This year’s Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood was celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding, by legendary BSO Music Director Serge Koussevitzky, of the Tanglewood Music Center, one of the great arts educational projects in this country and still going strong. Curated by composers and Tanglewood gurus John Harbison, Michael Gandolfi, and Oliver Knussen (who couldn’t attend or conduct as scheduled because of a visa problem), it was on the whole one of the livelier festivals—more focused if not quite as eclectic.
As life in the city slows down, life in the country west of Boston ratchets up. I went out to the Berkshires to catch as much as I could of Tanglewood’s fiftieth Festival of Contemporary Music, this year curated by Boston composers and longtime Tanglewood faculty members John Harbison (a composition fellow in 1959) and Michael Gandolfi (a fellow in 1986).
In the Twenty-First Century, a festival of contemporary music needs a point of focus. A broad or representative survey is impossible; there are simply too many wildly varied approaches to music-making out there than can be sampled even in a festival twice as long as the six-concert event this summer at Tanglewood. By choosing composers who have been fellows there, the organizers John Harbison and Michael Gandolfi offered a musical profile that was primarily American and tended toward the conservative side, especially compared to past festivals which a greater representation of new European music. Also shown was the arc of American musical thinking over about four generations.