The Boston Symphony Orchestra still hopes you’ll join in the summer fun at Tanglewood this year — albeit from a safe distance. With the abundant live performances and gatherings of a typical Tanglewood season made impossible by the pandemic, the orchestra has built an online hub for a virtual version of its festival. Starting July 1, the BSO will roll out two months’ worth of newly recorded performances, archived footage, and Tanglewood Learning Institute programs such as workshops, film screenings, and panel discussions.
Going dark for the season was never an option, said director of Tanglewood Anthony Fogg in a phone interview. The orchestra had been “holding out all hope” that live performances of some sort would be possible, he said.
But as it became clearer that gathering musicians and audiences in Lenox would be inadvisable from a public health standpoint, the orchestra plotted out a course for the summer: it would migrate online as many elements as possible from the originally planned season, recording some brand-new content at Tanglewood while filling out the schedule with archival concerts and other offerings.
At the Tanglewood campus in Lenox, preparations for this summer look different from all others. The Koussevitzky Music Shed and Ozawa Hall, which would ordinarily be humming with activity, are silent. Instead, new content is being recorded at Studio E at the new Linde Center for Music and Learning, where X’s now mark spots on the floor for musicians to perform while keeping a safe physical distance from one another. A small masked crew is on hand in Lenox, but much of the work is done on the opposite end of the state in Symphony Hall, where a team of technicians capture sound and video using remotely controlled sound equipment and robotic cameras.
In terms of new content, the festival’s flagship offering is its “Great Performers” series, which will present recitals from Studio E by artists such as violinist Augustin Hadelich with pianist Orion Weiss (July 25); violinist Gil Shaham (July 3); pianist Conrad Tao (Aug. 15); and the cello-piano duo of Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax (Aug. 1). For this series, the orchestra drafted artists from the originally planned season who could drive to Tanglewood, Fogg said. Small groups of BSO musicians will also be driving to Tanglewood to record chamber music recitals in Studio E. Musicians can decide whether to perform masked, and if someone starts feeling under the weather, events are liable to be postponed or canceled.
The Wednesday night series “Recitals from the World Stage” presents new programs recorded in various venues around the world (including Studio E), featuring performers who were to have appeared at Ozawa Hall. That series kicks off July 8 with a performance by British pianist Paul Lewis produced in partnership with London’s Wigmore Hall, with other artists on the bill including string quartet Brooklyn Rider (July 22), Silkroad Ensemble with Rhiannon Giddens (July 29), and the Danish String Quartet (Aug. 5).
Sunday afternoons at 2:30 will offer full-length broadcasts of Tanglewood concerts from years past, gleaned from the orchestra’s vast library of footage. These are the same videos that are displayed on the large screens around the Shed during concerts so that the lawn audience can see the stage, Fogg explained. “We’ve never been able to make these available before.”
While encore performances can be accessed for free, watching new content requires paid single tickets or subscriptions. Those who donate $100 or more can access the entire season. The release schedule deliberately parallels a typical week of music at Tanglewood, but to allow for maximum flexibility (and/or repeat watching), videos will be available for a week after posting.
The same goes for the master classes, music history lectures, and panel discussions of the Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI), much of which has easily transitioned online. Year-round digital offerings were already in the works for TLI on a new platform that was to be tied to an overhaul of the BSO’s website, explained director Sue Elliott. TLI has temporarily put that initiative on the backburner while it adapts its 2020 summer experience to the digital world, but that’s not necessarily a terrible thing.
“I am such an optimist, that I am really looking forward to seeing who’s going to ... log on to TLI this summer who never would have in the in-person context,” Elliott said. The online experience of pre-recorded content and live Q&As could draw in any number of people who might be interested in coming to Tanglewood once the grounds reopen — as well as some who couldn’t travel to Lenox even in normal times, she said.
And there’s no reason why those digital offerings can’t continue even after live events restart, she said. “I think it’s the way of the future, and we’ll see what balance we can achieve when we come back to in person.”
Of course, no amount of online programming can compensate for the loss of the live festival this year. “Nothing replicates the experience of hearing music live, nor the gestalt of music and landscape which is at the heart of Tanglewood,” Fogg said. “But at least in people’s imagination, and keeping some rhythm of their listening habits, we’ve tried as best we can to replicate some of that.”
July 1-Aug. 23, www.tanglewood.org
Zoë Madonna can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.