Tanglewood's Triumphant Hall

A new concert facility opens July 7 at the Boston Symphony's summer home

LUSH lawns, rolling green hills, and music that floats through the air on balmy afternoons and starlit nights. To many, Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's (BSO) summer home in western Massachusetts, is a paradise setting where audiences can listen to world-class music outdoors.

On July 7, a stunning new concert hall opens on the grounds of this music mecca. Nearly two years in construction, the 1,180-seat, $9.7 million hall will serve as the performance center for young professional musicians who study here as part of the Tanglewood Music Center, the BSO's summer institute. It will also be used for chamber music and recital performances and provide recording capabilities for the Boston Pops and Boston Symphony orchestras. (The BSO concerts will still be held in the 5,000-seat outdoor performance shed, a short walk from the hall).

``The hall should provide a much more comfortable and a much finer acoustical environment for both the young players who are part of the Tanglewood Music Center ... and for the recitalists and Boston Symphony members who will be performing there,'' says Daniel Gustin, manager of Tanglewood. The hall ``will enhance what Tanglewood does and make the reputation that we've earned over the years secure for the future.''

Tanglewood is situated on 330 acres overlooking the Stockbridge Bowl, a valley that cradles a lake and is surrounded by picturesque countryside. It has attracted visitors from around the world since 1937, when the BSO first took up residence here. Each year, 350,000 people visit the outdoor performance shed or picnic on the expansive lawn while listening to the sounds of violins and clarinets, trumpets and timpani. The BSO estimates that, among major American orchestras, 20 percent of the musicians and 30 percent of first-chair players have studied at Tanglewood Music Center.

The new structure, named Seiji Ozawa Hall in honor of the orchestra's music director (who himself trained at the institute), is part of an expansion Tanglewood has undertaken since 1987, when it purchased an adjoining estate. This area, called the Leonard Bernstein Campus, also includes a music library, a chamber-music studio for rehearsals, a gift shop and cafeteria, and a renovated 1899 carriage house that contains administrative offices and studios.

To get to this part of Tanglewood, one strolls along a short shaded pathway from the original estate to the new campus. Seiji Ozawa Hall appears ahead - a solid brick-and-wood building shaped like a sturdy New England town meeting hall with curved roof and Italian-style loggias elegantly carved out of its sides.

Architect William Rawn of Boston says his biggest challenge was building a first-class hall with excellent acoustics and recording capabilities that also had a strong relationship to the outdoors. Therefore, the hall needed to close tightly but also open to concertgoers sitting on the lawn in back. And he felt that the people sitting inside should also feel connected to the environment.

``I wanted a building anchored in the landscape,'' Mr. Rawn explains while taking a visitor on a tour.

To accomplish these objectives, Rawn designed graceful loggias on each side of the rectangular structure in order to create a transition between the outdoors and indoors. Visitors then enter the hall through any of several glass doors on each side. Inside, light floods from numerous windows; five tall, slim windows above the performance area provide views of the changing sky. At the back of the hall, a huge teak door opens onto a near-flat green lawn where people can picnic while watching and listening to the performance.

The 1,180 ergonomically designed chairs and the grills in front of the three balconies are all teak, making the hall look awash in warm brown woods. ``The organization of the interior is all about intimacy, which we think is important,'' Rawn says. ``It's a community coming together for music and captures the democratic spirit of Tanglewood.''

The architecture was just one part of the equation. The hall needed good acoustics. Rawn spent several weeks looking at major concert halls in Europe and the United States. He was joined by R. Lawrence Kirkegaard, the acoustician for the hall, who explained the physical reasons why they were great halls. ``Larry laid out the acoustic principles, and we worked hard not to deviate from those principles,'' Rawn says.

The side walls, which had to be thick and heavy in order to keep bass notes in the hall, are made of brick. Every element, including the walls, is slightly off alignment so that sound will not echo. The ceiling is coffered, though not with perfect curves. Curves routed into the square openings of the grids along the railings help diffuse sound waves.

New concert halls are becoming a rarity in the current economic climate. The most recent hall - which opened last year - was the 500-seat Harris Music Hall at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. But, Mr. Gustin says, a facility of the size, ambition, and tradition of Seiji Ozawa Hall has not been built since the Alice Busch Opera Theater opened in 1987 at the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y.

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