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Music’s Magnetic Pull

Tanglewood draws great young talent to the beauty of the Berkshires

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In the slide show above, BUTI faculty and students talk about their experiences at Tanglewood.

When she was little, Avery Yurman would sit in the audience in Seiji Ozawa Hall, listening to the Young Artists Wind Ensemble perform. This summer, newly graduated from high school, she gets the chance to take her place on that stage.

“It was wonderful to see musicians just a little bit older than me playing with such incredible talent, playing with such passion,” says Yurman, a Long Island, N.Y., native, who is one of the bassoon players in the Wind Ensemble. “I’m so excited to be here this year.”

At the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI), set in the Berkshire landscape of Lenox, Mass., more than 350 high school musicians, survivors of a rigorous audition process, are spending their summer vacations studying, practicing, and performing.

“Tanglewood has a magnetic pull, bringing together the faculty and the students because of the program’s reputation,” says Phyllis Hoffman (CFA’61,’67), director of BUTI and an associate professor of music in Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. “This is an opportunity for the students to be immersed in music.”

Now in its 44th season, BUTI offers programs that range from two to six weeks, taught by faculty from CFA and musical artists from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The eight-week season includes workshops for chamber ensembles and individual instruments and seminars for orchestra, wind ensemble, voice, composition, and piano.

Yurman, who’ll be a freshman at Connecticut College this fall, plans to study music education. After her Tanglewood experience, she might minor in composition.

“All the composition students are next to my dorm,” she says. “At night, we’ll gather out front and talk about our chamber groups and what they’re writing for this week. It’s interesting to have composers actually writing here.”

Ryan Duncan first started composing when he was 12. At Tanglewood, he gets the opportunity to hear his pieces performed by a woodwind quintet, a brass quartet, and musicians from around the grounds. Duncan works with Martin Amlin, CFA’s chair of theory and composition, to learn things ranging from how to work the Sibelius composition program on his laptop to tonal scales.

“I wrote my earlier pieces before I was well-versed in music,” he says. “It was a little bit more raw, which I think helped in my development, since I didn’t learn out of a textbook first.”

David Martins, director of the wind ensemble at Tanglewood and a CFA adjunct professor of music, says the intensity of the creative process is tempered by the surroundings. “One of the things that always amazes me is that this place combines the beauty of nature with such great music-making.”

Natural beauty, and the opportunity to make friends, are the only things Tanglewood and a traditional summer camp have in common, says Alexandra Smither, a vocalist in the Young Artists Vocal Program. “It’s definitely more of an ‘institute,’” says Smither, who takes lessons in music history, theory, diction, opera scenes, and solo performance. “You learn a lot in a very, very short amount of time.”

While Smither translates Italian art songs and researches opera characters, the chance to focus on percussion drew Peter Ferry back for a second summer. He’s setting up for a carefully choreographed, stationary dance.

“I have a tam-tam behind me, then a cymbal to my left, and an opera gong to my right,” he explains. “And it’s meticulously organized, not only when each is hit, but how it’s hit or muffled — I have a towel wrapped around one arm. In the meantime I have to know what’s going on with the other players around me, and know what the composer’s motives were, keeping his ideas consistent.”

Angela Guo not only prepares her solo piano works for master classes, she also joins the Young Artists Orchestra on stage. “The concept of following a conductor while also playing is really intense,” she says. “It’s a different kind of focus playing piano for orchestra versus solo work. If you mess up on your solo, it’s all yours. If you mess up in the orchestra, everyone can still hear you, and you might mess other people up.”

Not all instruments have a natural orchestral voice, but Alison Miserendino, who is one of two euphonium players on the grounds, still finds her niche.

“The euphonium is not an orchestral instrument, and this is an orchestral-based camp,” she says. “So there are no euphonium instructors here; I learn from tuba players, trombone players, and all kinds of other brass.”

Before the practice sheds come into view, the sounds of piano chords, scales from a violin, and a soprano voice warming up waft over the hill and Groton Hall, the epicenter of campus. Miserendino says students practice anywhere they can; she’s seen violin and viola players climb trees. Guo says piano students stake out their favorite grand pianos, “claiming their territory” for the summer.

Jamon Maple (CFA’09) sees a different side of the program as the housing and community standards manager. He attended Tanglewood as a high school student, majored in vocal music at BU, then came back to BUTI this year. He does everything from talking with students about college choices to making sure they get enough rest.

“Many are away from home for the first time, with a little bit of freedom,” he says. “But they don’t have much time to get into trouble.” Maple remembers that when he attended BUTI, in the summer of 2004, the only time he got into trouble was missing curfew, which brought him to the office where he currently spends his summer days.

Maple, who grew up in a small Texas town, can tell students he’s been there. “People talk about being a big fish in a small pond, and in high school, I was that person,” he says. “Then I came here, and there were all these other talented musicians. It was scary, but also really exciting, because I found I could connect with the other students. They were going through the same things I was.”

The Young Artists Wind Ensemble performs tomorrow, July 24, 2009, at 8 p.m. in Seiji Ozawa Hall, 297 West St., Tanglewood Music Center, Lenox, Mass. The concert will be conducted by H. Robert Reynolds. The Young Artists Orchestra performs Saturday, July 25, 2009, at 2:30 p.m. in Seiji Ozawa Hall, conducted by Federico Cortese, performing Cuban Overture by George Gershwin, Symphony No. 8 by Ludwig van Beethoven, and Concerto for Orchestra by Béla Bartók. July 25 is also the 33rd annual BU Alumni Day at Tanglewood and includies a sneak peek of a BSO rehearsal and the YAO concert. The YAO next performs on Saturday, August 8, 2009, at 2:30 p.m. in Seiji Ozawa Hall, conducted by Paul Haas. The Young Artists Vocal Program performs Saturday, August 1, 2009, at 2:30 p.m. in Seiji Ozawa Hall, conducted by Ann Howard Jones. For more information, e-mail tanglewd@bu.edu, and for directions, visit the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood site.

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu.

3 Comments

3 Comments on Music’s Magnetic Pull

  • Anonymous on 07.23.2009 at 10:59 am

    It’s fantastic…

  • Anonymous on 07.23.2009 at 10:59 am

    I love Tanglewood! Thanks for highlighting once again.

  • Anonymous on 07.24.2009 at 12:12 am

    Great piece

    Really nicely done, and the photos are beautiful. Thanks!

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