Vol. III No. 14 7/15/2022
Tanglewood. Photo: Blue Moon Images/Dana Goedewaagen
A Stockbridge Undertaking
Eighty-eight years ago, the Berkshire Symphonic Festival (BSF), what we now call "Tanglewood", was conceived of and launched in Stockbridge. Many usurp it, but there is only one true site and one true history — it happened this way.
In May 1934, Maestro Henry Hadley brought his dream of "music under the moon and stars" to heiress Gertrude Robinson Smith at her Stockbridge home, The Residence.
It was the height of the Depression — an unpropitious time to create a new cultural venue, but not to Hadley. He knew the plight of classical musicians who were only employed seasonally. From its birth, support of musicians, and "advancement and material gain to the Berkshires" were the first concerns. Outdoor classical music performances were the attractive means to that end.
Gertrude Robinson Smith was a wealthy, formidable resident of Stockbridge with undisputed executive ability. She turned to her fellow Stockbridge neighbors, Mabel Choate (Naumkeag), Georgie de Heredia (Wheatleigh), and Owen Johnson. Smith also included Mrs. Bruce Crane, Dalton, and Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, Pittsfield.
The first outdoor concert took place in incredibly short order. The BSF was formed and produced its first concerts in Stockbridge, August 1934. Dream to reality in just three months.
The first concert took place on the grounds of the Dan Hanna estate (later the Desisto School), just a stone's throw from its future home at Tanglewood — both in Stockbridge.
Hadley died in 1937, and Smith suggested the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) as the new orchestra of the music festival. Stockbridge sisters, Miss Mary Tappan and Mrs. Gorham Brooks gave their Berkshire Cottage, Tanglewood, to Serge Koussevitzsky. From the moment the BSO was involved, the part about "under the moon and stars" was challenged. Koussevitzky wanted a roof over his head.
In 1937, Smith's high pitched yet forceful voice demanded of a rain-soaked audience that Tanglewood must have an enclosure for its orchestra. In one night, in the Depression, between crashes of thunder and streaks of lightning, Smith raised over ten thousand dollars (more than $202,000 today).
Famous architect, and Koussevitzky friend, Eero Saarinen designed "a Palladian" for a hefty price. Smith said BSF did not have that much money.
Saarinen said, for the money you have, you can only "build a shed".
Listen and you can just hear Smith signing with relief — that Palladian was so "un-Stockbridge". Stockbridge resident and Select Board member, Joseph Franz built the Tanglewood Shed on time, on budget, as it stands today.
Hadley had a dream. Smith and her Stockbridge friends had the ability to make it real. It happened in Stockbridge and remains in Stockbridge (yes all of it).
Click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40b6GgO9yLs and listen to Gertrude Robinson Smith dedicate The Shed, August 1938.
Independence Day fireworks. Photo: Jay Rhind