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Vol. IV No. 3   · Week of 11 August 2000   

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Bach in the Berkshires
Music's gifted young guardians find a haven at Tanglewood

By Hope Green

A mile down the road from the Tanglewood Music Centerís main grounds in Lenox, Mass., teenagers line up for pizza inside a century-old manor house one recent Friday, poring over music scores as they wait or punctuating conversations with scraps of song.

BUTI Students rehearsing

 
  Top brass: BUTI students at a recent orchestra rehearsal. Photo by Vernon Doucette
 

Among those in the crowded hallway is soprano Halley Gilbert, who is thinking a bit nervously about the weekend ahead. In two days, the high school sophomore from Nutley, N.J., will perform on a Tanglewood stage with her peers in the Young Artists Vocal Program. She is a newcomer to the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI), an elite summer residential program affiliated with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

"We did solo recitals at the beginning of the season," says Gilbert, an aspiring opera singer whose father studied conducting with Leonard Bernstein, "but this is our first big concert, with people listening who arenít us!"

Elsewhere on the West Street Campus, members of the instituteís youth orchestra and wind ensemble hold impromptu rehearsals under the trees. Near a fern-lined path, a trombonist on a wooden platform duets with a song sparrow. In a clearing, flute and violin soloists hole up in a subdivision of tiny, evenly spaced practice shelters resembling gnome huts. Depending on the hour, a visitor can make out muffled notes escaping from a bunk- house, a barn, even a refurbished chicken coop.

On these verdant 64 acres in the Berkshire hills, a select group of high schooló and college-age musicians spend up to two months immersed in instrumental or vocal studies. Their instructors are members of BUís School for the Arts faculty, present and former BSO members, and guest artists from around the country.

"So many students come here as the anomaly of their school, either kind of an outcast or kind of a geek because theyíre serious musicians," says administrator Beth NoŽl. "But they come here and find their soulmates. A lot of these kids for the first time feel they are accepted and theyíre in an environment that nurtures whatís important to them."

NoŽl (SFAí94) estimates that about two-thirds of the 370 students enrolling in the institute each season have made up their minds to pursue a musical career. Others, such as high school sophomore Jeff Juger, a violinist from Cheshire, Conn., are testing the idea. Although he has considered studying business or law, Juger admits, BUTI "is starting to sway me."

"I never rehearsed with an orchestra that works at such a high level before," he says. "Here everyone is so much more in communication with the conductor than at my high school. I feel so much more involved with the music. I actually started crying when we played the Sibelius Symphony No. 2, it was so moving."

But there is also a third category of participants, who see music as a joyful avocation and no more. One of these is tenor Adam Sansiveri of Pine City, N.Y., a high school football star and aspiring orthopedic surgeon.

"I will probably continue singing in my college glee club or chorus," says Sansiveri, who recently won an Empire State Games pole-vaulting competition. "Iím always going to keep music in my life somehow."

His attitude pleases Phyllis Hoffman, who directs the music division at SFA and the BUTI summer program. "Thatís the kind of commitment we need among the nonprofessional artists in our society to be sure that the fine arts have a future," she says. "These young people are really the guardians of classical music."

Learning from the pros

Students travel far from home to attend BUTI; this year they represent 36 states and 8 countries. The institute is the only one affiliated with a major symphony orchestra, and as part of the tuition package, students receive a season ticket to all concerts on the main grounds of Tanglewood, the BSOís summer home. They are also invited to the orchestraís closed rehearsals.

"What passes before these students during the course of the season is a whoís who in the world of music," says Hoffman. "Itís really unparalleled."

Students also appreciate the depth of the music instruction. Sarah Charness, a teenager who started playing the violin at age four, was in a string quartet workshop this summer as well as the Young Artists Orchestra.

"What I found incredible," she says, "was that coaches in the quartets taught us how to look for things to fix. A lot of times a conductor can just point out where you need to improve, but they taught us how to rehearse on our own."

Developing support

A small but growing number of BUTI students are attending under merit-based scholarships. A new $60,000 grant from the Clowes Foundation, for example, will cover tuition for five members of the Harlem Boys Choir in the six-week vocal program over the next three years.

Another recent landmark for the institute is a $225,000 grant from the Surdna Foundation, awarded in 1999. Its purpose is to develop the string chamber music component of the Young Artists Orchestra through new scholarships and faculty positions.

"Our vision is to some day have an endowment that would make it possible for any qualified student who has need to come on full scholarship," Hoffman says.

Development will be a priority for NoŽl this fall, when she migrates back to SFA to continue her year-round task of managing the institute. She also wants to develop a database of BUTI alumni, who include Harry Connick, Jr., and members of all the major orchestras in the United States.

NoŽlís commitment to BUTI dates back to a summer in the vocal program when she was 17. As an undergraduate she worked as a resident assistant, and later she joined the faculty.

"A lot of people talk about the magic of Tanglewood, and the students experience that here," NoŽl says. "Amazing changes and developments happen to them that wouldnít happen in a yearís time outside this environment. Thatís why the kids come here, and thatís why the faculty and staff keep coming back. And thatís why I keep coming back."

       

14 August 2000
Boston University
Office of University Relations