As part of its 75th anniversary season, Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra located in Western Massachusetts, is celebrating in grand and generous style by offering an extraordinary gift to listeners: the Tanglewood festival and the BSO is presenting 75 free digital streams of performances from a storied 75-year history and unique audio archive. One stream is offered each day of the season (through September 2) at Tanglewood.org. The daily gratis performance is available starting at 8 a.m. EST for 24 hours; after the stream has ended, listeners can purchase it as a download. What’s more, you can listen at a desktop computer, through a home music system, or mobile device—all you need is internet access.
The repertoire represents the remarkable array of programs and artists that have appeared at Tanglewood, including without exaggeration, the greatest conductors, composers, instrumentalists and singers of the 20th and early 21st centuries as well as the Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center, the summer training academy which has contributed generations of leading musicians. Each week the streams feature operas and large-scale works, performances led by BSO music directors (Serge Koussevitsky, Leonard Bernstein (pictured, leading his final performance at the festival), Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, among others) and major guest conductors, notable soloists, recitals, pop music concerts, jazz, and performances by the Boston Pops.
Simply put, the performances are transporting. Since they go back to 1938, in a very real way, they document audio recording history; the BSO promises “recorded sound of widely contrasting quality, providing listeners with a broad historical perspective.” And this is as it should be. On some, the sound is a bit muffled or there are occasional crackles; others possess the clarion transparency of what used to be called high fidelity and which assume yet other audio qualities in the digital age. Sometimes audience members cough. But above all, there is the unequivocal excitement that comes through in the recorded live performance.
On the day I sampled the digital stream, I listened to an extraordinary performance of the Cello Concerto by Edward Elgar that featured the English cellist Jacqueline du Pré. The performance was from August 3, 1969. On that date, she made her debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra as did the conductor, her husband Daniel Barenboim. They were both in their 20’s (she was only 24), one of the classical music world’s most glamorous couples. Du Pré was admired for the intelligence and intensity of her playing—qualities that come through in the audio stream as if it were summer 2012. Her playing is loaded with an electric charge! Longtime BSO announcer William Pierce provided commentary on what was originally a radio broadcast; although possessed of a certain Yankee restraint, he comments on the ovations and enthusiasm of audience and orchestra alike. It is an extraordinary musical moment captured in time—legendary in a way. Two years later, du Pré’s health would begin its heartbreaking decline due to multiple sclerosis. And sometime later, having barely reached her 28th birthday, Jacqueline du Pré gave her last performance.
Mario Mercado is the arts editor at Travel + Leisure.