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Orchestras Get Away for the Summer

Courtesy Ravinia Festival
Photo courtesy of Ravinia Festival

Summer is synonymous with lawn-sitting, picnic-snacking and taking in the sounds of the season, which in certain idyllic locations could very well be a violin or tuba in addition to a symphony of crickets. For decades, several of America’s top orchestras have offered a series of concerts from their “summer homes” — venues designed to showcase the ensembles’ lighter fare and attract new audiences.

“Originally, some orchestras created a summer home and summer season to ensure their players had year-round employment,” says Mark Volpe, managing director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

“Though summer seasons still help to fill that role, they also give orchestras a chance to perform in front of a new audience and in a relaxed environment that is entirely different from a traditional concert hall setting.”

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home at Tanglewood in the Berkshire Mountains is one of the oldest and best known such venues among major orchestras in the nation. Its 75th birthday is coming up in 2012. Volpe says that Tanglewood, like many orchestral summer homes, was modeled after the great European music festivals popularized in the 19th century.

“In the early decades of the BSO (founded in 1881), most of its membership was made up of first-generation Europeans, all of whom, along with the BSO’s artistic leadership, were very familiar with the great summer music festival tradition throughout Europe, including Salzburg, the great Austrian music festival that played a strong inspirational role in Tanglewood’s formative years,” Volpe explained in an email.

After the jump we offer a few of the premiere orchestral “summer homes,” including audio clips of pieces that orchestras have played at their summer venues in the past or plan to perform this season.



The Wizard of Oz with the NSO, Summer 2009. Photo by AK.
“The Wizard of Oz” with the NSO, Summer 2009. Photo by AK

The National Symphony Orchestra

_Regular Concert Venue:_ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.

_Summer Home:_ Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Fairfax, Va.

As the nation’s only designated “park for the performing arts,” Wolf Trap hosts a variety of musical events, from pop artists to opera stars, at its outdoor Filene Center venue. The National Symphony Orchestra has performed regularly at Wolf Trap since the land for the park was donated to the government by patron Catherine Filene Shouse in 1966. The Filene Center was built five years later.

This year’s offerings from the NSO at Wolf Trap include “Tcheers for Tchaikovsky,” featuring the composer’s violin concerto and the “1812 Overture,” complete with requisite cannons. The orchestra will also perform “Play! A Video Game Symphony,” which features music from popular video games and projected graphics.

Click to hear the NSO perform the introduction to Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” The orchestra will perform the overture to “West Side Story” as part of its “Three Broadway Divas” program at Wolf Trap on July 9.

Courtesy of Paladinsf via Flickr.
Courtesy Paladinsf via Flickr

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Regular concert venue: The Kimmel Center, Philadelphia

Summer home: The Mann Center for the Performing Arts, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

From its founding in 1935 until 1976, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s summer concert series was known as the Robin Hood Dell Concerts. At that point, the orchestra’s summer performances moved to its current venue in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, now known as the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. In 1998, the Mann Center expanded its annual repertoire to include pop and jazz offerings. In 2000, opera returned to the Mann for the first time in 20 years.

This summer’s offerings from the Philadelphia Orchestra include a Tchaikovsky spectacular and Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.”

Click to hear a clip from “Carmina Burana” performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Christoph Campestrini and featuring the Philadelphia Singers Chorale.

Photo courtesy of Ravinia Festival.
Photo courtesy of Ravinia Festival.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Regular concert venue: Symphony Hall, Chicago

Summer home: Ravinia Music Festival, Highland Park, Ill.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s summer home at Ravinia is the oldest outdoor music festival in North America. Founded in 1904 as an amusement park to lure riders to the new Chicago & Milwaukee Railroad, it also included a performance space — the Martin Theater — which still stands today. Modern-day Ravinia is a sprawling complex that hosts more than half-a-million visitors each summer for daily musical performances over the course of three months.

The Chicago Symphony’s 2011 program at Ravinia will feature Brahms’ “Violin Concerto” with soloist Robert Chen; Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony; Puccini’s opera “Tosca,” and Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” among others.

Click to hear the CSO perform the Sacrificial Dance from “Rite of Spring.”

Click to enlarge.

The Cleveland Orchestra

Regular concert venue: Severance Hall, Cleveland

Summer home: Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

The Blossom Center, surrounded by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, was founded in 1968 as the Cleveland Orchestra’s summer venue, as well as a space for jazz and folk music performances. Today, the Blossom Festival consists of 10 weeks of summer concerts encompassing a variety of musical genres, including classical, rock, jazz, country and other popular music.

This season’s classical offerings at the Blossom Festival will open with Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, conducted by Cleveland Orchestra Maestro Franz Welser-Most, and will also feature classical music programs titled “An Evening in Vienna” and “From Russia With Love.”

Click to listen to the Cleveland Orchestra performing Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide” at the Blossom Festival last summer.

Click to enlarge.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra

Regular concert venue: Symphony Hall, Boston

Summer home: The Tanglewood Music Center, Lenox, Mass.

Tanglewood, founded in 1937, is both the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a music workshop where promising young musicians in the Tanglewood Music Center Fellows program get the opportunity to study with BSO musicians. The land that Tanglewood sits on today is a former estate donated for the orchestra’s summer use. When a performance of Wagner was interrupted by rain and thunder during the festival’s second weekend, the festival’s founders began fundraising for an indoor pavilion to house the orchestra.

Each year, the season at Tanglewood closes with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. This year’s performance will take place on Sunday, Aug. 28, led by Lorin Maazel and featuring soloists Joyce El-Khoury (soprano), Margaret Gawrysiak (mezzo-soprano), Garrett Sorenson (tenor), and Eric Owens (bass-baritone), as well as the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

Click to hear last year’s BSO performance of the final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (“Ode to Joy”) at Tanglewood, led by Maestro Kurt Masur.

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