, “TMC’s eight weeks can’t give everybody everything they need to survive in a field where they have to be entrepreneurial and make things happen for themselves.
“But we have something they can’t get anywhere else — this enormous tradition, the ability to rub shoulders all the time with the Boston Symphony’s great musicians and the guest artists coming through, and playing in possibly one of the best orchestras or ensembles they’ll ever play in, in their lives.”
Referring to the TMC Orches tra, Highstein said, “I have to respect that and let them climb up and be on Mount Olympus for a while.” She noted that some TMC players have an opportunity to perform at Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts, while BSO musicians often sit in with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.
Among Highstein’s greatest points of pride in her 15th an niversary TMC summer is “bringing the BSO players back as the primary source of learning and inspiration. That was a big one.”
Highstein credited her colleagues and collaborators for “making them welcome.” About 60 BSO players — more than half the orchestra — are involved in some capacity in the TMC program.
“People clamor to do it,” she said happily. “And that’s really thrilling.”
But, Highstein hastened to add in looking back at her tenure, “I’m never satisfied. You always have to say, ‘Is this as good as we can be?’ And given the fact that the music world is changing constantly, we always have to be on our toes. How can we best serve these students? It’s always a balancing act, and also an act of self-evaluation that has to go on all the time.”
As originally published in Berkshire Eagle
By Clarence Fanto