Without Music, Tanglewood Is Empty, Eerie and Beautiful


LENOX, Mass. — André Bernard was three months old when he attended his first concert at Tanglewood: Benny Goodman playing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, in 1956. For nearly every one of the next 63 years, he has made a pilgrimage to the lush, sprawling lawn of this summer music mecca here in the Berkshires.

He has had a routine. Start off on the grass, ears peeled for the bell that signaled the show was about to begin. Then migrate to the Shed, the main concert hall, open on the sides. Watch the moths dart above the brasses and bows, fluttering up to the lights. Yo-Yo Ma, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Jessye Norman, Ray Charles, The Who: Mr. Bernard has seen them all here.

But he will not be able to add to that list this year. The coronavirus pandemic has forced the cancellation of Tanglewood, just as it has wiped out so many other beloved summer rituals: the blockbuster in the air-conditioned multiplex, the waterfront arts festival, the sweaty stadium pop extravaganza. Throughout the country, resonant seasonal pleasures have vanished.

The loss of Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937, hits particularly hard here in bucolic western Massachusetts, where the festival takes place on 524 rolling acres. Many fans, like Mr. Bernard, the vice president and secretary of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, have been attending for decades. (Mr. Bernard practically grew up in the wings: His father played the viola in the Boston Symphony.)

The rehearsal, lecture and concert calendar has been these devoted fans’ organizing principle; second homes were bought just to be nearby. They pinned their summers to Tanglewood, which normally attracts up to 350,000 people each season.

So what is the Berkshires without Tanglewood? Relaxed? Scenic? Yes. But also empty, eerie and very much on hold.

“It’s been quiet as anything,” said Barry Sheridan, a retired doctor who lives nearby. “It’s very sad.” Losing a year of activity when you’re younger is one thing, he added, but at his age, 85, time is more precious: “You’re not sure if there will be a next year.”

The Boston Symphony has been streaming some performances online, but its revenue loss from Tanglewood’s cancellation amounts to $16.3 million, according to a spokeswoman, though some of that loss has been mitigated by ticket donations and reduced expenses. (It is only the second time in the festival’s 83-year history that it hasn’t presented any live music; the other was in 1943, during World War II.)

A 2017 study by an economics professor at Williams College found that Tanglewood brings in over $100 million a year in economic benefits to the region, boosting hotels, museums and other businesses. Last year, the festival opened a new education facility on its grounds — with rehearsal space for musicians and programming for adults — that was meant to expand its reach even further.

In a normal summer, Lenox, a town of art galleries and upscale…

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