Ralph Gardner Jr: Dodging The Raindrops At Tanglewood
I love Tanglewood. The problem is Tanglewood doesn’t love me back.
My wife and I attended opening night last week and got rained on – and due to my low tolerance for excessive moisture – rained out for the second year in a row.
It probably doesn’t say much for my status as a classical music lover that it took me approximately thirty years of visiting the Hudson Valley to make it over to Tanglewood in the Berkshires.
I’m not really sure why. Turns out our house is only half an hour by car from the famous music venue. In these parts, that’s almost walking distance.
Chalk it up to inertia. Once I’m settled on my deck watching the sunset accompanied by a vodka and lime, no music, no matter how sublime, has the power to compete with birdsong.
Then there’s the laziness factor, which is akin to, but distinct from inertia.
It seems as if attending Tanglewood takes almost as much preparation as taking a months-long road trip across the American West.
You need your chairs, cooler, and sheet to spread on the ground. And then there’s the question of the menu – the canapés, main course, dessert, cheeses and selection of wines and/or liquor.
It would be one thing if you knew you were going to be serenaded by Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony upon arrival. But the music last Friday night was Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.2 in C minor, his “Resurrection” Symphony. It’s a work with which I wasn’t especially familiar.
I’m one of those “Greatest Hits” classical music lovers. I let my subscription to the New York Philharmonic lapse years ago because they had the temerity to try to expand the audience’s musical horizons by littering seemingly every program with works by the likes of Bruckner and Edward Elgar when all I really wanted to hear was the “Ode to Joy.”
Nonetheless, the siren song of culture and self-improvement compelled me to visit Tanglewood. That and the fact that I received two free tickets by contributing to WAMC’s most recent fund drive.
We almost forfeited the experience due to some ominous looking storm clouds gathering over the Catskills. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Independence Day” they looked like the weather brewing just before the alien forces turn the White House and the Empire State Building to toast.
Having become an amateur scholar of local weather I calculated the billowing mass would be over Tanglewood at approximately the moment conductor Andris Nelsons launched the Boston Symphony Orchestra into the first movement of the Mahler.
However, my wife checked her weather app and it appeared that any downpours would pass to the north of us.
And when we arrived, I’ve got to admit that parking and then finding a place to plant ourselves on the lawn couldn’t have been easier or more Elysian.
We were so naïve, or irresponsible, that even though we had an umbrella in the car, we forgot to bring it along because the sun happened to be shining at that ephemeral moment.
We should have known better. When we attended a Tanglewood concert last year I had a premonition the heavens were about to open and we were on our way back to the waterproof sanctuary of our Columbia County home by the time they indeed did, accompanied by thunder and lightening, causing a delay in the concert.
The rain this year was less dramatic.
It started with just a few drops, as rain often does, and built into a steady drizzle. I noticed that some of the ancient trees on the lawn had lighting rods. But it never got to that. It was the sort of rain you’d hardly notice if you were indoors.
Unfortunately, we weren’t. I’ve deduced that some Tanglewood veterans purchase tickets in the Koussevitzky Music Shed against just such eventualities and because you can actually see the orchestra and soloists without resorting to binoculars or the screens positioned around the site.
But what’s the fun of that -- being quasi-indoors when the whole appeal of the place is hearing music in nature, under the moon and stars?
After suffering the drizzle for a long forty-five seconds or so we made our way to a nearby overhang where we set up camp and alighted into our repast – curried chicken salad with a side of potato chips.
We were shortly joined by other concertgoers who, like us, hadn’t had the foresight to include umbrellas on their equipment lists, or better yet tents.
Yes, tents started to sprout on the lawn like mushrooms.
I envied their residents. But again, what’s the point of going to Tanglewood in the first place if your checklist is only slightly less elaborate than NASA’s when they’re sending astronauts into orbit?
However, we refused to be defeated and when the rain seemed to be letting up we ventured back out onto the lawn to bask in the young Mahler’s melodies while I read in the program about the affair he was having with the wife of a captain in the Saxon army, hints of their romance and heartbreak finding its way into the score.
But the rain resumed, Mahler left his married girlfriend, and by the time the Tanglewood Festival Chorus rose to its feet for the finale we’d crossed the border back into New York and listened to the end of the concert on this radio station, to the accompaniment of our windshield wipers.
Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com
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