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Tanglewood Flourishes–A diverse lineup draws thousands to the new TLI

On a clear night, the sun sets behind a hundred-year-old oak tree. From inside this new concert hall, the audience can look west into the massive branches and out across the Tanglewood campus.

The space is an open room of light wood, and the wall behind it is made of glass. The Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI) is closing in on its first year of programming, and the energy is high. In early spring, two Martha Graham dancers will be here in a duet, barefoot and fluid, curling to protect their bodies and opening out with their arms wide. The dance company will perform Kyle Abraham’s variation on Martha Graham’s 1930 solo “Lamentation” in TLI’s Linde Center.

“We don’t call it the off season,” says TLI director Sue Elliott. “Within a year, we have eliminated that from our thinking. We’re living up to promises we’ve made that we will be here year-round.”

The response is positive and growing. In its first summer, TLI drew in more than 14,000 people between June and August—almost a third of them new to Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO). From the fall to spring, TLI has been selling out concerts, with programming expanding beyond classical music and into cinema, dance, and visual art, with more room to experiment.

Elliott opened a Taste series of dinners and music last fall, with a free walk-in class on Argentine tango. Eighty-five people kept the dancing going for an hour after the end of the workshop, she says. The TLI served an Argentine dinner and held a concert with internationally acclaimed musician Juan Pablo Jofre on the bandoneon, a beautifully made accordion.

“The interplay between him and the audience was powerful,” says Elliott. “The environment here lends itself to a close connection.”

In the spring, that kind of intimate space will play out again with Martha Graham dancers performing just 20 feet from the audience. “People love seeing the dancers up close,” says Janet Eilber, artistic director for the company. “They can hear their breathing and feel more of the effort.”

She has found the space warmly open to perform in, with the mountains close by.

On March 11, the company will spend an evening exploring “Night Journey,” Graham’s reimagining of the classic tragedy of Oedipus and Jocasta. And on April 29, the dancers will return with new variations on “Lamentation,” with members of the company dancing complete variations by Abraham, Aszure Barton, and Bulareyaung Pagarlava, in a co-presentaton with Jacob’s Pillow International Dance Festival.

At a time when the dance of the day often felt escapist and fanciful, “Graham was discovering a way of moving that expressed who we really are and what we feel,” says Eiber. She intensified body language and studied how a body holds stress or euphoria, especially at its core, and how emotion rides on breath.

As with Jacob’s Pillow, Elliott has been creating programming and building partnerships with fellow Berkshire organizations since the TLI opened last summer, and they are steadily expanding—Berkshire International Film Festival (BIFF), IS183 Art School, the Norman Rockwell Museum, and Chesterwood.

“It’s a dream,” says BIFF artistic director Kelley Vickery, elated with watching the monthly film series grow. Through the winter and into the spring, Vickery is screening films with a wide-ranging musical theme—coming up, Amazing Grace (Aretha Franklin concert film) on March 6 and That Pärt Feeling (Arvo Pärt, Estonian composer of classical and religious music) on April 2.

Vickery has doubled BIFF’s year-round programming by working with TLI, and in May TLI will become a venue in BIFF’s annual film festival.

Music remains central here, Elliott says. While amateur photographers in an art workshop may be out looking at the new leaf buds on the oak tree, TLI has become a good space for BSO musicians to explore their own projects, as well as performing in larger concerts.

On April 11, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus will celebrate its 50th by returning home for an evening performance of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil. The chorus’s conductor, James Burton, will offer a composition stirring with the spring. Earlier in the day, the TLI will hold “Reclaiming Our Connection to Nature,” exploring the relationship between words, music, and nature. It will include a performance of Burton’s “The Lost Words” by the Boston Symphony Children’s Choir, a keynote talk on reconnecting with nature, and a panel discussion led by Kris Scopinich, Mass Audubon’s director of education.

As Martha Graham’s company prepares to return, Elliott quietly marvels at the ties that lead many creative people to this place. Aaron Copland was here when Graham wrote to him asking him to compose the music to “Appalachian Spring.” He knew Tanglewood well—he taught for years at the Tanglewood Music Center and mentored a young Leonard Bernstein.

Last fall the Martha Graham Company celebrated the 75th anniversary of “Appalachian Spring” here. On the night of the performance, a young woman from Boston arrived at the box office. She had found out about the event that morning, and she had to come. Her father had danced with Martha Graham in the 1940s. So she crossed the state, returning home very late that night, because there was no other place she wanted to be that evening.

Photos at top: At the linde center Bandoneonist Juan Pablo Jofre; BSO musicians in rehearsal; a live recording of Circle Round; “Appalachian Spring” with Martha Graham dancers; BSO Children’s Chorus; the Linde at dusk.



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