Tanglewood, July 31, 2004 (Rehearsal)

Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA
Saturday, July 31, 2004 (Rehearsal for August 1 concert)

The Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by JOHN WILLIAMS
Dawn Upshaw, soprano
James Sommerville, horn


  • WILLIAMS: Soundings
  • COPLAND: Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson
  • WILLIAMS: Horn Concerto
  • WILLIAMS: “Immigration,” “Civil Rights,” and “Flight” from American Journey

Rehearsal review by Diskobolus

I got to Tanglewood just before the box office opening at 9am. This venue is located in the Berkshire mountains in western massachusetts, about 2 1/2 hours drive from Boston. Its large fields, groves of tall trees, and two spectacular forums (Koussevitsky Music Shed and Ozawa Hall) make Tanglewood a great musical landmark.

Of course today my objective was not so much focused o­n the grounds, lovely as they are, but to get another meeting with Williams, wit hopefully photos and a couple autographs. By the time I arrived, Foxfan was already there, the third person in line. Clearly he had gone to admirably extreme lengths for a great seat for this rehearsal.

I had brought Azkaban and the ESB 2-cd Limited set, hoping to get that cardboard slip signed. Unfortunately, there was no means to protect that cardboard slip, so I spent the entire time at Tanglewood carrying it around nestled in a windbreaker, along with my Silver sharpie which still has Williams’ fingerprints o­n it.

I managed to get seats (with my dad) in the second available row, o­n the aisle. They had roped off the first ten rows or so, so we were sitting about twenty feet away from the conductor rather than three feet. By the time all the early comers were settled (and there were a lot of them, mostly really old people) it was around 9:30, and I began to wonder what the hell I was doing sitting there in the shed when Williams could be arriving any minute.

Foxfan and I quickly found each other and began to case the grounds. We soon scoped out a performer’s entrance o­n the right hand side of the stage, outside. There is a little ramp that leads up to this extra wing which is clearly the facilities for the performers. Since it was an hour before start time, there was hardly anyone around. We decided to walk around the back of the shed to find out all the possible entrances Williams might use. We ran into an old woman who worked there, and I asked her where he would be. Now – this is an example of a kind, helpful, normal human being – she told us exactly where he would arrive! Apparently, this was to be at a ramp leading up to an entrance o­n the left side of the stage, a driveway to which leads to the performers’ parking lot.

Foxfan and I quickly found our way there, meeting staff occasionally, and being the normal people we were, waved hello, and they waved back. Then we got to the entrance which Williams was sure to use. The contrast between the kindness of the staff we had thus encountered and the lack thereof of the deuschbag standing sentry here was disturbing. When he saw Foxfan and I standing right by the entrance, he immediately questioned us, told us Williams would not be giving autographs, and proceeded to order us out of the area.

This annoyed us, yet did not deter us, so we continued to stand a little ways beside the entrance, but close enough such that we would see his vehicle approach. The bastard guarding the entrance continued to walk back and forth, watching us, as if we didn’t know what he was doing. Then he retreated the safety of his trough by the building for some time. During all this, someone was giving a pre-concert talk about Soundingsand the Horn Concerto. It was interesting, but I don’t remember much, frankly. This talk ended around 10am. There were a couple false alarms when we thought Williams might have actually walked up without our knowledge, but we soon realized this was not the case.

We finally saw his car pulling up the drive, and with a loud cry of victory from myself, Foxfan and I proceeded right up to the entrance with cameras clicking and Sharpies emerging from pockets. Alas, nothing more was to be. The pig actually came to block our passage as the car pulled up, and though we glimpsed Williams, it was over in a matter of seconds. I failed to get a picture of even Williams.

Onto the actual rehearsal. When Williams walked o­nto stage there was applause, of course, and lots of people taking pictures. The god damn lighting o­n the stage was so bad most of the pictures turned out to be way too dark crap.

The first piece was the Horn Concerto, which I liked. Usually Williams would run through an entire movement without stopping, but occasionally would go through a section a few times. He spoke softly enough so that we could o­nly catch a few words of what he was saying. Soundings was next, and I was sufficiently surprised by the fact that pre-recorded music was played through the sound system. I have to say I don’t really like these compositions all that much. Give me a theme any old day of the week. I liked American Journey a little more, although there are clear similarities to The Patriot and SPR, among others. The Emily Dickinson poems were boring as hell and just added forty five minutes to the time we were sitting there in hard wooden chairs.

Of Williams’ rehearsing style, it seems he is usually happy with the first run-through, and when things are not quite right, it was extremely rare for him to say more than o­nce what needed to be changed. He would simply sit down o­n his stool when he wanted them to stop.

Afterwards we had two choices to attempt autographs – the left side, where we knew for sure Williams would leave the building but where a certain member of the staff polluted the air, or the right side, where we had been told during intermission that Williams would exit if he was willing to meet with us. We chose the right side. About a dozen of us altogether waited about ten to fifteen minutes. A little pissant in front of me had a Summon the Heroes score, pointedly looked at what everyone was trying to get signed, and then and loudly announced to everyone, “Hey, I beat all of you! I have a CD label score!” Dickhead. Alas, it seems fate was not o­n our side today. A staff guy with a walkie talkie announced that “John Williams has left.” I looked at Foxfan, and without word we ran (and I mean ran) to the left side hoping to catch Williams before he really left. My heart plunged when I saw the Lincoln Towncar driving off. We chased it for a hundred yards, taking photos of its rear as we went, until it swerved off the road into the distance. Perhaps others will have better luck tomorrow or Tuesday.

Oh, I forgot to mention – Williams changed shirts halfway through! Red shirt first half, white shirt second half! He really plans ahead, him.