The Koussevitky Music Shed
Built - 1937
Life Magazine has described Lenox as "Currier & Ives lovely" - a town in the heart of the beautiful Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. Over one hundred years ago, many of America's wealthiest families were attracted to the area by its clean air and magnificent vistas and built summer mansions which they called their "cottages." To date, Lenox still remains a place of restful beauty and peace although once a prosperous farming and mill town.
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote his famous book 'The Houseof Seven Gables" while living in his little red cottage just outside of the town in nearby Stockbridge. Other notables who lived in the area have been Samuel Gray Ward, a Boston banker who was the one to finance the U. S. purchase of Alaska, Fanny Kemble, a noted Shakespearean actress of her day, Andrew Carnegie, novelist Edith Wharton and railroad baron Anson Phelps Stokes. But in the early 20th century, when income taxes and other factors made it quite impossible for these "cottages" to continue to maintain their huge summer estates, several were sold or converted to hotels or schools.
A new ear for the quiet town of Lenox began in the 1930s when music lovers around the New England area began attending symphonic concerts during the summer months. This movement started in 1936 when the Tappan family, makers of refrigerators and other appliances, offered their large estate to a summer concert series featuring the Boston Symphony Orchestra andof which has made that location their permanent sumer home from those initial beginnings. The estate is named "Tanglewood" after Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Tanglewood Tales," which were written in Stockbridge where he resided during the summer months as stated.
Tanglewood has since become very famous as one of the world's leading music summer festivals which draws more than 300,000 listeners each summer. Part of the "magic" of Tanglewood is not only in the wonderful music played, but also the enjoyment of having your picnic lunch on the sprawling lawn outside of the music shed and then enjoying the concert performance under the stars. The magnificent acoustics is not only prevalent in the music shed itself, but the vast speaker system reverberates the music within the confines of the Tanglewood estate.
The first two years of Tanglewood saw only a large tent set up for the orchestra to protect them from the elements. Concert-goers were lucky to have enjoyed good weather for the first year but in August of 1937, the weather during a particular summer evening became quite nasty and people outside of the tent became drenched during a maddening downpour. The BSO soon held a fundraising drive, which amassed $100,000 to build a concert hall with a roof - thus the music shed was built later in 1937.
When you pass through the gates of Tanglewood and cross the sloping plush green lawn, you will notice a long, low structure that gets taller as you get closer. This is the legendary Koussevitzky Music Shed so named after the founder and beloved Boston Symphony Orchestra maestro, Serge Koussevitzky. The building is enormous but simple in design due to budgetary constrictions back in 1937. The Finnish architect, Eliel Saarinen had submitted the expensive designs but had to throw up his hand due to the orchestra's $100,000 budget prior to its construction, and just had to settle for a designed "shed" which ended up to be similar to a hangar-like, open-air structure with a wide, fan-shaped roof. The building seats 5,000 and originally had a dirt floor but the end result produced a building with perfect acoustics.
From 1938 on many fabulous orchestral works have been played in the music shed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and others under the leadership of such greats as Leonard Bernstein and recently Seiji Ozawa. Many feel that when they attend a concert at the Koussevitzky Music Shed, they have made a pilgrimage of music and breathe in history from its very beams.
In 1986 acquisition of the Highwood estate next to Tanglewood increased the public grounds by 40% and made possible the construction of Seiji Ozawa Hall which opened in 1994 along with the Leonard Bernstein Campus, which became the center for most of Tanglewood's activities.