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Replaying The Past For The Future: BU Tanglewood Institute Celebrates 50 Years

While Tanglewood is known as a unique open air venue for classical and modern music, every summer the sprawling grounds become home to one of the country’s premier music schools. The Boston University Tanglewood Institute is celebrating 50 years and WAMC went to class.

David Krauss and Lawrence Wolfe may still be students of music, but their days as BUTI students are no more.

“It’s like going back to summer camp,” said Krauss.

“Being at Tanglewood and coaching BUTI — performing with them and arranging for them — I’m their age again,” said Wolfe.

Instead both are back in Lenox, Massachusetts to help mold the next crop of musical movers and shakers.

“I’ve learned what it really takes to be a musician,” said BUTI student Joshua Williams. “You have to have a lot of drive, dedication and a burning passion for what you do.”

Williams, who is from Atlanta, is part of the up and coming generation. The tuba player is spending his summer with fellow high school musicians — considered among the best in the country, like David Ramos of Miami.

“Hanging around with the other students and just messing around and practicing on our own you pick up some techniques and different skills,” Ramos said. “But really it’s just awesome making music with them and creating different sounds you never knew you could.”

And they’re learning from people who’ve been in their shoes…or at least walked the same dirt roads between rehearsals in rustic barns.

“When I got here when I was 14 it was about a two-week process of realizing that this is an actual thing that people can do with their lives,” said former BUTI student Nico Muhly. “So very quickly I went from being the only person doing this thing in my middle school in Providence, Rhode Island into being part of a community of people who are all making music and in a variety of ways.”

Muhly is now a composer who has come back to BUTI as part of a new visiting artists program. The initiative is one of many the institute has rolled out to celebrate 50 years including an opera program, according to executive director Hilary Respass.

“But that’s something that we learned from the archives — early in the program in the 1960s they also dabbled in opera programming,” Respass said. “So this chance to look back has informed ideas for the future.”

About 370 students are enrolled this summer from 40 states and seven countries.

“They take this BUTI experience back to all of these different communities and then generate and build there,” Respass said. “So when we say ‘BUTI is everywhere’ we really mean that.”

For flutist Anjali Shinde of Orlando, the musical side of BUTI plays second fiddle.

“I learn a lot about being a person and being a musician that isn’t just technique,” Shinde said. “About new ways to look at stuff, living and how to look at the world.”

BUTI formed in the 1960s as a way for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which makes its summer home at Tanglewood, to extend its educational reach by partnering with Boston University. But for the roughly 10,000 alumni who have passed through and the current students, it’s no leisurely walking-in-the-woods summer camp, as Krauss notes.

“They’re rehearsing in a barn without air conditioning,” Krauss said. “In my orchestra if we go more than an hour and a half without a break there’s a riot. And I have to have my espresso in the morning and at lunch. Here the students are just going at it.”

The days are packed with lessons and rehearsals all leading up to some type of performance. While Krauss, who is the principal trumpeter for the Met Opera Orchestra, is now a BUTI instructor instead of a student, some things have apparently stayed the same.

“I can tell you by the looks of the students’ faces that the dorms haven’t changed at all,” Krauss said. “I think those were the same dorms that I was in and seemed pretty, we’ll say ‘rustic,’ in the 80s.”

The 50-year mark may mean the most for Lawrence Wolfe, now a member of the BSO who in the summer of 1966 found himself as the only bass player in the inaugural BUTI class. Today he’s composing an arrangement specifically for the bassists to be performed at BUTI’s half century celebration on August 6th at Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall.

“Students 50 years my junior are challenging me,” Wolfe said. “And I find nothing wrong with that and everything right with it.”

So the mission has stayed the same for 50 years, but maybe the standards are a bit higher.

“A self-fulfilling prophecy of excellence,” said Wolfe.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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