Tanglewood: the Higgs boson of classical music

I can’t really understand, much less explain, the Higgs boson, or the Higgs field that excites the creation of the Higgs boson. Scientists tell us it is the last fundamental piece of standard model of particle physics to be discovered in an experiment, and it seems to have enough potential as an explanation for an irreducible something, giving rise to all other things, to be called “the God particle.”  Beyond my pay grade, to be sure.  But last weekend I found myself thinking the Higgs field is analogous to the role of the Tanglewood Music Festival in the world of music.

More than a third of the members of the world’s great classical orchestras studied at Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox.  Started exactly 75 years ago by the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s renowned music director Serge Koussevitzky, the festival has been associated with such legends as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Sejii Ozawa,, Claudio Abbado, Phyllis Curtin, Wynton Marsalis, Zubin Mehta, Leontyne Price, Anne- Sophie Mutter, Emanuel Ax, Yo-yo Ma, John Williams and James Taylor, to name just a few.  Each summer, giants in music come together with 150 of the most talented young musicians to study and perform different genres of music, largely classical.  And, for as little as $19 a ticket (free to children under 18 accompanied by an adult), virtually anyone can sit on the lawn , picnic, and listen the best of musical arts – (or, for more money, inside the open-sided hall, called “the shed.”

So, why the parallel to the Higgs boson?  Because there is something fundamental about the Tanglewood experience.  As the Boston Globe editorial put it, Tanglewood is where nature, history and culture come together.  It is a core experience, which can touch everyone in different ways. It is, indeed, the “foremost summer musical campus in the world,” and, because people from all over are drawn there to learn, to enjoy and to create,  as the editorial said, Tanglewood “feels essential in its realm.”  We are so very lucky it is easily accessible to us in Massachusetts.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that I have been a longtime overseer of the Boston Symphony, which owns Tanglewood Music Center, and I remain an overseer emerita.  But I fell in love with Tanglewood as a 14-year old going to camp in Lenox, privileged to be able to go every Saturday morning to the open rehearsals.  It touched my very soul and imprinted me with a love of the place.  If only I had the musical talent to go with the passion!

According to BSO music director Mark Volpe, many other cities are trying to emulate the Tanglewood experience, including one in China (another of its intellectual property ripoffs).  But the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox is the one, the original, the copy not to be replicated, the one to be revered and enjoyed, right in our own truly magnificent backyard.

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